By Edward Oliver
It does not seem like it has been fifty years since Norris City celebrated its Centennial in 1971. We had a year long celebration starting with Dairy Days in 1970 until the final celebration on Dairy Days in 1971. Because of the Coronavirus during most of 2020, we did not have Dairy Days in September, so that has shortened our time to celebrate our Sesquicentennial.
Pete Barnes was the Mayor of Norris City at that time. He appointed me as the Town Historian.
For the Centennial I was the History Chairman and Joe Gossett, editor of the Norris City News, the village’s newspaper at that time, was Publicity Chairman. We did a special Centennial Edition of the newspaper. Other things done were bronze and silver coins, a special plate using pictures of Norris City from my postcard collection, and various other events ending with a banquet celebration.
Later in 1979, I wrote a book titled "Norris City and Indian Creek Township, Illinois," which was published in 1980.
I grew up hearing stories of the founding of Norris City. My father, Charles Oliver, was born in 1902 in a two-story house which sat on the corner of South Division and East Fourth Streets, where the Country Mark service station is now located. So he was born in Norris City when it was only thirty-one years old.
My father’s parents died before I was born. My mother’s father died when I was two years old. His first cousin, John Farless, and his wife Emma were our neighbors, and they didn’t have any children, so they became my foster grandparents. John was born in 1875 at the northwest corner of what is now Norris City when Norris City was only four years old. He grew up here and worked in the lumber yard, the hardware store, and did carpenter work. He told me many stories of early life in Norris City, some which had been told to him by older people than him..
The plat of Norris City was filed for record at the White County Courthouse in Carmi on August 17, 1871 at 8 a.m. It reads in part:
“State of Illinois, White County, William Oliver, a Justice of the Peace in and for said county do hereby certify that Henderson B. Powell, and Elizabeth S. his wife, William A. Johnson and Lucy his wife, Henry Wakeford and Rhoda Jane his wife, Groves H. Harper and Alice C. his wife, and Nelson A. Gurnsey (also spelled elsewhere as Guerney; he was the surveyor) whose name appears to the certificate of the survey of the plat of the said town of Norris City and who are personally known to me to be the identical persons' names in said certificate all personally appeared before me and acknowledge that they had made the foregoing plat and made and executed the foregoing certificate as their voluntary act and deed and as such desire the same to be recorded.”
So, it became natural for me to become interested in the history of Norris City since Groves H. Harper and his wife Alice C. were the maternal grandparents of my mother, Veda DeLap Oliver. Groves Harper also built the first two buildings in the new village of Norris City. William Oliver was my father’s paternal grandfather and his wife, my father’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Vineyard Oliver, was the granddaughter of John Vineyard, the first settler in the Norris City area. John Vineyard cleared land and built a cabin in 1814 (four years before Illinois became a state) near where the present Norris City water tower is located on East Main Street.
The first building in Norris City was built by Groves H. Harper and was used as a hotel. The second building at one time had a restaurant on the first floor and rooms for rent on the second floor. The first blacksmith shop was that of Andy Black, a relative of the father of my mother.
The stories of the early businesses in Norris City will be in a future article.
By learning Norris City and family history from an early age, I wound up having a double major in college, one being in history specializing in American and European history
My other major was in Social Sciences (government, Sociology, economics, and geography). I taught American history and government in a high school for a short time before I started working for the federal government, where I worked for 34 years. So, history became my hobby and I have collected pictures, memorabilia, and information on history for over 55 years.
Now, in 2021, Kathy Sands, editor of the Villagers’ Voice, is Publicity Chairman and I as History Chairman will be working together to promote the history of Norris City with others doing their parts to help Norris City celebrate its 150th birthday. Other stories will follow.
In this article, I have told why I got interested so much in the history of Norris City. Other stories I have researched, or I have been told, will follow in articles this year. I also want readers to send in stories of their growing up and living in Norris City, or stories told by parents, grandparents or older friends and pictures of Norris City, too. If you do not want to write up the story yourself, please contact me anyway and I will write your story from the information you tell me and give your name as the source of the article.
Please contact me at Edward Oliver, PO Box 456, Norris City, IL 62869 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.