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  • Dale C. Maley

History made at Walnut & 4th

Fairbury was founded in 1857 when the Peoria & Oquawka Railroad laid its tracks from Peoria to the Indiana border.

The first home was built in late 1857 by John Coomer. The first commercial building was also built in 1857 at the southwest corner of Walnut and Fourth Streets.

The first commercial building was used as a store by William Mitchell. In 1868, an addition was made, and it was called the Home House Hotel. In 1872, a stock company put on another significant addition. The name was changed to the Fairbury House, and Wallace Amsbary and S. S. Rogers operated the hotel. Mr. Amsbary relinquished his interest, and Mr. Rogers ran the hotel until 1887.


Mr. Rogers sold the hotel to James Turner, who retained ownership for five years. In 1893, Fred Thomas purchased the property and thoroughly remodeled the hotel. He renamed it Thomas House and operated it until 1904. Then, J. P. Haughn leased and managed the hotel. When the passenger trains stopped in Fairbury to discharge their travelers, they used to run the half block from the depot to the Thomas House to be confident they had a reservation.


May 20, 1907, was a cold day. Twenty-five registered guests were staying at the Thomas House. Mr. Haughn, the proprietor, sent Clem Wright to the basement to start a fire. Clem put in a quantity of waste paper in the furnace and ignited it. The furnace flue pipe caught fire close to the roof. At one PM, smoke was observed, and the city fire alarm was sounded. When the fire department arrived, it was too late to save the hotel. Many onlookers walked or rode bicycles to the railroad tracks to watch the fire to the south.


After the Thomas House burned down, Fairbury had only one hotel, the Archer House on  Locust Street. The Archer house was located just west of Walton's building on Locust Street. The Fairbury Improvement Group repainted the exterior building name sign in May 2018.


In 1911, a new hotel was built at the southwest corner of Locust and Second Streets. This modern hotel was initially called the Illinois Hotel. This building was purchased by Honegger's in 1946. The hotel was demolished in 1996. Today, this is the location of the new Fairbury City Hall.


Also, in 1907, a six-week-long revival meeting was held in Fairbury. It was conducted by evangelist Billy Sunday. Assisting Rev. Billy Sunday was Rev. Honeywell. Although the 1907 revival meetings were very popular, interest in revival meetings waned in subsequent years.


In 1913, revival meetings held by evangelists became popular again. A group of Fairbury churches requested that Reverend Honeywell return to Fairbury and put on a five-week series of revival meetings in early 1914. Dr. Honeywell insisted that a tabernacle building be provided for the revival meetings.


Fairbury had two opera houses in 1913 that could have been used for the revival meetings. One opera house was at the northwest corner of Locust and Fifth Streets. The other opera house was at the southeast corner of Maple and Third Streets.


The churches sponsoring the revival meetings decided to quickly erect a temporary building on the vacant lots where the Thomas House had been located. Construction started in late 1913, and the building was completed before the February 1914 revival meetings began. The Fairbury Tabernacle was large enough to hold the audience plus 200 choir members. The choir was composed of members from the Fairbury area churches. The Fairbury Tabernacle also had sawdust in the aisles.


On February 13, 1914, the Honeywell party arrived in Fairbury. The party came from Ashley, Ohio, and included Professor H. C. Clase, Mrs. Clase, and Miss Lamont. Professor Clase met with the large choir that evening to plan the revival meetings.


The first revival meetings were extremely popular. Attendees particularly enjoyed the music provided by the large choir comprised of Fairbury citizens. The sessions were so popular that the Third Street Opera House discontinued operations until the revival meetings had concluded. The Fairbury Art Club also stopped meetings during the revivals.


Rev. Honeywell was not only a famous evangelist, but he was also a good promoter. To gather more attendees to his revivals, he had small boys, each dressed to represent various nations. In a parade, each boy carried a placard advertising the revival events.


One old photograph of the Fairbury, Illinois, tabernacle building still survives. This photo illustrates the building design was temporary. After 1914, there is no further mention of the Fairbury Tabernacle building.


1961, the new Medical Arts Building was built on the lots where the Thomas House and Fairbury Tabernacle once stood. The Blade noted the Medical Arts Building was of fireproof construction compared to the Thomas House, which burned down in 1907. The Medical Arts Building is now called Carle Fairbury —A Department of Carle Bromenn Medical Center at 115 East Walnut Street.


The southwest corner of Walnut and Fourth Streets has seen a lot of Fairbury history. The first commercial store in Fairbury was built there in 1857. The building was modified in subsequent years, and the Home House, the Fairbury House, and the Thomas House hotels occupied that site. The old building was destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1907.

After the building lots sat vacant for six years after the big fire, a temporary structure, the Fairbury Tabernacle, was erected for Rev. Honeywell's evangelistic meetings in 1914. In 1961, the Medical Arts Building was constructed on that site. The clinic is now named Carle Fairbury.

(Dale Maley's local history article on Fairbury News is sponsored each week by Dr. Charlene Aaron & Antiques & Uniques of Fairbury)

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Dale Maley
Dale Maley
Feb 21

Several readers pointed out there used to be an ice cream stand at this location before the Medical Center was built in 1960-1961. Further research found that Andy and Carolyn Harms-Rapp operated an ice-cream stand there in the 1940s and 1950s. It was called Andy's Ice Cream Parlor and was later named Andy's Ice Cream Mart - which served the first soft-serve ice cream in Fairbury. They sold the stand to Harvey Baer and he moved the business to 8th and Oak (Route 24) in 1960 when they started construction of the medical building.


Dale Maley
Dale Maley
Feb 21

A neat old photo of the big fire when the Thomas House burned down in 1907..........

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