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From the Summer 1973 Edition of the

“Heritage” of Vermilion County



(Note: As this information is quoted, spelling and grammar corrections will not be done – the information will appear in these articles as it appeared in the publication. ~Vickie L. Slavik, Village Clerk, Village of Westville)


Brooks Point to Westville

          “When Hiram Beckwith wrote his history of Vermilion County in 1879, Westville was a pleasant little farming village, just six years old.  Of the ten leading citizens listed in the book, nine were farmers or stock raisers.  They were James O’Neal, James Sandusky, O.S. Graves, James Ashby, John Dukes, John P. Cook, James M. Cook, James B. Cook, and John Cage.  The tenth man was J.W. Lockett, a merchant.

          According to an article by Joe Ottino, which appeared in the April 6, 1941 Commercial News, there are different versions as to the beginning of the town.  The most accepted one is that William P. and E.A. West laid out the village as a station on the Danville and Southwestern Railroad in May 1873.  Others give the credit to Mrs. Elizabeth West.  Only two blocks were platted at that time.

          Another account goes farther back.  Benjamin Brooks came from Indiana and made claim on what was later known as the Spencer farm.  He went back to Indiana, and before he returned Spencer had taken the land.  Brooks was given the claim to a point of timber which became known by his name.  Bob Cotton and Mr. O’Neal had moved in in the meantime, and Brooks Point had promise of being a flourishing little settlement.

          It was here that James O’Neal, the first white boy to be born in the county, first saw the light of day in 1827.  James O’Neal’s parents, Thomas and Sarah O’Neal, came from Nelson County, Kentucky, and in 1821 entered land at Brooks Point.  Three years later they entered land near the Big Vermilion at Grape Creek.  Here O’Neal established a tannery and made and dressed leather and made Indian moccasins for his own use and to sell to the Indians.

          John Brooks was the second white child born in the county.

          Meanwhile, Moses Scott had come from Indiana in a hand made wagon pulled by an ox team.  He and Benjamin Brooks, somewhere around 1850 entered claim to property in the area of what is now Westville according to government records.  It was known as Scott’s Corner and turned into a thriving community.

          Scott built the first building, a crude log cabin, on the southwest corner of what became the Westville square.  A man named Wright had a blacksmith shop on the northwest corner.  On the northeast corner one of the Dukes set up a large pair of scales to weigh hogs before they were sent to the market in Chicago or Newport.

          One might go even farther back.  The point where the stream of Grape Creek flows into the Vermilion River was the site of a village of Piankeshaws two centuries prior to the coming of the Kickapoos and Pottawatomies.

          White men came into the area following a buffalo trail.

          The Kickapoo Indians were warlike, and the pioneers tried hard to keep them pacified with gifts.  Farmer’s wives won the redmen’s hearts with pies and cakes and homemade bread.

          How did Westville get its name?  According to the issue of June 6, 1909, Danville Press-Democrat, former Danville daily newspaper, it was named by Mrs. Elizabeth West; she was a daughter of Moses Scott and inherited a portion of land on the hill of Brooks Point.

          The earliest settlers were mostly English, although there were some Dutch from Pennsylvania.

          The first business in the area was established in 1872 by Parker and Ellsworth.  First the store was west of the railroad; later it was moved to the east side and sold to Cook and Alexander, who began a general merchandizing trade.  The store changed hands several times during the first few years of its existence.  Other early owners were Dukes and Doops, Boone & Jumps, and J.W. Lockett and Brother.

          H.C. Myers opened the first drug store in 1877.  He was succeeded by Dr. W.D. Steele.

          Jonathan Clayton became the first blacksmith in 1872.  He was followed by a Mr. Haller and then J.F. Hutchinson.

          The post office was established in 1876 with S.W. Dukes the first postmaster and J.W. Lockett the second.

          In 1890 the first saloon was opened; it was in connection with a hotel.

          It was on July 30, 1896, that a petition consisting of 35 names was submitted to the Vermilion County Courthouse for an Order of Court, requesting that Westville be organized as a village.  Some of these names are well-known, their children’s children still living:  William Boyd, John Roberts, John Possolt, John Kelly, J.H. Dukes, Leanard Stark and John L. Moses, to name a few.  The following September saw a meeting of the first village board in a town of 303 population.  Dr. Buford Taylor was the first mayor, J.B. Falcetti the first clerk, and the following comprised the board:  J.T. O’Neal, William Ashby, R.L. Brooks, H.T. Parker, James Leighty and John W. Evans.  Meetings were held at Dr. Taylor’s for a brief time, then at Ballard’s Hall until the present village hall was built in 1902.

          Other dates prominent during this period were the annexation of Kellyville in 1897, telephone lines in 1900, electricity in 1901; the last-named date was also the beginning of the “Toonerville Trolley,” well-remembered by today’s grandparents.  It was then that the Danville, Paxton & Northern Railroad was given the right to construct and operate an electric railway in the village.  It ran one car per day along the street adjacent to what is now the Georgetown Road, intersecting at the Kellyville Szilagyi store and going on through Lyons.”

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Black Gold

          “Coal mining began in Vermilion County about 1866 when William Kirkland, Hugh Blackney, Graves and Lafferty began strip mining in the Grape Creek area.  Labor was scarce so Kirkland imported the first miners.  A shipload of Belgian miners was brought in to show the early coal mine developers how to start the slopes and how best to mine profitably.  After that, there was a steady influx of Belgians every year when they heard coal mines were booming in Vermilion County.

          Mining in the Westville area began about 1880.  The shaft of the first big mine was sunk at Himrod in 1895 by the Himrod Coal Company.  The mine was sold to the Kelly interests in 1908 and was closed, it was thought, temporarily, soon after.  However, a water main burst in the mine and it never reopened.

          Mike Kelly, a native of Ireland, had come to the Grape Creek area after some strip mining in the Hungry Hollow region.  He obtained the contract to supply coal for the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad.  This was his first big break.

          Soon after the Twentieth Century began, he discovered another and better vein of coal.  With L.T. Dickerson as a partner his business flourished.  He bought out Dickerson; he bought more land.  He became the largest individual coal operator in Illinois when in 1903 he purchased the Himrod Coal Company for $260,000.  In 1905 he sold his interests to Sen. William B. McKinley for three million dollars. 

          In 1890 there were 64 mines in production in the county.  Twice, in 1897 and in 1899, Vermilion Country ranked first in coal production in Illinois.  At that time 4,000 people were employed in the mines.

