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Livingston County, Illinois
Genealogy and History


The geological formations are not unlike those common to the Grand Prairie district, with the important diiference that, in this county, coal and stone are found in abundance.

For some years after the first settlement, and during the second epoch, the people lived in ignorance of the vast coal fields of the county. All residents then lived in or upon the skirts of the timber, and no fuel was needed, other than the forest supplied. It is true that the outcroppings of coal along the banks of the river, in the northwestern part of the county, were discovered and commented upon ; but the pioneer had no means of utilizing it, and considered it of no value.

About the year 1860, Henry L. Marsh, who owned a large tract of land near Fairbury, had his attention called to the fact that the rapidly increasing population must necessarily require a more abundant supply and a cheaper fuel. There was not timber enough in the county to supply it for ten years, at the rate it was being consumed ; and, from his knowledge of coal formation. Marsh believed that it could here be obtained, by going to a sufficient depth.

At that day, coal mining, by deep, perpendicular shafts, was unknown in this bituminous district. La Salle, Peoria and Morris were sending out the few tons they were called upon to supply, and Coalville supplied a meager local trade.

The Wilmington coal fields were not yet discovered, and Streator, which now, from its various shafts, sends up its thousands of tons per day, was unknown to the worthy man whose name it bears ; and for a decade after Marsh's pioneer labors, the place was known only by the name of " Hardscrabble."

To a man of less force, will-power and energy than Marsh, the idea of mining coal on the open prairie of Livingston County would have remained an idea, or it might have grown into a desire ; but he was made of the right material to push a gigantic enterprise to completion. He at once set about an investigation of the facts in the case, and, under his investigation, the possibilities steadily grew into a reality. The story of his struggles with adverse fortune, his heavy losses, his trials and failures, and his final success, would make an interesting and instructive chapter of history.

Water, at various depths, so flooded his work and damaged it in various ways, that his friends and backers deemed the scheme impracticable ; but he was not discouraged, and, in the last extremity, he completed an invention of his own, by which the difficulty was overcome. At a depth of 180 feet, he struck a paying vein of excellent coal. The success attending Marsh's efforts incited others to like enterprises, and, in 1865, a shaft was sunk at Pontiac, another shaft at Fairbury in 1808, one near Streator in 1872, one at Cornell in 1875, and one at Cayuga in 1878. Cayuga, which is distant five miles from the river, is, thus far, the farthest point from the Vermilion at which a paying vein of coal has been reached in the county.

The efforts to find coal at Odell and Dwight have thus far proved failures. The mining at Coalville is carried on by horizontal entries, and is not so expensive to the operators. The capital invested in coal mining in Livingston will not fall short of a quarter of a million dollars, and, thus far, the enterprise has proved far more profitable to purchasers than to the proprietors of the mines. Ledges of limestone, suitable for building purposes, are found along the banks of the Vermilion ; and at Pontiac and in the vicinity, inexhaustible quarries of calcareo-silicious stone are found. In sinking the coal shafts at Fairbury, a fine dark sandstone of peculiar color and quality was discovered. This stone is easily dressed, and is a superior stone for building purposes.

[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


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