As one of the oldest standing buildings in Morton, our original location has a rich and diverse history. Most important to our story is the man who gave us our name, Eli Messenger. Eli was a carpenter who purchased the land for $30 and in 1860, constructed the house that stands today. The house traded hands a few times before ending up in the possession of Christian May in 1869. May served in the Union Army during the Civil War and, after losing his arm in battle, returned to Morton.
A year after he purchased the Eli Messenger house, he was named postmaster of the town and ran the post office from the side room where we now host parties and showers. As the years passed, our building was used for a congressional office and several businesses but eventually sat empty. In 2004, our founder, Katie Vandenberg, purchased and restored the historic home. Eli’s Coffee Shop opened in February of 2005. Eli’s has been serving as our cornerstone location ever since. As we look to the future, we are grateful to carry on the rich heritage of this historic home and the many people that have shaped it over the years.
The town of Tremont has only had one train depot. Constructed in 1907, the Big Four Depot, as it was called, brought passengers to the rapidly growing town. As train travel gave way to the automobile, the depot became antiquated. The Big Four Depot saw its last passenger train on October 23rd, 1957. At that point, the building’s story could’ve ended. Trains carrying mostly freight and grain from the nearby elevators still used the tracks, but the depot itself sat unused and fell into disrepair. The Toepfer family saw the rich history and potential future in the building, and stepped in to purchase the depot. The building was used as apartments, housed church classrooms, and served multiple businesses through the years.
The tracks were ultimately pulled up in 1985 when even the freight cars ceased to carry their cargo through town. In 2000, an addition was built on to the depot, creating many small shops and businesses. That’s where we come in. In November of 2013, Katie Vandenberg and Rachel Berchtold signed a lease for the original depot space. On February 11th, 2014, after a few months of renovations, the doors or Eli’s at The Depot officially opened. Now, instead of trains pulling up to the platform, we have cars pulling up to our drive through. Instead of bustling passengers, we serve a more relaxed crowd.
The Metamora shop was actually built in two separate stages. The east half of the building was constructed around 1880 and was first used as a general store known as Isch’s. In the early 1900’s the west half of the building was constructed. In order to make room for the larger building, the house that sits directly west of the building was moved to the adjacent lot. That house is still there today! If you look closely at the front of the Metamora building, you can see that the original east half has a stone foundation but the west half has a brick foundation.
The general store was in operation for many years and was passed down through several generations. Isch’s General Store lasted until 1952 and was then converted into a gift and thrift shop, held by the same family. The gift shop stayed open until 1992. Since then the building has been home to a furniture store, a quilt shop, and then in 2013, a coffee shop called Historic Grounds.
At the beginning of 2017, after the closure of Historic Grounds, Eli’s began renovations on the Metamora building, doing extensive work in repairing and refinishing the original wood floors, creating new kitchen, counter, and bathroom areas, as well as updating the fixtures and paint. Eli’s in Metamora opened its doors on May 1st. 2017 and has been serving up coffee and treats to the community ever since.