History of Colfax Community

By Mabel Daniels, 1920

     Situated twenty-two miles east of Bloomington in the largest and
wealthiest county in the State of Illinois on a branch line of the
Bloomington-Kankakee Illinois Central R. R., is the prosperous town
of Colfax, inhabited by about one thousand people.

     Our grand state of Illinois ranks first in agriculture and stands
at the head of all manufacturing states west of the Allegheny 
mountains. McLean county lies in the heart of the rich prairies of
Illinois. Our particular community is located in the northeast part of
this wonderful county.

Its early history is extremely interesting. Before the white man came
the Indians inhabited this territory. The fierce Pottawattamies
settled near Lexington and Pleasant Hill. At this time an old building
erected by Indian hands may still be seen near Pleasant Hill. In 1831
state and national forces caused the Indians to move westward.

     When the first white settlers arrived they found much timber
land. In Martin township alone there were one thousand forty acres. 
Nearly all of this land lies along the Mackinaw creek. William and 
L.R. Wiley, two brothers from Kentucky, are claimed to be the first 
settlers of Martin Township. They came originally from Indiana 
traveling in covered wagons and finally bought land on both sides of
the Mackinaw. When the great rush for prairie land took place much of
this township was put under the plow.

     Martin, the township in which Colfax is located was named in
honor of Dr. E. Martin, a prominent physician living in Bloomington,
who owned about seventeen hundred acres of land in this township.

     This township was as eager as any section for a railroad, but all
railroad projects failed until 1879 when it was brought to this place. 
Then began the town of Colfax. The location was an elegant place for
a town especially during the few years when the railroad terminated
at this point. As it stopped about two years at Colfax, the new
town had a fine chance to grow and it lost no time in doing so. It is
built on the land formerly owned by Uncle Billy Anderson, an 
energetic citizen, who made strenuous efforts to have the road 
constructed to Colfax. 

     The village of Colfax was organized in 1880 and at once took
high rank among the thriving towns of McLean County. It was built on
rolling ground with wide business streets.

     A coal mine was started soon after the railroad reached Colfax
which gave the town another boost. This mine which was started in 
1886 was first owned by a stock company, who went bankrupt. Then the
stock was bought by Chris Ritchie and Dr. D.T. Douglass of Colfax, but
later all the shares were purchased by Mrs. Douglass. Later it was 
sold to Henry Holverschidt and Company of Chicago who operated the
mine until 1905. Miners and employees of our own town then ran the
mine until 1907, when Roy Barnes purchased all the one hundred fifty
shares. He was President and manager of the so called Co-operative
mine until 1914. In 1917 it was bought by C.H. Fisher who ran it for
one year, then sold it to Smith, Griner and Golden of Chicago. The
mine closed in March 1919.

     The coal produced from this mine has a good steam test but 
produces much ash. It sold for only two dollars per ton below the
price of the best coal produced. This mine furnished the Bloomington
Kankakee railroad line with coal from two thousand to three thousand
tons per month besides supplying all the wants of the community. A 
second mine was also started which did not prove a success. During 
these days many new houses were constructed for miners and other 

     It has appeared very fortunate that the license laws of the 
State gave every corporation an opportunity to vote on the liquor
question annually. For some years the majority ruled Colfax wet thus
creating a disturbance which proved very unpleasant and unprofitable.
In later years the thirsty ones were obliged to resort to a gallon
house just outside the city limits where beer was furnished by the
wholesale but now National Prohibition has done away with that awful
curse which has destroyed homes, lives and even communities. The
people of Colfax are to be highly recommended for the noble stand
they have taken on the temperance question.

     Among the early pioneer settlers were a few religious people. 
In 1859 at the Wiley school house a band of people of the Christian
denomination organized. There were first nineteen members. This 
organization carried on the work for four years under the pastorate
of W.G. Anderson assisted by other evangelists who came to help. In
1863 the little company was disbanded but in 1869 they met again at
the Merril school house. Later they moved to the Wilson school where
they remained until the building of the Antioch church. Here for the
first time regular Wednesday evening prayer services were observed. 
In 1880 the congregation began meeting over Green's general store. 
In 1883 the first Christian church was built. For twenty years 
services were carried on in this church. In 1907 the present building
was erected. Rev. F.M. Rains gave the dedication addresses assisted 
by N.H. Robertson. At this writing Rev. H.H. Jenner is on his fourth
year as pastor and the church is doing excellent work.

