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The Early History of Trenton, IL

The following article first appeared in a special edition of The Trenton Sun commemorating Zip Code Day June 22, 1993 (62293) and is reprinted here with the permission of the author and Sun’s present editor and publisher Michael L. Conley.

Tenacity Is Key To Trenton’s Past... And Future

The city of Trenton can date its history back to the very early 1800s, when settlers first came here and established what is now Sugar Creek Township.

The town itself sprang from several different attempts, and originated in fits and starts. To this day, Trenton is unique for its tenacity and amazing consistency. Almost as if it has a personality all to itself, Trenton and its people demonstrate an elasticity which allow them to thrive even when conditions are adverse.

The town came about in stubborn fashion. In 1836, A.W. Casad of Trenton, New Jersey laid out a town, which he named for his hometown. Lots were sold, but never paid for, and never built upon, so Mr. Casad abandoned the idea of a town and returned to his native city. The town designed by Mr. Casad was situated in what is now the northwest subdivision of Trenton. The first house was built here about the same time. Mr. William Lewis, who was a brother- in-law to Mr. Casad, and had settled here in 1818, built a home on his farm, which covered a large portion of what is now Trenton. The house was on the present Main St., between the Trenton Bakery and Pennington Insurance Agency. The house was razed in 1936.

In 1853, a man named Buckman established something of a railroad depot here, where he bought and shipped grain. He got a post office established here, and took in a partner named Walker. Mr. Walker eventually abandoned Buckman, forcing him to leave Trenton for Iowa. Another sputter, but still no town.

Finally, in 1855, Trenton came to life, as Alva Lewis laid out the present town in May of that year. William Lewis laid out an addition in March 1856, followed quickly by Joseph Hanke’s addition, and another by William Lewis. The town was actually platted by two different concerns: William Lewis laid out blocks north of the present Broadway; and Sanger Kamp and Co. laid out blocks south.

Trenton received its village charter February 16, 1856, with Joseph Hanke as its first mayor. It was incorporated as a city on September 20, 1887. Business and industry have come and gone in Trenton, but the constancy of farming remains. No doubt the rich, fertile soil of this region was the reason for the first settlers staking their claims here, and to this day, Trenton--and Clinton County--remains largely dependent on its agrarian society.

Among some of the early business interests of Trenton were the Paul Bassler Brewery, The Trenton Milling Company, a Carriage Factory, a Lumber Yard, The Trenton Creamery and two coal mines.

The mines play a significant role in Trenton’s history, both socially and economically. The first coal mining system was established in 1865 by Joseph Hanke, William Schaeffer, and John Butcher. The mines began operating in earnest in 1868. Mr. Hanke eventually bought out his partners and increased the output of the mine by sinking an additional shaft at an enormous personal cost. Mr. Hanke sold his interests in the mine to the Consolidated Coal Company of St. Louis, and the company opened a new mine east of the city. Under the dominion of Consolidated Coal, Trenton became a city dependent on its mines. The South and West mines proved rich in good quality coal, and from 300 to 500 people--primarily residents of Trenton--were employed by the mining company. While the mines provided an economic boon to Trenton, they also brought tragic death and injury to many workers, and the burning of the South mine in February 1909 was a devastating economic blow to the city.

The oldest business still operating in Trenton is Glanzner Furniture, which was established by Joseph Glanzner on January 1, 1859 as John W. Glanzner & Son Furniture and Undertaking. Webmaster's note: Glanzner Furniture was lost to a serious fire in late 1993 and never reopened.

In 1880, a European Earl named Henry Manverse established the first newspaper in Trenton. He dubbed his venture The Trenton Gazette, and although no records can be found to substantiate it, early editions of the paper also refer to it as The Trenton Herald. Dr. A.W. Carter and Rev. Johnson, the Presbyterian minister, published the paper for a short time, and in 1893 Arthur Oehler became publisher and changed the name to The Trenton Sun. Mr. Oehler sold his interest in the publication in 1896 to Henry Mallrich.

In 1910, Newton Rule purchased the paper and was editor for 36 years, building up the most widely read paper in the county. One of the early features of the Sun was a German supplement which was discontinued, for obvious reasons, during World War I.

In 1946 one of Trenton’s prodigal sons, John L. Glanzner returned home to publish the local newspaper. He would become publisher of The Sun for the longest running tenure to date. In 1954 Paul Strake became partner to Mr. Glanzner and the pair operated the weekly until the present ownership of Michael and Sybil Conley began on June 1, 1990.

