...as told by an old railroad man, George Rex Clarke
The Forrest News, Friday, August 11, 1972 - page 3 & 4
The first man to settle at this site was Charles Jones of Bordentown, New Jersey, who bought the land in 1836. He later sold it to James Beard, who in turn sold it to I.J. Krack. He became the first Station agent and the first postmaster appointed in 1860. The original plat of the village was surveyed for Mr. Krack in December of 1866 by Alfred C. Huetson, Livingston County Surveyor. Mr. Krack also built the first elevator and main street was named after him.
The second settler was John Thompson of New York. He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and settled in Forrest in 1837. He cared for the Nathan Townsend family who became the first settlers of Pleasant Ridge Township. The Rudd, Jennings & Bullard families were among the earliest populace of Forrest, along with the Wendels, Zelofers, Melvin & Chalmers Millers, Henry Ulbright and Joseph R. Francis.
Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad
The beginning of Forrest must have been about the time the Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad was built, which I have been told was around the year 1850. The depot for this road was located about where the two elevators are now located, on the opposite side of South Center Street, if I remember rightly. There was also a hotel adjoining the depot,known as the St. Elmo Hotel, which stood on the T.P. & W. tracks and on the west side of Center Street. This St. Elmo Hotel was torn down sometime during the late 90s and a residence was later erected there. The residence erected on this location was built by a Mr. Geiger, who was in the hardware business in Forrest for a number of years.
The first church built in Forrest was the Methodist Episcopal Church, which stood where the present edifice of that denomination now stands. I remember someone saying that the church was built in the year 1868. The next church to be erected was a Congregational Church, which stood where the present Congregational Church now stands. This church was built sometime before the year 1868.
When the Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad was first operated, the Illinois Central operated trains over this line between Gilman and El Paso. In 1880, however, Forrest received a new speed forward. The Wabash Railroad was surveyed and built north and south through Forrest. In the spring of 1880, about May 1, the first freight train ran from Bemont to Chicago over this new line through Forrest. The late John Easter, well-known to many of the Forrest people, landed in Forrest that morning from Germany and has told me this fact many times.
A two-story depot was built where the present Wabash station now stands; and the railroad officials were brought there where they maintained their offices on the second floor of the building. About this time the Wabash purchased the Toledo, Peoria and Western and operated that railroad until 1888. Wabash trains ran from Chicago to Kansas City via the Wabash from Chicago to Forrest and then via the Toledo, Peoria, and Western to Peoria where they then operated over the Jacksonville and South Eastern to Jacksonville, where they struck the mainline of the Wabash Railroad.
In 1885, Carmon Brothers came to Forrest and built a hotel on the Wabash right-of-way, just north of the depot. Five years after the Chicago division of the Wabash Railroad had been completed, the Wabash Railroad Company realized that there must be a hotel for the accommodation of their employees and patrons. Mr. Steele, who was then road master for the Wabash, had formally lived in Mattoon, Illinois, where he knew Carmon Brothers, who were then in the restaurant and bakery business in Mattoon. He succeeded in getting the Wabash Company to allow the Carmon Brothers to erect a hotel on their right-of-way. Therefore, the latter part of November of 1885, the Carmons came to Forrest and began the erection of what ultimately proved to be the Forrest House. The Wabash Company demanded that the structure be erected to a point of usefulness as soon as possible, so a two room, one-story structure was erected in about a month, consisting of a lunchroom and kitchen. The winter of 1885 in 1886 is said to have been the most severe winter ever known in Illinois, and yet, the business done by Carmon Brothers was beyond belief. Besides the regular train and engine crews employed for the operation of the road, construction gangs of all kinds and workmen of all kinds were stationed about this vicinity and had to be fed and housed. On one date during this winter, as a matter of interesting record, the temperature stood at 32 below zero. While it may not be a credit to the town, at that time Forrest is said to have been one of the toughest towns in the United States because of the mixed elements of men employed and residing there. The Carmon Brothers hotel was afterwards enlarged and is today owned by the Ballard and Johnson Co. All of the original structure is there yet, notwithstanding the fact that it is obscure because of the additions built to it from time to time.
