THE CITY OF URBANA
Is beautifully located at the south-western point of the Big Grove, in Town 19, Range 9, on high, rolling lands,
almost surrounded by the stately trees of the grove. The Salt Fork, which runs through the corporation, furnishes
an abundance ot water for mill purposes, and adds greatly to the beauty of ti e scenery. To the north and north-east
of the city, beautiful parks, of nature's planting, wanting only the care and attention of man to make them the
peers of any in the land, may be found within twenty minutes walk of the Court House; and we wonder that long ere
this the citizens of Urbana have not added this to the attractions of their town.
The first house erected here was by one Tompkins, about 1822, and was upon or near the site now occupied by the
The first hotel kept in the city was by Charles Busey in a small frame house on the spot where the brick storehouse
of John Gere now stands.
The second was by Asahel Bruer, where the Pennsylvania House now stands.
The first mill was a saw mill built by Col. Busey, north-west of the Court House, on the creek, and was washed
away by a flood.
The first flouring mill was by one Heptenstall, in 1838, a water mill, which also disappeared.
The second was a steam flouring and saw mill, erected by Wm. Park, in 1850. This mill still stands, and has no
superior in the county.
The third mill was built by Eli.= Halberstadt, also a model flouring mill of great capacity.
Upon the organization of the county in 1833, the first act of the County Commissioners' Court was to appoint commissioners
to select a site for the location of the county seat. Parties from Bloomington had purchased a tract of land in
the grove north of the "Salt Fork," and. there laid off a town which they called "Byron," and
tendered to the commissioners land whereon to locate the seat of government. At this time the road from Danvilie
to Bloomington ran north of the grove, and it was supposed that the county seat would be located on or near that
road. Col. M. W. Busey, however, who had settied here about the year 1831, tendered forty acres of land to the
infant county, on the high ridge just south of the grove, which, being considered the most.desirable, was wisely
selected, and the county seat permanently established at that place, and the name of Urbana given to the same.
The first store (variety) was kept by T. R Webber, opened in 1834, and closed about 1837 or 1838. This was in a
small building on the place where the store of Alex Spence now is. Mr. Webber was succeeded by Charles Tiernan.
Noah Bixler opened a store in 1841.
The first blacksmith and wagon maker was Joe Mills, about 1838. The first physician. was J. S. Sadler, from Indiana,
in 1838. The first preacher who settled here was A. Bradshaw, of the M. E. Church in 1840, and under his administration
the first church in the town was built; Mr. B. himself hewing out the frame. This church is now used by Mr. Benner
for a livery stable. The first cost was $500.
The next was the Baptist church, which was built by J. S. Busey in 1855, costing about $3,000, and Bro. Farr, of
the Baptist church in Champaign, was the pastor.
The next was the new brick M. E. church in 1856, costing $10,000.
In 1866 was erected the Presbyterian church (frame), at a cost of about $5,000, a very neat, beautiful structure.
Schools. - A Bruer taught the first school in the city, and the first school house was erected in 1854, of brick,
costing $8,000, and has since been enlarged by additions of wings to a cost of $22,000.
Wm. D. Somers, the first lawyer, was born in North Carolina, 1814, and came here in 1840 as a physician; but soon
after studied law and commenced the practice of the same in Urbana, where he has since resided. It may be said
of him, that few men who commence practice at the bar, reach that high point in the profession now occupied by
Mr. Somers. He has a clear, logical and legal mind, presenting his views in the argument of a case plainly, and
when aroused by its importance, with great force and effect. He has served long at the bar, and stands among its
members honored and respected. His partner (Mr. Wright) also is a young man of promise in the profession.
A. M. Ayers, judge of the county court, and H. W. Ayers, his brother, are also at the head of the profession in
the city, well known throughout the county as able and trustworthy attorneys; and none are superior to J. O. Cunningham,
of whom we gave a short sketch in another part of this work. Milton Mathews is an attorney of rare merit and great
The first court held in the county was in an old log stable belonging to Col. Busey, 1833, Judge Harlan presiding.
It is said the judge boarded with one Madam Cook, and fared sumptuously on roast possum and pumpkin.
We cannot forbear speaking of Col. M. W. Busey, the founder of the town. He was born in Kentucky, and went thence
to Indiana, and thence to Urbana in 1831, as before stated. Those who knew him best, say of him that he had few
superiors. He was gifted with a sound, practical mind, and gave, to the city he had established all of that energy
which, he possessed so largely, born of an ardent, enthusiastic temperament, backed by common sense. To the city
and its interests he was devoted; to his friends, warm hearted and generous; and to all he was just. In 1840 he
represented his county in the legislature of the State, retiring with honor and credit.
