Bement’s history began with three horsemen riding south from Monticello, having spent the night as the home of Joseph A. Alvord, whose log cabin stood where the Breezy Meadows subdivision is today, on land that Dr. Elam Bodman, older brother of Joseph Bodman, had purchased in 1853. Joseph Alvord was a first cousin of Elam and Joseph Bodman and also a Massachusetts native.
The Three Horseman were Joseph Bodman, L.B. Wing, and Henry B. Little. Bodman had come from the farawy hills if Massachusetts, past the wooden buildings of Chicago, down the Illinois Central Railroad, to the pioneer hamlet of Bloomington, then by horseback on to the flat prairie land and swamp land to purchase wool for his brother’s textile mill back in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. The riders eventually arrived at a ridge that divided the waters of the Sangamon and Kaskaskia Rivers, a place that lay south of Monticello, known today as the Bement Township Cemetery. Ironically, two of the three men would make their final resting place at this spot where they began a new life.
Christmas morning, 1853 was a beautiful day, more fall-like than winter with the temperature in the sixties and the bright sunshine. When reaching the knoll, the men were so amazed by what they saw that they dismounted and sat upon the ground. Looking south over the sea of six- to eight- foot tall prairie grass below them, they saw acres dotted with small ponds and lakes, and an abundance of wildlife, including prairie chickens, ducks, geese, deer, prairie wolves, and prairie rattlers. As far as they could tell. It was the same as it had been for thousands of years and completely unspoiled – no trees, no orchards. They reported a sense of complete solitude that in the words of Mr. Wing, “oppressed” them.
Unseen by the Three Horsemen, however were other people, squatters living to the east of them along the Lake Fork drainage basin. These people, although few in number, had migrated west from the East Coast, discovered the large lake and built crude homes. They worked out a meager existence from hunting and fishing, and raised gardens, corn, hay, and a few livestock using primitive farming methods.
In the early summer Lake Fork, created by fall and spring rains, would dry up and retreat back into its banks. The Lake Fork basin also had a grove of timber, the only trees for miles, but the Three Horsemen could not see the trees for the tall grass.
Bodman, Little, and Wing pondered for a while and wondered why those that had passed by this area before them had not shared their vision. They concluded that because the prairie was so vast and plentiful, it must have seemed of little value to others. They, on the other hand, were men of vision, faith and courage, and Yankee shrewdness, and were able to envision not what the land was, but what it would become. Here was a chance to grow up with the land!
They also were aware that the great Western Railroad was building a rail system across Illinois from Danville to Quincy. So it was that these three men acting upon their good intuition and instincts, staked out and purchase 6,000 acres of “whatever it could be good for” land, full of wolves, deer, prairie chickens and prairie rattlers, “one-half mile south of the Bement Cemetery to the just south of Voorhies. Land was selling for $1.25 per acre and slightly higher for land nearest the railroads.
Until you can visualize a vast area – a sea of wildflowers and tall grass that swept across the area now know as Bement – it would be hard, if not impossible, to envision what the three horsemen saw when they came upon that knoll where the Bement cemetery now sits. Their arrival began a new era for the complex Illinois prairie eco-system, once shaped solely by weather and animals, soon to be influenced by men, machinery and progress.
From Bement Sesquicentennial book - used with permission