By DERRICK BABBS
For the Ford County Record
A county courthouse in Gibson City!?!? At one time this was the dream of some; however, this dream would have changed the whole dynamics of the county and its history. It makes you wonder how the cities of Paxton and Gibson would be different today if it would have come to happen. This dream of many didn’t happen, and here’s the story of that battle between the cities and how it would be up to the rest of the county to decide the two cities’ fates.
In November 1860, the county of Ford was freshly formed. Paxton secured a railway station on the Illinois Central Railroad, which, in turn, made it possible for Paxton to become the county seat. The first courthouse was built on Feb. 15, 1862; and a sheriff’s residence and jail were completed around 1872. In 1897, the county home and poor farm was erected north of Paxton.
The battle started in the fall of 1905, when a notice was given to voters to cast their ballot to move the county seat from Paxton to Gibson City. Gibson City promoters printed a brochure that contained many reasons why the county seat should be moved to Gibson. It also contained names of about 85 individuals who donated to the courthouse fund.
A Paxton group called the "Friends of Paxton" would plead its case in the Paxton Record newspaper, saying the county would lose $125,000 in property in Paxton and see raised taxes to build new buildings in Gibson City.
A Gibson City group called the "Block 8’s" would say in the Gibson City Courier newspaper that the county was in need of a new courthouse with more modern conveniences of the time, larger space and a handsome new design.
The northern townships of the Ford County panhandle didn’t care much about the matter. Kempton was wanting to be become a part of Livingston County, and Cabery was wanting to join Kankakee County, but neither thing would happened.
On Nov. 14, Brenton Township (Piper City) voted 246 to 74 for Paxton; Button Township (Clarence) voted 201 to 4 for Paxton; Dix Township (Elliott) voted 218 to 106 for Gibson City; Drummer Township (Gibson City) voted 804 to 12 for Gibson City; Lyman Township (Roberts) voted 165 to 166 for Paxton; Mona Township (Kempton) voted 123 to 19 for Paxton; Patton Township (Paxton) voted 1,088 to 8 for Paxton; Peach Orchard Township (Melvin) voted 217 to 32 for Gibson City; Pella Township voted 100 to 17 for Paxton; Rogers Township (Cabery) voted 115 to 26 for Paxton; Sullivant Township (Sibley) voted 184 to 64 for Gibson City; and Wall Township voted 145 to 21 for Paxton.
In all, the votes totaled 2,397 to 1,708 in favor of Paxton.
After a campaign of eight weeks, three-fifths of all the voters had declared that the county seat would remain in Paxton. The "Friends of Paxton" group won.
In a meeting of the Ford County board of supervisors in December 1905, it was decided to do repairs and rebuild the old courthouse at the cost of $55,000. The remodel was very extensive, and the new Ford County Courthouse was dedicated on June 11, 1908, and still stands today.
The question remains, though: Could this happen again? Some citizens today still believe Gibson City should be the county seat of Ford County. I’ve even questioned, if anything ever was to happen to the present courthouse or if the county ever decided to build a new courthouse, would this matter resurface again? I want to thank so many of you for all the kind words about these articles. If you have any ideas for future articles, I would love to hear them.
Derrick K. Babbs is creator of the free Facebook site "The Ford County, Illinois Heritage."