All of JacksonVille

Beecher Hall, erected in 1829, the first college structure ever built in the State of Illinois
Beecher Hall, erected in 1829, the first college structure ever built in the State of Illinois.

Before there was a town of Jacksonville, before there was a State of Illinois, and even before the Native Americans, there was the land. The wide, treeless prairies, with grass as tall as a man, were formed with the melting of the last ice age. To these prairies have come people of different cultures, but with a single aim, to live a prosperous, healthy, happy life. To this day, the land is one of the traditions that we take for granted. The fertile fields surrounding Jacksonville feed us and the world. To these unplowed fields came the first settlers, who became rooted to the fertile land and the possibilities of a fresh start...

The first men, whose names are recorded and remembered in this area, had been soldiers in the recent War of 1812, in which General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee became famous for his win at the Battle of New Orleans. Many towns became "Jacksonville's" in the early 1800's. Colonel Seymour Kellogg, his brother Captain Elisha Kellogg, their families, and Charles Collins pitched camp on the north fork of the Mauvaisterre River in 1819, after the Kickapoo Indians signed the treaty giving up their land in central Illinois.

On January 6, 1825, John Howard, Abraham Pickett and John C. Lusk were appointed to locate a permanent seat for the county. This county seat was to be as near as possible to the center of Morgan County considering present and future population. Further the land must belong to a private citizen or to apply to construction of a courthouse and jail..

On March 10, 1825, Johnston Shelton, the county surveyor, laid out a five acre public square in a 160 acre tract. The land at the time was owned by the government, but using the Ordinance of 1785 as the authority, the tract was sold to Isaac Dial and Thomas Arnett for $1.25 an acre. They, in turn, deeded forty acres (twice the requirement) to Morgan County. The square as laid out was across the intersection of two roads. The first of these - an east/west road -was to run from Springfield west to the Illinois River at Naples. This became State Street. The north/south road became Main Street and the town developed in square blocks from the intersection of State and Main Streets.

By the time Jacksonville was platted with roads and a town square, the first resident, Alexander Cox, was joined by merchants Joseph Fairfield and George Hackett. The news of the rich Illinois soil was spreading, and it filled the area with settlers and anticipation.

Part of the downtown Central Park Square as it appeared in 1913
Part of the downtown Central Park Square as it appeared in 1913.

There is little doubt that Jacksonville was named for Andrew Jackson, then the hero of New Orleans and presidential contender. However an interesting alternative version developed as a result of the remarks made by the surveyors to a young African-American boy, the slave of Thomas P. Clark. This youngster had been sent by Clark to get seed corn from people at Diamond Grove. He became lost because of the prairie grass until he saw some men driving stakes near where the Dunlap Hotel is now.

He said he was lost and asked how to get to Diamond Grove. They directed him and asked his name. He replied "A. W. Jackson." They replied that they were laying out a town and because he was the first of his race in the area, they would name the town after him. The similarity in names of the boy and the soon to be president probably was the reason for the surveyor's private little joke.

But - the alternate version gained enough credence that "A Guide to the Origin of Place Names in the United States," published by Public Affairs Press and edited by Henry Gannett, former geographer of the U.S. Geological Survey, states "Jacksonville, city in Morgan County Illinois, named for a prominent colored preacher" A.W. Jackson lived a long life, was the first pastor of Mt. Emory Baptist Church and was Jacksonville's first African-American alderman. As an old man, Jackson confirmed the story to Historian Charles M. Eames.

Citizens were so eager to establish an education plan and a college, that they began constructing the first college building, in 1829, before they actually had a faculty or students. Churches were built, railways were planned, and before long, stores and taverns were flourishing. The courthouse was built on the square, and 11 lawyers and 10 physicians were in practice by 1834. Since Illinois filled from the bottom up, with the majority of early settlers coming from southern states, there was a time when Jacksonville was the largest town in the State. (Chicago, in 1833 had only 150 people, not including the Potawatomi tribe, while Jacksonville, by 1834, was pushing 1,800 settlers.)

