Woodford County Historical and Genealogical Society
Dedicated to the preservation and sharing of the history of Woodford County, Illinois.
1903 – 1931 – From an address by Marvin Keys and published in the Metamora Herald 9 January 1931.
The organization was begun in 1903 by a group of people who wanted to “discover, collect and preserve anything that pertains to the natural, industrial social, civil, military, political, educational or religious history of Woodford county.” They wanted to establish a “library and a museum to cultivate the historic sense and diffuse knowledge upon these subjects by meetings and publications.”
The first annual meeting of the newly organized society was held in the county courthouse in Eureka, 3 December 1903…Those taking part in the program were “Col. B. D. Meek, Prof. B. J. Radford, J. C. Irving, Miss Rogerta Dickinson with an original poem, Prof. O. B. Clark and Capt. J. H. Burnham.”
The Society held annual and mid-year meetings where addresses were heard on historical subjects.
“In connection with the Peoria Chapter of Daughters of the Revolution the society marked graves of soldiers of the war of 1812, the Mexican war and the Revolutionary War.
The 70th anniversary of Woodford county was celebrated with a good program, 27 Feb 1911.
“The Society has marked several historic sites. In the old locust grove a quarter of a mile southwest of the public square in Metamora a twelve thousand pound red granite native boulder marks the place where the stand stood from which Lincoln and Douglas spoke in 1858 on separate days. The society also placed a 4,000 pound red granite egg-shaped boulder to mark the site in Eureka where Lincoln spoke in 1856. It placed a marker where the first school building stood that developed into Eureka College. And Versailles is honored with a marker which says: ‘The first county seat from 1841-1848.’ Likewise the Bowling Green site is marked with a boulder saying: ‘Lincoln traveled this way.’”
About the same time as the boulders were being set, the DAR began marking the trail that the 8th Circuit Court would have traveled through Woodford County. “Mr. John L. McGuire marked on a map of the county the road traveled by the court and attendants from where it leaves Tazewell county and enters Woodford county, about 2 miles north of Washington, on the diagonal state road, to Metamora. Prof. B. J. Radford on the same map marked its easternly and southeasternly course from metamor through the Mt. Zion settlement and on by Eureka to old Versailles and Bowling Green to the south line of Kansas township where the trail leaves Woodford county and enters McLean county in its course to Bloomington. The county map with the Lincoln Trail so traced by these early settlers is on file among the papers belonging to the society.
Later the DAR and the society marked the Lincoln trail with three pressed concrete shafts, one is on the county line about 2-1/2 miles south of Metamora on the angling road between Metamora and Washington. A larger one adorns the lawn in front of the Lincoln Courthouse in Metamora. The third marker is near the county line in Kansas township. All 3 markers bear bronze tablets with Lincoln medallions . These markers were dedicated in befitting ceremonies. Credit is given to the County Board of Supervisors for financial support of the project.
From the organization of the society attention has been given to the collection of relics peculiar to the pioneer days in the county…Having no special place for our primitive collection, our relics were placed in different rooms in the Eureka courthouse, mor or less in the way. As the collection increased, articles were store in members’ homes. When the state took over the old courthouse in October 1921, and repairs were made on the building, placing it in the same condition as it was in Lincoln’s time, the state gave the county historical society privilege to place its collection in what was the courtroom on the second floor, even shipping several large old showcases to Metamora for the society’s use.
In June 1926 the Society transferred its entire collection of relics to Metamora nd placed it in the courtroom of the courthouse. The smaller articles were put in the cases so provided; the larger pieces were given space about the room. The pictures of early settlers adorn the walls. Two cases contain the library of books, some of which are more than a hundred years old.
The historic courthouse is now known as the Lincoln Memorial Court House and Historical Museum. Some items on display are “the high post cord bedstead with its associated trundlebed, the wooden washboard, flax break, flax hackles, flax spinning wheels, woolen spinning wheels, candle molds, tallow dip, hand reaping hook and hand reaping cradles, two row hand corn platners, pewter spoon molds, weaving loom and hundreds of other articles in common use in the hoe and on the farm from 50 to a hundred and fifty years ago.
Dues in 1931 were $1 a year.
August 25, 1938
Co. Historical Group Holds Potluck Meet on L. J Freese Farm
A large number of members and friends…held their annual picnic at the beautiful Freese farm near Eureka, Thursday last week. The day was perfect and a basket dinner was enjoyed at the noon hour.
At 2 p.m. a program was held under the beautiful shade trees in the yard, with Prof. Freese, president of the society, presiding. The meeting was opened with the singing of “America.” Invocation was by Rev. Burns, a duet by Mrs. Birkett of Washington and Mrs. Schroeder of Peoria, and Mr. Darwood played on the musical saw with Mrs. L. J. Freese accompanying on the organ. Mrs. H. G. Eichhorn gave a dramatic reading, “The Romance of the Rose and the Butterfly,” which was most appropriate in that beautiful grove. A memorial service was then held in honor of the 2 members who had passed away the past year, Joseph Fifer and Dr. George Zeller. …Judge Foster then made an interesting address and the meeting was closed with the singing of “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.”
