History and Culture

Macomb (m   kom ) is the county seat of McDonough County, Illinois, in the United States. It is located in the center of western Illinois, roughly 35 miles east of the Mississippi River and 35 miles west of the Illinois River. It is 77 miles south of the Quad Cities. A special census in 2014 showed the town’s population to be 21,516. Well-known as the home of Western Illinois University, the town is also noted for its 1872 courthouse, nineteenth-century square, and various other historic sites. It has become a regional center for health care and senior living facilities.

Map showing the location of Macomb in west-central Illinois.

Contents  Macomb, Illinois
History

Geography

Parks & Recreation

Culture

Schools

Higher Education 

Health Care & Senior Facilities

Major Employers

Newspapers

Transportation 

Notable People 

References                                                                            

External Links

Michael J. Inman

Mayor, City of Macomb

309-833-2558 / 309-333-5125

 

Melanie Falk

City Clerk, City of Macomb

309-833-2575 / 309-255-1562

 

Dean Torreson

City Administrator, City of Macomb

309-837-0501

 

History

Lithograph done c. 1815 from a John Wesley Jarvis portrait of War of 1812 hero Commodore Macdonough, for whom McDonough County, Illinois, is named.

Monument erected in Chandler Park on September 11, 1914, in honor of Commodore Thomas Macdonough and Major General Alexander Macomb.

Portrait of War of 1812 hero Major General Alexander Macomb, for whom Macomb, Illinois, is named. The portrait was painted by Thomas Sully in 1829. The original art work hangs in the West Point Museum in West Point, New York.

The War of 1812 had an indirect impact on Macomb. McDonough County was established in 1826—and named for Commodore Thomas Macdonough, who had defeated the British at Lake Champlain on September 11, 1814. The organizing of the county began in 1830, and the county seat, temporarily called “Washington,” was formally named “Macomb” in 1831, when the town was laid out. The community was named for General Alexander Macomb, whose troops had repulsed the British at Plattsburgh, near Lake Champlain, also on September 11, 1814. America celebrated those two great military heroes. (A monument to them was erected in Macomb’s Chandler Park during 1914.) Also, in 1812 Congress established the Illinois Military Tract, encompassing 3,500,000 acres between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, to provide bounty land grants to War of 1812 veterans. That provided an early identity for the western Illinois area, and eventually, 2,800,000 of those acres were distributed to former soldiers. Most of those land titles were sold to speculators, whose efforts helped to foster a regional land boom during the 1830s. For many years, Macomb was very conscious of being “the hub of the Military Tract.”

 

First plat of Macomb, done in 1831 by John J. Keaton. Inaccurate as it is, it is of interest for the layout of the square, based on the one in Frankfort, Kentucky, as well as for the names given the streets at that early time.

The patriotic consciousness among Macomb pioneers also resulted in many street names for national heroes, including the main thoroughfare, Jackson Street, named for War of 1812 hero and later president Andrew Jackson, as well as Washington Street, Jefferson Street, and others.

Despite such regional conflicts as the Black Hawk War (at Rock Island and farther north) during 1832 and the Mormon War (in nearby Hancock County) during the mid-1840s, in both of which Macomb men participated, the small county seat grew slowly, developing a courthouse-centered downtown square. Pork packing was the biggest local industry during the 1840s. In 1855 the Northern Cross Railroad, a predecessor to the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad, reached Macomb, and that led to a rise in the local population—which by 1860 was 1,834. A city charter was adopted in 1856, when the first municipal election was held.

Photograph taken at the turn of the past century showing the Lafayette Street entrance to Oakwood Cemetery at the time. During the second half of the nineteenth century Decoration Day, later called Memorial Day, was the most important of all the holidays. The photo shows the huge crowd of people pouring out of the cemetery after the performance of the annual exercises.

The majority of McDonough County settlers were from the upland South, but others came as well, so there was intense political conflict before and during the Civil War. The Underground Railroad operated in McDonough County, but Lincoln also visited the town twice and spoke at the courthouse. Also, prominent businessman William H. Randolph, a Lincoln supporter who served as Deputy Provost Marshal, to enforce the draft, was murdered at Blandinsville in 1864—the most notable, and controversial, county murder of the century. However, about 2,800 men from the county served in the Civil War, and more than 600 were killed, so the town became noted for its huge Decoration Day commemorations after the war.

Photograph showing the east portion of the north side of the square soon after the present McDonough County courthouse was erected in 1872. Note that at that time the square was surrounded by a combination of frontier-era wooden buildings and later brick ones, and the downtown streets were and was as of yet unpaved.

Photographs of the courthouse as it originally appeared. Featured on the cover of Illinois Courthouses: An Illustrated History (2009), that building was designed by Elijah E. Myers, a leading architect of government buildings and the only architect to design the capitol buildings of three U.S. states—Michigan, Texas, and Colorado.

The later nineteenth century brought significant development. The first brick courthouse, constructed in 1834, became inadequate and was replaced by the current one, completed in 1872. The surrounding square was then characterized by a mix of older frame shops and newer brick ones. The community became noted for its attractive square, surrounding the elegant courthouse. Like many downstate county seats, Macomb was an active farm-center community. Also, there were many horse breeders in the county, and the town became noted for its annual county fair, which featured horse races. And by the century’s end, when Macomb’s population topped 5,000, it was also known for its pottery and sewer pipe manufacturing—as well as for education.

This photograph of the western half of the WIU campus shows Corbin and Olson residence halls in the foreground, erected in the 1960s, and to their right, Simpkins Hall, from the 1930s, and beyond that is the more modern end of the campus. (The most recent structure shown is the Donald S. Spencer Student Recreation Center, opened in 1997.)