In August of 1888, one of the most terrible Railroad wrecks in American history occurred, known as the Chatsworth wreck. The Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad ran an excursion from Peoria to Niagara Falls, N. Y. The train was composed of 17 cars and two engines including coaches, chair-cars and Pullman sleepers. A small culvert had burned out just east of Chatsworth, and when this train ran onto it, the first of the two engines got over all right, then this engine broke loose from its tender, and the tender of the second engine was literally telescoped; and more than 200 people were killed outright. Just prior to this catastrophe, the Wabash had sold the Toledo, Peoria and Western to a group of financiers; but when the claims incurred were to be paid, it through the road into bankruptcy. The Pennsylvania Railroad System took over the Toledo, Peoria and Western at that time and paid the claims. Mr. E. N. Armstrong, who had been superintendent for both the Wabash and the Toledo, Peoria and Western, continued as superintendent for the latter road until he finally became president of it and remained such until his death shortly after the cessation of the World War.
About 1890, the entire business district of Forrest was destroyed by fire. As memory serves me, at this point, the leading merchants were Dr. Ducket, and his brother Frederick, who owned and operated the drugstore; J. O. Kelly, the jewelry store; Mr. Pawely, who operated a meat market; J. O. Krack and John E. Delatour conducted a general store of groceries and dry goods; E. Brantz operated a general store also; a restaurant was operated by Mr. Igou; a hotel and restaurant was operated by Noble Hoffhine; and Mr. Powley conducted a hardware store and tin shop. The bakery was owned and operated by James L. Moyer. The shoe store of Forrest was operated by a Mr. Geiger, and the two milk dealers were John Christoff and Bronson Smith. In 1886, Dr. Dunham, who had practiced medicine in Forrest for a number of years, sold out to Dr. Whitmire of Metamora, Illinois. Thomas Gray and S. A. Hoyt operated the hardware store. Later Mr. Hoyt entered the lumber business and then into the banking business. I think Mr. Hoyt sold his lumber business to the late W. H. Opie.
In 1893, the year of the World's Fair at Chicago, the Forrest depot burned. It was a very cold winter day, I cannot remember the month, at about 12:30 p.m. when the fire was noticed. The Forrest fire Department was called immediately and then the one from Fairbury was brought over on a flat car. Despite the heroic efforts of everyone, by 4 p.m. there was not the slightest vestige of the building left. While the new depot was being erected, there were two passenger coaches backed up on an especially made track just north of Carmon Brothers hotel, and these were used for station purposes. The new depot structure was finally furnished and moved into, and in just one year from the date of the first fire, the second depot burned. A third structure was then erected to replace the second which still remains intact.
In 1894 occurred the big A. R. U. strike on the Wabash. The engineers and firemen were all ordered out and obeyed the command with but few exceptions. Most of the men never returned to work because their jobs were taken by strikebreakers who remained with the road permanently. I think it was in 1891 when Mr. H. W. Ballou came to Forrest as the Wabash train master to succeed Mr. I. L. Hibbard, who resigned and went with the Santa Fe Railroad and became officially located in Los Angeles. K. H. Wade, who had been with the Wabash was general manager of the Santa Fe and took Mr. Hibbard with him as an official. From 1891 until 1898 Mr. H. W. Ballou served the Wabash is train master, Mr. O. F. Clark as chief dispatcher, Messrs. Safar and Lomison as first-trick train dispatchers, William Halstead and C. F. Handshy as second and third-trick dispatchers respectively; and Mr. Dimmick was supervisor, and Mr. F. R. Stewart was ticket agent. Frank L. Kruger and Charles L. Corneau were day and night yard masters; Thomas H. Murphey and J. M. Peyton were day and night telegraphers during a portion of this period, both of whom later became train dispatches at Decatur. Mr. Peyton later passed to the great beyond, and Mr. Murphey is now dispatcher for the Illinois Central at Champaign, Illinois. Harvey Button came to Forrest as Roundhouse Foreman in 1880 and was succeeded by George Smith, who in turn was succeeded by Frank H. Payne. Mr. Payne was succeeded by W. C. Bewley William Kirk was night Roundhouse Foreman during the nineties. Mr. Button, recently celebrated his 92nd birthday in Los Angeles. The latter part of 1896 I believe it was, Mr. J. S. Goodrich, superintendent of the Wabash at Decatur, was replaced by W. A. Garrott. In 1898, Mr. Garrott succeeded in having the Wabash freight division moved from Forrest to Decatur, thus relieving Forrest of more than 50 families who were compelled to move to Decatur.