Under Glanzner’s stewardship, The Cracker Barrel was established, and quickly became the paper’s most popular feature. The column still exists, albeit not nearly as skillfully written as it was by Mr. Glanzner.

Other innovations of Mr. Glanzner’s included a column called Stanislaus On The Loose, later Hog River Writings, and finally The Big “i”, in which Mr. Glanzner made entertaining the everyday banalities of life. Glanzner’s stamp is indelibly etched on the Trenton Sun, and his contributions to Trenton are equally important. He remains our resident curmudgeon, full of acerbic wit and a grounded sensibility.

Part of every town’s heritage must be the characters who have inhabited it, and Trenton is no different in that respect. Although every old-timer in Trenton has stories to tell, some of them not necessarily fit for publication, here are sketches of four of Trenton’s characters:

Emma Schroeder was Trenton’s telephone operator for a long period of time, and as such lived at the telephone office, which was above the present Jim’s Men & Boys Shop. Emma was known to listen in to a phone call or two, and even to break in when she felt she had a cogent comment to make. As lore has it, Emma was quite a linguist and was known to curse a bit. In her day, if a fourth was needed for a game of cards, Emma was called, and she rang about town until she found a suitable player.

Ed Dressel was one of the most entertaining members ever of the Trenton House coffee klatch. Dressel’s occupations ranged from that of auctioneer to preacher. A man of legendary stamina, Dressel was the eternal optimist, buying a new car at the spry age of 92.

Erwin Brunner’s span as Trenton’s most colorful character lasted until the early 1980s. Brunner lived across from the railroad tracks, and served the community as its paper delivery person for a number of years. Once, when Brunner was working as clean up man at the Trenton House Restaurant, he dragged the then-Governor from his meal at the establishment and took the opportunity to lobby him about an environmental law which caused a large pile of trash to be piled up at the eatery rather than burned.

John H. Glaser was Mr. Everything at the Trenton schools. Glaser was the janitor, superintendent, and a full-time teacher with no secretarial help. Glaser was known as a strict disciplinarian, but he wouldn’t really have any choice, would he? He didn’t have time for anything else.

Disagreements abound as to what course the city of Trenton should take for its future, and I suspect it has always been so. The common theme among these skirmishes is that all of the involved parties have the community’s best interests at stake.

Arguments about Trenton and what is best for it are inextricably bound as fights among family, for family is really what we are. We know each other, and have concern for one another, and are genuinely moved by hardships endured by one family or another. Many of the old families of Trenton are either gone, or dwindled to precious few survivors. But the pioneering spirit, ethic for hard work and its rewards, thriftiness, and pride are evident everywhere you look.

Prejudice may creep in here, but Trenton remains one of the most beautiful small towns in Illinois. Residents here keep their lawns manicured, their homes and cars clean, and scandalous behavior is frowned upon. We are proud of our community, and we are proud of ourselves.

Life in Trenton means a quiet, peaceful existence. Most of our people do not long for the bright lights and attendant excitement of large cities, nor is monetary or commercial success our first priority. What we want, what we really want, is to be able to take long walks on warm summer evenings, perhaps dropping in on a baseball game, or stopping to have a chat with a neighbor or friend; to take our children to a clean, attractive park; to provide a quality education for them; to be able to be dependent only on ourselves to provide whatever creature comforts we may desire. Life is good here in Trenton, and the hard work and civic concern of our citizens help us to strive far an even better quality.

That’s why our “Zip Code Day” celebration tomorrow is so important. Not because of the unique confluence of date and zip code, but because we need to be drawn together even more tightly. We need to have our organizations work together to create the kind of community of which we can continue to be proud. We need more activism, more volunteerism, more advocacy. We need to spread the word far and wide about what a great place Trenton is, and we need to welcome those who choose to make it their home.

We need less apathy, less acrimony, less disinterest in what we are as a community. As glorious as Trenton’s past is, its future can be even brighter if we involve all of the talent and intelligence and concern of which we have such vast reserves. Our people are our most valuable resource, and their utilization can bring marvelous things.

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Author’s Note
Much of the factual information contained in this article was compiled from the Trenton Centennial Book, published in 1955. Other information was obtained through interviews.
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