Throughout the twentieth century, Macomb was impacted by the growth of Western Illinois University (originally Western Illinois State Normal School). Especially after World War II, Macomb expanded along Jackson Street, to the east and west. Also, the coming of hard roads in the 1920s eventually led to highways 67 (going north and south), 136 (going east and west), and more recently 336 (connecting with Quincy). For a time (1903-1930), there was also a regional railroad, connecting Macomb with some smaller nearby towns. Although that ended, the C.B. & Q. Railroad, so crucial to Macomb’s development over the generations, has remained—an important link with Chicago (three and a half hours away) as well as other communities.

In the twenty-first century, as many smaller surrounding villages continue to struggle and decline, Macomb is emerging as a regional center—not just for higher education but for cultural activities, health care, and senior citizen facilities.

 

Geography

The City of Macomb had an estimated population of 19,466 as of July 1, 2018. Macomb ranks in the upper quartile for Population Density and Diversity Index when compared to the other cities, towns and Census Designated Places (CDPs) in Illinois. The primary coordinate point for Macomb is located at latitude 40.4701 and longitude -90.6831 in McDonough County. The formal boundaries for the City of Macomb encompass a land area of 10.89 sq. miles and a water area of 0.43 sq. miles. McDonough County is in the Central time zone (GMT -6). The elevation is 709 feet.

The City of Macomb is located within Township of Macomb City, a minor civil division (MCD) of McDonough County. The area around Macomb is mostly flat prairie –classified as wet prairie and forested floodplains – with the East Fork La Moine River flowing past the northern part of the city. The western section of Illinois (west of the Illinois River) was originally part of the Military Tract of 1812 and forms the distinctive western bulge of state. Central Illinois is characterized by small towns and mid-sized cities, of which Macomb is representative. Agriculture, particularly corn and soybeans, figures prominently. There is coal in the region, with seams often buried quite close to the surface.

Large mammal species currently found in west central Illinois include whitetail deer and coyotes. Furbearers commonly found include opossum, raccoon, mink, red and gray foxes, and muskrat. Commonly seen lagomorphs include the cottontail rabbit and commonly seen rodents include squirrels. Game birds found include Canada goose, mallard duck, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, and bobwhite quail. The northern cardinal is the official state bird and is common around Macomb.

Illinois has a continental climate, with large temperature extremes not moderated by either mountains or oceans. Weather is influenced primarily by cold Canadian Arctic air in the winter, and warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico in the summer. Tornadoes are a common hazard, primarily in the central part of the state, with peak months in June and April. Freezing rain is common in central Illinois and the Macomb area has four distinct seasons. Soils are deep glacial deposits with wind-blown deposits near the surface. The soils are generally very fertile and support a large agricultural industry in the county.

 

Parks and Recreation

Macomb has a variety of parks, green spaces, and outdoor amenities. Chandler Park is a beautiful downtown wooded green space with a playground, gazebo, and monuments that hosts events ranging from the local Farmers Market to art festivals and more.

Take in all the energy and entertainment available through the abounding opportunities at Ball Fore Family Entertainment Center! Treat yourself, family, friends, or colleagues to an interactive day at the park. Ball Fore Family Entertainment Center has something for everyone including eight batting cages, an eighteen hole miniature golf course, driving range, sand volleyball pit, archery range, basketball, bags sets (cornhole), playground, picnic area and concessions.

Downing Park is home to the Macomb Area Softball Leagues and has two softball fields, two shelters, a concession stand and press box with a deck for the announcers.

Enjoy the newly designed Dudley Street Skate Park! The Dudley Street Skate Park has been reformed to provide an epic experience for the avid skater.  Enveloping a Streetscape design the site mimics the natural street terrain, with elements such as stairs, railings, benches, and a fun box (a table component in the middle and is surrounded by ramps.)  The idea behind this design is to give the Skate Park an urban feel, offering a plaza style design that incorporates texture, color and the local architecture.  Dudley Street State Park is the only of its kind within a 2 hour radius of Macomb.

With over 30 acres of naturally cultivating green space, Everly Park is a perfect opportunity to escape the hustle and grind of the day. Located in Everly Park are four shelter houses fully prepared to make any celebration or random occasion a special day to remember.  Everly Park is stocked with a variety of fish for any level of angler, the pond side seating and fishing stages provide for any angle a trawler might desire. Everly park has three volleyball nets located near three of our shelters, the NEW Lion’s Pride Playground, the back nine of the Everwood Disc Golf Course (the front nine are located in Glenwood Park, just east of Everly Park), Everly Ball Diamond.

Adjacent to Spring Lake Park and nestled in over 350 acres including prairie, wetland, timber, and grass lands, Lakeview Nature Center is an ideal place to learn about native Illinois plants and animals. Enjoy hikes through 55 acres of restored prairie and as you relax, see if you can find Lakeview Nature Area’s resident families of beaver, fox, deer, turkey and more. Framing of the nature center is hand hewn oak timbers,that are mortise and tenon with no nails holding the framework together, only wooden pegs. This more natural build results in a beautiful woodland aroma, a warm country feel, and a unique ambiance to retreat to with friends and family.

Immersed within an Oak Hickory Forest, with over 150 years of history in their roots, sits Glenwood Park. Among 22 acres of rolling hills and towering trees one can enjoy the escape found in enveloping themselves in the natural calm and wonder of the outdoors. Glenwood Park plays host to the opening nine holes of the Everwood Disc Golf course, a volleyball net, a playground, several picnic areas, the Glenwood Stone Shelter, and several geocaches varying in size and difficulty.

35 acres of expansive green terrain set the stage for a diverse recreational experience through Patton Park. The west wing of the park envelopes the spirit of leisure opportunity by hosting a two dog parks adjacent to the Patton Pavilion, the Patton Pond, the newly built Patton Playground, and one shelter. The Macomb Little League brings Spring to an uproar to all three of Patton’s ball diamonds with Coach Pitch, Pee Wee, and Minor League ball, along with The Macomb Junior Football League practices preparing youth for their intense fall seasons.

