According to Monmouth historians, the town of Monmouth, Illinois was founded in 1831. Prior to its founding, the land on which the town of Monmouth now exists was inhabited by the Sac and Fox Native Americans. The Sac and Fox Nation is one of three different tribes of the Sauk and Meskwaki Native Americans (“Sac and Fox Indians”). Treaties later drove the Native Americans away from the town and instead relocated them to areas in the west.
The original settlers who came to the Monmouth area came with the westward expansion from the War of 1812 from states such as Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and New York (Rankin 3). According to historian Jeff Rankin, “The War of 1812 gave every non-commissioned soldier who would volunteer for service against British a military tract which is a territory in the west created by Congress to provide as payment for their service” (Rankin 2). The first known settler of Monmouth was John B. Talbot in 1828. Unlike other settlers, however, Talbot was never a soldier. Instead, rumor has it that Talbot played a war veteran in poker and the veteran bet his military tract territory in the west (Rankin 2). Talbot ended up beating the veteran and claimed his prize of a new beginning in what would become the town of Monmouth. When Talbot first arrived at what is now Monmouth, the territory was called “Maple City” because of the line of maple trees you see when you first enter the town (Rankin 2). After more settlers made their home in “Maple City,” they decided to change the town’s name.
The newly excited citizens put three names in a hat: Kosciusko, Isabella, and Monmouth. Kosciusko refers to Tadeusz Kościuszko, a Polish military leader who played a significant role in the Revolutionary War (“Kościuszko”). Isabella was likely the name of the the mayor’s wife at the time (“Our History”). “Monmouth,” may have potentially referred to a Welsh river that means “fast flowing” (Charnock 29). The mayor then shook up the hat and the first name pulled out was Kosciusko. Thinking that word was too hard to spell and say, they drew out another name and pulled out Monmouth (“Our History”). Monmouth offered many opportunities for all kinds of people whether it was open land, jobs, or a new beginning. In fact Rankin states directly that, “Monmouth attracted immigrants who came westward in hopes of acquiring wide open territory, property and status they lacked back in their native countries” (Rankin 13). These immigrants led to a rapid growth of Monmouth’s industrial center. Early on, Monmouth was supported by farming and a few farm implement companies (“Our History”). Then, in 1855, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad was built which allowed Monmouth to become a leading industrial town in the west. The C. B. and Q. Railroad allowed Monmouth to export plows, pottery, tiles, cigars and agriculture products to all parts of the United States (Rankin 11). Rankin explains that Monmouth was rich in soil, coal, and clay, so many coal mines and clay mines were made in order to dig up the abundance of these natural resources. These mines, industries, and the railroad not only made an abundance of new jobs available in Monmouth, but they also brought many new settlers and “gold diggers,” or people looking to get rich quick, to Monmouth. As the town of Monmouth continued to grow and flourish, the community knew they needed a school and other essential services to keep a town running.
On September 3, 1853, Monmouth College was opened, which to some is considered “Warren County’s greatest asset” (Robinson 139). The town also needed a bank, so in 1863, the First National Bank of Monmouth was organized. Then, the YMCA was established in 1882 to allow for a place that young men could come together and get help on common issues. The original YMCA building is still standing today.
After 100 years of inhabitants, the town of Monmouth established itself as a “Prime Beef Center of the World.” As more businesses left Monmouth, beef factories started to spark a boom industry and “In 1960, Warren County was shipping more beef across the country than any other county in the US” (Rankin 37). The Prime Beef Festival was established as a celebration of this industrial accomplishment. The festival was meant to give farm families an opportunity to learn the skills it takes to produce beef (Rankin 37). Although Monmouth has now primarily moved toward pork production, the Prime Beef festival and parade is still held in Monmouth every September.
The town of Monmouth, Illinois has a diverse and rich history that all students and community members should experience and explore. Monmouth truly is a great asset to Warren County and the United States.
Robinson, Luther. Historical and Biographical Record of Monmouth and Warren County, Illinois. 2 vols. Chicago: Munsell Publishing Company, 1812-1927. Print. Johnson, Robin A. Innovation in Illinois Cities: Six Strategies for Increased Government Efficiency, Performance,and Community Development. Macomb: Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, 2003. Print.
“Our History.” Monmouth Illinois. The City of Monmouth. 2011. Web. 1 Oct. 2015. <http://www.cityofmonmouth.com/about-monmouth/ourhistory.html>
Rankin, Jeff. Born of the Prairie. Monmouth: Kellogg Printing Company, 1981. Print.
“Sac and Fox Indians of Illinois.” Illinois Genealogy., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.illinoisgenealogy.org/rock-island/sac_and_fox_indians_of_illinois.htm>
Kościuszko, Tadeusz . History.com., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015. <http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/tadeusz-kosciuszko>
Charnock, Richard Stephen. Local Etymology: A Derivative Dictionary of Geographical Names. New York: Ulan Press, 2012. Print.