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westfield history, tribune star, 1942, lillian briscoe, westfield college, westfield united brethren church, westfield methodist church,

Terre Haute Sunday Tribune and Terre Haute Sunday Star -
May 31, 1942

Westfield, Illinois, Survives Early Oil Boom Days and Today Ranks As One Of the Most Prosperous Communities In That Section Of The State

Retains Traditions But Continually Forges Ahead

Originally Platted By Col. Archer In 1839

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the Seventieth in a series of stores and pictures concerning the cities and towns that complete the Wabash Valley Empire. The stores are prepared by Tribune-Star correspondents and leaders in the various communities. The history and achievements of Westfield, Ill., are presented herewith. Next Sunday’s story will feature a trip to Harmony, Ind.
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By Lillian Briscoe

WESTFIELD, Ill., May 30--Westfield is an attractive little town of shaded streets and well kept homes, situated in the northwest corner of Clark County, Ill., one-fourth of a mile off State Route 49. It has long been noted for its cultural background and air of refinement because of the earlier years when a college was the spiritual, cultural, and social life of the community. During the more than 100 years of its existence the town gradually grew until its population was almost 1,000 inhabitants during the “oil boom days” and then decreased as that industry slackened, but today it is a lively and progressive village of more than 750 inhabitants.

The early settlers seem to have been attracted to this location because of its natural beauty, fine rolling timber, land somewhat broken along the streams, but easy to bring under cultivation. Situated on the verge of two counties, Clark and Coles, at considerable distance from the established lines of trade, Westfield was not advantageously placed for quick settlement, however, several families who had migrated from Kentucky were followed by some of their neighbors, and other settlers came in from Indiana.

The early years of Westfield community were not in marked contrast to other pioneer settlements. The cabin reared and the family made comfortable within it there was an abundant demand for all the energies of the pioneer in clearing a space on which to plant a crop. Corn was generally planted although occasionally a venture was made with wheat on a little plot. Considerable livestock had been brought in by the settlers, cows, oxen and sheep being almost a necessity. Flax was another essential for the supply of clothing in addition to the wool and was extensively cultivated.

The nearest source of supplies was at first Vincennes, Ind.; later Terre Haute, Ind., and Paris, Ill., brought stores nearer, but “store goods” could be bought only sparingly. The principal source of revenue was the sales of flaxseed, maple sugar and grain. The latter commanded very small prices and not always a ready market, but maple sugar was manufactured largely and considerable quantities were sold at Vincennes and Terre Haute for cash. Flaxseed was hauled to Vincennes principally, and with other articles sufficed to supply the cabin with such necessities as could not be derived from the farm.

In 1836 Charles Biggs came to the settlement of Crawford county, and rented a farm. He started a huckster wagon, and bought of the settlers their supplies of butter, eggs, maple sugar, etc., and hauled it to the Ohio river, where he exchanged this produce for goods. With the latter he started a little exchange store at his residence and a little later with the increase of his business built a frame store building.

In 1829 Benjamin I. White had come from North Carolina and settled west of the present site of Westfield. He improved a good farm and erected the first grist mill in the township. In 1836, Mr. White laid out the village of New Richmond on part of his farm, the plat having only nine blocks of eight lots each. This project did not receive an enthusiastic endorsement by the rapid sale of lots, although a few were sold and a grocery store, a blacksmith shop, and a tannery were built.

The village soon lost its individuality to that of its more prosperous successor, Westfield, which was platted in 1839 by Colonel Archer. He set aside a block for a public square, which at present time is a pretty little park with large forest trees and shrubs, a bandstand, and a monument to sailors and soldiers to World War I. Another block was set aside for a meeting house, where eventually the Methodist Church was built. Some time later, Colonel Archer sold his interests in this plat to David Evinger and his two sisters, Polly and Catherine Evinger. The latter owners brought the first lots into the market, the first one being sold to Thomas Thefft, who erected a cabin in the north part of town and kept the first post office in the village. In 1841 David Evinger erected a long building for the double purpose of residence and store, and rented it to Charles Whitlock, who brought the first stock of goods into the village.

In 1854 Dr. J. H. Parcel purchased the unsold part of the plat from the Evingers, built new houses and improved lots, and infused new vigor into the town which after that advanced rapidly. In this same year Parcel and Evinger erected a flouring mill four stories high and 40 foot square which had a capacity of 75 barrels of flour per day, and a saw mill attached. It was destroyed by fire but some years later Rardin brothers erected a flouring mill on the same site where they continued in business until the early 1900s. The building still stands but is no longer used as a mill.

