Insights from our first Macomb city directory
I recently spent time perusing the early Macomb town directories, which are often overlooked by local historians. They list all businesses, and sometimes all adult residents, and give a good overview of the social and cultural components of our community from generations ago. Of course, those early community booklets often don’t survive, but luckily the Malpass Library Archives at WIU have a nice collection of them.
The first local, titled “Beasley’s Macomb Directory, 1876-1877”, appeared when Macomb had a population of around 3,000, and is particularly interesting as a record of local cultural aspects 145 years ago. It was published by a printer named James W. Beasley, who operated in Princeton, Ill., And because it was priced at $ 3 – the equivalent of a few hundred dollars today – copies no. ‘were probably only acquired by civic and business leaders.
The list of businesses alone reflects a very different world, for although Macomb had a few familiar types of establishments at the time – including three lumber merchants, four drugstores, seven restaurants, nine dry goods stores, and fifteen small grocery stores. – there were a variety of types of businesses that went missing, including six blacksmiths, five flour and feed companies, five cart makers, three saddlery and harness shops, and one cart maker. Of course, these began to disappear with the arrival of automobiles at the start of the 20th century.
The yearbook reveals that the city had various skilled workers at the time, including many blacksmiths, butchers, carpenters, saddlers, painters, plasterers, carters and telegraph operators. But there were also distinctive local businesses and traders in the post-Civil War era, including a pork packer and shipper, egg packer and shipper, horse breeder, broom maker, an ice cream seller and a cigar maker.
Oddly enough, William T. Foster referred to his profession as a âwinemakerâ. He lived and produced his wines at the eastern end of Yeiser Street on the southern outskirts of town.
The occupation of Peter Hesh, who ran the city’s first bowling alley, located on Jackson Street just west of the square, was also distinctive. Along with Macomb’s three ‘billiard halls’ (meaning the billiard halls) – all located in the square – the bowling alley was a favorite spot for local men. Of course, at the time, women were not allowed to go out or be entertained in any establishment.
Macomb had in the 1870s no less than ten doctors and fourteen lawyers, all men, since these professions were closed to women. But due to the city’s early emphasis on educating women to teach (as well as men), forty-two local women were listed as teachers in 1876, when only ten men worked in the profession.
It is interesting to note that women were also appearing in a few companies. Macomb had five hat dealers – or makers and sellers of women’s hats – in the square in the 1870s, and more than a dozen other women did this work, or made and sold dresses, from their homes. Three other women are listed as doing “hair work”. Of course, there were several men’s hair salons, so these women focused on cutting and styling female hair, as some women still do.
It is also interesting to note that a small number of African Americans resided in Macomb in the mid-1870s. The town’s directory for 1876-1877 lists only twenty-six adults, but some who worked in the homes. of white residents were probably omitted, and since no black or white children are listed in the directory, the total number of blacks of all ages was probably around sixty at the time. Of course, Macomb’s public schools were incorporated several years after the Civil War, in 1872, which likely prompted some African Americans freed from slavery to settle in Macomb.
Most of the black people who worked here at the time were laborers, but the first business developed by African Americans, the Ball and Fields Barbershop on the east side of the square, had been in operation since the late 1860s, so it is mentioned in the directory. . William H. Ball and James B. Fields were the co-owners, but according to the directory, Moses Fields, a fifteen-year-old nephew of James, worked there while learning the barber trade, and Oliver Fields, another nephew who came from being thirteen, was a “porter” there. He helped customers and also helped clean the store.
Of particular note is that the city directory for 1876-1877 indicates that the Randolph House Hotel, where Lincoln twice stayed in 1858, while campaigning for the United States Senate, had several African-American employees. . Indeed, Ann Bevans, the âcookâ (or chef), was a black woman, as was her assistant, Judy Green. Beyond that, Judy’s husband George Green was the hotel doorman, who surely did most of the cleaning and helped customers with their luggage. These blacks also lived at Randolph House, as most of the employees still did.
What this reveals is the gradual post-war impact of hotel owner Matilda Jane Randolph, whose husband, William H. Randolph, had built the upscale hotel in the mid-1990s. 1850. As I indicate in “Macomb: A Pictorial History” (1990), he was the main supporter of Macomb in Lincoln. And as SJ Clarke’s History of McDonough County (1878) reports, in late 1862 Randolph even took two slaves, who had been captured by a local slavery supporter as runaways, to his hotel for prevent them from being returned to slave owners – until they can be safely freed due to President Lincoln’s new Emancipation Proclamation.
Mrs Randolph had managed the hotel since it opened in 1857, and according to the city directory for 1876-1877, she still lived there, a dozen years after her husband was murdered for enforcing the Lincoln on the Civil War. Thus, his widow was clearly pursuing her husband’s progressive racial endeavors, while being the only female hotel manager in the area and the city’s best-known businesswoman.
Of course, no other building in all of western Illinois has such a multifaceted connection to the Black Freedom Crusade and, as the city’s directory shows, to the social acceptance of blacks afterwards. war, as does the Randolph House in Macomb. That the historic building (or at least the remaining half where Lincoln stayed) now sits in serious disrepair at the southeast corner of the plaza, with no effort to preserve and renovate it, is shameful.
Macomb could make a wonderful statement about his legacy of fighting America’s mistreatment and prejudice against black people by renovating the Randolph House, so people can walk in, see Lincoln’s bedroom, and learn more. on the remarkable Randolphs, as well as on issues like our Underground Railroad drivers and our early black residents.
Regardless, our city’s first city directory reveals a lot about our community 145 years ago, and it makes us appreciate so many positive cultural changes since that time.
Writer and speaker John Hallwas is a columnist for the McDonough County Voice. Research assistance was provided by WIU Archivist Kathy Nichols.