Editor's note: The Herald & Review each day is listing a reason the Decatur region is loved. We're profiling people, places and history that are special to our region — and that make it a great place to live. See more here.
When Stephen Decatur led a successful raiding party into Tripoli Harbor to burn the captured frigate USS Philadelphia, it was called “the most daring act of the age” by none other than British Admiral Horatio Nelson.
The United States, a new nation, had announced its arrival to the world on that February night in 1804, and its hero was an audacious 21-year-old Navy lieutenant.
In 1829, nine years after his death in a duel with a Navy rival, a new city was founded in Central Illinois. It needed to look no farther than the name Decatur to fill its sails with possibilities and set a brave course on the prairie.
Decatur was our country’s first post-Revolutionary War national hero, leading by example in the Barbary Wars of North Africa, the Quasi-War against France and reaching legendary status when he led the frigate USS United States in its smashing victory over HMS Macedonian in the War of 1812. He was swiftly promoted to captain and finally attained the rank of commodore.
Today a statue stands at the southwest corner of the Decatur Civic Center property overlooking downtown and a mural is on the side of 145 S. Water St.
The statue was erected in 1952 at West Main and Pine streets on the Millikin Homestead grounds, overlooking the home of its main donors, the Scovill family. It was moved to its current location in 1991.
The mural, painted by Jerry Johnson, depicts Decatur leading the 1804 raid to burn the USS Philadelphia
In its time, the city of Decatur has shared in the triumphs and struggles of the nation and emerged with its eyes on the horizon. Navigating by a shining star whose name recalls unfailing courage, the city of Decatur, Illinois, proudly bears his name.