The first brick business block was erected by Michael York in 1867, but three years later it was burned. Mr. York rebuilt at once and that building still remains. Other buildings both frame and brick were erected; but disastrous fires in 1886 and again in 1905 destroyed several of these, due to lack of fire-fighting facilities. After the fire of 1905 all brick buildings replaced those which had been destroyed. At the present time the two business streets of the town with all brick buildings give that part a very “up-to-date” appearance, especially since there are paved streets running both east and south through the “down-town” to meet Route 49.

In 1879 the first newspaper was established by G. L. Watson. This paper changed hands a number of times but Westfield has never been without a weekly paper, since its establishment.
The village was incorporated in 1866, the first board of trustees being J. C. Van Sickle, Dr. J. H. Parcel, H. H. Cash, Isaac Bolton and B. H. Hayes.

Oil Boom Days

In the early 1900’s Westfield had an “oil boom” which brought many people and some wealth into the community. With the increase of population business flourished for a number of years, a number of new buildings were erected, among them being a modern hotel; but the opening of new oil fields in other regions and states drew many families elsewhere and Westfield settled back to what it had been before the discovery of oil--a farming and stock-raising community.

About 1882 or ’83 a railroad, known as the Danville, Olney and Ohio River Road, was constructed south through Westfield. This was of great advantage to the town for many years. The road changed ownership many times, having its greatest period of prosperity at the time of the oil boom but when that business slackened the railroad passed into private ownership and in the 1920’s ceased operation altogether. Since that time all livestock shipping and other business is done by truck, there bing three or four trucking companies in the community.

It is interesting to note the differences in the town of the 1880’s and the present time. About 1883 the business portion of the town included four dry goods stores, two groceries, two hardware stores, three blacksmith shops, two wagon shops, a harness shop, a newspaper, a sawmill, a steam flouring mill, and two hotels, one bing the “Grant House” which was owned and operated for many years by J. I. Parcel and his wife “Aunt Jane.” Previous to the building of the railroad “Uncle Ira” had driven the hack which carried both passengers and mail from Ashmore to Westfield. Among names of merchants familiar to Westfield residents of those days were C. F. Knapp, M. G. Owen, W. L. Shuey, M. E. Collins, W. A. Snider, G. H. Chittenden, Levi Watson, and A. H. Garber.

Modern times, paved highways and automobiles, have made changes in demands for certain kinds of services. We find these changes reflected in the business portion of the town today. It includes three grocery stores, one dry goods store, one furniture and hardware store, two farm implement stores, a drugstore, a newspaper, a beauty parlor, two barber shops, a hotel, two restaurants, a lumber yard, a hatchery, an undertaking establishment, three insurance companies, several gasoline service stations and garages, and a privately owned telephone system.

Two of these firms have been continuously in business for many years, Edmond Flagg, druggist, for 30 years, and the firm of Shuey & Rider for 47 years. Westfield has a splendid water supply system and for many years it has enjoyed the advantages of electricity.

The pride of the village and the source of much of its fame and prosperity for more than 50 years was Westfield College. The college had its legal origin in the granting of a charter by the legislature of Illinois, February 15, 1865, although it had operated as a seminary since 1861. The seminary, as well as later the college, was projected by te Lower Wabash Conference of the United Brethren church and drew its support also from other Illinois and Indiana conferences. The good work that the college accomplished during its existence amply justified the efforts and sacrifices of its founders and promotors.

The first board of trustees of Westfield College in 1865 was composed of Rev. W. C. Smith, Rev. Alexander Helton, Rev. David Ross, Rev. Samuel Mills, Rev. Hiram Elwell, and Messrs. E. R. Connelly, Daniel Evinger, and J. H. Coons.
From the opening of the seminary in 1861 until 1863 the work of instruction was carried on in the United Brethren church, then in 1863 the first building was erected on a six-acre campus situated in the southern part and most elevated point of the village. This building was an unpretentious but substantial two-story brick one which simply served the early needs of the institution. The growth of the school in the next few years made additional room necessary, and in 1867 the building enlarged, giving it the form of a capital T. Again in 1898 an addition was made, the building then being in the form of a Roman cross. This enlarged and modernized building was attractive in appearance in a lovely setting of stately forest trees.

