History of Gibson City

 "The Big Little City"


Of the 102 counties in Illinois, Ford County was the last to be organized. It has an odd shape because it was founded from land taken from Vermillion and other surrounding counties. It was named in honor of the eighth governor of Illinois, Thomas Ford and was created a county by act of the legislature on February 17, 1869.
The first settlers in Ford County located at Trinkle's Grove near Paxton in 1835 before the county was organized. There are twelve townships in Ford County -- Patton, Drummer, Rogers, Brenton, Button, Dix, Wall, Pella, Mona, Lyman. Sullivant. and Peach Orchard. Drummer Township was second organized -- in 1858, and is said to have taken its name from the little grove called Drummer Grove which lies about a mile northwest of the present Gibson City. The grove is said to have been named for Thomas Cheney's hunting dog, Drummer; so called because he was good at "drumming up wild game."

The first settler in the Gibson City vicinity was Andrew Jordan who came here in 1851. In 1855, a Dr. Davis settled at Drummer Grove where he pursued farming and also prac- ticed his profession. Thomas Stephens settled on land in the southern part of Drummer Township in the early 1850's and engaged in extensive livestock raising during the first year, later in raising flax and corn.
A little later came Sam LeFevre, J. H. Dungan and Leonard Pierpont. who settled near what was to become the village of Gibson
In a short time the Canterbury, McClure, McKeever and Weakman families came. Settlers had to drive to Paxton or to Chatsworth to market their produce, get their mail, and buy their supplies.
The dairy of an early Ford County settler describes Illinois in the I850's. "It was not a barren waste. It was a bleak, cold waste in the winter time. The snow went the way the wind took it as far as it wanted to go and the tumble weeds also; but in the summer time it was all grass and flowers; the tall grass, when the wind blew, was like waves of the sea, beautiful to behold. You could see as far as the strength of the eye would permit. If you knew where you wanted to go, you had nothing to do but start out and go. There were no roads or hedges as there are now, but look out for the ponds of water, you would be into one before you knew it. The grass would be higher than your heads and it would be lots more trouble getting out of it than in it. The country was mostly given over to grazing. Cattle were fattened on grass and driven to Chicago or to eastern points for market. Settlers had a hard time to keep the deer and cattle from their little corn patches."

Jonathan B. Lott, Civil War veteran, in 1869, purchased the town site of Gibson City from Jesse B. Whitehead of Chicago, and in February, 1970, the land was surveyed for a mile square. Lott built his home here, and Gibson City had its inception. Mr. Lott named the village Gibson in honor of his wife. Margaret Gibson. Later the "City" was added to distinguish it from Gilson, Illinois. With the help of influential friends, he succeeded in having the surveys of three railways changed to come through his town, a great task for any one man at any time.
The first commercial business done in the city was by William Moyer, who opened a grain office in December, 1870. Wilson Brothers opened a general store in June. 1871. In the same month came H. J Collier. T. D. Spalding opened a lumber yard near the crossing of the railroads. M T. Burwell established the first bank in 1872. the .same year the first paper The Enterprise was published in Gibson City. The village was incorporated in 1872.

J. H. Collier, S. J. LeFevre, Bruce McCormick and W. T. Kerr as trustees, with Spalding serviing as the first mayor.
The first wedding was that of Miss Hattie Gibson, a sister of Mrs. Lott, to Bruce McCormick. The first girl born in Gibson was Maude Lott, a niece of J. B. Lott. Harry Spalding, son of T. D. Spalding, was the first boy. Methodist built the first church in town and were soon followed by the Cum- berland Presbyterians, United Brethren and Catholics.
In January, 1883, Gibson City had a destructive fire which burned most of the west side of the street,. but in six months time brick structures had replaced the wooden ones. The most pretentious building was the Opera House owned by M. T. Burwell. It is now the Masonic Lodge Hall, and in those early days was said to be the finest opera house in the state outside of Chicago. It boasted a stage, scenery, drop cur- tains, and was lighted by gas.
The water works were built in 1895 at a cost of $30,000. It was a gala day for Gibson when the three large fountains donated to the town were unveiled and the water turned on. The large fountain at Sangamon and Ninth Streets was given by William Moyer; the one in front of the Post office by Mattinson, Wilson and Company; and the fountain at the library corner was the gift of 0. H. Damon. October 8, 1895 was declared a holiday; the schools were closed and the water was turned on and played against the side of a building to show the people how high it would go. There was a parade and speeches. Then everybody went to a vacant lot where a huge bonfire had been kindled. The firemen came with their hose, turned on the water and put out the fire.

