HOW DECATUR CAME TO BE
Chose Site For Decatur With A View To The Future
Original Plat Had 45 Lots - Streets Were Planned Systematically
By E.T. Coleman
The carefully chosen site for the town of Decatur was on the line where woods and prairie met which explains the names of two of the streets. Wood street was in the woods and Prairie street was in the prairie. To the south the timber extended to the river and beyond and to the north stretched the "Savannah of the Sangamon" of which the poet William Cullen Bryant sang. It was not by chance or accident that this site was but after various sites had been "carefully and imparitally viewed and examined with regard to the convience likewise the advantages of the present and future population."
The immigrant moving in his prairie schooner pitched his camp at night at the edge of the timber, "a point of land." The timber furnished fuel for his fire, the prairie provided pasture for his animals. John Fleming, Jesse Rhoads and Easton Whitton selected the site of Decatur for these same reasons and others. Decatur was to be a permanent camp and would need material for its homes as well as fuel for many years and also drainage. The adjacent prairie would furnish a fine and necessary grazing ground for flocks and herds.
PAID $1.50 PER DAY
The legislative commissioners having fixed the site for the town of Decatur and made their formal report to the county commissioners' court, were done and they were paid at a rate determined by the statute of $1.50 a day, which was little enough for the services of good men. Easton Whitton received $1.50, which shows that he only served one day. John Fleming and Jesse Rhoads were paid $7.50 each or for five days service. There is nothing in the record to show that the legislative commission had anything to do with the platting of Decatur. Indeed, that was no part of the specific or implied duty of this body. The commission was merely required to locate a site of not less than twenty acres. It was up to the county to do the rest.
SITE OF 14 ACRES
The original town of Decatur as it was laid out did not include twenty acres. It was laid out in the form of a square of 936 feet on a side. Who fudged on the town and the statute to the extent of six acres we are unable to say. It is inconceivable that County Surveyor Benjamin R. Austin made a mistake of this kind of that he changed the statutory requirement as to the area on his own initiative. The county surveyor was working under the directions of the county commissiones court and it is conceivable that this court thought that twenty acres was more than Decatur could ever possibly need.
The legislative commission did not survey the site of Decatur or definitely fix its boundaries. It merely designated the section, the quarter section and the half of the quarter and stipulated that the southeast cerner should be where Wood and Water streets were made to intersect. This left the county a free hand in platting the town.
It is rather easy to see now that the county made a mistake in not taking all of the twenty acres required by the statute but we have reason to be glad that Decatur in the beginning was systematically planned and not permitted to just grow up. It was symmetrically laid out with wide streets and alleys and after the form of Shelbyville. It was not the fault of that first commissioners court of the first county surveyor that a later generation permitted one street in the original town of Decatur to be narrowed.
The town was platted with four full blocks and five fractional blocks and a total of forty-five lots. The streets were eighty feet wide and the alleys sixteen feet wide. The lots in the four full lots were eighty feet wide by 152 feet long. The fractional lots on the north were 153(?) feet on Prairie street by fifty-six feet on Water and Main. The fractional lots on the west had a frontage of eighty feet on Prairie steet and a depth of fifty-six feet. The fractional lot in Block 7 was fifty-six feet square. Then half of each lot cornering on the public square was dedicated to the, leaving a fractional lot in each block.
Every town must have a Main street and Decatur being born under particularly happy circumstances was given two Main streets or four as you choose to county them. This is slightly confusing to strangers but very satisfactory to us of Decatur.
WATER STREET SWAMPY
Water street was bordered by ponds and was almost a morass at times and the name was fitting. On Church street the first Decatur church was erected. The naming of that street was almost prophetic for it now has more churches than any other street in Decatur.
Merchant street was not on the original plat but was laid out many years later by Franklin Priest who owned much of the lots on the east side of North Main. He had made up his mind that the inside corners of the square were had for business. He offered to give the west half of those lots on the east line of the public square including Central block and Merchant street to the city but the city wouldn't have it.
The two alleys of the original town were named on the plat. The alley between Main and Water, now called Merchant street alley, was Jail alley. That between Main and Church street was Court alley. This is some reason to conclude that the location of the first courthouse and the first jail had been determined in advance of the platting of the town.
Originally published in the Decatur Review, on 13 December 1925
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