History

The founding of the Village of Litchfield…

A rumor began that a new railroad would be corning to town. The chief engineer was George Hunt. In hopes that Hunt would bring in this railroad, the people named their town Huntsville. But, Hunt did not bring the railroad. Instead, Electus Backus Litchfield, a financier, did. The Alton Terre Haute Railroad came to the renamed Litchfield.

In the late fall of 1853, Montgomery County surveyor Thomas Bray laid out the town in a huge cornfield purchased by the Litchfield Town Company. Soon 80 acres of cornfields and prairie grass became 236 lots for sale.

When the railroad bypassed Hardinsburg for Litchfield, 50 residents began to move their buildings on runners over the prairie grass to Litchfield in January of 1854. The first to arrive was a man named J. M. McWilliams. The Methodist Church also moved. By the time the railroad reached Litchfield in the fall of 1854, most of the citizens of the doomed Hardinsburg had relocated. Only a small cemetery remains in what was Hardinsburg.

David A. Jackson wrote in the Litchfield Sesquicentennial book, “If it can be said that towns have a mother, then the Alton, Terre Haute Railroad was Litchfield’s mother.”

On April 4, 1856, Litchfield formally incorporated and elected trustees.

Litchfield became the “Hub of Central Illinois” where five major railroads came, went or stayed: The Wabash; Illinois Central; Chicago, Burlington and Queens; The Big Four; and the McKinley line.

Litchfield has had many firsts. In service to country, Litchfield has always answered the call. When the Civil War started in April 1861, Litchfield was the first town in Illinois to respond to the President’s call for men.

In 1865, Litchfield began an era of industry and manufacturing, and the town grew rapidly. In 1881, The Planet Mill was opened, and in 1882, its capacity of two thousand barrels of flour a day led to the claim of its being the largest and best equipped steam flour mill in the world. (It was completely destroy by an explosion and fire in 1893.) Other recognizable manufactured products of Litchfield’s past were the Brown Shoes, American Standard Radiators, Litchfield Creamery Products/Milnot canned milk, windmill, and railroad cars.

In natural resources beyond agriculture, Litchfield had a brief success. In the 1880′s two coal mines were started in the area. Soon another discovery was made of a small pocket of oil; Litchfield became the site of the first commercial oil production in Illinois. However, the oil was soon exhausted.

All of these products brought trade to our city beyond the people of our immediate area. Litchfield’s location, 230 miles southwest of Chicago, was also helpful. To Illinois and Missouri travelers, Litchfield is still best known as the halfway point between Springfield, Illinois’s capital, and the major city of St. Louis, Missouri.

When the “Mother Road,” Route 66, came through the western edge of Litchfield–a number of cafes, motels and tourist stops sprouted. Two alignments of this historical road can be traveled here, and parts of both original highways remain intact and still attract many Route 66 enthusiastic travelers to stop, eat and
shop here.

In the August 4,1910 edition of The Litchfield News-Herald, the editor wrote “The Truth About Litchfield”: “The City of Opportunities, the Metropolis of Montgomery County situated in the heart of a rich farming community …. Litchfield — The BEST Town in Illinois, We Think.” Most Litchfieldians today still agree!