He seemed like a nice enough fellow so I tried to help him out. “I’m writing a book about how Illinois towns got their names. I remember a play you wrote about Jacksonville that had two different versions.” I told him that there were actually three tales about the town’s naming, one giving credit to President Jackson and a second theory about a young African-American boy who happened to be passing by as the first settlers were surveying the town. They asked him his name, he said, “Jackson,” and they applied the label forever more. I told the caller that the first version was a bit more credible, but the second was more interesting. There’s a third theory stating that the town was named after a local minister, A.W. Jackson. The caller settled for the triple genesis idea and bid me a pleasant good day.
After he hung up, I tried to dig a bit into the depths of our town to see if there were any other theories. I found none, but did come up with some interesting stuff. For example, 1.18 percent of Jacksonville is located on water. If you play golf, you might think that seems low. We have a density of 1,905 inhabitants per square mile, 7,357 households with children under the age of 18, and 13.9 percent of us are over 65 and live alone. We reached our peak of population back in 1960 with over 21,000 residents, and now we’re hovering somewhere between 18 and 19 thousand. The average household in Jacksonville contains 2.23 people. If you hang around the town square late at night, you’ll like some of those .23s.
A fifth of us are under age 18, and the median age of a Jacksonville resident is 37 years. For every 100 females, there are 91 males. For those of us men over 18, the percentage drops down to 87.4. The odds get better as you gray, guys.
However, as is the case in most of the nation, Jacksonville males have a higher median income, coming in at $42,409, with the ladies doing most of the work and trailing us at $30,208. About 18 percent of us live under the poverty line with 12 percent belonging to the over-65 group.
Any listing of the town’s history will point to famous businesses like Eli Bridge Company, J. Capps and Son and the Reynolds group, but not many folks know that our little city is also known for having an unusually large number of pipe organs in town, 11 at last count.
And as with most things, it’s our people who give the town its true character. Until I snooped around I had no idea that Jacksonville was home to Marjorie Best, an Academy Award-winning costume designer; Richard Moore, who was a co-inventor of Panavision for the movies; Kyler Phillips of CNN; and the western artist, Frank Reaugh. The novelist J.F. Powers was born here along with Alfred Henry Sturtevant, who constructed the first genetic map of the chromosome. Who’d have thunk it? Toss is a few more names like Benjamin Grierson, John J. Hardin, Paul Findley, William Jennings Bryan and Stephen Douglas and it’s not hard to create a “Who’s Who” of our little town on the prairie.
I once had a seventh-grade class that had become the terrors of the Triopia hallways. They just didn’t like each other very much. So I’d start each class people with a “Like Time.” I’d ask my stubborn little rascals to say what they liked most about each other, their family, their school, their town, etc. I eventually ran out of really close-to-home questions, so one morning I asked them what they liked about the town to our south, Jacksonville. The first hand that went up answered with, “The French fries!” I’d given up on expecting logical answers from this particular group earlier in the year, so I took that as a valid answer. The second hand to answer gave us, “The movie popcorn.” Perhaps I shouldn’t have asked the question right before lunch. Finally I got an answer that seemed at least understandable as a young man said, “Morton Avenue!” When I asked him why, he said, “Because it’s got all those places to eat!” Oh, well. Our local food seemed to rule the day, especially if it was served with fries and popcorn.
A friend of mine from Hove, England, once visited and said that he loved the amount of green space that Jacksonville offered. He said, “When I come to the states, I miss the parks of England. It’s nice to have a town like this that values open areas to walk.” That caused me to stop driving by our parks blindly. They really are pretty cool.
I have decided that I’ll be more creative with my answers when the next person calls me to ask me about the town’s name … perhaps something about a young boy named Ville who really loved French fries and movie popcorn.