Dedicated pioneers worked to better their own lives and their community. Their efforts paid off in ways that were not always anticipated. A cholera epidemic in 1833 affected an estimated half of the inhabitants of Jacksonville. Although Jacksonville did not become the Illinois State capital, as some would have wanted (the cholera epidemic did nothing to enhance her chances), she continued her quest for prominence by acquiring the Illinois School for the Deaf, the School for the Blind, and the Central Hospital for the Insane, all before 1850. Illinois College, being the first of the important educational institutions in the town, was supportive in establishing other educational opportunities, which included the Jacksonville Female Academy, the Jacksonville Public Schools, the Whipple Academy, The Young Ladies' Athenaeum, and the Illinois Conservatory of Music. In 1846, the Illinois Conference Female Academy (later the MacMurray College) was founded.

Frontier days were fluid times, with people moving on for reasons known only to them. In the census of 1860, only a little over 25 percent of the non-dependent population from the 1850 Jacksonville census could still be found. From 1860 to 1870, the years around the Civil War, only 21 percent of the population in Jacksonville could be traced.

Part of the Central Hospital for the Insane
art of the Central Hospital for the Insane.  The first patient arrived in 1851.  Today this facility is known as the Jacksonville Developmental Center.

John Millot Ellis came west from New England to begin Presbyterian churches. He soon became even more interested in establishing institutions of higher learning, and when Mr. Ellis and Thomas Lippincott came upon Jacksonville, they thought that the hilltop was perfect. Additionally, the surroundings were beautiful, and the settlers were eager to proceed. The construction of the first building for the college (1829) was actually started before there was a faculty, or a student enrolled! As luck would have it, some soon-to-be graduates of Yale read about the endeavor and saw it as the answer to their own indecision about where to begin their life work. These seven young men have become known as The Yale Band. They came, they stayed, and their lives have become intertwined with the early history of Illinois College and the town of Jacksonville.

The first college degrees conferred in Illinois were awarded at Illinois College. The first president of the college was Edward Beecher, brother of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriett Beecher Stowe.

At almost the same time that Rev. Ellis was establishing Presbyterian churches and colleges, a Methodist preacher was also traveling here and establishing Methodist churches. Peter Cartwright lived in Pleasant Plains, and he was known for his extemporaneous preaching and his ability to convert people through emotional revivals. Though less enthusiastic about higher education than Rev. Ellis, Cartwright was supportive of the Illinois Conference Female Academy, agreeing to be president of the Board of Trustees in 1846. This is now the co-ed college that is named MacMurray.

In 1843 Illinois College opened the first medical school in the state. Three major institutions were eventually founded. The first was the School for the Deaf, which had 13 pupils by 1846. The second, the Central Hospital for the Insane, was desperately needed, but the State was overextended financially, and the people of Jacksonville had little ready cash to undertake another school. It took the extra push from one of the interested citizens, J.O. King, who convinced Dorothea Dix (already famous for her work securing better living conditions for those with special needs) that an immediate visit to Illinois was imperative. After touring and working with the legislature, the Dix-Constable bill passed. In 1847 the State Legislature of Illinois authorized the forerunner of the present Jacksonville Developmental Center to be established in this city for the mentally ill. The first patients were admitted in 1852.

Before the Central Hospital for the Insane was a sure thing, progress was being made to acquire a school for the blind. Joseph Bacon, a blind teacher, was invited to open a private school for the blind. It opened with six students, and was supported by fees and private donations. This small, private beginning was all that was needed to convince the state legislature that Jacksonville should also secure the State School for the Blind, since the embryo for such a school was already in existence.

Professor Jonathan B. Turner settled in Jacksonville in 1833 and began campaigning for a public school system in Illinois, a goal which was realized in 1840. The first administrator of the system was Newton Bateman, a Jacksonville teacher, who later became president of Knox College.

Grace United Methodist Church on the southwest corner and Trinity Episcopal Church in the southeast portion
For many years this was a unique landmark.  The intersection of Church and State Streets boasted a church on each of its four corners.  Two remain today:  Grace United Methodist Church on the southwest corner and Trinity Episcopal Church in the southeast portion.  The landmark ceased to exist in 1966 when an arsonist set fire to the First Baptist Church on the northwest corner.  The building in the northeast section was home to the State Street Presbyterian church which was torn down in 1968.

