A Village Sprung from the Prairie
Written by: Byrdena Schuneman
As the middle of the 19th century approached, Bradford Foster, a native of Maine, took action to make a dream come true. He became aware that the veterans of the War of 1812 had all received a bonus in the form of a deed to a quarter section of undeveloped land in Central Illinois. Being a savvy businessman, Foster began to buy up these landholdings for a pittance- sometimes for as little as $50 to $100 a quarter section. By 1850, he had persuaded a number of his family and friends to migrate to his new frontier and settle in the area now occupied by Bradford. Not surprisingly, the new little settlement was name Bradford in honor of its founder.
The village grew very slowly at first, but when the Dixon, Peoria & Hannibla railroad line (later known as the C.B&Q.) was laid through the village in 1869, real and steady growth began to occur. By 1898, the village had a population of 1,000 and businesses of every kind. The first school, started about 1852, was conducted in the hotel until 1856 when a new one-room building was erected. That building is still standing at the west end of Arbor Street, though school has been conducted at three different locations since that time.
Three denominations, Baptist, Methodist, and Catholic, organized congregations and built houses of worship during the 1870's. The business district began to grow and prosper until any item or service that might be needed by a pioneering community was available. Between 1890 and 1916, a number of large and expensive Victorian style homes were erected by successful businessmen and farmers and are still a source of pride to the residents of Bradford.
Following WWII, Bradford, along with most small towns, began to languish. Improved roads (Rt. 40 was paved in 1928) and dependable cars and cheap gas made it convenient to travel to larger towns to shop. Undeniably, Bradford is not the commercial mecca that it once was; however, in the past decade a number of new and exciting businesses have chosen Bradford in which to establish themselves. Bradford continues to be a safe, attractive, and proud community in which to live and raise a family.