D) Champaign County > Settling Down & Moving About

Across the northeast corner of the county one well-worn Indian trail, a part of the Sac-Kickapoo Trail which connected a village on the Wabash River with a village on the Illinois River, followed the smoother lands of the southwest slope of Gifford Ridge. (25)

Another Indian Trail, which became the Terre Haute-Bloomington Road and still later U.S. Highway 150, followed the divide between the Salt Fork and the Embarass River basins along the Champaign moraine, thus avoiding the swampy areas. (25)

The early white settlement of Champaign County was not an isolated episode in the history of the state, but rather a small part of a great movement of people from the densely populated eastern parts of the nation towards the more sparsely populated western areas. There were many factors that contributed to the population of Champaign County during the decade preceding 1833. Much of the rest of the state already had enough population to take up the most favored tracts of land; travel increased along the routes that crossed Champaign County; the 1819 treaty with the Indians assured people that the area was safe; the General Land Office has completed the survey of the area and was offering land for sale; the Military Bounty Lands to the west brought immigrants to the state; and salt was discovered at Danville. (27)

Although the rivers were the major highways, there were cross-country trails. These were particularly important in the settlement of Champaign County. The Grand Prairie was then considered inhospitable, but it was an area which people crossed as offering the shortest route between important population centers on the Wabash and Illinois rivers. The Sac-Kickapoo Trail was an important road connecting the Indian village on the Wabash River with the village on the Illinois River (present Ottawa). It was used long after the Indians left the country. (28-29)

The old Wabash-Fort Clark trail crossed the county diagonally from southeast to northwest. Later the Terre Haute-Fort Clark Trail followed a similar course but farther north. As settlements were established farther and farther up the Wabash and as salt was located near Danville, the Danville-Bloomington-Peoria trail was developed. All of these trails gave the county a southeast to northwest orientation and all were in use before 1830. (28-29)

People traveling the Detroit-Kaskaskia Trail, and then the Wabash-Fort Clark, crossed Champaign County and became aware of the possibilities of its lands. Biographical records of early settlers of Champaign County show that many went through the county on their way farther west and later returned, attracted by a favorable situation, a friend, a relative, a sight of a pretty girl, or for other personal reasons. The flow of people across the Grand Prairie broke its isolation. (34-35)

For the most part the roads were still diagonals across the county from southeast to northwest and not located on the section lines. However, the partial orientation of the county toward the west rather than northwest was begun as Springfield superceded Peoria (Fort Clark) as a focus for travel within the state. (55)

The entire system of road changes during the 1840-1850 decade altered the commercial orientation of Champaign County. Before that time the major orientation was from southeast to northwest. With the improvement of the Springfield-Indianapolis road and the roads north from Danville and south from Urbana, the north-south, east-west trade routes were initiated. Peoria to the northwest and Vincennes and Terre Haute to the southeast had lost most of their importance to Champaign County. (63)

Accompanying the radical changes in Champaign County was a change in road location. For the most part the roads shifted from their more or less diagonal routes across sections to routes following section lines, as provided for in the U.S. Survey. (105)

Probably during late winter and early spring there were weeks when neither farmer nor his family left the farmstead. Although the road network of Champaign County was dense by 1910, the roads could not be classified as of first order. The road from Danville to Mahomet, part of the old Danville-Bloomington-Peoria Trail, had a nine-foot brick pavement, but this was probably the only paved road in the county. The other roads in the county, classified as 'Automobile Roads' were probably gravel roads. For the rest of the township roads were dirt roads, a dense network so that no square mile in the county was without a road on one of its section lines, but unimproved dirt roads are often impassable. (134)

As swamp land was drained the road system of the county changed. It was no longer necessary for the roads to follow higher ground but the rectangular pattern could be imposed on the county. The people had modified a part of the physical landscape to meet their needs and ideas. (160-61)

The development of Champaign County has been an integral part of the growth of the state and in part dependent on the growth of the rest of the state. There is nothing in the early history of the peopling of the county to indicate that people came here as a result of the attractiveness of the area to people at that time. They seem rather to have passed this way because of major trails passing through the county and have stopped here. The county was a bridge area between more attractive places, and only as other places filled up did people settle here. Later, at the time of building of railroads, the county was still a bridge area. The railroad connected more populous areas to the north and south and only incidentally served Champaign County. When transportation was established the wave of immigration followed. (161)

"Historical Geography of Champaign County, Illinois" (1957)
Marjorie Corrine Smith