History of Piper City

Before the advent of the hard roads, the days and years were often fraught with loneliness, especially for the women who lived on the farms, but they kept very busy. If we were to visit a pioneer home it would seem very odd to us, no doubt. Usually the homes were small with only weatherboard on the outside, with no lathes or plaster on the inside. Sometimes the only rugs were rag rugs made by hand, and the homemaker usually made all of the clothing for the family.

To keep warm the housewife spread the floors with straw and covered it with carpeting and tacked it down at the walls. Feather beds or straw ticks were used for mattresses and everything on the farm was used in some way.

Because there were not many trees there was not much wood to burn. Coal was brought in from mining states and that helped alleviate the cold during the winter months.

The pioneers had many little forms of diversion that meant a great deal to them. Children played checkers and jackstraws, but soon they were doing their share of the work along with their elders.

Women sometimes stayed home for months or even years. Mrs. Catherine Stadler, who was called affectionately "Grandma, Stadler" by everyone, came to this area with her husband under the Homestead Act and they later purchased 80 acres of land in section 20 from the Illinois Central Railroad for $10 an acre.

In a newspaper clipping telling of some of her reminiscences after she became an old, old lady, she recalled that in the early days she had spent 10 years of such solitude as she had never known. For four years she had never left home. After her husband died in 1884, she raised their 10 children and supervised their 360 acre farm. This was no small job.

For a time they drove six miles to a natural spring at Oliver's Grove for water for themselves and for their stock. At first this was necessary because of a lack of equipment, but later they continued to do it because of a superstition that water from artificial wells was deadly for both man and beast.
Mrs. J. W. DeMoure who came with her husband to the "Wilson settlement" in 1864, where her husband was superintendent of Dr. Wilson's large farm interests, once said:

"It was wild and raw in those early days. Few have any idea of the hardships. I remember I didn't see a woman for 18 months at one time, and then Mrs. Captain Mitchison came over to see me one day just for an hour or two. It grew better with the settlement of the country, and when we moved into Piper City in 1887, we then left a well settled country and almost a section of fine, well improved land of our own."

The women were made of strong and sensible stuff, but occasionally to break the monotony, there were Fourth of July picnics and small socials and gatherings. In the winter the churches had oyster suppers and mite society meetings. There were little musical productions and debating societies were quite popular.
The first fair was put on by the Piper City Union Agricultural Board in the fall of 1882 and this grew to be an annual event that everyone looked forward to with great anticipation.

A premium list and fair book for the 10th annual fair lists these officers of the association: Joseph Burger, president; C. A. Cook, vice president; T. J. Sowers, vice president; H. S. Carpenter, secretary and Ira W. Hand, treasurer.

No intoxicating liquor was served on the fair grounds and no intoxicated person was allowed on the grounds. Races were held every afternoon, except on the opening day, with purses ranging from $30 to $100. Gambling on the races was against the rules of the association, but interest in the races was keen for most of the horses were owned by local people. Many races were limited to Ford County horses. The fair was closed on Friday so that the moving out could be completed on Saturday and no one would have an excuse to "break the Sabbath".

Young people came in for special consideration by the fair board. School children were admitted free on Wednesday afternoons and a two year scholarship to Wheaton College was given to any Ford County resident, between the ages of 16 and 24, who could deliver the best original oration of not less than five minutes or more than 15. There were also general school exhibits and awards for the best equestrianship for young men and young ladies under 15 years of age.
The 1891 fair book from which this information was gathered lists a wide variety of classes in livestock. In poultry, 34 classes are listed in the regular division and over 20 in the miscellaneous, ranging from pea fowls to brown China geese.

The agriculture, horticulture and floriculture divisions also reflect the variety of vegetables and grain raised in those days. Over 40 varieties are listed with prizes of 50 cents and 25 cents offered for the best red wheat, spring wheat, white wheat, clover, flax, rye, buckwheat, millet, sugar beets, celery, pumpkins and many others.

Under miscellaneous farm products, awards were offered for the best cheese, butter, smoked ham, comb honey, extracted honey, bees in observatory, lard, maple sugar, beeswax, soap, sorghum, hops, wool fleece and German carp fish. What a contrast to the specialized products of today's farms.

A display of leather work included a class in harness and saddlery, boots and shoes, and trunks and travel bags.

