History of the Frederick and the Farwell House

The story begins with the founding of Frederick in 1836. Frederick Merchant and George Frederick Jonte, two Frenchman, who had settled in the area, saw the geographic advantages of a shipping port along the Illinois River in the NW ¼ of section 17 township 1N range 1E in what is today known as Frederick Township. Allen Persinger, who was the county surveyor, laid out and platted the town of Fredericksville on May 12 and 13, 1836. A landing was established and Fredericksville, later shortened by the Post Of fice to Frederick, became the gateway to Schuyler County. Samuel P. Vail, who had migrated to Schuyler County from Coshocton County, Ohio, established the first store in the town. Back in Ohio, Samuel’s daughter Grace Ann Vail had married Charles Farwell, whose father, Robert Farwell, had removed his family to Ohio from New Hampshire. In Ohio, Charles and his brother Maro,worked together as merchants. Soon afterward Charles and Grace, along with their first son, Pulaski, made the trip to Frederick.

In 1842, Charles Farwell came to Schuyler County. The story is that George Little, who ran a very successful merchandise, dry goods, and pork packing facility where the old JC Penney building stands in Rushville, met Charles Farwell during one of his annual visits to New York to acquire goods for his store in Rushville. Little was probably introduced by Charles’ fatherin-law, Samuel Vail, whom he dealt with when transporting goods to Frederick. At the time, Little was in need of an organized merchant to facilitate the transportation of his goods via steamboat at Frederick. Nevertheless, Farwell came to Schuyler County and set up a wharf and warehouse at Frederick. Soon afterward, Frederick became an important shipping point on the Illinois River. Goods from western Illinois funneled through Rushville (including Little’s store) and onto the steamboats at Frederick. Farwell’s presence facilitated this operation. In 1844, he established Farwell & Co., and in 1848, Maro Farwell joined his brother to help run the company.

Farwell & Co. stimulated the local economy by giving farmers a place to sell their grain, produce, and livestock, and it also created a huge demand for barrels to ship goods. Barrel staves and hoop poles were used as money during this time and the people of the region responded. Thus, the productive days of coopering grew out of the demand created by Farwell and Little.

The Farwells grew quite wealthy during this time. In 1850, Charles Farwell’s value was estimated at $8,000 (about $200,000 today), and his brother, Maro Farwell, was valued at $5,000 (about $125,000 today). In addition to the warehouse, Farwell & Co. constructed a boat yard and built steamboats, tugboats, and did barge work. They also built a slaughterhouse and ran a pork packing industry, which employed about twenty-five men. Charles and Maro Farwell not only grew wealthy but were also respected by the community for their giving nature. Charles Farwell’s biographer claimed, “His slaughtering business used only the hams, shoulders, and sides of the hogs, the remainder being given freely to the needy.” The Farwell’s were respected for their philanthropy and families named children after the brothers. For example, Argyle Stephens, a cooper from Bainbridge Township, named one of his sons Maro Farwell Stephens. Most importantly, the Farwell’s employed clerks, salesmen, carpenters, blacksmiths, wagon makers, lumber dealers, boat builders, coopers, laborers, and gave farmers an outlet for their products. These businesses brought people to Frederick, and the town boasted a hotel, grocer, plasterer, broom maker, shoemaker, wagon shop, agricultural implements shop, baker, sawyer, hardware store, drug store, and two physicians. Furthermore, the business was forced to build an addition storehouse in the village proper to accommodate the influx of goods. Farwell’s business had created an economic and population boom in Frederick, which continued for the next twenty years.

In 1854, the local economy received another boost when a plank road, which ran from Rushville to Frederick via Pleasant View (old Route 67), was completed. In the late fall, early winter, and spring, roads were usually impassable because of mud, and during these times, the Schuyler Citizen noted in December 1856, “A humane man will scarcely torture his beast by taking him out of his barn yard.” The Plank Road changed this situation. The Citizen continued, “This little item is suggested by seeing team after team passing our of fice window on their way to the River, with loading of wheat, pork, broom corn, and piled on without the slightest reference to mud or mire.” In the Combined History of Schuyler and Brown Counties, it was noted that as many as 150 wagons were loaded and unloaded at the warehouse during this period. In 1862, James Shaw, an itinerant traveling Methodist Minister, who was appointed to the Rushville Circuit by the Illinois Conference called Rushville the “great centre [sic] for the pork market and the cooper trade.” Trade between Little, Ray (William H. Ray joined Little’s company in 1844), and Farwell benefited the entire region. Shaw continued, “A few leading merchants in the town bought the principal produce of the adjoining counties, and shipped it to St. Louis and Chicago, and, in return, purchased dry good and groceries to sell to the farmer in the country; consequently some of these merchants became wealthy in the community by this double trade.” The trade was so lucrative that much of the pig was wasted. Shaw commented, “We have seen in meadows near the town cartloads of hogs’ feet and heads thrown out to rot, which in other countries are counted as luxuries.”

Produce from Schuyler literally rolled in and out of Frederick in barrels which were loaded onto steamboats, which considered Frederick the best port between St. Louis and Peoria. Shaw continued, “Here were also several coopers’ shops, in which barrels and vessels of various sizes were made for home and foreign markets, the country being one of the best in the State for the growth of oak and hickory, the best materials for staves and hoops.” The economic boom created by the Farwell’s contributed to the end of the frontier period in Schuyler County. Families were now able to produce and make goods for profit rather than subsistence.

