Oglesby is located near the confluence of the Illinois River and the north-flowing Vermilion River. Originally, in 1902, the town was called Portland, due to the cement mined and manufactured in the area that was similar to Portland cement from England.
In 1913, the people of Portland voted to rename the town Oglesby after Richard J. Oglesby (1824–1899), a former U.S. Senator and Governor of Illinois.
Oglesby had excellent exposed limestone and coal, as well as riverine transport. It soon became an important center for cement manufacture.
“Well, here it is,” said a Kenosha businessman who made it to the place now known as Oglesby in 1865, the last year of the Civil War. He was with the Kenosha Coal Company setting up operations in the untouched area south of LaSalle and the Illinois River. The company was small. It consisted of Irish, Scottish, and English workers. After one year, a shaft collapsed. It looked like all was doomed for this operation, but they did not give up hope. The company sent Mr. Thatcher Tucker Bent in to run the area in 1867. Mr. Bent made working conditions better. He gave them better wages and workers’ compensation due to the dangers of coal mine working. He soon started a Sunday school held in a company shed and a small grocery store.
Cement has been an industry growing and changing in Oglesby for over 100 years. In 1891, the cement industry in Oglesby started. Although the land was bought in 1891 the company didn’t start operations until 1892.
In 1898, this company became Marquette Cement Company. Oglesby had two major cement companies. Marquette was the first and is currently known as Lone Star Industries.
The other major cement company was the Chicago Cement Company, which later became Lehigh Portland Cement Company. Lehigh stopped operations in 1964 and its quarry was bought by Marquette. You can still see some of Lehigh’s old buildings off Walnut Street at the edge of town in Oglesby.
The Shippingsport Bridge has always been a major icon to Oglesby. The steel lift bridge across the Illinois River was opened on November 7, 1929. This route through the area improved business. It was the main north and south road until the 1960s when Route 51 was moved. In August 2001, Shippingsport closed for good. The demolition for this old bridge began November 8, 2001. Only two steel lift bridges remain in Illinois.
Information courtesy of the Oglesby Historical Society.