A timeline of some events in the history of Paris and Edgar County, Illinois.
1823 Edgar County was formed and named for John Edgar, one of its first judges. Paris is the county seat. A first plat of the Paris square was surveyed by Amos Williams.
1826 The first school district in the county was organized.
1841 Rev. Henry Venable organized Edgar Academy on six acres where St. Mary's Church now stands.
1842 Built in 1842, Milton K. Alexander home is one of the few buildings still standing that Abraham Lincoln visited while practicing law on the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Now home to the Art Center.
1858 Abraham Lincoln came to Paris to speak in Col. Alexander's grove on September 7.
1860 Paris Union School District organized.
1869 Paris was chartered as a city. Paris is one of eight communities named Paris in the United States. It was settled on land donated by Samuel Vance for a county seat and received its charter as a city in 1869.
The exact origin of the name Paris is uncertain. Early settlers from Kentucky believed that the town was named for Paris, Kentucky. Others thought that the town was named this because the word 'Paris' was carved on a tree in the center of the donated land. This tree was the center point for the first survey of Paris.
1869-1873 James W. Binford and Eli Lilly ran the Binford-Lilly Drugstore at 128 N. Main. Lilly left the business in 1873 to begin manufacturing pharmaceuticals in Indianapolis.
1871 Mark Twain's lecture tour brought him to Paris, Illinois in late December. While staying at the Paris House hotel, he met a young boy who most likely was the inspiration for Twain's "Sociable Jimmy."
1879 Merkle Broom Company was established by John Merkle, Sr. and his son Oscar T. Merkle. The brick factory was built at the corner of West End Avenue and Broom Street in 1890. Also known as Merkle-Wiley Broom Co. The business was known as the largest broom manufacturer in the world during the early 20th century. At one time, it produced 6,000 brooms per day. Its “Blu-J” line of brooms was manufactured into the 1960s. The company merged with France Broom Co. in 1964, but the factory closed several years later. In 1985, a furniture manufacturer acquired the location. The original building survived a fire in 1996, but Northern Harvest demolished it in 1999 to make way for a newer facility. Source: Paris Beacon-News, March 18, 1982; March 3, 1999
1890 E.O. (Elmer) Laughlin published a novel, Johnnie. Laughlin was a doctor, city councilman, and member of first library board, who practiced medicine in Paris for 49 years. He later published a 1937 volume of poetry, Of Yesterday and Tomorrow.
1892 U.O. Colson Company was founded by Usher Orlando Colson and his wife Adalaide Gordon Colson in 1892. Originally a printing company, it grew into a manufacturer of advertising items sold nationwide. Its calendars and paper fans can often be found on ebay. A large two-story brick building built on North Main Street in 1926 served as the company’s home. Colson's had 18 district sales offices and 250 salespersons across the country in 1955. The Colson family sold the business in 1967; it went through several ownership changes until it ceased operation in the early 1990s. Also known as OKT/Colson, The Colson Company. Sources include Prairie Progress: a History of Edgar County 1880-1975 (book)
1893 General contractor Hibbert Brothers of Newark, Ohio completed the Edgar County Courthouse in November 1893 at a cost of $109,007.71, after two years of construction. The exterior was blue Amhurst limestone; the interior featured marble floors and stairs. Now on the National Register of Historic Buildings, the courthouse has been remodeled over the years to keep pace with telecommunication, energy efficiency, and accessibility needs. The brass star that marked the original location of the "Paris" tree is still in the center of the building, but now travels up and down on the floor of the elevator. Source: Paris Beacon-News, Nov. 20, 1993.
The Shakespeare Club organized Feb. 16, 1893 in Chrisman to study the works of Shakespeare. As of 2012, it was the oldest club in Edgar County, still meeting six months of the year.
1895 Paris was one of several cities lobbying to become the site of a new normal school in eastern Illinois. The other cities were Charleston, Danville, Effingham, Kansas, Lawrenceville, Mattoon, Oakland, Olney, Palestine, Shelbyville, and Tuscola. Charleston ultimately won and is the home of Eastern Illinois University.
1898 Concerned citizens of Edgar County organized and chartered the Children's Home on February 9, 1898. A special tax was approved to construct a building. James A. and Clara M. Eads donated 10 acres of land to the Home in 1899. By January 1900, the original portion of the present building was completed and occupied. Throughout the years, more than 3000 children were served by the home. Services expanded to include In Home Services and Tiger Tots Day Care. In the early 2000s, the Children's Home merged with Huddleson Home/Kids Hope United; eventually the Paris facility was closed. Paris Union School District 95 purchased the building and grounds in 2006 to serve as its administrative offices and preschool center.