On June 12, 1856, Farwell & Co. suffered a setback when their warehouse was destroyed by fire. The fire was caused from sparks that emitted from the steamship, Persia, which quickly consumed the buildings. Only the accounting books were saved and according to the Rushville Times, “at the imminent risk of life.” The Times explained: “While Mr. Farwell was engaged in their rescue, the flames so completely surrounded and hemmed him in, that he was forced to leap from the window, a distance of some 15 feet, to save his life. The leap was a dangerous one, but we are glad to hear, he escaped without injury.” Losses were estimated at more than $50,000 since the warehouse was filled with wheat, broom-corn, brooms, oats, corn, groceries, dry goods, hardware, etc., which were all awaiting shipment. Fortunately, the Farwells had two insurance policies on their buildings for approximately $8,000. Immediately after the fire, construction began on a new two-story warehouse with the bottom floor constructed of stone and the second story containing a fireproof roof. This project was estimated to cost $10,000.

The fire turned out to be only a minor setback. Soon afterward the business was up and running and making money again. In 1860, Charles’ real estate was valued at $10,000 and his personal estate at $6,500 (about $330,000 today). Maro’s real estate was valued at $8,000 and his personal estate at $4,500 (about $250,000 today). The Farwell brothers were well off, and their business continued to grow. During the Civil War, the Farwell’s supported the war by selling bonds for the government, and they expanded their business to include the mining of coal to ful fill the growing need created by the war. In addition, another brother, Seth Farwell, moved to Frederick, and helped with recruiting soldiers in the Frederick vicinity.


Farwell House - Photo by Jody DavisFollowing the war, Charles began work on the new house or the Mansion, which was completed in December 1867. The Mansion, while it still stands out today, must have really been a sight back then when most people still lived in log cabins. In 1869-70, the business seemed to receive another boost, when the Rockford, Rock Island, and St. Louis Railroad was completed. The railroad ran through Frederick via a bridge over the Illinois River from Beardstown, and on to Browning. In 1870, Charles’ real estate was valued at $40,000 and his personal estate at $20,000 (for a total of about $855,000 today). Maro’s real estate was valued at $15,000 and his personal estate at $10,000 (for a total of about $356,250). The Farwell’s had reached the economic pinnacle of their business careers. In 1872, the company of Andreas, Lyter, & Co. completed an Atlas of Schuyler County, which contained a sketch of the Farwell Mansion on page fifty-seven. The business of Farwell & Co. had done quite well in the thirty years since Charles’ arrival and the Atlas believed that Frederick with its access to the market by rail and river “will make Frederick a large and thriving place.” The population of Frederick at this time was 960 including the many railroad employees who inundated the town. Frederick had reached the apex of its being. Soon events would lead to the decline of the Farwells and Frederick as an important commercial center.

The railroad that was supposed to make Frederick “a large and thriving place” caused the demise of Farwell & Co. The company was built for river trade, but with the coming of the railroad goods that had always been shipped to Frederick were loaded elsewhere. In 1869, the Peoria & Hannibal Railroad opened in Rushville. This line connected to the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad, and goods that had been sent to the river at Frederick were now loaded onto trains in Rushville headed for Chicago. Farwell & Co. had relied on this connection and now the trade network was broken. Furthermore, Charles Farwell was aging and the last years of his life were not marked by prosperity. Much of the money had been invested in worthless swampland that did not increase in value as the river trade gave way to railroads. In 1872, Farwell & Co. owned approximately 1,000 acres of land, which was mainly in the floodplain of the Illinois River. The hog market that had fueled the economy had been diverted to Chicago, which had become the hog capital of the world. The river trade that marked the rise of Frederick and Farwell & Co. had dried up. In addition, Little and Ray in Rushville, probably sold out their interest in Farwell & Co. To compound the disaster, Farwell & Co. was faced with a lawsuit in 1875. Roswell Brines, who owned land adjacent to the Farwell’s sued the company for $2,639.43 (approximately $30,000 today) for “trespassing upon premises.” The company defaulted in the case and the SW ¼ of section 8, Frederick Township, was taken over and sold to pay the fine. Farwell & Co. faced a rapid decline, and in 1877, it was out of business. The situation grew worse. In another instance, in 1885, after Charles and Maro’s death, Pulaski was delivered notice for a $1,725.46 debt owed to the Cass County Bank. He was not able to pay and the bank foreclosed. By 1892, Charles’ son, Pulaski, owned only the Mansion and the twenty-seven acres. The fall was swift and the man who lived in the Mansion died broken and in many respects forgotten by history.

In 1878, Charles’ wife, Grace, passed away, and he followed on June 30, 1879, of “congestion of the lungs.” He was buried next to his wife in Messerer Cemetery on what would have been his 70th birthday. In the 1880 census, Maro was listed as a farmer as was Charles’ only son Pulaski, who had inherited the Mansion. Maro Farwell passed away on December 4, 1882, and is also buried in Messerer Cemetery. Maro’s wife, Ann Louise (Fellows), moved in with her only son, Hart, who worked as a telephone agent in Astoria, Illinois. The family then moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, where Ann passed away February 23, 1909. Pulaski continued to live in the Mansion until sometime between 1900-1910, when he moved to Chicago, Illinois, to live with his son, Judde. The Mansion was abandoned and fell into disrepair until O.D. Arnold, who was an attorney in Schuyler County, purchased it. Arnold then made some restorations to the property that enabled it to exist up until the present time. At some point, the Howard family purchased the house and lived in it until the death of Edward on December 16, 2011.
The Mansion on the hill at Frederick, which is making another transformation in 2015, had its origins with the Farwell family and thus a new life and a new journey begins for what is known as Farwell House.