Local History

The Local History Collection at the Decatur Public Library:

Mission Statement:

The Decatur Public Library will collect, organize, preserve and provide access to a non-circulating collection of primary and secondary sources that document the history of the City of Decatur, its inhabitants, government, environment, businesses, institutions and organizations.  Materials related to the history of Macon County, its communities and Illinois will also be maintained in cooperation with other historical, genealogical, archival and library collections in the area. (created August 2011)

The Collection:

The collection includes, but is not limited to, published books, photographs, government documents or facsimiles, maps, manuscripts, pamphlets, newspapers, serials, audio-visual materials, institutional and organization records, and scrapbooks of historical materials that relate to Decatur and its environs.  Emphasis will be placed on documenting the creation of city and county government, settlement, industry, commerce, education, recreation, and historically significant individuals as well as the history of civic, religious, cultural and social organizations.  Found in the collection in various physical formats are: organization minutes, letters, yearbooks, periodicals, newsletters, demographic information, city directories, phone books, reports, studies, plans, obituaries, local histories, maps and plats, and images. (created August 2011)

Listed below are many of the great resources found in the Shilling Local History Room:

  • Past Local Newspaper on microfilm (Located outside the Shilling Local History Room.  Available whenever the library is open.)
    • Decatur Herald and Review: 1931-present (always three months behind)
    • Decatur Herald:
      • Decatur Morning Herald: 1880-1931
      • Herald Dispatch: 1896-1899
      • Saturday Herald: 1880-1895
    • Decatur Daily Review:
      • Decatur Daily Review: 1878-1931
      • Decatur Local Review: 1873-1876
    • Decatur Republican:
      • Decatur Daily Republican: 1867-1870, 1872-1899
      • Decatur Republican (Weekly): 1870-1898
    • Daily Labor Bulletin: January 5, 1886-January 26, 1886
    • Labor Bulletin: September 14, 1886-January 22, 1889
    • Evening Bulletin: July 15, 1895-1896
    • Decatur Daily Dispatch: July 12, 1889-February 28, 1890
    • Bulletin Sentinel: 1895-1896
  • Cemetery Listings for Macon County
  • Obituary Indexes for the Decatur Daily Review (Herald and Review)
    • 1879-2013
  • Old Local Yearbooks: Please contact the Local History Room for more information on which years are available.
    • Decatur High School – Decanois:
      • 1914-1975, 1977-1998
    • Lakeview High School – Dorian:
      • 1953-1963, 1966-1969, 1972-1982
    • MacArthur High School – Cadet:
      • 1958-1976, 1978-1984, 1986-1993, 1996-1999, 2001-2013
    • Eisenhower High School – Pantherama:
      • 1958-1959, 1961-1967, 1969-1970, 1972-1995, 1997-2005, 2007-2010
    • St. Theresa High School – The Teresian:
      • 1955-1967, 1969-2013
    • Millikin University – Millidek:
      • 1906-1909, 1911-1921, 1923-1958, 1960-1998
    • various junior highs
  • City Histories
  • Annual Reports of Businesses
  • Special Interest  Artifacts
  • City Directories
    • 1871-1872, 1881, 1884, 1889, 1896-1897, 1899, 1901, 1903-1906, 1909-1912, 1915, 1919-1926, 1928-1933, 1935-1942, 1944-1964, 1966-2003, 2005-2013
  • Special Interest Indexes
  • Maps and Zoning Information
  • Photographs
    • The library is currently working to get its extensive photograph collection online.  In the meantime, if you would like to know if we have a certain photograph, please contact us.
    • If you are interested in using an image in a publication, we ask that you contact us and fill out our Reproduction agreement.

Genealogical Databases:

The  online databases Ancestry.com – Library Edition and HeritageQuest (HeritageQuest @ Home) are available for free to all users in the library.  Heritage Quest is also available at home with a valid DPL library card.  Ancestry.com Library Edition is only available on-site, but the library does offer 4 database-only computers on the first floor that can be used for 2 hours a day.  To access the library’s databases, please click on the Database tab at the top of the screen.  The databases are listed in alphabetical order.


The Shilling Local History Room is open to the public for research 30 hours a week (please see the hours of operation listed below).  The room is staffed primarily by volunteers, so calling ahead is highly recommended because the hours cannot always be guaranteed.    Appointments are always welcome, though not necessary.  If you wish to make an appointment, please contact us at least 48 hours in advance to give the staff time to prepare for your arrival.

Making Requests:

If you are unable to visit in person, you can make requests for information by mail, email, or phone.  Decatur Public Library does charge for requests.  It is $5.00 for research/lookup for up to 3 people/topics ($10.00 for research/lookup for 4 or more) and $.50 for each copy.  Payment can be made by check or money order only (made payable to Decatur Public Library).  There is no charge if the requested information cannot be found.  The fee is the same whether the material is sent by email or mail.

Photocopying and Scanning:

Almost all the materials in the Local History Room can be photocopied or scanned except for materials that have copyright restrictions or are too fragile.  To ensure the safety of the material and the quality of the photocopy or scan, only the staff and volunteers are allowed to use the equipment.  Please ask a volunteer to make a copy for you.  Please bring a flash drive if you would like an item scanned for you.

The charge for photocopying is $.15/page for black and white, and $.50 for archival paper (available upon request).  We cannot make colored copies.  There is no charge for scanning an item on-site.

Microfilm and Microfiche:

The library has 6 microfilm scanners that are available to visitors when the library is open.  4 of these machines are capable of reading microfiche as well.  The two oldest machines (Canon 300 and 500) are $.25/page, while the 4 newer machines are $.15/page.  For a list of the library’s holdings of newspapers on microfilm, see the list of resources above.