Stretching over 80 acres of open land, Veterans Park is the largest outdoor sports complex in Macomb, Illinois. State of the art ball diamonds and numerous multi-use fields is not all it has to offer. Veterans Park also has a playground located next to the multi-use fields as well as over 1.7 miles of walking trails running through this beautiful park. Estimated to be 125 years old, the east tree line stands as one of the only remaining examples of an old hedge fence in Illinois.

Compton Park is a picturesque 5 acre green space with a stream and footbridge perfect for taking a stroll or enjoying a bit of nature.

Mavis Park is a wooded area in central Macomb with a creek running through it that adds a natural feel to the neighborhood.

Spring Lake Park has 102 campsites with wifi, miles of hiking and biking trails, a variety of boats available for rental, and of course is on beautiful Spring Lake.

Among the other recreational facilities are the Harry Mussato Golf Course (eighteen holes),  operated by Western Illinois University, located north of the campus on Tower Road (www.wiu.edu/student_services/golf_course);  the Macomb Country Club, at 20 Hickory Grove, which has a pool as well as an eighteen-hole golf course and a restaurant (www.mccgolf.org), and the McDonough County YMCA, at 400 E. Calhoun Street, which has a gym, pool, track, and exercise room, and offers a variety of exercise and social activities (www.macombymca.org).

 

Culture         

Macomb Historic District

The McDonough County Courthouse as it presently appears. The mansard roof, shown in an earlier photograph, was replaced with a pitched roof in 1890. During the 1960s, a recommendation was made to raze the courthouse and build another one. However, architect Bing Coney brought to the attention of county officials and people in general the historic nature of the building. Also, he had it examined by a structural engineer, who determined that it was sound in every way and only in need of refurbishing. In 1978, the McDonough County Board of Supervisors applied for, and received, a CETA grant in the amount of $156,108 to restore the courthouse and to build a new courtroom.

 The Macomb Historic District, established in 2009 and placed on the National Register in 2013, encompasses the downtown square and some nearby blocks and sites. The central site is the McDonough County Courthouse, which was designed by architect Elijah E. Meyers of Springfield, completed in 1872, and restored in the late 1970s. Now on the National Register, the courthouse has become the leading community symbol. The Historic District includes various other notable buildings, including the railroad station, constructed in 1913, north of Chandler Park, at 1600 W. Jackson Street; The Lamoine, a senior care facility (originally constructed in 1927 as an upscale hotel, which became a site for community gatherings), located at 203 N. Randolph Street; the former Union Bank building (now the location of Century 21 Real Estate), constructed of limestone, in classic style, during1917, at 119 N. Randolph Street; the four-story Masonic Temple Building (originally an office complex), constructed in 1898, at 133 S. Randolph Street; the Macomb Post Office, erected at the corner of Randolph and Washington streets in 19145-1915; and the Macomb City Hall, just east of the square, at 232 E. Jackson Street, which was constructed as a physician’s home in 1920, became a medical clinic in the 1930s, was a USO during World War II, and became the city hall after the war. Renovated and expanded in 2002, the city hall features historical photographs and displays relating to the community’s heritage. (See below the entry for Macomb Public Library, which operates in another prominent historic building that is also within the district.)

 

Other Historic Buildings

The photograph shows the first building on Western’s campus, known for a time as “Old Main” and in 1956 renamed Sherman Hall to honor L.Y. Sherman, who was largely responsible for locating the school at Macomb. In the foreground is Lake Ruth, created in 1908 and 1909. The grandstand, to the rear of Sherman Hall, was erected in 1904.

 

The structure now known as City Hall was built as a residence by Dr. Joseph B. Bacon in 1917. After the death of Dr. and Mrs. Bacon, in the mid-1930s, the building passed into the hands of Drs. Holland, Millet, and Ansprenger, who used it to house the Holland Clinic. After Dr. Millet was drafted to serve in World War II, his remaining colleagues moved the clinic into smaller quarters, leaving the building vacant. During 1942, city officials determined to convert the Holland Clinic to a USO to serve the soldiers at Camp Ellis in neighboring Fulton County. The structure reverted to the city at the end of the war. For a time, it was used as a teen and civic center, and then, in 1951, was remodeled once again, this time to serve as City Hall. In spite of the changes made to the building throughout the years, it was essentially still a house, with city officials and members of the general public conducting business in bedrooms and other such areas. The firm of Laverdiere Construction was hired to restructure the building in such a way as to make it a functioning office facility while maintaining its historic essence. On June 25, 2002, the building, as it appears in the photograph, was dedicated.

Outside the Historic District, Macomb has two other buildings on the National Register. The Old Bailey House, a Victorian home built in 1887 by a prominent family, and which has been renovated to serve as a community gathering place, is located at 100 S. Campbell Street. Also, Western Illinois University’s initial building (known since 1956 as Sherman Hall), which was constructed of gray sandstone and brick during 1900-1902 and features a bell tower that has long symbolized the university, is noted for its elegant woodwork and 300-foot-long hallways.

The WIU campus also includes the WIU Alumni House, at 1009 W. Adams Street, which was built as a private residence in 1924, became the Western Home Management House in 1940, and has been the Alumni House since 1977. Across from it, on West Adams Street behind Lake Ruth, is Simpkins Hall, the former Western Illinois Teachers College Training School, which was the largest area construction project during the Depression, and was dedicated in 1939. Aside from grade school classes, that building housed an academy, which was later known as Western High School. (That school was moved to Horrabin Hall in 1969, and became a public school attendance center from 1973 until 1986, when it closed.)

Other historic educational buildings include the former Macomb High School, at 208 S. Johnson Street, which opened in 1915 and eventually became the main Spoon River College attendance center in 1973, and the former Edison Junior High School, at 520 E. Piper Street, which opened in 1933, later became Logan School in 1958, and has been the YMCA Community Child Care Center since 1995

South Lafayette Street and South Randolph Street, leading away from the square, also have a variety of homes that are more than one hundred years old.

