East central Illinois was inhabited by the Kickapoo and Pottowottomie tribes who lived on the prairie and in the woodlands around Salt Creek and other small streams. These Native Americans roamed the area with occasional traders and adventurers moving ever westward. In approximately 1825 settlers started venturing into this area and Dennis Hurley was reported as being the first white settler to establish a home in the vicinity. He built a cabin and called the surrounding area Hurley’s Grove, and soon other families started settling in the general area. These first families included the Kirbys, McCords, Clearwaters, Watsons, Johnson, Webb, Blalach, Weedmans, Coveys, Cummings and Huddlestons. This settlement known as Hurley’s Grove was located just south of what is presently Farmer City, and became a part of DeWitt County in 1839.
More families had arrived in the area by 1837 and the Salt Creek area south of town became more or less a permanent settlement with families living within the safety of the wooded areas along the creek banks. The area north of the settlement was also becoming populated and became known as Mt. Pleasant. This area was divided in 14 blocks with a public square in the center. Nathan Clearwater built the first residence and William McFall opened a store in 1837. In that year, the first mail delivery was established and it was discovered that there was already a Mt. Pleasant in Illinois, so the area became known as Santa Anna, for mail delivery purposes.
In the early 1850s, Abraham Lincoln was the lawyer serving the Eighth Judicial District, which included DeWitt County and he traveled through the area many times, riding his circuit. He was a well-known and respected man in DeWitt County before becoming one of the most beloved men in our country’s history.
The small settlement continued to grow and more additions were platted to the community. The center of activity had moved from the Salt Creek area northward. The railroads arrived in 1870, bringing freight and passenger service to the area from all directions. The 1870 census for Santa Anna Township was 1276 people and the population of Mt. Pleasant was counted as 537.
In 1869 it was decided the town needed an official name and after much discussion and debate, Farmer City was the name chosen. With the railroads, Farmer City grew and prospered. A major fire in the business district in 1879 destroyed most of the business establishments, but the town survived and rebuilt. Another fire in 1894 again destroyed most of the business district, but again the town rebuilt and prospered once more.
The early 1900s saw Farmer City continue to grow into a bustling community. The first water tower was built in 1920, and other city utilities became available through the planning and foresight of the city fathers. There was a modern business district and many fine homes, schools, and churches in the community.