Sangamon County place name origins

In April 1896, an unnamed Illinois State Journal writer attempted to determine the origins of Sangamon County place names. The results were two articles, published April 6 and April 13, that covered every township and most cities and villages in the county.

Below are excerpts from those stories. (For information on the names of communities not mentioned below, see individual SangamonLink entries.) Quotations come from the original articles.

“It is in the nature of things that the names of some of the townships and villages have more interesting associations than the names of others,” the Journal writer noted, “and that accounts for the brief paragraphs devoted to some of the townships.”

*Ball Township is named after Japhet Ball, who served as a justice of the peace and associate judge.

*Barclay was named for R.D. Barclay, “one of the eastern capitalists who furnished the money to build the Gilman, Clinton & Springfield, now a branch of the Illinois Central, railroad. … Barclay began to be a lively place after Col. (John) Williams, George N. Black and Samuel Yocum sunk the first coal mine there.”

*”Berlin and New Berlin get their names from the city of the former name in Germany. It is today and always has been a popular settlement for Germans and their descendants.”

*Bradfordton is named for James Bradford, a Sangamon County legislator in 1840-41.

*Cantrall is named after Levi Cantrall, who built the county’s first mill north of the Sangamon River. “It was a horse mill with rawhide band and a wheel forty feet in diameter. To it the primitive boys and girls in their bare legs rode long distances to have corn ground….”

*Cartwright and Cooper townships are both named after Methodist preachers: the Revs. Peter Cartwright and John Cooper.

*The Journal reporter failed to determine who gave Chatham its name, but wrote, “It is supposed to be a token of some one’s admiration for the Earl of Chatham (William Pitt), the great English orator.”

*Cotton Hill Township “is said to get its name from the fact that cotton was raised prior to 1830 on the elevated land which is now a part of the Vigal farm in that township. … After the big snow the seasons seemed to become shorter, the crop had not time to mature and this branch of agriculture was abandoned.”

*Fancy Creek Township originally was Power Township, in honor of early settler George Power. But Power was still alive at the time, and some residents “began to think the matter over at odd hours and they acquired a notion that the compliment was too great for any man who was still moving among them in the activities of life.” The township was then named after the stream; the origin of the creek’s name is not known.

*Gardner Township was named in honor of John Gardner, one of the three commissioners who divided the county into townships. He settled north of what now is Farmingdale in 1834.

*Island Grove Township got its name “from a stretch of timber about eight miles long and a mile wide extending along one branch of Spring creek in the northwest part of the township. Set in the wide extent of the prairie which reaches away in every direction it reminded the early settlers of an island in an expanse of water.”

*Lanesville Township is named after early settler Ebenezer Lane. The township originally was called Wheatfield, “derived from the peculiar adaptability of the land in that vicinity for the production of wheat.”

*In the April 6 article, the Journal writer was skeptical about the folklore explanation for the name of Loami. ”(T)here is no philogical origin to be assigned for Loami. It stands unique and isolated in the language,” the article said.

“There is a popular explanation for the name. … William Colburn built a mill there in a very early day and it subsequently burned down. The story is that when he surveyed the ruins and the smoking embers he exclaimed in a pathetic tone, ‘Low am I.’ These words, it is said were merged into the present name of the township.”

The April 13 story followed up with a reader’s thoughts that “Loami” might be a version of the word “loamy,” describing soil in the area. “The explanation … may or may not be the correct one,” the second article concluded, “but it is surely entitled to as much consideration as the explanation which has been handed down by a vague tradition.”

*The village of Lowder honors George Washington Lowder, who had the community platted in 1872.

*Rochester reportedly got its name from a love affair. Back in Vermont, two neighboring families, the Sattleys and the Hawleys, regularly intermarried, so when Robert Sattley’s family embarked for Illinois, his unmarried sister-in-law, Harriet Hawley, accompanied the party.  However, Archibald Sattley, who had been courting Harriet, stayed home.

A day or two after the emigrants left, according to the Journal account, Sattley’s father came upon his son daydreaming while hoeing potatoes. Knowing about his son’s relationship with Harriet, he said, “Rather rough hoeing, ain’t it, Arch? … They don’t have such land out where Bob is going.”

When Arch agreed Illinois sounded attractive, his father gave him a horse, and the younger Sattley caught up with the earlier group near Rochester, N.Y. He and Harriet Hawley were married there.

When the new village was laid out in Sangamon County in 1819, the Journal said, Archibald Sattley “was given the privilege of naming it, and he selected Rochester in commemoration of the happiest event in his life.”

*Salisbury Township originally was named Sackett Township, “in honor of a member of a prominent family which settled there in 1830. The name later was changed to match that of Salisbury village, which was laid out in 1832 by Solomon Miller. (Salisbury Township was abolished in 1989 – ed.)

*Talkington Township is named after Job Talkington, an early settler.

schs-logo-22*”The only explanation The Journal has been able to get about the naming of Woodside township, and it is probably the correct one, is that it was so called on account of the fact that thirty years ago, when the county was divided into townships, there was a large acreage of timber in the territory. … The woodman’s axe has wrought a great change in the landscape since 1860.”

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6 Responses to Sangamon County place name origins

  1. Sam says:

    I recently stumbled across something that sheds some indirect light on Cotton Hill. Or at least why there might be a particular association between cotton and “elevated land” in these parts… During the Civil War, (southern) Illinois cotton briefly became a paying proposition again, and on November 20, 1863, the Illinois State Journal ran a short article from the Cairo News about the year’s cotton crop. It mentioned that “Upon the high grounds the crop was but little injured by the frost; in the bottoms and low lands it was totally ruined.” If altitude was making such a notable difference in Cairo in 1863, it could well have made a difference in Sangamon in the 1820s.

    While Cotton Hill is no great eminence at ~610 feet above sea level, that elevation could be enough to have led to noticeably better and less frostbitten cotton crops for the Vigals on Cotton Hill than for their neighbors on lower ground.

  2. Phil Shadid says:

    The name of Glenwood High School in Chatham which came into existence in 1957 may have been a merging of two names: GLENarm and the location of the school near a large WOODed area near Lake Springfield. Never could confirm the story, but Glenarm is in the Ball-Chatham school district. Glenarm’s post office handled mail for Ball Township Community High School, which existed from 1923 to 1957, on the New City Road. It was replaced when the new Glenwood High opened.

  3. editor says:

    Thanks, Phil. I tried to research the name “Glenwood” some time back. I’m sure you’re right about Glenarm, but I don’t think I ever came up with an answer for the “wood” part. Your theory is as good as any.

  4. Phil Shadid says:

    In my comment about Glenwood High School replacing Ball Township High School, I should have mentioned that Ball became an elementary school in the Ball-Chatham district in 1957. The original building was demolished in 2013, but other structures have continued as the elementary school. The gym, opened in 1935, still serves the students.

  5. Casey Mayfield says:

    Looking at old plat map images today and noticed an area name I’ve never noticed before (circa 1870’s) – NE of spfld and west of Riverton it’s labeled German Prairie Station. Curious if there’s any origin info.

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