Wilmington Illinois History

Wilmington is a charmingly picturesque little village nestled in the forested valley of the Kankakee River, fifty-two miles below Chicago. Here the Kankakee River flows to the north, which is rare among the rivers of Illinois and the town’s location on the river bank provides it with a wealth of outdoor recreational activities which attract visitors from all over the state and beyond. Besides fishing and boating on the Kankakee, the Des Plaines Conservation Area nearby has almost five thousand huntable acres. Wilmington combines the best aspects of country and suburban lifestyles including rich farmland, top quality public services, and a thriving business community. Apart from its recreational opportunities, Wilmington Illinois healthcare is among the best in the nation so the town is also popular with retirees.

Wilmington was originally settled by the Potawatomi tribe, which was part of the Nation of Three Fires (along with the Ottawa and Ojibway). The Kankakee River was then part of the great Native American water highway where principle Indian paths crossed the Kankakee at Wilmington. After the French and Indian War in 1762 Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa, settled in the Wilmington area. In order to maintain his tribal rights, he rejoined his original tribe and lived here in his final years (until he was assassinated in 1769 by an Indian brave near Mount Joliet). Pontiac’s murder led to savage, bitter conflicts between Ottawa and Illinois healthcare, which in the end led to the Illini tribe’s extinction at Starved Rock. The most famous Native American of this region was Shabonna, who was born on the island near Wilmington in 1774. His father was the war chief of the Ottawa tribe, and had settled here with Pontiac. Shabonna was a mesmerizing speaker, and his eloquence secured generous settlements for his tribe at peace negotiations, such as Wayne’s Treaty which was read at Greenville in 1775. Shabonna died at the age of 85 on July 17, 1859 and he is buried in Morris.

Wilmington was settled by whites in the early 1830’s. One of the earliest settlers, Thomas Cox, acquired 400 acres from the government in 1834 and built a sawmill, corn cracker, gristmill, and carding machine. Pioneer farmers from all over the region brought their wheat and corn to Cox’s mills to be ground. In 1836 Cox surveyed and laid out lots to create the town of Winchester, which changed its name to Wilmington two years later. Wilmington was incorporated in 1865 as a municipality. Among its other historical points of interest, Wilmington is on the Illinois & Michigan Canal and was a way-station on the Underground Railroad which conducted slaves from the south to freedom in Canada before the Civil War. The town still features many historic buildings which date back to the mid-nineteenth century, including one of the oldest hospitals in Illinois. It is famous for its antique shops (over twenty of them!) which attract collectors from around the country. In the automobile age, Wilmingtonians could get their kicks on the famous Route 66 which passes through the town as it winds from Chicago to L.A.