Towanda, Illinois

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Coordinates: 40°33′51″N 88°53′56″W / 40.56417°N 88.89889°W / 40.56417; -88.89889
Towanda Il Route 66 4.JPG
The Old U.S. Route 66 roadbed is a walking trail in Towanda
Country United States
State Illinois
County McLean
Township Towanda
Elevation 776 ft (237 m)
Coordinates 40°33′51″N 88°53′56″W / 40.56417°N 88.89889°W / 40.56417; -88.89889
Area 0.75 sq mi (2 km2)
 - land 0.75 sq mi (2 km2)
 - water 0.00 sq mi (0 km2)
Population 480 (2010)
Density 689 / sq mi (266 / km2)
Founded May 5, 1875
Timezone CST (UTC-6)
 - summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
Postal code 61776
Area code 309
Location of Towanda within Illinois
Location of Towanda within Illinois
Wikimedia Commons: Towanda, Illinois

Towanda is a village in McLean County, Illinois, United States. The population was 480 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Bloomington–Normal Metropolitan Statistical Area.



Towanda, Illinois, was named for Towanda in Bradford County, Pennsylvania. The land on which Towanda stands was first entered by Charles Badeau who had graduated from Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, in 1840, and was employed as the assistant to the chief engineer of what was then the Alton and Springfield Railroad.[1] Because in Illinois at that time it was illegal for railroads or their officials to establish new towns, much of the land was then transferred to two McLean County real estate developers Jesse W. Fell (November 10, 1808 – February 22, 1887) and Charles W. Holder (September 29, 1819 - April 30, 1900). These two men laid out the town of Towanda and filed the plat on December 7, 1854.[2] Jesse W. Fell, a native of Chester County in southeastern Pennsylvania, was a widely known land dealer in Central Illinois who played major role in founding many Illinois towns including Clinton, Dwight, Normal, Pontiac, and who was the driving force behind the establishment of the school that would become Illinois State University [3] Holder was linked with Fell in many of his town founding schemes including Normal and Larchwood in Lyon County, Iowa; the McLean County town of Holder is named in his honor. Fell association with the railroad goes back to the time when it was surveyed. On at least two occasions he was able to alter the exact of the railroad to suit his own interests: organizing a bend in the road so it would pass through his town of Normal[4] and making a slight change in the survey so it would pass through the Livingston County town of Pontiac, where he had interests rather than the rival town of Richmond.[5] Shortly after Towanda was laid out most of the land was back in the hands of the railroad's land agent English-born Charles Roadnight (1814-?). Roadnight built the first warehouse in Towanda; he settled in Bloomington, had a farm in Dwight, and in 1858 later became treasurer of what was then the Chicago and Alton Railroad.[6]

Original design[edit]

Central Illinois Towns of the 1830s, like Bloomington, Lexington, Leroy and Pontiac, were usually built around a central square. In contrast, most towns of the 1850s, like Towanda, were oriented toward the railroad tracks. In the case of Towanda a diagonal main street was established parallel to the railroad, with the main building lots on only one side; the effect was to have the commercial establishments look across the street toward the tracks.[7] This was a common design in newly established towns along the Chicago and Alton Railroad and may be found, with slight variations, in places like Dwight, Gardner, Odell and Mclean; Fell's town of Normal, established at the same time as Towanda, was to have had exactly the same arrangement; except that in Normal, the original street paralleling the railroad, quickly lost its importance to the reverse side of the block. This standard town plan often left town designers with odd triangular pieces of land, where the diagonal street met with other streets which were aligned north-south or east-west. These traianges are often still in public hands. In the case of Towanda, Fell gave each of two triangular areas, one on either side of the tracks, to the town. On the Original deed they were given the name "plaza" and both have always served the city as parks.[8]


built the first residence in the new town and James Alexander the first warehouse. These were soon followed by Weley Bishop's grocery and Frank Henderson's dry goods store.[9] The largest building was a two story structure built by Charles Roadnight, which was fifty by one hundred feet; the first floor was used for stores and the second as a meeting toom. It burned about 1900.[10] In 1873-1874 wooden sidewalks were being built, followed by brick sidewalks in 1891, and concrete walkways in 1916. The town was officially incorporated in 1870. The first jail was built in the North Park and replaced at least once; the structure can not have been very substantial because in 1901 the town fathers were forced to appoint a committee to inquire into what had happened to the jail.[11] Perhaps the most exciting event in the town's history was the attack on the Buena Vista Tavern. A group of local women took exception to the amount of money their menfolk were spending on whiskey. The assmebled at the hardware store where they were issued hatchets. They then marched into the Buena Vista smashing bottles, threatening the barman, and hurling whatever they could find through the tavern windows. Each of the women was fined one dollar.[12]

Early views[edit]

A series of photographs taken in the 1870s give a striking view of early Towanda town. They show a town criss crossed with fences and looking rather like the set for a western movie. Cattle and hogs were diriven into town at night and penned before shipping on the railroad. Houses are carefully fenced to protect gardens from stray livestock. The majority of the homes are wooden I-cottages; single story, or story-and-a-half, wood frame dwelings with a symmetrical facede. There are some modest two story structures. Along the railroad long rail corn crib may be seen. The simple board and battan railroad station is clearly visible Perhaps the most striking structure is a stone tank house topped with a windmill.[13]

Twentieth century[edit]

Towanda has been plagued with fires. In 1905 a large part of downtown burned and in 1917 the original railroad station went up in flames. But there was also progress. In 1901 telephone service began and in 1937 Main Street was paved.[14] Still, Towanda remained in the shadow of its larger neighbors to the south, Normal and Bloomington, and was always smaller than Lexington, the next town north on the Chicago and Alton Railroad. Trains were essential to the development of the town, but traffic was never heavy; in 1887 only one southbound and one northbound freight stopped at Towanda.[15] Passenger service stopped in the 1940s. Most travel had had long since been replaced by automobile and truck traffic along the roads which paralleled the Chicago and Alton: Route 4 in the teens, Route 66in the 1930s, and Interstate 55 in the 1970s.