1899 Bridgman Cigar Company was founded in Paris. Its twenty employees made 2500 cigars a day in the mid-1940s.
1902 By 1902, Chicago-based McGuire-Cummings had established operations in Paris, manufacturing streetcars, interurban and railway cars.
1903 Paris-Terre Haute Interurban line opened. It last ran on Jan. 25, 1932.
1904 Paris Carnegie Public Library opened in June.
1905 Merkle Broom Company employed 200 people.
1907 In November, street cars began running each day from the south part of Paris to Reservoir Park (Twin Lakes).
1909 In early February, nine teachers and 250 students moved into the new high school building on South Main. The new school contained about 25 classrooms with laboratories for chemistry and physics, biology, and domestic science.
1913 Paris, Danville, and Effingham were the first sites for extension courses from Eastern Illinois Normal School (now EIU).
1920 Paris Hospital's nurses training school held its first graduation. The nursing school closed in 1954.
1921 Sylvian Park, home of the city's water tower, was created with a donation from Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Sholem and named for their son.
1924 Lincoln Theater, a 700-seat movie house, opened. It closed in 1967, but re-opened four years later as Paris Theatre.
Hotel France was completed in July 1924 on the site of the Paris House that was destroyed by fire. Probably as a result of that fire, Hotel France was constructed as a "fireproof" hotel. Designed by architect Johnson Miller, it had 75 rooms, a barber shop, a beauty shop, and a spacious dining room. Many community meetings and events took place in the hotel over the years. One of the most memorable occurred in front of the hotel on December 20, 1933; a stakeout to arrest Edward Shouse of Dillinger's gang resulted in a shooting and the death of Indiana state trooper Eugene Teague. In 1988, the hotel was converted to senior citizen apartments and renamed the Kensington. The building is now the home of the Human Resources Center. Sources include Paris Beacon-News, Dec. 20, 1933; The Architectural Forum, Feb. 1926.
1926 Goding Shoe Company was established by Charles A. Goding in 1926 with 35 employees. At the height of its production, the "shoe factory" employed almost 200. After World War II, the company started manufacturing western boots and later became nationally known for its specialty boots. In November 1959 one of its customers was actor James Arness, who ordered a pair of boots. The business closed in 1969; the building is now home to Paris Healthcare Center. Sources include 1926 Paris city directory.
1927 The first May Fete was held on May 12, 1927; the first May Fete queen was Betty Lou Hunter. May Fete is a traditional Paris High School event honoring the girls of the senior class. Held annually on the first Friday in May, it features the presentation of the senior girls followed by dance routines and gymnastics by members of the freshman, sophomore, and junior classes. A court of seven senior girls is chosen by their female classmates; from this group, a queen is chosen by the entire school.
1928 Street cars were destroyed in a January fire and ceased to run in Paris. The local Exchange Club contracted with sign painter John Owens to create a sign with 15-foot yellow letters identifying Paris from the air. This sign was placed on the roof of the Colson building. (Beacon News, July 5, 1928)
1934 Illinois Cereal Mills, Inc. was incorporated. Its roots were in the old "Kidder Mill" founded about 1898; ICM was purchased by Cargill in 1994.
1935 Paris native Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer (1927-1959) began appearing in the "Our Gang" comedies.
1941-1945 Nearly 8% (over 1900 young men and a few women) of Edgar County's population served in the armed forces during World War II. Edgar County lost 64 veterans in service - listed as dead or missing in action. (from A Social and Economic Study of Edgar County, June 1946)
1943 Paris High School basketball team won the state championship.
1944 A former gravel pit became Sunrise Park, which is known for its beautiful trees.
1945 The Edgar County Honor Roll was dedicated in a public ceremony on Oct. 7, 1945. Located on the east side of the Court House square, it was designed by local architect John C. Riedell. At that time, 3300 names of Edgar County veterans who served in World Wars I and II were listed on the memorial. Since then, names from later wars and conflicts have been added, overflowing to two freestanding walls on either side of the original structure. Source: Paris Beacon-News, March 30, 2005.
1946 Fifteen industries and more than 700 retail businesses were located in Edgar County, including
77 Gasoline & oil stations 79 Grocery stores
32 Restaurants 11 Hardware stores
10 Dry goods & clothing stores, 5 dress shops 8 Furniture stores
12 Appliance & radio stores 7 Shoe repair stores and 3 shoe stores
13 Blacksmith shops 38 Garages & auto sales
8 Drug stores 11 Pool rooms
4 Meat shops 9 Taverns
1 Book store 12 Lumber yards
2 Department stores 8 Print shops
Edgar County had 8 four-year high schools, 1 two-year high school, 15 elementary schools of two rooms or more, and 84 one-room schools. (from A Social and Economic Study of Edgar County, June 1946)
1947 Paris High School basketball team won the state championship for the second time.