Beardstown was the birthplace of the jazz vibraphone pioneer Red Norvo.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 3.5 square miles (9.0 km²), of which, 3.4 square miles (8.8 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.2 km²) of it (1.73%) is water.
There were 2,172 households out of which 32.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.1% were married couples living together, 11.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.8% were non-families. 28.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.59 and the average family size was 3.11.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.1% under the age of 18, 9.8% from 18 to 24, 29.2% from 25 to 44, 19.4% from 45 to 64, and 15.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 99.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $29,104, and the median income for a family was $31,951. Males had a median income of $25,481 versus $20,054 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,777. About 17.0% of families and 19.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.7% of those under age 18 and 8.1% of those age 65 or over.
Beardstown was founded by Thomas Beard, originally from Granville, New York. His son was Edward "Red" Beard, a noted gambler and saloon keeper of the Old West who was killed in a gunfight in Kansas in 1873 by "Rowdy Joe" Lowe. Thomas Beard erected a log cabin at the edge of the Illinois River, from which he traded with the local American Indians and ran a ferry. Later he built a two-story brick building which was used for 85 years as a store and inn. This inn is alleged to have sheltered Abraham Lincoln on his visits to Beardstown, but that is legend and unconfirmed. The building was demolished and replaced by a post office.
When he started a ferry service crossing the Illinois River in 1826. In 1829 the town along the river's edge was laid out three blocks deep and twenty-one blocks long. By 1834 it was a growing port that shipped grain, hogs, and provisions to the interior of the state and downriver to markets. Beardstown became known as "Porkopolis" because of its stockyards and slaughterhouses, where more than 50,000 hogs were processed annually.
Beard's Ferry and Other Beardstown Transportation
Beard's license authorized him to charge $.75 for a wagon and four horses (or oxen), $.37 1/2 for a cart and horse, $.05 per head of cattle, and $.06 1/4 for a pedestrian, among other tolls. The ferry ran until 1888, when a private wooden toll bridge was built. In 1898 the city built a steel toll bridge that afforded the town revenue until 1955, when the state built a bridge a mile south. In the mid-nineteenth century steamboats such as the Farragut were built at Beardstown at Captain Ebaugh's boatyard.
A plank road was built between Beardstown and Bluff Springs to the east, to cover a swampy area that impeded wagon trade over the otherwise clay surface of the area.
The railroad came to Beardstown in 1869 with the laying of the Rockford, Rock Island, and St. Louis Railroad track. Beardstown was an important division point where engines and crews changed on the Galesburg to East St. Louis run and where the branch, or "jack," line to Centralia merged. A roundhouse was built in 1882 for repair of engines. The line employed and supported several hundred local men and their families.
At the turn of the century, the Beardstown Fish Company frequently reported catches of between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds of fish. Black bass, carp, buffalo, crappie, eel, catfish, frogs, and turtles were caught, sold, and shipped from Beardstown. Fishing became less bountiful as the river became polluted and levees were built, draining lakes.
Another short-lived industry was mussel and freshwater pearl fishing. Button factories opened along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers in the 1890s. Hundreds in the Beardstown area were given employment shelling mussels and selling their shells and pearls to commercial buyers. Prices as high as $1,500 for a large pearl were not unusual. Irregularly shaped pearls, called "slugs," sold for as much as a hundred dollars. By 1909 local shell beds had been played out. They were rejuvenated by the 1970s, when prices per ton were high enough for a few shellers to work the beds again. The shells are sold to Japan, to be ground up into "seeds" for oyster pearls.
A third industry, ice cutting, was prosperous until 1909, when the first plant making artificial ice was installed. Ice was packed in sawdust and stored in large icehouses to be sold locally in the summer months, and it was also shipped out by the train-carload.
Decline and Recovery
The Illinois River had a history of flooding seasons and low water seasons. Lucien Edlen compiled a record of high water stages from previous records starting in 1769 to contemporary ones through 1970.
Many of the industries were affected by the siltation of the river at the mouth of the Sangamon River after the levees were built. Dredging became too expensive, and the town actually lost its access to the river. Recently, however, it has been discovered that the Sangamon is naturally returning to its natural route. This will solve much of the siltation problem at the mouth.
From 1984 to 1993, a group of 16 late-aged women were picking stocks in the Dow Jones and over the course of nine years were claiming returning of 23.4% on their stocks. Once they went public with the amazing returns, they gained national recognition for their success. The Beardstown Ladies, with an average age of 70 (1994), were asked to appear on The Donahue Show, CBS's "Morning Show", NBC's The Today Show, and ABC's Good Morning America. For six straight years they were honored by the National Association of Investors Corp's "All-Star Investment Clubs". In 1993, they produced their first home video for investors called, "The Beardstown Ladies: Cooking Up Profits on Wall Street". By 1994, they wrote their first book, "The Beardstown Ladies' Common-Sense Investment Guide", which sold over 800,000 copies by 1998 and was a NY Times best seller. The Beardstown Ladies become a global phenomenon and TV stations from Germany, Brazil, and Japan were interviewing them and taping their monthly meetings in Beardstown. Although their success was beyond anything this small town of Beardstown (Pop. 5,766) had ever seen, the seeds of scandal were planted in 1998. In late 1998, a Chicago magazine noticed that the group's returns included the fees the women paid every month. Without them, the returns dwindled to just 9%, underperforming the Dow. An article in the Wall Street Journal led the ladies to hire an outside auditor, which proved they had indeed misstated their returns. (WSJ, 05/2006). Time magazine stated that they should be jailed for fraud and misrepresentation, but later found to be (jokingly) stating that remark. Currently, The Beardstown Ladies are still buying stocks, most of which are underperforming in the Dow and their books can bought from Amazon.com for mere pennies.