Beloit's townsite was homesteaded by Aaron A.
Bell who came from Williamson County, Illinois,
by ox-drawn covered wagon, arriving in April
1866. His deed to the land was burned in an Indian
raid before he could have it recorded and his title to
the property had to be settled in court. His was the
first home put up on the townsite, a log cabin which
stood about a half block south of the new municipal
light and water plant. It was 1868 before the
settlement was named. It was called Willow
Springs after a fresh water springs surrounded by
willows on the north bank of the Solomon River
just west of the old light and water plant. The
springs served those located here, as well as hunters,
emigrants and freighters passing through, until the
Another post office, established in 1885 in Douglas County, was known as Willow Springs, and it is possibly because of this that the name of the settlement here was changed. It was in 1870 that Timothy Hersey took the initiative to rename the town Beloit after his home city in Wisconsin. The woman who cooked for his mill hands told the story that Hersey came to the cook shack one day and said the place no longer would be called Willow Springs but Beloit "and with a crayon proceeded to write the name on the stove pipe". Bell was appointed the first postmaster in 1870. One history relates he was appointed May 16, and another says July 1. He was succeeded in April 1871 by Henry H. Lyon. The first post office stood on the north side of Front (now South) Street, about 150 feet west of Hersey Avenue. This also was the depot for the stage coach line from Solomon which carried the mail.
In 1869 Hersey purchased part of Bell's land. Bell retained the plot west of a north-south draw which probably closely paralleled Bell Street, and Hersey took the land east of the draw. Hersey started getting out timber to dam the river and built a mill in 1869. Despite heavy floods, he put his sawmill in operation in September 1870 and his grist mill the following season. The mill employed 25 or 30 hands. The sawmill proved less successful than the grist mill since the cottonwoods cut into lumber had a tendency to warp.
A sketch of Hersey in the Dickinson County Historical Society reports "it has been said at one time he was the very life of the Solomon Valley. He gave the first child born in Beloit the deed of a fine lot, gave lumber liberally to the first church built in town, also to the first school house and printing office here". The son of Ira and Amitte Hersey, Timothy F. Hersey was born in Sumner, Oxford County, Maine, on August 17, 1827. His grandfather James was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. The Hersey family came from the north of England about 1635-40 and settled at Massachusetts Bay. They were descendants of Miles Standish.
At about 10 years of age, Hersey moved with his parents to Northern Illinois and a few years later to Beloit, Wisconsin. As a young man he went to Jo Daveiss County, Illinois, where he was married January 18, 1852, to Eliza E. Johnson. They lived there until 1857 when he went west to what is now Abilene, Kansas. His wife and two small children followed him the next year. Hersey had laid out a town and his wife received the honor of naming it, calling it Abilene. Hersey was the second white settler in Dickinson County and their daughter, Sylvia, was the first non-native child born in Abilene.
Hersey commenced as a farmer but in 1858 became a government contractor, furnishing hay, fuel and grain for government fortifications extending west of the Rocky Mountains. During the Civil War he was appointed Indian trader. While prospecting for tin ore in 1859, he was captured by Pawnee Indians and held for three days. The same year Cheyennes chased him 15 miles in an attempt to cut him off from his encampment and kept him under constant fire wounding him eight times by arrows.
At the close of the Civil War, Hersey erected a mill on the Smoky Hill river near Abilene, the first one built west of Junction City. While in Dickinson County, he held the office of county clerk, recorder, treasurer and sheriff. In 1862 he was elected to the state legislature, being re-elected in 1864. In 1870 he was nominated by the Democrats for Senator but lost because of the large Republican majority. His family followed Hersey to Beloit in 1872, and they lived here a number of years before he moved to the West Coast. Hersey died May 5, 1905, in Castle Rock, Wyoming at the home of his eldest daughter.
I. D. Williams, who had served during the Civil War in Co. F., 37th Illinois Infantry, arrived in Beloit in the fall of 1870 and built the City's first business structure, a two story native limestone edifice still standing on the northeast corner of the Mill-South street intersection. He opened a merchandise business in partnership with James Finnegan. By 1883 Williams had erected some 10 buildings in Beloit. The first non-native child born in Beloit was Laura B. Blanchard in September, 1870 to Mr. & Mrs. Ed M. R. Blanchard. To her Hersey gave a city lot. She died at the age of six. The first non-native child born here to grow to adulthood was Sophie Gabe, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. W. H. F. Gabe. She was born November 1, 1870.
Beloit's first marriage took place December 9, 1870, when Mary M. Bell, daughter of A. A. Bell and O. P. Pooler, exchanged wedding vows. The first congregation organized in Beloit was by the Baptists in the summer of 1871 with Rev. George Balcom as minister. Helping organize the group was Rev. O. N. Fletcher of Asherville. History records that on one occasion Rev. Balcom strode into one of the saloons dotting Mill Street, took the violin from the hands of the establishment's musician, walked behind the bar and held the audience's attention for an hour by singing, playing and preaching. The Methodist congregation was the first to erect a church building here in 1874. It has since been torn down.
A cottonwood store building located just south of the structure on the southwest corner of Mill and Court was the first used to hold classes here in 1871, the year it was put up with Hersey's help. Rev. Fletcher was secured as a teacher that year, his salary being raised by subscription. Beloit's first regularly appointed teacher was W. A. Reeder, later a congressman, who taught in the fall and winter of 1872-73. The city's first school district, the second one organized in the county, voted $5,000 in bonds in 1872 for a building. Work started on schedule and the first story was completed in 1873. Due to mismanagement in selling the bonds, completion of the top part of the two story brick building, situated on the now vacant area of Mill and 5th street, was not completed until 1874.
Beloit was surveyed by Albert Cooper and the plat filed with the Register of Deeds March 26, 1872, for T. F. Hersey, A. A. Bell, George Campbell, Alexander Campbell, Charles H. Morrill, Edward Valentine, William Valentine and "57 other electors". Beloit was organized as a City of the third class in August 1872 by an order of Honorable Andrew S. Wilson, Judge of the 12th Judicial District. It was proclaimed a City of the second class March 10, 1879, by Gov. John P. St. John.
Tim Hersey was chosen Beloit's first mayor at the initial election and served from August, 1872 to May, 1873. At the first council meeting on August 21, 1872, Lew J. Best was appointed City Clerk by Hersey and the duly-elected council men qualified for office. Beloit's first councilmen were W. C. Ingram, M. R. Mudge, H. H. Lyon, Joseph Baugh man and Joseph R. Vaughn. The first railroads, from Atchison and Solomon, reached Beloit in 1878-79. The city's first water "system", consisting of a windmill and storage tank, was installed in 1881 at a cost of $136. Bonds totaling $26,000 were issued in 1886 to pay for a steam-driven electric power generating plant and a stone water tower for a municipal light and water system.
The first steps toward providing Beloit with a city building were taken at the June 15, 1897 meeting of the Mayor and Council. A report of plans for a city hall was referred to the city attorney and finance committee. A committee on the city hall was appointed July 6, 1897. On August 17 of that year, it was decided that the council would proceed to put up a building for city purposes. A one story structure 50'x86' was decided on though dimensions later were changed to 50'x40'. The building erected was a two story native limestone affair and cost about $3,000. It was completed in 1898. How was it financed? No records could be found of the city allocating funds for the project. It is believed excessive fines, assessed frequently against the city's many saloons by city court, raised the needed money, and records of the police court bear out this belief.
Beloit Area Chamber of Commerce
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