The organ used at this meeting was bought by Prof. Freese’s father in the early sixties and was the first organi in this part of the state…Dr. and Mrs. H. G. Eichhorn extended an invitation to the society to hold a picic at their park near Spring Bay on Friday, Sept. 2.
Notes from Karen Fyke’s memory - 6 January 2016
J. L. Freese was president for a number of years. He died in the early 40s and the society went dormant, mostly because of the involvement of the U.S. in WWII.
It lay dormant until about 1973 when a group revived it, incorporating it and revising the constitution and bylaws. They applied for and received 501 C 3 status. Instrumental in the early days were Les Whistler as well as Janet and Nelson Smith. One of their first big projects was to organize the society to ‘walk’ all 94 of the county’s cemeteries, recording what could be read on every stone. The notes were collected into printed form and were the genesis of the current cemetery records maintained at the Research Room.
In the early 1980s society members wanted to preserve the 1837 timber house (log cabin) that was almost inaccessible in Worth Township. The project was too costly to consider until Bertha Snyder’s will bequeathed a great deal of money to Metamora. Under the direction of Phil Fisher, Shirley Adams, Bill Schuck, Sylvia and Ralph Small, and many others, the building was moved to Black Partridge Park and set on a new foundation. It was opened for visitors in 1990 and remains one of the Society’s most noteworthy achievements. The Lee Log Cabin, as it is called, is open from May through October on Sunday afternoons. All of the care and maintenance is done with volunteer labor and funded by the Society and through donations.
For the first several years the Research Room was located at the Eureka Public Library. It was in what used to be a bedroom of the Annie Davidson house and was not handicapped accessible.
In 1994 the Society moved across the street to Dr. Nichol’s building in what used to be his walnut-paneled office. The building was owned by Dr. Nichols’ daughter and the rent was $200 a month. The building was sold in 2006 and the Society moved in 2007 to 112 N. Main to a building owned by Jim and Karen Fyke who continued to rent the space to the Society for $200 a month.
The Society currently conducts 9 programs a year, March through November, as well as a Christmas program. In past years the December program/dinner has been in held at the Chanticleer Restaurant, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, and for the past 10 years at the Panther Creek Church of the Brethren.
The organization holds no meetings in January and February.
At the beginning of the year the executive committee meets and organizes the program schedule for the coming year. In the past few years meetings have included such diverse topics as watch/clock/antique evaluations, a trip to an elk farm, Civil War Dance exhibitions, the David Davis Home in Bloomington, and talks on Abraham Lincoln, the Illinois Central Railroad, Irish emigration, diamonds and cameos, the history of the Pfister Company and many, many more.
The Society maintains a Research Room at 112 N. Main in Eureka which is manned by volunteers on Wednesday and Friday afternoons from 1 – 4. The collection includes nearly every book that has been written about Woodford County, all of the 94 cemetery lists, maps and plat books, family histories, histories of WC churches, towns and schools. In addition there are many resources concerning military events and people, and many books from neighboring counties. Many scrapbooks have been donated, and these provide unique glimpses into the history of the area.
Woodford County is represented at the website Genealogy Trails where many of the Society’s resources are made available through the internet. Many times a year people request genealogical information by email or postal mail. Volunteers find the information, copy it and mail it out for a minimal fee.
In 2008-2009 the Society organized the publication of the book, Eureka, Illinois: Celebrating 150 Years. In addition to history and photos, there are many ‘patron pages’ which were paid for by individuals and include family information and photos.
In 2010 the Society began collecting information of anyone who served in the military and who lived or died or is buried in Woodford County. Published in 2012, the book includes the names and information of over 5,000 servicemen and women. Since there were many in the county who somehow didn’t know about the book and therefore did not submit information on their family members, an Addendum was published in 2014. It contained another 1,500 names.
Currently the Society is working on a book that will celebrate one-room schools in the county. Citizens are asked to provide information about schools they either know about or attended. Accumulating the data is a laborious project, and it is anticipated that the book will not be published before 2018.
The Society also sponsored Carol Anderson’s first book, Eureka Public Buildings, that was published in November of 2016.
The Society maintains a ‘mini-museum’ at 112 N. Main. Contained are artifacts donated over the years. At present there is no more display room available, so donations of actual objects is curtailed.
It is to be anticipated hat the Society will have a new, permanent home in the lower level of the Davidson Barn community center when it is completed in a couple of years. This will give the organization a permanent location and the opportunity to interact with the community more directly than is now possible.
Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Other Days by appointment via email
History of Woodford County Historical Society