Robert Grant

Mayor of Monmouth 1855

By John Carroll, MC ‘07

With a population hovering below eight hundred residents during 1850, Monmouth was a town in dire need of new industry.[1]  Then with the inauguration of a new mayor in 1855, the wheels began to turn.  Robert Grant launched his term as mayor with the completion of the C. B. & Q. railroad.  This helped the Pennsylvania native get off to a good start, bringing rapid growth to the young and now regenerated community.[2]

Previously to becoming mayor, Grant was the Post Master in Monmouth, a job that brought in a very sufficient wage, just over fifteen hundred dollars a year.  He was and his wife Jane, who was originally from Ohio, had two boys.  Thomas, who was thirty during his father’s term as mayor, and William who was nineteen at the same time.  William would later become a leading pharmacist in Monmouth, while the elder son Thomas was a turner.[3]

Grant was a man full of pride to serve the same city where he had resided for some time.  He had previously served on the church board as an acting elder, where his duties were comprised of hiring people with good stature to serve the community’s churches.[4]  Social prominence of that time told a lot about a man; weather he lived a healthy lifestyle or one of debauched concern.  Either way Grant had a way of dealing with people rather well, since he was just the fourth person to serve the city as mayor.

Twenty years earlier Monmouth was a very small town, with borders just stretching one half mile in each direction from the town’s square.[5]  Now twenty years after Monmouth’s existence, it was being made official.

”SECTION 1.—Be it enacted by the people of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly, That the inhabitants of the town of Monmouth, in the county of Warren and State of Illinois, be, and are hereby constituted a body politic and corporate, by the name and style of ‘The City of Monmouth,’ and by that name shall have perpetual succession, and may have and use a common seal, which they may change and alter at pleasure.”

Section second fixes the boundaries at one mile from the center of the Public Square, each way, and section third provides for the division of the city into two wards.”[6] 

A new mayor with the drive to help build a strong community, Robert Grant set into motion the growth of a small town.  The railroad had made the difference, bringing with it new life.

The completion of the railroad gave Monmouth the means to become a leading industrial town of the west, exporting plows, pottery, tiles, cigars, and agricultural produce to all corners of the US.  It took just a quarter of a century, and a boom town had sprung up from what was untouched prairie.[7]  The additional founding of Monmouth College and the town’s library, gave the people a chance to use resources that were hardly available elsewhere during their time.  The railroad also brought with it fine hotels and exceptional stores, which brought in additional revenue for the developing city.[8]

With the city on a turn for the better, Robert Grant could not have had a better beginning to his duties as mayor on May 7, 1855, when he was officially sworn in.  J.L. Morgan was in charge of swearing newly elected officials into office and was paid rather well to do such a duty.  Among some of Grant’s first tasks were to improve the condition of the roads and the town’s wellbeing.  This included several negligible tasks, like the removal of dead cattle from city streets and the maintenance of the city well.[9] 

But Grant did not take his first meeting as mayor sluggish, he immediately wanted to fix a bridge that had been damaged in a storm, fearing that one of his fellow residents may be harmed using it.  He also proposed that $2500 be levied on all the tax able property in Monmouth to build a public or union school house for a newly developing ward in the city.[10]  Though his proposal was not successful, Grant proved after many attempts that persistence pays off in the long run.

The next meeting brought with it a different agenda, as a circus had applied for a one day license.  The circus came to town only one mouth later, on July 20; it was one of the first of its kind to hit the streets of Monmouth, bringing in a crowd of more than 2000.  The Van Amburgh and Co’s, Circus of the People, was a true spectacle.  It put three large spectacles into one large exhibition lasting over fiver hours in duration.  The circus acts contained more than a hundred exhibitionists.[11]  This required additional police services to insure everything would go smoothly.  Six policemen seemed like a rather large number for a time when everyone was much more respecting of each others presence, but it shows the magnitude of the event.[12]  Grant never abandoned any of his proposals showing the true qualities of Grant’s persona, unsurpassed determination and diligence.

Soon the council purchased a new fire engine.[13]  It was a motion that passed easily, since fires affected everyone in the town.  In a following meeting the subject about storing the newly purchased engine lead to the building the local Monmouth fire station.  The station did not employ any full time staff during the period but mainly relied on a volunteer basis.

Grant was puzzled that the residents were more concerned about personal safety than about education of their children.  During several previous meeting’s Grant had moved to raise money for education from taxable land.  Though continuing to get denied, Grant never let up; instead he asked for additional funds to take care of this problem.  Finally, the board agreed to at least search for an additional site for the ever growing school system.  On January 19, 1856, a motion was passed to buy a new site for a school house and the East Ward was born.[14] 

New motions also concerned the need for a new cemetery.  Finally $24 was approved to buy fourteen and a half acres a few blocks north of the newly founded Monmouth College.  The cemetery was to be a place of beauty, a final resting place for many people who did so much to make the town what it was and currently still is.  The officers of the time put several days of hard labor, working to enhance the landscape.[15]

The officers of the time were very consumed in the projects they undertook, almost always getting hands on with the production of such works.  This was especially true when the board ordered that the street leading north out of the square be widened to accommodate the growing amount of traffic.  This was going to take a lot of man hours, and since the city did not have a maintenance system to take care of such tasks, it called upon its residents to help.  Although volunteers earned a fair wage, few had the time and energy for such projects.  The widening of the streets was much vaster than that of a bridge reconstruction that could usually be fitted into a weekend.  The city had nearly spent a thousand dollars on bridge and street improvements throughout the town, during the time of Grant’s administration.[16]  During a time when a dollar could go a long way, this was a very sizable amount, but was much needed in order for the development of the community.

