Fairbury was laid out on November 10, 1857 by Caleb L. Patton and Octave Chanute.
Like most Illinois towns of the 1850s, the original town of Fairbury
was centered around a depot ground. It consisted of twenty-six blocks,
each divided into fourteen to sixteen lots. There was no central public
square, but one was later included in Marsh's addition. The plan used
was virtually identical to that at Chatsworth Illinois, including the
street names, and the plan very similar to that at Gridley and El Paso on the same railroad.
Octave Chanute was a civil engineer employed by the new Peoria and Oquawka Railroad, which is now the Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad. Caleb L.Patton
was an early settler on the land where the town was built. Chanute, a
French native,later famed for publishing Progress in Flying Machines,
which helped pioneer aviation. The Wright brothers
even mentioned Chanute as a mentor to them. Chanute built the railroad
that made Fairbury possible, but did so against the will of Patton,
Fairbury's first citizen.
It is Caleb Patton who should really be credited for the creation of
Fairbury. It was he who owned the land that the original town was built
on. And it was he who advertised lots for sale and attracted other
people to live there. Today, the original town's area starts at the
corner of Maple Street and First Street, and stretches to the corner of
Oak Street and Seventh Street. When Patton heard that Chanute wanted to
build a railroad in his general direction, he saw it as an opportunity
to make use of his otherwise deserted land and struck a deal. If Chanute
built his railroad through Fairbury, then Patton would give Chanute
half of the town's property.
Patton and Chanute had reached an agreement, and Chanute kept up his
end of the deal. Patton gave a small chunk of the land to the Baptist
Church, and set aside an area for the railroad and a depot. However,
when Chanute reached Fairbury, he was met by a group of armed citizens.
The town had passed an ordinance that no railroad would pass through
Fairbury, and they advised Chanute to simply build around the town
(preferably where the golf course is currently). They had even received
an injunction from Pontiac, Illinois forbidding Chanute from building a railroad through the town. Alma Lewis-James, author of Stuffed Clubs and Antimacassars: Account and Tales of Early Fairbury best describes what Chanute did next:
"...Chanute was clever. He did not use force, but quietly laid
his rails to the eastern edge of town, skipped Fairbury, began again at
the western edge, and worked straight on until Saturday night. In the
darkness and secretly, he moved his crews back; and the next morning, at
first dawn; and reinforced by armed guards of his own, he was ready for
business. To the consternation of the dumbfounded and helpless
villagers, he rushed the track straight through the town and the
courthouse was closed. By Monday morning he was well on his way to
In 1859 John Marsh bought 80 acres (320,000 m2) of land to
the west of Patton's. He donated a section of his property to the town,
and it was named Marsh Park. He named another part of his addition to
the town Livingston Square. It was to be used for businesses and
markets. He built the Arcade Block in another section, which were a
series of brick buildings connected to each other. Inside this block
were two saddle and harness stores, a gun and sporting goods store, a
poultry house, a drug store, Fairbury Marble Works (they made tomb
stones for the cemetery), and a bed spring factory. Many more businesses
were located here later on. In 1866, the Livingston Hotel was built. It
was renowned for being the only hotel in Illinois with running water.
The Walton Brothers building in downtown Fairbury is still operating as a department store
as of September 2007.
Marsh did not like the east side of Fairbury, and developed his west
side vigorously. His addition to the town caused it to split; the east
side versus the west side. Each side wanted to have the better houses,
the better buildings, the better parks, the better everything. However,
no one really knows how this feud started, but the town was clearly
divided. After that devastating fire, many of the people on the east
side went to work in Marsh's west side because of all of the work
opportunities over there. A new railroad was being considered, and Marsh
used his power to see that it only pass through the west side of
Fairbury, and not through the east.
Patton sold his real estate in Fairbury years prior to this, and
Wallace Amsbary was now the most prominent citizen in the east. When the
railroad came to the west end of Fairbury, the tracks were laid. Marsh
and his friends celebrated that Saturday evening. During the
celebration, Amsbary and his friends built the railroad through the east
side of Fairbury and then started it southbound towards Strawn. A train
passed over the tracks the next day, and they stayed there. Amsbary
celebrated his victory by building the Fairbury House, and advertised it
as the "Poorest Hotel in Illinois."
After the fire caused by the train, three more subsequent fires
succeeded in destroying many parts of the town. All of them were around
the railroad, and together they destroyed more than twenty buildings and
houses. Additionally, every few nights someone would try to start a
fire in a residential area, and sometimes succeeded. Fairbury had
somehow managed to become a prime location for pyromaniacs.
Whenever a fire would erupt, the town's fire bell rang. Currently,
the bell can be found in front of the fire station on Locust Street. A
fire was more of a festival than a tragedy because it seemed like
whenever the bell rang, the whole town would show up to watch the fire.
Fairbury wasn't necessarily large at the time, so finding the fires were
not too difficult. Soon, Fairbury became known as the most flammable
town in the Midwest.
The Thomas A. Beach House
is one of two Fairbury properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The fire era of Fairbury came to an end after the Livingston Hotel
burned. Marsh blamed Amsbary for the fire, and Amsbary blamed Marsh.
Both of the men filed suits against each other for arson, and then for
slander. Marsh was indicted, but was found not guilty. The power that
the two men held in the town quickly died down, as did the feud between
the east and west sides of Fairbury. The town ceased its civil quarrel,
and agreed to work with each other instead of against each other. With
that, Fairbury was to become just another small town along the Toledo,
Peoria, and Western Railroad.
A resident and restaurant owner named Ronald McDonald was in a 26-year legal battle with McDonald's
over the name of his restaurant. He ultimately prevailed, and continued
using his name on his restaurant despite objections by the franchise.
Fairbury is located at 40°44′46″N 88°30′51″W.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1.3 square miles (3.4 kmē), all of it land.
As of the census of 2000, there were 3,968 people, 1,544 households, and 1,053 families residing in the city. The population density
was 3,060.1 people per square mile (1,178.5/kmē). There were 1,623
housing units at an average density of 1,251.7 per square mile
(482.0/kmē). The racial makeup of the city was 96.80% White, 0.40% African American, 0.05% Native American, 0.45% Asian, 1.66% from other races, and 0.63% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.60% of the population.
There were 1,544 households out of which 34.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.5% were married couples
living together, 8.4% had a female householder with no husband present,
and 31.8% were non-families. 28.2% of all households were made up of
individuals and 15.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age
or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family
size was 3.05.
In the city the population was spread out with 27.0% under the age of
18, 7.5% from 18 to 24, 25.5% from 25 to 44, 19.0% from 45 to 64, and
21.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years.
For every 100 females there were 90.2 males. For every 100 females age
18 and over, there were 85.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $41,298, and the
median income for a family was $51,117. Males had a median income of
$33,507 versus $24,188 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,145. About 3.3% of families and 4.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 3.5% of those under age 18 and 4.3% of those age 65 or over.
The offices of the Prairie Central Consolidated School District are located in Fairbury, as is the district's only high school, Prairie Central High School. High school graduates who attend community college do so at Heartland Community College, either in Pontiac or Normal.