McLean County, Illinois
The accumulation of valuable material for this work has already been so large that only a brief historical mention of the county can be given, or can be expected. McLean County is situated very near the geographical center of the State of Illinois, and in area is the largest county in the state, comprising 1,154 square miles. It ranks third in population, having about 65,000 inhabitants, and is only excelled by Cook and La Salle Counties. In material development and production of soil, it unquestionably stands first. Its American settlers are principally from Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Kentucky, the Ohioans outnumbering those from any one of the other States. The bulk of the foreign population, which is not large, is made up about equally of Germans and Irish, while there are some from England, Scotland, and France.
If space would permit we should like to go back and dwell at length on the Aboriginal occupation, the French possession, the British conquest in 1703, and to the time when Gen. George Rogers Clark, representing and under the authority of the then great commonwealth of Virginia, came out and captured this entire region from the British. It would be pleasant to trace the history of this country through the various changes, as it was known after the last conquest under the name of the Illinois County, and later on when it was called the Northwestern Territory, and afterward as. the Territory of Indiana, and follow it along from 1809, when it became the Territory of Illinois, and in 1818, when it became one of the bright stars in the American Republic. During all these varied changes, and under all these governmental authorities, the territory now embraced by McLean County took its part, and was an important factor. It was not, however, until 1822, that this particular portion of the State of Illinois was actually settled by the white man. It is not to be supposed that this was the first visitation of the white man, for undoubtedly events occurred here in which the white man took part' long before this period. It is believed that the French and Indians had many camp-fires together, in the beautiful groves that abound in this county, when on their way from Lake Michigan to Cahokia and Kaskaskia; and the early Indian traders and hunters had their stations about here, for the early settlers frequently found clearings in the woods. It was in this region also, that Gen. Hopkins' army became involved in its expedition against the Indians of the Illinois and Wabash Rivers, many of whom had participated in the Chicago massacre.
John Hendrix and family were the first settlers in the territory now embraced by the county, they locating at what is known as Blooming Grove in the spring of 1822. Hendrix was soon joined by John W. Dawson and family. Blooming Grove seemed to be an attractive spot to the earliest settlers, for they all located about it. The spring of 1823 found the Orendorff families, William and Thomas, John Benson and W. H. Hodge in neighborly proximity to the settlers of 1822. This year Gardner Randolph settled at what was subsequently known as Randolph's Grove. In the spring of 1824, Absalom and Isaac Funk and William Brock made a settlement at what is now called Funk's Grove. They were soon joined by others, among whom were the Stubblefield family. So rich and fair a region of country lying in the wake of emigration, when once known and opened to settlement could not otherwise than be rapidly populated.
The territory now known as McLean has been under the jurisdiction of different counties. The year previous to the State's admission into the Union, it was under the control of Crawford County. In 1819, after the admission, Clark County had jurisdiction. The first settlers, however, owed their allegiance to Fayette County, which was organized in 1821, and extended northward as far as the Illinois River. It was subsequently attached to Tazewell County, and was under its jurisdiction when the county of McLean was organized by an act of the Legislature, approved Dec. 22, 1830. It was named in honor of John McLean, twice elected United States Senator from Illinois.
When the settlers first came in the Indians were quite numerous, mostly belonging to the Kickapoos, Delawares and Pottawatomies, the Kickapoos having the largest number. Most of these left before the end of the year 1829, though at the breaking out of the Black Hawk War in 1832, there was a sufficient number of Indians in this section to cause considerable uneasiness among the people.
The early settlers of McLean County found plenty of wild game here, such as deer, turkeys, wolves, and the smaller birds. They were generally good hunters, and their guns supplied for their families what the markets of the present day furnish. The pelts of the wild animals were to the pioneers an important article of commerce, as they furnished the means, in absence of ready cash, of supplying the wants of domestic life. Beeswax and honey were also a valuable commodity in those early days.
They did not have to contend in this section of the country, as they did elsewhere, with hostile Indians, but they had foes almost as dreaded in malarial diseases, and prairie fires. One carried off hundreds of persons, while the other destroyed crops and homes. But as improvements multiplied and the laud became cultivated and drained, these enemies to the people disappeared. It was not many years before the pioneers found themselves in the midst of a populous and cultivated community. Schools and churches had been established, cities founded, railroads constructed, and civilization and culture, with all their attractive features, possessed the land.
In many respects McLean is one of the finest and foremost counties in the State. It is free from the severities of winter which afflict the more northern counties, and free from the oppressive heat that is experienced in the southern ones. About one-ninth of the surface is covered with groves, which afford shade and add beauty to the landscape. Like all portions of the Mississippi Valley, the surface inclination is toward the southwest. It is moderately rolling, free from extreme flatness as well as from abrupt changes, which makes it exceedingly easy of tillage. Its summit elevation is about 220 feet above Lake Michigan, and about 795 feet above the ocean. The country is well supplied with running water by the incipient streams that contribute to the formation of the Sangamon, Vermilion, Mackinaw and Kickapoo Rivers and Sugar Creek. Good water is found in all parts of the county at reasonable depths, and in the northern part are many fine springs. Extensive coal beds underlie the surface formation, from which a good article of marketable coal is obtained. The soil is unsurpassed in its fertility, and is adapted to the raising of all kinds of cereals, yet more attention is given to stock-raising, the value of which exceeds that of any county west of the Alleghenies.
The educational facilities of McLean are unexcelled by any county in the State. In addition to her public schools, which are superior, she has two distinguished institutions of learning, the reputation of which has extended far and wide. These are the Illinois Wesleyan University located at Bloomington, and the State Normal University [now Illinois State University]. Another institution located at Normal is the Soldiers' Orphans' Home. The buildings of these institutions are ornamental in their architecture, and are commodious and substantial.
The Indians and the wilderness have passed away, living now only in history, or in the memories of the pioneers who yet remain. In their stead are well cultivated farms and fine cities, peopled with an intelligent population, and surrounded by the arts and refinements of an advanced civilization. Those by whose wisdom and industry this change has been produced, can contemplate with commendable pride, the grand transformation. Taking a retrospective view of the past, and contemplating the present, the contrast of the two periods comes vividly upon the mind. Before them to-day, resting in quiet grandeur, is a fair civilization, with happy homes basking beneath the sunlight of culture and domestic peace ; before them to-day is a complete social and political society, standing out in bold relief, radiant with the bright light of Christianity, fostered by American institutions and shining resplendent with American freedom.
Source: "Portrait and biographical album of McLean County, Ill. : containing full page portraits and biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county, together with portraits and biographies of all the governors of Illinois, and of the presidents of the United States. " (Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1887), 185-187. Transcribed by Judy Rosella Edwards.
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