The history of Odell and the township dates back no further than to the completion of the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis Railroad. The railroad is the foundation of the town and its surroundings. Before the settlers came there was only tall grass where Odell now stands. It was literally a “desert waste.” When the railroad came through it influenced all of the country it ran through. In 1854, with the exception of a few and unthrifty villages, there was scarcely a human habitation between Joliet and Bloomington. But when the road came through, there was all kinds of conveniences common only to the older, more populated settlements. The railroad was finished through this county in 1854 and the first train passed through July 4, 1854. When the news was out that a railroad was passing through and a town was to be located here, settlements began to sping up with a view of being within the limits of the village and also to opening farms. During the years 1852-1855, almost all of the land of this township was entered. But not with a view to improvement or to live on, but held for a rise in the market. The speculators were not mistaken; and the township of Odell (1878) is represented but by few persons who were the original purchasers of the land.
immediate point of attraction for this vicinity was the station, the first settlements
were made, as close to it as circumstances would allow. The land upon which the town of
The town was surveyed and platted by Thomas F. Norton, Deputy County Surveyer, Aug. 10, 1856, the proprietors having previously conveyed to the Chicago & Mississippi Railroad Company fifty feet on each side of the railroad track, extending through the entire quarter section. Thus the town was firmly fixed. After the surveying and platting, lots were offered for sale, and many were purchased for $20 to $30 each. The business lots, first sold, almost all went at the former price. At first, the east side of the square seemed to be the favorite place for business and the first respectable sized store building was erected into which Curtiss & Dewey moved their goods after leaving the warehouse. Curtiss had taken on as partner Oscar Dewey of Kane County. Dewey came to Odell to reside in the fall of 1857. He was a man of intelligence and had the respect of the community, and was one of the two first Justices of the Peace elected in the town. The firm of Curtiss and Dewey only continued in business to 1858 and closed.
For a year after the switch was located, the only inhabitants of the place were the employees of the road, who attended the station and the water tank and who were engaged in keeping the track in order. Of these, Daniel Smith, from New York, was the first agent; and, as a post office was established about this time, he received the appointment of Postmaster. Mr. Morgan, though at the time a resident of Joliet, alternated between there and this; and when Smith was superseded by J. H. Link (formerly of Canada) as Station Agent, Morgan was appointed by James Buchanan, as Postmaster. Though Morgan was principal, yet Link. Acting as deputy, had charge of the mails; and he also brought on a few goods and kept them for sale in the station house.
In the meantime, David Williams, from the town of New Michigan, had come to the place and erected a little shanty and displayed a few basketfuls of groceries and notions. He was, however, a chronic grumbler and chronically sick, and stayed but a few months and returned to New Michigan. About the time Williams left, S. W. Curtiss of Kendall County, established a general store in the warehouse that had been erected by the Railroad Company. Curtiss did not make this his home, but employed S. P. Lundgren, of Kendall County, and known to the people of Odell as “Peter” to take charge. J. H. Link, having become disgusted with the store business in the railroad station, and the annoyances from the care of the mails, was anxious to turn these two branches of business over to other parties. On his arrival in town Lundgren met J. H. Link, Link confronted him as to whether he was there to take over the post office, Lundgren told him he was a total stranger and he didn’t think so. Link questioned him as to his purpose in town. Lundgren told him that he was to take over the store for S. W. Curtiss. Link returned to the station house, packed all mail, mail related items into a bag in which he received the mail and handed it to Lundgren. Lundgren protested that he was not there to take over the post office and was not qualified to do so. It made no difference to Link, he gently pushed him through the door of the station house and threw the “post office in a bag” after him. He had no choice but to pick up the post office and put it on his shoulder and proceed, as it would surely get lost if he didn’t. A few days after he was installed in the store, he made a trip to Mud Creek, where there was a Justice of the Peace and took the oath to become the new Deputy Postmaster of Odell.
At this time, there were, besides those already mentioned, but four families. Thomas Lyons was an employee of the railroad company, and pumped water for the tank. Lyons was an Irishman. The first dwelling in Odell was erected by S. S. Morgan, for the use of Lyons, who was living in an unused box car. During the construction of the house, however, Joseph French and family, with Hiram Vanderlip and family arrived, Lyons was obligated to remain in his narrow habitation and allow the two newly arrived families to occupy his house while Morgan built others.
