close menu
This website uses cookies to store your accessibility preferences. No personal / identifying information is stored. More info.


Zinnel fords on Main
Frank Zinnel’s Fords lined up on the west side of the 300 block of Main Street around 1911.


It was at the turn of the century that Savanna embarked upon its efforts to improve the city’s appearance. New houses went up almost over night and some of the finest homes in the county were built during the decade.

In 1901, construction of William Griffith’s rendering works was completed, the Rhodes and Bowen Planning Mill became George Brown’s Sash and Door Factory, and during the next year the Savanna Cigar Company and the Peoples Gas and Electric Company were incorporated.

Township HIgh SchoolSavanna Township High School
Savanna’s original High School was built at a cost of $35,000 at the junction of North Fifth Street and Chicago Avenue in 1902. The city also purchased a horse drawn truck for the fire department.

Born in Savanna in 1878 Thomas Madson graduated from Savanna High School in 1895 and attended college in Effingham where he studied photography. With his brother, Albert Madsen, he opened the Madsen Brothers Studio in 1903, purchasing the Murray Photo Gallery. In 1912, they moved across the street to 215 Main Street and built a brick shop that eventually became the Montgomery Ward Agency.

The Madsen brothers loved hunting, fishing and the study of nature and were avid photographers. A majority of the old photos of Savanna were taken by the Madsen Brothers. Thomas operated the business until his death in in 1959 and served as superintendent of the Savanna Methodist Sunday School for over 50 years.


Savanna’s livery business was originally owned by  John Snyder Bowman and located on the east side of the 300 block of Main Street but was moved to the northwest corner of Main and Adams in 1890. The new building had 40 horse stalls, harness and wash rooms, an office, fire wagon department, and team entry area on the ground floor. Above was the hayloft and carrier, plus sleeping and storage rooms. The equipment housed here also supplied  buggies and surreys for funerals. Wagons, sleighs, buses and all sorts of harness and saddlery was available. Brick siding was added after “Big Bob” Henderson, bought the business. At the north end of the block is the sign of the Madsen Brothers Studio.

Construction on the first sanitary sewer began in 1904 and nearly 3,000 subscribers in the county caused the Telephone Company to increase its capital.

The building boom continued the next few years as Main Street had cement sidewalks, the Township Library was built, civic organizations were established and the section of town to the east known as Oak Park was annexed. Charles Jenks became mayor in 1911 and the Burlington built a viaduct across the railroad yard. J.D. Fulrath converted the second floor of his new building on the northeast corer of Main and Washington to an opera house and opened it in 1911.

Flood of 1911
The railroad yards during the flood of 1911.

On Friday, Aug. 11, 1911, the ”worst flood in years” hit the railroad yards. All tracks from the C.B. & Q main line south of the tower and far east and beyond the stock yards and south from the north side of East Bowen to Chestnut Park was underwater. At John Stephen’s lunchroom, near the north end of the old turnpike crossing, water covered the lower floor. The Burlington main line gave way without warning, spilling more than 400 feet of tracks and the yard office into the marsh. Scrambling through the door in the knick of time, the employees went through water sometimes up to their shoulders to reach dry land at the south end of Fourth Street. Damage was extensive to both railroads and it was almost a week before train service was resumed.

Counterfieters 1911The counterfeiter’s hideout on Bot’s Island north of Savanna. 

The March 1, 1911 issue of the Times Journal carried the report on the arrest of the counterfeiting gang that had used the Savanna are as headquarter since December. Frank Howard’s attempts to circulate the bogus coin aroused suspicion of Mayor McGrath and police chief Richie Hendricks. Arrested by officer George Donahue as he tried to board a train, Howard was questioned by secret service detectives from Chicago. John Carr and his 19-year-old son, Ben were soon in custody and the officers then went by boat to the foot of Bot’s Island, north of town, where they located the shack used by the gang. They also found Eleney Carr, 20, and through him, the rest of the money plus the molds and supplies for making additional coins.

There was a new bridge over the Plum River on Highway 64 east of Savanna and it was elevated and widened and just north of the old bridge.

