A Village in the Making
In the mid 1800s, Matteson pioneers certainly could not imagine that this settlement would one day be home to nearly 13,000 residents, three school districts as well as private and parochial schools, and a booming major retail and office center.
In 1848, Fredrick Illgen purchased 40 acres from the government. These 40 acres are now the southern section of Matteson. The village was named after the 10th Governor of Illinois Joel A. Matteson, who was in office at the time of the settlement.
German settlers were among the first to arrive to the area situated at the intersection of the Illinois Central and New York Central railroads. The railroads would bring thousands of people yearly from the East Coast to the Midwest, stopping in the Chicago Southland communities along the way. Some of these people decided to remain in the Matteson (pronounced Mat-te-son) area rather than proceed to Chicago.
In 1855, Charles Ohlendorf earned the honor of being the first homeowner, the first merchant and the first postmaster. In 1856, John Fox built a home and wagon shop about the same time that John Steichelman built and opened the first village hotel.
In 1850, eight adult children arrived with their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Heinrich Stuenkel, from Germany. The children married and settled in the Matteson area. Another German immigrant, Henry Mahler, brought a quarter section of farmland in the area from where he operated a cheese factory.
In the early years, the settlers had to contend with rustic cabins for homes and sporadic supplies of food and other necessities. But by 1860, George E. Dolton was appointed teacher of a one-room school earning a salary of $148 for a six-month term. A new schoolhouse was built in 1865. The community continued to grow and in 1876 the school added a second story, the same year that a new Village Hall was built.
According to the 1880 census, Matteson's population included 500 residents. These people were served by two general stores, two hotels, two saloons and boarding houses, one shoe shop, two harness shops, blacksmith shop, and a wagon and implement shop.
During this time, James Freeman Dana Elliott, a pioneer who befriended both Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, brought thousands of pine trees from the East. These trees were planted along the roadsides of his farm and some still remain today along Route 30.
When Matteson became incorporated in 1889, the village operated two jail cells from a one-story Village Hall. A lean-to shed housed the man-drawn, hand-operated fire fighting equipment. A volunteer fire department that organized in 1894 mandated that each fire fighter provides his own bucket.
The late 1890s and early 1900s brought about village improvements that included wooden sidewalks, a water pumping station, and a streetcar line that ran from Joliet through the heart of Matteson. An amusement park in Elliott's Woods was attracting visitors from Chicago and neighboring communities. Cement sidewalks began replacing the wooden version, and the two trains provide train service to Chicago.
There were closings, the amusement park in 1913, and there were openings, a baseball diamond for the village team. A village water system was placed into operation in 1914. Route 30 (Lincoln Highway) was paved in 1917 and a new school was constructed in 1918.
The Illinois Central celebrated its conversion to electricity in 1926 with decorated trains, beauty pageant winners, and a visit from the Governor of Illinois. A new modern sewage disposal plant opened in 1939. A local Girl Scout Troop was organized in 1946, a larger Village Hall was built in 1947, and the Park District was created in 1949.
The population rose to 1,211 by 1950. One hundred new homes were built at the south edge of town and 200 more were built east and west of Main Street. Keeping up with progress, two public schools were added, one in 1952 and the other in 1954. The population soared to 3,225 in 1960. Two more School Districts were established in the mid-1960s, creating the three district system that serves Matteson today.
The 1970s brought about a decade of incredible growth and development. The village annexed 195 acres, adding to the 1,003 acres annexed in 1961, and the 230 acres annexed in 1967. Lincoln Mall opened its doors in 1973. The Matteson Public Library relocated to a larger building, the Parks and Recreation Department reorganized, and Public Works added two new garage facilities.
Matteson was a community of 11,378 by 1990. A "Quality of Life Task Force" was created in 1992 in order to assess and maintain the village's quality of life. As the 1990s progressed, Matteson incorporated new technologies while remaining true to its heritage.
In September of 1999, Matteson celebrated its diversity with a "Hands Across Southland" in honor of "Unity Month." Residents formed a human chain that linked Matteson to other neighboring suburbs. As Matteson moves into the 21st century, it continues to prosper, to support its successful businesses and residents, and to celebrate its diversity.