URBANA – As Champaign begins to celebrate its 150th anniversary this month, a new WILL-TV production, "Illinois Pioneers," looks at the creation of the city after the Illinois Central Railroad arrived in 1854.
Airing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, the program hosted by John Paul will examine the factors that helped Champaign get its start. Dannel McCollum, former Champaign mayor and unofficial city historian, will be Paul's guest.
"Illinois Central laid its rail track 2 miles west of downtown Urbana," Paul said. "There are a lot of good stories about why the tracks weren't built closer to Urbana, and we'll look at some of those."
The town that grew up around the tracks originally was called West Urbana, he said. It was renamed Champaign after the town took action to acquire a city charter in 1860. The city and county names were derived from Champaign County, Ohio.
About 10,000 men worked at any one time on the rail line.
The depot, called Urbana Station, was built in time for the first train to arrive July 24, 1854.
"We'll talk about some of the people who contributed to the early growth of the city and look at old photos from the era," Paul said.
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