The bankers, Busey Bros., are the sons of M. W. Busey, of whom we have written, and have a bank that would do
credit to any town in the West.
Ermentrout, Harvey & Co., successors to Alexander & Ermentrout, are also bankers, deserving the confidence
of the public, which they have so liberally received.
The "Illinois Democrat," published here, by P. Lochrie, is of itself a testimony of the thrift and enterprise
of the town; while the bookbindery and job office of Flynn & Scroggs is the most complete establishment of
its class in Eastern Illinois. Their presses here are run by steam, and they are possessed of every facility necessary
for the performance of the work designed there.
There are now here, five dry goods houses, doing a large and rapidly increasing business, one clothing store, three
boot and shoe stores, with groceries, drug, and all other mercantile houses, and the various branches of industry,
represented by careful and skilled men.
Among other evidences of prosperity, the Griggs House, a large, beautiful and well appointed hotel, erected in
1870, will bear inspection. Mine host, E. Ater, has demonstrated that he can keep a hotel, while in all the departments
there is nothing lacking in comfort or elegance, wherewith to satisfy the demands of the hungry and weary. A full
description of this house would occupy more space than we have to devote to it, but we will say, that all things
considered; it is the best in Eastern Illinois.
Another evidence of prosperity is in the fact that a large number of new residences have been built during the
past year, and are still being erected with great rapidity, though still unable to supply the demand; very many
houses being occupied by two or more families.
The I. B. & W. R. R. which runs through the city, has established its Round House and repair shops here, and
a branch of the celebrated "Wilmington Car Manufactory" will soon be put in operation.
C. R. Griggs, to whom this town owes much, was born in North Adams, Mass., in the year 1824. He came to Champaign
county in 1859; and settled on a farm in the town of Philo, which he improved, and made one of the best farms in
the State. During the six years he was on this farm, he handled over 3,000 hogs, and never lost one with the cholera,
which, fact speaks well for his judgment and skill. In 1867 he was elected to the legislature of the State, and
after the expiration of his term, actively engaged in the construction of the Indianapolis, Bloomington and Western
Railroad, which but for his persistent energy, and mitiring zeal, would never have been built. Through all discouragements,
and over all opposition, he has compelled success to crown his efforts.
We cannot close this little sketch, without reference to one, who, though young in years, gave rich promise of
usefulness to come.
M. W. Romine, born in the county of Champaign, Illinois, Aug. 12, 1844, is the person to whom we refer. His
early life was passed on a farm, where learned what all farmers must learn, habits of industry, and economy of
time. In 1861, when but seventeen years of age, he responded to his country's call, and enlisted in Company E,
51st Illinois Infantry Volunteers. With this organization he performed the duties of a soldier, until the 19th
of September, 1863, when on the illfated field of Chickamauga he was fearfully wounded, and taken prisoner. While
thus a prisoner, he was taken to Richmond; thence to Danville, Virginia; thence to Andersonville, Georgia; thence
to Charleston, South Carolina; thence to to Florence, South Carolina; thence, December 7, 1864, after more than
one year of captivity, to the Federal fleet of Charleston Harbor; and was discharged, February 14, 1865, for disability.
In 1865 he entered the Chicago Law School, where he prosecuted the study of the law with earnestness and zeal,
and was admitted to the bar in 1866; and commenced practice in the town where he was born, the year following.
In 1867, he was appointed United States Internal Revenue Collector, for Champaign county. In the Spring of 1868,
he he was elected Attorney of the city of Champaign, by a large majority over his competitor, who supposed himself
to be a tolerably popular man at that time. Durmg all this time, however, the rebel bullet which had crashed through
his body, was fast doing its work; weaker and fainter, day by day, the emaciated form of Mathew Romine drew nearer
the portals of that narrow house to which thousands of his fellow-victims had gone before him. He died Aug. 10,
1868, lamented and mourned by all who knew him, from the least to the greatest. His mind and intellect were of
a superior order; and in his turn and disposition, he was peculiarly calculated to honor and adorn the profession
he had chosen; while in any capacity he would have been an ornament to society, and to the county a useful citizen.
This closes up the historical sketches of the towns and of the county. In this work we have been assisted, and
are indebted to, a large number of men from each of the towns, for items of history, and in some instances, for
the historical sketch complete. We have endeavored to have all correct, and labored long and assiduously to accomplish
that purpose. Of necessity, we have been brief, and much that would be of interest has been left out, but nothing
that is essentially necessary in showing the wealth and prosperity of the county, or the towns comprising the same.