The Village of Ladd was incorporated on June 7, 1890.  But, the town can trace its roots to a board meeting of the Whitebreast Fuel Co. in Ottumwa, Iowa, on April 26, 1888.  On that day, the board of directors authorized William McNett of Ottumwa, Iowa, to negotiate the purchase of the rights to mine the underlying coal deposits in a section of eastern Bureau County, Illinois.  Mr. McNett negotiated the purchase of 10,500 acres of land in and around present day Ladd.  The site of the mine was chosen because of its proximity to a main road and the fact that a rail line, the Illinois Valley and Northern, was being built through the area.  The men that came to the area to sink the first mine shaft came from Cleveland, Iowa.  The miners had a great deal of difficulty sinking the shaft.  The soft, treacherous ground was full of pockets of sand and water that would rush in and make the shaft unusable, and it was also interspersed with large boulders.  After a year and a half and six attempts at sinking a shaft, they finally had three viable shafts.

The Whitebreast Fuel Company operated the Ladd mine for about 11 years and later sold it to the Illinois Third Vein Coal Company in 1901.  The Illinois Third Vein Coal Company made $100,000.00 worth of improvements to the mine, and the mine was then considered to one of the best and safest in the State of Illinois.

When the miners first came to this area, they wanted to start receiving mail and originally chose the name Osgood for their mining camp.  The name, Osgood, was a reference to John Cleveland Osgood, the owner of the Whitebreast Fuel Co.  After Peru, Illinois, resident George Dana Ladd became involved in numerous Ladd businesses, the name was change to Laddville and was later shortened to Ladd.

The Illinois Valley and Northern completed their rail line in June of 1888.  They did not operate the line but leased it to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy RR.  Ladd had many rail lines in the area, but when The Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul RR decide to make Ladd a terminal in the early 1900s, Ladd was considered a boomtown.

The improvements at the mine and the addition of the CM & St. P terminal brought such an influx of people that there was a housing shortage.  There were up to three families and 15 people living in some Ladd homes.  The Ladd school was so overwhelmed with new students that half-day sessions were held in order to alleviate some of the problems.

Ladd prospered and grew until the early 1920s when it reached its peak population with a little over 2000 citizens.  But then, the bubble burst when the mine closed in 1924.  The mine couldn’t compete with the non-union coal fields of southern Illinois.  The miners and their families drifted away looking for work and the railroads started shifting men to other divisions.

Despite the loss of its two major industries, Ladd residents were resilient and were able to cope with many of the problems that faced them in the next few years, especially during the Great Depression and WWII.

Ladd, like many communities across America, has had difficulties attracting new businesses, but with its head held high, Ladd is still considered the “Magnificent Little Village”.

– Jim Piacenti © 2009