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Our Town St. Joseph: How a tavern, Abraham Lincoln and the town square all formed the town we know today

By Amanda Brennan,


ST. JOSEPH, Ill., (WCIA) — This week, we’re bringing you to Our Town St. Joseph to introduce you to the people, places and things that make the town so unique. One of those people is Greg Knott and his family’s long history in the town. He said they first came to St. Joe in 1837 and stuck around ever since.

“My kids are the eighth generation to live here,” Knott said.

Now, Knott considers himself a local historian.

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“St. Joe was one of the early communities on the Salt Fork River,” he explained.

He said that’s because of the roads that went by it, leading people to a new place that quickly turned into a staple.

“At that location was a place called Kelly’s Tavern,” Knott said. “Kelly’s Tavern is a very famous place where Abraham Lincoln stopped and stayed.”

It’s no longer there after a fire ruined the building in the late 1800s. But, Knott said during its time, Lincoln became good friends with Joseph Kelly — the town’s namesake.

“The railroad was coming through in the late 1860s, so St. Joe moved from the South to the North to where we are here today,” Knott said.

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If you look at downtown today, it’s a mix of the past with the present.

Knott knows the square in St. Joe was the center of where all the downtown activity was, and much of it still is that way today. Many of the buildings are still there. For example, he said the town’s Masonic Lodge is still active. The building is from 1913.

“You hear it, everybody appreciates our downtown,” Knott said. “I think a lot of that is because we have so many original buildings. People appreciate the longevity and the history that’s in those buildings.”

But, he also knows there are differences.

“We’ve got the IGA, the grocery store is there, and it’s a fairly new building,” Knott said. “The businesses that are within that building are new.”

On Friday, June 9, WCIA will be live in St. Joseph for our 5 and 6 p.m. broadcasts. We hope you join us that evening for a night of fun.

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