Entrepreneurs who helped transform prairie lands into a center of local commerce, Richmond Durfee and Samuel Crozier combined their talents to found a mercantile business that became the heart of Red Bud in the nineteenth century — and remains so today.
Richmond D. Durfee was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in October 1815. He was the eldest son of Aaron Durfee and Ruth Cook. The Durfees had deep roots in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Richmond’s great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Durfee, had emigrated from England to Portsmouth in colonial Rhode Island in the seventeenth century. During the Revolutionary War, Richmond’s grandfather, Col. Joseph Durfee, served under the Marquis de Lafayette. By the middle of the 1830s, Richmond’s parents decided to leave the East Coast for good, moving with Richmond and his seven sisters to settle in rural Illinois. Late in his life, Richmond reflected that his family left “the hum of spindles at Fall River” in favor of “the then far distant State of Illinois,” selecting “the central part where the prairies were small, and timber for houses, firewood and fencing was close at hand.” The family settled in Monroe County, very near the border with Randolph County, and established a small farm.
Among the Durfees’ new neighbors in the area were numerous families from South Carolina. Several waves of settlers, including the Campbells, the Croziers, the Thompsons, and the Steeles, had traveled from Abbeville to Randolph County. By the time the Durfees established their farm, the Abbeville settlers had been in the region for almost a generation. John Campbell Crozier and his wife, Mary Lindsay, both of whom had been born in Abbeville, had married in Randolph County in 1820. By 1824, the young couple had settled in the vicinity of Horse Prairie with their growing family. Their eldest son, Samuel Crozier, was born in November 1822; he was followed by a number of siblings, including the family’s eldest daughter, Caroline Lavinda Crozier, who was born in July 1826.
John Campbell Crozier, by then the wealthy patriarch of a large family, died in Randolph County in July 1843. In his extensive will, he left bequests to his wife and all of his children. Samuel, the eldest, was twenty. He inherited two forty-acre parcels of land in the vicinity of present-day Red Bud, as well as his father’s silver watch. Caroline Lavinda, the eldest daughter, was seventeen. She inherited her bed and bedding, as well as a brown mare (with saddle and bridle), a cow, and a calf. Both Samuel and Caroline were now young adults, and both soon married. Samuel wed twenty-five-year old Nancy Ross in her native Monroe County in December 1845. The couple built a new home on the land that Samuel had inherited from his father, and two years later, they welcomed their first child, a daughter named Georgia Ross Crozier.
In November 1844, Caroline married Richmond Durfee in Randolph County. Although he had been established in Monroe County near his parents in 1840, Richmond had begun to build a life in Randolph County even before his wedding. In 1839, he had purchased a forty-one acre parcel of land in Randolph County, right on the border with Monroe County. In August 1843, Richmond had been appointed US Postmaster at Prairieville, a small settlement south of present-day Red Bud. Now married, he acquired even more land in Randolph County, buying 40 acres in December 1844. Richmond and Caroline built a home together in Randolph County that year, and shortly afterward, he decided to open a store. Richmond opened his mercantile establishment in a frame structure located on the southeast corner of present-day Main and Market Streets. Because of the abundance of flowering trees near his new store, he decided to call the place Red Bud. By May 1847, that name had become widely adopted, and even the name of the local post office (with Richmond still serving as US Postmaster) was changed from “Prairieville” to “Red Bud.”
When the Red Bud Historic District was nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s, Richmond’s initial business establishment was highlighted as a crucial part of the area’s early success: “Above all, it was Durfee who seems to have given the future growth of the town a firm foundation and direction,” they explained, naming him as “the first permanent merchant of Red Bud” and stating that he has “a very strong claim to being the city’s founder.” The application notes that Richmond’s early mercantile efforts are “an interesting indicator of the town’s entire history: beginning as a store, Red Bud became and has remained the commercial center of the surrounding agricultural area.”
In 1848, Richmond became one of the first landowners in the area to have his property surveyed and offered for public sale. Samuel Crozier quickly followed suit. Now brothers-in-law, Richmond and Samuel soon became business partners as well. Each listed “merchant” as his occupation in the federal census records of 1850, and five years later, the pair invested in a more permanent location for their joint business. They funded the construction of the Durfee & Crozier Store, a brick building in the Greek Revival style, on the northeast corner of Main and Market Streets. The Red Bud Historic District nomination papers credit their enterprise as another crucial part of the area’s development: “Both Durfee and Crozier made important early additions to Red Bud after it was platted (with only two blocks) in 1848 and their store — the first brick store to be built in the town — is most probably the oldest surviving building” in Red Bud.
As their mercantile business thrived, both families grew as well. By 1855, Caroline Durfee had given birth to three children: Eric Hudson, Herbert (who died as a young child), and Cora Elizabeth. Nancy Crozier was a mother of four: the aforementioned Georgia Ross, James Harden, Albert, and Ella. In December 1856, Richmond handed over his responsibilities at the local post office to a new US Postmaster. He and Samuel had even bigger goals on the horizon: creating a way to ship goods directly to and from their Red Bud store. In February 1857, the Illinois State Legislature approved an act to incorporate the Belleville, Red Bud, and Murphysboro Railroad Company, with a body corporate and politic that included Richmond Durfee, Samuel Crozier, and numerous other men from Randolph, Monroe, St. Clair, and Jackson counties. As Red Bud lacked access to a river, this proposed railroad would have helped Durfee & Crozier expand their mercantile business even further in the area.
