Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lighting from Lamplighters to Electricity

Photo: Bunker Hill Electric Light Plant, west side of Putnam at Morgan St.

Twenty-five street lamps were purchased in October of 1876.  The first Bunker Hill lamplighter was Thomas Larmer, who was awarded the contract to light and take care of the lights at 70 cents a lamp.  Eddie Carroll was a lamplighter at one time, and John Brandenburger was lighting and caring for street lights in September of 1879.  The lights were on posts and the lamplighter carried a short ladder with him as he made his rounds to light the lamps.  At 11 p.m. each evening he went around again, climbing up the ladder and blowing out each light.

On January 6, 1892, the City Council met to hear an electric light agent talk about installing a lighting system for Bunker Hill.  They discussed the possibility of the city purchasing a light plant or of drawing up a lighting contract with a company.  The system was to be purchased and controlled by the City Council at an estimated cost of about $12, 000 to $15,000.

The business portion of the city was to be lit by electricity by August 19, 1896.  The work was to be done by the Bunker Hill Foundry and Machine Works, under the direction of Mr. John R. Richards.

During the last week of September 1896, the incandescent lamps for the subscribing business houses arrived.  The night the lights were turned on throughout the entire circuit, giving the places illumined a handsome appearance.

An election was held in June of 1898 for the issuing of $7,000 in bonds for the building and operating of an electric light plant to be operated by the city.  The issue carried by a small majority of 116 to 92.  By November 29, 1898, the new electric light plant was ready and the lights were lit at 5 o'clock.  Bunker Hill was now illuminated every night!

By January 1899, the work of stringing the wires for lighting the residences was progressing as rapidly as the weather would permit and it was expected that by the first of the month those who desired to have their homes lit by electricity would have it.  Four hundred lights were estimated to be put in residences in 1899.  It was the cheapest and most convenient light a person could have in his home at the time.  After February 1st, the plant was to run the incandescent current all night.  There was no electricity at night before this time because the plant did not run at night.

The plant was located on Morgan Street on the west side of Putnam street junction behind Baker's feed store.  Ed Marth was the engineer at the electric plant.  Abbie Landon's father, George, was a fireman and Abbie's uncle cleaned ashes out of the boiler room.  A large concrete pond behind the plant supplied water to the steam boiler and generators.   If any malfunction occurred in the system due to lightning, ice on lines, or other causes, the system was maintained by Bill Baker, a local electrical lineman and electrician.  When a large transformer near the plant was blown out by lightning, Bill Baker could be seen in raincoat and boots fixing the transformer.  Many improvements were made as the years progressed.

On January 10, 1952, the Bunker Hill City Council voted unanimously in favor of installing a new street lighting system in the uptown business area.  The proposal was presented by the Illinois Power Company in conjunction with General Electric Company.  The system would provide white incandescent lights with steel, concrete or wooden poles (whichever was available) to be installed to hold the lights.  On streets feeding into the main stem, wooden poles would be used.  

The city street lighting committee placed an order for 46 new street lights on Tuesday, January 24, to be installed in the uptown area by the IPC.  the power company was to secure all materials for the project and would own and maintain the system after installation.  The city was to be billed monthly for the lights.

In order to extend the project considerably from the original plans, a number of lights were paid for by churches and other institutions. The Congregational, Methodist, Lutheran, and Baptist churches each paid for one light, the school paid for two lights, and the Bunker Hll Vault and Monument Works, the First National Bank, and the Commercial Club each took responsibility for one.  With these organizations standing the cost of extra lights, the system expanded considerably from the 28 considered in the original plans.

The lights were to extend on Washington Street from Fensterman's Garage to the Condensary corner.  On Warren street, the light extended east to the Lutheran Church and three lights on West Warren; and on Fayette Street east to the Masonic Temple and three lights on West Fayette.  There were two additional lights on the street past the Baptist Church and two on the north and south street past the Congregational Church.

...Read more about this and other Bunker Hill, IL historical stories at

--Cite this story:  Redford, Carol, and Betty Triplett. "City Growth." In Reflections: A History of the Bunker Hill-Woodburn Area, 23-24. Bunker Hill: Bunker Hill Publications, 1993. Provided by the Bunker Hill IL Historical Society.

The Bunker Hill IL Historical Society. "A Look Back in Bunker Hill History." Bunker Hill Gazette-News, September 27, 2012.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Railroad Train to Bunker Hill

A major influence on the growth of Bunker Hill was the decision to run the railroad through Bunker Hill.  In 1851, ten years before the outbreak of the Civil war, the only mode of transportation in Bunker Hill was by stage coach, wagon, or horse over poorly constructed roads.

In the winter of 1852 and the year of 1853, the first work was done on the new railroad.  The railroad was completed in 1854 and the first train came up from Alton loaded with steel rails and ties for the railroad.  They call the first train the Tiger, and described it as resembling a threshing machine engine with the smoke stack on the back of the engine.

