Adlai Stevenson became the thirty-third governor of Illinois by a landslide, and served one term from 1948-1952. His mission was to clean up corrupt politics and remove political bosses, reform education, and eliminate illegal gambling in Illinois. Stevenson had not directly made the promise, but the persistence and the power of the press forced Stevenson to “take up arms” against gambling throughout the state.
First County Seat of Logan County
Postville, an Illinois frontier settlement, was founded in 1835 by Russell Post. In 1839, the Illinois General Assembly chartered a new county from territory undergoing settlement, and named the new county Logan. The first county commissioners chose Postville, located close to the center of the new county, as the county seat.
Hidden in plain sight, almost dead center in the Central Illinois plains, Elkhart sits quietly in the southwestern corner of Logan County and awaits the coming of spring and the town’s historic Wild Weekends-Wildflower and Bird Walks. This wonderful natural event is held annually every weekend in April in a beautiful private reserve on Elkhart Hill, the tallest natural geologic formation between Chicago and St. Louis, rising nearly 800 feet above sea level. The hill encompasses almost 700 acres.
The Elkhart Historical Society was co-founded in 1988 by Gillette Ransom, who has coordinated and hosted the wildflower and bird walks on her farm every year since. Best known for its Virginia bluebells, Elkhart Hill comes alive with the colors of small flowers every year after the last snow. March wildflowers are usually in full swing for the first April walk, and throughout the next four weeks you get the chance to watch the coming of new blossoms, such as:
Common Phlox—Phlox divaricata
Dwarf Larkspur—Delphinium tricorne
Great Waterleaf—Hydrophyllum appendiculatum
Green Dragon—Arisaema dracontium
Showy Orchis—Galearis spectabilis
Wild Geranium—Geranium maculatum
Wild Ginger—Asarum canadense
Yellow Bellywort—Uvularia grandiflora
Though many wildflowers tend to taper off when the trees of the woodlands leaf and shade the ground, just as many wildflowers have adapted to low light and continue to flourish. Nearly every week of spring and summer you can see new species of wildflowers pop from the ground, dominated by bluebells that cover the hill in a spring blanket of purple.
The Gillette Farm is the location of the first cabin built in Logan County, by James Latham and his son Richard. In 1818, the same year Illinois became a state, Latham plowed 30 acres of woodland to create farmland that has been cultivated every year for more than two centuries. The hill was formed as a sand and gravel deposit during the Illinoian Glacial Period. Because of its particular geologic formation and the existence of unlogged, old-growth forest, the farm and Elkhart Hill are home to wildflower species you won't see anywhere else.
Contact the Logan County Tourism Bureau for dates and times of other wildflower and bird walk events in Logan County.
The history of Logan County begins long before its establishment, when the Peoria, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, and other Indigenous people of what is now central Illinois built their lives around the natural abundance of the prairies and woodlands.
Corn, corn, and even more corn, as far as the eye can see. In 2022, 10.8 million acres of land in the state of Illinois was planted with corn. Iowa was the only state in the Corn Belt with more acres of corn than the Prairie State.
Logan became a county in 1839, nine years after all the Native American land titles in Illinois were extinguished. The state was well-timbered along creeks and around the lakes, and for years the incoming settlers did not believe prairie land could ever be adequate for farming. Timber provided shade during the summer and offered refuge for livestock.
Over time, however, infrastructure development, new arrivals, and new technology turned places in Logan and other counties of the central Illinois prairie into major nodes of a robust agricultural economy that continues today.
Before the arrival of white settlers, the Peoria and other Indigenous nations living in what would become Logan County cultivated maize and squash in the fertile soil of local riverbeds.
James Latham, reputed to be the first white settler in what would become Logan County, arrived from Kentucky in 1819 and is said to have initiated efforts to cultivate land in northern Illinois. He planted 30 acres of corn, and demonstrated that crops would grow better on prairie land than on land cleared of timber. Throughout the next century, farming would take hold to feed settlers headed west and those who came to settle in Illinois.
Still, agriculture faced several hurdles before it could become a lucrative endeavor. Transportation through the prairies was nonexistent, and early white residents had to rely on rivers for transportation and communication. But the interior lands of Illinois were far from the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Logan County had no navigable water. Four major roads were established in 1827, providing access to markets and spurring some agricultural development.
However, two disastrous snowy weather events—one in 1830 and the other in 1836—decimated the harvests in those two years. Many newly arrived settlers froze to death. Those migrating west persevered, however, though still without much success. Most of the new settlers to Illinois were merchants, factory workers, and clerks who were unfamiliar with the prairie climate, and they succumbed to fever and disease.
