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admin 31.05.2015

As Big Grove got bigger, some of the settlers decided that they wanted to form their own county. The railroad, after studying the land, decided to run the railroad tracks two miles west of Urbana, instead. It began when a reverend from Champaign decided to build training school for ministers there. The people of Champaign-Urbana learned that the state of Illinois was looking for a place to build the downstate branch of a college to teach agriculture. The new college was called Illinois Industrial University, and it opened in 1868 with 77 students. As the University grew, Champaign tried to extend its borders to claim all of the University as its own. Runnel and Mary Fielder followed a Native American trail to the area and built a cabin in a grove of trees that would become the first settlement. They endured many hardships, like prairie fires, floods, and disease from mosquitoes that lived on the swampy lands. Urbana would soon have a store, a jail (which they called the Calaboose; see the drawing of it below) and a courthouse, and then a blacksmith shop, a schoolhouse, and its own newspaper. The farmers in Urbana had to travel too far to sell their produce to other towns, and the roads were bad, sometimes too muddy to travel at all. Planks had been laid to make a road across the swampy land and a horse drawn streetcar took people back and forth between the cities.

After finishing one huge five-story building, though, the Civil War interrupted their work, and the school was never finished. They lived in and took classes in the Elephant building, which the University named Old Main Hall. They were joined by others, like the Busey family, who farmed the rich land by the trees in an area which they would call Big Grove.
Still, they helped each other raise cabins and barns, had picnics together, and celebrated life with fiddle music and dancing. State Senator Vance agreed with the settlers and Champaign County was formed, named after Champaign County, Ohio, where Senator Vance grew up.
That is why everyone in Urbana was excited when they learned that the railroad was coming their way.
The people of Urbana were upset, and some suggested that they move their homes to the railroad tracks. The little town that began to grow was named West Urbana, after the name given to the post office there. Urbana, to assure that this would not happen, tore down its ten year old courthouse, and built another one so big and fancy they would be sure to keep the county seat! The huge building, which was nicknamed the Elephant, sat empty for a time, until another idea came along for its use. The people elected Clark Griggs to the State Legislature, his main task to convince the government to select Champaign-Urbana as the site for this college.

A steam dredge dug a lake in Crystal Lake Park and a steamboat took people for rides in the new lake. A place was picked for the county seat, and it was named Urbana, after the senator’s hometown in Ohio. It would run from Chicago to Mobile, Alabama and would pass right through Urbana, or at least that is what the people of Urbana thought.
It would later change its name to the University of Illinois and would grow to become one of the best universities in the nation. By the year 2000, Champaign measured 17 square miles and had a population of 67,518 people. When World War I and World War II broke out farmers grew extra crops, and everyone pitched in to help. He was able to convince the committee to select Champaign-Urbana over the many other cities who wanted the college. Streetcars (like the one pictured below) took people through town, and steam dredges plowed out drainage ditches outside of town to help farmers grow more crops on the swampy land.

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