Call (217)421-9766 or e-mail localhistory@decaturlibrary.org for more information.

Oral Histories:  (Pardon our dust!  We’re working as quick as we can to get all of the oral histories up on this site.  Please check back frequently for additions and changes to the summaries.)

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Leslie T. Allen - City Manager for the City of Decatur for 16 years (1972-1988).

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Dorothy Austin - Former Principle of Ullrich School.  From a prominent Decatur Family featured in History of Macon County by O.T. Banton (1976).

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Hugh Baker - Mechanical Engineer with the Mueller Co. for 43 years.  Involved in various civic activities as a board president.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Mrs. Marie G. Baker - Early prominent member of the African American Methodist Church at the College St. Chapel.  Officer with the Niagara Movement.  Wrote articles for the New Republic.  Brother was the first African American man to work the rail line between Chicago and Pittsburgh.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Mr. and Mrs. William Bankson - Machinist for the Wabash Railroad.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with O.T. Banton - Decatur historian. Author of History of Macon County (1976).

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Ira Barnes - Member of the prominent Barnes family who were early bankers, entrepreneurs, and doctors. Interviewed in February 1983.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Jane Conklin Bering - Wife of W.N. Bering, who was instrumental in Lake Decatur, and a civic leader.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Loren Boatman - Meteorologist for WAND

Betty Turnell’s Interview with A. Webber Borchers - State Legislature. Member of the City Council of Decatur.  Member of the prominent Borchers family.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Howard E. Brown - President of Richland Community College (retired 1989).

Betty Turnell’s Interview with R.E. Burket - Vice-President and Assistant to the Chairman at ADM.  Interviewed on June 10, 1987.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Dr. H.J. Burnstein - prominent Dermatologist.  Interviewed in February 1979.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Mrs. H.F. Carmichael - Member of the Decatur Art Class.  Her husband and she once owned a house with a garage built with lumber from Billy Sunday’s tabernacle.  Interviewed on December 1, 1977.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Dr. C.R. Cassity - Ph.D in Mathematics.  Member of The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM).  Interviewed on May 19, 1989.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Mrs. Eloise Clark - One of the early residents of the Orlando Apartments.  Executive Assistant to Dr. McKay, long-time president of Millikin University. Interviewed on June 23, 1987 and July 10, 1987.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Mrs. Erma Wait Cook - Long-time resident of Decatur.  Interviewed on August 14, 1985.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Byrd L. Davis, Jr. - Early member of the Decatur Fire Department.  Chief of the Decatur Fire Department until 1967.  Interviewed in June 1979.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with John Day - Worked for the Wabash Railroad.  Interviewed on November 29, 1977.  Corrections in document were made by Mr. Day himself.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Robert Dumas - City Librarian for Decatur Public Library (1966-1986).

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Robert Emmons - Interviewed in June 1982.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Mildred England - Interviewed on June 18, 1979.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Mrs. Mayme Foster - Pillar of the First Methodist Church.  Formed the Wesleyan Service Guild.  Long-time resident of Decatur.  Was 103 at the time of this interview.  Interviewed on May 8, 1987.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with William Franklin - Life insurance salesman with some sound advice.  Interviewed on March 18, 1986.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Oma Gardner - Director of Nursing Care at Decatur Memorial Hospital from June 1953 to November 1978.  Interviewed on May 23, 1984.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Ethel Garman - Long-time resident of Decatur.  Sat on the library board.  Talks about the Carnegie Library, Study Class, and the YWCA.  Interviewed on March 31, 1983.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Ruth Gibbs - Prominent member of the United Methodist Church.  Member of the Ladies’ Aid Society.  Served on the Jurisdiction Woman’s Society, the National Board, and the World Board (Methodist).  Interviewed in November 1983.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with R. Wayne Gill - Business Manager Emeritus of Millikin University.  Associated with James Millikin and Millikin University for most of his life, as a neighbor, student, and employee.  Member of the Student Army Training Corps during World War I. Interviewed in March 1980.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Orv Graham - General Manager of radio stations WSOY and Y103 FM.  Interviewed on September 17, 1987.

Betty Turnell’s Interview with Lester J. Grant - Served the Decatur School System for 30 years from 1937 to 1967.  Was the Superintendent of the Decatur School System from 1950 to 1967.  Interviewed on March 28, 1988.

Robert Williams’ Interview with Al Dobbins - Started Progress Day School and the Green Thumb Operation through the American Red Cross.  Interviewed on January 24, 1990.


Hours of Operation:

Monday: 10:00-2:00 (3:00-7:00 by appointment)
Tuesday: 10:00-4:00 (4:00-7:00 by appointment)
Wednesday: 10:00-5:00 (5:00-7:00 by appointment)
Thursday: 10:00-5:00 (5:00-7:00 by appointment)
Friday: 10:00-12:00 and 12:30-3:00 (3:00-5:00 by appointment)
Saturday: 1:00-3:00
Sunday: Closed


Contact Information:

Shilling Local History Room
Decatur Public Library
130 N. Franklin St.
Decatur, IL 62523
Phone: (217)421-9766
E-mail: localhistory@decaturlibrary.org


Links for Researchers:

Decatur Genealogical Society & Library - Great place for in-depth genealogical research!

Macon County Historical Society and Museum

FamilySearch – Free family history site.  A good place to start, but make sure to check out your local genealogical society for more in-depth information.

FindAGrave – Looking for that relative’s grave?  Don’t know where they are buried?  Search here.  It’s free!