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The first buildings in Vandalia were built in 1870

Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2024 at 6:44 pm

After previously publishing the “vision” and “plan” of Vandalia’s earliest years, this week’s publication focuses on the reality that came shortly after.

The Reality…

The first two buildings (possibly three) were erected in 1870 by the 56-year-old McPike who, by this time, had acquired the name “Uncle Aaron.” One of the earliest commercial structures was a hotel erected in Block 22 on the same corner as the current Beacon of Hope Church (former Methodist Church) located at 302 and 304 West Washington. The structure faced south and was a basic two-story structure with eight rooms, large windows and a wide spanning two-story porch located on the front. This hotel was managed by Martin Collins, the town’s first carpenter. McPike’s insight to build this type of structure early in the town’s development was a key point in its future expansion. With this hotel, travelers would be warmly welcomed with accommodations and good food, served up with a dose of encouragement to settle in this soon-to-be boom town.

In 1877 C. G. Daniel (Vandalia’s first city attorney) purchased the hotel and handsomely remodeled it into his family residence. C. G. Daniel frequently told the story of standing on the second story of the front porch of his home and watching thousands of cattle grazing on the prairie, the prairie that was soon to be the southern half of Vandalia. The house survived for many years and was sold to A. L. Motley in 1932. It was then sold to the Methodist Church in 1955 and was last used as a church educational center. However, the sands of time passed and Vandalia’s first foundation was removed.

The second structure in town was a “store-house” built in the same general area. Its exact location is unknown. This structure had a dual purpose as its name implies. It served as a residence for Pink King (brother-in-law to Aaron McPike) and a general merchandise store, opening in 1871. This property was later remodeled as a dry goods store managed by Canter and Co. Years later this building was again remodeled, adding a large two-story addition, and made into the City Hotel, the property of J. T. Glascock. Both of these structures, as well as several to follow, were constructed from lumber hauled from Louisiana by wagon, a distance of 36 miles.

Later that same year (1871) C. P. Pearson and John Jefferies built the first small general stock store, dedicated solely as a business structure (located in Block 21). Within two years, two brothers of C. P. Pearson, Rufus and Marshall, bought out John Jefferies and partnered with their brother, forming Pearson Dry Goods. Then a drug store was called for, and Riney & Bro. opened a small “apothecary shop” (Scottish term for drug store).

The town was evolving, now taking shape as determined by more than just its four city founders with whitewashed wood-sided structures and dirt paths stringing each together with prairie grasses still growing in the open areas of the town. Large portions of the first buildings in Vandalia were mainly located on the north side of the current railroad tracks. Businesses were starting to become closely clustered on what was then called North First Street, now known as the 100 and 200 block of West Washington Street.