Coming way out west to the wild prairie State meant leaving families, friends, and an old life behind. But settlers did not leave behind their conviction that God was going with them to lead and direct them to a better life. The religions which they brought with them were as diverse as the settlers themselves. The Baptist and Methodist traditions tended to come with the southerners, and the Presbyterian, Congregational, and Episcopal traditions tended to come with the northerners. These earliest churchgoers were soon joined by Lutheran and Catholic traditions.

Peter Cartwright and Peter Akers, renowned fire-brand circuit riders, organized the first Methodist station in Illinois here in Jacksonville in 1821. Our local Centenary Methodist Church traces its history to these beginnings. The Methodists began "classes" in 1822. The honor of being the first church in the area usually goes to the Diamond Grove Baptist Church in 1823. The Presbyterians organized in 1827, the Christian Church began in 1831, the first Episcopal church in the state organized as Trinity in 1832, the Congregationalists began in 1833, the Ebenezer Methodist Church and school began in 1835, and the Mt. Emory Baptist Church was established in 1837.

The fertile land, the booming railroads, and Jacksonville's central location made a successful partnership in the 1850's. Wheat, pork, and a highly profitable cattle trade, led by Jacob Strawn, filled the railcars heading out of town, and the profits they made filled the incoming railcars with the necessities and luxuries of life. Around these agricultural products grew related businesses. A slaughterhouse and a tannery were logical additions to the booming cattle industry. The Capps Woolen Mills made a sensible addition to the sheep industry. Specialty stores began replacing general stores, and cash began to replace bartering and buying on credit.

The above is a view down State Street in 1918 with all of the glorious elm trees lining the sides
The above is a view down State Street in 1918 with all of the glorious elm trees lining the sides.

A young dry goods clerk names John Lathrop made it a personal mission to plant the first trees in the center of town. Around 1840 he convinced a local farmer to let him transplant a few elm and hard maple trees from his property to the center of the city. Others first pooh-poohed the notion but the idea caught on and soon people were lining the streets of the city with trees, especially elms. The trees grew and matured, becoming a very attractive aspect of Jacksonville. In fact, so majestic the trees became that in the early 20th century, Jacksonville became known as "The Elm City".

A University of Illinois survey in 1956 counted 12,000 elms on Jacksonville streets. But by this time, age and weather were beginning to take their toll. A devastating outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease killed off most of the elms in town and in many respects left the landscape nearly as barren as Mr. Lathrop had found it more than a century earlier.

Water availability was a challenge if the town would attract new industry. A plan in 1868 to develop a waterworks system proved too expensive. Almost 100 years later, in 1955, water was still an issue and an expensive plan to bring water all the way from the Illinois River became a reality. The $2,300,000 project, built with no State or federal funds, guaranteed a water supply and attracted further industry such as A.C. Humko (previously Anderson Clayton).

dedication of the pipeline which brought Jacksonville's water supply from the Illinois River
Part of the enormous crowd which gathered in Central Park for the dedication of the pipeline which brought Jacksonville's water supply from the Illinois River.  The ceremonies inaugurating this system, the largest construction of its kind in the State of Illinois, were staged on August 26, 1955.

Medical care in the Old Northwest was inconsistent, while illness and need were consistent. Cholera, malaria, childbearing, and injuries were all nursed at home. Early death was not all that unusual. In Jacksonville, many owed their health and literally their lives to a determined midwife fondly called Mother Carson. She and her husband Thomas ran the first inn/tavern and Thomas acted as the first jailer. Her successful career included attending to over 3,000 births in Jacksonville and beyond.

In 1843, Illinois College opened the first medical school in the State. It attracted successful, learned physicians as teachers, such as Dr. David Prince of Quincy. Two reasons suggest why the medical school abruptly closed in 1848 when it seemed to be prospering. One reason is the perpetual lack of money to pay salaries at the college; the other is an apparent distrust in the community regarding the acquisition of cadavers for the anatomy labs. Stories of grave watchers assigned to guard recent burials imply the fear that the medical school did not get all their bodies from "abroad."