The drugstore operated by Frederick Ducket was finally sold to a Mr. Pauley, who in turn sold it to Nathan Hurt who sold the store to David T. Torrence. I may not be exactly correct as to the succession in these proprietorships, but I know the personnel is correct.
The Corn Belt News, then known as the Forrest Rambler, was started by Mr. Stickney in the year 1883. Later the paper was owned by Mr. Bovard, who was formally superintendent of the Forrest public schools and who finally sold out to Mr. E.A. Eignus. I think Mr. Eignus sold the paper to Mr. Wingfield, who finally sold it to its present owner and editor Mr. A. D. Fansler.
About 1900, a very important historical event occurred in Forrest, although nothing was thought of it at that time, a young boy of about 14 years, whose father was in business there and whose name I cannot remember, built the first automobile owned in Forrest. It ran by steam. He actually made it run up and down the main street of the town. The thing really worked as intended.
In 1894, I think it was, Dr. John E. Carmon, a brother to Charles and George Carmon who owned the hotel, erected and started a pop factory but did not remain in it long when he returned to the practice of dentistry and opened the first dental office Forrest ever had.
The Rudd family, the Jennings family and the Bullard family were among the earliest populace of Forrest, while Henry Wendel and the Zelofers and the two Miller's, Melvin and Chalmers, Henry Ulbright and Joseph R. Francis were also of this period. The late Charles H. Allen told me personally how he came to Forrest in 1866 and got his real start in life.
About the year 1908 W. O. Myers of Cooksville and Pontiac, Illinois and opened up a haberdashery. Not long after this Mason Bullard, who had been in the same line of business for a number of years in the same building with George O. Thayer, who ran a shoe store, sold out and left Forrest for his new location in the West.
About 1886 or 1887, Joseph R. Francis moved to Forrest from his farm in the country and entered the grain business. A few years later, Fred Allen, the eldest son of Charles Allen, became a partner of Mr. Francis in the elevator business and continued until the time of Mr. Fred Allen's sudden death. Mr. Francis finally sold the elevator business to R.J. Riley who continued in that business until Rudd and Singleton bought it. Finally, Rudd and Singleton sold their elevator to Hippen and Stephens, who still conduct the business. Louis Austman, who conducted a confectionery business, and also an ice business in Forrest for a number of years, also entered the moving picture business and has done much to make the movies attractive and interesting to his patrons. The first moving picture theater in Forrest was admirably operated by John F. Buckley Sr., who satisfied his patrons for a number of years very successfully.
In 1914, the Wabash brought their freight division back to Forrest, which meant an addition of approximately 60 families to the Forrest population. This, together with a World War, directly made business in Forrest the best that it had been for many years. The division remained at Forrest until 1921 when it was again returned to Decatur and left Forrest again smaller by about 60 families.
The first city telephone system was put in in 1898 by the Peoria and Eastern Telephone Company. In 1923 A. F. Ducket, who had been in the Bakery business for a number of years, sold out to Mr. Karcher. About the same time, the Gagnon Brothers, who had been in the restaurant business for many years, disposed of their business to a Mr. King.
