The Village Of Bath
Bath was laid out in 1836 for John Curtain, who owned the land. It was surveyed by Abraham Lincoln, Deputy Surveyor of Sangamon County; and the plat of the original fifteen blocks, surveyed by the martyred President, is now in the possession of Maj. Gatton, but so defaced that little is to be learned from the document. The plat was acknowledged before Thomas Moffatt (afterward Judge Moffatt, of Springfield), and recorded by Benjamin Talbot, Recorder of Sangamon County, under date of December 13, 1836. Maj. Gatton bought out Curtain, and thus became one of the proprietors of the town. There have been several additions made to the original fifteen blocks of Bath, among which we may notice those of Dummer & Mahoney, Ross, Gatton, Bunton & Martin, and Ruggles' Addition.|
Mr. Lincoln and his surveying party, during their work at Bath, boarded with Charley Richardson, who acted as one of the chain-carriers. The following good story is told as having occurred, while the surveyors were domiciled at Mr. Richardson's. A party of sportsmen from Schuyler County came over on a hunt, and, as the hotels were all full at the time (with Sunday-school and temperance excursionists), they were "taken in" by Mr. Richardson, and provided for as well as the nature of the case would permit. "Billy" Brown, one of the Schutler County "tads" (who had partaken bountifully of deer meat and wild honey), like John on the Isle of Patmos (Richardson lived then on Grand Island) had a vision during the night, in which he saw the world on fire, an event he seemed desirous to evade. Rising from the soft side of one of the puncheons of Mr. Richardson's cabin floor, still half asleep, he looked through a crack between logs of the wall, and saw the blazing furnace of an Illinois River steamer with her prow turned shoreward, near where the cabin stood. Her shrill whistle, for the purpose of awakening the men at the wood-yard, was mistaken by Brown for Gabriel's trumpet. Dropping upon his knees, he engaged in fervent prayer, much to the amusement of Mr. Lincoln and the others of the party. Brown did not hear the last of his devotional exercises while the hunters remained, and perhaps not for many a day after their return home.
The first house erected in the present village, deserving the name of dwelling, was built by Maj. Gatton, or rather he had it built. His brother, R. P. Gatton, came up and superintended its erection, and when it was completed Maj. Gatton moved into it. When his house was erected, there was a little pole cabin standing in the precincts of the present village, which had been built by a man named Carey. Gatton's house was of hewed logs, as already noticed in the township history, and is still standing.
The first store was opened by Nelms & Gatton in 1842, and soon after them Col. West began merchandising, and kept the second store in Bath. The first blacksmith is the same as mentioned in the township history. The mercantile business steadily increased until Bath became a successful competitor of Havana, the oldest town in the county.
The first post office was established in 1842, and B. H. Gatton appointed Postmaster. He carried the mail himself from Havana to Bath for six months, for which Uncle Sam neglected to pay him, notwithstanding the old gentleman has always been considered good for his debts to his public servants. His first quarter's pay as Postmaster amounted to the rousing sum of 43 ¼ cents, principally cash. John S. Wilbourn succeeded Mr. Gatton as Postmaster. After various changes in this department, U. B. Lindsley has succeeded to the office.
Gatton & Ruggles built the first mill in Bath, about 1850-51, at a cost of about $12,000, which had two run of buhrs. After several years' operation, it became the property of a man named Robinson, who took out the machinery and moved it across the river, and the frame was moved down on the railroad and converted into a grain elevator, which purpose it still serves. Craggs, noticed among the early settlers, built a saw-mill in the bottom, some years after the one mentioned above, which was bought by Marshall, and was afterward moved into the village. He made several additions to it, changed it into a flouring-mill, and finally made a fortune out of it during the war. He sold it to Cameron & Fletcher. Some years ago, it was burned, and the present "Bath Mills" built. The structure is a substantial frame, with three run of buhrs, and cost about $6,000. The first tavern was kept by Col. West, in what is now the Central Hotel, though it has been enlarged and improved since its first occupation as a place of public entertainment. It is now kept by Mr. Barr, and is the only hotel in the village. Before it was opened by Col. West, Maj. Gatton used to entertain the wayfaring men who chanced to come this way.
The grain trade at Bath was, at one time, the most extensive in the county, except Havana. The first dealer was Maj. Gatton, who commenced the business very early. He bought grain here for about four years, when J. M. Ruggles became his partner. This partnership continued at intervals from 1846 to 1860. The first was under the firm name of Ruggles & Co., and extended from 1846 to 1849, when Gatton had a violent attack of gold fever, sold out and crossed the plains to California. On his return, business was resumed with Ruggles, under the firm name of Gatton, Ruggles & Co., when Gatton took a relapse of the gold-fever, and again made an overland trip to California. When he again came back to Illinois, the old partnership was renewed, as Gatton & Ruggles. The first elevator was built by Gatton, but the most of the shipping by him and his firm was by river, in barges and canal boats. Barges were often loaded at their wharf and shipped direct to New York, Boston and New Orleans. There are two large grain elevators and grain warehouses on the railroad, with large storage capacity. Mrs. Simmons now owns the one built by Gatton. The other is owned by the Havighorst estate. The grain trade at present is carried on by Gatton, (Since this was written, Maj. Gatton has removed to Missouri and located in Gunn City, Cass County) Low & Foster, of Havana, and Wilson, Garm & Co., of Beardstown. The latter firm do the largest business, and ship by the river exclusively, owning their own boats and barges, and will, eventually (Mr. Gatton says), absorb the entire grain trade of the place. Before the completion of the Springfield & North-Western Railroad, the business at this point reached an average of 500,000 bushels annually, but has been diminishing ever since its completion, owing to the fact that those in the eastern part of the township, who used to come to Bath with their grain, now ship over that road.