Illinois Watch Factory

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Springfield Journal Register, date of paper which originally published the following is unknown.

To the older citizenry this interesting lithograph from a drawing of the Illinois Watch Company plant in the Eighties will have a special appeal. This was before the addition housing the executive offices of the concern was erected. The picture appears in Barker's "Souvenir of Springfield," published about 1889. The history of this noted institution in the industrial life of the city is so well known that any detailed account here would be superfluous. Suffice to say, the Watch Factory, founded in 1870 and in operation over a period of nearly 65 years, was a great bulwark of the North Side and of course an important influence in the community in general, employing at its peak more than 1,500 workers. Its watches and clocks enjoyed a nation-wide reputation. In his conception here, the artist has permitted his fancy to roam quite extensively, we should say - as witness the animated scenes in the foreground, the flags flying over three buildings, the broad plaza, and, in the right background, a depiction of the old city Reservoir about a block north of its real location, with old Reservoir Park completely "out of the picture"! However, it makes an interesting addition to the Watch Factory section of your scrapbook of Old Springfield."

The Illinois Watch Factory at Ninth and North Grand was for many years Springfield's leading industry. Organized in 1870 the company was headed by John T. Stuart while W. B. Miller was secretary. The first watch was completed in 1872 and was for many years owned by the late Isaac Diller. It was wound with a tiny key. In 1877 the new company met financial difficulties and was reorganized with Jacob Bunn as president. Under the Bunn management it furnished jobs to many Springfield folks and also fathered the present Sangamo Electric company. In 1928, the company was sold to the Hamilton company which closed the plant in 1931 taking many of its workers to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to work in the Hamilton plant."

(Photograph courtesy of Mrs. Mary Gruenendike)
"THE OLD WATCH FACTORY AS IT LOOKED AFTER SLEET STORM There have been a good many pictures of the Illinois Watch Company plant at 9th and North Grand Avenue in its heyday, but this is the only one we have seen that shows it in a mantle of while. Obviously this dates back to the great sleet storm of February, 1883, when Springfield was held in the icy grip of the Storm King for days. . . . Old residents of the North Side have vivid recollections of this memorable event. The Watch Factory, along with the old Rolling Mills, of course, was a mainspring of North Side activities over a long period. The Sangamo Electric Company, which now occupies its site, has filled the void and well succeeded to this popular esteem through its magnificent progress."

(Photograph courtesy of Mrs. Mary E. Grunendike)
Remember the old steroscopic pictures with two views mounted on the same card, that you looked at through a special glass which brought out all th details of the photographs beautifully? There was a stack of them on the parlor table in nearly every well-furnished home in the Eighties and Nineties, affording pleasure to all members of the family and visitors as well. There were many series, of such pictures, but the ones that appeal most to our generation today are those pertaining to Springfield itself, back in that era of quieter living. Those local scenes are treasured mementoes of the past. . . . The one reproduced above shows the old Illinois Watch factory from an angle entirely different from others we have seen - taken from the southeast corner of the plant property. It evidently dates back to the late Seventies, for the south wing, nearest the camera of Thomas Peaker (the landscape photographer of those days), looks "newer than the rest of the factory. . . . Note the heating plant with its tall chimney stack, and the storage and utility buildings, all to the east of the main building. Also note the flock of sheep peacefully grubbing away - the same idea that was used at Lake Springfield this Summer to keep the grass down! . . . Not least interesting is the scene in the immediate foreground, in which two stalwart Watch factory employees are squaring away at each other in a little "game of fisticuffs," a term they had for boxing in thos days - with several of their comrades forming a gallery. . . . The old-time board fence is another interesting call-back to that period - as are the unpaved street (North Grand Avenue) and sidewalk as well. . . . This will be a real addition to your colelction!

Submitted by: Jeanie Lowe.