History of Republic

A Brief History of the Place We Call Home

Little is known about how Republic got its name. Some of the older residents say that Mark Ritter and his sister, Mrs. Worsefield, (the first postmaster and his assistant), named it. Still others say that Uncle Billy Cliborn gave it the name it now bears.

Republic was located in the center of the township and in the midst, at that time, of a rich, thickly populated prairie and an excellent local trade. Republic, being situated on the Frisco Railway, became a well-known shipping and traveling point.

Before the railroad was built, a small town called Little York, located a short distance from the present site of Brookline, had been the market center since the Civil War. Even before the war, Little York had been the center of trade for most of the countryside southwest of Springfield. After the war, the railroad was built through this section (about 1869 and 1870.) The citizens of the then small community of Republic asked the Frisco to build a depot or a switch station at this site. The company refused. Mr. Noe, a citizen who had much faith in the future of Republic, raised subscriptions of $1,000 for the purpose of the depot. Republic is deeply indebted to Mr. Noe, not only for the railroad, but perhaps for its very existence. After the building of the railroad, Republic began to grow very rapidly. Little York was replaced by Brookline.

Brookline and Republic absorbed the country trade because of their now ready trade and marketing facilities. Trade was carried on mostly by exchange, there being little money and little need for it. The work of the surrounding community gradually made enough business to cause Republic to make a start.

Aside from farming, few industries were found in and around the little crossroads settlement at its earliest time. The first building, a storehouse, was built by W.H. Noe. This building was located on the site or the present site of Bacon Tire Company. This building became know as the old "red building." Mr. Noe operated a general store stocked with such useful necessities as feed, flour, soap, harnesses, thread, kerosene, or almost anything needed in those days. This building stood longest of any of the old timers. H.A. White soon built the second store and a hall. The first dwelling house was built by the Reverend Loping, the second by Dr. Bartlett and others were soon erected. Eli H. Britain owned and operated a brick yard near his home just west of town (the present-day site of where West Elm Street joins Highway 166.) Two grain elevators were built. One of which the building is still standing, was located across the street from the lumber yard. The other was located about where the depot now stands. The site of Johnston Feed Mill was once the home of a thriving tomato factory. Republic also boasted of a cheese factory, which old timers declare bore all the earmarks of the genuine article.

The first post office was located one-half mile south of the depot. Just why the post office was so far out of town has not definitively been determined; however, one old timer jokingly said that it was because the Republicans were afraid the Democrats might take over, or possibly it was the other way around. Of course, the location of the railroad was the obvious reason for bringing it back into town. Mark Ritter was the first postmaster, and his sister, Mrs. Worsefield, was his assistant.

A blacksmith shop, operated by Henry Hayes, was also Owen and Short Hardware for many years. The building formerly occupied by the Ford Motor Company on the east side of Main Street, was a livery stable. Traditionally speaking, it was the peak of fashion and the height of extravagance to be seen driving and impressive team of high-stepping horses from the livery stable.

For years a lime kiln was operated just south of town and employed quite a number of men. During the years 1904 and 1905, iron ore was mined and shipped from Republic.

The O'Neal Lumber Company was established in Republic more than 75 years ago. Mr. O'Neal was also prominent in the promotion of civic and church affairs.

The first flour mill was built in 1890 by R.C. Stone. Later it was remodeled and had a running capacity of 2,000 barrels every 24 hours. During the years between 1900 and 1907, the mill was operated night and day. At that time it was the largest flour mill in the Middle West, and carried the slogan "The World is Our Field." Flour was shipped out to all sections of the United States. The mill was in the large, brick building on the corner of Elm and Main Streets.

Early life in the small community of Republic was very much like that of any other pioneer settlements. Homes were simple with few furnishings, but hones hearts and patient toil were at the back of every task begun. Hospitality, thrift, and a spirit of progress were worthy traits of character shown in the lives of the pioneers. The men worked in the field, woods, or shop, while their wives kept the house, spanked the children, made the garden and many other things to keep the home going. The greatest event of the spring was the observance of "groundhog day," such a date being followed by "corn planting," and "soap making," both with proper regard for the light and dark of the moon. In the fall, crops were harvested and hogs were butchered. These events were of great importance as, of course, were Thanksgiving and Christmas. Activities of social life were few, the chief amusements being singing, spelling bees, and family gatherings. Food was plain and simple; corn bread, cured meat, vegetables, and dried fruits being the most common fare. Meat was cured and kept in a smoke house built for that purpose. Here originated some of the most famous hickory smoked ham and bacon, once tasted, was never forgotten. Often vegetables were buried for winter in a deep hole dug in the corner of the garden, lined with straw, and heaped in with thick layers of dirt. Nearly every family kept a barrel of molasses made from cane raised in their own field. These people made vinegar and raised chickens. Flour, brown sugar, and coffee could be bought at the general store.

Clothing was usually of the homespun variety with some muslin, gingham, shirting, and calico bought from the general store. Sometimes a seamstress, who was also a tailoress, was employed to go from house to house to make men's suits and some of the more "well-to-do" women's clothes.

Trade was carried on mostly by barter, or exchange, there being little money and little need for it. However, work in and around Republic increased and business began to grow. Gradually these early industries and places of business changed ownership or were replaced by new industries. Dairying, poultry, stock raising, and fruit growing replaced the one time general farming, and in 1971 new modern factories and businesses replaced most of the farming industries.

Republic began its educational and religious training almost from the beginning. The first school was a one room structure located on West Elm Street one block west of the present Chevrolet Company. This building was replaced by a two story brick one, which remained in use until the present elementary school was built in 1954. The bonds were voted on for the first time in 1892, and since that time many new and modern buildings have been erected to help Republic train its youth. In 1920, the first high school was built. In 1937, a gymnasium was added to the high school.

Since then, Republic has become a thriving community and is constantly growing and will continue to grow into a prosperous city.