Monday, April 14, 2008

Unforgettable Forgotonia

Main Street of Fandon, Capital of Forgotonia

Nearly-forgotten Gibson Cemetery, southwest of Fandon

In the late 1960s, Western Illinois was feeling pretty ignored.

Passenger train service to Chicago had been cut. A proposal to build a superhighway from Chicago to Kansas City via the area had failed in Congress on two occasions. Carthage College, which had been in the Western Illinois city of the same name since 1870, was abruptly relocated to Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The obvious answer, according to one group of Western Illinois University students, was to declare independence and secede from the state of Illinois.

Thus, Forgotonia (also spelled Forgottonia) was born.

Springfield was no longer the state capital. The capital of Forgotonia was a small settlement south of Colchester called Fandon. The governor was no longer Illinois chief executive Daniel Walker but Western Illinois University senior Neal Gamm.

A few true believers overprinted the name of their new state on U.S. postage stamps and, according to George R. Carlisle, who reflected on the independence movement in a 1998 essay, there were even a few billboards announcing when drivers were entering Forgotonia, including one at Havana.

The new state of Forgotonia encompassed 14 Western Illinois counties including Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Cass, Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough, Morgan, Pike, Schuyler, Scott and Warren.

Much like a similar independence movement that began in the 1940s in Northern California and Southern Oregon to create the state of Jefferson, Forgotonia was birthed out of the frustration that rural Western Illinoisans felt regarding the urban-dominated state government.

Perhaps the biggest point of contention was roads. Western Illinois residents wanted modern, four-lane freeways to be able to reach Chicago, Springfield, Peoria—even to get from Galesburg to Macomb—but their requests for state funding to build wider, more direct routes, which could boost local economic development efforts, fell on deaf ears.

As James D. Nowlan noted in a September 1998 article in Illinois Issues magazine, “at the time, travelers couldn’t get to western Illinois from anywhere else. There just weren’t any good roads out there.”

While Forgotonia’s founders clearly had their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks when they proclaimed their intention to carve out America’s 51st state, they succeeded in focusing attention on serious public policy issues.

The state’s political figures began to take notice of the region’s inadequate roads, lack of rail passenger service and other shortcomings when it came to infrastructure.

In 1971, the state of Illinois finally responded by creating the “Illinois Service” initiative, which partnered with the then-newly established federal train system, Amtrak, to provide state-subsidized rail service between Chicago and downstate communities.

As a result, regular passenger service was once again available between the state’s largest city and Forgotonia cities like Kewanee, Galesburg, Macomb and Quincy. In 2006, that service was doubled as Amtrak began offering two daily roundtrip trains on the Chicago-to-Quincy route.

Similarly, Forgotonia’s roads were gradually improved. In addition to more regular resurfacing of existing roads, State Route 67 between Macomb and Monmouth was widened to four lanes in the early 21st century, as was the road between Quincy and Carthage (which will eventually be extended from Carthage to Macomb). There are also plans to build a direct highway between Macomb and Peoria within the next few years.

That is, of course, unless they forget.


Jax Interior said...

Ok. this is so weird...well maybe not. I guess it means you're more popular on Google land than I thought. So, I was taking Hawkeye on a walk outside and found this really cool area that reminded me of like a jungle with no homes surrounding it. It got me to thinking about how the hell this strange place came to be Macomb. So when we came home, I typed in history of Macomb, Illinois on Google. I decided to open the second link that came up, since the first was Wikipidia, which I abhore. Anyhow, they mentioned this story about Forgotonia, which I thought was the COOLEST thing I've ever heard, or at least have heard of in a long time.
So, I went back to Google to type in Neil Gamm (whose name was mentioned) to find out more about it. And come to find out,your story, "Unforgettable Forgotonia" was the first (maybe second?) link to show up! It's really well done too, so two thumbs up for sure!! Oh crap...p.s. this is Jackie Schwartz, Hank's girlfriend by the way. Just in case you were wondering.

The Backyard Traveler said...

Thanks for discovering my blog, which needs a lot more work on my part. I thought the whole Forgotonia thing was kind of cool, too.

Hank's Dad

Anonymous said...

There was one train a day (the Kansas City Zephyr, originally) on the Burlington Line from Galesburg to Quincy clear up to the start of Amtrak. Burlington could not drop the service because they had ironclad agreements with Augusta and at least three other communities to always offer passenger service. Only the act that created Amtrak was able to break that ball and chain for the CB&Q. But we still ended up with an Amtrak train anyway. :)

micah said...

I don't know if this will be read, but I was born and raised in the former capital of Forgottonia, Fandon, IL. My parents still live there and I love that little town. I was thrilled to hear about how it became the central focus town of the big Western Illinois road fiasco back then. I always had older folks tell me I was from the capital of Forgottonia but never knew what they were talking about until I discovered the story. Fandon is a nice, calm place where I'm proud to be from. I'm glad that my town's story has sparked interest. MJO