History of Arthur, IL
Arthur's evolution from a mosquito infested swamp to the town now existing begins...
In 1850, the Illinois Central railroad pushed two lines south from Chicago across the prairies of Central Illinois. One line ran through Decatur and to Centralia, the other through Champaign, Arcola, Mattoon and Effingham. Soon, all along both of these lines people settled and towns sprang up every few miles at water and coal stops every three to five miles apart. The one most influencing our history was called Okaw and later changed to Arcola.
It was from Arcola that settlers filtered west into the swampy country on each side of the Okaw (Kaskaskia) River. In 1850, Malden Jones and a few others settled on some higher ground about s-7 miles northwest of Arcola, and in that year they received a post office permit for their town of Bourbon. Others went directly west of Arcola, crossed the river and, on a high bank started their town called Bagdad. A bit farther south more soon had a town called Cooks Mill. But other than along the rivers, the big slough prevailed.
In 1870, the country was excited about a railroad going to cross the Big Slough from east to west starting in Paris, through Arcola, and into Decatur. Two years later, on October 25, 1872 the first train wound its way over track laid following the contour of the land to keep it out of the water. As the track crossed the river 4 miles west of Arcola, it made its first switch and water tank at what is now Chesterville. Then going westward another five miles it became necessary for another passing switch and tank, so one was made near a road that crossed at right angles to the route. This road at the time started nowhere, and ended nowhere, but was said to be the county line.
This passing track was first called Glasgow, but when applying for a post office a short time later, it was found out that there already was a Glascow, Illinois. The name was changed to Arthur after a brother of Robert G. Hervey, the railroad president.
Now with a railroad and a street, and a switch, the town could begin. In the summer of 1872, J.W. Sears, living in Owasco, an inland town two miles south and four miles west of Arthur, decide to move up on the new railroad and build a two story home. He then built a small store that fall after building his home. W.H. Ward of Arcola brought a stock of goods over and put a man by the name of J.W. Barrum in charge. Another house was built that winter by Scott Warren. The first child, Olive Sears, was born in Arthur on Feb 16, 1873. In the Spring another large two story house was built facing the railroad (north), as was the practice of the day. By the end of 1873, there were thirty buildings in Arthur. Later on , when the "county line road" proved accurate, the towns main street switched to the north-south.
Arthur continued to grow and by 1877 the population was approximately 300 persons, with plans being made to incorporate as a village. This occurred in April in the County Court House in Moultrie County.
The first village election was held on June 12, 1877 and C.G. McComb, Matt Hunsaker, W.H. Reeder, H.C. Jones, J.W. Sears, and Nick Thompson were elected trustees, and J.W. Barrum, clerk.
The origional town was laid out on the farms of M.H. Warren on the Moultrie side, and the Pendleton Murphy farm on the Douglas County side. Early additions to the town included those by Murphy, Reeves, Hunsaker, Gibson, Warren, Reeder, followed by Kensington, Campbell and Boyd, Bennet and Fitzjarrald, and more.
Dredging the swampy country west of the Kaskaskia river exposed the rich black farmland that attracted more settlers, and which continues to make this part of Illinois one of the most productive farming areas in the world. Prior to dredging, the area was mostly uninhabitable due to wet swampy conditions that prevailed much of the year over much of the area. Mosquitoes and other pests made frontier swamp life miserable. Dredge boats were constructed on the Kaskaskia river and cut their way westward following the lay of the land. These large boats carried steam shovels on the front, and housing for the workers on the rear. As they cut away from the river the black prairie earth was exposed. And the settlers followed.
Photo Credits: Arthur History Photos from the Illinois State Archives Collection (http://www.idaillinois.org) and the Arthur Public Library To view the complete photo collection please visit: http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm4/browse.php?CISOROOT=%2Fapl&CISOSTART=1,1