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Bloomington's success can be linked to Asahel Gridley
Asahel Gridley. (Pantagraph, David Proeber)

BLOOMINGTON - Asahel Gridley played an important role in making Bloomington a vibrant city.

"He was complex, energetic, highly motivated, quick to temper, a very good business man and understood technology affected life and he invested in it," said Greg Koos, executive director of the McLean County Museum of History.

While an Illinois state senator in the mid 1850s, Gridley successfully landed the Illinois Central Railroad tracks within two miles of Bloomington.

"It was incredibly important," said Koos. "The railroad made Central Illinois, in conjunction with the Chicago Alton Railroad."

It also helped Gridley become a rich man, Koos said. Gridley, a land speculator, owned much of the property the railroad needed to buy for the line.

"He made a fortune," Koos said.

But Gridley didn't stop there. In 1853, he founded the McLean County Bank. A few years later, he developed Bloomington Gas Works, the company that manufactured gas to illuminate homes and streets within the city. He also was an early investor in the telegraph.

Despite his accomplishments and contributions, he wasn't the most well-liked man in town.

One of Koos' favorite anecdotes concerns a lawsuit filed against Gridley by another businessman. Koos said Gridley apparently said some "harsh things" about the man and was sued for slander.

Gridley hired then-lawyer Abraham Lincoln to defend him in the case. Koos said Lincoln won because he made the argument that the harsh words couldn't be slander because everyone knew Gridley talked that way.

The dislike of Gridley apparently also was shared by his wife, Mary. Koos said one Gridley researcher stands by a story that when Gridley died in 1881, his wife told the undertakers to carry the coffin out the back door of their home so they wouldn't damage the carpet.


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