founder of the year

2024: Isrel Larry Blackburn

DG Historical Society is pleased to announce Isrel Larry Blackburn as the Founder of the Year for 2024.

Isrel Larry Blackburn was born into slavery in Mercer County, Kentucky on May 3, 1818, on a plantation owned by John Bowman. There he would live until 1864 when he was sold by Bowman to the Union Army. At that time Isrel was assigned regiment garrison duties at Camp Nelson in Company C of the 124th U.S. “Colored Infantry” in Kentucky, just one of the 175 colored regiments formed during the Civil War. His service there earned him the rank of sergeant before he was discharged on June 23, 1865.

In 1866, Blackburn and 5 of his 6 children made their way north to Downers Grove. Since Downers Grove had been founded by abolitionists from New England, it was not surprising that the local citizens helped him when he arrived. He was able to acquire 2.47 acres of land from Samuel Curtiss and it was on that property that Isrel, a widower, continued to raise his family. The 1870 Downers Grove census reveals that Isrel was living in Downers Grove with his 5 children ranging in age from 8 to 21 years old. No mention was made of his wife, Challis Hares, on the 1870 census. But the 1880 census lists his marital status as “widowed”. Isrel farmed the land at the southwest corner of Forest and Curtiss Streets where he grew crops, including celery, and then sold the produce to local citizens. With his 6’2” frame and long beard, Isrel was easily recognized and became affectionately known around town as “Uncle Larry”. Isrel soon took an interest in the affairs of the village and was one of the 38 signers of the Incorporation Papers for Downers Grove which was incorporated as an official village on March 31, 1873.

On Decoration Day, now called Memorial Day, Blackburn was often seen placing flags and flowers on Civil War graves at the Main Street Cemetery. He and other Civil War veterans and members of the Naper Post of the Grand Army of the Republic in Downers Grove could be seen proudly marching in parades to honor those who died in the Civil War. Several years ago a G.A.R. star was added to his gravestone in honor of his participation in the organization.

In 1902, Isrel Blackburn, about 84, passed away at the Old Soldiers Home in Danville, Illinois. So loved by the citizens of Downers Grove, Isrel’s remains were buried in the Main Street Cemetery near the graves of 2 of his sons. In 1973, when his grave marker fell into disrepair, it was replaced through efforts by the Downers Grove Historical Society and the American Legion Post 80.

To learn more about the life of Isrel, click here >

The Downers Grove Historical Society is proud to name Isrel Larry Blackburn as the 2024 Founder of the Year. The recognition ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 4 at 11:30 AM at the Main Street Cemetery. The event is free to the public and all are welcome.

Other Founders of the Year:

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