The Beginning – 1887
On August 18, 1887, William Twist completed a track of the Santa Fe railroad in what is now present Toluca to link Kansas City to Chicago. He proposed that it would be a good site for a train stop. The stop, located 114 miles southwest of Chicago, 40 miles northeast of Peoria and 40 miles northwest of Bloomington, could furnish the needs of farmers who currently had to convey their grain and livestock to distant markets by horse drawn wagons.
A group made up of Twist and local farmers petitioned the Santa Fe to create a regular train stop with a switch track for loading. The petition was granted. With the backing of a Chicago firm, an elevator was built and managed by Thomas Colehower of Long Point. Colehower erected the first house in the portion of present Toluca that is called “Old Town”.
Next J.P. Mathis, a native of Reading Township in Livingston County, built a stockyard. By 1889, the area had one or two stores, a blacksmith shop, postoffice, elevator, lumber yard, stockyard and about 100 residents.
The Coal Mines – 1892
In 1892, Charles J.Devlin, who had been the managing head of the opening of the Spring Valley coal mines, turned his attention to Toluca, when after prospecting with Henry Duggan, also of Spring Valley, it was found that coal mines could be developed there. Three strong veins were discovered and they set out to sink the mines two blocks west of the village. With the help of Henry J. Miller (his father-in-law and owner of Spring Valley Coal Company), Devlin purchased 11,000 acres of continguous mineral rights for what would become the Devlin Coal Company. The mine laborers at first were Irish, Polish, Serbian, Lithuanian and Italian. The workers eventually became predominantly Italian. Each nationality settled in its own section or block of the village.
The Incorporation of Toluca – 1893
By 1893, Toluca was a vital community with four churches, four general stores, a barber shop, butcher shop, rooming house, kindergarten and five taverns in “Old Town”. That same year, Toluca was incorporated as a village. Realizing Toluca’s growth potential, William Twist plotted the land across the tracks from the mines, adding 94 blocks to the village. The first issue of the Toluca Star newspaper was published on Saturday, April 8, 1893 with the announcement of the first sale of lots to take place on April 18 and 19. Before the sale, Toluca had approximately 300 residents. Over 200 people arrived by train for the sale and approximately 100 lots were sold at a premium, totaling $30,000.
Toluca Becomes a City – 1894
The residential area developed quickly with a number of rooming houses added and 200 tenements houses constructed by the Santa Fe. By 1894, Toluca had a population of 3,500 people and was incorporated as a city. At that time it was the largest in Marshall County. Toluca was now calling itself the “New Manufacturing Metropolis”. Eight passenger trains and 30 freight trains stopped daily for fueling and commerce.
By 1894 the First National Bank of Toluca had all ready been in business for two years and Catharine Fay had built a three story hotel called “Hotel Fay”. The mine was now capable of putting out 1,000 tons of coal per day and there were now approximately 600 men working in the mines during three daytime shifts and one night shift. There were 25 saloons and William Gooley, the police chief had his hands full providing law and order.
Toluca the City – 1907
By 1907, the population had grown to approximately 6,000 people. Toluca now had two newspapers, churches and numerous stores. It had a good grade school with a principal and nine assistants. The population was largely Italian with a sprinkling of Polish, Lithuanian and other nationalities employed in and around the mines. The average number of men employed at the mine was 800 and the output was about 380,000 tons per year which was valued at about $450,000. The average wage paid to the miner was about 75 cents a day.
New home construction is on the rise and Toluca is enjoying a period of growth and expansion. Toluca has the strength of the consolidated school district and with the proximity to Interstate 39 makes it an appealing market for future business and population growth.
Although farming still plays an important part in the lives of many residents, the city has grown in many other areas. With the present population at approximately 1500, Toluca has four major employers – Ajinomoto North America, Inc., Helena Ag Services, Arba Care Center and Reichman Sales. Over 50 smaller small businesses serve the community. In addition the town can still boast they have two well know Italian Restaurants – Mona’s and Capponi’s. People come from many miles to enjoy the food and spirits offered by these restaurants. Both have made Toluca nationally known for their quality food products.