The part of Vermilion County known as Danville once belonged to the Miami, Kickapoo, and Pottowatomie tribes of the Algonquin Indians. The salt deposits located on the Vermilion River attracted a variety of wildlife, providing a plentiful food supply to the Indians. These salt wells also attracted the first white settlers to this region to develop a salt works. A monument, located at the Vermilion County Museum, recognizes the Salines of the Vermilion and is referred to in French records as early as 1706. In 1818, the Kickapoo Indians ceded a large area of land to the federal government, including the area now known as Vermilion County. In 1827, early settlers Guy W. Smith and Dan W. Beckwith donated land near the mouth of the North Fork of the Vermilion River. This became the county seat. In the mid-1800's, coal miners settled in Danville and Vermilion County, ranking the area as the top coal producer in Illinois. The strip-mined areas have grown into today's sprawling, beautiful chain of state and county parks.
From 1841 to 1859, Abraham Lincoln practiced law in Danville. In 1852, he established a local law firm with Ward Hill Lamon. This was Lincoln's only permanent law office on the circuit. While on his senatorial campaign in September of 1858, Lincoln stepped through a window onto a balcony at the home of his longtime friend, William E. Fithian. Standing in his stocking feet, Lincoln proceeded to give a speech to the residents of Danville. Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln's opponent, was also campaigning the area, giving speeches in the wooded area now known as Douglas Park. Established in 1864, Springhill Cemetery is located between English and Voorhees Streets. Here, one can find the graves of Danville's founders as well as those of historical figures such as General John C. Black and "Uncle Joe" Cannon. Also, friends of Abraham Lincoln are buried here.
Located on Gilbert Street in Danville, the Vermilion County Museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Vermilion County Museum formerly was the home of Dr. William E. Fithian. The bedroom that Abraham Lincoln used while visiting Dr. Fithian contains the bed that he slept in, and memorabilia representing Lincoln's connections to the Danville Area. Dr. Fithian's former office and a 1911-era dentist's office have been recreated. Other rooms at the museum are filled with period antiques and historic artifacts. The Joseph G. Cannon room contains many of his personal artifacts. Cannon was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 46 years, and Speaker of the House from 1903-1911. The Carriage House behind the museum contains a turn-of-the-century kitchen, a 1900's school room, a president's room, and an extensive doll collection. An annual Christmas walk takes place at the museum in early December, with special appearances by Abraham Lincoln and members of the Illiana Civil War Historical Society. The museum is open for tours year around.
The 1840's cottage-style home of Joseph Lamon and Melissa Beckwith Lamon is believed to be the oldest frame house in the Danville area. Joseph Lamon was the cousin of Abraham Lincoln's law partner, Ward Hill Lamon. Melissa Beckwith Lamon was the daughter of one of Danville's founders, Dan Beckwith. The home originally stood near downtown Danville on North Street, but was moved to its present location in Lincoln Park and was completely restored in the early 1980's.
Harmon Mansion was a 30-acre farm built around 1850. Originally owned by Colonel Harmon, an attorney and friend of Abraham Lincoln, the mansion is now a private business. Lincoln was reported to have once visited the residence for Thanksgiving.
Vermilion Chapel, built in 1868, is the oldest frame structured church in Vermilion County. Restored by the Danville Altrusa Club, it is located in the Kennekuk Cove County Park. The chapel is open to the public during the summer and is available for weddings.
Another popular historic site for weddings is Mann's Chapel, located 10 miles north of Danville. Built in 1857, it was designed to look like a rural English chapel.
Stoney Creek Bridge is one of the few stone arch bridges of its design in the United States. Built in 1895 by John Beard, a former mayor of Danville, it is the only standing segmental-arch bridge in east central Illinois.
The Fischer Theatre was built in 1884 as Heinley's Grand Opera House, and was used for many years as a movie theater. The Fischer is currently undergoing restoration.
The Vermilion County War Museum is located in the Carnegie Building that was formerly the Danville Public Library. Housed on two floors, the main level contains memorabilia covering more than 200 years of U.S. military history, from the Revolutionary War to Desert Storm. The exhibits include medals, uniforms, field equipment, flags, and much more.
Along with other memorabilia shown at the museum are the histories of Vermilion County's five Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. The Congressional Medal of Honor was established in 1863 as a means of recognizing actions above and beyond the "Call of Duty." Actions considered by Congress worthy of special recognition. Since its inception, slightly more than 4,000 medals have been awarded, a great many of which have been awarded posthumously. Vermilion County's Congressional Medal of Honor (CMH) recipients are:
Two Danville brothers, Lt. Col. John C. Black and Capt. Wm. P. Black, were presented the CMH in the Civil War when they were serving with Co. K, ILL 37th Infantry.
Sgt. Joseph F. Knight of Danville was awarded the CMH while with the 6th US Calvary in May 1891 at White River, South Dakota.
Major Kenneth D. Bailey, USMC, of Danville received the CMH for gallantry in action and was killed in the Battle for Guadalcanal in 1942.
Lt. Carlos C. Ogden of Fairmount was awarded the CMH while serving with the US Army near Cherbourg, France in 1944.
Danville Junction Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society operates the Rossville Depot Railroad Museum in Rossville, Illinois. The depot, built by the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad in 1903, has been restored to the 1950's era of that former road. The building sits adjacently to the Chicago-Nashville mainline of CSX Transportation, formerly known as Seaboard System and earlier the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. The depot has been leased from these lines since 1976.
The museum features a collection of railroad material from various railroads in the area. Those featured include the C&EI, Wabash, Illinois Terminal and NYC. The operator's bay has been restored with operating telegraph keys and sounders. Dwarf signals of several styles light the agent's room. The collection includes many lanterns, the bass drum from the C&EI "Flyer Band" of the 1920's, and a four foot high replica of the front end of a C&EI F-unit from the 1949 Chicago Railroad Fair.
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