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Illinois town celebrates 150 years and growing
Illinois Correspondent

HEYWORTH, Ill. — From May 15-21, the town of Heyworth will come alive with activities to celebrate 150 years of history in what began as a small farming area and has grown to a community of around 2,400.

This Central Illinois town - located about 10 minutes from Bloomington, Ill. - will celebrate with activities, evening entertainment, a community dinner and even an antique tractor drive. Debbie Elderton, of Heyworth, knows the town’s history.

“In the beginning, the locality was covered by timber. The Kickapoo Indians lived here,” Elderton said.

She said the area had deer, turkey, Grey wolves and prairie chickens when the first settlers arrived in 1824. With names like Rutledge, Funk, Passwater, Bishop, Noble, Carr, Martin and Wakefield, the early settlers were all farmers. Campbell Wakefield, a settler who owned a vast tract of land, became Heyworth’s founder.

“Heyworth is now a portion of the 1,500 acres that Campbell Wakefield acquired,” Elderton added. “Wakefield donated the tract for the town, built a church, a school and a train station.

“Industry sprung up, and the railroad came in 1852-53. The Illinois Central Rail Road was running in 1855. It was in 1856 that a new post station was opened and the town was first officially named Elmwood. They found this name was already taken, so they named the town after a suggestion made by the president of the Illinois Central Rail Road. The president suggested naming it after a director of the Rail Road that lived in England that was named Heyworth.”

Elderton said celebration organizers contacted Heyworth’s descendants and have invited them to attend the Sesquicentennial, but she is not sure if anyone will attend. These days, the town touts a War Museum, and Heyworth is in the process of refurbishing the old train station and making it a railroad museum. The town has a variety of restaurants and shops, a school, library, volunteer fire department, furniture store, weekly paper and interesting history.

“We used to have the Interurban; it ran on a rail by electricity and went from Bloomington to Decatur. It stopped running in the 1950s,” Elderton said.

The town is prospering with two new subdivisions springing up that also offer industrial zoning as well as residential. Heyworth has a variety of parks with one featuring a lake for fishing. For visitors wishing to camp or stay in a hotel, there are accommodations in nearby towns.

The Heyworth celebration will kick off on Monday, May 15, from 6-9 p.m. with family games and a community hamburger/hot dog meal. Tuesday from 6-8:30 p.m., a Chautauqua will be in full swing with local personalities impersonating characters from the past. Zoot, a song and dance company, will perform.

“At the Chautauqua, there will be a mock wedding with Jesse James, Calamity Jane, Belle Star and the Hanging Judge in attendance,” Elderton said. “Mr. Lincoln and Mary Todd will also be present. Anyone arriving in period clothing will become part of the wedding.”

A grilled chicken dinner will be featured on Tuesday; and Wednesday, the Carnival will begin and go through Sunday. Tuesday, the community will also honor veterans and the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band will play from 7-9 p.m. The community dinner is a butterfly pork chop meal. Thursday evening, the carnival continues. Country-western band Cattle Bandits will play. Dinner Thursday is BBQ. Friday, Rick Roy of the McLean County Country Opry will perform, and a variety of vendors will offer traditional fair food.

Saturday is the big day featuring a 5K race, merchant’s tent, parade, petting zoo, carnival rides, classic tractor drive and classic tractor show.

Jim Hanlin, a Heyworth farmer, is working on the classic tractor drive and show.

“This will be our first tractor show. It is a fund-raiser for the FFA and FFA alumni,” he said.

In the past, Heyworth has featured a wheel show, which Hanlin explained, encompassed anything that had a wheel: Cars, truck, tractors, bikes, etc. This event usually takes place in June, but this year will be on July 22.

Along with the tractors for the sesquicentennial show and drive, they are also featuring farm implements as well.

For the parade, Hanlin said, “We have horses, wagons and hope to have a new IH McCormick tractor; the parade will offer something different.”

Tractor shows are nothing new for Hanlin. He has been a John Deere tractor and toy collector for years, so this show and parade is right up his alley.

For those who want to participate, entries can check in from noon to 12:45 p.m. at the Heyworth Junior/Senior High School. For more on the tractor show or tractor drive, which will take place in the Heyworth countryside, contact Hanlin at 309-473-2322.

Saturday evening features local entertainment and the rhythm and blues group Sister Groove. The show winds up on Sunday with carnival rides, community-wide services from 11 a.m. to noon, and a ribeye lunch. The day winds up with the talents of the Christian music group Homeward Bound, the barbershop quartet Sounds of Illinois and Christian group Soul Real.

For details, visit Heyworth’s website at or call Elderton at 309-473-2811.

This farm news was published in the May 3, 2006 issue of Farm World.