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Livingston County, Illinois
Chatsworth is a typical small midwest farm town (with an attitude) and is rich in agricultural, political, railroad and just plain people history.
During the Indian Wars at the turn of the 19th century, all the settlers fled but one stalwart surveyor, Orville Oliver. He was well-respected by the peaceful Kickapoo Indians, who had a large village south of Chatsworth. He stayed on for two decades. Oliver was controversial with some very nasty rumors about him that have since be debunked. He was alleged to have diverted pioneers through the swampy areas and some supposedly were never heard from again. The truth is, he stayed on, and only when President Jackson created the famous "Trail of Tears" by forcing Native Americans to move west to "indian territories" did settlers return to find some of the wildest towns in what was then the nation's west. Chatsworth and other towns along Historial Hiway 24, were among those wild towns.
Chatsworth was also a hub of activity at the railroad crossings of the Illinois Central and the Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroads. its fame came from the dubious honor of being the location of what is still the worst train wreck in Illinois history, the Niagara Excursion disaster of August 10, 1887. We know of at least 85 people who died, but have no way of knowing how many died from injuries or complications later. It is possible the final fatalities exceeded the famous Nashville wreck a few years later. Five local residents opened their houses to care for people in coma and bodies were hauled into town to other locations. The dead and crippled from that wreck are still memorialized in Chatsworth, in two other out of print books by Louise Stoutemyer, "The Train That Never Arrived" and another general history of the area, "Sands of Time, 150 Years around Chatsworth."
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One of its main attractions in Chatsworth is Miss Plaster's One Room Schoolhouse founded by the late Louise Plaster Stoutemyer. Restored to "living museum" status and housing various historical museum artifacts and displays. Located on Campus Road (town north of Chatsworth) at the Chatsworth Area Park District's recreation center. The story of the moving and restoration of that school is told by Mrs. Stoutemyer in her book, "The Heritage of the One Room Country School." One of Illinois' largest swimming pools and other recreational opportunities are also on this property just West of Chatsworth.
The historical downtown "merchant's row" provides a hometown atmosphere with shops and eating places. Several shops provide for gifts, hardware, convenience stores and two, mind you, count 'em, two service stations! There are several churches and to balance that out, about half as many pubs to make sure local residents and tourists have places to worship or wet their whistles.
A full block park and what we call the "mini-park" provide peaceful settings for sitting or playing. The town is filled with beautiful trees and a mix of fine homes and more humble dwellings. There was a time when Chatsworth was so famous that big bands played in the Grand Hotel.
Each year, Heritage Days are held within the last two weeks of July. Old fashioned firemen's competitions and other attractions provide wholesome family fun.
Wooded areas abound, some in hedgerows with the famous Osage Orange trees, which were considered by the Indians as the sources the best material for archery bows. It is said that Indians traveled from as far as what is now Tacoma Washington to get bows from the midwest. A good completed bow could bring two Native American Maidens and a horse in trade!
Please drive carefully during planting and harvesting seasons because our ultra-modern farm equipment travels fairly slowly on the farm to market roads. Meet some of our many farmers and maybe you'll get a ride in a tractor or combine! Agritourism is one of the development possibilities here as well.
Chatsworth is currently working with other towns along Highway 24 to build "24 Corridor," a stateline to stateline historical highway. Developers with an eye on tourism and light industry are welcomed by very
receptive officials and citizen-business groups. Chatsworth is centrally located between Chicago and Springfield and about a two hour drive from each of those cities. It offers a getaway from the
crowds and into a peaceful countryside with lots of opportunity for quiet recreation year-round. Currently in development are projects designed to attract and please tourists and investors. Chatsworth is a nice place to visit, if you like quiet hometown atmosphere and a lot of pleasant people (well, maybe a few grouches, too.) Chatsworth is a great place to visit and to be. Come watch us and our neighboring towns go through our "re-growing" pains.
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