Historical Sites

Explore the fascinating history of Chenoa. Learn more about our history and explore the city.

Founding of Chenoa

The Town of Chenoa was laid out on 13 May 1856 by Matthew T. Scott. At this time the Chicago and Alton Railroad, had been running trains for almost two years, but the survey for the east-west Toledo, Peoria and Oquawka (soon to be the Toledo, Peoria and Western) had not reached McLean County. Scott anticipated the place where the railroads would cross and platted the town which he called Chenoa. Matthew T. Scott (24 February 1828 – 21 May 1891) was the son of a Kentucky banker and by the time he reached Illinios, was an experienced land developer who led a group of well financed investors.

The Name Chenoa

There has been much discussion about the meaning of the name Chenoa. Mid-nineteenth century histories explain that it was an Indian word for “Kentucky” and could therefore be rendered as “Dark and Bloody Ground.” Callary makes it clear that this is incorrect and that this meaning is unknown in Kentucky. Others explain that Chenoa is a Cherokee word meaning “Dove” or “White Dove.” Again this is not the case. Dove in Cherokee is “waya” and white dove “unega waya.” There is also the often-repeated story that Scott had originally wanted the name to read “Chenowa” but the railroad had mistakenly dropped the letter “w.” This again is not true. The railroad had no say in the naming of Chenoa; the spelling “Chenoa” is exactly how Scott recorded the name when he first laid out the town. However,”Chenoka” or “Chenoa” is one of many Native American names for the Kentucky River and this may explain how Scott got the idea that the word could be translated as Kentucky.

Design of Chenoa

The plan of Chenoa is complex because it is the blending of two rival townsites. Scott’s original town, which lies west of the railroad, was built around a central park, is much more like the plan like central Illinois towns of the 1830s than that of other towns laid out in the 1850s. However, Scott only owned the in Section 2, while his rival, and former business companion, William Marshall had managed to purchase Section 1. Marshall’s land included most of the land east of the railroad; on this land, he laid out a competing town town, East Chenoa. Scott did control a small strip between the two towns which he refused to plat out into streets and lots, so anyone who tried to pass the short distance from one town to the other would be guilty of trespass. Scott would call this strip his “imaginary wall,” although it was never a physical barrier. The duel nature of the platting also explains why Chenoa had two distinct streets named Lincoln. Both Scott’s and Marshall’s towns were orthogonal grids with north-south and east-west streets, but plan became still more complex when a later addition by Scott included Veto Street, which ran parallel to the railroad and at an odd angle to the earlier streets.