Lexington, Illinois had been a thriving town for many years before it was officially founded in 1855.
Previously occupied by the Kickapoo, the town’s development began with the arrival of the John and Margaret Patton family in 1829. The Patton’s and their 11 children settled in a 20 x 20 cabin and developed an amiable relationship with the local Indians, who enjoyed having them around.
The Patton cabin was a hub of local government and culture, and John Patton is largely credited with building the first grain mill in the area. The cabin has since been restored and moved to its current location near the Lexington pool park and pavilion.
Like many Central Illinois towns, Lexington is proud to have a connection to President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln visited on many occasions during his time in Illinois, often staying overnight, and his funeral train passed through town en route to Springfield in 1865.
Farming was a way of life for Lexington’s early settlers, and agriculture continues to form a solid base for Lexington’s economy. The construction of the railroad, and later Route 66 and Interstate 55, also served to bolster the economic development of the town.
The late 1800s were a booming time for the town. In 1897, 30 people subscribed to the town’s first switchboard service, and that same year the first library was founded - the library later moved to its current location in 1913. In 1899, Lexington installed its first electric lights. Three years later, in 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt visited Lexington and gave a speech at the train depot.
Seventy-five Lexington men and one woman enlisted in World War I, and the local Red Cross chapter was organized in 1915. An increase in demand for farm products shortly after the war made life tough for local farmers, even before the Great Depression hit. Food and money were scarce, and the 1930s brought drought conditions, making life even more difficult for the farmers.
By the mid-1930s, FDR’s New Deal programs began to give Lexingtonians some optimism. New work projects provided jobs, young men joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, and pension payments began rolling in.
During World War II, the town joined together to contribute to the war effort. Community members carpooled to Bloomington and dutifully abided the rations imposed on sugar, oil, and more. Young men went off to fight, and local women formed knitting circles to support the Red Cross. In the 1940s, the federal government issued local farmers permits to grow 4,200 acres of marijuana, in order to create hemp ropes that would help with the war effort. The community celebrated this development, as it brought more than 100 new jobs to the area.
During the 20th century, Lexington continued to grow every year. The first fire truck was purchased in 1927, the first police car in 1959, and the first ambulance in 1978. Lexington celebrated it Centennial in 1955 and it’s Sesquicentennial in 2005.
Today, Lexington's economy is still based solidly in agriculture. The population was 1,912 at the 2000 census. Lexington also serves as a “bedroom community” for those who work in Bloomington-Normal.
Information adapted from 150 Years of Lexington, Illinois.