Mattoon is filled with a rich history, and its beginnings contributed to the construction of local railroads. In 1853, surveyors from both the Illinois Central Railroad and the Terre Haute & Alton Railroad projected the two rail lines would meet in the area later known as Mattoon. With this forecast, local settlers realized the area was perfect for establishing a community and began marking land for sale with pegs, leading to the village name “Pegtown.” In 1861, the name was changed to “Mattoon” after William B. Mattoon, the chief construction engineer for the Terre Haute & Alton Railroad.
More than 100 buildings were constructed by 1856, including the first schools, churches and stores. The mixture of prime transportation and rich soil in the area aided greatly in the rapid expansion of Mattoon, both residentially and economically.
Abraham Lincoln, the United States’ 16th president, and his family have had a role in Mattoon’s comprehensive history since the beginning. Though Abraham Lincoln never resided in the area, his family established residence a mere three miles south of the soon-to-be Mattoon community in 1831. As a circuit-riding lawyer, Lincoln routinely traveled through the county. One of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates was held on the Coles County Fairgrounds in September of 1858, and it is said that both Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas stayed the night in Mattoon.
The 1940s and 1950s brought about the discovery of petroleum reserves in the area surrounding Mattoon, leading to another surge in growth. More recent history includes the founding of Lake Land College in 1966 and the move of the Lender’s Bagels factory to Mattoon in 1986.