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The town was laid out in 1857 by John Calvin Stebbins, a surveyor for the Illinois Central Railroad. The railroad had planned to build its main shops and yard there, but after surveying several sites along the route from Chicago to Springfield decided on Normal as its location. The city is named for the normal school founded in 1857 by pioneer residents of Bloomington who were interested in education and social progress; it became one of two state teachers' colleges (the other being at Peoria) when public schools were established later that decade.