          The Vermilion mine was first sunk in 1902 by John T. Dickerson, who with Mike Kelly also operated the first bank in Westville.  (Kelly later bought out Dickerson in the bank.)  Dickerson sold his mine interest to John Vermilion (hence the name.) 

          Little Vermilion was organized in 1907.

          Eastern capital entered the picture when these properties were acquired by the Bunsen Company in 1908.  The Bunsenville shaft was sunk in 1909, and the mine was opened five years later.  A small community grew up around the mine, which bore the name of the man Bunson.  Ultimately U.S. Fuel, a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, was created and became the owner of the extensive Vermilion County mines.

          The Kelly Mines No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 were situated around the town; the Bunsen, Peabody and the Dering Coal Co., all contributed to increased coal production – but while it provided daily bread for the miner and his family, it also created hardship, violence and bloodshed.

          Poor working conditions, long hours and small pay caused strike after strike.  Most memorable was the Big Strike of 1896, remembered by every old timer of the coal mines – a story lived and re-lived, told and re-told.  Worn out shoes and there was no money to replace them; empty pantries, and cardboard in the children’s shoes.  Ensuing years brought more strikes, all of long duration and all a struggle – but each a victory.  One in 1906 lasted three months, another of similar duration in 1910, a six-month struggle in 1912, another in 1932.  Little by little the miner’s union, headed by John L. Lewis, brought about a wage scale, improved working conditions, shorter working hours, child labor laws.

          The depression hit the mines and miners hard, as it did all other industries.  It was common for miners to bank together and open “dog hole” operations on a hillside for as little as $25 outlay.  Most sales were local, but the work kept the men going during the bad years.

          Mining in the county began declining soon after.  One reason for the decline was poor roof conditions.  As long as mining was by hand this was no problem, but with the extensive of mining machinery the question of safety was involved.  Another reason for the decline was the high sulphur content of local coal, which made it inadaptable to metallurgical coke.

          Little Vermilion was closed in 1932.  Peabody mechanized no. 24 in 1927, was sold to Chicago and Harrisburg in 1942, and closed three years later.  Bunsenville, the largest mine in the county, closed in 1945.

          So the year 1945 saw the curtains fall on the last act of coal mining in Westville.  Dwindling for years, it was kept alive only to help the war effort.  The coal age was over, people said, and Westville might well become a ghost town, but they were wrong.  Workers began a mass migration each day to diversified industries being developed in the Danville area.”

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Living in the ‘Patch’


          “The life of the coal miners was never easy; in the early days it was almost unbelievably hard.  In an early issue of THE HERITAGE appeared an article on The Belgians by Mildred J. Hamick.  She quoted a story told her by an elderly woman who remembered the early days.

          ‘In this one section, the coal mine owner built many houses.  They were all alike and some had two, three and four rooms.  Most of them were hastily and not very well built.  The walls and floors had large cracks in them and were hard to heat in the winter.  All the houses were fenced in and we called it the “Patch.”  Usually there was only one entrance with a gate, and we had one community well for water.  The owner always had a company store and the miners were expected to trade there, although the prices were always higher.  We bought all our needs there, and these were deducted from the pay along with the rent for the house.  Many times there was very little, if anything, left on the paycheck.

          The immigrants grew to hate the company store.  Every once in a while they received their vengeance when a peddler would gain admittance to the “Patch” in some way and sell all his goods and wares to the people much cheaper.’

          She told of some families who dared to trade at stores other than the company store.  If they were reported, they sometimes lost their jobs or were sternly reprimanded.

          ‘Most of us had to take our coal in the house with us so it would not be stolen, as we could not afford to lose it.  Even vegetables were hauled inside and stored.  One girl even slept with some seeds of a hard-to-come-by vegetable so they wouldn’t freeze and so they could be cultivated the next spring.

          Many a time we had to saw the bread for breakfast.  If it was stored too far from the stove, it was frozen.

          Wallpaper was too expensive, so the people did the next best thing.  They papered the walls with newspapers to make it warmer and jollier and cleaner.  Homemade rugs were knitted or crocheted to put on the cold floors.’

          Another woman told how miners almost always had a shed in the rear of the house where the husband would find a tub of hot water and clean clothes laid out.  He cleaned up, left his dirty clothes in the washhouse, and entered a spotlessly clean kitchen.”

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- Mose by Mary Dequimpaul


          “This is the story of ‘Mose.’  He was a normal, healthy American boy who would have found baseball as much fun as the boy who lives in your house or mine.  He’d have found fishing a lot of fun, too, not to mention marbles or swimming.  After all, he was only 11, just old enough to go hunting with his dad, yet not old enough to do it alone.

          But Aaron ‘Mose’ Dudley, born Feb. 11, 1883, at Coal Creek, Ind., wasn’t active in any of these boyhood joys.  He was several hundred feet underground, loading coal.

          For him and thousands of other lads like him in the year 1894, the day began with the gray, still dawn.  Attired in work clothes which include ordinary shoes and soft cap he walked to the mine – unless fortunate enough to get a ride – holding his lunch-and-water pail slightly aloft.  To carry it straight would have caused it to drag the ground.

          Arriving at the mine, the workers entered the ‘cage’ which carried them ‘down under.’  From the ‘cage’ Mose sometimes walked as far as a mile to the room where he loaded.

          Like most mines of that day, it was little less than a place dug out – no timbers to hold it up.  What did hold them up?  Luck and God’s will, mostly.  The few small fans did little for ventilation, the air shafts were inadequate, seldom cleaned out, and in cold weather often froze up, causing ventilation to be even worse.”

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- Muscles and Mules


          “Light was cast by small oil lamps attached to the miner’s cap.  All the work was done by hands, muscle and mules.

          The wages?  Thirty to 40 cents a ton for loading.  If one was fortunate one could load 8 to 10 tons per day.

          The hours?  Ten to 12 a day, broken only by the lunch, usually consisting of cornbread and beans, with the water in the lower lunch pail compartment.

          The miners of yesteryear coming home after a day’s work were a memorable sight.  They came down the road singly, in two’s or three’s – all identical with coal dust from head to foot, backs bent in weariness.  There was little talk; they were too tired for that.

          And each home was identical with a hand-made bench at the back door on which sat the old tin tubs in which the miners washed.  Cold weather necessitated transfer of the tubs to the “summer kitchen,” a separate shed which most homes had as secondary kitchens.”

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Of Many – One by Bertha Shimkus

          “The natural shifting of the sands of time obliterates the heritage treasures of many a nation or community when they are relegated to memories of the past.  Westville, like many communities, possesses an abundance of treasures which merit fostering and preserving as part of our heritage.  Many people and organizations have contributed ably to the growth, advancement, and happiness in our city.

          Living in Westville was probably very much like living in many small areas in our state, where people are hard working, mostly poor, and underprivileged.  The town had disadvantages but also many opportunities and benefits for those willing to apply themselves.

          It is recorded there were forty different nationalities living in our midst.  This, alone, made an interesting and educational environment.  The people came to Westville from all countries in Europe, to improve themselves, their homes and their families.  They wanted a better way of life.  They were healthy, ambitious, and willing to work hard by way of the “black gold” in our coal mines.  It was a hard life, but they were determined to improve their lives and educate their children.  This they did.

          The schools should be first to receive recognition.  They first were backward and filled much beyond capacity.  More schools were added with the help of many fine teachers and citizens who gave many hours teaching the children and parents to speak English as well as teaching the fundamentals of education.  The community moved upward.

          The necessities of education were given freely, but recreation and sports were not thought necessary and were slow to establish themselves.  They became more or less improvised.  Our park consisted mostly of “Snooks’ Woods”, a beautiful hilly field just a mile east of Westville, a delightful place for walks, picnics, wiener roasts, etc.  In winter when the weather was freezing cold, the No. 3 Pond (a small mine pool) west of Westville provided an outdoor skating pond with bonfires to keep the skaters warm.

          In summer, our swimming pool was at Jenkins Ford, a ford of the Vermilion River, about three miles east of town.  This provided a place for school and organization picnics.  Making one’s own recreation and fun was stimulating and enjoyable.

          The greatest barrier confronting the immigrant family was the language barrier.  The children soon picked up the English language at school, but the older people found it very difficult to learn and to communicate.  Because of this, each family tried to settle near their own people.  This accounts for the different locations of the various groups, such as – the Belgians in the north end of Westville, which became known as Belgiumtown.  These people were very patriotic, and when the Armistice was signed in 1918, they led the first parade to Danville to the Court House to celebrate.  They have always shown this patriotism.

          The Lithuanians were attracted to the west end of Westville, where the first Catholic Church was built.  The Slavs, Italians and others were scattered throughout the area, each section having its own customs common to its heritage.

          Many of the younger or marriageable men sent back to the ‘ole country’ to bring over women to be their wives and to establish their homes.  Then churches were built and the foreign languages were used in the churches so that all the parishioners could understand.  There were three Catholic churches in this small town – St. Mary’s for English speaking people, St. Procopious for the Slavish speaking; and St. Peter and Paul, the Lithuanian church.  There were also two Protestant churches – the Christian Church and the Congregational.  The churches did a great deal toward promoting the social and religious life of our town.  Parties, bazaars, ad well as religious worship, have remained a great part of our lives.

          Home life, as well as the social activities, was marked by a love of music.  It seemed to be the common denominator for understanding for all nationalities.  The accordion was one of the favorite instruments, and the lively folk dances and polkas were usually accompanied by the accordion, violin, and other string instruments.  At least once a year the Hungarian citizens looked forward to having a Gypsy Band from Chicago come to Westville.  This was always a gala occasion, and everyone enjoyed it.  There was always a grand ball given in the largest hall available.  Those who did not dance came to see the costumes and the folk dances and listen to the lively music.  This included all children as well as adults.  After the Ball, the sponsors would go with the musicians to serenade city officials, friends, and other distinguished citizens.  The band sometimes stayed several days in order to get around.  It really was a gay time.

          Each nationality had its own customs and celebrations.  Parades were very popular, and many school and city elections were preceded by a parade.  All activities were looked forward to by all.

          The French and Belgians were famous for there French waffles.  It wouldn’t seem like Christmas if your friends didn’t remember you with these delicious cookies and best wishes.  The Italians had their ever popular Boni Caudla parties; the Lithuanians, their potato Kugelis; the English, their English stew, and the Americans, with their cornbread.  Each has a place in the building of Westville.

          We are truly a melting pot of nations, and we couldn’t do without any of them.  We are not all Good Americans.

          ‘The Children of Foreign Parents have helped make the Westville of today a most intensely American Community.”

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Mining Towns

          “The history of Westville is not complete without some account of the various small incorporated or unincorporated villages that grew up near enough to be called suburbs.  All owed their existence to the near-by coal mines.  When the coal mines faded, many of the villages either ceased to grow or became ghost towns.

          Such a one was Brookville, a little incorporated village just west of Grape Creek during the height of the mining industry in that neighborhood. 

          O’Connellsville was founded by the O’Connell Brothers near the coal mine in the vicinity of Lafferty Hill, due east of the Big 4 Lyons yards.  Only a few houses remain.

          Steelton, five miles southwest of Westville, was a thriving village with a depot, stores, and a post office, but when the coal was gone, the village started to decay.

          A reported began his article in 1934 by stating that Kellyville and Lyons exist only in the public’s mind.

          What is known as Lyons is a neck or panhandle of the village of Belgium halfway between Westville and Catlin.  The New York Central Railroad yards were located there about the turn of the century, making it a center for the shipment of coal.

          In the late 1880’s Michael Kelly, the coal baron, established a company store at the intersection of the Georgetown Road and the first highway north of Westville and south of the Lyons shops.  A cluster of houses, often called “Patch houses”, bore the name of Kellyville.  After the close of the mines, Kellyville became extinct.


          The given reason and the generally believed reason for the founding of Belgium differ greatly.  Probably there is truth in both.

          The newspaper at that time reported the town was organized by Belgian and French settlers who received bad treatment from Westville.  The bad treatment seemed to be that men from these two nationalities were side-tracked from holding office.  Some said the miners just wanted their own town.

          Old timers said it was the Belgian people who worked in the Old Pawnee mine that brought the village into existence. 

          But one belief was that Beglium was organized to give taverns a place to operate in a wet township.  On April 7, 1908, some 1000 townships in the stated voted on local option “Should liquor be sold in the township?”  Three weeks after Georgetown Township voted dry and Danville Township voted wet, a petition, signed by forty-five persons, appeared in county court for a new village at the south edge of Danville Township.  Judge Isaac A. Love ordered resident voters to signify whether this would or would not become a separate village.  Forty votes were case, only two against the formation.  So Belgium was born, May 19, 1908. 


          Himrod, one of the first mining towns on the prairie, was two miles east and half a mile south of Westville.  It was platted in 1850 for Uriah McMillan and Joseph Smith.  A brick village hall, built in 1904 and a small cemetery are all that are left of the town.

          The old Himrod mine shaft was sunk about 1895 by the Himrod Coal Company with W.W. Keefer as superintendent and general manager.  The village spread along the public highway.  The company built forty to fifty houses for its employees, many of whom were foreigners.  Other homes, a grocery store, and a saloon were built.

          The mine employed 500 to 600 men at the height of its prosperity.  Some lived in Himrod; others came out from Danville each day on the miners’ train.

          The town was incorporated in 1897.  A town hall was built with the meeting rooms and court room in front and a jail in the back.  Later the United Mine Workers Union put up a building in which they held their meetings and dances.

          One of the biggest Fourth of July celebrations ever held in the county was held in Himrod shortly before its decline began.  This was soon after the Himrod Coal Company sold the mines to the Kelly Coal Company.  In 1908 when the mine closed, the houses were loaded on trucks and moved to Westville.

          …Most of the other small villages have faded from the picture, but Belgium has continued to grow.  Now partly in Georgetown and partly in Danville townships, it seems to the passing motorists as almost a part of Westville.  As in the case of Westville, the people have, while keeping some of their old traditions, become thoroughly American.  Belgium may well be proud of the fact that this was the first community in the county to celebrate the signing of the Armistice at the end of World War One.  This loyalty to the country of their grandfathers’ choice is one of the characteristics of Belgium.”

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Tom Moses

          “One of the leading personalities to arise from Westville’s coal fields was the late Tom Moses, who became one of the nation’s most highly placed coal mining executives.  His accomplishments are all the more impressive because he started as one of the most ‘disadvantaged’ of Americans.

          Moses was born in 1869 in Pennsylvania.  His mother died when he was tow, and the family later moved to Indiana.  His formal schooling consisted of only three terms of five months each.  By the time he was 11, Moses was already at work in an Indiana mine as a “trapper,” a boy who opened and closed the mine doors.

          By the time Moses was 27, he had become a regular miner and had married the former Robena Pringle, who greatly influenced his career.  She helped him learn the multiplication table and improve his spelling at home.  When his work in the mine was done, he studied far into the night.  A high school teacher counseled him in other subjects.

          His efforts paid off, when he was made night boss of the Vermilion County mine in which he worked.  In 1904, Moses had campaigned for a successful candidate for state’s attorney, and as a reward he was offered a political job.  He chose to be secretary of the state mining department.

          In 1909, Moses became superintendent of mines near Westville, properties connected through subsidiary companies with the United States Steel Corp.  His rise was rapid, and by 1927 he had become president of the H.C. Frick Coke Co. and the United States Coal and Coke Co., which were coal feeders to the parent U.S. Steel.

          Another former miner was M.F. Widman, Jr., who rose to one of the most important offices in the hierarchy of the United Mine Workers of America.”

Another article on mining:

Since coal mining played such a big part in the growth of Westville, we go back to approximately the year 1860 when Mike Kelly came to the Westville area from Ireland via Pennsylvania.  He went to work in the brick yards at the age of 21.  He soon gave up this work to work a strip mine in the Hungry Hollow area.  He hauled coal out by the wheelbarrow load, which was sold in Danville, and later to the Railroads.  He eventually purchased the Hungry Hollow Mine for a reputed id="mce_marker"60.00.  From this beginning, Mr. Kelly eventually opened and operated 5 mines in the Westville area as follows:

Kelly #1, located 1 ½ miles East of Kellyville.  It opened in 1889 and closed in 1898.

          Kelly #2, located 2 miles West of Kellyville.  It opened in 1893 and closed in 1912.

          Kelly #3, located at the Southwest edge of Westville.  It opened in 1895 and closed in 1922.

          Kelly #4, located at east edge of Westville.  It opened in 1902 and closed in 1924.

          Kelly #5, located just Northeast of Westville.  It opened in 1903 and closed in 1911.

          The Kelly #5 mine closed prematurely because of water difficulties.

          In 1905 Mr. Kelly sold mines #3, #4 and #5 to Mr. William B. McKinley, of U.S. Steel Corp. for a reputed $3,000,000.00.  Mr. McKinley later became a U.S. Senator.

          During the early 1900’s Mr. Kelly also owned and operated a general merchandise store at Kellyville, located where the present day Jacket Factory building is located.  At this store miners and their families purchased their household needs on a charge basis, and these purchases were then deducted from the miners’ earnings.  Many families found themselves in debt to the store after their pay was applied to the bill.

          In 1903 Mike Kelly purchased the Himrod Coal Co. Mine for $260,000.00.  This mine was located about 2 ½ miles east and ½ mile south of Westville.  It opened in 1895 and closed in 1908.  The Coal Co. built about 40 to 50 houses for the convenience of the miners and their families.  There were also several grocery stores, saloons, and other business houses, including a jail.  More than 500 people lived there at one time.  The town of Himrod was incorporated in 1897, and on one 4th of July, it is said the flourishing town staged one of the largest celebrations ever in this section.  In 1908 water broke in the mine eventually causing its closing, and the fall of Himrod.  Many houses in the Himrod area were jacked up and moved to that part of Westville known as “Sardine Patch”.  In 1905 the first building south of the C & E I Railroad tracks on South State Street, was moved in from Himrod to the present site of the Stefani Tavern.

          Other mines in operation before and after the turn of the century were:

          Sharon mine, located between Georgetown and Ridgefarm, which closed in 1924.

          Pawnee Mine, located between Westville and Grape Creek.  It opened in 1885 and closed in 1907.

          Deering Coal Co. operated 4 mines in this area:

          Deering #1, located at South Westville Lane.  It opened in 1893 and closed in 1907.

          Deering #2, located south of Westville.  It opened in 1902 and closed in 1913.

          Deering #3, located at Steelton.  It opened in 1905 and closed in 1912.

          Deering #4, located 4 miles southwest of Westville.  It opened in 1905 and closed in 1946.

          It was the Deering #4 mine that was sold out to the Peabody Coal Co., and operated as Peabody Coal Mine until its closing.  It closed in 1946 just a few months before the miners pension went into effect, and the employees were not eligible for the miners’ pension.  The Deering Coal Co. maintained an office at the C & E I Railroad tracks at the site of the present Checker Oil Station.

          The Vermilion Mine was sunk in 1902 by John T. Dickson in partnership with Mike Kelly.  They later sold their interests to John Vermilion, and thus it became known as Vermilion Mine.  It closed in 1932.

          Bunsenville Mine shaft was sunk in 1909 and opened in 1914.  A small town was growing on the location called Bunsen after a man by that name.  It closed in 1947.

          Bluebird Mine, located at the foot of Lafferty Hill.

          Dowiatt Mine, located 2 miles east of Westville.

          Brookside Mine #1, located at Grape Creek.

          Brookside Mine #2, located 2 miles east of Westville, presently the site of Westville Lake.  It is said that the Westville Lake was lost to undermining of Brookside #2.

          While the increase in coal production provided daily bread for the miner and his family, it also created hardships:  violence and even bloodshed caused by poor working conditions, long hours, and low pay.  This resulted in strike after strike, of which the big strike of 1896 was the most memorable.  People had empty pantries, worn-out shoes, tattered and patched clothing, and no money with which to replace them.  Ensuing years brought more strikes, all of them of long duration, and all a struggle.  One strike in 1906 lasted 3 months, another 3 months in 1910, a 6-month struggle in 1912, and another in 1932.  However, little by little, the miners’ union, headed by John L. Lewis, was bringing about wage scale rises, improved working conditions, shorter working days, and child-labor restrictions.

          One of the leading figures to arise from the Westville Coal Fields was Tom Moses, who started out as one of the most disadvantaged.  His accomplishments were most impressive.  Born in 1869 in Pennsylvania, later moving to Indiana, his formal education consisted of only three terms of five months each.  At the age of 11, Tom Moses worked as a “trapper” (one who opens and closes doors) in an Indiana Mine.  At age 27 he was a full-time miner and after the days work studied far into the night, being counseled by a high school teacher.  These extra efforts paid off when he was made night boss of the Vermilion County Mine.  In 1904 he was awarded a political job as Secretary of the State Mining Dept.  In 1909 he became Superintendent of mines near Westville, connected with the U.S. Steel Corp.  In 1927 Mr. Moses became president of J.C. Frick Coke Co., and U.S. Coke Co. coal feeders to the parent U.S. Steel Co.

          In 1890 there were 64 mines in production in Vermilion County, and in both 1897 and 1899 Vermilion County ranked 1st in coal production in Illinois, with over 4,000 mine employees.


Curtis Pusher Airplane with was in Westville in 1912


Bunsenville Mine


Kelly #4 Mine



Kely Coal Co. Store, early 1900's


Himrod Coal Mine, 1906


End of Old Kelly #4 destroyed by fire in 1922


Little Vermilion Mine


V-Day Coal Mine


One of the first buses used to haul miners to the mines



Miners getting last pay check at Bunsenville Mine, late 1940's

End of a lifetime work for many area miners.


(this and next 5 photos, mines in the early years)








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          “Hud Robbins in 1937 wrote thus:  ‘A giant cog in civilization’s machinery toils perpetually near Danville.  This cog in modern life is The Hegeler Zinc Company, just south of here.  Huge furnaces roar night and day…smoke billows continuously in huge clouds…a thousand men toil…a hundred acres of machines roll ever onward – all so modern man can enjoy living.’

          The Hegeler plant was the larges zinc plant in the world.  The first successful zinc smelter in America was operated by Frederick W. Matheissen and Edward C. Hegeler, established the plant north of Westville in 1906.  Production began two years later.  Five hundred tons of coal – all from their own mines – was used daily.

          The Hegelers built the village of Hegeler to provide homes for the workers.  They also planted a row of towering maples on the road leading to their plant.

          By the mid 1930’s there were 500 loaded freight cars departing or arriving every month, carrying zinc ore, zinc products, or sulphuric acid.

          During the war, government contracts kept the plant working at full capacity, but when government orders subsided, business went down.  Operations were greatly curtailed in 1947 because of the unfavorable ratio between the cost of raw material and the market price of the finished product.  The smelter closed that year, but rolling operations sulphuric acid production continued until 1954, when the business was sold.

          Petersons Filling and Packaging Company, now on the site of the Hegeler plant, is a venture of two of the Julius Hegeler grandsons, Edward C. Hegeler and Julius W. Hegeler II with Harry and Robert Peterson.”


Hegeler Zinc Works


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School Bits

          “The first school in the area was a log cabin east of what is now Westville at Brooks Point.  John Myers was the teacher.  Rawley Martin preached sermons in the school before any church was built.

          The second school, built in 1870, was of brick.  Billy Brinkley, the first teacher, was followed by Eva Wells.

          Neb Hartley was the first teacher in the town.  His school was a room rented from Isaac Taber.  Then a frame school was build where Central School now stands.  The first teacher there was Charlie Morlin; the second was Carl John Olmstead.

          Schools, churches, and a bank sprang up in the growing Westville.  There was a big controversy in 1917 whether or not to build a high school, as many citizens thought a grade school education was enough.  However, the school was build.  Two additions have been made.

          The school made history on September 21, 1928, when the first high school night football game in the United States was played there.”

Judith-Giacoma School

McMillan School


St. Mary's School


Westville High School


Junior High School


Group picture of Edison School Students - early 1900's


Edison School - built in 1913


2nd Central School, built in early 1900's


Original Central School


South view of old St. Mary's School with North State St. on the left.

Members of Redman Lodge are in the foreground.


Original Westville High School - built in 1917


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The Big Game

          “Clayton Miller was the coach.  The whole thing was a dream of Principal Russell Guin.  With $1,000 from the athletic fund, he set out to do what had never been done.  He went to the woods to cut the poles and bought lights and reflectors.  The biggest trouble seemed to be to find an opponent.  Milford finally accepted and was defeated.  The game attracted such a crowd that Guin was able to pay back the $1,000 borrowed from the athletic fund and add another $1,000 of profit.”

First Night Football Game In the U.S.A.

During the 1920’s Westville High School was noted for its outstanding football teams.  They played games on Friday and Saturday afternoons nearly always before capacity crowds.

            Since the miners were at work and could not attend during the day, Russell L. Guin, the High School principal, conceived the idea of having a game played at night, so that all those who wanted to could have the opportunity of attending the game.  He also reasoned that it would draw people from neighboring towns, and thus further boost the attendance.

          In August, men from Haussey Bros. and two of the local high school boys, (Jess Moyer and Frank Jonelis) went out into the woods to cut sapling trees and brought them to the football field.  Each of these trees served to hold two lights and reflectors.  A contact was made with Milford High School, and they agreed to be Westville’s opponent in this experiment.  September 28 was selected as the night for the game to be played.

          When the night of the big game came, the lights were turned on early, and Boy Scouts, Guards, extra Policemen, and every available police and Fire Member were on hand to handle the crowd expected to attend.   Hours before the game, cars began to roll in and park.  By the starting time of the game over 4000 cheering fans filled every available seat in the bleachers, as well as all available standing space around the football field.  The ball used in the game was painted with white lacquer to enhance its visibility under the lights.  This made it quite slippery early in the game and caused several fumbles.  This same ball is now in the trophy case at Westville High School.

          Westville won the game over Milford by a 26 to 6 score.  Thus it was that the first night football game in the United States was played at Westville on September 28, 1928.

          The Westville Team that year compiled a record of 10 victories and 0 defeats.  They scored 242 points against their opponents’ 20 during this undefeated season.  The team was coached by Clayton M. Miller, who coached at Westville for 10 years, compiling a record of 105 victories against 28 losses, and this included 3 undefeated seasons.

          Members of the Westville team that played the first night football game in the United States were:  William Dugas, Zano Gailus, Frank Jonelis, Edward Mensavage, Paul Stine, Tony Lutchka, Al Miller, John Sharkey, Pete Lucas, Joe Maziekas, Joe Lutchka, Merlin Kelly, Alex Norbut, Russell Notar, John Benedict, R. Simpson, Charles Benedict, Joe Frankino, Peter Kriviskey, Frank Rautkis, Frank Kedas, Charles Lucas, Tory Morris, Jess Vilkanskas, Charles Urban, Omer Simpson, Joe Caccia, John Reano, Charles Godelauksy, Steve Yocius, and Alphonse Galan.

          Coach Clayton Miller, Principal Russel Guin, and all members of the team will long be remembered by their fans.  Anytime great moments in sports are discussed you can almost count on the first night game coming up.  It will always be remembered that it was played in Westville.



                             Team that played first night game.

        Back Row: Gailus, Kelly, Norbut, Notar, J. Bendict, R. Simpson,

          C. Bendict, Frankino, Kriviskey, Rauktis, Kedas, Norbut, Mgr.

Middle Row: C. Lucas, Morris, Vilk, Urban, O. Simpson, Caccia, Mensavage, Reano, Godelausky, Yocius

Front Row: Stine, Miller, J. Lutchka, Sharkey, T. Lutchka (Capt.), Mazeikas, Dugas, Jonelis, P. Lucas, Alpy Galinausky and Kvetinskas, Mgrs


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The Interurban


It was in 1901 that the Danville Paxton & Northern Railroad was given the right to construct and operate an electric railway into Westville from Danville.  It ran one car daily along the street adjacent to what is now Georgetown Road.  They were originally allowed to operate the cars at a speed of 10MPH.  At the Memorial Bridge the track veered East to a bridge erected across the Vermilion River, ending at the Illinois Power Depot.  Today’s adults were yesterday’s children who still remember at the time they crossed the bridge, they either hid their faces in the parents’ laps or gazed downward in fascination at what must have appeared to be a hundred miles of space.

In 1903 the line was extended to Georgetown, and in 1906 it was extended to Ridgefarm.  During this period of time, as the Village grew, the lines carried two or three cars or coaches, and operated every thirty minutes.  This was in addition to hauling up to 12 cars of coal to the Illinois Power Co., and a lot of merchandise for the various business places.  The Electric Line maintained a passenger and freight Depot on the North end of the present IGA parking lot.  However, the bulk of all general merchandise was hauled in via the Big Four Railroad, or the C & EI Railroad, and the merchandise picked up at their depots by the merchants.

The Electric Line, or ‘Interurban’ as it came to be known, was a convenient way for the miners from Danville, Ridgefarm, and Georgetown to get nearer their places of work in the mines around the Westville area.  Many of today’s residents have a vivid recollection of riding the Interurban.  The Interurban was abandoned in 1936.


It All Began In Westville

This year (1973) marks the 37th anniversary of the founding of Bee Line Transit Corporation, the first stepping stone to what has become the American Transit Corp., a transportation management and holding company involved in city transit, sightseeing, suburban, school and campus bus service and car rental and leasing systems.  American Transit merged with Chromalloy American Corporation, a highly successful and diversified corporation in 1965.

In April, 1936, the Illinois Terminal System was granted authority to abandon electric car service operating between Danville, Westville and Georgetown.  Dominick “Nick” Giacoma, the operator of a local coal hauling truck, who had just the previous year negotiated a contract with the Westville School District to operate one school bus between Union Corner, Grape Creek and Westville High School obtained the financial backing of John Perona, Frank Vernick, Bert Boswell and Frank Remy to operate a bus system to replace ITS service.  With the legal assistance of the late Tom Stifler, a Danville attorney, Bee Line was granted authority by the Illinois Commerce Commission and began its operation the day following Illinois Terminal’s termination of service.  Nick then turned to a number of his boyhood friends.  John Ghibaudy, his brother Pete, Joe Mackovic and Henry DeTournay, all coal miners, along with Nick, and later his younger brother, Victor, became the bus operators.  Clint “Pop” Finley, now living in Central Park, was engaged as Chief Mechanic and Bee Line began its operation from the Bee Line garage on the corner of State and South Street.  Charles “Chuck” Brooks, a retired Westville banker, agreed to spend at least two weeks to help “set up the books”.  Chuck stayed on the job until his death some 20 years later.

The first three buses, two 21-passenger and one 25-passenger, were Modified Wayne School But type bodies mounted on one and one-half-ton Chevrolet truck chassis.  Fares were: between Danville and Kellyville – 10 cents; Westville – 12 cents; Clingan Lane – 15 cents and Georgetown – 20 cents, local city fare was 5 cents discounts and commuter tickets of 12 rides were sold at a 20 percent discount.

People of the area responded to the new, low cost service and Bee Line was on its way; that is, until two months later when the new road construction began, first between Danville and Lyons; then Lyons and Kellyville; then south Westville and Georgetown.  This road improvement almost spelled the doom of the young bus line.  Bee Line then leased the abandoned ITS electric car right of way and once the railroad ties were removed, this became the speedy way to travel to Danville.  The disaster was the countless old discarded railroad spikes, rusted to needle sharpness that were brought to the surface by the required constant road grading and thumping of the buses.  Untold number of spikes pierced the tires, ruining at least three to four tires per bus per day.  The exclusive right of way, only wide enough for a bus, required gatemen at both Lyons and Central Park to keep motorists from using the road and blocking the buses and the cinder roadway required constant watering in an endeavor to control the dust.  Even at that, the black dust was so thick that bus operators finished their nine to eleven hour shift looking blacker than coal miners after their days work.  The added cost of tires and other necessary expenses soon depleted Bee Line’s capital funds.  With the financial help of friendly bankers and a few friends who had faith in the system, Bee Line weathered the storm and the new highways became an asset to the system.

