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Champaign County, Illinois

History of Ayers Township

Ayers Township is located in the southeast corner of the county, and embraces so much of Congressional Township Number 17, in Range 14 West of the Second Principal Meridian as lies within the county, and also the narrow township No. 17 in Range 11, lying between the two surveys, and so while six miles from north to south, is but three and three-quarter miles from east to west. In the first division of the county into civil townships, this territory was included within the township of South Homer and so remained until, by the action of the Board of Supervisors, in 1885, it was set off as a separate township under the name of "Ayers," in honor of M. P. Ayers, of Jacksonville, then the largest land-owner in the township.

Near the north line is the natural grove of timber known to the pioneers as "Lost Grove," and which was an important landmark for travelers across the prairies. As will be presumed the name of this small collection of timber is said to have been given to it from some early incident transpiring there. This incident, tradition tells us, was the finding there of the body of a man in the early times, who, it was supposed, had lost his course during a severe storm and perished within the grove.

Here was made the first home in the township by a man named West, who, as early as 1850, pre-empted land there, built a shanty and in 1853 sold out his wright to John F. Thompson. The latter took possession in 1855, with his family, where he lived until his death.

A man named Patterson made the next improvement in the township near the southeast corner about 1853.

In 1852 Michael L. Sullivant, a prominent and influential citizen of Columbus, Ohio, entered largely of the lands within this and adjoining towns from the United States Government, and subsequently, when the alternate sections belonging to the Illinois Central Railroad Company came into market, he purchased these sections, so that at one time he was the owner of 27,000 acres, partly within what is now Ayers but extending into adjoining townships. At one time Mr. Sullivant's holdings covered nearly every tract in the township. About 1855 he began improving and putting in practice his theories of farming upon a large scale by building, at a high point on his land, a boarding house with an abundance of barns and out-buildings, which he called "Headquarters," near to which he erected a family home, and from which place, like a feudal lord, he ruled his immense domain upon which he had located a numerous tenantry. He named his estate "Broadlands," the memory of which is perpetuated in the name of the village and station on the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad, which divides the township from east to west. Like most such experiments in the hands of theorists, Mr. Sullivant's attempt at farming upon a large scale was a financial failure. His bholdings passed to other hands and, finally--to the great advantage of the public--to the hands of individual holders in small tracts of the usual size, so that now the township is inhabited by a self-reliant, enterprising people, dependent upon none but themselves.

Within this township is the thriving and enterprising village of Broadlands, which perpetuates the home of Mr. Sullivant and the memory of the first settlement. This place is supplied with stores, shops and a bank, all of which are equal to the demands of the adjacent farming community. The place affords one of the best grain markets in the county.


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