The City of Hillsboro will celebrate its 125th anniversary next week. Like other towns, its early history was of rapid economic development, free from the constraints of government regulation and taxes.
Many immigrants settled in the area of present-day Hillsboro between 1873 and 1879. They were productive farmers, and surplus crops and livestock were hauled to railroad stations at Peabody, Marion, and Newton.
In the late 1870s, Marion County Commission responded to a citizen petition for a railroad by subscribing to the Marion and McPherson Railroad Company, which later became a branch of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe. Citizens in Risley and Centre townships bought stock in the company.
John G. Hill, an early Scottish immigrant, platted a town along the route, which ran through his property. He named it Hill City.
He changed the name to Hillsboro when the plat was filed June 24, 1879. A post office was established in August of that year. The new town provided a convenient trading center for local farmers.
By 1880, Hillsboro had a population of 133 people, 80 males and 53 females. Of these, 44 were of Dutch-Ukrainian descent, 10 were German, and others were from Poland, Scotland, England, Switzerland, and the eastern United States.
Despite diverse languages and dialects, the town grew rapidly. By April 15, 1881, the first newspaper, The Phonograph, reported four dry goods and food stores, five hardware stores, two drug stores, two lumberyards, three grain elevators, four notary publics, one land and loan office, two blacksmith shops, two livery stables, one bank, a postmaster, two hotels, two physicians, and one tinner.
Hillsboro was incorporated as a third class city in 1884. Its population at the time was 600.
Elected officers were John J. Funk, mayor, J.F. Hey, Jacob Bergen, Peter Lohrenz, C.B. Funk, and A.M. McDonald. Police judge was Edmond Martin.
Before 1900, citizens paid a tax rate of 10 mills on the dollar, peddlers and performers bought licenses for $2 or more per day, and a poll tax of $1 was levied. Businesses paid an occupation tax, commonly $5 to $10 per year. Establishments considered undesirable were nearly taxed out of business.
Hillsboro did not participate in the speculative boom of the 1880s. Merchants relied on barter, good faith, credit, and cash.
General merchandise stores, such as that built by William F. Schaeffler, provided a variety of goods. Some hired peddlers to take goods into the countryside.
Economic development was steady and constant as furniture stores, clothing stores, creameries, flour mills, and other businesses were established.
People needed resources to build private businesses, and little money was diverted to city improvement. In August 1885, sidewalks were constructed on Main Street. Further development did not occur until 1921.
The first utilities were provided through individual enterprise. The city built a small light plant in 1912, financed with bonds. It was enlarged in 1920.
The first school was financed and built by settlers in 1879. Parents of the five to seven pupils paid a small tuition and hired a teacher.
In 1880, a public school district (#82) was organized with 80 young people, ages 5 through 20, enrolled. New buildings were constructed as enrollment grew. By 1912, all four years of high school were available.
Private Mennonite schools and a private German school existed in the early years.
Hillsboro became a college town in 1908, when Tabor College was organized. A new brick administration building was constructed in 1920 after the original building was destroyed by fire. The building remains a historic landmark on the college campus.