TBT: Bicentennial Odds and Ends (Part 2)

Archeological excavations at Fort Massac State Park. Photo from the Illinois Blue Book Collection,
Illinois Digital Archives -  A Service of the State Library and Office of Secretary of State dd caption
On Sunday, Illinois marked our state’s 199th birthday. It was also the kickoff of the year-long celebration leading up to our bicentennial in 2018. Last week, we brought you the first of two parts of our collection of odds and ends from (nearly) 200 years of Illinois history. Here are a few more:

  • Illinois’ first state park was Fort Massac State Park at the southern tip of the state. Built by the French in the 1700s to help secure their holdings in the region, it was seized by the British in 1763. Colonial troops took the fort, which had been abandoned, in 1778 on their way to capturing Kaskaskia. It was reactivated by President George Washington and was a stopover point for Lewis and Clark on their way to explore the west. Fort Massac was used for training purposes early in the Civil War, but never saw any combat action. The land was purchased by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1903 and sold to the state, which made it the first Illinois State Park in 1908. Today the rebuilt fort hosts historical reenactments from throughout its long history.
  • The first railroad line to run in Illinois broke ground in 1837 near Meredosia in Morgan County. It was to be part of a line running across the state from Quincy to Danville. Congressman Joseph Duncan, from Morgan County, tried and failed to get an appropriation for the line, but when he became governor in 1834 he was more successful. The railroad took almost 20 years to reach Danville, more than a decade after Duncan had died. The first railroad to run out of Chicago, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, was chartered in 1836, but did not begin construction until 1848. The Illinois Central Railroad was chartered in 1851.
  • Coach Robert Zuppke led the University of Illinois football team to its first national championship in 1914, beating Wisconsin 24-9 to finish a perfect 7-0 season. In Zuppke’s 29 years at the helm of the U of I squad he won seven Big Ten titles and four national championships
  • Joseph Glidden of DeKalb invented barbed wire and received his patent in 1874. The introduction of barbed wire revolutionized ranching in the American west, as it made it possible for ranchers to contain their livestock and keep them from wandering off. Glidden’s invention would be manufactured in DeKalb at the Barb Fence Company, which made Glidden a rich man and did much for the city as well: he was able to donate the land on the Kishwaukee River which became Northern Illinois University.
  • The Illinois state Constitution is the fourth Constitution which has governed Illinois since statehood. The first was adopted with statehood in 1818, the second in 1848 and the third in 1870. Two more conventions met but failed to produce a new Constitution. The sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention convened in December 1969 and produced its document in September 1970. It was approved by the voters in a statewide referendum and took effect on July 1, 1971. Since then, it has been amended 14 times.
  • Saturday Night Live, a fixture of American television for over 40 years, has roots in Illinois. Many of the show’s original cast performed as part of The Second City, an improvisational comedy troupe which started out in Chicago in 1959. Over years, comedic actors such as Bill Murray, John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd would perform with Second City. They were among the original cast of Saturday Night Live in 1975 and went on to become legends in entertainment. In more recent years, Second City’s stage has been graced by the likes of Steve Carell, Chris Farley, Tina Fey, Bonnie Hunt, Mike Myers and many more.
  • What is believed to be the first auto race held in the United States followed a course from Chicago’s Jackson Park to Evanston and back on Thanksgiving Day 1895. The race took nine hours to complete and was won by Frank Duryea. More than 150 automobile companies in Illinois tried to make a go of it in the early 20th century, but most did not last very long. They produced cars throughout the state, including the Comet (Decatur), the Velie (Moline) and the Commonwealth (Joliet) which was to evolve into the original Checker taxicab. Illinois’ automotive industry even had its own Detroit: a town in Pike County where a factory produced a small car in 1905 called La Petite.
  • The Grand Army of the Republic, the Civil War veterans’ organization which became a dominant force in American politics of the late 19th century was founded in Decatur in 1866. The GAR started out with 12 members and rapidly gained influence. Its founders were the chaplain and surgeon of a regiment commanded by John Palmer, who would be elected
    Grand Army of the Republic parade during the 1914 Encampment in Detroit
    governor of Illinois in 1868. He was also the GAR’s first Illinois state commander. The GAR was a driving force in propelling Ulysses S. Grant to the presidency that same year. An early national commander of the GAR, General John A. Logan of Illinois, made the group a powerful advocate for veterans, calling for pensions for those who had fought for the north in the Civil War, as well as better care for widows and orphans. He also used the GAR to spread the tradition of Memorial Day throughout the nation. Logan would be nominated for Vice President in 1884. GAR membership reached 400,000 by 1890, with 7000 posts throughout the north including around 800 in Illinois. GAR membership would include five Presidents of the United States between 1869 and 1901. The last GAR member died in 1956.
  • One of the first acts of the Illinois General Assembly back in 1819 was to direct the creation of a state seal for official documents. The seal was redesigned in 1839 and again in 1867-68. All three seals feature the same basic design: the American eagle with the federal shield and a banner with the state motto, “State Sovereignty, National Union.” Amidst the still-fresh Civil War controversy over “sovereignty” versus “union,” the design of the 1868 seal, which remains in force today, was changed to place the words “National Union” on top and printed the word “sovereignty” upside down. Historians had only a rough sketch of the 1819 state seal until state archivists discovered some court records from that year which carried the original design. The discovery filled in some missing details which allowed for a more complete rendition of Illinois’ original state seal.
Illinois’ bicentennial celebration will be ongoing throughout 2018 in advance of Statehood Day on December 3. For more information on the festivities, visit https://illinois200.com/.