Knox County Communities

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Knox County Communities

"Old Knox County Courthouse" "Old Knox County Courthouse" Library of Congress

The names of the towns in west-central Illinois are as familiar as the roads that connect them, but the stories behind those names reveal the area's unique history. Some settlements named after their founders, such as Galesburg, or their founder's hometowns, such as Abingdon. Others, such as Maquon and Dahinda, illustrate the Native American influence in the area, or trace their names to European heritage, such as Galva and Bishop Hill. Still others, such as Roseville and Williamsfield, picked up their names when the railroad came to town. Edward Callary, an associate professor of English at Northern Illinois University, has collected all of these stories in "Place Names of Illinois," soon to be released by University of Illinois Press. The entries provide information on pronunciation and etymology when appropriate, as well as the community's locations and insight into the historical and cultural context of place names all over the state. 

Here are summaries of the names of the places right under our noses, culled from Callary's book:

  • ABINGDON: Founded in 1836 by Abraham D. Swartz and named for his former home of Abingdon in Hartford County, Md., which was named for Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England. The post office was established in 1837 as Oregon, changed to Hartford in 1839 and then changed to Abingdon in 1852.
  • ALTONA: Founded in 1834 as La Pier, but the post office was established in 1844 as Walnut Grove and changed to Reno in 1868. The station on the Central Military Tract Railroad was
  • Altona, though, and just 11 days after being established as Reno, it was changed to Altona.
  • DAHINDA: Laid out in 1888 on the site of a former Native American village,
  • Dahinda takes its name from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha," in which Dahinda is the Ojibwa name of the bullfrog.
  • GILSON: Named after one of its founders – James Gilson. The post office was established in 1857.
  • KNOXVILLE: Known as Henderson until 1832, when it was renamed for its location in Knox County. It was the county seat until 1873. The post office was established in 1830 as Knox
  • Courthouse; the name was changed to Knoxville in 1844.
  • MAQUON: The village was laid out in 1837 and originally was called Bennington, perhaps after Bennington, Vt. The name was changed to Maquon in 1858, probably from a general Algonquin word recorded as A-maquon- sippi, which was translated into English as Spoon River.
  • ONEIDA: Founded in 1854 by Charles Camp, Oneida likely takes its name from Oneida County, N.Y. The tribal meaning of the name is “people of the standing stone.” The post office was established as Oneida in 1855.
  • RIO: The post office was established in 1848 as North Prairie and settlers also toyed with calling the town Coeburg after postmaster Nelson Coe before deciding on Rio, a reference to the Rio Grande, and changing the post office to that name in 1871.
  • VICTORIA: Probably named after Queen Victoria of Great Britain, whose coronation was in 1837, the same year the post office was established in Victoria.
  • WATAGA: This village was known as Urn when the post office first was established in 1853, but was changed to Wataga in 1855, likely a transfer from Watauga in North Carolina, Tennessee or Kentucky. Watauga comes from the Cherokee.
  • WILLIAMSFIELD: The post office was established in 1888 and the town is believed to have been named after a contractor for the Santa Fe Railroad.
  • YATES CITY: Likely named after the home of its founders in Yates County, N.Y.

Note: East Galesburg was not included in the book.
Story provided by The Register-Mail

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