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Illiopolis Business Association 

Local History

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PRAIRIES      (Taken from the Centennial History of Illiopolis 1956)

To us, who only know the village as it is now, with its neat, attractive homes, shaded by tall trees, and the surrounding farms with their well cultivated fields, and modern improvements, it is difficult to picture the prairies as they were a hundred years ago.

The Grand Prairie, or Big Prairie, as it was called, has been described as a vast ocean of undulating grass, resin weed, wild flowers, and flowering shrubs, boundless in extent, and treeless, except for belts of timber along the streams.  This absence of trees is believed to have been due to the frequency of prairie fires during the dry seasons.  Travelers, passing through or prospecting for new home sites, were impressed by the grandeur of the scene and the strange silence, broken only by the buzzing of insects, the whir of prairie chickens, or the rustle of a breeze.  At night the low hills were lighted by lines of camp-fires, as families gathered for their evening meals, their horses and cattle tethered or let to browse on the grass or shrubs.  There were many low, swampy places where the sharp, tough grass and weeds grew taller than a man's head on horseback.  These were breeding places for malaria and ague, which the settlers tried to combat with quinine in the fall and sassafras tea in the spring.  Along the valleys where the grass grew tender, deer had their grazing spots.  There were prairie wolves, much like dogs, and rattle­snakes.

Throughout the years the decay of vegetation, as the grass died down each winter, had produced a rich loam, free from rocks or boulders, although the glacier sheet had in the past extended this far.  But the prairie sod, unlike the matted sod of the timber tracts, was tough and to bring it under cultivation with the rude mold-board plows, Axes, and hoes which had served well enough for the type of farming here fore done, seemed impossible to the early pioneers.  Thus the development of these prairies was delayed it was not until after the coming of the railroad that the land was developed to any great extent.

To encourage immigration, the government issued land grants, permitting the purchase of land at a price between one and two dollars an acre and made roads.  Gradually immigrants came from New York or Pennsylvania or from the southern states of Virginia and Kentucky to establish homesteads.

Among these early farmers was Aaron C. Ford.  He arrived in Illinois in 1944, making the journey on a pony, which he later sold to buy winter clothing.  By working as a farm hand during the summer months he acquired a grade school education.  In 1850 he purchased land north­east of Illiopolis and was the first to plow the prairie.  He married Miss Rebecca J. Averett.  Aaron Ford's father, Boze Ford, settled here in 1852.

John Leonard came from Virginia at the age of twenty-four and bought 160 acres in the township in 1853.  He built a small two-room house, which he described in later years as having grown upwards, downwards, and sidewise, He continued to add to his original tract and engaged in extensive stock rising.

Isaac Loose Sr. emigrated from Pennsylvania in 1857 and brought his family three years later.  When he arrived there was but one house in Illiopolis, and it unfinished; finding no place to tie his horse, he drove the first hitching post.  He extended his land ownership to include many acres of well-cultivated farms.

William P. Roberts, who married Miss Nancy E. Boyd, built his home and began farming on section 5 in Illiopolis Township in 1858.  He was born in Brown County.  He earned his start by farm labor, then, having acquired a breaking team, broke prairie for six years.  Before his mar­riage he had purchased his first 160 acres of land on which be built a good home.  He more than doubled the extent of his land and raised hogs and cattle.

 David Simpson Correll was born in Mechanicsburg Township in 1835 and was reared on the home farm there.  He first engaged in farming in Macon County with his brother, Fletcher, and then purchased the William Crane farm of 240 acres near Illiopolis.  In 1874 he married Miss Sarah Peden and in 1878 retired to Illiopolis.

 Martin E. Baker was born in Kentucky in 1820.  He married Mary C. S. Williams, a native of Maryland.  They had eight children and their spacious home four miles Southwest of Illiopolis has long been a well-known landmark.

Henry Wilcox immigrated to Illinois from New York and settled in Sangamon County in 1857.  His wife was Miss Artemissee Luce and they were the parents of ten children.

 James D. Foster, born in Pennsylvania, arrived in the township in 1863, having first farmed for nine years in Mechanicsburg.  As the owner of 440 acres of land he was a very successful farmer.

John S. Clinkenbeard purchased land southwest of Illiopolis in 1867.  His son, I. C. Clinkenbeard, for years, operated a burr-mill on this land and found a ready market for his fresh ground, bolted corn meat and graham flour.

In many cases the descendants of these first settlers have developed this rich farmland, which is now one of the more productive sections in the state.  Could any one of these pioneers have accompanied our photographer on his flight and viewed this scene below he would have felt richly rewarded for the hardships and discouragements he endured and overcome.

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