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LOCAL ATTRACTIONS & HISTORY
In 1854, the town of North Bloomington was platted in the area commonly known as "The Junction," located at the intersection of the Illinois Central and the Chicago and Alton railroads. Jesse Fell is credited with many of the activities that built the fabric of the early town. Fell planted many trees on his properties, and the deeds to his lots had clauses that required the maintenance of the trees. In addition, Fell also placed clauses restricting the sale of alcohol on the deeds to the properties. Fell eventually became one of the most well known men in the history of the town.
In 1857, Governor William Bissell signed a bill to create a normal school. Based on the French teaching schools, the term "normal" was the general name for all schools set up to be teachers’ colleges. The bill stipulated that the permanent location would be the place that offered the most favorable inducement. Jesse Fell took up the campaign for Bloomington and obtained financial backing totaling $141,000, which surpassed Peoria, the closest contender, by $61,000. Abraham Lincoln, in his capacity as an attorney, drew up the bond guaranteeing that Bloomington citizens would fulfill their financial commitments. The university first held classes in Bloomington while the campus was being built north of Bloomington. By 1861, Old Main, the all-purpose building for the university, was completed, and the state’s first public institution of higher education had a permanent home.
The population of Normal in 1860 was 847; in 1862, there were only about 20 houses in Normal.
Particularly notable about Normal is its historic dedication to children. After the Civil War, the town opened the first home for Civil War Orphans. In 1899, the home was open to orphans of the Spanish-American War. In 1905, a Methodist pioneer, Nancy Mason, donated her home to the Baby Fold, for the care of homeless babies.The Baby Fold is still an important resident of Normal, and the town and its close neighbor, Bloomington, boast countless public parks, pools, and activities and resources for children. Just one block from the Marriott is also the Discovery Children's Museum; it has a new Director, who helped guide the Indianapolis Children's Museum, the largest in the world.
Also interesting is that Normal has always thrived in times of economic crisis. Illinois State University reached its highest enrollment, until that time, during the Depression, and recently it has again reached its highest enrollment as it keeps tuition costs down and continues hiring and increasing support for faculty and research development. Both Normal and Bloomington have also been lucky in business, attracting and sustaining a corporate presence that has increased jobs and nurtured small business opportunities. Small business is a point of pride in Normal; for example, it is the home of Steak N' Shake, opened by Gus and Edith Belt in 1934 on the side of a Shell gas station. Though the original Steak N' Shake has not survived, the town also hosts other major businesses and employers such as Mitsubishi, State Farm Insurance, Country Insurance, and more restaurants per capita than nearly any other city in the nation.
Worth checking out is the Normal Theater, which is just around the corner from the Marriott. The Normal Theater opened in 1937 to show talkies.
Page last updated on April 27, 2013.