Some History of the Mattoon Area
Mattoon sits in a small plain through which flows the northern fork of the Bushy Fork of Crooked Creek; therefore its well-watered and flat open area made it an easily defended position on the way to the Ohio River crossing. And no doubt made the spot an excellent campsite for hunters and trappers on the Saline big-game trail, and as a camp-gound-rendezvous for packhorse traveling pre-1803 pioneers and local settlers.
According to local tradition, the campsite was known as "Lick-Skillet," and this is very likely a true story, for the trail was the natural pathway of the bison, deer, elk and other grazing animals on their necessary periodic journeys from the barren plains of Southwestern Kentucky and Northwestern Tennessee to the Saline Salt Licks, just across the Ohio River in what is now Hardin County, Illinois.
The trail began at French Licks, (now Nashville) on the Cumberland River in Tennessee, and since in the popular pioneer slang of that day, a small plain or level area, used as a campsite or cooking place, within a larger rolling valley was often called a "skillet," and since the trace that led to its use as a campsite ran between two salt "licks," deviation of the local's early name from these two names seems quite reasonable.
When George Flynn opened his Ohio River Ferry in 1803, it caused the widening of the trace or trail into a wagon road. And the now re-named road, The Flynn's Ferry Road became the main highway for the overland-traveling pioneers to Illinois and Missouri region to the west and northwest, and it is said that a covered wagon was rarely out of sight on this road.
The campsite of Lick-Skillet lay about a day's journey, by the pioneer's slow-moving ox-drawn wagons, north of the pioneer towns of Donaldson and Centerville, the last two towns and supply points for the northward traveler before reaching the Ohio that existed in those days. The area thus became a camp or overnight park for covered wagons and would have been the field where the Mattoon school building is located today and across the highway where the stores used to be located.
Robertus Love Moore, known as Bart, was a pioneer settler of the Mattoon section. Being an good businessman, and taking advantage of the increasing flow of traffic, he build a large dry good store and hardware store. He handled lumber, feeds, seeds, farm tools and implements and smokehouse meats that was sold in those days. This first general merchandise store of Mattoon was raiding by the Federal soldiers, and they took everything that he had. This looting of Moore's store almost killed the little village, but after the hostilities of the war cooled down, Bart rebuilt back.
Mattoon adopted it's present name in 1894. It is thought that it was in these days that Mattoon first received its name as we know it today. It was first called Matt's-town, after an early peddler or trader who operated at the covered wagons towns usually always present in the area, and the two words soon became phonetically joined to form the present name on Mattoon.
The business center which had led the county in the sale of farming implements during the early 1890's lost its tobacco stemmery and flour mill to a fire in the early 1900's. The town dwindled to only one general store, which Fred Brown bought in 1913 and moved it across the Marion Road to the old tobacco stemmery lot, where the old building still stands.
The construction of U. S. Highway 60 though Mattoon was the boost that again set the village back on the growing path. Ed Hunt built another general store on the northwest corner of Flynn's ferry Road and the new highway. He put two gas pumps in front of it.
Mattoon graded school was the first attempt toward rural one-room school consolidation in Crittenden County.
I remember in the 70's a telephone booth being sat on the corner where the two store were located. It's sad to see these old empty buildings slowing falling down, and knowing at one time a busy productive community was here.