Photo: Lee and Arthur Sutton - Mail Clerks
 The first passenger train came through Bunker Hill in August 1855, bringing the officials of the railroad company along.  The decision to run the Indianapolis and St. Louis Railroad through this city made the difference between Woodburn and Bunker Hill, as it brought growth and prosperity to Bunker Hill, while Woodburn remained much in its original condition.  The bringing in of new industry, modern improvements in housing facilities and  an easy means of transportation and travel was the cause of our city growing to be one of the largest towns in the county during the first 50 years of progress.

 One hundred and forty-five years ago trains were not only the source of travel, but of news as well.  Who arrived and departed from the local depot made news, and the local editor made it a point to be at the depot at train time.  the train time of the St. Louis, Alton, and Terre Haute Railroad was listed in the first issue of the Gazette, January 19, 1866.

From the Gazette News October 12, 1900: A goodly number of people came to town last Monday evening in response to advertising that Governor Theodore Roosevelt of New York, a Republican candidate for Vice President of the United Stated, would be in Bunker Hill that evening.  the largest number present at the depot was 450 to 500.

...Read more about this and other Bunker Hill, IL historical stories at

--Cite this story: The Bunker Hill IL Historical Society. "A Look Back in Bunker Hill History." Bunker Hill Gazette-News, September 20, 2012.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Bunker Hill Bandstand

Photo: Bunker Hill's Bandstand

This is a picture of the bandstand which stood in Bunker Hill where the flagpole now stands at the intersection of Warren and Washington Streets.  The Bunker Hill Museum has the bronze plaque which says it was donated by Mr. and Mrs. C. J. Jacoby in 1923.  The bandstand was destroyed by the 1948 tornado.  An April 28, 1955, the present Memorial Flag Pole was installed at the intersection.

Photo: The bandstand after the 1948 tornado

...Read more about this and other Bunker Hill, IL historical stories at
 --Cite this story: The Bunker Hill IL Historical Society. "A Look Back in Bunker Hill History." Bunker Hill Gazette-News, September 13, 2012.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Indiana Condensed Milk Company

Photo: The Indiana Condensed Milk Company

The Indiana Condensed Milk Company of Indianapolis, IN, purchased the Bunker Hill Condensing company in March 1924.  Bunker Hill was Plant No. 6 according to the sign on the building, which was on North Washington Street.  This is where the new duplex apartments are located now.  Benezette N. Wilson, whose father and uncle founded the company, was the manager of the Bunker Hill plant for a number of years.

Arthur "Babe" Welch began working at the Condensery for thirty cents an hour in 1933 and worked there until 1952.  John Heuer began working there in 1937 and was there when it closed in 1953.

During the spring of the year, some 100,000 pounds of milk a day was received.  Long lines of wagons and trucks were on the highway waiting to unload.  Farmers took turns taking their milk and their neighbor's milk to town .  During this busy time, the Condensery operated seven days a week.

After going through several stages, the evaporated milk was canned and the royal blue label, Wilson Evaporated Milk, was attached.  It was packed 48 cans to a case and loaded on freight cars.  If a chain of stores ordered the evaporated milk, their label would be put on the can in place of the Wilson label.

The water used in the plant was piped across town from the dammed up portion of the creek on the northeast part of town.  The waste was dumped back into the creek on the southeast part of town.  This caused quite an odor.

During World War II, the plant was under military supervision.  The milk was put in khaki colored cans and sent to the troops.  A Corporal did duty here and once a month, and an inspector from the Army would come also for inspection.

A lot of women worked during the war because of the shortage of men.  Some of the work was hard and hot, especially when freight cars of coal had to be unloaded in the summer.  Men were paid bonuses to unload coal cars after working hours.  The supply of cans from railroad cars was unloaded into the second story by the women, which also was a very hot job.

Newspaper Article - Feb. 6, 1931

February 6, 1931: Three members of the Commercial Club of Bunker Hill would confer with officials of the Indiana Condensed Milk Co. of Indianapolis on the closing of its "condensery".  The members were club President Carl Williams, Charles E. Drew and R. H. Hayes.  The trio would make every effort to keep it from closing.  The local operation had 25 employees.

Newspaper Article: July 23, 1953 - Indiana Condensed Milk Closes Plant
July 23, 1953: The local plant of the Indiana Condensed Milk Company will cease operations here on August 1, according to a notice to all employees and patrons which was posted this (Thursday) morning at the plant.  The notice reads as follows: After several years of a low milk supply at Bunker Hill, we reached a conclusion the fore part of this month that there is not now and is not likely to be in the future a milk supply adequate to permit the efficient operation of an Evaporated Milk Plant at this location...

...Twenty three men are presently employed by the Indiana Condensed Milk Company since 1924.  Most of the men are long time employees average being 48 with only four men being under 40.

...Read more about this and other Bunker Hill, IL historical stories at

--Cite this story: The Bunker Hill IL Historical Society. "A Look Back in Bunker Hill History." Bunker Hill Gazette-News, September 6, 2012. 

Redford, Carol, and Betty Triplett. "Bunker Hill History." In Reflections: A History of the Bunker Hill-Woodburn Area, p. 136. Bunker Hill: Bunker Hill Publications, 1993. Provided by the Bunker Hill Historical Society.

--Provided by The Bunker Hill Historical Society