#SmallTownSaturday – Lincoln, IL

Abraham Lincoln in 1857

We’re travelling to Lincoln, IL (pop. 13,969) for today’s #SmallTownSaturday feature. (It also happens to fit in with our Abraham Lincoln theme for January, what a coincidence!)

While there are many towns in the United States named after the 16th president, Lincoln, IL is the only town that was named after Abraham Lincoln before he was elected president in 1860.

Abraham Lincoln’s involvement in the area now known as Lincoln, IL (then named Postville, IL) goes back to his days as a lawyer in the 1830s and 1840s. At that time, Postville was located in Sangamon County, the same county as Springfield, IL, where Abraham Lincoln lived and worked. As a lawyer, Lincoln surveyed towns, farms, and roadways in the area around Postville. Although Logan County separated from Sangamon County in 1839, Lincoln continued to provide legal assistance to its residents.

In 1852, rail surveyors determined that it was necessary to build a train station for the Chicago & Alton Railroad at the center of Logan County, near Postville. Steam locomotives needed to stop every 30 miles for water, and this area seemed an ideal location for a station since it was 30 miles south of Bloomington and 30 miles north of Springfield. At this time, Abraham Lincoln was acting attorney for Logan County as well as the attorney for the Chicago & Alton Railroad. Three proprietors, Virgil Hickcox, John D. Gillett, and Robert B. Latham, approached Abraham seeking legal assistance in order to lay out a new town for the railroad.

On August 24, 1853, the three men met in Abraham’s law office in Springfield to draft a power of attorney. They also informed him that the town would be named Lincoln. Abraham’s alleged response to this announcement was negative. He said that he “never knew anything named Lincoln that ever amounted to much.” Regardless of his feelings, Lincoln christened the town 3 days later on August 27, 1853, by breaking open a watermelon from a nearby melon wagon and pouring the juice on the ground.

Lincoln, IL also became home to Lincoln University (now Lincoln College), the only higher education institution named after Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime. Chartered on February 6, 1865, groundbreaking for the main building was held six days later on February 12, 1865, Abraham Lincoln’s 56th birthday.

Want to learn more about Lincoln, IL? Stop by the IHLC!

You can find the above image and other digital photographs of Lincoln online here.



  • Dooley, Raymond, ed. The Namesake Town: A Centennial History of Lincoln, Illinois. Lincoln, IL: Centennial Booklet Committee, 1953.
  • Gleason, Paul E. Lincoln, Illinois: A Pictorial History. St. Louis: G. Bradley Publishing, 1999.
  • Henson, D. Leigh. The Town Abraham Lincoln Warned: The Living Namesake Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois. Springfield, MO: D.L. Henson, 2011.
  • Stringer, Lawrence Beaumont. Abraham Lincoln and the City of Lincoln, Illinois. 1938.

#SmallTownSaturday – Long Grove, IL

Mill Pond Shoppes, located in the historic downtown district of Long Grove.

*Originally posted on July 29, 2017*

Long Grove, Illinois (population 8,166), this week’s #SmallTownSaturday feature, stands out as the site of the state’s first historic district. Established in the 1840’s, Long Grove has evolved from a small settlement of German pioneers into a charming historic village less than 40 miles northwest of Chicago.

Virginia L. Park celebrates the village and its legacy in Long Grove Lore and Legend (1978) through a compilation of historical records, personal accounts, and photographs. In her book, Park records the history of one of Long Grove’s oldest establishments, the present-day Village Tavern, established by the Zimmer family in 1847 and lauded in its early days for “the high class of refreshments served and the good order at all times maintained,” as well as its “fine pool table…kept in the best possible condition.” [1] Park recounts one story of the tavern long enjoyed by locals that involves Jake Eissler, a professional dynamiter notorious in his day for his recklessness and “overzealous use of dynamite.” [2] Once, when hired to remove a tree stump near the Village Tavern, Eissler disregarded warnings that he was too close to the building and wound up sending the stump flying onto the tavern’s roof! Despite this and a change of ownership in the 1960’s, the Village Tavern still stands, now boasting the title of the oldest tavern in continuous operation in the state of Illinois.

For more interesting recollections of Long Grove’s past, stop in to peruse our copy of Long Grove Lore and Legend and learn more about this week’s #SmallTownSaturday feature.

Above is a photo of the Mill Pond Shoppes, located in the historic downtown district of Long Grove. Photo was taken by bogdanstepniak. http://www.panoramio.com/photo/73657366

#SmallTownSaturday – Sullivan, IL

Little Theater on the Square, located in Sullivan, Illinois

*Originally posted on July 15, 2017*

Happy #SmallTownSaturday!

