— Looking for Lincoln —
On the Bloomington RoadThe Fort Clark Road, later known as the Bloomington or State Road, was an important artery for commerce between Danville and Urbana. The road was first approved in 1826 by the Illinois Assembly. It was the first state road into western Vermilion County, which in 1833 became Champaign County. The map at left is the original 1820's survey map from the state line (right) to Big Grove (Urbana). The road was resurveyed by Moses Thomas in 1835, and Prather's Ford across the Salt Fork was abandoned in favor of Strong's Ford to the south. In 1849, Strong's Ford became Kelley's Ford, the inn becoming a frequent stop for Abraham Lincoln on the Eighth Judicial Circuit.
Abraham Lincoln was a frequent traveler on this road from the late 1840's until 1859, defending clients in the Eighth Judicial Circuit of Illinois. In 1849 the Eighth Judicial Circuit covered an area of 11,000 square miles, later being reduced in size as the population of central Illinois increased. Court sessions were held generally in the spring and fall with terms in regular order allowing the judge and attorneys to travel from courthouse to courthouse. In the decade that Abraham Lincoln traveled the road, it was well defined but sometimes impassible because of mud. Lincoln, accompanied by his law books in leather saddlebags, would stay overnight in St. Joseph at Kelley's Tavern or further east at the Twin Oaks Inn in Vermilion County, Lincoln traveled the road alone on horseback or by carriage with Eighth Circuit Judge David Davis. Davis, a friend and later political consultant to Lincoln, was a Bloomington attorney whom Lincoln would later appoint to the United States Supreme Court.
The first surveys of this area in 1820 and 1821 revealed the land to be grasslands dotted with groves and ponds. The original trails were made by migratory herds and native peoples. The later Bloomington Road was heavily traveled, and the clay soils of Champaign County sometimes made travel in the spring and fall - by horseback or wagon - impossible. In 1915, the Alliance Chapter of the Daughters of American Revolution began a project to recognize the State Road as a historical trail and later formed the Abraham Lincoln Circuit Marking Association. On October 12, 1923, the Champaign - Vermilion county line marker was dedicated, and Senator William B. McKinley spoke at the dedication. The trail was also marked by the Prairielands Council of the Boy Scouts, and a hiking trail from Homer Lake to Kickapoo State Park opened in 1980's.
The Clark NeighborhoodThe 1847
A New map of Illinois by Samuel Augustus Mitchell (at left) shows the village of Union on the Bloomington Road between Danville and Urbana. Mitchell's map was published in Philadelphia, and it included proposed canals and roads, as well as distances between points on the stage and steamboat routes. Lincoln's travels in the late 1840's until 1859 followed the routes shown on this map. The Saline [Salt] F[ork] crossing of the Bloomington Road to the west was known as Strong's Ford, later Kelley's Ford.
When Abraham Lincoln traveled through here on the 8th Judicial Circuit, the surrounding area was being settled by Moses Thomas and later by Michael D. Coffeen. Thomas was the first postmaster in the area, building a cabin (just east of this sign) and a mill and dam on the Salt Fork River (further south). He established the Union Post Office in his cabin in 1833. However at the site of his mill, Thomas founded the town of Homer with Michael D. Coffeen. Union would remain a post office until it was moved to Coffeen's store in 1841 and renamed Homer. While Moses and his son John Thomas were ardent Democrats, Coffeen supported the founding of the Republican Party in Homer. He served as a senatorial delegate to the Republican convention in 1856, and supported not only Abraham Lincoln's election, but also assisted in raising troops from Homer in support of the Civil War effort. By 1864, there were only 9 votes for McClellan (and against Lincoln) in all of Homer.
By 1856, Abraham Lincoln used the Great Western Railroad for much of his journey, still visiting with his friends at Kelley's tavern. This same railroad inspired the residents of Homer in February 1855 to move their homes and businesses over a mile, dragging them on skids pulled by oxen, to meet the new tracks. The move was a financial windfall to Michael D. Coffeen who owned much of the land nearby.
Another early landowner, George Ziegler Clark, settled in this vicinity after the post office was moved from Union to Homer in 1841 and worked ambitiously to clear and cultivate the virgin prairie and groves he found here. Today, the Champaign County Forest Preserve District protects the wooded areas and the Salt Fork River while restoring the prairie in its Homer lake Forest Preserve, on land once known as the Clark neighborhood.