Lacon is located on the east bank of the Illinois River about 30 miles north of Peoria. It was established in 1831, eight years before Marshall County was established. Lacon has been the county seat since Marshall County was formed. The community's major business is related to the grain produced on the surrounding prairies of Illinois. Lacon is a major site for storage and loading of grain onto barges on the Illinois River. The town is within the flyway for migrating waterfowl and bald eagles.
Lacon is the oldest town in Putnam, Marshall, Bureau, or
Stark counties, and one of the oldest in Northern Illinois. The
site was selected early in 1831, by Gen. Jonathan Babb and Maj.
Henry Filer, of Somerset, Ohio, who left a sum of money with
Col. Strawn, a farmer residing in the vicinity, to enter the
fractional tract of land "adjoining what is known as Strawn's
Landing," at the next Government land sales in Springfield. It
was purchased in July, and a small town (130 lots) laid off upon
it the 6th of August, 1831, to which the name Columbia was
given. The town remained unoccupied, except when the rangers in
the Black Hawk war met upon its site to be enlisted or
afterwards to perform guard duty, until the autumn of the next
year, when a small frame house was put up by Henry K. Cassell,
but not made ready fur occupancy. In the spring of 1833 another
building was erected by Elisha Swan, a young trader who had been
selling goods for several months at the bluff back of the town.
He removed to Columbia the same season, with his family, and
opened a small store. They were the first white inhabitants of
Lacon. The Indians had not yet altogether fled the country ; and
parties of them frequently came to trade with Mr. Swan. Thaddeus
W. Barney, from Western New York, arrived the following year,
and built a two-story log cabin on Main street, which was
afterwards occupied for hotel purposes. His family becoming
sick, he left for St. Louis in the fall of the same year -
taking passage, for lack of better facilities, in a large canoe.
Mr. Cassell had meanwhile removed to his house in Columbia.
George Snyder and family arrived from Ohio the same autumn; also
Jesse C. Smith and Jos. H. Johnson, who obtained a donation of
lots from Col. Strawn, and commenced the erection of a large
steam flouring-mill. In 1835, Gen. Babb, one of the proprietors
of the town, with a number of others, settled in the place,
which probably contained fifty persons by the opening of 1836.
That was the principal year of colonization. A considerable
colony, including Ira I. Fenn, Esq., (who had purchased an
undivided half of the town site,) Wm. and Norman Fenn, Wm.
Fisher, Sam'l Howe. Sr.. Sam'l Howe, Jr., Chas. Barrows, Hartley
Malone, Wm. C. and Dr. Robert Boal, D. W. Barney, and others,
emigrated from Hamilton, Dayton, and Oxford, Ohio, to make their
homes in Columbia. An addition of nearly one hundred was made to
the population this year. The construction of a steam saw-mill
was set about, which was ready for operation the same season ;
and other public improvements were begun. A Temperance Society
was formed July 28th, 1836, and a Presbyterian Church organized
soon after. - A post-office was also established this year; but
the existence of another town of the same name in the State
occasioned much annoyance in the reception of mail matter; and
an act of the Legislature was obtained Jan. 19th, 1837, changing
the name Columbia to Lacon. At the same session, charters of
incorporation were obtained for the ''Lacon Manufacturing
Company" and the "Lacon Academy" - two projects which were never
carried out. This year the town became incorporated under the
general act, by a vote of 18 to 1 ; which gave place to an
organization under a special charter granted Dec. 10th, 1839. A
school house was also built, which was sometimes known as “the
Academy;" and work was vigorously prosecuted upon a causeway and
steamboat landing in front of the town. A press and some
printing materials were brought on for the publication of a
newspaper to be called '' The Lacon Agriculturist;" but they
were found unfit for the purpose; and negotiations were opened
with Allen N. Ford, who was then publishing a paper in Hartford,
Conn. He was induced to link his fortunes with those of the
rising place ; and the first number of "The Lacon Herald " made
its appearance under his auspices in December, 1837. Its title
was afterwards changed to "The Illinois Gazette;" and it is
still issued under that name by the same editor.
A large addition, much greater than the original site, was made to the town July 3d, 1837, by Jonathan Babb, Wm. Fenn, Wm. Fisher, Sam'l Howe, Jos. Woodruff, Wm. M. Halstead, Richard T. Haines, Elisha Swan, Norman Conde, and Ira I. Fenn.
* The following additions, besides that noticed, have been made to the town of Lacon: By W. A. Efner and Win. C. Boal, June 30th, 1837; Lemuel H. Ball, Sept. 1st, 1849; Levi Wilcox, May 3d, 1850; Jesse C. Smith, June 12th, 1850; C. S. Edwards and Lemuel Russell, for the estate of James H. Long, October, 1850; John F. Devore and N. G. Henthorn, July 27th, 1852; heirs of L. Wilcox, Aug. 7th, I856; Silas Ramsey, July or Aug., 1856; S. L. Fleming, Jan. 7th, 1858; Wm. Fenn, Jan. 11th, 1858
There was little increase in Lacon during 1838, which was a period of general depression in the West. An unusually interesting revival of religion was experienced during the winter of 1837-8, described by the pastor, a man of long experience in the ministry, as "the most glorious he ever witnessed." A Methodist congregation had been collected at an early day, and had enjoyed regular preaching for several years. A frame building was dedicated in 1838 for their use as a house of worship. The leading citizens of Lacon took an active part in the movements which led to the formation of Marshall county; and, after its establishment, secured the location of the county seat at that point. In 1839 building was carried on to some extent, and receded from Main and Water streets to those farther east. A number of substantial houses were erected, the population of the town having increased in proportion. Some attention was paid to literature, and a Library Association was organized in February, which collected a considerable number of volumes, and flourished for a time.
The annals of Lacon from 1840 to 1850 present little that is interesting. The town made progress gradually, and a heavy trade was conducted with the surrounding country. Several public buildings were erected - the Court-house in 1840, a county jail in 1844, a spacious Presbyterian church in 1849, and a new school house. On the 27th of June, 1842, Ex-President Van Buren paid a brief visit to the place, while on his Western tour.
Since 1850 Lacon has attained its greatest growth. In 1852, projects were mooted for plank roads to the Central Railroad, and to Toulon, via Wyoming. A charter was obtained for the latter, and books opened for subscription; but neither road was ever constructed, A much greater enterprise was set on foot soon after, chiefly by citizens of Lacon, having for its object the building of a railroad from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Council Bluffs, Iowa, crossing the Illinois river at Lacon. A charter for the " Western Airline Railroad Company" was procured at the nest session of the Legislature; numerous meetings were held, and public opinion thoroughly aroused upon the subject; a proposition to subscribe $100,000 in county bonds to its capital stock was carried in April, 1853, by a large majority; and in December, 1855, the citizens of Lacon voted to subscribe $50,000 in city bonds. The work went forward, and a large amount of grading has been done at various places along the line ; but no part of it is yet in operation. Lacon was also named as a point in the charter for the Illinois River Railroad, before noticed.
In January, 1853, the Court-house was burned down, which was quickly replaced by a new and superior structure. In 1854, the town received a city charter, and organized under it, electing William Fisher Mayor, M. M. Sloan, L. V. Blackmon, Wm. F. Palmer, and Jacob C. Garrigus, Aldermen, and Henry Miller City Marshal. A large brick school house has since been erected for a graded school, and other public improvements made. At present Lacon numbers nearly 2,000 inhabitants, and with the prospective completion of her railroad will become a considerable city.
Transcribed 04 Feb 2012 from History of Putnam and Marshall Counties, by Henry Allen Ford, 1860