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from Bath
Postcard from Bath

Courtesy Gerta Jean Griffin, Bath, Illinois.
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from Bath

The town of Bath, Illinois was settled in 1828 by John Stewart and John Gillespie, soon to be followed by other Kentuckians. Abraham Lincoln surveyed the town in 1836. The second house and first mansion, a two-story red brick Italianate four-square, was built by Major Benjamin H. Gatton in the 1840s. The town name is said to have originated with some English settlers, who thought the area looked like the land around Bath, England. Bath was the Mason County seat from 1843 to 1851. The town was the site of one of Abraham Lincoln's "a house divided...cannot stand" speeches in 1858.

The first businesses in Bath included several blacksmith's: Guy Spencer, John Hortsman, and George Steigleder. Other establishments were Gatton and Ruggles flourmill, Cragg's sawmill, replaced in 1975 by Bath Mill, manufacturer of "Queen of Mason" flour, and a newspaper, the Bath Journal, W.W. Stout, publisher, founded in 1860.

The industries of musseling, button-cutting, duck hunting and fishing caused the town's population to swell to more than 1,000 during the first decade of the twentieth century. Fishing became the largest industry in Bath, on the Sangamon and Illinois Rivers, and Wilcox Lake and Cuba Island. Trucks came from as far as Chicago and Louisville, Kentucky, to pick up fish. Seine fishing continued through the 1950s, as the fish population waned. In 1953 a two-day seine yielded 40,000 pounds of carp and buffalo that were sold locally and in St. Louis.

Fish Fry
Close-up of Sign Announcing Fish Fry in Bath

Courtesy of the Illinois Natural History Survey
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In 1911, the town inaugurated its first annual free fish fry to celebrate Lincoln's Diamond Jubilee. Five thousand pounds of fish are fried and eaten each year at this event.

Bath was a stop of the showboats until 1927. The Goldenrod, Cotton Blossom, Frenches' New Sensation, and the Majestic brought entertainment to the small town. Local activities and entertainment included band concerts, square dances, quilting and husking bees, traveling medicine shows and later, silent movies.

Duck hunting clubs sprang up the length of the southern half of the Illinois River. They ranged in size from 200 to 2,000 acres each. The market hunters complained that the land was all bought up by millionaires, who then closed it to public hunting, impairing the river residents' livelihood.

In the 1980s, the quiet town of 400 included the Grand Island Duck Hunting Club, former market hunter Dale Hamm's Floating Tavern Go to audio of Alt

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