The Town of Beecher, one of Lowell's neighboring villages in Illinois, is celebrating its 125th year in 1995, and many of its pioneer names have ties with families in south Lake County.
How many of the current patrons of a popular restaurant at the corner of Indiana Ave. and the Dixie Highway in Beecher know that the building was first the "Old Stage Tavern," circa 1870? The early watering place was a favorite stop for teamsters, as well as one of the first places of business in "Washington Center," now Beecher.
Many pioneers arrived years before, when most of the land was owned by the United States government and by the Illinois Central Railroad. By 1860 all of the land was purchased by individuals at the low price of $1.25 per acre.
According to the Beecher Centennial publication "Schooners and Satellites," pioneer Jesse Dutcher was the first-known settler in Washington Township. His cabin was about two miles north of the town. Among the first settlers in the village were John Rose in 1851 and Joseph Maxwell and William Strain the following year.
While Beecher was progressing in those early years, another settlement was growing in the northwest corner of Washington Twp. The rural community of Eagle Lake was being settled mostly by German immigrants and was soon the home of the St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, chartered in the 1850's. Services are still being held in the fine old church, erected in 1866. They are attended by members from a large vicinity, including south Lake County in Indiana.
The area was first called "The Center," then changed to "Washington Center," and finally named "Beecher" after renowned preacher Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe. He and his sister were both born in Litchfield, Conn.
Early settler T.L. Miller, born in England and a friend of Rev. Beecher, came to the area in the 1860's and purchased 500 acres of land in and around the town. He was soon a successful and well-known breeder of Hereford cattle and had the headquarters of the American Hereford Cattle Business in Beecher for over twenty years.
Miller had early settler George Dolton lay out the town by contract, and by 1870 the streets and avenues of the village were named after the relatives and friends of Miller. In the early 1900's he sold his remaining property to Colonel Judy, a Scotsman, who became a successful breeder of Angus cattle.
The "Old Stage Tavern" (now the Princess Cafe) was known for miles around for its excellent food, including German dishes of hassenphepher, duck and sauerkraut, rinderwurst and blutwurst. Dancing and a late dinner (all for a dollar) was a happy occasion.
Town meetings were held in the village hall, built by carpenters Simon Bielfeldt and John Hinze at a total cost of $1,075, with the more modern offices built on the same site in 1958. For the earlier building they purchased one dozen kerosene lamps with wall brackets, twelve chairs, seven arm chairs, and a large table for the sum of $40!
The town's water system was installed in 1910 by the Avery and Alpiner Co. of Kankakee, Ill., and the water rate was set at five dollars per year for up to 20,000 gallons. Over that amount the price was 20¢ for 1,000 gallons.
Beecher started their own light plant in 1912, but by 1920 a contract was signed with the Momence Utility Co., until all of the smaller companies were absorbed by the Northern Illinois Public Service Co.
In a recent column about the early days of Lowell, it was mentioned that a man was hired to light the street lights each night and was paid two dollars per month. During the 1880's in the town of Beecher, it was part of the constable's job to light the lamps. Henry Block was paid a salary of $75 per year, with duty from 1 p.m. to 3 a.m., lighting the lamps after dark, turning them off at 2 a.m., and keeping the lamps filled with kerosene.
The old Dixie Highway, or Illinois State Rt. 1, the main north-south highway through the town of Beecher, was formerly known as "Vincennes Trail," over which market produce and products were hauled into Chicago by ox teams and horses.
"Decoration Day" and the Fourth of July have always been big holidays in Beecher. The ceremony at the cemetery, honoring the veterans, was always concluded with the firing of three volleys from a cannon that had seen action in the Civil War, then owned by Civil War veteran August Ehrhardt, who had marched with General Sherman. The cannon was later presented to the village and placed in front of the Community Hall on Penfield St.
As a Civil War re-enactor, the Old Timer recently received an invitation to take part in their Civil War Encampment and Skirmish, which will take place July 28-30, as part of the town's 125th celebration.
Quoting from that invitation: "Several years ago, the Beecher Area Quasquicentennial Commission was formed with the intent of remembering Beecher's past history and celebrating its heritage. One group became very interested in hosting events that would help today's generation get a feel for what life was like in the mid to late 1800's. We felt that the best way to accomplish this objective was to host a Civil War encampment and skirmish."
A fine program has been planned for that weekend, including a flag ceremony, dedication of the old Civil War cannon mentioned above, drill demonstrations, Civil War medical demonstrations, a skirmish (two days), military ball, battlefield church service, and more. Federal engineers will attempt to build a bridge while under fire.
Beecher is a fast-growing community, with all the memories and energy of the pioneers and early settlers as its guide.
Information for this story came partly from the Beecher Centennial Book of 1970, which includes fine old stories about the area as well as many interesting photographs.
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