 

Chandler Park

The statue on the west side of Chandler Park, dedicated to the roughly 3,000 men from McDonough County who served in the Civil War, was designed by owner of the Macomb Marble Works, O.D. Doland, who had once lived in Springfield and while there had created many of the lovely monuments in Oakland Cemetery, where Lincoln is buried. The statue was commissioned and paid for by Civil War veteran C.V. Chandler. It would have been manufactured by Doland if he had not fallen ill and died. As a result of his demise, Chandler contracted with one of the most noted monument companies in America, located at Northfield, Vermont, to create it from Doland’s design.

 

Also on the west side of Chandler Park is the statue entitled “Facing the Storm,” dedicated September 12, 2015. The life-sized figure, depicting a nineteenth-century woman sheltering a young child and a kitten, was created by Peoria, Illinois, sculptor Jaci Willis. Money for the project was raised by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) Macomb Women’s Club. The statue features the names of eight Macomb female social activists born in the nineteenth century—Clara Bayliss, Lida Crabb, Rebecca Everly, Rose Jolly, Dr. Elizabeth Miner, Sadie Moon, Dr. Ruth Tunnicliff, and Josie Westfall. The statue is unique, however, in that it recognizes, and honors, the entire tradition of female social activism.

One downtown area of special historic interest in Chandler Park, just north of the square. Created by banker and civic leader C. V. Chandler, who gave it to the city in 1893, the park features various monuments. The earliest was the Civil War soldier monument, locally designed and dedicated in 1899, to honor the more than 600 county soldiers who died in the Civil War. (That was a gift from Chandler, a Civil War veteran.) Others include the monument to War of 1812 leaders General Macomb and Commodore Macdonough, dedicated in 1914; the C. V. Chandler Memorial, a brick arch dedicated in 1929; the memorial to soldiers who died in World War I and later conflicts, erected in 1957; the Ruth Watts memorial fountain, erected in 1990, which honors a leading advocate of local beautification; and the Women’s Social Service Memorial, erected in 2015 by a committee of the Macomb Woman’s Club, to honor local women of all eras who have been committed to social causes. The park also features a traditional-looking gazebo, which was erected in 1982.

 

Oakwood Cemetery

This photograph shows the drive running north and south through the old, or original, part of Oakwood Cemetery. The drive branching from it to the right leads to North Lafayette Street (Route 67). This old part of the cemetery is interesting in that it contains the graves of early McDonough County settlers, town founders, and veterans from the Cherokee War, the Black Hawk War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. In addition, it contains the graves of people such as Macomb’s first librarian, Mahala Phelps; the inventor of the first measles vaccine, Dr. Ruth Tunnicliff; long-time editor of the Macomb Journal, W.H. Hailine, and countless people who, in their own time with, dealt with the challenges of ordinary life. To the far north, along the drive pictured, are the east and west sections of Potters Field, containing the graves, often unmarked, of residents who were economically disadvantaged.

 

In 2016, Oakwood Cemetery was recognized as a local historic landmark. In 2018, the Illinois State Historical Society granted it status as a statewide historic site. As Illinois State Historical Society Executive William Furry said at the dedication of the sign pictured here, “History is something that brings communities together and gives them stories to tell.” Historic Oakwood Cemetery is, in fact, the subject of a book, Here to Stay: Reflections on the Dead in a Small-Town Cemetery (2012) by historian John Hallwas. Also in 2018, Oakwood Cemetery received a Macomb Beautification Award.

Another notable historic site is Oakwood Cemetery, located a half mile north of the square. Developed by early leader William H. Randolph, in 1857, to be a park-like burial ground, it was laid out by Charles Gilchrist, a city surveyor who later became a Civil War colonel and brevet brigadier general. The cemetery includes past residents from every generation, including town founders James M. Campbell and James Clarke; Underground Railroad conductors in the Allison and Blazer families; Civil War colonel Carter Van Vleck (killed near Atlanta) and about 270 other veterans of that conflict; hundreds of veterans from other wars; many community leaders; some past presidents and other leaders of Western Illinois University; and noted female social activists. The focus of a book titled Here to Stay: Reflections on the Dead in a Small-Town Cemetery (2012), by historian John Hallwas, the cemetery has been officially named as a local historical site and was recently designated as a notable state historic site by the Illinois State Historical Society. (See Friends of Oakwood Cemetery website: https://oakwoodcemetery.jimdo.com. Email: oakwoodcem@macomb.com.)

 

Compton Park

 

Compton Park is notable, not only as an upscale, designed neighborhood but as a historic site, containing homes initially constructed for leading individuals such as banker Albert E. Bailey and lawyer and theatre owner Les Hainline.

 

Macomb’s premier historic neighborhood is Compton Park, a few blocks southeast of the square, which was developed in the early 1920s by lawyer and state politician William A. Compton. Designed by Chicago landscape architect Louis S. Cole, it is centered around a five-acre park area that has picturesque Kiljordan Creek flowing through it. Cole beautified it with trees and other plantings. Influenced by America’s City Beautiful Movement, the neighborhood became known as the “Subdivision Beautiful.” The regulations required that all homes near the park must reflect a distinctive architectural style, so there are examples of bungalow, Dutch colonial, federal, Georgian revival, Italianate, mid-century modern, southern colonial, Tudor, and other styles. Compton gave the five-acre park area to the city early in 1924, after the first several homes had been constructed around it.

 

Malpass Library Archives (at WIU)

 

The photograph shows students and members of the general public making use of the one-of-a-kind materials housed in the Archives.

Archives and Special Collections, at WIU’s Malpass Library, is the central repository for historical materials relating to the sixteen-county region of western Illinois. Along with books relating to the various counties and towns, or written by regional authors, there are also manuscripts, photographs, maps, and public records. Among the many collections are ones devoted to Mormon Nauvoo, the Icarian Colony at Nauvoo, actor and singer Burl Ives, writers Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg, various local and regional historians—and of course, Macomb and Western Illinois University. (For information, phone 309-298-2717, or see www.wiu.edu/libraries/archives.)

