A valley so sweet: Community and market development in the antebellum Midwest
This dissertation presents a case study of the north-central Illinois hinterlands and how the region's internal market grew and connected to the broader external market. It highlights the concept of Midwestern regionalism within Illinois determined by economic activity in the northern tier of the state based off the settler's northern states origin back east as compared to the subsistence lifestyle in the southern part of the state. The growth of the presence of a Yankee work ethic on the northern prairies of the state, in anticipation of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, set the state on a new market trajectory that later, the railroads would capitalize upon to reach into the hinterlands. The people established and grew their farms and businesses between the end of the Black Hawk War and the arrival of the railroad—a previously unexplored period within the north central Illinois counties—with the intention of market growth. This study argues that the lower Fox River valley region was not a desolate region waiting for the development of other regional forces to act upon it, but rather a dynamic area of substantial economic growth almost two decades prior to the introduction of the railroads because of progressive farmers, a strongly-focused business class, and a dogged group of local boosters that continually improved local transportation networks. The region's aggressive movement towards economic stability allowed it to provide Chicago the catalyst needed to ascend to Midwestern market dominance.