MONMOUTH, Ill. — For years, I had believed that the old Webster home at the southwest corner of West Broadway and E Street was the oldest house in Monmouth. It was built by Dr. Samuel Webster in 1837 and originally stood on West Broadway on the site of the new Immaculate Conception School.
Recently, I read about a speech given by longtime Monmouth newspaperman Hugh Robb Moffet on the occasion of the closing ceremony for the old Warren County YMCA, prior to its demolition in 1917. Located at the southeast corner of South First Street and East First Avenue, that facility dated to 1890, when the First Methodist Church on that site was purchased and converted to a YMCA.
In his talk, Moffet gave the complete history of the corner property. The Methodist Church had been built there about 1860. Before that, a district schoolhouse, built in 1848, had occupied the site. It was in that building that the first Monmouth College classes were held in September 1856, prior to completion of the first college building. The former schoolhouse, interestingly, still stands. Originally moved to a location near the high school, it was converted into a residence before being moved twice more. It currently stands at 812 North D St.
But, according to Moffet, an even earlier schoolhouse originally stood on the site of the old YMCA. The very first public schoolhouse in Monmouth, it was a frame building, erected in 1835. Just 18 x 18 feet in size, it was soon outgrown, prompting the need for the larger 1848 building.
According to Moffet, the original schoolhouse was moved to a lot on South Third Street, between First and Second Avenues. He noted that it had been converted to a house and was at that time (1917) part of the residence of J.F. Noble.
A little research determined that James F. Noble, a butcher, then lived at 223 South Third St.
The house at that address today has had several additions over the years and is currently covered in siding, but it appears the main, original section is relatively square and could match the footprint of an 18 x 18-foot building.
Without an up-close examination (which might potentially reveal antique framing of oak or walnut), I think it’s fair to presume that a large part of this house is 184 years old and could indeed be the oldest surviving residence in Monmouth.
Jeff Rankin is an editor and historian at Monmouth College. He has been researching, writing and speaking about western Illinois history for more than 35 years.