Secor, Illinois is a small community located in Woodford County, just off U.S. Route 24 about 25 miles east of Peoria, and about 25 miles north and west of Bloomington/Normal. Secor was founded by settlers moving west from the east coast and the settled states inland. These folks started moving to Woodford County looking for cheaper land and better opportunities as early as 1838, but in 1856, many of them were following the building of the Eastern Extension of what was then known as the Peoria and Oquawka Railroad. This railroad still exists today as the Peoria, Toledo and Western. Although what became known as Secor was sparsely settled several years prior to 1856, it was officially incorporated in 1857.
A longstanding and commonly heard local joke suggests that Secor stands for Southeast Corner Of Roanoke, with Roanoke being a much larger community located approximately five miles to the northwest of Secor. In actuality, Secor was named in honor of Charles A. Secor a member of the engineering firm of Cruger, Secor and Company, which was awarded the contract for construction of the Eastern Extension of the Peoria and Oquawka Railroad.
Originally a busy, thriving community, large for it’s time and place, Secor is now a village in decline. With a population of about 400 at the last official census, Secor is valiantly struggling to maintain its place in the world, much like any number of once proud communities throughout rural America. Many descendants of the original settlers still live in Secor, proof that this little village is still a good place to live. Once home to a large variety of retail and service businesses, all that is now left of such venues is one lonely tavern, The Secor Saloon.
Interestingly enough, in the movie, ‘The Fugitive’ released in the early nineties, the script provides make-believe coordinates for the location of Richard Kimball who, of course, was the fugitive. If those coordinates are located on a map, you will find they are right outside of Secor.
Although a great many Secor residents have gone out into the world over the years and made names for themselves, the only person to become internationally reknowned, was Wilhelmina (Minnie) Vautrin. Minnie, born in Secor in 1887, spent all of her early life in Secor until graduating as a young woman from Illinois State Normal University in Normal, Illinois and later from the University of Illinois at Champaign. In 1912, she decided her life’s calling was to be a missionary, and she subsequently journeyed to China. After six years there she returned to America and attended Columbia University where she earned her master’s degree. She later returned to Nanking, China, to eventually become the vice president of the Ginling Girls College which she helped found. With the coming of World War Two and Japan’s invasion of China, Minnie became widely renowned for saving the lives of many of the women at the school during the Nanking Massacre of 1939. Armed with only her wits and the use of an American flag, Vautrin was largely able to repel Japanese incursions into the college that was so dear to her. In 1940, haunted by those she had not been able to save, she took her own life. After the war, Vautrin was posthumously awarded the Emblem of the Blue Jade by the Chinese government for her heroic sacrifices during the Nanking Massacre.