has an interesting early history.
Published sources provide very little detail to the complicated web of owners
and residents of the community. The village's origins go back to the days
before its founding when a ferry crossing was located just south of Riverton
on the Sangamon
River. The earliest known proprietor of this ferry was Ezekiel Judd who in
1829 transferred the ferry license over to his brother Corbin. Corbin Judd
operated the ferry for just a year before turning it over to John Judy. The
operation was now known as Judy's Ferry.
Abraham Dingman succeeded Judy in 1833 and the Dingman family ran the
ferry for several years after.
Gershom Jayne, a
physician and land speculator,
purchased the land where Riverton sits in December 1830. Jayne held onto the
land until May 1837 when he sold it to Samuel Danley. Mr. Danley owned the
land for just a few months before selling it to John Taylor, a Springfield
merchant and speculator. Taylor
was responsible for having the town of
Jamestown, the original name of Riverton,
December 11, 1837. The town's formation is believed to
have been caused by the construction of the Northern Cross Railroad. This
railroad was supposed to have run from the
to the boundary line with
would have been located on this rail
line. Contracts were let out to different groups for the construction of
various stretches of the railroad. A group of four men including James F. Reed
received the contract to build the railroad between Springfield
River. Reed set a sawmill in Jamestown for the purpose of cutting timber for the construction.
By early 1840s Jamestown
was experiencing some growth with the
establishment of a grocery store and post office. Reed's mill continued to
operate as well. The strange fact remains that John Taylor sold very few lots
in the town. The Northern Cross did not reach the city of Springfield
until 1842. Soon after, it became
apparent that the railroad was unreliable. The construction of the tracks
proved to be faulty. The railroad was closed and later sold.
fell on hard times as well in the
later 1840s. John Taylor failed to pay the property taxes on the town and the
land was sold at a tax sale to Joseph B. Loose of Maryland. James Frazier Reed had turned to
manufacturing furniture at his mill as well as grinding corn. He mortgaged the
mill along with some other land to the Sangamon
Commissioner for $1,000. Reed left for
in April 1846 with the
Party. Reed and his family became a part of the Donner Party Disaster high in
the Sierra Mountains, although most of them survived. He failed to pay back
the borrowed money and his land including the mill was foreclosed upon.
Very little happened in Jamestown
until the early 1850s with the arrival of the railroad. The Northern Cross,
which had been sold, was reorganized as the
and Morgan Railroad, which then became the Great Western. The railroad track
was rebuilt from the
and pushed eastward. By 1854 they had reached the city of Decatur. John D. Keedy, a
distiller, bought Jamestown from Loose in December 1857. Keedy mortgaged the town and some
land directly south of it to Jacob Bunn for $10,000. Keedy
apparently used the money to build a distillery on the land just south of Jamestown.
The town property was released to Keedy for partial payment but the
land and distillery were given to the Bunns.
was sold in October 1862 to pay for a judgment against Keedy. Parley
L. Howlett, another distiller, purchased the town.
The name of Jamestown
was changed to Howlett in 1864. Under its new owner, the town began to
flourish. A large flouring milling was added to the distillery in 1866 and one
of the county's first coal mines was started in the same year. Miners and
workers for the distillery began to arrive in town. A business community of
saloons, boarding houses, doctors and general stores developed. Parley L.
Howlett had borrowed money, mainly from Jacob Bunn, to implement
his business ventures. Unfortunately they did not prove to be successful
enough and Howlett was forced into bankruptcy in December 1868. Once
again, the majority of the town and its main businesses were sold. This time Jacob
Bunn, probably the largest creditor of Howlett, purchased
everything in 1869.
By the 1870s, Mr. Bunn
had sold many lots in the town to individuals but retained ownership of the
mine and distillery. The mine was now known as the Western Coal & Mining
Company and the distillery known as the Sangamon Company. The village was
incorporated in August 1873 and the name changed from Howlett to Riverton.
The reason for the change resulted from a State requirement that an
incorporated town not be named after an individual. The population of the
village in the late 1870s was composed of mostly coal miners of Irish descent.
The Panic of 1873 proved to be hard on Jacob Bunn and its effect
finally forced him into bankruptcy in 1878. Bunn's holdings in Riverton
were sold to pay part of his debts. The distillery, coal mine, and town
property were dispersed to a variety of purchasers. This effectively ended the
ownership of the town by one individual.
Fact- In late August
1876, Jesse James and his Gang stayed overnight in
. They stayed at a house on the south side of the railroad tracks. The gang
was on their way to Northfield, Minnesota, where they robbed a bank on September 17, 18
76. At this time the reward for Jesse, dead or alive, was $10,000.
From the 1870’s to the
1930’s, Riverton boomed with 3 operating coal mines. The population of
Riverton included a large Italian-American population which continues to this
day. It is reported that Al Capone used Riverton as a hideout
when the heat in Chicago
was on him. For a genealogy of some of the Italian American families you can
in Riverton is named after four prominent Italian-American families in
Riverton- Pescitelli, Ippolito, Zara and Antonacci.
The Villages population dipped
with the closing of the mines but has steadily increased since then due to
it’s close proximity to Springfield, the State capital. Present day Riverton is a thriving municipality with a
promising future. Controlled growth in both its residential and commercial
sectors coupled with an progressive school system make Riverton a excellent
location to live and raise a family.