Located just twenty-five miles east of the city of Bloomington, sits the small community of Colfax, Illinois. Incorporated in 1880 following the extension of the Kankakee branch of the Illinois Central Railroad the small community in Martin township immediately began to boom. The still rural nature of eastern McLean County, at this time combined with the access to the new rail line meant that farmers in the area flocked to Colfax. To meet the many needs of farmers who didn’t wish to make the journey to Bloomington a thriving business district quickly emerged.
By 1893, the 100 block of Colfax’s Main street could boast of containing multiple grocery and general stores, two drug stores, two banks as well as a hardware store located at 116 E. Main Street. Constructed in what was known as the “brick-front” style of commercial buildings, popular in the late 1800’s these typically included office space on or two stories above a high-ceilinged ground-floor business. This style usually boasted articulated brick or stone lintels and sills and brick corbelled cornices. The interior of the structure was held up with solid wood beams connected to 2X12 floor joists covered with tongue and groove hardwood floors.
It is difficult to determine precisely which firm was the first to inhabit this location, early newspaper advertisements frequently omitted street addresses. But it may well have been J.R. Williams & Sons Hardware & Tin ware (an 1899 Sanborn fire insurance map of Colfax show a small tin shop located in the rear of this hardware store). By the early 20th century it had become Wichmann’s Hardware which would serve the community of Colfax until 1981 when it became Lewis True Value Hardware. In 1996, it would be purchased once again, evolving into a Sentry Hardware. In 2017, due to deterioration the building was slated for demolition but not before Sangamon Reclaimed was able to preserve nearly 8,000 board ft of lumber for reuse today.
Preserving for future generations a reminder of a thriving business that served the hardworking farmers of McLean & Livingston County, Illinois for more than a century.
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