The City of Havana
Havana, the capital of Mason County, a flourishing little city of about 3,000 inhabitants, is situated on the Illinois River, on the Peoria, Pekin & Jacksonville Railroad, at the terminus of the extension of the Indianapolis, Bloomington & Western and of the Springfield & North-Western Railroads, and is forty-seven miles from Springfield, forty miles from Peoria and two hundred miles southwest of Chicago. It was surveyed about 1827-28, and the town staked out by Stephen Dewey, for Maj. Ossian M. Ross, who had entered the land upon which it is located, and the plat recorded, in 1835, in Tazewell County, to which this part of Mason County then belonged. Maj. Ross entered the land in 1827, and established a ferry across the Illinois River at this point, which has already been frequently mentioned in these pages. The first house built in the present city of Havana, if we may except a few rude huts and a couple of block houses which had apparently been built as a protection against the Indians at a time "when the mind of man runneth not to the contrary," was erected by Maj. Ross about the year 1829, and is still remembered in the early history of the county, as "Ross' Hotel." It was the scene of many of the incidents which transpired here forty and fifty years ago. Within its historical halls, the first post office in Mason County was established in it, and the first store in Havana occupied one of its rooms. It stood on the bluff, at the northwest corner of Market and Water streets, of Block 22 of the town plat. Adolph Krebaum owns two-thirds of the original lot and Alexander Stuart the remainder. The first private residence was also built by Ross where the Taylor House now stands. It was a frame building, and, as we have said, the first residence, except the cabins already alluded to and the hotel. Bernhard Krebaum also built a frame residence soon after he came to the town, which was the next after that erected by Ross. Maj. Ross also built six cottages or small dwellings to accommodate new-comers to the future city. The first building erected purposely for a storehouse was put up by N. J. Rockwell, on the river, very near to where Mr. Myer's brick residence now stands. The first store was kept by Maj. Ross in his hotel, and was in operation when the Krebaums came in 1834. The next store was kept by Col. Holmes and John W. Wiggenton and also occupied a room in Ross' Hotel, but was rather a small affair, even for those primitive days. Rockwell was one of the early merchants, and was, perhaps, the next in the field after those we have mentioned. Orrin Foster kept the next hotel after Ross, as already mentioned. There are now three hotels in the city, besides several restaurants. The hotels are the Taylor House, Mason House and the American House. The Taylor House, kept by that prince of landlords, Billy Morgan, is the leading "caravansary" of the town, the great resort of commercial salesmen and of the traveling public generally. The other two are less pretentious, but have a good run of custom. George Christian was the first regular blacksmith. Ross, who owned a large farm, kept a shop, but principally for his own work. Christian was here very early and entered land in the vicinity of Havana. In 1829, a post office was established at "Ross' Ferry," known at first, we believe, by the name of The Ferry, with Ossian M. Ross as Postmaster. This was before the city of Chicago had a post office, and at a period when mails were usually carried on horseback, and letters cost twenty-five cents apiece at the office of delivery. Although this office outranks the Chicago office in age, it has suffered the latter to outgrow it so far, that serious apprehensions are entertained that Havana will never overtake it. The genial O. C. Easton is the present Postmaster General of the Havana office. At the time of the formation of Mason County, Havana was one of the three original voting precincts, and included all of that part of the county taken from Tazewell, extending from the north line of Mason as far south as the north line of Town 20. The first election in which the Havana Precinct cast a vote was held on the 7th of August, 1837 (Havana was then in Tazewell County, as Mason was not created until 1841). A copy of the original poll-book, in possession of C. W. Andrus, is before us, and from it we learn that it was "an election held at the town of Havana, in the Havana Precinct, in the county of Tazewell, and State of Illinois," etc., and that it was for "County Clerk, Probate Justice of the Peace, County Treasurer and Notary Public." This old poll-book shows that there were twelve votes cast, as follows: Daniel Adams, Henry Shepherd, O. E. Foster, N. J. Rockwell, Anson C. Gregory, A. W. Kemp, B. F. Wiggenton, V. B. Holmes, C. W. Andrus, William Hyde, J. H. Neteler. (The last named we are unable to decipher, it presenting an appearance of having been struck by a tornado.) B. F. Wiggenton and A. W. Kemp were Clerks. At this election, the candidates voted for were John H. Morrison, for County Clerk; Joshua C. Morgan, for Probate Justice of the Peace; Lewis Prettyman, for County Treasurer, and William H. Sandusky, for Notary Public. The validity of the election is attested by a certificate, duly sworn to by N. J. Rockwell, Henry Shepherd and Daniel Adams, "Judges of the Election." The vote of the city and township of Havana has increased somewhat since the holding of the election above described. The aggregate vote now, when interesting questions call out the "sturdy yeomanry," is not far from eight hundred.|
The first Justices of the Peace of whom we have any account were Eli Fisk and A. W. Kemp. They were commissioned as such before the organization of the county. Daniel Adams and Isaac Parkhurst were also early Justices of the Peace in Havana Precinct. Such a formidable array of legal luminaries is probably due to the fact that Havana, in an early day, was surrounded by some rather hard characters. Fulton County, we are told, used to come over in force, and, in lieu of the handy revolver of the present day, would bring billets of cord-wood with which to pelt their foes. To such an extent was this pastime carried, that Point Isabel, a promising village that once stood on the opposite side of the river from Havana, was known far and near as "Bloody Point," and the melees that occurred within its limits were somewhat on the Donnybrook order. And then, too, the natives from Salt Creek timber and the Sangamon bottoms would pay an occasional visit to Havana, always making matters lively while they remained. There is still a prevailing tradition that Jesse Baker (peace to his ashes! We intend no sacrilege) once raided the town, and conducted himself with such a high hand that Mr. Andrus was appointed a posse comitatus to arrest him, a duty he performed with perfect success. It is, however, due to the honor and credit of Havana to state that these "turbulent spirits" were usually from abroad, and that Havana's own citizens were of a most honorable and law-abiding character, traits that have come down and are deeply seated in the present generation.
The first brick house erected in the present city of Havana was a storehouse, built by J. H. & D. P. Hole, in 1857. Prior to this, the buildings, with the exception, perhaps, of the Court House and Jail, were of wood. In the same year (1857) William Walker erected a brick residence, the first of that kind in the place. Since that date, many substantial, and even elegant residences have been built which would be no disgrace to a much larger city. The class of business houses are good, and indicate to the stranger an idea of energy and enterprise, as well as business prosperity. Although making no pretensions to a wholesale trade, nor claiming to be a manufacturing city, Havana commands a large and flourishing retail business, and but for its close proximity to Pekin and Peoria, might become an extensive manufacturing town.