The area of Havana was surveyed in 1827 for Ossian Ross, who started the first business, a canoe ferry. The first settlement was named Ross' Ferry. The island of Belle Rose was at the mouth of the Spoon River. Because the island was shaped like the island of Cuba, locals named it Cuba. Locals eventually called their town Havana because they were next to "Cuba Island." Havana was incorporated as a town in 1848.
By 1900, the town was known as a fishing and hunting center, and was actually the most important inland fishing port in the United States. The economy boomed and the population peaked at about 5,000. There were hotels, bars, and gambling houses to entertain the sport hunters and sport fishermen who enjoyed huge catches of fish and game.
Havana was a bustling town during the first half of the twentieth century. Among its businesses were four floating fish markets (Watt's, Rudolf's, Shaffer's, and Riley's), five major grocery stores (A & P, Glick's, Kroger's, Morgan's, and West's), three movie theaters (Havana, Majestic, and Lawford), and three drugstores (Wolter's, Deckard's, and Tarbill & Ermeling's).
In Havana's heyday, in the 1930s and 1940s, visitors and residents parked their cars on the main downtown streets on Saturday afternoons to get ready for an evening on the town visiting friends and patronizing the restaurants, bars, night clubs, and gaming houses.
Source: Harvesting the River: History, Settlement, Havana, Illinois. Illinois State Museum, Meredosia River Museum, and the Havana Public Library District with support from a grant provided by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. http://www.museum.state.il.us/RiverWeb/harvesting/history/index.html
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."
Today Havana is focused on it's historic downtown business district and an aggressive revitalization campaign, attracting new businesses and entrepreneurs. Locals and visitors alike can enjoy the wide array of natural resources, recreation on the Illinois River, relaxing at the marina, boutique shopping, investigating our links to Abraham Lincoln, discovering historic architecture, craft beer, delicious wine and great eateries!
Click the button for a video tour of Havana, Illinois by the Illinois River Road Scenic Byway!