In 1928 W. H. Opie and G. E. Ulbright, who had owned and operated the grocery and hardware business under the name of Ulbright and Opie, both passed to the great beyond. In addition to being partner owner of the grocery and hardware business, Mr. Opie was president of the Forrest State Bank. As cashier of the Forrest State Bank, during the late Mr. Opie’s regime, Burl Miller served satisfactorily for a number of years after which he and Mrs. Miller went to Florida in 1925 during the boom, where they have remained ever since.
For 15 or 18 years, George W. Leonard and Thomas Grotevant both operated grocery stores in Forrest. Mr. Grotevant passed away in 1923, I believe, and Mr. Leonard in 1929. Mrs. G. W. Leonard continues to run the store. Mr. Wenger was mortician for many years and was succeeded by Mr. James Brown.
In 1898, and Dr. J. G. Barnheizer of Sigourney, Iowa came to Forrest and began practicing medicine and was soon afterwards married. Dr. Barnheizer and Mrs. Barnheizer still reside at Forrest. About this time, two new merchants entered business and Forrest, one of them, G. O. Thayer, who had been in the blacksmith business, opened a shoe store; and the other, Mason Bullard, opened a haberdashery. If I remember rightly, Mr. Thayer bought out the shoe business of Mr. Moyer, the father of J. L. Moyer, who owned the bakery. Mr. Thayer operated the shoe business until he sold out to Dr. John E. Carmon some time later; and Mr. Bullard continued his business until 1909. About 1904 Rodney Skinner entered the hardware business, having purchased the concern operated by Mr. Geiger who then left Forrest. About this time also, Mr. Torrence, the druggist, disposed of the store to Arthur and George Strawn, who later sold it to W. S. Mayhew, who is operating the store at the present time.
In 1902 the school building burned; and the same year, the Congregational Church burned. Both of these buildings were replaced with new structures. I cannot say when the first schoolhouse was built, but I imagine it was during the seventies.
In the spring of 1903, the mother of Charles, George and Dr. Carmon and Mrs. Finnegan passed away; and 10 days later, George Carmon passed away suddenly also. In September of that year, Charles Carmon who was the surviving owner of Carmon Brothers Hotel sold out to Mr. David Torrence. Mr. Carmon, Mrs. Finnegan and her son Rex Clarke moved to Chicago, where Mr. Clarke entered the University of Chicago. In the same year 1903, Mrs. F. R. Stewart and her two daughters moved to Chicago, where Miss Iva Stewart studied telegraphy and became a telegrapher for the Postal Telegraph Company.
In 1901, E. H. Miller who had been superintendent of the Forrest schools since 1896 was succeeded by Walter S. Perry of Pontiac. In 1892, Reverend L. G. Kent, pastor of the Congregational Church was succeeded by Reverend A. E. Leonard who remained as pastor until 1898 when Reverend John W. Fox succeeded him in 1901. Reverend Fox was succeeded by Reverend Calhoun. In 1903 Reverend Calhoun was succeeded by Reverend Pierce and Reverend Pierce was succeeded by Reverend F. R. Anderson of Glenview, Illinois, who is now an instructor of English at Lane Technical High School of Chicago.
About 1890, Ed Hanines, who was in the barber business erected a two-story building the upper floor of which was an opera house, and a part of the lower was used as a barbershop. This building still stands, and the upper floor is occupied by several lodges. After the fire which burned out the business district, the drugstore building was erected at the corner of Center and Main Streets, it being a two-story building with the Masonic Hall on the upper floor.
The building at the northeast corner of Main and Church Streets now occupied by the meat market on the lower floor and by Drs. Hamilton and Shaddle on the second, was erected about 1905; and the first floor was originally occupied by a dry goods store owned by Mr. Bushway of Chatsworth.
A complete history of the population of Forrest would be an exceedingly interesting bit of reading if it were available. Nearly all of the early settlers of Forrest were of British descent; although there were a number of German people who came in later. Some of the earliest settlers were Mr. I. J. Krack, who really started the town of Forrest and his sons, John, George and Jesse. They were all instrumental in making the beginning of what proved to be a wonderful little village.