From Horses to Horseless


Includes excerpts from, "Personal Recollections of Early Decatur, Abraham Lincoln, Richard J. Oglesby and the Civil War", by Jane Martin Johns, published in 1912.

In 1836, the Tenth general assembly of Illinois was convened in Vandalia. The legislature was, probably, in its personnel, the most remarkable body of law-makers ever assembled in this or, perhaps, any other state. Among its members was a future president of the United States (Lincoln); a defeated candidate for the same high office (Douglas); six future United States senators (Ewing, Edward, Sheilds, Breese, Browning and Douglas); eight men who represented at various times the state of Illinois in the national house of representatives; three who were afterwards judges of the state supreme court; one who was member of the cabinet of President Johnson (Browning); seven future state officers, and two generals of the Union army.

John Logan, father of General John A. Logan, and Richard Cullom, father of Senator Shelby M. Cullom, were also members of this remarkable body. Nine men who represented Sangamon county, and who, with Abraham Lincoln, as their chairman, engineered the removal of the state capital from Vandalis to Springfield, were as remarkable for their stature as for their mental ability. Their combined height was fifty-four feet, an average of six feet each. For this reason they were then and have ever since been spoken of as the "long nine." This nine held the balance of power in the assembly and virtually dictated all legislation by voting solidly for or against any measure, as the vote could be used to influence the selection of Springfield as the future capital of Illinois.

Mr. William T. Elkin, father of Mrs. E.A. Jones and the grandfather of Mrs. Theron Powers, was one of this famous nine, and was ever after one of Mr. Lincoln's most trusted friends.

This legistlature was not only distinguished by the remarkable personality of its members but was even more conspicuous because of the importance of its legislation. The capital of the state was removed from Vandalia to Springfield, and an internal improvement bill was passed which appropriated $10,600,000 for the building of seven, state-wide railroads, to be financed, built, owned and operated by the state, the theory on which they were to be built being that these great highways of commerce could be legislated into existence, with the credit of the state as their only capital.

A fund commission was appointed, clothed with power to negotiate loans, and honor of the state was pledged for their payment. Money was borrowed at ruinous rates, and the survery of routes for the various railroads was begun.

"An unprecedented era of speculation followed which developed into a mania. Reason was dethroned and the folly of inflation held high carnival. Towns sprung up in a night and cities in a day, on paper, each of which was destined to become the metropolis of a dense population." The establishment of the capital at Springfield and the converging of the proposed railroads in the vicinity made central Illinois a prominent factor in this scheme of improvement.

Decatur was then, as now, in the estimation of those most interested, the center from which was to radiate the entire system of transportation which would make Illinois the granary of the world. Preliminary surveys were made for at least three railroads through Decatur. Owners of real estate in the vicinity exploited and laid out additions and built hotels, each of which was expected to be the center of rival interests.

Captain David Allen was one of the first men to take advantage of the expected greatness of the new railroad center. He owned land adjoining the original town, and with wisdom and foresight, rather unusual in those days, donated to the city a piece of land which is now Central Park, and platted the remainder of this land north and east of the proposed park. His brother-in-law, Dr. Thomas H. Read, became his partner in this venture and either they, or the parties to whom they sold lots, imported brick and built a hotel, which was called the Macon House (afterwards the Revere) and a row of houses facing the park, fronting on Franklin street. The houses were built for business purposes with residences on the second floor. Mr. J.J. Peddecord's house, just north of the Macon House, was for many years the finest house in the city.

Decatur's first boom was suddenly brought to an end by the suspension of specie payments by the banks throughout the United States. There was pandemonium in the money market; yet the infatuation of the speculators was so great that the legislature, at a called session, refused to repeal the internal improvement act, and the fund commission under the law continued borrowing money and selling bonds at runious rates, until the debt of that state of Illinois, which in 1836 was $217,276, had grown by December 2, 1839, to $13,643,301

The runious policy of simultaneously commencing all the proposed roads and constructing them in detached piece-meals, had left the state with virtually nothing to show for this vast expenditure.

"When the people awoke from their dream of fancied prosperity to find themselves staggering under the burden of a colossal public debt, when they saw their hopes shattered and financial ruin staring them in the face, they looked back upon their former infatuation with incredulous amazement." A panic seized both the legislature and the people.

The governor called a special session of the legislature and laws were passed which practically abrogated the entire system of public improvements. "The precipitate rashness with which the stupendous work originated was only equaled by the undue haste and anxiety of disposing of the property, both real and personal which was left from the general ruin.

Transportation Index When Railroads Came HOME

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