Sullivan, IL (population 4,440) has welcomed some big names in theater over the years thanks to its Little Theatre on the Square. Since its debut in 1957, the theater has brought Broadway-quality performances, along with actors including Mickey Rooney and Vivian Vance, to the heart of the Prairie State. Check out our copy of Beth Conway Shervey’s The Little Theatre on the Square: Four Decades of a Small-Town Equity Theatre to explore how the stage has shaped Sullivan, this weekend’s #SmallTownSaturday feature.

Photo credit: benjamin sTone. https://www.flickr.com/photos/benchilada/4778035614

#SmallTownSaturday – Cherry, IL

Crowd at the mouth of the Cherry mine shaft

This week we’ll be visiting Cherry, IL (pop. 461) for #SmallTownSaturday!

The village of Cherry was named after James Cherry, the superintendent of St. Paul Mining Company, and began primarily as a mining site. The mine attracted workers from around the world, and by 1909 more than 80% of Cherry’s mine workers were first generation immigrants.

On November 13, 1909 at around approximately 1:30 p.m., the Cherry mine became the site of the nation’s third most deadly mining disaster. The mine had three levels, or veins, although the first was inoperable. The second and third veins were only accessible to each other via wooden ladders. Most mines at this time relied on electricity to operate cars and light. While the third vein had been fixed with electrical wiring, the main cable had burned out, forcing them to rely on kerosene torches as a light source and mules to push carts.

A fire began with six bales of hay being lowered into the mine for the mules in the third vein. The baled hay was left in a cart beneath one of the torches, eventually leading to a small fire. Miners were reported as walking right past it, believing it to be easily controllable. The fire, however, spread to the wooden support beams in the mine due to a strong current of air.

259 lives were lost in the fire, 12 having lost their lives in an attempt to rescue others. The mine was sealed at the end of the day in an attempt to smother the fire. This decision was met with public protest, fearing there were living men being smothered as well. In the 8 days the mine was sealed, 21 men managed to survive before being rescued. The fire continued to burn, and the mine was sealed once more until February of 1910.

The Cherry mine disaster led to changes in Illinois mining policies and better safety regulations. Rescue stations and fire fighting equipment were added to coal mines, and workmen’s compensation was implemented in the state of Illinois.

If you would like to learn more about Cherry’s history, stop by the IHLC!

Pictured above is a crowd gathered at the mouth of the Cherry mine shaft in 1909. Courtesy of the Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/ggbain.04371/

#SmallTownSaturday – Bishop Hill, IL

Colony Church in Bishop Hill, IL

*Originally posted on July 1, 2017*

Today is our first #SmallTownSaturday feature! Bishop Hill, IL.

In 1846, spiritual leader Erik Jansson guided a group of Swedish settlers in pursuit of religious freedom to Illinois, where they established a small communitarian society that came to be known as Bishop Hill. Although the colony disbanded fifteen years later in 1861, the cultural and historical legacy of the Janssonist community endures.

Bishop Hill (population 128), a National Landmark Village, celebrates its Swedish heritage with events like its annual Julmarknad mdeck (Christmas Market) and Midsommar Music Festival. Learn more about this #SmallTownSaturday feature from our collection of Bishop Hill Colony correspondence, or enjoy a piece of Bishop Hill’s cultural heritage by flipping through the pages of our copy of The Art of Olof Krans: A Prairie Vision.

Above is a photograph of the Colony Church, which still stands today.

#SmallTownSaturday – Dixon, IL

1909 postcard of Front Street in Dixon

For this week’s #SmallTownSaturday we’re travelling to Dixon, Illinois (pop. 15,135)! This town is situated along the Rock River in northern Illinois in what is known as the Rock River Valley region.

Before white settlers moved into Illinois’ Rock River region, it was home to various indigenous groups, the oldest known being the Illini. Eventually the Illini were driven further south by a coalition of other indigenous tribes, mainly the Sauks and Foxes. These indigenous tribes lived along the  Rock River and prevented white settlers from fully inhabiting the region. It was not until the end of the Black Hawk War in 1832 that this region was truly open to settlement by non-indigenous peoples.

Originally known as “Ogee’s Ferry,” Dixon began as a business run by Joseph Ogee to ferry those who wished to work the mines in Galena across Rock River. In 1830, John Dixon bought the ferry and accompanying cabin and post office. He later renamed the site and ferry “Dixon’s Ferry.” John Dixon was fairly respected by the indigenous groups of the area. He conducted business with them in a way that allowed him to gain their confidence and friendship, something that proved useful during the Black Hawk War.

In 1832, the Black Hawk War broke out when Black Hawk crossed the Mississippi with a band of men, women, and children in order to take possession of their old lands. John Dixon was advised of their approach but decided to stay rather than leave his home. As a friend of the Winnebagoes, he was promised by a leading chief, Pachinka, that since the Winnebagoes owned the lands which Black Hawk’s band would be travelling through, Dixon would not be harmed.

