Nearly 20 years ago, I compiled a list of Fayette County towns, villages and neighborhoods. My main source for the list was back issues of "Fayette Facts," where, in addition to information on schools, churches and cemeteries for each township, various place names within the township were listed. Many of the villages have long since disappeared.
History tells us that Brownstown was named for Edward Brown, who came here from New York City with his wife, Isabella. Horatio Henry Bingham, a millwright from Vermont, donated 40 acres for a village in South Hurricane Township in 1883, with the town being named for him. Hugh Bayle, whose settlement was only a few miles east of Bingham, loaned his surname to his village – Bayle City. Bayle later became clerk of the Madison County court.
Even though the list of names was lengthy, there were several I could not find – Hagarstown, for example.
This past Saturday, while seated at the microfilm reader at Evans Public Library, searching microfilmed back issues of The Vandalia Union, an article, titled "Origin of Names of Fayette County Places," caught my attention.
The article contained some new information on naming of some of our villages, and I was thrilled that Hagarstown was one of these.
According to the article, Thomas Hagar, an official of the Vandalia railroad, had the honor of having the first station west of Vandalia on the East St. Louis, Vandalia and Terre Haute Railroad named for him.
Hanson, a town situated north of Ramsey on the Illinois Central Railroad, was also named for an official of that railroad company.
Col. Robert Ross is credited with the naming of St. Elmo. He had read a novel of the same name, and suggested the name to James Whiteman, who was connected with Thomas B. Murray, the owner of a large part of the land on which the town was built.
Farina was named by C. Floyd Jones, chief engineer of the Illinois Central Railroad, who lived in Vandalia. It was assumed that the name was perhaps suggested by Jones’ enthusiasm over the place becoming a great grain center.
Thomas Loudon, one of the early settlers in the northeast part of the county, came from Loudoun County, Virginia, hence the naming of that township.
And now the name, Vandalia. There are several explanations of the naming of our county seat. The oldest is that the name came as a tribute to the Queen’s heritage – the Vandals. A second explanation, and easier to believe, is that the name comes from the Ohio Land Co., later known as the Vandalia Land Co. This company’s land covered a large part of the early territory of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. So, consequently, Vandalia is said to be named for this company.
Were it not for the 1803 Charles Barbeau and 1810 Isaac Hill maps, the Vandalia Land Co. explanation would carry the day.
In 1803, Charles Barbeau, a trader, mapped out the tributaries from the Mississippi River east, and charted the Eau Carrie River to its source. At the Vanne Delai (water-gate), Barbeau found an "Anglais Pelleterie," or trader and noted the river crossing.
Seven years later, Isaac Hill would visit the Illinois Territory on the authority of Thomas Jefferson. He was assigned to map out the area while charting the Third Principal Meridian. He was also under orders to look for coal, iron, salt, silver, furs and days of no frost, as well as keeping a look out for "savages."
On Hill’s map, he again finds a trader on the Ocar River at a place known now as "Vandla," and living near his trading post are one Dutch, four British and seven "savages."
The debate will continue on how Vandalia got its name, and the place names of Fayette County will long be a subject for study.