The women could vie for prizes and glory in the domestic arts classes where they could show their skill in the culinary or needlework divisions.

There were no lights at the fair ground so there was no evening program. However, in later years, at least, a good traveling dramatic company would be engaged to put on plays at the Opera House in the evenings. Children and adults saved their pennies all year to have enough to attend the show every night if possible. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was one of the favorite productions.

There were four different fair grounds in Piper City and at least two fair associations. The last one which closed in 1917 was called the Ford County Fair Association and was held in the soutnwest edge of town on the land now owned by Mrs. A. W. Underwood. The first fair was held at the east edge of town where Mr. and Mrs. Otto Albrecht now live and one was held just back of the north side business district. Another site was where the school now is.

After the fair disbanded in 1917, the buildings were sold in February of 1918 for $3,000. There was some hope that a new organization would be formed and the fair would be started again at a later date, but these hopes never materialized. The buildings were torn down or moved, the land soon was put into cultivation, and the fair was just a memory.

One of the chief attractions at the annual fair was the performance of the "Opperman Band". This group was a Piper City institution for many years, entertaining at all patriotic, political, social and religious functions throughout the area. They did this without compensation other than the pleasure it gave them to share their musical talent with an appreciative audience.

Charles Opperman, the founder and director of the band, was born in Colbitz, Germany, August 23, 1857, and came to America in 1868 with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. David Opperman. They first settled near Chatsworth, moving from there to Brenton Township in 1873. After his marriage to Margaret Rehm, in 1874, they lived three and a half miles southwest of town and moved into Piper City about 1895. In 1897 he and his brothers, Ernest and August, bought out Clark's general store which they continued to operate until 1905 when he invested in a cotton plantation in Mississippi, moving there in 1907 with his family. There he remained until 1915 when ill health and a homesickness for his former home prompted him to come back to Piper City. Here he stayed until his death in 1930.

He is best remembered for his muscianship, although he was a profound lover of things of nature, and spent much of his time in the culture of trees and flowers, and even planted and tended flower beds in the railroad and village parks.

Mr. Opperman's father, David Opperman, was a vocal teacher and in 1878 became the leader of a most successful glee club. From that beginning a cornet band was organized by Charles Opperman and his brothers, August and William, under the leadership of Prof. Rebholz, in 1880. In 1887 he organized a band at Thawville. In 1894 the Opperman Piper City Band was born and it was for years one of the leading musical organizations in this section of the country.

The band played regular weekly concerts during the summer time and at various fairs, both here, and at Fairbury, Pontiac and many other places.

Four of the Opperman brothers were charter members of the band and it was later strengthened by younger members of the family. In about 1915 or 1916 it was decided that the band needed new uniforms, and since their services were generally free, they held two or three public concerts to raise money. They featured special soloists and instrumentalists. Mr. Opperman's daughter, Margaret, and Miss Irene Flessner were two of the young ladies who sang to help raise the money.

In the early days the band had a "bandwagon" or "chariot" with curved sides drawn by four horses, in which they used to travel to other towns. In this way they publicized the fair and other events.
In 1870 there were 307 inhabitants in Piper City and this number had grown to 750 by 1884. The little village was steadily growing and there were many signs of progress in the latter part of the 19th century.

In 1884 Piper City had a two-story school in the middle of the block on West Cross Street between Pine and Green Streets. There were four churches, a hotel, two newspapers, a bank, four general stores, two hardware stores, a lumber yard, three grain elevators, a creamery, a livery stable, an agricultural warehouse, two drugstores, two wagon shops, three blacksmith shops, and a post office.

The creamery, which was located at the east end of Walnut Street, did a big business and about 20 tons of butter were produced per year. Most of it was sold in New Orleans at 20 to 35 cents a pound. They churned four times a day in the summer and eight times a week in the colder months.

John A. Montelius, Sr., who came right after the Civil War to manage the extensive land holdings of his uncle, Dr. William Piper, was active in much of the commercial development of the village, primarily in banking and the grain business.

The first bank was established in 1870 by Charles M. MJontelius and his son John A. Montelius, Sr. The bank was opened with a capital of $50,000.
The "excursion train" was a product of the times in the 1880's, meeting the need of the railway companies to keep their otherwise idle passenger coaches engaged in money-raising activity. Due to the rapid expansion of the railroads, many such as the Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad Company, which had just gone through a costly reorganization, were eager to do whatever they could to make a little money.