Land speculators continued efforts to develop the central prairie lands of Illinois, and in 1835, Russell Post, one of those speculators, established Postville as a stagecoach way station between St. Louis and Chicago. Mount Pulaski became the second township established in Logan County, July 5, 1836.
New Arrivals and Innovation
Irish immigrant William Scully arrived shortly after the establishment of Logan County. He originally planned to raise sheep, but found the land was not conducive to that vision, and returned to Ireland to recoup his losses, then attended college in England to study agriculture.
He returned to Logan County in 1850 and used his inheritance and a loan from his brother to purchase federal land for $1.25 an acre. He rented the land in one-year leases, a practice that continues today. Some time around 1970, Scully became the first in Logan County to dig a drainage ditch system, which allowed the tenant farmers on Sculy’s fields to begin planting two weeks earlier than other farmers. By 1888, Scully owned more than 30,000 acres of fertile Logan County land. He became one of the largest landowners in the American Midwest. Thomas Scully inherited the land and maintained the drainage system after the death of his father in 1906.
To look up and see the sky filled with 36 hot air balloons is like watching a bouquet of gigantic flowers float their way toward the sun. Such a sight mesmerizes the imagination, catches your breath and accelerates your heart rate, and is just darn good fun. Adults and children alike sense the freedom of being aloft in the sky, in a balloon—the most simple form of aeronautics, with an aura of magic.
Blazing the Trail
The American dream of transcontinental transportation did not end when the “Golden Spike” was driven into the ground on May 10, 1869. That may have marked the completion of the first coast-to-coast railroad, but nearly 50 years later, technology would soon offer a different way to convey oneself across the country: the automobile.
On July 16, 1853, a month before a lawyer named Abraham Lincoln would christen a Logan County town named after him, construction began on the Rock Island Bridge between Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa. The bridge would be the first railroad span across the Mississippi, uniting the East Coast with the Western territories.
The first train in Illinois was a little bitty thing named the Rogers—a wood-burning, 4-2-0 locomotive. On November 9, 1838, this engine made its first run from the small burg of Meredosia to where the track ended abruptly, eight miles to the east, just outside of Chapin. The Rogers was the first train operated by the state-run Northern Cross Railroad, the first of what became a growing network of railways across Illinois from 1833 to 1873. The Rogers—a little engine that could—began to deteriorate and made its last run in 1847. The Northern Cross line was shut down and auctioned off by the State of Illinois for $21,000, and was merged into the Wabash Railroad system.
Prior to 1848, Illinois had relatively few miles of track, but from 1850 to 1860, twelve private railroads had laid their rails from one end of Illinois to the other, in all four directions. The development of these railroads was crucial to the establishment of Logan County towns and the livelihood of those who called them home.
Railroads Across Logan County
The Chicago and Alton Railroad was the first in Logan County in 1853. With the arrival of the railroad Alton, Logan County farmers now had an efficient means to ship farm products across central Illinois and as far as Chicago. The Chicago and Alton remained in operation for nearly 100 years until it was absorbed in 1972 by the GM&O. That line merged with the Illinois Central (IC) in 1972.
The next railroad to arrive in Logan County was the Illinois Central, which reached the town of Lincoln in 1871. The Illinois Central was the first U.S. railroad to receive federal land grant financing from the Land Grant Act of 1850, and when its initial route was completed in 1856, it was the longest railroad in the world. The IC acquired more land throughout the 1870s and 1880s, and its size and geographical reach to the Gulf Coast made it the most significant railroad in the state. It not only opened additional markets for Logan County farms but also was crucial to the development of Chicago and its eventual role as the railroad capital of the country.
The third railroad in Lincoln, which made its first run through Logan County in 1896, was the interurban Illinois Terminal Company. The company provided major freight and passenger transportation throughout central and southern Illinois. The system became essential to linking the manufacturing and industrial development of the Alton area with financial interests in Chicago.
Decline & Legacy
During the decade of the Great Depression, 1929—1939, many railroads became insolvent and were shut down. Others were bought by larger railroad companies, but in time those also began to decline because of competition from the automobile. Nothing reflects this shift in travel preferences better than the creation of Highway 66 along previously popular rail routes.
Today, more local produce is shipped by truck than rail, but the railroads that chug across Logan County are still vital to moving freight across the country. The occasional train horn is a reminder of the infrastructure that played an essential role in putting Logan County on the map.
Want more information on central Illinois railroads, or where you can see railroad artifacts in central Illinois? Contact the Logan County Tourism Bureau to learn more!