Western Illinois Museum

The Western Illinois Museum is now housed in a building in the downtown area that was erected in 1925 to house the Macomb Motor Company, owned and operated at that time by R.A. York, John McCreery, and J.E. Trapp of Rushville. The brick building replaced a wooden structure that had been the site of shops owned by various blacksmiths and wagon makers. In 1941, the structure was rebuilt, after nearly being destroyed by fire. The museum, at its present location, was dedicated October 1, 2002.

Started on the campus of Western Illinois University in 1974, the Western Illinois Museum has been located at 201 S. Lafayette Street, just south of the square, since 2002. It provides historical exhibits and programs on a range of topics. (See www.westernillinoismuseum.org.)

 

McDonough County Genealogical Society

 Also located at 201 S. Lafayette Street, the McDonough County Genealogical Society assists researchers with an interest in local family history. (See www.mcdcgs.com.)

 

Theater

 Macomb has a long heritage in theater. Aside from plays by many traveling companies, performed at the Macomb Opera House (which opened in 1872), there were also some plays by local performers. In 1904, two years after Western Illinois State Normal School opened, the first full-length play was performed by college students. By 1913 Western had an open air theater in the Ravine, on the east side of campus, which operated regularly until the 1930s. Hundreds of plays have been performed at Western, most of them on the indoor stage now called Hainline Theatre. Some faculty members have also written plays over the years. The Macomb Community Theatre, organized in 1959, has produced about 200 plays since then, many of them staged at the Pat Crane Memorial Theater on South Johnson Road. (See www.macombcommunitytheatre.org.) Also, Starry Night Repertory Theatre, a private company, has produced dozens of plays, at various local sites since 2009. (See www.starrynightrep.org.)

 

West Central Illinois Arts Center

The West Central Illinois Arts Center was established in 2008, and it is located in an historic building on the east side of the Macomb Square. The organization provides art exhibits and lecture-discussion programs, and it also provides a performance center for plays, poetry readings, and musical performances. The Center sponsors the annual Gazebo Art Festival at nearby Chandler Park every September. (See www.wciarts.org.)

 

Western Illinois University Art Gallery

The Western Illinois University Art Gallery opened in Browne Hall during 1959, and it was moved to the former power plant and academy building, behind Sherman Hall, in 1980. It features exhibits and programs related to the visual art works by WIU faculty and students.

(See www.wiu.edu/cofac/artgallery.)

 

Western Illinois University Geology Museum

 Started in 1971, the WIU Geology Museum, located in Tillman Hall, provides exhibits of fossils and other rocks, as well as displays focused on geological history in Illinois. (See www.wiu.edu/cas/geology/museum.php.)

 

Macomb Public Library

 The Macomb Public Library opened on the square in 1882. The current building, supported by a Carnegie Foundation grant, opened at 235 S. Lafayette Street in 1904. It was renovated and expanded in 2015. Along with books and magazines for adults, the library has a sizable children’s section, and of course, it provides public access to computers as well. The library also sponsors a summer reading program for children. (See www.macomb.lib.il.us/)

 

Western Illinois University Libraries

 

Designed by Gyo Obata, Malpass Library derives its unusual shape from it Asian inspiration. Obata is noted as the designer of such well-known buildings in the United States as the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine Center for Advanced Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. The structure was planned so as to function as a library, a greenhouse, and an art gallery.

 Aside from the Archives (mentioned above), Western Illinois University Libraries has a variety of sections that make it the largest intellectual resource in western Illinois. Established in 1903, the library was originally located in historic Sherman Hall. The current building, on Western Avenue, opened in 1978, and it features some 765,000 volumes in the main collection, plus thousands of periodicals and government publications. The library also subscribes to many worldwide data bases. There is also a separate Music Library, in Sallee Hall. (See www.www.wiu.edu/libraries.)

 

LIFE Adult-Education Program

 The LIFE Adult-Education Program, which originated in 1995, as a joint effort between the WIU Non-Credit Programs division and community volunteers (mostly associated with WIU), has offered hundreds of non-credit classes since then, in such areas as American and world history, cooking, health, literature, music, photography, religions, social issues, theater, and travel. About three dozen programs, or multi-session classes, are offered each semester, at various locations, and any adults can enroll for a minimal fee.  (Phone 309-298-1911, or see www.wiu.edu/LIFE.)

 

Festivals and Events

The photograph shows one of the floats from the 1998 Heritage Days parade when McDonough District Hospital was honored for forty years of service to the people of the Macomb area.

Macomb has a variety of festivals and events every year. The largest of those is the Heritage Days Festival, which began in 1982 and is developed by the Macomb Convention and Visitors Bureau. Scheduled for the last week-end in June, it features a parade, store displays, musical entertainment, an antique auto show, carnival rides, a library book sale, and other aspects. (See www.macombheritagedays.com.) There is also a Macomb Poetry Festival in April, which involves school children as well as adults. The Macomb Balloon Festival and the Gazebo Art Festival are held in September. Local History Day, when sixth graders tour various historic sites downtown, is in late September or early October.  Dickens on the Square, reflecting Victorian culture, is in December. WIU also has an annual Ag-Mech Show each year, in February.

       

Athletics

 

Courtesy of WIU Visual Productions Center

The photograph shows a recent WIU Homecoming Parade. Since 1933, an important part of the homecoming celebration has been the parade, which has begun and ended on the school’s campus and has included the Macomb square. Photo Courtesy of WIU Visual Productions Center

 

Western Illinois University has a long athletic tradition. Leatherneck football, basketball, and baseball provide major events, but there are also golf, soccer, swimming, track, volleyball, and other competitions. The WIU Athletic Hall of Fame, located in Western Hall, was founded in 1974, to honor athletes and coaches who have made outstanding contributions to the athletic program at Western. (See www.goleathernecks.com.) The biggest community event associated with sports is the WIU Homecoming, which occurs in October and, along with a football game, features a downtown parade. The Macomb High School Bombers have teams in a variety of sports as well, including football, basketball, baseball, softball, track, golf, soccer, swimming, tennis, volleyball, and wrestling. The high school Homecoming parade occurs in October.

