A Summary of Ridge Farm by Enisa Gonzalez

Ridge Farm sits centrally located and on the forefront of innovation in this great country.

The village’s history goes beyond the 150th birthday it celebrates this 2024, from the treaty with the tribes, to the early pioneers that worked the land, and its passionate founder, who used his voice to influence his town’s people, and the country’s leader.

The history here is as rich as its black loam prairie soil that surrounds it.

William Henry Harrison, Superintendent of Indian Affairs, negotiated a treaty with the Chiefs of The Delawares, Kickapoos, Pottawatomies, Miamis, and Eel River Native Americans in 1809. This was to buy land in the Northwest Territory to form new states. He met with selected Natives in a grove east of Ridge Farm to clear title to three million acres for $10,000.00 and a small annuity. The Indians stipulated the boundary line on the East should run in the direction of the sun at 10 A.M. This line became known as the 10 o'clock line and is frequently found on surveyors' and landowners' documents. The Western boundary should be on a line with the sun at 1 P.M. It would include the land which a man could ride on horseback in two and a half days.

After the War of 1812, the land was surveyed and pioneers took possession. Nathaniel Henderson built the first shelter on Harrison Purchase land in 1824.

An engraved stone in Ridge Farm marks where this historical treaty came to fruition.

Ridge Farm, Illinois is settled on the tall grass prairies on the glacial ridge in Vermilion county. This town came to be when an eccentric and outspoken Quaker named Abraham Smith, a Tennessee native that had settled in Vermilion Grove, moved his farm south in 1839. He called it his "Farm on the Ridge" or "Ridge Farm."

The only town in the country with that name.

Abraham opened a post office, blacksmith shop, tavern and a general store.

When the first settlers came, they found the luxuriant prairie grass high enough to hide their horses from view. Abraham Smith plotted 13 lots on the west side of the State road in 1853, and on March 3, 1874, a petition to incorporate the village of Ridge Farm, population 350 at the time, was filed in County Court. His daughter Lydia Smith was the first girl born in town, and Lewis W. Hole was the first boy. In 1873, railroads were being constructed which brought in businesses such as a large flower mill, lumber yards, a hardware store, hotel and an extensive grain business. The original Bank building and masonic lodge still stand on Main Street, and several churches and homes have also survived time.

During Abraham Lincoln's early years as a lawyer on the 8th judicial circuit court, he stayed in Ridge Farm as a frequent guest at Abraham Smith’s tavern. A register of guests was kept and it included his name. Lincoln also befriended James Ashmore from town, a Cumberland Presbyterian preacher that established the local church, as well as built over 30 others in this county alone. Reverend James Ashmore was there among others at the Great Western Depot on a cold February day to see Lincoln off to Washington D.C. when he was elected. Lincoln told the people at that train station he was aware of the great challenges that awaited him when he took office, and that he was once again in an old familiar place where he always felt he was among friends. Then the train carried the living Lincoln away from Illinois, forever.

The friendship between Abraham Smith and Abraham Lincoln was important, because it pushed Lincoln to stay on the side of disallowing human bondage, with Abraham Smith saying he needed to do more. Smith’s home, as well as other locations in Ridge Farm, were a part of the underground railroad. In Abraham Smith’s writings he addresses getting knocks in the middle of the night, and providing a safe place for escapees coming from Paris, Illinois or the Wabash station to sleep. He was vocal in his opinion opposing the right to own slaves, he writes “I do not judge the slave owners, that is for a higher power. I only know the institution is wrong. It is contrary to the laws of God and the constitution drawn up by our forefathers. That it shall end, I have no doubt-but I do doubt, that it will come peacefully.” Smith speaks from experience, as he witnessed hostility among some of the early citizens in town, with Rev James Ashmore having to calm the crowd that was looking to tar and feather him. Both Abraham and James had family that served in the civil war, along with the sons of many that lived here.

Today, Ridge Farm is a small village with many of its citizens carrying the last name of those early pioneers. Surrounded by farms of those whose ancestors originally traveled the Indian trails to set up homesteads, and used horse and ox to plow the fields.

Its Carnegie library from 1909 still remains a library, and is the smallest town to have one.

Ridge Farm has been an important part of history since it began, and if history repeats itself, Ridge Farm will once again be on the leading edge. Perhaps with the implementation of wind and solar, or other cultural and technological innovations yet to transpire.