Speer, Illinois March 18, 2005
Drive Highway 91 South from Wyoming, turn east at the Stark Speer highway sign, continue driving until you reach highway 40 and you will have passed by three Stark County villages with an interesting history. One has become a residential place with a church in its midst, one is down to a lone residence and the last one is a small community with a bank, a post office, a grain elevator and a metal manufacturing plant and potential for growth due to its proximity to Peoria's developments nearby.
J.Knox Hall wrote a history of Stark County in 1926. He listed two cities, two incorporated villages and 19 minor villages in Stark County. Ten of the minor villages no longer exist. The subject of this column is one of those "minor" villages.
Knox writes, "While the Peoria & Nelson branch of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad was under construction, James A. Speer, who owned a farm on the line of the railroad in section 36, Valley Township, conceived the idea of founding a town. Accordingly, on December 5, 1901, Henry Oliver, county surveyor, plotted the town of Speer, in the northwest quarter of the above named section."
He reports, "Speer soon came into prominence as a trading and shipping point for the southeast part of the county. It reported a population of 150 in 1910; has general and hardware stores, a bank, livery barn, planing mill, post office, lumber yard, a grain elevator, and is one of the flourishing towns in Stark County." (1) Twenty- first century Speer has a population of 50 persons. The Speer State Bank was founded in 1902 by John Turnbull who owned the bank until 1968.Bank presidents were Ben Davis, Joe Johnson, owner and president and Ron Sabilidk, owner and president. Zealy Holmes and G. Michael Stahl presently own the bank. Stahl is president. Speer bank has a branch bank in Peoria. The bank has a multi million dollar capital stock value and employs 26 persons.
Harms Metal Fabrication Co. is across the RR tracks east of town. The railroad is now Union Pacific. The company employs 25 to 30 persons. Dennis Stoecker, President of Harms told me that they are a "job shop". This means that they work for other firms and assemble all sorts of things. He said they do everything from one piece (for farmers and anyone needing metal fabricating done) to hundreds of pieces. They have laser machines that cut metal, rolling machines, presses and welders. They have been in business since 1976. Ellis Harms was the founder of the company. They employ people from a 25 mile radius of Speer.
The elevator was founded by Allen in before 1910.It is now a seasonal elavator operated by Rumbold and Kuhn. The facility has a storage capacity of a million bushels. Six to eight persons work that during harvest. It has a dryer as do all of the R-K elavators.
Valley township has an assessed valuation of 10,068,900 dollars. This includes Speer's contribution to the township.
Speer came into existence because a railroad was coming to eastern Stark County. The prosperity in those times depended on rail transportation. The automobile came along and made a change in transportation. The railroads declined, one was removed effectively changing the nature of these villages.
It is apparent to me that Speer is a village of the 21st century. The services provided by the business facilities are certainly of necessity.
(1) History of Stark County, J. Knox Hall, p132
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