Neoga’s History (condensed)

The most authoritative sources for the origin of the name “Neoga” conclude that the word comes directly from the Kickapoo language and means “deer”. Neoga originated and flourished because of the Illinois Central Railroad. This area was relatively isolated and non-progressive until the railway and steam locomotive revolutionized the means of transportation. In 1851 the State of Illinois granted the Illinois Central three million acres of land, a strip 200 feet wide from the Michigan Canal to Cairo for the purpose of building and financing a railroad. A branch of Illinois Central was constructed from Centralia to Chicago, and it is on this line that the station of Neoga was established in 1855.

The lonely little depot sitting out on the prairie didn’t have to wait long to fulfill its destiny. Families began to move in around the outlet immediately. Government land that once had no takers at 62 1/2 cents an acre was now grabbed up for $6.00 an acre!

What was referred to as the Original Town embodies twenty blocks straddling the railroad. The ten blocks on the east constitute land grant property of the Illinois Central, and the ten blocks on the west side compose the first Bacon and Jennings Addition which was added at the time the town was platted. The official plat was recorded at the Cumberland County Courthouse on June 16, 1856. That date is therefore considered the legal birthday of Neoga.

Between the years of 1856 and 1869 Neoga residents governed themselves in true frontier style. Then, in common wild-west tradition, they began to feel the need for “the law”. Some Civil War veterans came home rough and rowdy, presenting problems to a comparatively peaceful community. Also, there were numerous squabbles over the roaming stock, particularly swine. Hence, the time arrived for corporational limits, application for a charter, legal ordinances with authority for enforcement, and a calaboose (jail). The town charter was granted on April 17, 1869. The next year was spent studying and planning ordinances, deciding election procedures, and preparing for 1870 as the political starting point of Neoga town.

The government was reorganized in 1881 to comply with new Illinois constitutional laws. From 1881 to 1933, Neoga was a corporate village instead of a town. The village was changed to a city in 1933, and a commission form of government was established with a mayor and four commissioners making up the city council. Robert L. Shaffer was the mayor and Percy L. Claybaugh was the clerk.

The City celebrated its Centennial in grand style on August 14 & 15, 1956 at Jennings Park in Neoga. The official centennial program proudly touted Neoga as the ONLY City in Cumberland County. Many activities were held such as Brothers of the Brush and Sisters of the Swish contests, a queen pageant, and a parade.

The City was still thriving as we celebrated our Sesquicentennial on September 14 – 16, 2006. People of all ages came from near and far to reminisce. Friends and family gathered at many of the events that were held throughout the city. The sesquicentennial tea, the Edwards 1870 home tour, the quilt show at Short Furniture, the model train exhibit at the Municipal Building, the historical display at the library, the antique tractor drive, and an auto and cycle show were just some of the activities that kept Neoga brimming all weekend long. A play entitled “Neoga – Moments from the Past” was performed for full-capacity crowds on Friday and Saturday nights at the Neoga Elementary School.

Another very noteworthy event held during the Sesquicentennial celebration was the time capsule ceremony at Jennings Park. Citizens were invited to submit Items that could be sealed into the capsule. The capsule was placed into a cement case constructed by Dave Cameron. The monument graces the southeast entrance to the park. Hopefully, the time capsule will be opened at the City’s Bicentennial celebration in 2056. It is hard to imagine now, but that celebration will also one day be a part of the history page on the City of Neoga’s website!