Founded by a pair of land speculators, Clinton was one of the dozens of prairie towns that sprung up in the Plains states in the mid-1830s. The community’s first lawyer, Clifton H. Moore, rode into town in August of 1841. The decade of the 1840’s was the heyday of circuit riders of the Eighth Judicial Circuit; soon-to-be famous lawyers and judges frequented Clinton, county seat of DeWitt County. Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and David Davis each left their marks on the community. The railroad was an even more significant factor in the growth and development of the town. The first Illinois Central Railroad locomotive chugged into Clinton in 1854; by the end of the decade, it had transformed the town – both socially and economically – From a rough frontier settlement into a thriving “railroad town.” By 1920, 11 passenger trains were passing through town daily, and the Clinton yards handled more than 107,000 freight cars each month.
The Great Depression saw a sharp decline in the railroad’s prosperity, so Clinton turned to the area’s farmers to maintain the local economy. For the last half-century, Clinton has sought also to attract a variety of industry and manufacturing to preserve economic stability, thus attracting new residents ensuring Clinton’s continued progress into the 21st century.