What's in a Name?
Monmouth residents might today be agonizing over the spelling of "Kosciusko," had it not been for the thoughtfulness of one of the special commissioners appointed to locate the county seat. In selecting a name for the town, each of the three commissioners submitted several, and of these three were drawn—Isabella, Monmouth and Kosciusko. In a second drawing, Kosciusko was chosen, but even though it commemorated a famous Polish patriot who fought in the American Revolution, the commissioners felt it would be difficult for the inhabitants to learn to spell, and the man who suggested the name voluntarily withdrew it. Another drawing finally yielded the name of Monmouth, which was said to have been suggested by John McNeil, the commissioner from Fulton County, who had once resided in Monmouth County, New Jersey.
—Jeff Rankin, excerpt from "The Prairie Years" in Born of the Prairie (Kellogg Printing Company, 1981)
Monmouth's first settlers arrived with the westward expansion that followed the War of 1812. Eager to increase the country's settled territories, Congress offered land tracts to veterans as payment for their military service. One veteran bet his tract of land in a New Orleans poker game in 1827. Unfortunately, the veteran lost and a Kentucky plantation owner named John Talbot came away from the table with a warrant for a section of land in the Illinois Military Tract.
Talbot and his cousin Allen Andrews arrived to settle on the land he won and constructed a one-room cabin eight miles northeast of the present city. Talbot was so pleased with the new land that he sent word back to his friends in Kentucky, and in 1828 a group of them came to see for themselves.
The growth of the town was impeded by the Black Hawk War, but once the fighting ceased the community began to grow quickly, and Monmouth was founded in 1831.
The 1850s brought two major additions to the town. The first being the creation of the Monmouth Academy in 1853, which became Monmouth College in 1856. The second major addition was the arrival of the first railroad to Monmouth. The town became a major hub for the region when three railroads put lines to or through Monmouth.
Monmouth in these early days was supported by farming and a few farm implement companies.
Warren County sent a large contingent of men to the Civil War and progress slowed, but the end of the war brought a time of prosperity to the town. Many of the beautiful downtown buildings date from the last three decades of the 19th century.
This was also the time period when good clay was found near Monmouth and several potteries were founded. Monmouth is still home to the Western Stoneware pottery company, founded in 1906. You can read more about Monmouth's pottery companies here.
This trend of prosperity ended with the Great Depression and the town did not begin to recover until the end of World War II.
Monmouth has been home to a few famous individuals, namely the legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, President Ronald Reagan, illusionist Will Nicol ("The Great Nicola") and modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller. In addition, Stephen Douglas once oversaw a hearing in Monmouth dealing with the possible extradition of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, to Missouri to face charges of murder. Douglas ruled not to extradite Smith.