Excursions were planned by the railroad companies to such points of interest as the State Fair in Springfield, the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, homestead sites in Nebraska, and the world's first skyscraper in Chicago. Public response was overwhelming, and many church groups and other organizations rented trains and went as a group to see these places. It was the era of excursions.

During the middle of July, 1887, handbills were displayed prominently in Peoria and vicinity describing an excursion on the T. P. & W. to Niagara Falls scheduled to leave Peoria at 7:15 P.M., Wednesday, August 10. The price for a round trip ticket, good for up to ten days, was $7.50 and the handbill advised that you couldn't afford to miss it.

Many people took this advice to heart, and by 6:00 P.M., that fateful night, a large crowd was already gathered on the station platform and the final preparations were being completed on the Niagara excursion train. It was made up of six Palace sleeping cars, two reclining chair cars, five day coaches, a combination baggage car, and the General Superintendent, E. N. Armstrong's official car.

As the train came to a stop, the eager excursionists rushed aboard carrying large lunch baskets, diapers, and other provisions for the small children that went aboard. There was no dining car on the train.
Little did the excursionists realize that instead of a happy trip, they were really heading for one of the greatest train disasters in history. So terrible, in fact, that the editor of the Piper City Pan Handle Advocate wrote:

"No pen is able to describe the scene, and to do so would require human flesh for parchment, a flame of fire for a pen, and human blood for ink."

The departure was delayed slightly by latecoming passengers. From the first, things did not go exactly as they should. After all were aboard, the two locomotives slowly pulled the train out of the station amid great bursts of waving and shouting between the people on the train and the people on the station platform.

The train crossed the bridge over the Illinois River and proceeded eastward across Illinois. After another hour's delay to repair a drawbar mishap, the train continued on its way, making a few stops to pick up additional passengers. Several got on at Fairbury. It reached Chatsworth after 11:00 P.M., about an hour and a half behind schedule. After leaving Chatsworth the engineer on the first engine opened the throttle and at last it looked like they could make up for lost time as they sped toward slumbering Piper City.
Approaching a small bridge about two and a half miles west of Piper City, the engineer caught sight of a small blaze in the distance. The fireman noticed it, too, and passed it off with a remark about section hands being more careful in burning off the weeds along the track. But the words were hardly spoken before both men realized with shock that the bridge itself was on fire and that they were headed toward it at high speed. The engineer gave a desperate pull on the whistle rope signaling "down brakes."

It was too late to stop and the first engine crossed over the bridge and ran on east up the track for some distance. The second engine leaped the chasm. The tender of the first engine became derailed and broke loose from both engines. The tender of the second engine was stripped of its trucks and landed 100 feet east of the bridge, where it was thrown into the ditch north of the tracks. The engine was dumped into the ditch on the south of the track opposite.

As soon as the second engine crossed the culvert the cars followed, and leaving their trucks in its ditch, were piled and mashed together like kindling wood. The scenes of horror and confusion that followed were frightful. There were about 700 people on the train, and of these fully one half were in the coaches that now lay in a huge mass. Seven cars filled with dead and dying people were jammed into a space of two car lengths.

The car of General Superintendent Armstrong was thrown across the track and the trucks knocked from under it. The occupants had a miraculous escape. Mr. Armstrong was thrown out of the car and escaped with a slight scratch.

The engineer of the leading engine was unhurt, but the second engineer was instantly killed with his head crushed to a pulp. His fireman jumped from the engine and was uninjured.

The accident was thought to have occurred at 11:49 P.M., since that was the time when the dead engineer's watch had stopped. Almost immediately two trainmen ran the first engine, without a tender, into Piper City for assistance. On arrival the fire alarm was given, which at that time was done by striking the steel rim of a locomotive wheel with a sledge hammer.

Soon the town was bustling with activities and the tracks were covered with people going to the scene of the disaster. The news was telegraphed to other towns and soon help was on its way from Chatsworth.

The ladies of both places prepared places for the wounded and in short orde;r both Chatsworth and Piper City looked like hospitals. Doctors were rushed to the scene on hand cars and were among the first to arrive.
The fire received the first attention of the early arrivals, for if any of the cars had caught fire the horrors of a holocaust would have been added to the already frightful disaster.

