Of the towns in this county Oquawka is the oldest.
The town of Oquawka was laid out in 1836, by Alexis Phelps and his brother, Stephen S. Phelps, who purchased a claim and improvement that had been made . upon the grounds now occupied by the town. Oquawka owes its name to the Indians with whom it was a noted point sin their travels and tribal convocations. The word is said to signify the lower end or termination of the Yellow Banks, the point indicated being situated at the termination of a series of high sand bluffs along the river, extending at intervals to a point above the town of New Boston, eighteen miles above Oquawka.
William C. Butler was the surveyor for the proprietors. In the deed of dedication the proprietors, in addition to liberal reservations of lots for school purposes, set apart and dedicated for use of the Methodist Episcopal, Baptist and Presbyterian churches, eligible and valuable lots for the erection of church edifices. Some years subsequently Abram D. Swarts laid out two additions to the town, upon the east side.
Upon the laying out of the town it at once became a place of commercial importance, a large trade centering upon its levees. It was for many years, and until the opening of railroads revolutionized trade, the shipping point for a large country around, including Warren, Knox and a part of Mercer counties.
Extensive warehouses lined the river landing in which the products of the surrounding country was in the winter stored, to await the opening of navigation in the spring, when shipments would begin for St. Louis and New Orleans, about the only two market points relied upon at early periods. Goods shipped from eastern cities for this market came generally by way of Pittsburgh and the Ohio river to Cairo, and thence up the Mississippi to our landing Some shipments of heavy goods were made by sea to New Orleans and up the river.
Upon the opening of the Illinois and Michigan canal a new route was opened by Erie canal, and lakes, thence to the Illinois river and up the Mississippi. Oquawka contained, in 1852, about 1,800 population, but has since fallen off, so that it contains not more at present than 1,000. Like many other towns and cities, she in an evil hour, and under the guidance of bad counsel, encumbered herself with burdensome debts, beyond her ability to liquidate, which resulted in the necessity of levying taxes that became burdensome upon the business of the place, and capital, alarmed at the future prospects, fled.
History of Mercer and Henderson Counties.
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