     In 1874 a congregation of the M.E. church was organized at the
William's school house by Rev. Geo. N. Puett. In 1881 a new church
was built. Services were held every Sunday. In 1909 the present 
building was erected. This large, spacious, beautiful building is 
one of the best in central Illinois. It is very unusual for a town
of this size to have such a splendid building for religious and 
social gatherings. The buiding was constructed under the pastorship
of Rev. H.M. Bloomer who has had unusual success in Normal since
leaving here. He was followed by Rev. Ferris, of Carthage, Rev. 
Brown of Onarga and Rev. Roe of Grant Park. At this time Rev. A. 
Smith is pastor and the church has a membership of five hundred.

     There were a number of people of Presbyterian faith in and 
around Colfax. A Sunday School was started in 1886. In 1888 a church
was organized occupying a rented building but in 1893 a new church
was built. Finally as the church membership dwindled away, services
were held no longer and today the old church has been torn down.

     The building that is now the Colfax Catholic church was first
built for a Christian church by an old resident some thirty odd
years ago. For a time they held services and when finally different
accomodations were afforded they rented it to the Presbyterians 
where they held services until 1892 when the Catholics bought it
of its owner, Billy Anderson. Since then it has remained in the same
place and is the same building just as it was with the exception of
the installment of new altars, pews, windows and other decorations
which have added to improve its appearance. The first Catholic 
priest to conduct services was the Rev. Father Berundine. At this
time, Father Van conducts services.

     In March 1895 the city granted a twenty year franchise to
distribute electricity. Soon a number of arc lights were obtained. 
There were also a great number of incandescent lights in use by our
business men and private houses. The light plant occupies a brick
building at the west end of main street built with every convenience
for their business. Mr R.E. Meharry went to a great expense to 
place Colfax on a metropolitan footing as far as lights are con-

     Our first newspaper entitled the "Leader" was published in 
1888 by J.A. Alford who managed it until the office was destroyed
by fire. In 1889 the paper was re-established by D.S. Mitchell who
printed the paper until his sudden and sad death occurred. 

     Next it was published by Jas. Fielding who sold it to an A.E.
Potts, and for the past five years has been published by Entwistle 
and Van Alstyne under the name of the "Colfax Press." The printing
department is supplied with good type and materials, and all orders
are filled promptly and in the best style.

     Milton Green and George Beckwith owned the first stores
established in Colfax. The first bank was established in 1893 by
J.W. Arnold. A Farmers State Bank was also started at this time
but in six or eight years was purchased by J.W. Arnold. In 1903 
the bank owned by H.L. Barnes and Son was established. In 1915
the present Farmers State Bank was organized.

     The first moving picture show was started by Fred Ingram in
1910. In 1917 the Colonial Theater was built by H.A. Arnold. This 
building is the largest and best equipped theater in central 
Illinois outside of Bloomington. It has a seating capacity of
five hundred.

     The first garage was started in 1907 by Cal Cox. Dr. Douglass
is claimed to be the first doctor. The water works were installed
in 1912 by W.E. Gowdy.

     Colfax is well supplied with stores. Without a corps of 
thoroughly live business men it would be impossible for Colfax to
reach the enviable position she holds among central Illinois towns.

     Patriotism abounds at all times and legal holidays are observed
with fitting exercises. In the last great war our colors shown more
gloriously than ever was proven by the number of men who answered
the call to arms, by the Red Cross, Belgium, relief work, and by
selling of Liberty Bonds. The women gladly gave hour after hour of
their time to the Red Cross, and the old men! Did they sit back 
with arms folded? No. They bought scores of Liberty Bonds and
willingly donated to other various organizations.

Back to Mclean County, Illinois Heritage: