THE HEART OF ILLINOIS, est. 1853
Old postcards from Tonica History courtesy of Mr. Jed Brooker
When the conductor of the first regular passenger train on the Illinois Central to run from Bloomington to LaSalle shouted, "All Out for Tonica!” on May 23, 1853, this community was born. Mr. A.J. West, considered to be the founder of the village, named the town after an Indian chief who he knew well as a boy in New York State. In fact, he was so intrigued with the Indians of his boyhood, that the original streets of Tonica still carry Indian names. Such as Shawandassee, Mugekewis, Oneca, Pontiac, Wequash and Hiawatha.
TONICA'S FIRST SETTLER AND FAMILY
Lewis Bailey, who came to Illinois with his wife in 1825 and built a cabin at the top of the hill along the creek named by and for him, one mile northeast of [what would later be] the center of Tonica. On the Lowell-Tonica road, the trail used by stage coach and settlers for many years. This was the beginning of the second white settlement in La Salle county, the other being Ottawa.
Augustus Bailey, the son of Lewis Bailey, was born at Ottawa, July 17, 1828, where Mrs. Bailey was taken to be near a doctor for the event. Some historians claim the son was born in Peoria, but Augustus refuted that statement and said he was always told by his parents that his birth occurred in Ottawa. The fact he was the first child born of white parents in this county has never been disputed....This picture was also taken of Mr. Bailey late in life.
Tonica was laid out by A.J.West owner of the land on which the original plat was made in 1853. This was shortly after the Illinois Central Railroad began running it's trains, crossing the river at La Salle by descending and ascending to and from the bottoms of the river. In 1854 a bridge over the river was completed, making travel and shipping much easier. Tonica began to have an increase in trade and a few shops and stores were built. Among the first to build houses on the town site was Major Newton, who built his house on the south end of the main business row, being appointed postmaster kept the office there for some time. The Union Store , built and operated by area farmers and managed by Henry Kingslley, was one of the first to open. Shortly after Simon Foss built a store near the corner. In 1868 Mr.Burgess bought the building of Union Store Company and has occupied it since. The company had kept the store about twelve years. The next merchant after Mr.Foss was Mr.0. Cushman, who opened the first furniture store in Tonica.
Mr.W.J.Wilson started a good drug store on Pratt's corner, where he remained until the fire of 1867. This was a severe blow to the town as it destroyed all the business except for one brick building located on the south end. The work of rebuilding began at once. Mr.Wilson built again on the corner, A.P.Landes next, G.W.Keller, and J.K. Brokaw after Landes and J.P.Bassett joined to Keller and Brokaw a good brick. Nearly all who rebuilt used brick. Shortly after the establishment of the depot, two small warehouses were erected. These were soon sold for other purposes. A larger one was built, which does all the grain trade in town. The shipping interest in Tonica is chiefly live stock, mostly hogs. The town has a reputation of shipping more pork than any village of its size on the Illinois Central railroad.
In 1867 Mr. W.J.Wilson built a grist mill, which is still operating. Its chief trade like that of the village is with farmers.
THE PRESS; In 1874 the Tonica News was established by C.M.Keller, it was sold a year later to the present editor, W.A.. He is at present issuing a five - column good local paper. A small paper called the Tonica Local is issued each Saturday by W.A. Flint. It is printed in Wenona.
[source Past & Present of La Salle County 1877]
HOW TONICA AND ITS STREETS WERE NAMED
A.J.West was a frequent caller at the news office during the first twenty years of the Richardson regime. He built and owned the brick building until his death, March 24, 1895, made regular calls on his tenants. Thus he became a fast friend and interesting visitor at this office.
On many of these occasions a social chat flowed and the editor at that time, J.W. Richardson, wrote many interesting articles from these visits of the early life in Tonica end published them from time to time. Both of these men had lived the pioneer life of Illinois, one at Bloomington and the other at Tonica. Both had seen the building of the Illinois Central railroad and the advancement of this state following its establishment.
The Illinois Central officials were always willing to have the local people determine the name of the village or city. Mr.West whose land the right-of-way passed thru was asked to name this village. He chose Tonica, the name of an Indian chief who he knew well as a boy in New York State. In fact he liked the Indians of his boyhood days and their names so intrigued him, that when he laid out the original town of Tonica, he chose Indian names for streets. His greatest trouble was to spell them and in a few cases it was guess work on his part. So after a century such names as Mugekewis, Wauponis, Uncas, Wequash, Shawandasee, Pontiac, Oneca, Minnehaha and Hiawatha designate the streets of old Tonica and enable us to tell our friends where we live. Mr. West named our business street paralleling the Illinois Central on the east La Salle and on the west Peru-- stating that it sounded more business-like and representing the twin cities of La Salle and Peru.
Village of Tonica