During 1912, George Casparia was the Diamond Jo Line agent. This company ran freight and passengers boats to the landing by their warehouse at the west end of Division Street. Excursion boats were quite numerous in this era and all had distinctive whistles to announce their arrival.

A new Milwaukee Depot was built at the south end of Sixth Street and the Gydeson Hotel was relocated to the same vicinity. Originally the Gaskill House, it was located between Fourth and Sixth Streets and was a very popular with the “Sunday Dinner” crowd and it also had a ballroom on the third floor.

Main Street was bricked in 1913, Ed Hendricks became Commodore of the new Savanna Boat Club and the city earned $10,500 from the 21 saloons located within the city limits. The Burlington railroad also constructed a new train depot east of Marquette Park while Frank Thain and Adam Drone drove a livery coach and met most of the scheduled trains, carrying passengers and luggage up town for a fee.

Main Street after bricksThe 300 block of Main Street looking north after bricks were laid in 1913.

P.K. Miles and George Brown founded the Savanna Construction Company in 1914, while in 1915 the Fish Distribution Staton was in the planning stage, the Post Office had moved north one store, Chestnut Park School was built, and construction of the new Avenue School began.

The Web Theater was built in 1915 by Ed Henricks and had murals painted by Bob Lammers Sr. Glass separated the inner lobby from the seats and the “best popcorn in the world” could be bought up the street at the outdoor stand of Johnny Madison. Though used mainly for films, live shows occasionally appeared including WLS cowboy star Gene Autry on Aug. 18, 1933.

A.C Holland RestaurantA.C. Holland  purchased the grocery business of G.N. Machen located at 405 Main Street in 1892. He later moved to 411 Main Street where this picture was taken. Holland is shown in the center with Ed Casselberry and Ralph Thain to the right.

In 1917, the Burlington had finished their Wacker Road viaduct near the rending works, the city built a fire station garage just north of the Main Street Pump House, Chestnut Park was annexed, and the Milwaukee hired women to clean engines and work coaches.

Fulrath fireThe Fulrath fire in 1917.
On midnight Jan. 18, 1917, fire was discovered in Fulrath’s Opera House. All contents of the building were lost including stored cars, supplies and the entire properties of the Harry Shannon Stock Company, which had performed that evening. By morning little was left but on Oct. 3, 1917, a new $40,000 building was opened to the public. It had seating capacity of 800 with a balcony and eight mezzanine boxes.

On June 12, 1917 the U.S Congress passed the Sundry Civil Act which appropriated $1.5 billon for increasing the Army’s facilities in Carroll and Jo Davies County. The U.S Army purchased 3,172 acres for $900,000, leaving $600,000 for development. Work officially started on May 2, 1918, and the Savana Proving Ground officially opened on Dec. 26 1918 with Lt. Col. Charles Baxter as the first commander. Proof firing of field artillery began Sept. 9, 1918. Railroad lines were extended and the depot rapidly developed as over $3.9 million was spent on construction of the facility.

The Post Office was opened on April 1, 1918, with Walter Bahwell, Logan Machen and Ray Moore as the first mailmen. Digging the basement for the new building was done with a horse team and large scoops.

On Sept. 4, 1918, William Jennings Bryan spoke from the platform of the Fulrath Opera House where he paid tribute to the Civil War Veterans. Arriving in town at noon on the Burlington, he ate dinner at the Pulford Building and then spoke to those gathered for the Carroll County Soldiers and Sailors Reunion.

On May 16, 1919, Savanna’s returning World War I veterans were honored with festivities and a parade on Main Street.

The Sinclair Oil Station was built in 1923 on the southwest corner of Main and Washington and was operated by Don Robinson and Charles Shmidel. It was torn down in 1970.

By 1910 Savanna’s population was still growing but with the arrival of the U.S. Army and the continued growth of the railroad, Savanna was at 5,237 residents by 1920.

Fulrath oldThe original Fulrath Opera House completed in 1910.

Fulrath new
The new Fulrath Opera House constructed in 1917.

Fulrath Opera House inside
The inside of the Fulrath Opera House after being rebuilt in 1917.