Although a charger had been granted in 1865 the school continued to operate as a seminary until September, 1869, when a college faculty was organized, with Rev. S. B. Allen as the president, who served the college faithfully in that capacity for fourteen years.

The operation of the college was discontinued by the church in 1915 and the building was occupied by Westfield Township High School which was organized about this time, until it was struck by lightning and completely destroyed by fire in the early morning of June 26, 1917. The college campus was later purchased from the United Brethren church by the board of education of the high school and in 1920 a handsome brick building was erected on the site of the old college. Westfield is justly proud of her high school which stands as a fitting memorial to the beloved college of more than a quarter of a century ago. In 1932 the graduating class of the high school paid special tribute to the memory of the students and college by having a Westfield College Day on the day of their graduation and unveiling a bronze tablet which had been placed on a huge boulder which the class had set up near the southeast corner of the college campus. Many former students of the college returned for this occasion.

Another building, the Westfield grade school, is also a matter of pride to the community. This commodious and attractive building, erected in 1934, is situated on an attractive school ground in the north part of town. The first public schoolhouse, a log one, was built in New Richmond in 1835 and was used for 17 years. In 1852 a two-story frame building consisting of two rooms was erected in the village of Westfield, but in 1881 it was destroyed by fire and the next year a two-story four-room brick building was erected and used until it was razed in 1934 for the building of a more modern one.

Westfield has four splendid churches: Methodist, Baptist, United Brethren and Free Methodist; the first three having had their beginnings in the early days of the community. The Free Methodist church was organized following a revival meeting conducted in the winter of 1890-91. In the spring of that year, the membership erected a substantial frame church building where they have since worshipped. Only two of the charter members remain as members of the church today, namely, Charles Goble and his sister, Mrs. Emma Dallas.

The United Brethren church had its beginning in 1832 when Rev. Henry Evinger, a minister of that denomination, came to Illinois from Ohio and settled on a farm two miles northwest of the present village of Westfield, and at once began a Sunday school and preaching services and organized a class that met in the homes of the members and in the school house. Otterbein church was built in 1843 on ground not far from the Evinger farm. The church has long been gone and only Otterbein cemetery remains to mark the site of the old church.

The congregation had decided to build a new church in the village and accordingly in 1852 a frame one was built in the east part of town a block south of the business district. Some 10 years later this building was sold and the congregation used the chapel of the seminary building as a place of worship. This continued to be the church home until the college building was burned in 1917. Having sold the college grounds to the high school board, the congregation purchased a location two blocks north of the college campus and in 1918 a very commodious and attractive church was dedicated. The local church is the next oldest class in Illinois, and because of its historic beginnings and the operation of the college in connection with it, it has had high standing in the general denomination.

The Goodhope Baptist church was organized in July, 1832, with six charter members: Lewis Walker, B. Walker, Daniel Goble, Martha Walker, Mary Walker and Sitha Goble and Elder Stanley. Services were held in the homes of the brethren for the first four years and grew in membership until the need of a church was felt. In 1836 a site was procured and a substantial log church was built at the present site of Goodhope cemetery. In 1862 the membership decided to move the church one mile north and locate it in the village of Westfield. William Lee, a faithful member, donated land for a building site and in 1884 a frame building was completed and dedicated. This was used until 1895 when a new and modern building was begun and was dedicated the following summer of 1896. The name had been changed from that of Goodhope Baptist church to Westfield Baptist church in 1883 and in 1898 letters of incorporation were secured for the church as an organization.

Methodists organized in 1850

The first Methodist class was organized in June, 1850, by Rev. W. S. Prentiss with the following charter members: D. Bennett, E. Christison, Sally Moore, James, Charles and Martha Downey. In 1851 the first Sunday school was organized and met in the log school house out in New Richmond. Charles Downey was the first Sunday school superintendent and served for many years. Hiram Buch circulated the first subscription list for the building of a new church in 1852 and the building was completed the following year. In 1866 a new brick church was dedicated. This was replaced in 1909 by a modern and very attractive church building.