 

Schools

Macomb public schools began in 1857, and a high school opened in 1868. The school system expanded through consolidation after World War II, and now serves students from eight townships in and near the community. Macomb Community School District #185 has four attendance centers: MacArthur Early Childhood Center houses the pre-school program; Lincoln Elementary School includes grades K through three; Edison Elementary School includes grades four through six, and Macomb Junior-Senior High School includes grades seven and eight, plus nine through twelve. That junior and senior facility, built in the late 1960s, is located on S. Johnson Road, about a mile south of the square. District #185 has about 2,100 students.

St. Paul’s (Catholic) School was first opened in 1902 on the corner of S. Johnson and W. Washington streets. That building was razed in 1959 and replaced by the present one, which houses K through sixth grade, as well as a pre-school facility. The current St. Paul’s enrollment is about 150 students.

 

Higher Education

Macomb has a long, distinguished tradition in higher education. McDonough College was opened in Macomb during 1837, when the town was a tiny frontier village. It closed in 1855, but was succeeded by several other colleges that operated successively in the downtown area—mostly focused on business and teacher training.

Lake Ruth, actually a pond, was established in 1908 as a result of the efforts of local businessman and Board of Trustees member John M. Keefer. The water feature was named in honor of Keefer’s oldest daughter. Located across from the alumni house in the oldest part of the campus, Lake Ruth is one of the highlights of Western’s more than 1,000-acre campus. For the sixth consecutive year, Western Illinois University has been designated a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. Photo Courtesy of WIU Visual Productions Center

Western Illinois State Normal School opened northwest of the downtown area in 1902. A two-year teacher education institution, it was focused especially on providing teachers for the more than 12,000 Illinois rural schools. The chief planner behind that effort was Illinois Superintendent of Public Instruction Alfred Bayliss, who became the school’s second president (1906-1911). Among the ten other Western presidents, the most influential was Walter P. Morgan (1912-1942), a national leader in teacher education, under whom the school became a four-year teacher’s college in 1917. A training school for teachers led to the establishment of Western Academy in 1910, which was re-named Western High School in 1943. Western became a university in 1957, and the enrollment expanded rapidly, from less than 3,000 in 1958 to almost 13,000 by 1970—when the huge Baby Boom generation was attending college. The campus was then greatly expanded. Western offered classes in the Quad Cities by 1912, but also offered complete undergraduate and graduate programs in the Quad Cities starting in 1974. A WIU Rock Island center opened in 1976, and after various location changes, there is a sizable campus on the Mississippi River. For details about Western’s leaders, programs, buildings, athletics, activities, and organizations, see First Century (1999), the centennial history by John E. Hallwas.

 

The Macomb High School building at 208 South Johnson Street was constructed in 1915, replacing the Fourth Ward, or Douglas School, which had been erected in 1874 and had been declared unsafe. In 1949 a vocational building was constructed in the 300 block of West Jefferson Street, in conjunction with the high school, to provide space for agriculture and auto mechanics classes. In 1952, a new gymnasium was added to the Washington Street side of the high school. In 1969 new combined junior high and high school was constructed on South Johnson Road, and in 1974 an attendance center for Spoon River College was opened in the old high school building.

Spoon River College was established in 1968 and located in nearby Canton. A Macomb attendance center was opened in 1974, at 208 S. Johnson Street—a building that was purchased by the college in 1984. In 2009 that college also opened a community outreach center, primarily for adult education, at 2500 E. Jackson Street.

 

Health Care & Senior Facilities

 

McDonough District Hospital

Macomb has had several smaller hospitals, which functioned in the earlier twentieth century. The successor to them is McDonough District Hospital, which opened in 1958, at 525 E. Grant Street. It has been expanded several times. The 48-bed healthcare facility offers a wide range of medical treatments and personalized health services, including emergency care, hospice care, and, for older adults, home health services that extend beyond McDonough into surrounding counties. (Phone 309-833-4101; or see www.mdh.org.)

Constructed in 1958, McDonough District Hospital has been renovated and expanded repeatedly to keep pace with advances in medical care. A 2015 thirty-two million-dollar project entailed the expansion of Emergency Services, as well as Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy, Speech and Occupational Therapy, and Cardiac/Pulmonary Rehabilitation. In addition, it will create a Senior Behavioral Health Unit, which will provide short-term inpatient treatment for adults over the age of sixty-four experiencing severe behavioral and/or emotional symptoms. Photo Courtesy of McDonough District Hospital

Bickford Cottage

Bickford Cottage, at 1600 Maple Avenue, is an assisted living facility, offering various skilled care services, as well as meals, housekeeping, etc. (See www.enrichinghappiness.com.)

 

Countryview Care Center

Located at 400 W. Grant Street, Countryview Care Center is an intermediate and skilled care facility, which is Medicare and Medicaid certified. It offers 24-hour nursing care, pharmacy services, therapies, and dietary services. (See www.petersenhealthcare.net/countryview-macomb.)

 

The Elms

Located at 1212 Madelyn Avenue, The Elms is a 98-bed skilled-care facility, operated by McDonough County, It is Medicare and Medicaid certified. It offers 24-hour nursing care, rehabilitation services, and various therapies. (See www.theelmsmacomb.com.)

 

Everly House

Macomb’s oldest retirement facility, Everly House, at 811 S. Lafayette Street, provides independent living apartments, for adults 65 and older, and furnishes meals, laundry, and housekeeping services. (See www.everlyhouse.com.)

 

Grand Prairie Supportive and Independent Living

Located at 1307 Meadowlark Lane, Grand Prairie offers an upscale supportive living facility, with 86 units. It accepts Medicaid and other payer sources, and it features licensed nurses, 24-hour care, and a variety of activities. It also provides villas, for independent living, which can include meals and housekeeping, for adults 55 and older. (See www.gardant.com/grandprairiemacomb.)

