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Population Boom

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An early view of the north end of Savanna.


By 1847 the population of the settlement was nearly 500 and a stone school house was built at the junction of Madison and Third.

One of the new residents was Menard Dupuis who served in the Blackhawk War and and came to Savanna in 1845. A native of Canada, he was engaged in the lumber business since 1847 and had annual sales of $50,000 by 1852. He was the first mayor of Savanna, served three terms as supervisor, one term as town clerk and three terms as school director.

The first church was constructed in 1849 by the Methodist at the southwest corner of Third and Van Buren, while Smith Atkins and Charles Allen started the town’s first newspaper, “Savanna Register.”

But until the first train arrived in July of 1865, the river was the preferred mode of transporting supplies and passengers.

By the summer of 1855, the Plum River Bridge was built south of town and the first Cemetery Association was formed. Washington Township was detached from Savanna in 1856

Big news came in 1857 that Savanna had been designated as a terminal for the Racine and Mississippi Railroad. Savanna’s first train arrived July 14, 1865, on the R & M, which later became the Milwaukee Railroad.

The population and the town continued to grow as the the population was 825 by 1860 and several houses, churches, schools and businesses were being built on Main Street and Third Street. George Fuller operated a grocery store at 522 Chicago Avenue in 1860 after his family settled in Savanna in 1837. 

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Two early businesses on Savanna’s Main Street were Law’s Pharmacy and A/O Elliott, The Jeweler. 

With the arrival of the railroad, the city continued to grow  as the Western Union built a round house, depot and other facilities along Commerce Street. 

In 1868, Joseph Keller and Matthew Heller formed a partnership to build the Eagle Brewery on Keller Street Northeast of Chicago Avenue. They manufactured about 2,000 barrels of beer per year, suppling Mount Carroll, Shannon, Lanark, Thomson, Hanover, Elizabeth and a considerable about of Iowa. The brewery had five large cellars built into the hills with two underground springs used in the brewing of the beer.

With the population still growing another school was needed and in 1870 David Bowen built on “Murray Square” the first Lincoln School at a cost of $24,500. There was much debate because the land was initially planned for the courthouse that went to Mount Carroll.

In 1873 the Harmn-Stransky blacksmith shop burned and Anton Stransky built a more permanent structure to house this business on the northwest corner of Main Street and Van Buren.

034 copyView of Savanna looking south in the mid- 1880s before brick buildings were erected on Main Street. 


City Hall was erected in 1873 on the northwest corner of Third and Murray by David Bowen as a cost of $1,800. It consisted of two jail cells and an anteroom downstairs and a meeting hall of the second floor. The following year Savanna was granted its charter as an official city.

One of the biggest additions to Savanna was the construction of the permanent railroad bridge across the Mississippi. Work started in 1879 and over 300 men were put to work the in 1880 the bridge was completed.

By 1880 to cope with the increase shipments from western packing plants, the stockyards were enlarged, the Rail Mill built and warehouses for ice were growing in size and number. In 1880, there were 1,000 residents of Savanna but that was about to change.

The city earned $2,100 in 1881 by issuing seven saloon licenses and stage manager James Shafer charged 25 cents a ticket for the Savanna Dramatic Club’s production of “Among the Breaker” at the Eagle Opera House in 1883.

129 copyA.C. Prufer was proprietor of a general store in the late 1880s and the building was located on the northwest corner of west Main and Murray. 

After arriving in Savanna in in 1840 from England with his parents, Bothwell Pulford became one of Savanna’s biggest investors. A druggist most of his life, he constructed three buildings on the west side of the 300 block of Main Street that still stand today. He also owned the first electric plant and was one of the originators of the Commercial State Bank.

In 1881 he built his corner store that housed his drug store and Heller’s Clothing Store and by 1892 had competed the Pulford Opera House as well a three-story building on the south side of the opera house.

The Occidental Hotel was on the east side of Main Street in the 400 block and in the 1880s had the very latest in modern furnishings. It was later renamed the European Hotel.

In 1885 Frank Greenleaf started the Savanna Journal, Kasper Thain was the town’s wagon maker, Calvin Hubbard moved buildings, and A.A. Park was the proprietor of the Bargain Store. John Higgins ran the store in Chestnut Park; the Heidt Brothers sold stoves, hardware and coal on Main Street,. John Hoffman had established his Farmer’s Home hotel and the Savanna Elevator Company was building addition to it shipping facilities for the St. Paul Co,

The Burlington arrived in Savanna to begin its vast expansion program. Sixty acres below the Milwaukee terminal were purchased for a roundhouse and repair shop. Track laying began late in 1885 and by October of 1886 the lines were opened to traffic.

In 1888 the Radke House, that still stands today, was constructed by M.C. Radke in the 400 bock of Main Street.

124 copyBuilt in on the southwest corner of Main and Murray by M.C. Radke in 1888, the Radke House still stands today but is unoccupied. The photo is from 1893 and shows Occidental Hotel down the block and the also includes the two-story expansion built by Radek facing Murray in 1892. M.C. Radke ran he business until 1901 when his son Henry took over.

By the end of the decade, Savanna had grown by over 200 percent and the population was now 3,097. 

There has been a bank of the southwest corner of Main and Jefferson since the first one was built in 1890. Originally the Savanna Bank organized May 8, 1882, and in 1891 reorganized into the Savanna State Bank. The Savanna Light and Power Company was organized..

By 1892 Main Street had several new buildings including John B. Rhodes brick store, the Radke’s two-story extension facing Murray, and Lichtenbergers one-story Hardware store opposite the Radke. John Walter put up a building to manufacture carbonated beverages on Randolph Street, and the Baptist Church at the corner of Fifth Street and Chicago Avenue was completed. 

In 1897, C. L. Howe sold dress goods and notions on Main Street, Traders Home Made Creams was a popular confectionary and Harry Craig’s corner drug store was also the main telephone office. 

By 1900 Savanna’s population stood at 3,325 as the railroads had made Savanna a destination for shipping rail cars as well as passenger service.

027 copyA view of the east side of the 300 block of Main Street at the turn of the century. The three buildings erected by Bothwell Pulford, including the Opera House, are at the north end of the block and other businesses included Losey Restaurant, Uehren's Tailor Shop, and Tom Taylor's City Meat Market.