The History of Canton, Illinois

Canton Area Chamber of Commerce
January 1996

About Canton: [ History - Education - Facts - Library - Transportation - Points of Interest - Parks ]

Outline of this Page

Founding of Canton -- Business -- Newspapers -- Schools
Library -- Parks & Recreation -- Health Care

Founding of Canton

Canton is located midway between Chicago and St. Louis. The city was founded by Isaac Swan in 1825, he named it thus, from a notion he entertained that its location was the antipodes of Canton, China. Soon after his arrival, Swan also built a saw mill on Big Creek. It was a valuable asset in a new country, where houses were a-building. The city's location is in the heart of a rich agricultural community. In the old days, before the Civil War, Canton was a station on the "underground railway" and many a slave, fleeing from his life of serfdom in Missouri found willing friends, who helped him on his way to Canada.

The Canton Public Square, situated in the heart of the town, is the business district, and the center of the community life. While its history is closely linked with that of the town, it has an interesting history of its own. In the first years the business district and most of the dwellings were on Avenue A. Nathan Jones came to Canton with his brother-in-law, Isaac Swan. Jones owned a quarter of land that "cornered" with Swan's. As Jones' quarter was timberland, and Swan's was smooth prairie land, they divided it through the center, from east to west. Swan took the north half and Jones the south half, and Jones laid off his first addition to the town of Canton. In 1830, he donated to the town the Public Square, for a business district. Isaac Swan gave the north side, as that was on the south line of his addition, of the original town of Canton. Today it is called Jones Park after it founder, Dean Nathan Jones.

Canton was incorporated in 1837 and received a special charter in 1849. The streets were renamed in 1890. In 1975 Canton enjoyed its Sesquicentennial. During the evening of July 25, 1975 the year-long Sesquicentennial festivities were dimmed when a devastating tornado struck, bringing much of the city down in destruction. At this time much has been rebuilt.

Everyone loves a parade, and the Canton Square has been the site of many processions throughout the years. Circus parades are now a thing of the past, but in 1898 crowds gathered to watch the animals, brightly decorated wagons, horses, and especially the elephants as they marched through the town to lure people to the Big Tent. A giant parade in 1925 helped to celebrate the 100th birthday of Canton with many individual and commercial entries.

Business in Canton

Factory workers in the 1800's produced agricultural implements, but the 17 cigar factories in town then required 600 employees, about 100 more than the plow factory. Canton manufacturing firms have produced a variety of products. Growth in business was rapid and soon there were a number of craftsmen in business in most trades, woolen mills, brickyards, foundries, and variety of stores. After Robert Culton began the manufacture of the Diamond Plow in 1840, a plow with a wooden mouldboard and iron share, William Parlin joined in partnership. Other partnerships of short duration followed but the steel plow first made by Mr. Parlin in 1842 was assured a fine future. By 1852 the Parlin and Orendorff Company was a established plow factory. It later became International Harvester Company which end up closing their doors in 1983.

The Canton Gas and Electric Power Company established by W. H. Parlin, was built on West Locust Street, at Big Creek in 1916. Then it was sold July 1, 1923 to the Central Illinois Public Service Company.

Through the more than 150 years of Canton's history probably two products are best known - Canton's P & O-IHC factory produced farm equipment used worldwide, and for several decades Canton was the largest cigar-manufacturing city in the Midwest.

Even in the 1880's Canton needed two banks to handle businesses that included 17 cigar factories, an implement factory that employed about 500 men, mills, brickyards and many smaller firms. Believed to be the first woman bank director in the U.S. is Mrs. Louisa McCall, widow of James McCall, organizer and president of the First National Bank. She also served 25 years as president of the Canton Aid Society. The McCall School was named for her. Today there is a total of five banks and savings and loan firms.


Canton has had several newspapers through the years. In 1911 U. G. Orendorff bought the Fulton County Ledger and named it the Canton Ledger. In 1926 the Canton Register was purchased and the two were consolidated. Today we have the Canton Daily Ledger and The Little Giant Advertiser.


When Isaac Swan laid out the town, he determined to secure neighbors with the view of establishing a church and a school, so in 1825, the first year of the town's history, Swan sawed the logs for a school house. The floor for the first year, was of the best variety of prairie soil. The seats were logs split in two parts, and supported on pins driven onto holes bored for the purpose. The city has an excellent school system today, including one high school, a junior high school and three grade schools. There is also, Spoon River College, a community college located two miles west of Canton.


Canton's Parlin-Ingersoll Library has long been outstanding and is well attended and used daily. The Canton Library Association began in 1852. In the will of William Parlin in 1892, money provided for erection of the Parlin Library, a building now used as the City Building. Mrs. Josephine Herring Resor was the first Librarian and a bronze plaque in her memory is now in the new library. In 1957 Charles D. and Elizabeth Ingersoll gave and endowment fund and the new Parlin-Ingersoll Library was constructed. Mr. Ingersoll had his office there for a few years and continued with his financial support for this splendid facility.

Parks & Recreation

Alice Ingersoll, another Canton philanthropist, gave money for construction of Alice Ingersoll Gymnasium. In addition to major sports events, the building is also used for major community activities, as directed in her bequest.

The Parks and Recreation facilities enjoyed by Canton are superior to most other cities of a similar size. The several historic parks of Owls Nest Park, Van Winkle, and Crystal Lake have been replaced by Big Creek Park, Wallace Park, Lakeland Park, South Park, Hulit Park, and Athletic Park which has lights and facilities for rated ball games. Ingersoll Airport is also under operation of the Park District. There are two golf courses close by.

Canton is proud of its YMCA and YWCA and the health departments and facilities. Cultural facilities include art and drama. Its Friendship Festival annually is a major event.

Health Care

When Graham Hospital opened in 1908, keys were presented to Dr. J. E. Coleman, whose son, Dr. Everett Coleman, erected the Coleman Clinic at Main and Walnut Streets, about two blocks from the Hospital. After eight decades of progress in medical facilities, Graham Hospital is equipped with a Trauma Center, School of Nursing, extended care facility, home health care service, as well as medical equipment sales & service.

About CANTON: [ History - Education - Facts - Library - Transportation - Points of Interest - Parks ]

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