 

Heartland Health Care Center

Located at 8 Doctors Lane, Heartland Healthcare Center offers 24-hour skilled nursing care, various therapies for inpatient and outpatient individuals, and a meals on wheels program. (See www.hcr-manorcare.com.)

 

Jefferson House

Located at 900 E. Jefferson Street, Jefferson House offers 115 one-bedroom apartments, for adults age 62 and older. (See affordablehousingonline.com/housing-search/Illinois/Macomb/Jefferson-House/10009379.)

 

Lafayette Square

Located at 100 W. Jefferson Street, Lafayette Square offers 100 one-bedroom apartments, each with a balcony, for adults age 62 and older. Rent subsidies are through HUD. (See

www.assistedliving.com/illinois/macomb/lafayette-square.)

 

The Lamoine

Located at 203 N. Randolph Street, across from Chandler Park, in a renovated building (formerly a prominent hotel) that is on the National Register of Historic Places, The Lamoine is Macomb’s newest retirement living facility. It offers both assisted living apartments and a memory care unit. (See www.thelamoine.com.)

 

McDonough County Health Department

Located at 505 E. Jackson Street, the McDonough County Health Department provides public health services, including innoculations, preventive health screenings, etc. It also focuses on environmental concerns and emergency preparedness. (See www.mchdept.com.)

 

 

Wesley Village Retirement Community, and Home Health

 

Offering a broad range of accommodations and health care for seniors, Wesley Village, at 1200 E. Grant Street, provides independent living duplexes, assisted living apartments, a memory care unit, nursing care, and a hospice unit. It accepts Medicare and Medicaid, as well as private pay. Associated with it is Wesley Home Health, which provides services for homebound individuals in McDonough, Hancock, Fulton, and Schuyler counties.(See www.wesleyvillagemacomb.com.)

 

Western Illinois Home Health Care

This agency provides services for homebound individuals in McDonough, Hancock, Fulton, and Schuyler counties, including 24-hour nursing care, assistance after surgery, and various therapies. (See www.wihhc.com.)

 

Major Employers

 

Western Illinois University

Spoon River College

McDonough District Hospital

NTN Bower

Pella

Whalen Manufacturing

Macomb School District #185

 

Newspapers

The McDonough County Voice, a daily newspaper, is located at 26 West Side Square. It is a continuation of the Macomb Journal, which was established in 1855. Western Illinois University also has a weekly student newspaper, the Western Courier, which was established in 1905.

 

Transportation

Macomb has an Amtrak station, and that railroad line conveys passengers northeast to Galesburg (where other rail connections are available) and on to Chicago, as well as south to Quincy. The town also has the Go West Transit Bus system, which provides free transportation, connecting the downtown, the WIU campus, and shopping areas.

 

Notable People

 

Historical Figures

Robert Anstine (1937-2018) was the longest-serving mayor in Macomb’s history (1973-1991), and was noted for wide-ranging community efforts, including beautification, housing improvement, and founding of the annual Heritage Days Festival. He served as president of the Illinois Municipal League, held other state and local leadership posts, and worked in Illinois government during the 1990s as a community development official.

 

Alfred Bayliss (1847-1911), a British immigrant, was an educational leader who was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The key planner of the normal school that became Western Illinois University, he also served as the second president (1906-1911).

 

Clara Bayliss (1848-1948), Alfred’s wife, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the 1870s, became a crusader for improved child rearing and education, and also wrote ten books for children—often focused on native Americans—in the 1890s and early twentieth century.

 

V. Chandler (1843-1934), raised in Macomb, was a banker, civic leader, and philanthropist. He gave Macomb a downtown park, as well as that park’s Civil War monument. He also built the Macomb Opera House, created or led businesses, and financed the MI & L regional railroad.

 

James B. Fields (1850-1896) was a well-known nineteenth-century black preacher, evangelist, and lecturer. Perhaps his most noted lecture was “The History of the African Race in America.” Fields spent his early adulthood in Macomb, where he was a barber, and was later a minister in Denver.

 

Ray Hanson (1896-1982), the most famous coach in WIU history, developed the team name, “Leathernecks.” He had been a Marine hero in World War I. He also developed the ten-second rule in basketball (adopted in 1932). The WIU football field is named for him, and a statue to him, near the field, was erected in 2017.

 

Victor Hicken (1921-2010), a noted historian, spent most of his career at WIU (1947-1981). The most well-known of his several books are Illinois in the Civil War (1966) and The American Fighting Man  (1969). He also wrote The Purple and the Gold (1970), the first book-length history of WIU. He was also president of the Illinois State Historical Society (1976-1977).

 

Rose Jolly (1876-1937) was a noted local social crusader, who organized the McDonough County Humane Society (to protect children, as well as animals, from abuse and neglect) and was a co-founder and leader of the McDonough County Orphanage. She is one of several early female social crusaders noted on the Women’s Social Service Memorial in Chandler Park.

 

Robert (“Red”) Miller (1927-2017) was a noted football player at Macomb High and Western, and then he coached for a few years at Western before coaching various teams in the NFL. When Miller was head coach of the Denver Broncos (1977-1980), he led them to an AFL title.

 

Walter P. Morgan (1871-1958) was the longest-serving president of Western Illinois State Teachers College (1912-1942), which later became Western Illinois University. He was also a national leader in higher education, especially during the 1920s and early 1930s.

 

Leroy (“Stix”) Morley (1906-2000) was the most successful basketball coach in WIU history, leading teams to 367 victories in 22 years. He was named NAIA Coach of the Year in 1955, and he is in the NAIA Hall of Fame and the Basketball Hall of Fame.

 

Al Sears (1910-1990) was a saxophonist and bandleader. He played with Duke Ellington’s Band and the Johnny Hodges Band. He created early rock and roll tunes, such as “Castle Rock.” One popular album by him was Swing’s the Thing (1960).  He was born and partly raised in Macomb.

