Illini 411: Why’s the U of I in Urbana?

Question courtesy of Karl Galko, MS ’22 BUS

profile of Clark Robinson Griggs among historic documents Clark Robinson Griggs (Photo-illustration by Dana Smith; Images courtesy of UI Archives)
Question courtesy of Karl Galko, MS ’22 BUS

A: Because of backroom deals so brazen, they could even make a politician blush! The credit goes to Clark Robinson Griggs, a state representative and former Urbana mayor, who in 1866 went on a statewide tour, meeting with legislators in their districts about Champaign County’s bid for the university. Later, in Springfield, he plied his colleagues with liquor, as well as quail and oyster dinners; gave them an untold number of free theater tickets; and even arranged for a special train to take them to see the proposed campus. Griggs’ finishing move was running for Speaker of the Illinois House, then offering to drop out of the race in exchange for chairmanship of the committee that chose the site of the university. (He also got to choose the committee’s members.)
Unsurprisingly, the committee awarded the University to Urbana, despite higher bids from Normal, Lincoln and Jacksonville. Many legislators cried foul, but Griggs had beaten them at their own game.

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