Over the years thousands of students have attended Channing Elementary School, and an uncountable number of people have lived along Channing Street. But how many people know where the name Channing comes from? The answer is not entirely clear, but most local historians believe it was a reference to William Ellery Channing, a Unitarian minister from the early 19th century.
Channing was born in Rhode Island in 1780 and spent most of his life in the Boston area. He became the leading spokesman and intellectual force behind Unitarianism. In Channing’s view God was a warm, supportive and loving Being and should be embraced as such. This was quite a contrast from the strict Calvinist views commonly held in New England at the time. Calvinists taught that God should be feared and man was always on the verge of divine punishment for wrong doings.
So how is it that a street in Elgin, a place far from where William Ellery Channing lived, came to be named after him. One clue is a small article appearing in a 1901 edition of the Elgin Daily News. It says that Bernard Healy, an early settler in the area, owned land along a cow path running north and south on the city’s eastern limits. One fine day he hung a sign on the rail fence in front of his property which declared “this is Channing Street.” Apparently the name stuck.
William Ellery Channing died in 1842, which about the time Bernard Healy was around, so maybe the street name was a memorial tribute.