History of Downs, Illinois

Downs Township occupies, in the southern tier of townships, the fourth from the eastern border of the county, and is described as Town 22 north, Range 3, and the northern two tiers of sections of Town 21 north, Range 3 east of the Third Principal Meridian. Downs was principally a prairie town, having no timber except Diamond Grove, a small collection of timber on the Kickapoo, in Sections 5, 6 and 7, and skirting of ” Old Town Timber,” along the northern border of Sections 1, 2 and 3, and “Johnson’s Point,” a small grove in Section 25-covering in the aggregate scarcely four sections of the forty-eight which constitute the town.

The Kickapoo is the only creek in Downs, running for about three miles across its northwestern corner. °’ Blue Branch ” and ” Jacoby’s Branch ” run through the -town, and the Long Point Creek, a branch of the Kickapoo, forms in the southern part.

The land in the northern half is high and considerably rolling, containing some of the finest farms in the county. The southern portion is more flat, and contains fewer which attract the pleasurable attention of the traveler.

The timber here was good, and several mills were built early along the Kickapoo for sawing it into lumber. Before any mills were built, the hardy pioneers whittled out the first lumber with whip-saws, a process slow enough, and so gone out of date in this part. of the country that many of the readers of these pages will wonder what whipsawing is. The log to be sawed was first hewed to a partial square, so that it would remain in position and could be lined with a carpenter’s line, and then raised upon a frame erected for the purpose, high enough for one of the sawyers to stand erect under it; a pit was dug deep enough so that the ” man below,” or pit-man, could do his work without inconvenience. The saw was not unlike a common cross-cut saw, except, of course, the teeth, which were set for rip work. One man stood on the log, and one underneath, the pitman being obliged to cover his face with a silk handkerchief, or some similar covering, to prevent the sawdust from ruining his eyes. The sawyers were obliged to follow the lines, and it required no small amount of skill to make very decent boards. Two hundred feet a day (board measure) was a big day’s work for two men, about what a good mill will cut in ten minutes. Still, this is the way our fathers made their first lumber, and the way still practiced in boat-yards and in countries where timber is so scarce that there is no demand for mills.

In 1868, under the pressure of the popular railroad arguments, Downs voted $10,000 stock in the Indianapolis, Bloomington & Western Railroad. The road was built, and runs, for about five miles; across the northeast corner of the township, from northwest to southeast, cutting Sections 5, 4, 10, 11 and 13. The station on Section 4 is the only railroad station in town.

This road was recently sold out under foreclosure of mortgage, and the stockholders get nothing for their stock. The Court, however, found a way to allow lawyers’ fees, amounting to $32,000, for their labors in cleaning the stockholders out. The records of the township do not show that the lawyers have yet “declared a dividend” on the stock owned by Downs.

  1. Early Mills of Downs, Illinois
  2. Early Settlers of Downs, Illinois
  3. Early Churches of Downs, Illinois
  4. Town Officers of Downs, Illinois
  5. The Village on Downs, Illinois


Le Baron, William., Jr. & Co. The History of McLean County, Illinois: portraits of early settlers and prominent men. Chicago. W. Le Baron, Jr., 1879.

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