Wee-Ma-Tuk Hills is located on land once mined by the Truax-Traer Coal Company, now a division of Consolidation Coal Company, which operated in Minnesota and Saskatchewan as well as several Illinois counties. Company head Harold Truax apparently selected Fulton County as his home, and it was his son Glenn's land that became the Wee-Ma-Tuk Country Club in 1956. The Truaxes and company official Gene Long spearheaded the development.
Over the next decade, Putt Creek was dammed to create Lake Wee-Ma-Tuk, with the necessary excavating and clearing done by off-duty Truax-Traer miners. The numerous small lakes, once strip mines, filled in with rainfall. The land around the lakes was divided into lots.
Wee-Ma-Tuk translates to Land of many lakes. Glenn Truax's wife Margie named the streets after Native American tribes and literary references. (Pau-Pau-Keewis, a rendering of The Song of Hiawatha's Pau-Puk-Keewis, graces a street on the south shore of the big lake.) Other street names not spelled in the familiar way include Schochonie, Washaki, and Pokihantus, which are alternative spellings of Shoshone, Washakie, and Pocahantas. Native American languages, we are reminded, had no written component until European settlers set the names to paper phonetically, and an anthropology major once told this writer that Pokihantus is "correct."
By the 1960s, lots were being sold, homes were being built, and people were moving in. Some put up fishing cabins; others built near-palatial homes.
Tom Moore describes the country club:
The original club house was spectacular and over looked the swimming beach below the hill. Its bar, dining room and club areas were solid walnut and granite. The club hosted several big bands and parties and had a Fourth-of-July celebration every year with fireworks and a barbecue of roast pig. Wee-Ma-Tuk golf tournaments were outstanding, with excellent men's and women's tournament play. My Mother was club champ on several occasions and was a great lady golfer (Fran Moore).
Gene Rand contributes the following:
I worked at the golf course after high school, weekends, and summers during 1956-57. The original developers were Harold Truax,Glenn Truax, and Gene Long. The original nine golf holes were built in 1956 on one of Glenn Truax's hay fields.The land was a fault--it contained no coal--and was never mined by the coal company. Johnny Rusnak from Canton helped design the nine holes and was the club's first golf pro. One of the first homes was built by Charlie Cummings from Peoria and is located on the north side of the hill east of the original clubhouse. Another early home was built by Jack Pletz from Peoria and is located behind #17 green. Also one of the early homes was built by Don Sutton (Sutton and Moore Lumber Company of Canton) and is located on the east side of the hill behind #16 green. My wife and I had our wedding reception there in April of 1963.
Janice Stevenor Dale writes:
I lived in WMT from 1964-1978; my parents built our house on Cheyenne drive, #15 green in 1964 (beside the Suttons) and later moved to Arizona in 1983. I am happy to share any memories you are trying to put together. WMT used to mean "land of many lakes and hills" with the hills created by the "gob" piles left from coal mining. I would find Indian arrowheads in the grassy meadows behind my house. Within the WMT clubhouse, upon entering, you would have passed a number of key WMT founding fathers. I knew Jack Pletz and his wife, and they also had a home high on a hill above a lake, not on #17 green. We would visit when his dog had puppies, and he and his gracious wife would serve german chocolate cake. Jack Pletz was a golfing partner of my father's. My father was Gerald Stevenor, who worked in management at International Harvester for 40 years. I have an oil painting that my award-winning grandfather painted of the original clubhouse with its many cascading wooden staircases descending down to the swimming "hole" with its central fountain. Let me know if there is a place of honor for this painting; I envisioned that it might be part of the "new" clubhouse when it reopens. I'll try to send you a digital picture for the website. Say hi to Mr. Coleman for me, he was my beloved math teacher. Tell him that Dashiell is doing algebra now at age 11 with a math olympiad this Friday. Let me know what I can do to help rekindle the WMT spirit.
Here's a 1960's W-M-T postcard found at www.illinoisancestors.org/fulton submitted by Janine Crandell. Libby Truax, daughter of developer Glenn Truax, is in the foreground. According to Tom Moore, pictured at the right, others in the picture are Margie Truax, Glenn Truax, Fran Moore, and Judd Henninger. The postcard was part of a promotional package put together by a Chicago PR firm for Henninger, who was a real estate agent involved in selling the lots.
These pages are from a brochure about Wee-Ma-Tuk from the 1950s. Thanks to John Loebach for supplying this historic document.
Here are the pages from an article in a 1959 issue of Caterpillar Magazine, chronicling WMT's construction. Thanks to Max Latimer, Larry Ford, and Larry Krulac for this historic find!
Here are the pages of a brochure supplied by John and Jan Hardy.
Paul Harvey Visited WMT...and He Told America All About It!
On February 19, 1963, ABC news commentator Paul Harvey came to Fulton County.
He was so
impressed that he broadcast his impressions the next day:
"Backward over my shoulder, delightful visit to Canton, Illinois. Absolutely delightful,
A mostly content community built around a story-book town square and nourished
mostly by farmers, farm equipment industries, and one other thing -- strip mining.
Now, wait a moment. I know it sounds awful. Strip mining is in most respects the
most economical way to get coal out of the ground -- just scrape off the topsoil and
denude the deposit and help yourself -- but what a mess it makes of the landscape.
I've flown over some of our country's strip mines -- once fertile farm land, which had been ravaged by
giant machines, and dumped in ugly endless wind-rows of slate and weeds with deep gullies and stagnant
ponds. Looking down upon that upheaval of the earth's insides, you imagine hell is probably going to look
something like that.
Down in the midst of it, however, when your livelihood is largely dependent upon the black gold gouged
from the ground, you tolerate the unsightly wasteland until eventually you don't even see it it anymore.
But Fulton County, Illinois, does things differently than most. One hundred and ninety miles southwest is
close enough to Chicago to be cosmopolitan, yet far enough to be comfortably provincial.
To give you an idea of the independence which prevails in Fulton County: Traditionally, it is a Republican
county, and yet when Lincoln ran as a Republican, he carried his state of Illinois overwhelmingly, except
Fulton County. They voted against him both times.
Back in 1920, thereabouts, Mr. Harold Truax founded the Truax Coal Co. and began turning things upside
down. His open strip mines prospered the area, but with the usual results -- cluttering the horizons with
mountains of sub-soil hurled into grotesque, grey heaps.
But Mr. Truax felt a deep obligation to the good earth which had yielded, however unwillingly, to violation
by his mighty machines, and he undertook a project of his own, now. This was before there were any state
statutes requiring rehabilitation of such areas. Mr. Truax, when the coal was gone from the area, moved his
machines back in and began to level the spoil banks and landscape the overburden, and erase the scars;
but more than this, he made of the eyesore an asset.
He has already rehabilitated 3,600 acres, and that park-like place he calls Wee-Ma-Tuk Hills. I think that
means 'lake in the hills' to an Indian, for the area has one huge lake and is studded by 40 smaller ones.
And a golf course, and a red-carpet clubhouse where 400 can dine in one room. Homes have been built in
the area. The grounds abound with wildlife, and there's an area for controlled hunting of quail and duck.
The lakes are stocked with fish and kept stocked.
But Wee-Ma-Tuk Hills is the gesture of a grateful industrialist to the good earth from whence cometh his
strength and to his personal persuasion will lead the rest of the world by example: That being a good
neighbor has to begin at the beginning."