Paxton, Illinois

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Paxton is a city in Ford County, Illinois, United States. The population was 4,525 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Ford County[1].



The town was initially named Prairie City in the late 1840s, then Prospect City by an Illinois Central Railroad official in 1855. However, as Wilbur W. Sauer points out in his study of the early history of Ford County, residents noted that the town was "all prospect and no city." In 1859, it was renamed for Sir Joseph Paxton, architect of the Crystal Palace, who was a major shareholder in the Illinois Central Railroad, which in 1856 was the longest span of railroad in the world (Chicago to Cairo). It was rumored that Paxton was interested in organizing an English settlement in Illinois. The colony never materialized, but the town kept the name. Founded in 1859, Paxton celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2009.

Augustana College was located in Paxton from 1863-1875, aided by a community effort led by recent Swedish immigrants to fund educational and cultural opportunities for citizens. An early public high school was established in 1872; it served the surrounding area for the next several decades, culminating in the formation of a community high school district in May 1920.

On June 22, 1919, former President William Howard Taft visited Paxton while on his way to Champaign. After disembarking from a long train ride, Taft delivered a speech in the Pells Park Pavilion in favor of U.S. entry into the newly formed League of Nations. An excerpt of his speech can be found in the June 26, 1919 edition of the Paxton Daily Record, which is available on microfilm at the Paxton Carnegie Library.

Taft is one of three Presidents to visit Ford County, joining Richard M. Nixon (who was Vice-President when he visited in 1957), and Gerald R. Ford, who visited Melvin on October 24, 1974 to honor Congressman Leslie C. Arends of Melvin for 40 years of service in the United States House of Representatives, including 32 years as the Republican Whip, the longest tenure in that position of anyone from either party.

On April 7, 1979, Paxton made the national news after a gun battle along Interstate 57 two miles (3 km) south of the city left two law enforcement officers and three civilians dead. "The I-57 Shootout" as it is known locally, began on a seemingly ordinary Saturday night. Illinois State Trooper Michael McCarter [1] was patrolling the area north of Paxton, accompanied by his civilian brother-in-law Donald Vice, when he clocked two southbound vehicles near Buckley going 65 miles per hour, 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. He eventually pulled them over a mile south of Paxton and radioed for assistance from Paxton police. Officer William Caisse [2] responded, as did Officer Larry Hale, who first stopped to ticket a motorcyclist.

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