Olney, Illinois

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Olney (pronounced /ˈɔːlni/, AWL-nee) is a city in Richland County, Illinois, United States. The population was 8,631 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Richland County.[1]



Settlement of the Richland County area began around 1815 when Thaddeus Morehouse a native of Vermont arrived by wagon and built a log cabin along a stagecoach route that ran from Vincennes, Indiana to St. Louis. This log cabin operated as a hotel and tavern. Richland County was organized as a county in 1841 when it was formed by a partitioning of Edwards County. There was some controversy regarding the location of the county seat,however, Olney was determined the choice based on a donation of land and the central location. The name of the town Olney was suggested by Judge Aaron Shaw who desired to honor a friend, Nathan Olney. It was not until 1848 that Olney was incorporated as a village. The Civil War brought a great deal of turmoil to the County as there were sympathies for both sides. President Lincoln and Douglas spoke at separate political rallies in Olney on September 20, 1856. The Olney paper was said to be the first newspaper to endorse President Lincoln. While most citizens rallied around the Union it was necessary to have troops stationed in Olney to enforce the draft as union deserters were found refuge among local citizens. Overall however the county was pro Union and an estimated 1700 Richland County citizens fought for the Union in the Civil war. Nearly 1000 Olney residents served in World War I and during World War II Richland County may have been the only Illinois county outside of Cook that provided 4 generals for the war effort. The first census of Richland County was in 1850 at which time 4,012 people resided in the county. One hundred years later the 1950 census found Olney to be the population center of the United States.

Squirrel population

Olney is known for its population of white squirrels. There are two hypotheses about how there came to be white squirrels in Olney.

The first is that in 1902 William Stroup was out hunting and shot a gray female squirrel. The shot knocked the two babies out of a nest, and he brought them home to his children. They were later sold to Jasper Banks, who put them on display in front of his saloon.

The second is that George W. Ridgely and John Robinson captured a cream colored squirrel and then raised several litters of them before bringing a pair to Olney in 1902. Mr. Ridgely sold the pair to Jasper C. Banks for $5 each. Mr. Banks made a green box for his albinos and displayed them in his saloon window.

In 1910 the Illinois legislature passed a law prohibiting the confinement of wildlife, and they were released into the woods.

In 1925 the city passed a law that disallowed dogs from running at large. In 1943 the squirrel population reached its peak at 1000, but now the population holds steady at around 200.

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