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.