November 26: On This Day in Eureka History

It was on this date in 1849 that Abraham Tressler died; his was the first recorded burial in Eureka's Olio Cemetery. Abraham Tressler was born in Germany and came to America as an immigrant in the early nineteenth century. He eventually settled with his family in the Walnut Grove area where he worked as a carpenter - a craft that he passed on to his son..

It was Abraham Tressler's son Jonathan who, as a carpenter, constructed both the first Christian Church in Walnut Grove (1847) and the Walnut Grove Seminary (1848). When Jonathan Tressler died a few years later, he left his estate to Eureka College - the first bequest in the history of the institution. In one sense, you might well say that Eureka College in its early years was established and endowed by "the son of the carpenter."

Another death took place in this community in 1910 when William J. Whetzel died in a horrible industrial accident. Whetzel was one of the wealthiest and most successful individuals in the community of Eureka in the 1890s. He was serving as the Superintendent of Schools for Woodford County and he operated one of the first electrical plants in Eureka to provide that service to the town. In 1898 the Whetzel family built a home on Burgess Street adjacent to the Eureka College campus. Although Victorian architecture was fashionable at the time, the Whetzels incorporated elements of Queen Anne style into their home - architectural elements that were often representative of newfound wealth associated with the Industrial Age.

Whetzel went to his electrical plant on Saturday, November 26, 1910, with two of his young sons in order to make a few repairs on some of the machinery. He was standing on a tall ladder in the process of attaching belts to pulleys when the ladder collapsed and Whetzel fell into the machinery below. His body was badly mangled as he fell directly on to huge gears that were in operation at the time. Two of Whetzel's sons observed the accident and alerted local authorities.

The Whetzel House on Burgess Street eventually became property of the College. In its long history it has been used in various ways - a sorority house for Phi Omega sorority, housing for faculty/staff [Coach McKinzie once lived there], as a Black Culture House in the 1970s, the Student Development Office, and today, as the Admissions Office for Eureka College.

Longtime Socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas spoke at Eureka College on this date in 1934. Thomas spoke in Pritchard Gymnasium to a crowd of 800 who gathered for the address. The crowd was described as being attentive and polite. Perhaps this event tells us much about the mood of America's Heartland in the middle of the Great Depression.

Obviously the times were quite different. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had carried the election in Woodford County in 1932 garnering 57% of the local vote. [The county would again favor FDR in 1936.] On the national level, the Socialist Party and the American Communist Party were witnessing the largest increases in party membership that they had ever seen. In the South, agents of "the left" gained ground by supporting the Scottsboro Boys in Alabama and by establishing Highlander Schools for the poor in Appalachia.