But the late 1850s brought sorrow, not expansion. The railroad was never built, but personal sadness outweighed business disappointments. Nancy gave birth to Samuel’s youngest child, Colonel Crozier, in March 1868, but that June, the family was marred by tragedy. Samuel and Nancy’s eldest son, James, drowned in the mill pond in Red Bud. The following year, Samuel himself died, succumbing to consumption at the age of 34. He was buried near his son in Red Bud’s Old City Cemetery. When Richmond and Caroline welcomed their fourth child only a few months later, he was christened Guy Samuel Durfee, in honor of her late brother. Richmond’s father, Aaron, moved from the family farm to Red Bud in 1860, but in 1861, he too passed away.
Though the Durfee & Crozier partnership had ended, the two men had been founders of a vibrant, thriving community in Red Bud. E.J. Montague’s business directory of the county, published in 1859, notes that, along with “the spacious storehouse of Durfee & Crozier,” numerous other buildings had risen in Red Bud, including “a row of brick buildings covering a large portion of a block” and “a large brick brewery,” with a new hotel and a new storehouse also under construction. Montague noted that “the growth of the place has been marked by a rapidity which seldom attends the progress of inland towns,” thanks to the “industrious, enterprising, and wealthy” farmers and entrepreneurs who populated the area. He lists an impressive roster of businesses in operation in Red Bud, including “five dry goods stores, six grocery stores, two flouring mills, two lumber yards, six merchant tailors, one drug store, one brewery, one livery stable, five boot and shoe shops, three blacksmith shops, three wagon manufactories, one saddlery and harness shop, four hotels, two brick yards, four carpenter shops, three cabinet shops, three tin shops, one jewelry store,” and even “one ambrotype gallery” — so the residents of Red Bud could immortalize their prospering lives in photographic form. They were preparing the next generation to continue their successes, too: Montague notes that Red Bud also had “one high school supported by the town, independent of the public revenue.”
Richmond continued to operate a store in Red Bud for several years, but by the end of the 1860s, he had decided to locate his mercantile business elsewhere. By 1866, the family was established in nearby St. Louis. Richmond and Caroline’s eldest son, Eric, was enrolled as a business student at Washington University in the city; their youngest son, Charles Crozier Durfee, was born in St. Louis that October. An 1867 city directory lists a new business venture for Richmond. Along with George T. Hardcastle (an experienced St. Louis merchant) and Eliphalet S. Brown (who was married to Caroline’s sister, Sophia Crozier), Richmond established a new dry goods firm, Durfee, Hardcastle, & Co. The new mercantile was headquartered at 531 N. Main Street, only steps from the site of the new Eads Bridge, which was under construction at the time.
After a short tenure in the city, Richmond and Caroline decided to move their family back to Illinois. They settled in Jacksonville, and by 1870, they were at the head of a busy household, which included all four of their surviving children, as well as three of Richmond’s sisters. Richmond opened a new dry goods retail business in the town, and the couple’s eldest son, Eric, worked as a clerk at his father’s store. The Durfees remained in business in Jacksonville for a decade, and their prosperity was clearly recognized by other members of their community. In 1877, the Inter Ocean, a major Chicago paper, reported that an armed robbery had taken place at the family’s Jacksonville home: “A burglar was discovered about 3 o’clock in the residence of R.D. Durfee, a merchant, sorting out silverware. He was chased out and fired at, when he turned and fired three times, wounding a pursuer in the leg, and escaped. A man has been arrested on suspicion, having some silverware of Durfee’s and a key to the house.” The paper did not note which “pursuer” had been wounded.
Richmond and Eric Durfee worked together in the mercantile business until Eric’s death in 1883 at the age of 34. Afterwards, the family made another major move, relocating to Southern California. Richmond, Caroline, Guy, Cora, and Charles established themselves on a farm in Florence, which was then a rural part of Los Angeles County. Richmond, who retired from life as a merchant, built a two-storey farmhouse for the family in a modified version of the popular Queen Anne style. There, Guy worked the land as a gardener and a farmer, while Richmond kept himself busy buying and selling real estate. In April 1897, Richmond passed away in California after suffering from chronic heart issues. His body was returned to Jacksonville, where he was buried near his son, Eric. Back in California, the remaining members of the family decided to part ways with their farm — but not with their farmhouse. Caroline, Guy, and Cora decided to have the house moved from Florence to North University Park, where Richmond had purchased a double lot a decade earlier. Members of the family resided in the house, now located at 1007 W. 24th Street, until the spring of 1936.
In the 1980s, the people of Los Angeles recognized Richmond’s last home as an architectural treasure. The Richmond & Caroline Durfee House was designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1984, and in 1991, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a part of the larger St. James Park Historic District. The nomination papers for the district describe the Durfee House as a “marvellous Victorian house … of frame construction, with shiplap siding and … a moderately-pitched cross-gabled roof.” The home is lauded as “a nearly textbook example of the combination of Queen Anne and Eastlake decorative features” and “a resource of major local significance.” Today, the “Pink Lady,” as the home is often nicknamed, belongs to Ed and Ann Dorr, who run a business dedicated to restoring local historic properties.
Back in Red Bud, Richmond Durfee and Samuel Crozier’s store is also a thriving part of the town’s historic district. It now houses a popular barbecue restaurant, The Burnt End, and nearby historic buildings are also undergoing a sort of renaissance, with breweries, restaurants, salons, and other businesses breathing life back into their nineteenth-century locations. Richmond and Samuel’s entrepreneurial drive launched successful careers for each of them, but even more importantly, their shared business acumen helped to establish Red Bud as one of the most important business centers in Randolph County. It seems only fitting that two historic buildings — the Durfee & Crozier Store and the Richmond & Caroline Durfee House — are now protected and cherished reminders of their entrepreneurial spirit.
Richmond Durfee and Samuel Crozier were inducted into The Randolph Society in 2019.