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Modern Valley history began with the first pioneer settlers who arrived in the early 1800’s. The Illinois River and the rich soil of the Illinois Valley attracted these early settlers. Opportunities for work on construction of the Illinois-Michigan Canal in 1836 drew thousands more. The cities of LaSalle, Peru, DePue, Hennepin, and Utica had their beginnings between 1820 and 1840. In the early 1850’s, construction of the Illinois Central and the Rock Island railroads brought a new influx of labor and early industry to the area.
Rapid industrial expansion followed. Area coal mines provided an economical power source, and the river, railroads, and the Illinois-Michigan canal offered a convenient mix of transportation. Among the companies founded before 1900 are W.H. Maze Company (1854), Marquette Cement Company, now Lone Star (1898) and American Nickeloid Company (1898).
Industrialization led to the founding of new cities and villages. Spring Valley established in 1885, Ladd in 1890, and Oglesby in 1902. The era of coal mining ended with the closing of the most mines in the 1920’s.
As a result, the Illinois Valley recognized the need for industrial diversification. And, as their pioneer forefathers met the challenges of their time, modern Illinois Valley leaders pooled their knowledge and skills to attract new industry.
Their successes in the effort include the Hobbs Divisions of Stewart-Warner Corporation, American Hoccht (now known as Huntsman Chemical), Sundstrand Corporation (today Sauer Sundstrand), Jones & Laughlin Steel (now LTV Steel Corporation), and many others.
Transportation spurred the Illinois Valley’s initial growth in the early 1800’s and is again playing an important role in accelerating commercial and industrial development with the current location of major distribution centers and manufacturing operations. The Illinois Valley’s east-west 1-80 and new north-south new 1-39 position the Valley as a vigorous crossroads and industrial center for the 21st century.
*Information courtesy Oglesby, Our Home Town written by the Oglesby Historical Society.