22 Fun Facts About Decatur, IL

22 Fun Facts About Decatur, IL

Decatur, IL has a ton of history behind it, but how much do you know? We’ve put together 22 fun facts about good ol’ Decatur.

If you’ve ever wondered how Soy Capital Bank got its name or how much history is really behind the Muni band, you’re in for a treat.

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Fun Fact #1

Decatur was founded in 1829. By 1836, the population has reached about 300 people.

Fun Fact #2

Today’s city motto is "Decatur, We Like it Here,” but the previous motto was "The Pride of the Prairie."

Fun Fact #3

For most of the 1900s, Decatur was referred to as “The Soybean Capital of the World” thanks to Staleys, a major grain processor.

An old view of the pre-William Sands Staley viaduct. Photo credit: Jim McBride. First appeared on Facebook page Decatur Illinois - Then & Now.
Announcement of Staley's Expansion Program. Excerpt from the Wednesday paper, February 18, 1920; The Decatur Daily Herald

Fun Fact #4

In the first half of the 1900s, over 33% of all soybeans grown in the world were processed in Decatur. That’s why in 1955, Soy Capital Bank was born.

Fun Fact #5

In 1960, Decatur was awarded the All-America City Award, which is given to 10 communities in the United States.

This award is given to communities whose citizens work together to identify and tackle community-wide challenges and achieve uncommon results.

Fun Fact #6

Have you ever been to the town square located in downtown Decatur? In the middle, you’ll find the Transfer House, which was built in 1896.

This is where the city’s mass transit lines met. It was designed by William W. Boyington, the man who also designed the Chicago Water Tower.

However, the structure was actually located in the middle of US 51, and drivers were forced to travel around it.

Excerpt from the Sunday paper, September 25, 1904; The Decatur Daily Herald

Here is an excerpt provided by historian Chris Berry. This excerpt appeared on the Facebook page Decatur Illinois - Then & Now.

"The Cold War had led to the construction of the Interstate Highway System and with few north/south routes in the center of the United States, and the Interstates years from completion, “The Transfer House” had to be relocated as a matter of national security. A decision had been made by the Defense Department that military convoys that might travel on Route 51 wouldn’t be able to maneuver around the old building so it would have to be relocated.

My grandfather, dad and uncle came up with the plan to jack up the old building and move it intact. There was a lot of concern that the building, originally constructed in 1896, might fall apart and not make the move, however when the slow trek began that morning, power lines were moved and businesses removed their signs to allow the building to pass.

For the past 55 years this landmark building has stood in Decatur’s Central Park, and traffic on US 51 has flowed unimpeded."

Fun Fact #7

Decatur has 2 sister cities, which is an agreement between cities to promote cultural and commercial ties. The sister cities of Decatur, IL are Tokorozawa, Saitama, Japan and Seevetal, Lower Saxony, Germany.

The Decatur Sister Cities Committee coordinates with high school students every year who serve as ambassadors between the three cities.

Fun Fact #8

Many residents of Decatur know of the Muni band, short for the Decatur Municipal Band.

The Muni band was formed in 1857, deeming it one of the oldest non-military bands that still serves its community in both the US and Canada.

However, it’s gone through a series of name changes, including the Decatur Brass Band, Decatur Cornet Band, Decatur Silver Band, and the Goodman Band.

Showing the active Goodman band, now known as the Muni band. Excerpt from the Sunday paper, July 4, 1920; The Decatur Herald
Excerpts from the Sunday paper, May 6, 1923; The Decatur Herald

Fun Fact #9

The Decatur Public Library was built in 1902, and opened to the public in 1903. It has moved twice since it’s inception, and it now resides in an abandoned Sears building.

Announcement that the Decatur Public Library was receiving bids for the construction project. Excerpt from the Tuesday paper, November 12, 1901; The Decatur Herald
The new library is officially announced. Excerpt from the Sunday paper, May 31, 1903; The Decatur Herald

Fun Fact #10

Decatur was the original home of the Chicago Bears, but only for 1 year (1919-1920).

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Fun Fact #11

Decatur has been ranked 3rd in the nation as an Emerging Logistics and Distribution Center, and also a Top 25 Trade City.

Fun Fact #12

The top 5 employers in the Decatur area are:

  1. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) (4,199)
  2. Decatur Memorial Hospital (DMH) (2,200)
  3. Decatur Public Schools (1,812)
  4. Caterpillar Inc. (1,650)
  5. St. Mary’s Hospital (987)

Fun Fact #13

Millikin University, the 75-acre campus founded by James Millikin in 1901, was originally affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. The University opened on September 15, 1903.

Local board figures talk about where to build Millikin University. Excerpt from the Thursday paper, June 20, 1901; The Decatur Herald
Announcement of the contractor for the Millikin University. It was very common to publicly list the cost of buildings and projects in the paper, including how much the contractor's bids were. Excerpt from the Tuesday paper, February 11, 1902; The Decatur Herald
Millikin University's open date is officially announced in the paper. Excerpt from the Wednesday paper, August 5, 1903; The Decatur Herald

Fun Fact #14

Ever wondered about the Decatur airport? It has only 3 daily commercial flights that fly to and from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and Chicago-O’Hare International Airport. The airline is Air Choice One, also known as Multi-Aero, Inc.

Fun Fact #15

In Decatur, we all get stopped by trains, it seems, but trains have been a huge part of Decatur culture for more than 100 years. Decatur is a major railroad junction that once served 7 railroads. After mergers, that number has gone down to 3.

Fun Fact #16

Decatur is named after Stephen Decatur, a naval hero from the War of 1812.

Fun Fact #17

This fact is not so fun at all. The Potawatomi Trail of Death, the forced removal of the Potawatomi nation from Indiana to Kansas, passed through Decatur in 1833.

Fun Fact #18

The Edward P. Irving House, located at #2 Millikin Place, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and was built in 1911. You can see photos of the house here.

Fun Fact #19

Decatur was the first home of Abraham Lincoln, who settled just west of Decatur in 1830. When Lincoln was 21, he gave his first political speech in Decatur about the importance of the Sangamon River.

Fun Fact #20

In 1992, ADM had a major scandal that ended up costing them more than $500 million. It involved federal charges from the FBI as well as a high fructose corn syrup class action case. ADM’s executive Mark Whitacre confessed to fixing the price of lysine, a food additive. Many executives also served federal prison time. This scandal led to the book and film The Informant.

Fun Fact #21

Decatur has popped up in many movies. Popular scenes involve Tom Hanks in Bachelor Party, who croons that he’s from Decatur, Illinois and Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, who mentions his mother is in Decatur to buy antiques. Perhaps one of the funniest scenes of all is George Clooney in the 2008 film Leatherheads, who talks to a woman at a football game. The woman asks, “How will owning a football team help sell corn starch?” The camera pans to the scoreboard and reveals that one of the teams is Decatur.

Fun Fact #22

MTV’s show "True Life: I’m Addicted to Caffeine" was filmed in Decatur.

Do you have any fun facts or memories you'd like to share? What's your favorite fact? Post your thoughts in the comment section below!

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