The events of that tragic night had one more ironic twist to make before the coming of the dawn. The day had been a hot and searing one, and the sun had shone down mercilessly on a parched prairie. The Peoria Daily Transcript had carried a front page story that very day on the great drouth, calling it a disaster for the farmer. The much longed for rain finally came at about 2:30 o'clock the morning of August 11. It may have been a blessing to the farmers, but to the victims of the train disaster and those working at their rescue it was the final touch of horror.

The darkness was faintly illumined by lanterns as the night was pierced with the screams of the dying and injured. The pouring rain and lightning and the roar of thunder added up to a scene that couldn't be forgotten by anyone who witnessed it.

After the wounded had been handed out of the cars and were being cared for as well as posible, the work of removing the dead began. Strong men began to take everything apart in the three telescoped cars. As they progressed they came across such scenes as these described in the Piper City Pan Handle Advocate:

"Here someone would pick up a valise and uncover an arm or leg without a body, and over there someone would pick up a piece of linen to hand to the nurses and when lifted up discover a child mashed to a jelly. Such sights were common and made the bravest men shudder. Ghastly bodies of both men and women hung in grotesque fashion from the windows. In the midst of all of this horrible mixture of legs, heads, arms and mutilated bodies were to be seen frail pieces of glass and wood as good and unmarred as before the wreck. A small clock found in one car was keeping time as well as if just wound.

"The maniacal scene became more agonizing as husband sought wife, wife, husband, father or mother, children, or children wildly clamoring for parents, while brothers, sisters, relatives and friends kept up the same frantic search, with their lost loved ones sometimes so mutilated as to be unrecognizable. The piercing shrieks of terror-stricken people suddenly bereft of those most dear to them, and under such awful circumstances, mingled with the heart-rending groans of the wounded and dying, etched the scene on the minds of those who were there."

Piper City's two physicians were the first on the scene and worked at their mission of mercy until completely exhausted the next day. The Opera House, the hotel and numerous private dwellings were turned into emergency quarters for the injured. Food and medicines were procured as soon as possible and all that could be done was done to alleviate the suffering. Eighty-one lost their lives that night and many more were maimed for life.

Piper City people acted with unstinting service and performed some of the most trying duties that can be required of a human being during the aftermath of the "great train wreck."
It is hard to imagine the excitement of the townspeople over the arrival or departure of the trains. People came down town just to see who got on and off and it was said that Caroline (Cad) Beach met every train and was always dressed "to the teeth." She was a reporter for her father, Judge Beach's newspaper, The Pan Handle Advocate, and it was said that nothing escaped her reportorial pen.

The hotel was conveniently located just across the street from the depot and the traveling salesmen would display their wares in the lobby, and the local merchants would come there to buy. The proprietor of the hotel, about 1900, was Jim Jeffery and it was called the Jeffery House. It was sold at auction in 1906 and a modern brick building erected in its place.

Another hotel called the Central Hotel flourished after that on the corner where Cook's IGA now stands. This was the scene of many suppers and balls and was often used by the churches and civic organizations to hold their dinners or meetings. The Methodists held their Washington Birthday dinners there for many years. This hotel was in existence until after World War II, although its commercial enterprise had been on the wane for several years before that. It was torn down in 1947 to make way for the grocery store which was built by George Cook and his son, Ronald after the latter came back from service in World War II.

