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Jesse W. Fell (1808 - 1887), a Bloomington, Illinoismarker businessman, founded Illinois State Universitymarker, originally Illinois State Normal University. He called upon his attorney friend Abraham Lincoln to draw up the bond of guarantee for the Board of Education on May 5, 1857. During Lincoln's 1858 United States Senate campaign, it was Fell who urged him to challenge his opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, to their famous series of debates .


Fell was born in Chester County, Pennsylvaniamarker, and moved to Bloomington in 1831. After opening up the town's first law offices, he turned the practice over to a young lawyer, David Davis in 1836, and became a land claims adjuster.

Fell then founded the city's first newspaper, The Bloomington Observer and McLean County Advocate on January 14, 1837. He married Hester Brown in January 1838, and in 1840, the couple moved to Adams Countymarker, near Quincymarker to start a fruit nursery.

Six years later, Fell returned to Bloomington and began acquiring land and working as an agent for the Alton & Springfield Railroad to secure the right of way through McLean Countymarker.

He also got back into the publishing business, joining with Charles Merriman to resurrect a failing newspaper, The Whig, which was rechristened The Intelligencer in 1851. It took the name The Pantagraph in 1853.

Fell also is credited with developing much of the town of Normalmarker, known in the 1850s as North Bloomington.

Fell became a close friend of such fellow Illinoisans as David Davis and Abraham Lincoln. According to Davis's biographer Willard King, Fell and Davis "had a large part in making Lincoln President." After his election, President Lincoln rewarded Fell by appointing him an army paymaster.


Fell died at his home in Normal, Illinois on February 25, 1887. His remains were interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington.


  • Fell Park in Normal sits on land he set aside in the 1850s. There is also a Fell Avenue extending from Bloomington to Normal.

  • His granddaughter married Lewis Stevenson, and thus he is an ancestor of the Illinois policital family Stevenson, including his great-grandson, Democratic presidential candidate Adlai E. Stevenson II.


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