French and Vanderlip were both farmers, and at once set about opening farms in the vicinity. French stayed in the village, but Vanderlip moved to the country. Daniel Lyon, father of Thomas, came to the place a year or so after his son and engaged in the sale of the article which both “cheers and inebriates.” The old gentleman remained in the village. Joseph Baldwin and family were here almost as soon as the first, and opened a boarding house and accommodated new comers until they could arrange for more desirable quarters. To Baldwin was born the first child in the community. This is remembered to have been in the year 1857.
After the closing of Curtiss & Dewey, S. Peter Lundgren opened up a general store in the building, which has ever since been known as “Peter’s.” Lundgren has been a careful business man, which combined with industry and his accommodating manner made a great favorite in the community.
In the Fall of 1857, A. A.
Streator came, with his family from Mud Creek, and built the first
hotel. Though a small affair, it was a
very popular enterprise and proved a valuable addition to the little town. Mr. Lundgren, with others, went there to
board as soon as it was complete.
Lundgren fell in love with the landlord’s daughter, Sarah; and it
resulted in the first wedding in the township; which occurred on Nov. 14, 1858. The knot was tied by the Rev. J. T. Whittemore, of Pontiac. Rev. Whittemore was the man who figured largely in religious
matters, education and politics at the time.
He was County School Commssioner, Pastor of
J. McMeans, from New Michigan, was the pioneer blacksmith. He built his shop, but didn’t stay long, as business at the time wasn’t enough to keep him busy. Charles Finefield built a shop a short time later and was a success. In 1857, S. S. Morgan came here to reside, giving up his residence in Joliet, as mentioned before. Mr. Morgan was the first Supervisor, bought the first load of grain in 1855 and has been connected directly or indirectly with almost every enterprise since the town started.
By the Spring of 1858, the first election under what is known as the “Township Organization Act” was held in the county. The election for township officers, for Odell Township, took place at the store of Curtis and Dewey. William M. Brown was elected moderator, and S. S. Morgan chosen Clerk pro tem. There were 23 votes cast, and the following persons were elected to the respective offices: S. S. Morgan, Supervisor; A. A. Streator, Clerk; Joseph L. Walton, Assessor; Joseph French, Collector; Joseph French and E. W. Pearson, Constables; John Harbison, Augustus H. Coleman and William M. Brown, Road Commissioners; Oscar Dewey and Samuel Packwood, Justices of the Peace; W. D. F. Hedenberg, Overseer of the Poor. At this meeting an appropriation of $600 was made, for the purpose of building roads.
Gradually the west side of the square built up, and with the need for more storage, the buildings were larger and better. The east side. To some extent, fell behind, its smaller buildings being used for shops and the smaller class of trade. Especially was this noticeable when, in 1867, Wm. Strawn erected the hotel, with a number of convenient store rooms. At the time of its erection, it was considered, as it really was, the finest hotel in the county. The hotel drew about it, at once, a number of businessmen; and ever since, the west side has had the lead.
We left the post office in the hands, or rather on the shoulder,of Peter Lundgren. S. S. Morgan was at this time Postmaster, but as the duties became such as to need careful attention he passed it over to other parties. His successors have been as follows: John Williams, A. A. Streator, S. H. Putnam, H. G. Challis, S. H. Putnam and S. H. Hunt who was appointed in 1869. A carpenter shop was built by Seymour & Nichols, the first resident carpenters. It doubled as a house of worship on Sundays, for a while. In 1858, the first school was built and worship was held there until the Congregational Church was built. The Congregational Society was organized in 1862, with original members, Mr. & Mrs. B. F. Hotchkiss, Mary P. Camp, Mrs. A. R. Morgan, Mrs. Polly Robinson, Mrs. Sarah Lucas, Mrs. S. C. Putnam. In 1866, the society, have increased considerably in number and wealth, erected their present, neat and substantial church building. It is 38x60 and cost $8,000. Rev. L. Leonard was pastor at the time. The history of the Methodist Church is very similar. The two worshipped together in the depot, in the carpenter shop, and in the school house. Both organized about the same time, and held services alternately in the school house, both churches were built the same year. Rev. Thomas Cotton was the pastor. The Sunday School was under the supervision of M Tombaugh. The building was fifty-six feet in length and thirty-six in width and cost $6,000.
The Catholics of this place, in 1875, built a very large house of worship. It is forty-five feet in width by eighty-six in length, and cost $5,300. The society consists of about 120 families. The parish is in charge of Rev. Bernard Boylan.
The people of Odell prided themselves on their school. The Board of School Directors were: S. S. Morgan, T. O. Bannister and James Funk. Teachers: W. W. Lockwood and Misses Crawford, Graves, Pound and Bell.
In 1877, J. H. Warner established the first newspaper, The Odell Herald.