Champaign County Landscape

There are no bold features of the landscape to be recorded, its contour being usually rolling and pleasing, and particularly conducive to the cultivation of the grains. Champaign is the banner corn county of the United States, and there is no farming community in the country which is more contented or prosperous. The county is situated entirely within what the early French explorers denominated the Grand Prairie of the West, which they described as extending from the headwaters of the Mississippi to the Wabash River. Originally the timber lands extended pretty generally along the courses of the streams, and embraced such groves as Linn, Mink, Sadorus, Hickory, Burr and Cherry. As the pioneers were disinclined to get far away from the timber strips, the more fertile easily cultivated prairie stretches were long neglected; as the wooded lands received the more attention, it is believed that their quantity was not as great as has been supposed and that the old estimate that one-fifth the surface of Champaign County was originally covered with native forests is too high. There is a distinct watershed running through the western part of the county. The Kaskaskia, emptying into the Mississippi and the Sangamon, flowing into the Illinois, also a part of the system embraced by the Father of Waters, drain the western third, while the Salt Fork of the Vermilion, the Middle Fork of that stream and the Little Vermilion, and the Embarrass, are portions of the Wabash system and drain the remainder of the county. Generally speaking, the Sangamon River and its branches, Wild Cat, Big and Tree Creek, Water Mahomet, Condit, Newcomb, East Bend and Brown townships, and the Kaskaskia, with its tributaries, Scott, Champaign, Tolono, Colfax, Sadorus and Pesotum. The Embarrass rises south of Urbana on the University farm, and drains the southwestern part of Urbana Township, and Philo, Crittenden, Raymond and Ayers townships. North of the Embarrass, the Vermilion system spreads over such eastern townships as South Homer, Sidney, St. Joseph, Ogden, Stanton, Compromise, Rantoul, Kerr and Harwood.

Beautiful And Historic Groves

Before the county was divided into townships, many of the localities outside the villages and other distinct centers of population were designated by groves and fords and other natural features. “The Big Grove,” says Judge J. 0. Cunningham, “was the large grove of natural timber just north of the city of Urbana, lying partly in Town 19 and partly in Town 20. The Salt Fork was a general term used to designate not only the lands covered by the timber along that stream, but the neigh-boring farms, from its northern extremity to the point where it leaves the county. Homer and Sidney were villages along the stream and the names were used to specialize neighborhoods. So, ‘On the Sangamon’ was understood to refer to the neighborhoods on both sides of the river from its headwaters to the Piatt County line. There were the Okaw and the Ambraw settlements, by which was understood the neighborhoods about and in the timber belts along those streams, so far as they lay in this county. Middle Fork (of Salt Fork) was understood to mean the timber sometimes called Sugar Grove in the northeast corner of the county. Sadorus Grove was the designation of the isolated grove of timber at the head of the Kaskaskia River in which Henry Sadorus and his family settled when they came to the county. Bowse’s Grove referred to a small grove of natural timber on the east side of the Embarrass River. Linn Grove, as a name, early became attached to the beautiful eminence crowned with trees of Nature’s planting in the southwest corner of Sidney , Township, which name it yet retains. Lost Grove, at the northwest corner of Ayers Township, is supposed to have received its name from its remoteness from everywhere else. Hickory Grove, in St. Joseph and Ogden townships ; Burr Oak Grove, in Ogden ; Mink Grove, in Rantoul, and Dead Man’s Grove, in St. Joseph Town-ship, like those above named, had a definite meaning and referred to certain localities, though, like some of them, these names now mean nothing, having passed from use. The last name has not been in use for many years, the grove referred to having long been called Corray’s, taking its later name from a nearby dweller. It received its first name from the circumstance of finding there the body of a man who had died alone.


“There were also fords across the streams where early roads, in default of bridges, led the traveler through deep waters. Of these there were Strong’s Ford and Prather’s Ford, both across the Salt Fork, one about a mile north and the other the same distance south of the village of St. Joseph. The former was where the iron bridge on the State road spans the stream, and was later called Kelley’s Ford. Both fords received their distinctive names from nearby dwellers A ferry was maintained by Joseph T. Kelley at the former. The latter, ‘or Prather’s Ford, was at the crossing of the Salt Fork by the Danville and Fort Clark road. “On the Sangamon were two well known fords with distinctive names. One at the village of Mahomet (or Middletown, as the village was known fifty years since) was called Bryan’s Ford, from John Bryan, a contiguous land-owner, who maintained a ferry there. The iron bridge a few rods away has, for many years, furnished a better means of crossing the stream. The other, of historic fame, was known as Newcom’s Ford, from Ethan Newcom, a pioneer who came to the county in the early ’30s. It was at the crossing of the Sangamon River by the Danville and Fort Clark road, and, besides being a ford of the river, was a place where travelers camped in great numbers. It was near the line which divides Township 21 and 22, Range 8, and in later years it gave the name of Newcomb to another township, although the final “b” of the name, as thus used, is in addition to the spelling in use by the owner. Mr. Newcom spelled his name ‘Ethan Newcom’ where signed to a deed.

Old Neighborhoods

“Then there were neighborhoods in the county which, from some peculiarity or other in their early settlement, took upon themselves peculiar names, most of which have been forgotten or fallen into disuse. Among these may be recalled the Kentucky Settlement, now in Rantoul Township. This was on account of the coming there prior to 1860 of B. C. Bradley and many other thrifty farmers from Kentucky. The settlement was a compact gathering of good families upon a hitherto unbroken prairie, so arranged that the social and school advantages enjoyed elsewhere were not suspended. In like manner the location about the ridge in Philo Township, which divides the waters of the Salt Fork from those flowing into the Ambraw (Embarrass), about 1856 became the home of a colony from Massachusetts and other Eastern states, among whom may be named E. W. Parker and his brother, G. W. Parker, Lucius, David and T. C. Eaton, and others of New England origin which gave the neighborhood the name Yankee Ridge, which it bears to this day. So, the gathering upon the flat lands bordering the headwaters of the Salt Fork in Compromise Township, of a large number of Germans, who distinguished themselves as good farmers and good citizens, has given their neighborhood the name of Dutch Flats, which it is likely to maintain.” Thus have the water courses of Champaign County had a large share in fixing local nomenclature upon many sections which have not been officially named either by the post office department of the general Government or the Legislature of the State.

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Illinois Genealogy

Source: A Standard History of Champaign County, Illinois, by J. R. Stewart, published by The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago And New York, 1918.

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