Certain years stand out as notable in progress and events. 1895 was one of those years as the little frontier town of Piper City began to build and improve. J. A. Montelius, Sr., made the greatest improvement by building a new brick building 40 by 80 feet. This building houses the State Bank today. A newspaper clipping describes it thus:
"It is a model business structure, ornate in appearance and most substantial in construction. The foundation is of stone and superstructure of brick, with oolitic stone trimmings. The facing of both north and west fronts is of dark red pressed brick with terra cotta trimmings above doors and windows, and a wide expanse of plate glass, while on the street corner is a graceful tower which appropriately adorns the entire structure. The interior finish will be in keeping with its outside appearance, and when completed, which will be soon, it will have cost $12,000. The corner room will be occupied by the Piper City Bank which will certainly have quarters unsurpassed in the county. In the rear of the bank, on the west side, Mr. Montelius, Sr., will have his grain office, which will be occupied by Mr. Montelius' sons in conducting the Agricultural Implement and wagon carriage business, the second floor being devoted entirely to wagons and carriages. An immense elevator will facilitate the handling of vehicles and machinery and render the business which is usually so laborious almost a pleasure. Mr. Montelius is entitled to highest commendations of the people of Piper City for his enterprise as well as for the evidence thus given of his faith in the future of his town. It is such manifestations of confidence which encourage future development along the same lines.
"But his is not the only improvement worthy of mention nor the only one which renders the growth of the village remarkable. We found the Thompson Brothers occupying a large double brick store two stories in height and finished inside and outside in manner which would reflect merit on a place of many times the size of Piper City, while adjoining them on the west and constituting part of the same frontage is the jewelry store of Mr. Roberts, well stocked and equipped with the finest of furnishings. The drug stores of D. A. Boal and Dr. S. D. Culbertson, each 25 feet in width, are constructed with the same view to adornment and durability and furnished with the most modern interior fittings.

"The buildings enumerated constitute a frontage of about 165 feet, in front of which, and many other buildings, is laid about a block and a half of first class cement pavement.

"On the opposite side of the railroad is another brick building of about 27 feet frontage in which is located the new Odd Fellows' Hall which soon will be dedicated. The upper story is owned by the lodge and they can soon be congratulated upon the possession of one of the finest lodge rooms in the county and sufficient for all their needs for many years to come.

"While these are not all the improvements of the season, they are the principal ones, and when the electric light plant, which is now in the course of construction, is completed, Piper City will have taken a step in advance of which will make the season of 1895 memorable in her history."
The electric light plant was built by A. A. Blair and later sold to Dave and Charles White and Otto DeMoure. This was quite a progressive step for the village and constituted a big job for the owners of the plant, as they had to wire the homes of their customers before they could sell them electricity.

The generator for the plant, which stood on the north side of Peoria Avenue across from what is now Cook's IGA, was run with steam engines and boilers to provide the electricity. They also ran a line to Chatsworth and supplied them with electricity for a time.

It was some time later that electric street lights were installed. The village board was very frugal with the use of electricity and at one of their board meetings in 1900 they considered not turning on the lights on bright moonlight nights.
Flax was a popular crop with early farmers in this area because it helped to prepare the sod for cultivation. There was a flax mill in Jeffery's pasture at the south edge of town near where Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Pearson now live.

Sorghum mills were rather plentiful and there were evidently several plants that took the sorghum grown by local farmers and made rich, brown sorghum molasses. This was an important staple in the pioneer's diet and many a table was set with nothing but corn bread and molasses. There was a sorghum mill about where the Custom Farm Services fertilizer plant is now located. This mill was run by Mr. McLaughlin.

There also was a mill across from L. T. Bishop's, or where the Edwin Bork family now lives, and one north of town operated by "Molasses" Koerner.

Children used to follow the wagons hauling molasses cane into town, chewing on the sweet stalks that fell to the ground.

An ice plant was an important addition to the early business section and there was probably more than one ice house during the early history of the town.

Nels Plank operated an ice house for many years. They used to cut ice out of ponds in the winder and store it for the summer. There was a pond north of Robert Dehm's residence where they used to harvest ice. Ice, like other crops, was harvested when it was ready, and it was considered ready when it was eight inches thick.
The turn of the century was ushered in with great plans by Piper Cityans to build a new $12,000 schoolhouse on a new site at the south edge of town. To be forever left behind was the cramped two-story frame school, heated by space heaters in winter, and poorly ventilated in summer.

Gone, too, was the three-year high school that had seemed more than adequate for the children of the pioneers up to this time.

The new brick two-story school was the pride of the citizenry, and furnished large and comfortable class rooms for all grades from first through high school.

On August 27, 1900, the cornerstone to the new school house was dedicated in an impressive exercise in which almost all the townspeople took part. The exercises were under the auspices of the Masonic lodge. A committee was on hand to meet Grand Master Hitchcock, who arrived on the 9:45 A.M. train. At 2:00 P.M., the procession formed at the lodge hall and marched to the schoolhouse site, headed by Opperman's Cornet Band.