Westfield is an enterprising town, keeping abreast of the times though her roots are deep in the past. Her lodges, clubs and civiv organizations do much toward this. The Masonic Lodge and its affiliate, the Order of the Eastern Star; the I. O. O. F and its affiliate, the Rebekah lodge, all have active memberships and well-eqquiped halls. The Red Cross, too, has a chapter here which is actively engaged in war work. The Women’s Federated club and the Lions club sponsor many activities, a Boy Scout troop being a project of the latter. The girls of the town have a similar organization.

Two other organizations which plan an important part in the community are the American Legion post and the Legion Auxiliary. In 1936 the Legion arranged and sponsored a very successful five-day celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the town’s establishment, closing the week’s festivities with a Westfield College reunion on the old college campus on Sunday, and a most beautiful pageant in the evening depicting many interesting events of our first hundred years.

During these years Westfield has been called upon to contribute her sons in times of war and she has always been ready to do her part. Only one veteran of the Civil War remains, A. H. Garver, who celebrated his ninety-sixth birthday in April. Several veterans of the Spanish-American War still live in the town and community. The Weeden-Zellar Legion post bears the names of two Westfield boys who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War of 1917-18, and now again we have many boys and men in training camps and in foreign lands and on the seas giving their all that our homes and country may remain free forever.


Select History of Westfield Township and Village

Westfield Township, one of the smaller divisions of Clark County, forms the northwest corner of the county. Originally, Westfield was a fine rolling timber land, easy to bring under cultivation and very inviting to the pioneer seeking a home in the “West.” The North Fork of the Embarras River rises here, affording fine natural drainage for agricultural purposes. The land is rich soil, returning generous harvest of all crops. Westfield Township was not well placed for settlement, not being on a navigable river or an early road.

James Hite settled in Edgar County just north of this township about 1828 or 1830 and had many friends and relatives in Kentucky whom he attracted to a settlement in Westfield Township. The first family was that of James Shaw of Lawrence County, Kentucky. He erected a small cabin, cleared twelve acres and was the first evidence of civilization. He sold his land to Daniel Evinger and moved away in 1834. Absolom Kester, another Kentuckian, came from Indiana to Section 22. He lived here long enough to see a prosperous civilization spring up where once it was all woods. Thomas Frazier came about 1829. Other early settlers were Esau Morris, Jacob Spears, William Comstock, Alexander Black, and James Jones. David Bennett came in 1830 from Spencer County, Kentucky. Four years later he was killed by a fall from a horse, the first death in the township. In 1831 came the brothers William and George Goodman. They were good hunters and good bee hunters. Next came Henry Randall and Elijah Stark. Randall had a fine farm in Section 25 but was impractical. He was a good coon hunter. James bell was a violinist and had an education and a library. Robert Lowery came to Section 32 from Kentucky. Francis Davis was a good mechanic but neglected his trade. He was educated and read books and newspapers. Others about 1832 were William Mack, John W. Brooks, and John Barbee, all from Kentucky. Mack was versatile – built houses, made plows, boots and shoes, and cleared forty acres of land.

Joseph Briscoe came in 1831 from Kentucky as a driver of an ox team for James Hite, for which he received ten dollars. He used it to enter land. He returned to Kentucky, married, put his goods in an oxcart and set out with his bride for the new land. In the later part of 1835, Henry Briscoe brought the rest of the family in three oxcarts and a drove of cattle. Most of the settlers in the northeast part of the township were Primitive Baptists. Some were men of literary tastes, and Westfield drew much of its inspiration from these sources.

“This was a good poor man’s country.” The land was readily cleared and the soil easily submitted to cultivation. After a cabin was erected and the family made comfortable within it, all energy was demanded on clearing a space on which to plant a crop. Ten or twelve acres cleared in a season was a great achievement. Corn was the usual crop. “Hog and Hominy” was the usual fare, carried by wild fruit, maple sugar, and honey. The livestock: hogs, cattle, oxen, and sheep, were penned inside high fences (often about ten feet) because of wolves. Flax was extensively cultivated and used to weave linen. The nearest source of supply was a first Vincennes, the old territorial capital. Later Terre Haute and Paris brought stores nearer. Store goods could only be sparingly afforded. Coarse muslin was forty cents a yard, calico was fifty cents a yard, coffee was forty cents and fifty cents a pound and little but cash would buy them. Maple sugar, whiskey, grain, and flax seed were sold as a means of raising cash. In 1836 Charles Biggs started the first huckster wagon and later started the first store. Biggs came to Crawford County, rented a farm at the south edge of the township and began the huckster business. He bought eggs, butter, maple syrup, bacon, etc. and hauled it to the Ohio River where he exchanged it for goods. He then built a store but later moved to the village.

