Founding - 1860s

Founding: A Normal Birth

In 1854, the town of North Bloomington was platted in the area commonly known as "The Junction," located at the intersection of the Illinois Central and the Chicago and Alton railroads. At the time, the town consisted of all real estate between North Street to the north, South Street (now Florence) to the south, Elm Street (now Fell) to the west, and Chicago Street (now Linden) to the east. This parcel of land belonged to Joseph Parkinson, after whom Parkinson Street was named.

Jesse Fell

The first addition to the new town was developed by Jesse Fell in 1857 and lay north and east of the original plat. Although Jesse Fell is referred to as the founding father of Normal, he was not involved in the original layout of the town, but he soon became a central figure in the town’s development.

Jesse Fell is credited with many of the activities that built the fabric of the early town. Fell planted many trees on his properties, and the deeds to his lots had clauses that required the maintenance of the trees. In addition, Fell also placed clauses restricting the sale of alcohol on the deeds to the properties. Fell eventually became one of the most well known men in the history of the town.

1850-1860s: The Normal University

In 1857, Governor William Bissell signed a bill to create a normal school. Based on the French teaching schools, the term "normal" was the general name for all schools set up to be teachers’ colleges. The bill stipulated that the permanent location would be the place that offered the most favorable inducement. Jesse Fell took up the campaign for Bloomington and obtained financial backing totaling $141,000, which surpassed Peoria, the closest contender, by $61,000. Abraham Lincoln, in his capacity as an attorney, drew up the bond guaranteeing that Bloomington citizens would fulfill their financial commitments. The university first held classes in Bloomington while the campus was being built north of Bloomington. By 1861, Old Main, the all-purpose building for the university, was completed, and the state’s first public institution of higher education had a permanent home.

The population of Normal in 1860 was 847; in 1862, there were only about 20 houses in Normal.

Next: 1860s to 1900s