1860s - 1900s

1860s: Incorporation in the State & the Civil War Orphans’ Home
In 1865, the Town was founded under the name of Normal. Two years later in 1867, the Town of Normal was officially incorporated by state charter. Under the formal State of Illinois charter, a town government of five trustees was elected, sidewalks were constructed and the sale of "intoxicating drinks" was prohibited. This prohibition remained until the early 1970s.

Eighteen sixty-five also saw the passage of legislation to establish a home for Civil War Orphans. It was a former orphanage and child welfare institution that provided a home for children of disabled soldiers or orphaned children. Jesse Fell, in a process similar to that of acquiring Normal University, encouraged others to contribute in an effort to locate the home in Normal.

In 1867, the Civil War Orphans' Home, later known as the Illinois Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's School, was offered to the Town of Normal, and Normal accepted. It was a former orphanage and child welfare institution that provided a place for children. One of the largest and most festive events held in the young Town was the dedication ceremony of the home in 1869. People from all over the state came to witness the event. By 10 am, more than 5,000 people had gathered to witness the dedication.

Normal was the home of the only two state supported institutions in McLean County: the university and the new Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School.

1870s-1890s: Booming Businesses and Town Improvements
Business flourished with horses, nurseries and other industries that brought both money and residents into the town. Normal’s nursery business had its beginnings in the 1850s, with the first nursery being located north and east of the town. Thomas Champion began his successful canning business in his basement in the 1870s. The boom years for the businesses occurred in the 1880s, when the town became a shipping center for berries, small fruits and vegetables. After the Civil War, the Dillon family brought their horse business, E. Dillon & Co., to Normal. They specialized in importing, breeding and selling Percheron draught horses. In 1887, Normal also had its first newspaper, “The Normal Advocate.” Banking services were also added to the town.

As the century drew to a close, various civic improvements were made in the Town, the first of which came as a result of a disaster. On August 4, 1890, a grocery store along Beaufort Street caught fire and caused the destruction of several downtown businesses. Much of the downtown area was rebuilt in the two-story brick buildings that are still in use today.

The 1890s saw many changes that met the Town’s growing needs. Beaufort Street was the first street to be paved in 1892. Electric power was introduced to the Town when a company was organized to provide electric lighting about that same time. In 1890 and 1896, two business district fires led to the purchase of a Town hand pump and a volunteer fire department. Local doctors organized the first hospital, which later became Brokaw Hospital. Near the end of the century in 1898, the first deep water well was built.

The Town’s first library, located on the second floor of the building at the northwest corner of Linden and Beaufort, was opened in 1896 and continued until 1900, when a vote to establish a library tax did not carry.
In 1899, following the Spanish-American War, the Civil War Orphans’ Home was amended to allow the children of soldiers and sailors of the Spanish-American War.

Next: 1900s to 1940s