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Why East William Street Is Not Straight: Anna Beman & the Eventual Development Called Beman Plac

At the intersection of North Jasper Street & East William Street you encounter the legacy of one widow and her resistance to residential development until the 20th Century. You also encounter it at the intersection of North East Avenue & East William. East William Street is 20 feet further north than its usual path for just 3 city blocks.

It has been a street grid error recognized since at least the 1910s, even mentioned in the City Practical plan of 1923. City officials have been encouraged to do something about it. Ironically it has been the development already placed through the proposed corrected route that has stopped any effort. And probably financial costs involving purchasing the affected lots from homeowners, too.

You can rightly state that Anna Beman's stubbornness is permanently part of the Decatur's physical infrastructure. Now over 100 years after her death in 1900.

Ann Spencer was born in Adelphi, Ross County, Ohio, the daughter of Jesse and Catherine Biedler Spencer around 1822. Her father was a prominent land agent and surveyor in Ohio, and the Spencer home in Adelphi is on the National Register of Historic places. Ann married George Beman in Adelphi on November 7, 1844. George Beman was a physician. The Bemans were unable to have children of their own, but they adopted Martha "Mattie" Roult while residing in Ohio. There were no adoption laws in Ohio at that time. On January 15, 1846, Ann wrote up a will leaving everything to her husband and her in-law family.

The Bemans left Ohio after 1850, settling in Decatur in the middle 1850s. Here, George became a partner in practice with Dr. Silas Thompson Trowbridge. In 1859 George was elected as a permanent member of the Illinois Medical Society. The Bemans purchased several different parcels of land in Macon County, including the 40 acres just at the edge of Decatur between William and Wood, along Jasper Street in 1858. They conveyed the southern edge of their 40 acres for East Wood Street. They did not convey any property on the north edge, where East William Street would eventually continue.

Dr. George Beman became ill and died on December 1, 1862. His estate was handled by Orlando Powers, and a tally of outstanding medical bills by Decatur citizens is filed along with his will. Dr. Beman left his estate to his wife, his adopted daughter Mattie, and his mother.

1874 Atlas. The earliest map showing East William 20 feet north after Jasper St.

Following her husband's death, Ann bought and sold farmland and various residential lots, mostly on the north and northeast edge of post Civil War Decatur. Except the 40 acres between East William and East Wood and East Jasper, and then Chisholm (later East) Avenue. The land north of the Beman farm became the 1st and 3rd Rolling Mill Additions in the 1870s. The land east of the Beman farm became East Park Boulevards in 1887, as Josiah M. Clokey purchased the southern half of the former Samuel C. Allen farm. Scattered residential additions were developed further east, north, and south. Ann Beman's farm became rapidly surrounded by residential development 1870s-1890s. Each time she would be approached about selling sections or the entire farm, Ann refused to sell.

1891 Atlas.

While near many residences, the Beman home stood a good distance from the surrounding streets, likely standing on the small hill near today's East Witt and East Prairie (the address is listed as 1247 E William or the South East corner of Jasper and William in early City of Decatur directories). Its natural isolation made the aging widow an easy target for break-in and assault. A particular break-in and assault in the 1890s made it easier for one of George's surviving sisters, Eliza Moeller, and her son, George Moeller, to declare Ann of feeble mind and health and she was placed into care at the state hospital for the Insane in Jacksonville in 1899. The old Beman home was offered for rental usage in the Decatur Review in 1899. Ann died in Jacksonville on September 21, 1900.

The property was searched thoroughly by Dr. George Beman's surviving sister and nieces and nephews, where both Ann's 1846 and George's 1862 wills were discovered. Eliza Moeller and the nieces and nephews pursued their rights as the heirs listed in the 1846 will giving Ann's estate solely to Dr. George or his family heirs. Maggie Roult, now McComb, pursued her right as heir through the 1862 will. Maggie had received land in South Wheatland township in George's will, which may have been a factor in determination of later inheritance. Determining who was entitled to claim the estate revealed additional relatives who had lost touch with Ann but were nevertheless living. Considerable litigation passed between 1900-1904 before Macon County courts concluded Eliza Moeller's and the living nieces and nephews of George Beman as rightful heirs of the remaining George & Ann Beman estate. The 40 acre farmstead was valued at $40,000.

1903 Atlas. First lots of Beman Place.

Eliza Moeller and the nieces and nephews sold the property to Robert R. Montgomery and John Uhlrich for $23,025 (equivalent to about $656,266 today)on May 10, 1902. By this time, East William Street with its 20 feet offset had already been part of the eastern landscape for over 30 years. Likely looking to maximize lot size and development in their prime, but yet undeveloped real estate acquisition, Montgomery & Uhlrich divided the old farmstead into the plat we see today.

Despite being closer to earlier historic neighborhoods, the residences of Beman Place are mostly built between 1903-1914. Homes further east are also older, some built in 1880-1900.

And the 20 feet north, 3 city block long northern boundary of the old Beman farm remains.

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