The History of McLean County Illinois remains one of the more respected manuscripts published on Illinois. This is a incomplete online rendition of that work.
In many respects, McLean County is one of the finest in the State, and, in some particulars, it has no rival. We will here notice several of the causes that have produced this result.
It is now the largest county in the State, and there are but few acres of waste land in its whole surface. Being situated in the central portion of the State, it is free from the severities of winter which visit some of the northern counties, and equally free from the summer heats experienced in some of the southern ones, as well as from the malarial influences of the rivers in the western, southern and southeastern portion of it.
About one-ninth of its surface is covered with groves, most happily located in the southern, western and central portion, protecting its prairies from the rough visitations of violent winds, and furnishing grateful shade and shelter to stock in the changing seasons. In these groves may be found some of the finest timber-lands in the country, producing white oak, red oak, maple, hickory, black walnut, white ash, black ash, elm, butternut, buckeye, sassafras, and a variety of smaller growths common in the country.
In common with this portion of the Mississippi Valley, the surface inclination and the drainage of this county are toward the southwest. It is moderately rolling, comparing favorably with its adjoining counties, being free from extreme flatness, and from abrupt changes. Its summit elevation is about 220 feet above Lake Michigan, 545 feet above the water at the junction of the Ohio and the Mississippi at Cairo, and 795 above the ocean. That it is more elevated than the surrounding country is evident from the fact that it is well supplied with running water by the incipient streams that contribute to the formation of the Vermilion, Sugar Creek, the Mackinaw, the Kickapoo and the Sangamon River, running south, southwest, west, northwest and northeast. Good water is found in all parts of the county by digging, and in the northeastern portion there are many natural springs of excellent water. Such are the physical features of its surface, and the happy location of its large and small groves that, in the leafy season of the year, it presents many scenes of quiet and picturesque beauty which are scarcely surpassed in any country.
While the most of its surface is available as arable land, much of it is, happily, adapted to stock-raising, and is largely devoted to that business. Belleflower, in the southeastern corner of the county, is probably the finest township of land in the State; and, perhaps, the finest in any State. Much of its natural turf has been broken with a team of two horses, while in other portions of the county a team of four and even of six oxen has been required for the purpose. Its deep, rich soil is mixed with black sand, rendering it sensitive to the influences of the sun, very easy of cultivation, and largely productive, .such of that portion of it that was sold as swamp lands at prices varying from $4.50 to $5.50 per acre, on being properly drained, proves to be the most valuable in the country, as at some feet below the rich surface there is a substratum of pebbles, which retains moisture in dry seasons, and receives the excess of water in wet seasons.
This county may also challenge comparison with any one in the State as to the character of its inhabitants for energy, enterprise, public spirit, industry and liberality, especially of its early settlers. These qualities have chiefly contributed to place the county in its present highly prosperous and influential position. It has furnished many members of the State Legislature, Circuit Judges, Representatives to Congress, a State Superintendent of Instruction, a State Treasurer, a Territorial Governor, a Lieutenant Governor, a Judge of the Supreme Court of the State, and a Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, as Well as several Generals, and numerous other officers of distinction; but what is vastly better, it has furnished many thousands of excellent citizens, male and female, in all the walks of life.
This is not the appropriate place for a discussion of various theories on the origin of the prairies, yet a brief reference to the subject may not be improper to show why this section of the country is now, and will permanently remain, among the most desirable and important in the whole Union.
“One theory is that the soil resulted from the decomposition of vegetable matter under water, and that the attending conditions were incompatible with the growth of timber.” Another theory is that the prairies are the results of the scarcity of moisture in the atmosphere of the interior of continents. It is well known that the quantity of water which annually falls in this country diminishes as the center of the continent is approached from the Atlantic and the Pacific, and that the amount of timber-lands diminishes in about the same ratio, resulting in a wide central waste. But be this as it may, the fact remains the same, that we are here located in the midst of happy surroundings, made up of lovely vales, gentle slopes, wide fields^and grateful forest groves.
It is well known that the pioneers of Illinois suffered much less in opening up its soil than did those of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, from malarious diseases. This is undoubtedly owing to the sparseness of forests and large groves. The changeableness of our climate, and the great difference of temperature between our winters and our summers, have been made the grounds of objection to this section of the country. But these very extremes contribute very largely to the productiveness of the country. Our rich, deep, heavy soil is mellowed up by the frosts of winter, and so quickened by the heats of summer as to produce a greater variety and richness of vegetable productions than any other country within the same extent of surface. This result is greatly attributable to the effects of the very cold north winds from the regions of the great lakes, and the hot winds coming up the Mississippi Valley, about which some are disposed to complain.
Tradition says that our great staple production, Indian corn, was brought from the South, where it originally grew very tall and slim, but produced very little grain. But its excessive growth of stalk was checked by our cool climate, and yet its grain brought to perfection by our short hot summers, and the productiveness greatly increased. Owing to the same influences, we can successfully produce here the hardy vegetables of a northern climate, and many of the delicious productions of a semi-tropical one Being thus located in the very center of the corn-producing region, as surely as effects follow causes, we are in the midst of animal development—having near us the greatest grain, beef and pork market in the world. This fortunate state of things is simply the result of natural and permanent causes. One of our geologists says, in speaking of our soil: “This splendid soil-forming deposit is destined to make Illinois the great center of American wealth and population. Perhaps no other country of the same extent on the face of the globe can boast a soil so ubiquitous in its distribution, and so universally productive. Enriched by all the minerals in the crust of the earth, it necessarily contains a great variety of constituents. Since plants differ so widely in the elements of which they are composed, this multiplicity of composition is the means of growing a great diversity of crops, and the amount produced is correspondingly large.”
This paragraph, in a few words, states with much felicity the character of our soil, and suggests possible improvements in the direction of the introduction of new and valuable vegetables and fruits, of which we at present have no adequate idea. The soil is here, and the climate is here, and the necessary science and skill will develop this section of the West into the richest agricultural country in the world. Other countries have their specialties; but here we can have in great perfection and in wonderful profusion all the essentials and many of the luxuries of life.
When to these facts and considerations we add that this county is in the midst of the most magnificent coal-measures known to the world—extending over no less than thirty-seven thousand square miles—sufficient to supply fuel for economical and manufacturing purposes for all time to come; that our railroad connections are excellent; that our educational facilities, our social, moral and religious privileges are inferior to none in the country, we may well be proud of old McLean.
Not much needs here to be said of the geology of this county. Its features, in this respect, are so similar to those of much of the surrounding country, and now so well known to the general reader, that we shall notice only a very few of them.
Speaking in reference to this county, the State Geologist says: “The soil is generally a rich, brown mold, varying somewhat, in different localities, in the proportion of clay, etc., which it contains, some portions being more argillaceous than others. In the timber, however, the soil is of somewhat different character; the lighter colored and more argillaceous subsoil, appearing at or near the surface. The geological formations appearing at the surface, consist almost entirely of the Drift and later formations. The underlying rock, as far as can be ascertained, consists entirely of the different beds of the coal-measure series.
The two shafts at Bloomington afford us the most satisfactory section of any of the excavations in the district, enabling us to identify the two seams of coal which they penetrate, with Nos. 4 and 6 of the general Illinois River section. The following section, made up from records afforded by both shafts, illustrates well the variation of the strata of the middle coal-measures in this region. This section commences at the base of the Drift, and its upper portion, from 1 to 4 inclusive, was afforded by the Bloomington Coal Company’s shaft, and the remainder by that of the McLean County CoalMining Company, which has struck a lower coal at the depth of 513 feet 8 inches below the surface.
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