In 1829 Benjamin I. White came from North Carolina and laid out the village of New Richmond on a part of his farm. He erected the first grist mill in the township. The village he planned was only of nine blocks or eight lots each. Many of the lots were sold. According to a family history of Levon “Sprague” Barbee, Thomas Berkley opened the first store in New Richmond and brought supplies in from Cincinnati. James (Fogler) Folger had a store in New Richmond; Sylvester, a blacksmith shop. In 1840 Thomas Hess opened a tannery. Later it was bought by Wood and Hays. The Village soon lost its individuality to that of its more prosperous neighbor and successor, Westfield.

In 1839 Colonel William Archer of Marshall platted the village of Westfield. The village was laid out on the cross roads of the line between sections 29 and 30 and consisted of 46 blocks of varying size. State Street passed through the plat east and west and Washington Street passed through the center at a right angle to State. With public spirit he donated block 29 (our park) as a public square and block 19 for a meeting house. The Methodist Church was built on this site. Block 5 was set aside for a school.

Col. Archer was interested in building a road from Marshall to Charleston. The viewing committee did not approve, so Archer, at his own expense, hired twenty men, surveyed and cut out the road sixty feet wide and placed mile stones all the way to Westfield. This led to the platting of the Village of Westfield in 1839.

Col. Archer soon sold the village to David Evinger and his sisters Polly and Catherine. These owners put the lots on sale. Thomas Tefft bought the first lot, erected a log cabin on Washington St. and had the first post office. Others who bought lots were Samuel Tefft, J.C. Skinner, a blacksmith, William P. Bennett, John Fiers, and Nathan Tefft. Charles Whitlock ran the first store for two years. The second store was opened in 1842 by William Hampton who sold it to Thomas Moore who later went into partnership with Michael York. The first hotel was located on the corner of State and Washington Streets and was kept from 1841 to 1848 by Captain Tefft.
The first mill in the village was owned by Delaney, Bennett, and Evinger. It burned in 1850. In 1854 a four-story mill was build by Parcel and Evinger in the northeast part of town. It burned in 1856 but was replaced. In 1868 Rardin erected a mill on the Parcel site.

In 1854 Dr. Parcel bought the unsold part of the plat from the Evingers. He built new houses, improved lots, and infused new vigor into the town, which then began to advance rapidly. One advance was the founding of Westfield Seminary in 1861 (later Westfield College). The village was incorporated in 1866 in Dr. Parcel’s office at the northwest corner of Washington and State Streets, immediately south of the Parcel residence. The first board of trustees for the village was made up of J.C. Van Sickle, J.H. Parcel, H.H. Cash, Isaac Bolton, and B.H. Hays.
The first business block was erected on the site of the old frame store by Michael York in 1867. It burned three years later but was rebuilt at once. In 1877, J.R. Redman and Co. and C.F. Knapp and Co. erected a large brick block on Washington St. It also burned but was rebuilt. In 1879, the Watson Block at the northeast corner of Washington and State Streets replaced the building were the first hotel stood.

The Grant House, named for General (later president) Grant, was the successor to the first hotel. It was built in 1864 and is now the home at the northeast corner of Walnut and Franklin Streets. It was noted for its “good victuals.” Meals were 25 cents and a bed for the night was 25 cents.

In the 1860s to 1870s Westfield had two clothing stores, three wagon shops, four blacksmith shops, two grist mills, two horse and mule barns, two millinery (hat) shops, one barber shop, one saloon and drug store, four sawmills, three brick yards, one butcher shop, a newspaper, one doctor, a college with about 400 students, and a public school. Mail was carried to Ashmore tow time a day, by horse or buggy, horseback or walking if the roads were too muddy.

The first newspaper, “The Index,” was established by G.L. Watson. It was sold two years later and the name was changed to “The Pantagraph.” In 1881, Solomon W. Zeller became the owner and the name was changed to “The Visitor.” The paper always attempted to remain neutral regarding politics. At one time it had 500 subscribers. Later owners were James R. Dawson and Lee A. Weeden. About 1898 a small news sheet named the Progress was published by Mortie Makepeace. It sold for 50 cents per year.


For more Westfield history, download the 2011 Westfield Homecoming Festival book.