John Greenleaf Reed, one of the early settlers in what is now Sheffield lived on the west edge of Concord Township in a cabin. Coal miner, Reed sold 1000 acres for $10.00 an acre to Joseph Sheffield of New Haven, Connecticut. He was one of the engineers building the Rock Island Railroad from Chicago-seeing the black mineral(coal) along Coal Creek he decided to invest and start a mine.
The town of Sheffield was mapped and laid out by the Sheffield Mining and Transportation Company in 1852. The company giving the land for the village, and other heavy stockholders were : Charles Atkinson, Henry Farnham and Ebenezer Cook. The town was named for Joseph E. Sheffield, originally from Connecticut. It is said that there was discussion as to whether it should be named “Sheffield” or “Farnham”. It was a peaceable agreement among the two close friends and ended with the name of Sheffield.
Sheffield engaged in, “large scale business”, building railroads, canals and large buildings, etc. in the east. In the 1850’s, he with his friend, Henry Farnham, as a partner, studied the possibilities of putting a railroad from Chicago to Rock Island. Henry Farnham, born in New York in 1803, had the engineering responsibility of the railroad; he also engineered and constructed the first bridge over the Mississippi River and drove the first locomotive, “The LeClair”, over it.
The Sheffield Mining and Transportation Company erected the Sheffield House in 1852; most of the lumber for it was hauled from Peru; it took 4 days each trip. Black walnut and timber for the sills came from the grove west of the town. The hotel had an open bar when it was first built, also a billiard room and an impressive sized dining room. This was to help take care of the strangers coming into Sheffield by train and stage. Rock Island Railroad ended in Sheffield and a stage line had been established between Sheffield and Rock Island. The Sheffield House’s first owner was E. Smith; who also opened the first store in Sheffield in 1852. The hotel building still stands today in the one hundred block of Main Street, Sheffield.
Sheffield Mining and Transportation Company built a depot in 1852 upon completion of the railroad; it was a two story building; the bottom floor was used as a hotel, lunch room or “eating house”; the upper floor was a general meeting house. That depot burned in April 1890. A second depot replaced the old one and was a commodious one story room, had men’s and women’s waiting rooms on either side of the room; and was used as a ticket and telegraph office.
In 1857 there were about 400 people in the Village of Sheffield; first streets were three blocks south, three blocks east and three blocks west of Main Street; with only one or two houses north of the railroad tracks. These streets were names for the men who were stockholders: Farnham, Atkinson and Cook.
Unique to the Village of Sheffield is the St. Peter Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, the oldest Danish Church in the United States, which is located at the corner of Cook & Washington. The congregation has since disbanded, but the church is still available for baptisms, weddings, and funerals. When the church was restored to its original state, the Queen of Denmark and her husband, Queen Margretha XI and Prince Henrich, visited in 1976 to celebrate its reconsecration.
Current population is around 900 people. “Spend A Day, Stay a Lifetime” in the “Hub of the Nation”….two of the Village slogans used over the years.
Further information can be found at the Sheffield Historical Society.