Vermont Illinois - Vestige of a Gilded Age

The land, granted to veterans of the War of 1812, was settled by men & women coming from New England ... the Mid-Atlantic States ... and from the Mid-South. Many were of various Protestant faiths, including the Quakers. They were looking for new land ... open land.

  Founded in 1835, Vermont leapt to the forefront by mid century. Originally an agrarian community, Vermont had grown into a meat packing center. Wagons of salt pork were being hauled to the wharves of the Illinois River at Browning, to feed a hungry nation, forming the basis of several local fortunes. The village sported ... seven pork packing firms, mills and tanneries, saw mills and brickyards, two hotels, a bank and numerous mercantile houses. Vermont had become a commercial center for a radius of 25 miles. It also supported several fraternal organizations, the arts and cultural events.


Business leaders began to build grand houses with ideas imported from architectural pattern books. The first of the surviving high-style residences, the Stapleford-Hoover- Whitney House, was completed, circa 1855, only 23 years after the primitive log dwellings of New Salem, Illinois, were built. Stapleford-Hoover-Whitney House
Stapleford-Hoover-Whitney House

  Other significant houses followed as Vermont's mercantile "giants" continued the trend with the Harvey Lee Ross House (1857), the Col. Thomas Hamer House (1858), and the Joab Mershon House (1859). The men and women who arrived in the late 1830's were now masters of their fates... they were carving a world of comfort and grandeur from the once virgin land.


The issue of slavery left the community divided, as was much of Illinois... a state which required runaways to be returned to their masters. Yet the growth of the "metropolis" was not impaired. To this day there are stories of "underground railroad" activity.

  On October 27, 1858, Abraham Lincoln addressed the citizens during his campaign circuit. When the war began in 1861, most volunteers joined the Union army, but a few followed their sympathies south to join the Confederacy ... those who returned built their careers and businesses ... they brought two railroads through town by 1870 ... and they built more grand houses.

Civil War Monument & Koons Mausoleum

  The period of 1865-1872 was one of accelerated construction. Major business blocks rose. The Mershon Bank was completed in 1869 as was the Dilworth Building at the north end of the block. They were designed in the latest Victorian fashion, the "Italianate" style. The Opera House over the bank, Mershon's Hall, served Vermont's taste for the arts and society happenings.

Mershon Bank Building & Opera House

High-style residences began to spring up on Fifth Street -- The Lane-- Vermont's own version of Society Hill. At the west end, just across from his own home, Joab Mershon built an Italianate house for his daughter and son-in-law, William Franklin & Rebecca Durell. Anchoring the east end, Mershon's business partner Robert Dilworth, erected a stately three story residence... and between them ... Patterson Hamer, Ezra Dilworth, and Col. Caleb Cox all continued the trend of constructing delightful Italianate and Second Empire residences. Elsewhere in town Edward Hamer built a fine Italianate and Gothic style house.

  When the homes were complete... the landscapes and the gardens were designed. Vestiges of these are still evident as mature pines and tamaracks, ginkos, tulip trees and non-native species continue to grace the lawns of these residences.

  The wealth of these early families and the two rail links allowed them to winter along the southern Gulf shore. They took the waters at Hot Springs. And they came home to Vermont to live the "good" life.

Robert Dilworth House

Robert Dilworth House

Patterson Hamer House


  Toward the end of the century, though, Vermont's dynamic growth began to wane. However, very fine buildings, were still being constructed: the Henry Mershon House (1888), the Masonic Hall (1891), the Odd Fellows Hall (1891), and into the first decades of the twentieth century ... the Park Johnston House (1903), the Leighty Block (1904), the Henry Page Houses I (1908) and II (1912), and the Daniel O'Connell House (1928).

  Highways were built ... and passed Vermont on both the north and south. It became a place tucked away down a country road. The economy slowed... and in so doing the architecture was saved the fate of the wrecking ball. The fine business buildings survive. The fine residences remain. Preservation is in the wind allowing Vermont to remain a ...

Vestige of a Gilded Age.

Link to Additional Information About Vermont

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