Yet quality medical care continued in Jacksonville for many years, in the form of small private hospitals. Two larger ones, Our Saviour and Passavant, merged into Passavant Hospital in 1968. Today, nursing is a course of study at MacMurray College.

Jacksonville was more than once referred to as "The Athens of the West" due to the large number of institutions of higher learning that were established here. It would be hard to live here and not be aware of the town's rich, successful history. Many famous Americans have been citizens of Jacksonville.

Stephen A. Douglas became prosecuting attorney for Morgan County here in Jacksonville in 1835.

Jacksonville was originally the terminating point for the Northern Cross Railroad, the first railroad built in Illinois. The first medical school in Illinois began at Illinois College in 1842.

Three Jacksonville men, Joseph Duncan, Richard Yates, Sr., and Richard Yates, Jr., have been governors of this State. Richard Yates, Sr., played a leading role in founding the Republican Party.

Dr. Greene Vardiman Black who practiced dentistry in Jacksonville, beginning in 1864, is widely known as "the Father of Modern Dentistry." His Jacksonville office has been reconstructed as an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

William Jennings Bryan, an Illinois College graduate, practiced law in Jacksonville from 1883 to 1887. Significant incidents in the careers of Abraham Lincoln and Daniel Webster have occurred in Jacksonville.

But a few less-than-successful moments passed also. For example, Jacksonville at one time hoped to be the Illinois State capital. At another time, Jacksonville was disappointed when Champaign was chosen to house the University of Illinois.

But through all its ups and downs, and the comings and goings of a growing citizenry, Jacksonville has reserved a quiet charm and graceful dignity.

The Eli Bridge Company Ferris Wheel factory
The Eli Bridge Company Ferris Wheel factory hums with activity.  This photo was taken in 1919 just after the firm moved from Roodhouse, Illinois and erected its facility here.

Many of Jacksonville's industries have stood the test of time and continue to provide employment and other major benefits for our town.

Jacksonville is also the host city for Eli Bridge Company, the world's oldest manufacturer of Ferris Wheels and other amusement rides. W.E. Sullivan founded the firm with the introduction of his first portable "Big Eli" Wheel on the Jacksonville Square on May 23, 1900.

EMI Manufacturing, formerly Capitol Records, also constructed a plant in this city in 1964. The local site has produced music industry merchandise ranging from Beatles albums to Garth Brooks CDs.

MII Fixtures - Lundia Division came to town in 1968 as Myers Industries and was later called Lundia-Myers. The facility employs between 100 and 125 people at present. The main products manufactured by the company include door fixtures, display fixtures, shelving materials and mobile file systems.

ACH Food Companies, Inc., started in Jacksonville as Mrs. Tucker's Foods in 1951 and was owned by Anderson, Clayton & Co. In later years the facility was owned by Quaker Oats and then the Kraft Corporation. Today it is owned by parent company Associated British Foods. ACH Food Companies, Inc., is a major manufacturer of margarine and shortening products and currently employs approximately 260 people.

The facility today owned by Pactive was originally a branch of Kordite Corporation and was built in Jacksonville in 1957. The Mobil Chemical Corporation purchased the business in 1962. In 1995 the facility became Tenneco Packaging and in 1999, Pactiv. Employing approximately 1,000 people, Pactive is a major United States manufacturer of Hefty products and ours is the main facility for production of Hefty® OneZip® food storage bags and and Hefty®CinchSak® garbage bags.

Jacksonville, Illinois, is a lovely community with a rich heritage and diverse culture.  Both urban and rural in nature, Jacksonville is an excellent place to visit, in which to work and to live and raise families.

he text for this retrospective was culled in part from :


MORGAN COUNTY FACES AND PLACES by Vernon R.Q. Fernandes and the writings of the late Bob Garner.

Many of the photographs were provided by  A PLACE IN TIME.

Jack Barwick, owner and local historian, and was provided by the Kiwanis Club of Jacksonville.