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History of Wanda (Old Salem), Illinois

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser




Old Salem, the original name of Wanda, is located in the northeast corner of Section 1 of Chouteau Township, on Wanda Road near South Roxana. It received it name from the old Salem Church just north across the line into Wood River Township. John Gillham, a pioneer Methodist preacher, settled at Old Salem. He died in 1835. Salem was subsequently named Gillham after the Gillham family. In 1859 a post office was established near the residence of E. K. Fahnestock in a small building used as a broom factory. The post office was called Wanda Station, a name given by the railroad, with Abner Fahnestock as postmaster. The Wabash, St. Louis and Peoria Railroad located their depot in Old Salem, which supplied transportation for goods and people in the nearby farmlands. In 1874, Jacob K. Fahnestock built and opened a general store, to which the post office was moved. He operated the store and was postmaster until his death on November 1, 1899. His nephew, LeRoy Fahnestock, took over the business and served as the next postmaster.

                                                          1906 map of Wanda, Chouteau Township, Madison County, Illinois


Wanda School - 1929Early Wanda Schools
The church at Old Salem, built by Ryderus C. Gillham, served as the first schoolhouse. The frame building was built of hewn timbers tenoned and put together with draw-pins. The siding was made of split-boards rived in the timber and nailed on with homemade, hand-forged nails. It had a dirt floor. The seats were made of black walnut, to the backs of which were hinged a board which could be propped up like a shelf for school use, and lowered for church purposes. Drawers were made to slide under the seats to hold school materials and Bibles, from which the children learned to read and spell.  In September 1921, a new school in Wanda was dedicated. The two-room schoolhouse was erected at a cost of $15,000, and was designed with folding doors between the two rooms, so that the doors could be thrown open to make a large auditorium for plays and other gatherings. The basement included a playroom for the children during times of inclement weather.

Wanda Methodist Church
Early Wanda Churches
One of the first organizations of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Madison County was at Wanda. Ryderus Clark Gillham was a charter member when the society was first organized in 1809. Services were held at private homes, including Isaiah Dunnagan’s home, until 1812, when Mr. Gillham and his neighbors built the first church at Old Salem. In 1813, the same gentleman and his neighbors laid out the campgrounds adjacent to the church. Tents were placed in rows for the traveling ministers to preach to pioneers, who would come from as far away as 50 miles in covered wagons. In 1828, a permanent wooden church was erected across the street from the Fahnestock General Store, on two and a half acres that John Gwilliam deeded to the church. This church building was destroyed by fire, but was replaced by another structure. In 1952, Wanda resident, Charles Noble Simpson, left enough money in his will to build a brick structure.


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