First settled in 1829 on a site tentatively named Washington, the town was officially founded in 1830 as the county seat of McDonough County and given the name Macomb after General Alexander Macomb, a general in the War of 1812. War veterans were given land grants in the Macomb area, which was part of the "Military Tract" set aside by Congress. In 1855 the Northern Cross Railroad, a predecessor to the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, was constructed through Macomb, leading to a rise in the town's population. In 1899 the Western Illinois State Normal School, later Western Illinois University, was founded in Macomb.
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