Editor and historian for Monmouth College. Avid researcher of western Illinois history for 40 years. FB and Twitter. jrankin@monmouthcollege.edu
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Known as America’s largest horse importer, the Truman Pioneer Stud Farm near Bushnell lost one of its valued employees when he was drowned at sea in April 1912.

MONMOUTH, Ill. — In isolated, rural western Illinois, in the days before radio and television, one might suppose that an incident that occurred off the coast of Newfoundland would have little significance, but that was far from the case when news of the sinking of the on April 15, 1912, reached Monmouth and its surrounds.

The disaster hit home when it was revealed that a Bushnell man was among the wreck’s more than 1,500 victims. Two residents of Kirkwood had also booked transportation on the ship for its return trip to England. …


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Charles Dryden, from a 1904 newspaper story.

MONMOUTH, Ill. — If you’ve ever called someone a “bonehead,” you can thank a Monmouth man for coining that word, along with many of the colorful phrases that have made their way into the lexicon of sports writing.

Charles Dryden, born on a farm near Monmouth in 1860, has been acknowledged by many baseball historians as “the dean of sports writers.” …


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Two of Cable’s most celebrated works were “Homeward” (left), which was pictured in Harper’s Monthly, and “Maternity,” depicting a mare and her colt.

BERWICK, Ill. — Just as the works of Ernest Hemingway and Jack London achieved their power from the writers’ personal experiences, the works of Ben D. Cable earned him the title “the Farmer Sculptor.”

Born on a farm just north of Berwick in 1865, Benjamin Davis Cable showed an aptitude for drawing and painting from an early age, while attending the district school in Floyd Township. A voracious reader, he schooled himself on all aspects of the arts, and in his spare time on the farm took up sketching farm animals and wildlife.


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When the current Methodist Church was completed in 1890, the streets surrounding it were not yet paved, and a 86-foot tower that would be removed years later anchored the structure. To make room for a modern sanctuary, demolition of the 1890 building has begun.

MONMOUTH, Ill. — When the current reconstruction of the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church is completed, it will be the fourth house of worship for the oldest congregation in Monmouth, organized in 1834.

The current church, constructed of 350,000 red bricks manufactured at the Radmacher brickyard in Monmouth, has stood on the southwest corner of Broadway and Second Street for 13 decades. When it was dedicated in January 1890, its price tag was $28,000 — more than $750,000 in today’s dollars.

The neo-Gothic church was designed by the noted architectural team of Weary & Kramer of Akron, Ohio, whose…


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A 1950s street view of Maple City Dairy.

MONMOUTH, Ill. — The news that the former Maple City Dairy building is slated for demolition brought back a flood of memories from current and former Monmouth residents who as children were treated to ice cream there after a ball game or other special events. Many of them later brought their own children and grandchildren to the distinctive art deco building, which has stood at 110 South A St. since 1941.

The business dated back to Jan. 1, 1933, when J. T. DeCoste of Galesburg opened Maple City Dairy at 216 East Broadway with brand new equipment for pasteurizing milk…


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Mounted on camels, three wise men approach the illuminated stable on the Monmouth Public Square. (Photo by Paul Kobler.)

MONMOUTH, Ill. — The impressive refurbishing of Monmouth’s Public Square nativity set this year by Eagle Scout Briar Shinn calls to mind an earlier downtown nativity scene that also had an impressive story.

First erected in 1953, that manger scene came about through a remarkable community effort that was a joint undertaking between the Chamber of Commerce and the Monmouth Council of Churches. The centerpiece of a “Put Christ Back in Christmas” campaign, the nativity featured elegant figures that were pure white and larger than life-size.

With additional figures purchased in 1954, the total investment was $5,000, which, given inflation…


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A successful Monmouth attorney, Civil War veteran and state legislator, John T. Morgan achieved even greater fame as a supreme court judge in the young state of Idaho.

MONMOUTH, Ill. — Prior to the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, New York was on the edge of America’s western frontier. Completion of the canal project suddenly opened up the Northwest Territory for settlement, and a stream of New Yorkers began to flow into Illinois, which represented the new western frontier.

James Clark Morgan, a farmer and justice of the peace in Hamburg, N.Y., was one of those settlers, who in 1843 set out for Monmouth, Ill., with his wife, Penelope, and six children. One of those children, 13-year-old John T. …


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A circa 1910 photo of the entrance gate to Monmouth Cemetery on North Sixth Street. The planters in the shape of tree stumps on either side of the drive were manufactured locally at the Monmouth Mining and Manufacturing plant.

MONMOUTH, Ill. — Prior to the 1830s, Americans buried their dead in churchyards and utilitarian “burying grounds.” There was little romance in the idea of death and the afterlife.

Then a Massachusetts physician and botanist named Jacob Bigelow, interested in sanitation and public parks, proposed building the country’s first landscaped cemetery — Mount Auburn — just west of Boston. It was the beginning of the American public parks and gardens movement.

Although the city of Monmouth was founded at about the same time as Mount Auburn, its frontier residents had little time and few resources to devote to the creation…


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Passengers disembark at the busy Monmouth depot in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of Don Hitchcock)

MONMOUTH, Ill. — During the Golden Age of Railroading (roughly 1870–1910), train stations evolved from utilitarian wooden structures to increasingly elegant architectural gems of brick and stone. Since they were the first edifice that visitors were likely to encounter, they created an important first impression of a growing town and were among its greatest points of pride, along with the courthouse, post office and town square.

Monmouth’s depots were a good illustration of that progression. The city’s first passenger depot, a simple structure built in 1855 near South Third Street for the Peoria & Oquawka (later CB&Q) Railroad, was replaced…


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One of the oldest houses in Monmouth, the log-framed residence built by Dr. Samuel Webster in 1837 now stands at 601 West Broadway.

MONMOUTH, Ill. — “This is a pleasant location and bids fair to be a thriving town.”

That was the observation of Levi H. Brown, when he visited the recently incorporated town of Monmouth in 1837. A 23-year-old Quaker from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Brown made the rigorous journey to the wilds of Illinois with six companions in the days before railroads or paved roads.

Near the conclusion of the trip, Brown met up with his cousin, Dr. Samuel K. Webster. Webster and his family (also Quakers from Lancaster) were en route to Monmouth, where he would set up shop as Monmouth’s…

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