Kewanee began right here in May of 1854 because the Military Tract Railroad was on its way, and the village of Wethersfield almost two miles south of here already existed.
Wethersfield had been founded in 1836 by settlers from several New England states. When the railroad was routed to the north of Wethersfield, Kewanee was founded.
The founders were men from Wethersfield, Sylvester Blish, Ralph Tenney, Henry Little and Sullivan Howard, plus Nelson Lay from Wisconsin.
They named their new town Berrian, in honor of the civil engineer who supervised the laying of the track through this area. When Colonel Berrian declined the honor, he was asked to choose a name and he decided on “Kewanee,” a Winnebago Indian word for “prairie chicken.”
As a result of its location along the railroad, which soon would become the C.B.and Q, coal mining and various industries, Kewanee would grow while Wethersfield not so much.
In 1921 Wethersfield’s 2,000 people would ask to be annexed to Kewanee with its 16,000. That 18,000 would turn out to be Kewanee’s peak population as the loss of industries has led to a town of 13,000 today.