It was not long before George Vacketta became associated with the Bee Line and as the bus fleet grew additional space was needed, so but quarters were moved to the new addition of George Vacketta & Son on South State Street.  Eventually, the need for additional space necessitated the purchase of a garage and station on South Hazel Street in Danville.  In the 1960’s a new terminal garage was built on Cleveland Street and though Bee Line no longer provides bus service between Danville, Westville and Georgetown, its school buses serve the school children of Westville, Danville and Hillary from this modern facility.

From this humble beginning in Westville, with its trials and tribulations, the knowledge learned in operating the Bee Line has enabled its founder and associates to expand their transportation systems to becoming one of the leading and most progressive transit operating and management firms in the United States with over 2,700 employees and a payroll exceeding eighteen million dollars annually.


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Other Information



                                  The first bank in Westville was the 1st National Bank founded in 1904.  The first president was George Robertson.  By this time Westville was a thriving community, and was much in need of banking facilities.  Many mines were in                     operation, and a “Bank” established the community as a full-fledged Village.


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U.S. Post Office

           The Post Office has been located all over town.  The first Post Office was established in 1876, and S. W. Dukes was appointed the first Postmaster.  He was later succeeded by J.W. Lockett.  By 1889 the Post Office was in an old home where the Carp Store now (“now”…reader, please remember this is 1973 text) stands on W. Main St.  At that time Squire Cobb was Postmaster.  It was then moved across the street to the John Dukes Building, and from there to a small building about the size of a watchman’s shanty close by the Big Four tracks.  The shanty was so small that people had to get their mail from the outside window.  Squire Cobb was a small man and there was only room for him and his stove inside.  Squire Cobb wore a beard reminiscent of Abe Lincoln.  Mr. John Ashby was appointed Postmaster, and he moved the office across the Big Four tracks to a woodworking shop he ran as a carpenter.  This building stood near where Ss. Peter & Paul Church is now located.  From there it was moved to a residence at the corner of W. Main and Scott Sts.  It was moved to a building just across the street from its present location (“present” is 1973 text), and from there to the Dr. B. Taylor Building on the corner of W. Main and West Sts.  It was then moved to the Bank Building on State Street, and from there to its present location on W. Main St.


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Zamberletti Park


                                      The Westville Village Park was opened during the early 1920’s through the combined efforts of the Reverend Hershey of the Congregational Church, Lawrence Gaughran, Thomas Moses, and the many business people and individuals who donated money for the purchase of the land.

          During the early thirties and the depression years it was known as the Village or Community Vegetable Gardens.  Individuals helped plant and maintain vegetables in the park for a share in the crops.

          It has since served the community as a park and recreation area, and it is much in use by all members of the community.  Many individuals, businesses and organizations have contributed to make the park what it is today.  It is a truly a community park.


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Westville Churches

 The oldest Catholic Church in Westville, Ss. Peter & Paul was built in 1897 on 4 acres of ground on West Main St.  The first pastor was Rev. Joseph Maszotas.  The present rectory was built in 1919.  The statues of St. Peter and St. Paul which are placed on the main altar of the church were carved by parishioners from oak trees cut less than a mile from Westville.  

     St. Mary’s Church was founded in 1903, and Fr. R.P. Culleton was the first pastor.  A School Building was erected for $8,000; the upper floor was used as a church, and the lower floor as a school.  The first school building-church was known as St. Michael Institute.  The present Church was dedicated April 30, 1950.  In 1933 the School was closed and was reopened again in 1939.  In 1948 fire destroyed St. Anthony’s Church in Hegeler, and that congregation joined St. Mary’s Church.


     St. Precopius Church was built on the corner of West & McKinley Streets about 1907-1908.  It is sometimes referred to as the Slavish Church due to the large number of Slavish people in the parish.  Records show that the 1st Mass was held on May 24, 1908, and Father Victor Barck was the 1st priest.  Through the years the parish continued to become smaller, and finally on March 25, 1951 the last service was held at St. Precopious Church.  The remaining parish members transferred to St. Mary’s Church or Ss. Peter & Paul Church.


     The Westville Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized on June 17, 1871 by Rev. W.O. Smith at Brooks Point.   The Christian church known as Brooks Point Church was organized in April 1870 by Elder Martin.


     First Congregational Church was organized in 1901 and the 1st building was dedicated in January of 1906.  Rev. Robert Atkinson was ordained as minister.  In 1940 they held a mortgage-burning ceremony for the debt of the 1st church building.  A reorganization and re-consecration of the church was held in 1950.  The present church building on Moses Ave. was dedicated September 23, 1962.


     The Bethlehem Missionary Church was founded in November 1907 under the leadership of Rev. Allen White.  This church was located on E. Kelly Ave.  In 1909 the E. Church St. property was purchased, and two houses were joined together to form a place of worship, until 1918 when the present church was built.


     The Church of Christ, located 1-1/2 miles west of Westville was organized in 1955.  The first phase of the building program was a basement, where the congregation worshipped for several years.  With much work from members and friends, the church was finished and dedicated on April 3, 1965.


     The white Frame Church on West Main St. was built in the early 1870’s as a Presbyterian Denomination Church.  Later it was used as a Church of Christ, and still later as an independent Catholic Church at which time it was known as the Holy Cross Church.


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Westville Library

It was from an idea in the mind of Nellie Taylor Raub that resulted in the Library we now enjoy in Westville.  It was under her sponsorship that Tri Lambda Sorority was organized 1937.  The primary purpose of this organization was to provide a Library to the community.  It all started with a group of donated books which were put in circulation.  This organization held rummage sales, bake sales, dances, tag days, and other fund raising projects to raise money to establish the Library.

          Donations of books from individuals and neighboring libraries continued to accumulate, and as the collection grew, space was obtained in the Post Office building, which was lighted by an Aladdin Lamp, and was carried from place to place for the use of patrons.  Members of the Sorority gave volunteer service of two hours per month to serve in the Library.

          A village tax was voted in April 1939, and the first Library Board was appointed.  Members of this first board were:  Frank Dugas, Paul Sommers, Miss Opal Howard, Miss Ann Columbus, Miss Anne Chromis, and Miss Helen Redulis.  The Aladdin lamp was sold, and local merchants agreed to pay the electric light bill.  In 1942 a building on the present site of the Library was offered for sale and purchased by the Library Board.  With the aid of various Sorority projects the cost of the building was cleared by 1947.  The building was in poor condition and it became a goal of prime importance to build a new building.  By May 1949 enough funds were on hand to start construction of the present building.

          It is indeed a feat of no small proportions that the dedicated people of the Sorority and of the Library Board, that Westville has such a fine Library to serve the community.  There will ever be new goals for the Library and behind them a community spirit to bring them to reality.


