Swamp Lands Reclaimed

Until about forty years ago a class of Champaign County lands was as carefully avoided as the prairies of an earlier period; like the prairie lands, they also proved of unusual value. For years the swamps and lowlands were considered as tracts which were worse than valueless; as so many pestilential breeders of malaria and other diseases. But in the early ’50s much Federal and State legislation was directed toward the policy of donating such overflowed lands to the various counties. The result was to direct the attention of the county authorities more particularly to the subject, and cause them to consider whether after all they should not attempt to reclaim the swamp lands to conditions of productiveness. In 1853 Benjamin Thrasher was appointed to examine all the unsold lands in the county coming within the definition of the Federal Act as “swamp and overflowed lands,” and to submit a report thereof to the County Court. He reported that 85,000 acres in Champaign County answered to that description, and nearly 36,000 acres of such land was subsequently confirmed to the county. These lands were sold and the funds used, in part, for the erection of a court-house in 1860 and to increase the school fund. It was upon these lands that the great work of drainage was accomplished nearly twenty years thereafter. In 1878 the State Constitution was amended by the addition of the drainage section, which authorized the formation of drainage companies, the digging and tiling of ditches, and for purposes of regulation and systematic work it divided the submerged lands into districts, with supervising officials. Soon after the year 1880 the system and the work were in operation. Since then the cost of these improvements has been great, having been estimated at considerable over $1,000,000. This embraces expenditures made by private individuals, by local districts organized by township authorities, and by the authority and direction of the County Court. The lands thus reclaimed now embrace some of the most productive and valuable tracts in the State. Some of the most important of these drainage districts are known as the East Lake Fork, Two-Mile Slough, Beaver Lake, Big Slough, Kankakee, Embarrass River, Wild Cat, Hillsbury Slough, Spoon River and Little Vermilion River.

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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