The Reverend M. C. Long delivered the first address — a history of the school. Grand Master Hitchcock followed with the main oration, after which the ceremony of laying the cornerstone took place. The exercises concluded, members of the lodge, friends and patrons, returned to the lodge hall for various amusements and entertainments, and at 6:00 P.M. refreshments were served.

School started October 1 in the old building, with Miss Mary Hotzenpillar, principal; Miss Clara Bishop, assistant principal; W. G. Cook, grammer department; Miss Anna Ralston, intermediate, and Miss Lizzie Dick, primary.

After the Christmas holiday, youngsters began going to school in the new building and everyone felt very proud to think that all grades from first through high school could attend such a nice modern school.

The old school was not completely abandoned, but was used by youngsters who played basketball and other games in it. Later it was moved to the site where the Triple H Company now stands, and it was used by Mike Kelly and his sons to store implements and such. They were dealers of farm implements for many years.

One small addition was made in 1920 to the 1900 school, then in 1937 the board of education thought that it was time to enlarge the school and local people responded affirmatively by voting the referendum necessary to do it. A fine new gymnasium and several classrooms were built.
The 1940's ushered in many changes for the schools. The country schools began to close one by one and their pupils were amalgamated into the town school. This was due to the economic pressure of the rising costs of teacher's salaries and the state government's upgrading of standards. There was pressure from many groups, including the Illinois Agricultural Association, to consolidate schools and to upgrade the rural schools to a par with the town schools.

Many did not feel this way. In fact, they felt that what the country school had to offer was superior to the town school.

The trend continued, however, and the last of the country schools to close was the Crandall School.

Some of the faithful country school teachers moved into the town school system and others retired. We still have some teachers who formerly taught in the country schools. Among them are Mrs. Frank Bouhl, Mrs. Merle Harford, Mrs. Donald Schnurr, Mrs. Francis Boma and Edmund Colravy.

A bit of Americana passed from the scene with the country schools. They had been little centers of community interest, the box socials in the winter and the school picnic at the close of school were events that the whole family looked forward to with anticipation.

Being geared to the necessity of rural youngsters working on the farms the country school was usually in session for only eight months to the town school's nine. At the end of April, or first of May, the families of the district all gathered for a picnic dinner to mark the close of school.

After the bountiful dinner, the men and boys organized a ball game and the women exchanged recipes and visited. The highlight of the day came when the freezer of ice cream was opened in the afternoon and everyone enjoyed this rare treat. The teacher customarily furnished the ice cream out of her meager salary.

The closing of the country schools presented the problem of getting the children to town school and on August 31, 1942, some parents from north of town attended a school board meeting and asked that the school obtain a bus and see that their children got to school.

Shortly after that the school did get one bus which shuttled back and forth as best it could. Some of the students had to wait at school until the others arrived for classes.

Ben Thompson was hired as the first bus driver. The school now maintains four buses, a mini-bus and one spare bus.

The country schools were disposed of in various ways. Some were moved away and remodeled for homes. Others were bought with the idea that they would remain as community centers for the district, but this hardly ever worked out. Center School is used for a town hall and polling place by Pella Township, one of the few still used and maintained. There is hardly a recognizable country school in the area.

In the fall of 1946 two country schoolhouses were moved into town where one was used for industrial arts and the other for ag. They were used for a few years until better facilities were built.

Hot lunches were also started in the 1940's and the old dining room was the room under the stage in the gymnasium. The pleasant, well-lighted dining room in use today was built in 1952.
An experiment in education was begun in 1967 when Chatsworth and Piper City began the "cooperative plan." In this plan, students are bused from one school to the other and it has made a more economical teacher - pupil ratio and has given a wider choice of subjects to students.

It has been hailed by educators all over the state as "the largest cooperative in the state of Illinois." The two superintendents who worked out the cooperative plan were Edward Gladish of Piper City and Robert Stuckey of Chatsworth. Further consolidation seems imminent in 1969, but only the future will reveal just what and how much.

Our modern school with a staff of 22 teachers and two administrators is a far cry from the first humble beginning of education begun on the prairie 110 years ago.

