The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

March 31, 2013

Beckwith, Clyman left their mark on area

If you had a time machine, and could return to late 1820s Danville, you would find two frontiersmen keeping store in a small log structure at the west end of Main Street. It wasn’t much of a store, but then Danville wasn’t much of a village. A few crude cabins built among the hazel bushes above the Vermilion River made claim to the Danville title. The Clyman-Beckwith store stocked only the few items settlers couldn’t make or grow. Tin ware, tobacco, gun powder and shot were among those items. A clerk probably assisted in the store, because the owners were often absent on surveying assignments.

The storekeepers were 1700s men. James Clyman was born Feb. 1, 1792, on a farm owned by former President George Washington in Virginia. The Beckwith family Bible records Dan Beckwith first saw the light of day in Pennsylvania on Feb. 3, 1797.

By the time they became partners in the store, the two men had already made names for themselves as pathfinders and surveyors. Before coming to Vermilion County, Clyman had been to the Rocky Mountains, and had laid the historic foundation for later experiences that would link his name with the famous mountain men of the west.

Beckwith was leader of the local militia and had donated land for the village that was named for him. He was county surveyor and Clyman was his deputy. Contemporaries described both men as being more than 6 feet tall and powerfully built. Their attire reflected what was available for wear on the frontier: buckskins, moccasins and coonskin hats. Clyman was not married, but Beckwith was married to Mary Williams, the young sister of fellow Vermilion County pioneer Amos Williams

A survey crew the two worked with might have included axe men, flagmen, chainmen and a cook. Establishing property lines and laying out roads was a source of employment for many men in the lands made available to the public by treaty agreements with the Native Americans. The opening of a federal land office on Danville’s Main Street in 1831 was a boon to the tiny village, and sparked the sale of government land.

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