Those expenses were common of the time period and still are today, but the city during Grant’s term was paying for much different circumstances.  For instance, during the council’s January meeting the city agreed to pay for digging J. Thompson’s children’s graves.  The coffins for the adolescents were also paid for by the city.  This aspect of life during the time period is very interesting because it may have just been the courteous thing to do or possibly the city was at fault for the deaths.  Stray dogs had previously been a problem during a previous term, when George Palmer was mayor in 1853.  Palmer had passed an ordinance for the extermination of stray dogs within city limits; for fear that they would attack small children.  On April 5, Alfred Nunte was paid for killing dogs in three different occasions, possibly the same packs that may have killed Thompson’s children.[17]  Either way, the duties must have been justified one way or another.

The same duties that were justified by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on February 3, 1855, when they declared the US Fugitive Slave Law unconstitutional.  This was a huge turning point for the north, allowing the freedom and liberty to blacks without speculation.  Later with the fate of society resting on a dispute between a matter of race, the Congress approved a bill of $30,000 to test camels for military use.  This may seem a little extreme at the current time but on March 3, 1855, their was no telling if the civil war was to take place, and if it did not then what war may have occurred.  Then on April 21 the 1st train crossed the Mississippi River just north of Monmouth at the Rock Island, Davenport Bridge.  This was a true breakthrough at the time allowing goods to be taken further to the west and allowing new never before seen commodities to reach east of the Mississippi.  Then on the east coast, Castle Clinton opened on August 1 in New York City making it the 1st US receiving station for immigrants.  This would soon lead to an ever growing population of the US especially in east coast cities.  Meanwhile Isaac Singer had just finished the completion of his patent process for the modern day sewing machine motor.  All of these advances were true breakthroughs in the building blocks of our current society.[18]

Meanwhile, the opening of the west was underway, pushing back Native Americans tribes like the Sioux into close proximities with other tribes.  This caused great backlash when the tribes began traveling into each others now refined territories.  This in return caused large skirmishes between tribes from Nebraska to the current Yellowstone national forest.[19]  Things were not going well on the other side of the country either, with massive unemployment plaguing the city of New York.  But unlike the battles being fought over land in the west, New York had a more permanent solution for the problem and that was to spend money on renovating the city with parks and bridges, bringing in tons of new jobs.[20]  The country was in a state of confusion to find a direction in which it was heading.

Then on April 12, 1856, Robert Grant’s term had surpassed him bringing in a new mayor and new improvements to a town that he did so much.  After doing so much for the City of Monmouth, Grant had made a total of eighty dollars and sixty cents through his acts as mayor and the work he did to better the city.[21]  Even though Grant would never take office again he would forever be remembered on the things that he did for the city that is still very recognizable today.  

 

 

                                          Bibliography

City Clerks Office minutes, 51

Rankin, Jeff, Born of the Prairie.  Kellogg Printing Company, 1981.

The Past and Present of Warren County, Illinois (Chicago, 1877), 151.

“Van Amburgh and Co’s Circus for the People,” The Monmouth Atlas, 31 August, 1855, Vol. IX, No. 42.

William Urban, “Ivory Quinby, The Burlington Railroad, and Monmouth College,” 15 January 1993, https://department.monm.edu/history/QUINBY.htm

www.ancestorylibrary.com

www.brainyhistory.com

 


 

[1] William Urban, “Ivory Quinby, The Burlington Railroad, and Monmouth College,” 15 January 1993,  https://department.monm.edu/history/QUINBY.htm

[2] www.ancestory.com

[3] www.ancestory.com

[4] The Past and Present of Warren County, Illinois  (Chicago, 1877), 151.

[5] The Past and Present of Warren County, Illinois  (Chicago, 1877), 144. 

[6] The Past and Present of Warren County, Illinois  (Chicago, 1877), 144.

[7] Born of the Prairie , 11.

[8] The Past and Present of Warren County, Illinois  (Chicago, 1877), 144.

[9] City Clerks Office minutes, 51.

[10] City Clerks Office minutes, 56.

[11] The Monmouth Atlas, Vol. IX  No. 42, August 31, 1855.

[12] City Clerks Office minutes, 57.

[13] City Clerks Office Minutes, 61.

[14] City Clerks Office Minutes, 80.

[15] City Clerks Office Minutes, 63.

[16] City Clerks Office Minutes, 70-79.

[17] City Clerks Office Minutes, 83.

[18] www.brainyhistory.com

[19] The Monmouth Atlas, Vol. IX, No. 8 Jan. 5, 1855

[20] The Monmouth Atlas, Vol. IX  No. 9  Jan. 12,1855

[21] City Clerks Office Minutes, 87.