The first school in Brenton Township was in a small lean-to beside the home of John R. Lewis The offer of this rude building was gladly accepted by the newly formed school trustees, as no education had been "diffused" in the township up to this time. Miss Annie Hobbis of Onarga was employed as the first teacher, beginning her duties the first Monday in December, 1859 and continuing four months. Mr. Lewis also furnished the fuel for the school and boarded the teacher for the very liberal sum of $24.

The Wagner school was one of the earliest country schools and was also used by the churches to hold meetings and socials.
Many Piper City teachers could qualify as outstanding and we make no attempt to name them all here, but a few stand out in length of service and devotion and we would be remiss if we failed to note their contribution to the youth of this community.

Clara May Powell was an early country school teacher who taught in the Herr School. She also organized a Sunday School there which she taught on Sundays, making her attendance at school a necessity for six days a week. This was quite a bit of devotion when we note that it was the teacher who did all the janitoring, fixed the fires, and took care of all emergencies. Once in a great while one of the school board members was called in to "settle" one of the big boys.

Anna Ralston devoted most of her life to teaching and exemplified the old-fashioned image of a school ma'arm. She wore her hair in a bun on top of her head and her mouth was drawn into a tight little knot from which very little praise ever escaped. She was there to teach, and teach she did. Many were better off for her strict discipline and devotion to learning.

Professor J. H. Francis was superintendent here for many years, retiring in 1954. Not only did he superintend both grade and high schools, but he also was a very good math teacher and made even the most unlikely pupils understand it a little better. He taught here for 36 years.

Miss Dora Heavener was a first and second grade teacher and introduced literally hundreds of children to school. Later she became teacher of the kindergarten. She was the second kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Sylvia Guren taught the first class in the spring of 1952, then Miss Heavener started in the fall and taught kindergarten until she was forced to retire because of her health in 1962 after devoting 46 years to teaching. Piper City was one of the first schools in the area to have a full time kindergarten.
The Opera House was an institution in the early days. It superceded Clark's Hall as a center of all civic activities. The churches held suppers, musicals, and fairs in Clark's Hall in the earliest days, but everything had to be carried up the stairs and they were delighted to hold their meetings in the larger and better equipped Opera House after it was built.

Here every strata of the town's social life must have passed at some time or another. The big events of the year were the stock shows that came to town and played to an audience starved for entertainment. Basketball games were held here so all school children frequented its halls often and found special joy in watching the proceedings from the dark and sometimes hot and stuffy gallery. The Mogul basketball team was well known in the area before World War I and for a long time afterwards. Their fame as an independent basketball team was known all over Central Illinois and some very important "name" teams came and played the Moguls on the Opera House court.

In 1907 the Opera House was remodeled and lost its distinctive cupola that marked the early era of its architecture. It is not known just when the Opera House was first built, but we know it housed the Masonic Lodge on the second story. The Lodge was chartered in 1868.
The Farmers Institute was held here for many years and besides the exhibits of grain and produce brought in by the farmers, there were all kinds of blue and red ribbons given in the culinary arts to the farmers' wives. School children submitted hand work and themes to be judged and resultant winners were published in the paper.

The afternoon and evening program consisted of "pieces" and songs and entertainment by school children with a "special" speaker brought in who could entertain and enlighten his farm audience.

It was a time of fun and good natured rivalry and families attended together and enjoyed mingling with other families. Usually Farmers Institute was held in February and bad weather often marred the event, although they dared not hold it any later in the spring for the mud roads became impassable after the spring thaw.

In later years dances were a regular event and some people approved and others did not. The dances usually drew a good crowd, however, and Falletti's orchestra from Kankakee was one of the most popular dance bands in the 20's and early 30's.

Other more staid events also took place in the Opera House including the senior class's graduation and the eighth grade honor night.

After the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches built dining rooms, their suppers and meetings were usually held within their own walls. And after the school built its gymnasium, the basketball games, graduation and even the alumni banquet were all held there. The Farmers Institute, like the county fair that preceded it became a thing of the past. Farmers could hear better speeches on their radio sets and certainly the entertainment was better than anything that could be mustered by local talent.

In the late 40's it became obvious that the usefulness of the old Opera House, as people had known it for many years, was a thing of the past. A group of interested citizens got together and decided to put in a bowling alley in its place and in 1947 the Opera House was razed.

Extracted 12 Oct 2016 by Norma Hass

Templates in Time