Friday, November 8, 2019

Sixteen western Illinois counties wanted to secede from the Union to create the Republic of Forgottonia.

Forgottonia (also spelled Forgotonia) represented a protest against inequalities in Illinois State and Federal funding of infrastructure (e.g. transportation), communications and economic development in the region after World War II. It was the name given to a 16-county region in Western Illinois in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In 1955, during the formation of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the Chicago to Kansas City interstate route through the heart of this region was eliminated due to objections from Iowa and St. Louis as well as various granger railroads serving this region. In 1956, Missouri selected St. Louis based corridors to Joplin (US 66), Will Rogers Turnpike and Kansas City (US 40), Kansas Turnpike. A northern Missouri corridor (US 36) was viewed as a St. Louis by-pass and not supported. Carthage College, in Hancock County, relocated its educational campus to Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1964.

Federal highway bills throughout the 1960s that included funding for a Chicago–Kansas City Expressway were defeated and removed from the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968. which added 1500 miles to the Interstate system (Interstate 15E in southern CA and Interstate 27 in northwest Texas). George H. Mahon, Texas member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1935 to 1979 and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee after 1964, helped secure funding for the Interstate 27 route. The reintroduction of the Chicago to Kansas City Expressway was again defeated in the US Congress in 1972. These political and congressional actions resulted in the exodus of the region's businesses, long-time industries, and population by 1970. Those significant events were the catalysts for more vocal public protests by residents.
One of the three districts (or "tracts") created to meet the warrants given in the War of 1812. "The Tract" was within a triangle of the Illinois Territory between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. This area was included with Illinois' territory upon the achievement of statehood in 1818.
This geographic region forms the distinctive western bulge of Illinois that is roughly equivalent to "The Tract," the Illinois portion of the Military Tract in 1812, along, and west of the Fourth Principal Meridian. Since this wedge-shaped region lies between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, it has historically been isolated (river bridge access) from the eastern portion of Central Illinois.
The name Forgottonia was created by Jack Horn, son of civically-minded Coca-Cola regional bottler Frank “Pappy” Horn; John Armstrong, Macomb Chamber of Commerce Board Member; and Neil Gamm, a Western Illinois University theatre student and a graduate of VIT (Vermont-Ipava-Table Grove) High School. The initiative grew from frustration among the citizens and public officials of western Illinois due to the lack of support for regional transportation and infrastructure projects. Federal funding for a highway from Chicago to Kansas City routed through the heart of western Illinois was defeated by the U.S. Congress (1955, 1968, 1972), passenger rail service from Quincy and Macomb to Chicago was dropped in 1970. Carthage College packed up and moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1964.

The term Forgottonia was used again in the 1980s by Congressman Dick Durbin, who represented the southern portion of the region, in stump speeches as he ran as a Democrat for the U.S. House of Representatives seat. He expanded the definition to include communications (educational television, fiber-optic routes, etc.) and infrastructure services (private and public). While the region's name is less popular today, the exodus of population and industries has continued. Some counties in this region have reached federal poverty levels, for the first time in the state's history.

In the 1970s, there were six Illinois River highway bridge crossings south of Peoria (Pekin, Havana, Beardstown, Meredosia, Florence, and Hardin), plus two free Illinois River ferries at Kampsville, and Brussels. The Valley City Eagle bridge for the Central Illinois Expressway in the southern section of the region was not completed until the late 1980s. There were issues with eagles nesting in the Paul Norbit State Fish and Wildlife Area, through which the highway passes.
Toll Bridge over the Illinois River, into Forgottonia.
"Region of Little Return on Tax Dollars!"
The Mississippi River highways bridges at that time were Toll bridges with a few exceptions and owned by railroads or cities along the river. The one toll ferry across Mississippi River at Canton, Missouri serves Adams County, Illinois.
Western Illinois University student Neil Gamm was named governor of Forgottonia. He is standing in front of the Capitol building in the unincorporated community of Fandon.
Variously described as a new U.S. State or an independent republic, Forgottonia eventually became a fictional political secession movement in the early 1970s conceived by residents of McDonough County, in the heart of this region. Western Illinois University student Neil Gamm was named governor, and the hamlet of Fandon, an unincorporated community, near Colchester, Illinois, was to be Forgottonia's capital. The name would catch on because the region appeared to be "forgotten" by politicians and business developers.

Due to the loss of train service in 1971, with the creation of Amtrak, the State of Illinois intervened at the request of the region's residents, Quincy University, and Western Illinois University and public officials. This became part of the 1971 "Illinois Service" initiative and is partially funded by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Cass, Fulton, Greene, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough, Mercer, Morgan, Pike, Schuyler, Scott. and Warren counties were on Neal Gamm's original list of 16 counties. These Illinois county governments joined the movement in 1972.

The unincorporated village of Bernadotte, in Fulton County, which is four miles north of Ipava on the Spoon River, has the distinction of having once been considered as the site for the capital of Illinois, prior to the capital being located at Vandalia in 1820. Vandalia was selected over Bernadotte by the difference of one vote.

The 2010 US Census population of Forgottonia (16 counties) was 354,709 residents.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

3 comments:

  1. I do vaguely remember when this was going on. They did have a point. Perhaps if Illinois were to do a cost/benefit analysis today, they'd be free to go.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Never knew this. Thanks, yet again, for a good historical fact.

    ReplyDelete

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