Early Catlin History
In preparing for our upcoming Sesquicentennial celebration we have realized that many of our community residents had questions about our early history. So, we decided to take a few lines and refresh your memories or hopefully enlighten you with a few facts about our great village!
In the spring of 1820, a man by the name of James Butler, originally from Vermont, came here from Clark County in Ohio. He took up a claim just west of the present village site, built a cabin, put in a crop and headed back to Ohio for his family. Several families settled here with him, and the settlement was named Butler's Point.
We remained Butler's Point until the railroad came through and began having an influence on the community. The railroad here was one of the first chartered in the state. It was known as the "Northern Cross Railroad."
When the railroad was build, around 1837-1840, many of the farmers were hostile at having their land divided. In addition to this, the railroad had not provided for a station stop in the village. Stories are told that this angered the farmers still more, and they vowed to "get even". A group of them went into the timber and cut a couple of trees with huge forks in them. They dug deep holes on both sided of the track and set the tree trunks firmly in them. Then they placed the largest log that they could handle in the forks, reaching across the tracks. They hid themselves to see what would happen. In due time, a train came along and of course, the engineer brought it to a stop. He then approached the log very slowly and bumped it just to see how solid the barricade was. He backed the train about a half-mile, then turned on full steam and hit the barricade at top speed. Needless to say, the log took a flight through the air and the farmers felt that they had failed. But not for long! They next tried putting soft soap on the rails in order to make the trains stop. Because of rip grade in the track, they succeeded; but the train crew put sand on the track and went on through.
After so long a time, the feud ended with the railroad company agreeing to maintain a station stop. In March of 1856 the then Great Western Railroad President J. M. Catlin created the station stop and the townspeople were so pleased they renamed the village in his honor!
Early significant events in our village history.
1820 -- First permanent settlement of Vermilion County. James Butler first settler. His place was called Butler's Point.
1822 -- God's Acre Cemetery, the first cemetery in Vermilion County was established. First meeting of county commissioners held at Butler's home. First Circuit Court held at home of Asa Elliott, friend of James Butler.
1823 -- First mill built and used in Vermilion and Champaign Counties, called a "corncracker" by James Butler. Made of a large log and stones, all constructed on a hand-made forge. Its capacity, with a muscular man as motive power, was one bushel of cracked corn in an hour.
1824 -- The "salt works" drew in the first settlers of the area. Twenty-four large salt kettles were brought in and each held 100 gallons. It took 100 gallons of water to make a bushel of salt.
1825 -- First marriage in the county was a double marriage. Couples were from Butler's Point. Cyrus Douglas wed Ruby Bloss and Annis Butler wed Marquis Snow.
1827 -- Amos Woodin, a cooper by trade, built the house now known as the Catlin Heritage Museum. First school was built and doubled as a church.
1830 -- Grandma Guyman arrived in the area and became the Doctor and Midwife to Catlin Township, delivering over 1,000 babies. G. W. Pate and his father Adam Pate come to Butler's Point. Identified with progress of Methodism in this part of the country.
1834 -- Asa Elliott, friend of James Butler and one of the original settlers of Butler's Point, begins serving in the State Legislature with Abe Lincoln.
1849 -- Henry Jones of England came to the area and bought the Whitcomb farm and 3,000 acres adjacent. He had 14 head of oxen and considerable cattle and was considered wealthy.
1850 -- Second Fair of Vermilion County Agricultural and Mechanical Association were held at the Fairgrounds in Catlin until 1878 when it was transferred to Danville.
1856 -- Guy Merrill and Josiah Hunt made first plat of Catlin. The village is officially named Catlin, after the president of the Great Western Railroad.
Thelma Pettigrew remembers
When working with the Museum many times questions arise that can best be answered by our local historians, or, the people who actually lived the days! We are fortunate to have several individuals we can call and ask about past times. The following are a few comments Thelma Pettigrew, 101 years young, gave to Evelyn Darr in an interview.
Thelma, who spent her life in Catlin, talked one afternoon telling me memories of her younger years. Her mother, Rosie Patterson, was a stay-at-home mom. Her father, James Thomas Patterson, worked as a supervisor at the mines. According to Thelma they were as poor a "Job's Turkey". They went barefoot in the summer so they could have shoes for winter. The family came from Burlingame, Kansas, when Thelma was 5 years old. Rosie, her mom, was a super good cook and enjoyed doing it.
Back in her grade school days, there was a class called Primer. Children took it before they started first grade. I guess that would be today's kindergarten. Thelma's Primer teacher was Ms. Terpening. The school was the brick building located where the park is now. There were no programs that she remembers except for Christmas when Santa came and they were given a small bag of candy. On her way home from school Thelma would join Amos Stansberry on a bench uptown for a little chat. The bench she fondly recalls was located south of the Interurban Cafe on Sandusky Street.
High school was held in the same building with the grade school and was located in the big, long room upstairs. When asked Thelma said that as far as grades went she slid through high school "by the skin of her teeth." Thelma graduated from Catlin Township High School in 1923 the third class from the new high school (our current building). Her senior class and faculty published the first yearbook, called the Argonaut.
Thelma has a wonderful memory of businesses and buildings of the community. She remembers when the first light company began, situated along Commercial Street. "We only had lights at night, none during the day." Close to the light company was the house where the railroad section boss lived, his crews kept this section of the railroad in repair.
Memories of the fires in town bring mixed feelings, sadness over someone's loss but pride in watching the volunteers put out the fires. The equipment was horse drawn and fires were extinguished by the bucket brigade method!
Thanks Thelma for chatting with us.
If you have an opportunity to talk with any of our senior residents, please do so. Their knowledge of our history is wonderful and I promise it will be a learning experience for you.