 

Y. Sherman (1858-1939), partly raised in McDonough County, later launched his career in Macomb. He became a lawyer and judge, then served in the Illinois House of Representatives, where he was Speaker of the House (1899-1902). He was later Lt. Governor of Illinois (1904-1908), a U.S. Senator (1913-1920), and an Illinois “favorite son candidate” for president (1916).

 

Damon G. Tunnicliff (1829-1901) was the leading figure in the McDonough County bench and bar during the later nineteenth century, and he had a wide reputation. He served on the Illinois Supreme Court in 1885.

 

Helen and Ruth Tunnicliff (Damon’s daughters) were groundbreaking female activists. Helen (1870-1933) became a lawyer in the 1890s and later a Cornell University professor. She wrote about American legal cases involving slaves. Ruth (1876-1946) became a Chicago bacteriologist, who published studies on many diseases. She identified the cause of measles in 1917.

 

Cyrus Walker (1791-1875) was a pioneer lawyer with a wide reputation, especially for success in criminal cases. He knew Lincoln, and they worked together to successfully defend Henry B. Truett in a noted 1838 Springfield murder case—in which Stephen Douglas led the prosecution. He also represented Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, and spoke in Illinois on political issues.

 

Josie Westfall (1873-1940) was a social crusader who co-founded the McDonough County Orphanage and served as the matron between 1911 and 1940, caring for over 500 children. She and several other early female social crusaders are noted on the Women’s Social Service Memorial in Chandler Park.

 

 

Modern Non-residents, Raised in Macomb

Phil Bradley (b. 1959) was a major league outfielder and pinch hitter (1983-1990). He had been a star athlete at both Macomb High School and the University of Missouri—Columbia. He was on the American League All-Star Team in 1985. He later coached at Westminster College.

 

Marcus Dunstan (b. 1978) is a screenwriter and director of horror films. He has co-authored screenplays for films in the Saw series, as well as two Feast films, and has been the screenwriter and director of The Collector (2009), The Collection (2012), and The Neighbor (2016).

 

Joe Garner (b. 19??) was an executive in the radio industry for many years and is a New York Times best-selling author of non-fiction pop culture books, such as We Interrupt This Broadcast (1998), And the Crowd Goes Wild (1999), And the Fans Roared (2000), and Stay Tuned (2002).

 

Todd Purdum (b. 1959) was a New York Times correspondent for twenty-three years, and more recently, he has been the national editor for Vanity Fair. He is also the author of A Time of Our Choosing: America’s War in Iraq (2003) and An Idea Whose Time Has Come (2014).

 

Rev. C. T. Vivian (b. 1924) is a famous minister and black civil rights leader. He was associated with Martin Luther King, a close friend, during the 1960s and was more recently president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 2013 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Vivian is the author of Black Power and the American Myth (1970).

 

Current Residents

Tom Carper (b. 1946), the second longest-serving mayor (1991-2003), also prioritized community upkeep. He led the effort to renovate and expand the historic Macomb City Hall, and he developed there a permanent Macomb photography exhibit. A leader in the Illinois Municipal League, he was later the western Illinois director of Opportunity Returns (2003-2010) and the chairman of the national Amtrak Board of Directors (2009-2013).

 

John Hallwas (b. 1945), a retired WIU professor, is the most well-published modern author on Illinois. His 28 books include true crime narratives, The Bootlegger (1998) and Dime Novel Desperadoes (2008), a regional history, Western Illinois Heritage (1983), and histories of Macomb and WIU. Several titles have won awards. He has also written historical plays, like The Conflict (2011), and hundreds of Illinois-related articles.

 

Fred Jones (b. 1940), a retired WIU art professor, grew up and started his art career in Wales, but later attended the University of Pittsburgh and earned an MFA at the University of Wisconsin. His landscape paintings have appeared in state and national exhibits—and have won awards. Some are in public collections in America and Wales. A selection of his paintings, along with commentaries on his work, appears in his Landscapes 1960-2012 (2014).

 

James A. Yunker (b. 1943), a retired WIU economics professor, has been perhaps the leading advocate of market socialism for many years. Along with many professional articles, he has written ten books on that subject, including Economic Justice (1997), Political Globalization (2007), and The Idea of World Government (2011). Yunker’s writings have also advocated “higher ethical values” that extend beyond national borders.

 

Further Reading

  • Clarke, S. J. History of McDonough County, Illinois: D. W. Lusk, State Printer, 1878.
  • Hallwas, John E. First Century: A Pictorial History of Western Illinois University. Western Illinois University, 1999.
  • Hallwas, John E. Here to Stay: Reflections on the Dead in a Small-Town Cemetery. Illinois Heritage Press, 2012.
  • Hallwas, John E. McDonough County Heritage. Illinois Heritage Press, 1984.
  • Hallwas, John E. Macomb: A Pictorial History. Bradley Publishing, 1990.
  • Hallwas, John E. On Community: A Crucial Issue, a Small Town, and a Writer’s Experience. Illinois Heritage Press, 2015.
  • Nemec, Allen R. Macomb Homes with Names: A Look into Macomb, Illinois’ Historic Homes, Their Past Inhabitants, and a View of Them Today. Privately printed, 2010.
  • Rezab, Gordana. Place Names of McDonough County, Illinois: Past and Present.

Western Illinois University, 2008.

 

City of Macomb (www.cityofmacomb.com)  Official community site.

McDonough County, Illinois (www.mcg.mcdonough.il.us)  Official county site.

WIU Malpass Library, Archives and Special Collections (www.wiu./libraries/archives)

 

NOTE:  This 2017 overview was a cooperative project of the City of Macomb, Archives and Special Collections at the WIU Library (which has many books, hundreds of articles, newspapers on microfilm, and other materials relating to Macomb), and the McDonough County Historical Society. All photographs are courtesy of the WIU Library Archives unless otherwise indicated.