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Westville Schools

Before the turn of the century at Brooks Point, East of Westville, the first school was built, as Westville began to grow.  A four room frame building was erected at the site of the old Central School, and a two-room building where Edison School was later built.  In 1909 the new eight-room Central School was completed, the old four room frame building was sold to Ss. Peter & Paul’s, and moved to their property west of the Big 4 tracks, where it was used as a school.

 †A High School District was founded in 1910 after much opposition, and in 1911 High School was started in two of the rooms of Central School.  In 1913 Edison School of eight rooms was built, and four rooms were added to Central School. The last class to graduate from Central High School was in 1918.  The present High School was completed in 1917-1918, and at that time the school system consisted of Edison School, Central School, High School, two rooms at Derring Coal Co. office building, (presently Checker Oil Co.), one room at West Side Tavern Building, (presently Silver Dollar Tap), and Washington School on E. Kelly Ave.  St. Mary’s School was also operating, but was closed in 1933 and reopened in 1939.  In 1929 an addition was added to the High School, and in 1956 Jr. High School was built on Moses Ave.  In 1967 Judith-Giacoma School as completed on Walnut St.  In the 1920’s McMillan School was built, and during the 1930’s a new brick McMillan School was built with W.P.A. funds and labor, and added to the Westville School System.  In 1920, Miss Hallie Magill opened the first Library and Kindergarten serving the church and Community until 1942.


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Westville Gas and Water 


Westville Gas Company


            During the early 1950’s when coal mining in Westville reached a new low and ceased to be a source of employment for Westville residents, Natural Gas entered the picture for heating and cooking.  There was considerable controversy over the best method of supplying this service to the Village.  Some held the opinion that an outside Utility Company could best serve the needs, but it was finally decided by the Village Board that the Village should handle this as a Community Utility.

          On February 1, 1955, ordinance #1060 was drawn to provide for the issuance of Gas Utility Refunding Revenue Bonds in the principal amount of $480,000.00 at 5% interest to mature between May 1961 and May 1989.  A Board of Commissioners, consisting of 4 members, and the existing Village President was formed.  Ordinances containing strict regulations were drawn to govern the operation of the Gas Company.

          Finally, on February 1, 1958, Natural Gas was furnished to customers in Westville.   At that time there were approximately 725 customers, which represented almost 98% of the resident households.  Today there are over 1500 customers in the Westville Area using Natural Gas furnished by the Gas Utility.

          Even though the last Revenue Bonds are not due until 1989, the Gas Commission has enough money held in escrow to fully refund the Gas System.  It should be further noted that since the inception of the Westville Gas Company, and in spite of numerous price increases from the suppliers, and mounting operating costs, the Gas Commission has never increased its prices to the Customers.  As a result, gas users in the Westville Area are enjoying the lowest gas rates in a wide area of the nation.

          It is through the diligence and great efforts of the Water and Gas Commissions that the residents of Westville have a good income for the various operations of their Village.  The Commission members are to be commended for their unceasing efforts.

Westville Water System

             Our water system began in 1926, at which time water revenue bonds were issued in the amount of $170,000.00 at 5% interest, to be paid in 18 years.  However, during the 1930’s various financial difficulties arose that forced the system into receivership, which lasted until the early 1950’s.  On October 1, 1950, the unpaid principal of $170,000.00 and accumulated interest of $123,250.00 amounted to a total of $293,250.00.

          On October 1, 1950, 4% refunding water revenue bonds were issued in the amount of id="mce_marker"92,000.00, payable from then to October 1, 1979.  A Board of Water Commissioners, consisting of 4 members, and the existing Village President, was formed.  The new Board held their first meeting on March 20, 1951.  Ordinances containing very strict regulations were adopted, and have since been followed by the Board.  Since 1950 when the Water System was reorganized, at which time there were approximately 800 customers, it has grown to present day with over 1700 users.

          Although the final bonds will not be due until 1979, the Westville Water System has enough money held in escrow to fully refund the revenue bonds.  The commission is also mindful that adequate funds must be held aside for improvements and necessary repairs to a water system that is over 45 years old.  They have funds set aside for this purpose also.


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Prehistoric Westville Area


Westville, Illinois

(~299 - 325 million years ago): A Rain Forest

 ~300 million years ago, when Illinois was near the equator, Westville was covered in lush, peat-forming swamps and green vegetation.  It was the age of insects, with 6-foot-long millipedes and dragonflies with yard-long wingspans (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History).  

            It is common knowledge that there is an abundance of coal underground in the Midwest formed from fossilized plants buried in swamp ecosystems.  It is not unusual to find fossils in any of our coal mines.  What is unusual is to discover a huge geographic area of preserved trees and ferns from 300 million years ago, providing scientists with an ecological view of "what plant species were present and how they were distributed across the landscape" (Illinois State Geological Survey).

            Scientists DiMichele, Falcon-Lang, Nelson, Elrick and Ames recently discovered plant fossils in local mine ceilings that show a rain forest existed on top of a Herrin (No. 6) coal seam (Geology Science World).

According to ISGS (Illinois State Geological Survey), the Geological Society of America journal published a paper showing that paleobotanists discovered a spectacular four square miles prehistoric plant-life fossil area on the roof of two local adjacent underground Riolaand Vermilion coal mines, just southwest of Danville, Illinois.  A schematic rendition of this report was published in a Milwaukee newspaper(Arbanas):  It was the age of insects, with 6-foot-long millipedes and dragonflies with yard-long wingspans (Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History).  

            It is common knowledge that there is an abundance of coal underground in the Midwest formed from fossilized plants buried in swamp ecosystems.  It is not unusual to find fossils in any of our coal mines.  What is unusual is to discover a huge geographic area of preserved trees and ferns from 300 million years ago, providing scientists with an ecological view of "what plant species were present and how they were distributed across the landscape" (Illinois State Geological Survey).

            Scientists DiMichele, Falcon-Lang, Nelson, Elrick and Ames recently discovered plant fossils in local mine ceilings that show a rain forest existed on top of a Herrin (No. 6) coal seam (Geology Science World).

Although the specific mine names are not stated, date information from these articles suggest that the mine(s) the scientists might be exploring are the Catlin Coal Company [mine name RIOLA, operated 1996-1999] and/or the Black Beauty Coal Company [mine name Riola Complex-Riola Portal, operated 1999-present] (Directory of Coal Mines in Illinois).  The mines presently are not open for public viewing.  However, you can visit the coal mining exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago to see a fossil covered slab of gray roof shale from the Riola mine on display (Illinois State Geological Survey). (Contact the Village Clerk for a list of works cited and websites for those organizations.)


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