Dixon’s Ferry became a rendezvous point for U.S. soldiers during the Black Hawk War. Fort Dixon was built under the command of Colonel Zachary Taylor on the north side of the Rock River. It was here that battalions were sent to spy on the indigenous groups and their activities, as well as prepare to engage them in combat. Black Hawk surrendered in August 1832, marking the end of the war.

This is only the beginning — Dixon’s story doesn’t stop here! Visit the IHLC to find out more about any of our featured #SmallTownSaturdays!

The image above is a 1909 postcard of Dixon. Courtesy of the Regional History Center at Northern Illinois University. http://digital.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/rhcrc%3A490

#SmallTownSaturday – Introduction

*Originally posted on June 28, 2017*

This Saturday, we are beginning our #SmallTownSaturday series!

When we think of Illinois history, we most commonly think of the Prairie State’s big cities, rife with big events: Chicago’s riots, rallies, fires, and fairs; Springfield’s Lincoln landmarks; Champaign-Urbana’s University scene. Often, we tend to overlook the equally significant cultural heritage, historical events, and notable figures of the small towns in Illinois.

Through our Small Town Saturday series, we hope to introduce you to some of the lesser known yet noteworthy stories from our state’s past while celebrating the small towns where they unfolded. From the pre-Columbian mounds at Cahokia to the first Illinois capital at Kaskaskia, the Mormon migration at Nauvoo, and the star-studded stage in Sullivan, the small towns of Illinois tell the story of a state rich with diverse culture, values, and ideas.

Every other week, we’ll draw from our extensive print and manuscript collections to find an interesting and informative small town story to feature. Join us as we explore hidden gems in historic downtowns, follow the stories that unfold along Illinois railways, and encounter unsung heroes who have contributed to the betterment of our communities and our state.

Know of a story worth sharing in a small Illinois town near you? Make your Small Town Saturday suggestion in the comments section below or send us a message via Facebook. We value your opinions and ideas!

#SmallTownSaturday – Rantoul, IL

Aerial photograph of Chanute Air Force base in the 1920s with the village of Rantoul in the background.

This week we’re landing in Rantoul, IL (pop. 12,815) for our #SmallTownSaturday!

Few settlers inhabited the wooded area north of Urbana until the Illinois Central Railroad arrived in the early 1850s. Robert Rantoul Jr., a U.S. representative from Massachusetts and a director of the Illinois Central Railroad, drafted a charter for a railroad that included tracks running from Urbana to Chicago. The project was completed in 1854 and Rantoul Station was built, named after Robert Rantoul Jr. A town began to form near the station as settlers built homes and set up small businesses. By the time Rantoul received an official charter in 1869, it had 1,634 residents. The town experienced slow and steady growth throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries until the arrival of a second major industry.

In 1917, the U.S. government began searching for a location to train pilots and aircraft maintenance men for World War I. Rantoul residents saw an opportunity, and W. H. Wheat traveled to Washington D.C. as their spokesperson to convince the War Department to choose Rantoul as the location to build a base. Rantoul was declared the official site for Chanute Air Force Base, named in honor of the aviation pioneer Octave Chanute. From its opening in 1917 until its closure in 1993, Chanute created an economic and social boom for the town. The base employed thousands of civilians, brought in air force personnel from all over the world, and hosted community events including annual open houses. The relationship was symbiotic with the air force base relying on employees from Rantoul to operate.

Above is an aerial photograph of Chanute Field courtesy of the Champaign County Historical Archives. The photograph shows the base in the 1920s with the village of Rantoul in the background.

Did you or any of your relatives spend time at Chanute? Let us know in the comments section on our Facebook page!


Picture of an open archival folder containing a Civil War letter and envelope as well as a photograph of a Civil War soldier. Image also includes an open diary on book supports and an archival box. All items are found in the Stephen A. Forbes Collection at the IHLC.

Welcome to the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections blog! This blog will highlight different topics in Illinois history, as well as the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Read below to learn more about the upcoming blog series we have planned.

  • If you follow our Facebook account, you may be familiar with our ongoing #SmallTownSaturday series. We will now post new #SmallTownSaturday features here on the blog every other Saturday. We will post previous features on the blog as well. If you would like to learn more about a particular small town in Illinois, please let us know!
  • We will also feature #OnThisDay posts for select dates in Illinois history.
  • In 2018, Illinois will celebrate its 200th anniversary of statehood (1818-2018). For the bicentennial, the IHLC will create blog posts focused on different themes in Illinois history for each month of 2018. Themes will include women in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, colleges in Illinois, African Americans in Illinois, Illinoisans in the Civil War, sports in Illinois, and others. Check back each week to learn more as we celebrate the long and fascinating history of the Prairie State.

Want to know more about a person, place, or event in Illinois history? Email us at ihlc@library.illinois.edu or send us a message on Facebook (Illinois History and Lincoln Collections), Instagram (@illinoisihlc), or Twitter (@illinoisIHLC) and we can feature the topic you’re interested in on a future blog post.