Because Ihe original town was plaled and laid out by Lott, it was named after his widow, Margaret A Gibson.
The first store was operated by Wilson Brothers, but soon such men as J. H. Ring, J H Collier, and T. D. Spalding joined in the ranks of business men. However, the first commercial business done in town was a grain elevator owned by William Mnyer. one nf the city's first inhabitants. He started his business in 1870 and soon reached the distinction of being the wealthiest man in town.
C. H Yftemans was the city's first lawyer: Dr. Anderson, the first physician; J. E. Cruzcn the first post master; andM. T Burwell the first banker. The first paper published in Gibson City was the Enterprise, by N. E. Stevens, in 1872, and after going through several hands, the paper finally came to the Lowry family. Methodists built the first church in town and were followed by the Cumberland Presbyterians, United Brethren and Catholics. The village was incorporated in 1872, with T. D. Spalding, J. H. Collier, S. J. LeFevre, Bruce McCormick, and W. T. Kerr as trustees. A little later Spalding served as the city's first mayor. A few years later, in 1874, there was erected Ihe finest school building in the county with a capacity of 300 students. Another school building with a capacity of 100 was erected eight years later. Both of these buildings were destroyed by fire in 1912 and the present grade school and the Drummer Township High School were erected the same year.
On January 29, 188.3, the town was visited by a fire which swept away in the course of a few hours about $50,000 worth of property. It was here the enterprising spirit of the citizens showed itself, for in less than a month after the fire workmen were busy rebuilding, and soon had erected 12 new brick stores and other improvements at a cost of nearly $80,000. It was at this time that M. T. Burwell's opera hall was erected which was made famous at that time because the entire building was lighted by gas. The city's waterworks was dedicated in 1895, the city's 25th anniversary, and the first pump had a capacity of 1,500,000 gallons every 24 hours. The first railroad through Gibson City was the Gilman. Clinton and Springfield, now operated by the Illinois Central which was buill in 1871.

II was in this year that the Swedish delegation of settlers began to arrive in Gibson City. An agreement was made with the Illinois Central Railroad that these new arrivals should settle on the land Ihat the railroad company had for sale in consideration of which the company would give Ihe Swedish. Augustana College at Paxton commissioned one dollar per acre on every acre sold to Ihe Swedish settlers.
The first town meeting was held in Guthrie hall, then in Union hall, moved after that to Burwell's opera house, and finally, in 1906. Ihe city hall was built. Just a few years after Ihe erection of the city hall, the William Moyer library was erected The building was begun in 1911 and completed in 1912 and was made possible by a donation of $14,000 by William Moyer,
Bruce McCormick, the first happy bridegroom of Gibson City, married Miss Hattie Gibson in 1872. The first child born here was Maude Lolt, daughter of J R. and Ollie. born in 1873 Fred Spalding, the first boy born in Gibson, was later killed in an explosion at the canning factory. The first school in town was taught by Miss Caroline Williams; Dr. Anderson was the first physician; J. E. Cruzen was Ihe first postmaster; M. T. Burwell was the first banker; and J. H. Collier and Austin Crabbs were among the first prominent business men.
Corn and oats in the early days of Gibson sold for 15 cents per bushel, with eggs at 3 cents per dozen. The first store was run by Wilson Bros. Their stock was small and settlers rode on horseback or walked to Paxton and Saybrook for supplies. The first paper published in Gibson was the Gibson En- terprise, published by N. E. Stevens in the spring of 1872. In the fall of 1873 the paper was purchased by Walter Huge who changed Ihe name to the Gibson Courier. In 1875 Mr. E. Lowry became the owner and editor, selling in 1884 to M. F. Cunningham and John C. Malloy. In 1897 he repurchased it and it was later published by his sons. The paper is now- published by Kramer Publishing Co.
In 1885, the first iron foundry was started by E H. Harry. In the same year a group of men started a canning factory here. A tile factory began operation by Andrew Jordan on his farm just southeast of town. In 1890 a novelty factory was started by Mr. Spalding and Mr. Eggleston. In 1893 a cigar factory was started by Mr. 0. J. Phillips. In 1900 Mr. George Wood started a washing machine factory which later became a broom factory. In 1901 a shoe factory was located here.

Today, Gibson City remains a thriving city in Ford County, Illinois, United States. The population was approximately 3,407 at the 2010 census. Located at the intersections of IL Routes 9, 47, and 54, Gibson city is an Agricultural industry based community. The current GCMS School District is a consolidation of the surrounding towns of Gibson City, Melvin, and Sibley.

Information cited from '"A Lott of City in 100 years," 1871-1971; centennial history of Gibson City, Illinois.' by Gibson City Area Centennial, Inc.

 


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