Canton is the largest city in Fulton County, Illinois in the United States. The population was 15,288 as of the 2000 Census. The Canton Micropolitan Statistical Area covers all of Fulton County; it is in turn part of the wider Peoria-Canton, IL Combined Statistical Area (CSA).
Canton was founded in 1825 by settler Isaac Swan, who mistakenly believed his new town and Canton, China were antipodes. Abundant coal and labor, and the proximity of railroads and the Illinois River made Canton a factory town. The major manufacturing plant in town was P&O (Parlin & Orendorff) Plow Works, later International Harvester, which closed in 1983. In 1997, the plant was destroyed by an arson fire, leaving the former industrial heart of the city a smoldering ruin, which has since been leveled. The town's employers now include the Illinois state prison named the Illinois River Correctional Center, the city's Graham Hospital, Spoon River College and retail stores.
Founder Isaac Swan, his infant child, and three other people died in a devastating tornado of June 1835. Isaac Swan and his child were found in the wreckage of their cabin, the baby dying in its mother's arms. (Twp_Histories/Canton.html) (http://www.illinoisancestors.org/fulton/) leading some to conclude that the tornado represented divine retribution for the city allowing a circus performance the previous week. The city was hit by another F-3 tornado on July 23, 1975. Two people were killed and the storm caused major damage to the downtown area. Interestingly, a circus had visited the city just one week prior, the first circus to entertain in Canton since 1835.
Central Illinois Energy, a locally-financed cooperative, began planning for a corn-fermentation ethanol plant in 2002. Construction and finance delays resulted in its opening in 2007, approximately 4 miles south of the city. Beset by financial problems and construction delays on the plant, the cooperative declared bankruptcy. Central Illinois Energy's assets were bought by a private company, construction was completed, and the plant began production in the Summer of 2008, renamed Riverland Biofuels. The plant was shuttered again in 2010, and its facilities purchased by Avantine Renewable Energy. High grain prices have led to its continued idling, although production could be restarted on short notice.
In December 2008, Cook Medical announced that they would open a new medical device factory at the old International Harvester site. Company owner William "Bill" Cook grew up in Canton. Some of the costs related to Cook Medical are planned to be paid for with state funds: a $750,000 Community Development Assistance Program grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and a $1.1 million grant from Illinois Department of Transportation for infrastructure improvements near the plant. Scott Eells, the chief operating officer for Cook Group, has said that the factory will be and is aiming to have over 300 employees. Bill Cook had previously announced he was buying and renovating several old Canton buildings, including the 1883 Randolph Building on the town square.