In 2006 the Towanda Area Historical Society partnered with the Towanda District Library to obtain a digital imaging grant from the Illinois State Library titled “Capturing Towanda’s Past for Eternity”. An exceptional collection of scanned documents and images were added to their website as a result [1].


Towanda is located at 40°33′52″N 88°53′57″W / 40.56444°N 88.89917°W / 40.56444; -88.89917 (40.564435, -88.899048).[16] According to the 2010 census, the village has a total area of 0.75 square miles (1.9 km2), all land.[17]

The village gets 37 inches (940 mm) of rain per year. The U.S. average is 37. Snowfall is 24 inches (610 mm). The average U.S. city gets 25 inches (640 mm) of snow per year. The number of days with any measurable precipitation in the village is 104.

On average, there are 190 sunny days per year in Towanda, IL. The July high is around 87 degrees. The January low is 16. Towanda-area historical tornado activity is slightly above Illinois state average. It is 114% greater than the overall U.S. average.

On May 5, 1977, there was an F4 (max. wind speeds 207-260 mph) tornado 22.2 miles (35.7 km) away from the Towanda village center that injured 2 people and caused between $500,000 and $5,000,000 in damages.

On July 7, 2004, there was an F4 tornado 23.9 miles (38.5 km) away from the village center that injured 3 people.[2]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1890 402
1900 467 16.2%
1910 404 −13.5%
1920 404 0.0%
1930 453 12.1%
1940 430 −5.1%
1950 400 −7.0%
1960 586 46.5%
1970 578 −1.4%
1980 630 9.0%
1990 856 35.9%
2000 493 −42.4%
2010 480 −2.6%
Decennial US Census

As of the census of 2000, there are 493 people, 199 households, and 146 families residing in the village. The population density is 709.0 inhabitants per square mile (271.9/km²). There are 207 housing units at an average density of 114.2 persons/km² (297.7 persons/mi²). The racial makeup of the village is 98.58% White, 0.41% African American, 0.41% from other races, and 0.61% from two or more races. 0.41% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 199 households out of which 29.1% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 62.3% are married couples living together, 8.5% have a woman whose husband does not live with her, and 26.6% are non-families. 22.6% of all households are made up of individuals and 7.0% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.48 and the average family size is 2.91.

In the village the age distribution of the population shows 24.1% under the age of 18, 5.7% from 18 to 24, 33.7% from 25 to 44, 23.7% from 45 to 64, and 12.8% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 37 years. For every 100 females there are 94.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 95.8 males.

The median income for a household in the village is $41,705, and the median income for a family is $51,875. Males have a median income of $33,750 versus $30,078 for females. The per capita income for the village is $18,702. 5.3% of the population and 2.6% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 8.1% are under the age of 18 and 3.4% are 65 or older.


Towanda has a grain silo complex, local library, and Towanda Elementary School of Normal, Illinois School District Unit Number 5.

Each July 3, Towanda has a spaghetti supper in the evening and a street dance at night. People from Towanda and surrounding areas come out for the festivities.

On July 4, a parade goes through Towanda and is considered a big event in McLean County. Individuals and families from around Bloomington, Normal, Hudson, Lexington and elsewhere come out for it. Additionally, there is a flea market and the two parks where vendors come from all around the United States to sell their antiques and other items.


  1. ^ Nicholson, Frank Walter, Alumni Record of Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut (New Haven, 1911) p. lxvi.
  2. ^ History of McLean County, Illinois (Chicago: William LeBaron, 1879) p.596.
  3. ^ Morehouse, Francis Milton, The Life of Jesse W. Fell (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1916).
  4. ^ Ekberg, Carl, William D. Walters, Jr. and Ann Malone, The Legecy: A Survey of the Historical Architecture of the Town of Normal (Normal: Town of Normal, 1990) P.7-10.
  5. ^ History of Livingston County, Illinois (A History of Livingston County, Illinois (Dallas: Curtiss Media, 1991) p.5.
  6. ^ History of McLean County, 1879,p.596.
  7. ^ McLean County Combined Indexed Atlases, 1856 - 1914 (Bloomington: McLean County Historical Society and McLean County Genealogical Society, 2006) p. 108.
  8. ^ Sublett, Michael D., William D. Walters, Jr. and Sutherd Modry, Commentary on a Cornbelt Countryside (Normal: Illinois State University Department of Geography-Geology, 1973) p. 119.
  9. ^ History of McLean County, 1879, pp 596-598.
  10. ^ Towanda, McLean County, Illinois, 1826-1926 (compiled by Mildred Hurst Roberts and Elizabeth Jones Winter (Towanda: Towanda Area Historical Society and Towanda District Library, ca 1976)p. 24-28.
  11. ^ Towanda, McLean County, ca 1976, pp 24-28.
  12. ^ Towanda, McLean County, ca 1976, p.60.
  13. ^ Greg Koos, "Views of Towanda: The Material Culture of an Early Illinois Tank Town," Material Culture 31:3 (Fall 1999)pp. 1-20.
  14. ^ Towanda, McLean County, ca 1976, pp 28-31
  15. ^ Official Railway Guide: North American Freight Service Edition American Association of Passenger Traffic, 1887)p. 371.
  16. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  17. ^ "2010 Census U.S. Gazetteer Files for Places – Illinois". United States Census. Retrieved 2012-10-13. 

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