Monday, May 2, 2022

L'Ostant (Lostant), Illinois, the Founding Years.

L'Ostant (French) later, Lostant (pronounced: LOW-stant), is a small village situated on section 24, in the eastern part of Hope Township,  in LaSalle County, on the Illinois Central Railroad line. At first, L'Ostant was a flag stop. Later a station house was added.
Couldn't Make Out the Date.
To encourage settlement, Congress passed the Distribution-Preemption Act of 1841, which recognized squatters' rights and allowed settlers to claim 160 acres of land in the new territory. After residing on the property for 14 months, a claimant could purchase the property at $1.25 an acre. Well worth the $200 ($7,500 today) investment. 

FACT: The average value of U.S. farmland in 1850 was $11.00 per acre. In 2020 the average U.S. farm real estate value is $3,160 per acre. The highest price per acre in 2020 was in New Jersey at $196,410 per acre.

John M. Richey came into the area around 1849 when the land was partly claimed by soldiers'. Rev. A. Osgood selected his farm in 1850 when there was not a dwelling in sight.

Richey bought a soldiers' claim that included what would become the village site, and he resided on it. By the first census in 1880, there were 363 residents in L'Ostant.
The Public School, circa 1905
In the summer of 1861, a small frame house was erected, which served for two or three years as a church, schoolhouse, and town hall. It was used until 1868, when, becoming too small to accommodate the school population, it was sold to a Catholic congregation who converted it back into a church. In 1868, steps were taken to secure a graded school. It was built that year, and a good graded school opened in the autumn. The building contained four rooms and accommodated two hundred students. Four teachers were employed. Nearly that number attend in the winter season. 

Richey platted the village in September 1861. The village was named for "Countess Lostant" Lostant Mercier, the wife of Baron Henri Mercier. Henri was born in Baltimore, the son of a French diplomat stationed in America. Henri Mercier was the French ambassador to the United States from July 1860 through December 1863 during the Civil War (1861-1865). The Merciers had a stop-over at the later named L'Ostant community in 1861. It was a big deal. It's been noted that the Merciers also stopped at Savoy, Illinois.

Mr. B. D. Clark was the first Postmaster when a post office was established in December 1861. After Clark, J. T. Spring was appointed Postmaster; then Spring's brother served until September 1874, when Hugh Goheen was appointed. Clark was also an agent for the Illinois Central Railroad the L'Ostant flag stop. He arranged to move the first stationhouse from a neighboring locality. 

Peter Johnson erected a small building in 1861 on what is now Front Street. It was used for a blacksmith shop by O. T. Efverberg. The next improvement was a wagon shop, built by W. S. Robison. About this time John Fraher built a small "shanty" in what would become the northwest part of the town. A man named Boutmen built another shanty about the same time. 

The first permanent dwelling was built by Peter Johnson in 1862. The first store was a small shanty in which Mr. Kemper kept a saloon with a small stock of food items patrons stay put and stay thirsty by serving salty snacks, pickled eggs, dried beef jerky and pork rinds with a mild heat added were good for business. 

The first permanent store was erected by John M. Richey in 1862. A shop or two was soon added to the few houses in town; other stores were built, and in a year or two there were a good number of buildings in the young village.
Second Avenue, circa 1905.
It is stated on good authority that there was more grain shipped from L'Ostant than any other station on the Illinois Central Railroad between Bloomington and Freeport. The two large elevators ship yearly between 600,000 and 700,000 bushels of grain. The first grain elevator was built in 1864 by N. Dugan. 
To this, two more have been added. More grain was shipped from L'Ostant than from any other of its size in the county.

The main growth of the town happened after the Civil War. In 1866 a grist mill was erected by Mr. Richey, Dr. Reynolds, and others. The majority of products shipped from town go to Chicago, but a moderate share finds its way directly to St. Louis.

The village of L'Ostant was incorporated as a town under the general incorporation law in 1867. A public meeting of the citizens was held in Wood's Hall on August 2, when fifty votes were in favor of incorporation, and none were against it. On the 12th an election for town trustees was held which resulted in the choice of the following persons: E. Altman, N. Dugan, W. W. Reynolds, A. Fisher, and A. C. Scherrnerhorn. They met shortly after the election to be sworn into office. They elected Mr. Altman as president of the board, and Mr. Schermerhorn as secretary.
Third Avenue, circa 1905.


L' Ostant's Ancient Free and Accepted Masons Lodge 597 was organized in 1868. The lodge first met in the hall over Dr. Reynold's store, then moved in the hall over Phillips Bros. store, and afterward, in 1878, then moved to the hall over Schoenneshoefer's drug store.

The Baptists were the first to organize in the village. They formed a society in 1868 in a cottage, then worshiped in the schoolhouse. The following year they erected their house of worship. There were twelve members in the organization. The number increased until there were enough members to support a part-time minister. Rev. Pratt was the first minister. 

The Methodists occupied this country prior to the commencement of the village. They had a congregation at Cedar Point, a few miles from L'Ostant. They were organized with nine members about the same time the Baptists Church was formed. They first occupied the schoolhouse, then the Baptist church until, in 1869, they erected their own church. Rev. Springer was the first minister.

The Catholic Church was formed about 1867. For a while, they used a room in the upper story of the pioneer store in town. In 1868 they purchased the old schoolhouse which they fixed up to make a church and used it until 1883 when they erected a new church in the eastern part of the village.

THE 1886 L'OSTANT BUSINESS DIRECTORY: 
  • Boot and Shoe Store, by Henry Fabreinheim.
  • Broom Factory, by Allen Taylor; 
  • Carpenter and Contractor, W.F. Wiley.
  • Furniture Store, George Spring.
  • Grist Mill, by J.L. Barton.
  • Lawyer, S.P. Massey.
  • Lumber-Yard, by A. Osgood, Jr.
  • Music Store, by S.L. Eberly.
  • Restaurant, by Mrs. Reifercheid.
  • Wagon Shop, by Henry Hartberg.
  • Two Barber Shops, by Joseph Hannum and O.S. Hannum.
  • Two Blacksmith Shops, by Samuel Taylor and O.T. Efverberg.
  • Two Butchers & Meat Markets, by G.B. Mccaleb and F. Woodard.
  • Two Druggists, E.R. Atwood and Robert Schoenneshoefer.
  • Two Food Grocers, owned by Hugh Goheen and McCaleb & Son.
  • Two Grain Elevators, operated by N. Dugan and G.L. Blanchard.
  • Two Hardware Stores, owned by Thomas Drew and Rhodes & Reiferscheid.
  • Two Harness Shops, owned by William Page and W. Meihir.
  • Two Millinery Stores, owned by Mrs. Deaver and Miss Cliffords.
  • Two Physicians, E.R. Atwood and Dr. Schoenneshoefer.
  • Two Shoemakers, Henry Fahreirheim and Nick Stark.
  • Two Tile Factories, by P. Barber and McShane & Bros.
  • Three General Stores, owned by Thomas Drew, E.D. Whipple, and A.L. Hillman.
  • Three Saloons, kept by Peter Rheinhart, Godlet Harry and Casper Swanberger.
What was dubbed "The 1889 Pretty Big L'Ostant Fire" (today called a "Class A" fire, 1/4 acre or less) destroyed many of the downtown businesses and homes. The damage was estimated at $50,000 ($1.6 million today). It was determined that a spark from a passing train started the fire.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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