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The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA)

The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA) actively promotes our national heritage through preservation of historic properties, patriotic service projects, and educational programs. The NSCDA, founded in 1891, is an unincorporated association of 45 Corporate Societies with over 15,500 members. The Society headquarters is located at Dumbarton House, a Federal period museum in Washington, DC.



While each state society is active, the Illinois Society is especially proud of our support of the USO at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center and the Clarke House Museum, Chicago’s oldest house. Educational opportunities are available for students in elementary and secondary school as well as those in advanced graduate studies.

In particular, we are pleased to partner with the Washington Workshops Foundation, a leading experiential learning program in Washington, DC. Each year nationally, the NSCDA provides scholarships for local students to visit our nation’s capitol to learn about the important role citizens play in a democratic society. Our essay contest provides a no-cost opportunity for local winners to see the “inside” of Washington and meet with our local Congressional delegation, as well as representatives from the judicial and executive branches of government. For more details on the Washington Workshops, please visit

Capital The Colonial Dames also share a unique collaboration with the National Flag Foundation. Through their Young Patriots program, lessons on American History, government and citizenship can be brought into the classroom. The Young Patriots programs include multimedia resources, teacher’s guides and carefully prepared printed materials. For more details, visit

The Illinois Society of the NSCDA believes the future of our state and our nation lies in the education of our youth. Our programs, services and projects are examples of our commitment to making sure Illinois young people understand their roles as responsible citizens and act with knowledge in preserving our nation’s freedom and ideals.

Patriotic Service Activities of the NSCDA-IL

Illinois Dames USO Great Lakes
Patriotic Service programs are designed to promote responsible citizenship and the study of American history with particular emphasis on the fundamental documents, traditions and workings of our country and its government. Some of our projects include:

Young Patriots Program

The Young Patriots program is an excellent resource for librarians and teachers involved with educating elementary and high school students about our flag, American history, social studies and government.

The Young Patriots program is produced in two parts. Educational Series One focuses on helping students learn the history of the flag, flag etiquette and the Pledge of Allegiance and is directed towards elementary school students.

Educational Series Two includes information on the U.S. Constitution, understanding our government, voting and active citizenship and is appropriate for high school students. For more information on these programs, visit

Through a partnership with the National Flag Foundation, the Illinois Society of The National Society of Colonial Dames of America can provide the Young Patriots Educational Series One to classrooms and libraries throughout the state at no cost to the recipients.

For information on how to obtain this program, contact us at

Washington Workshops Congressional Seminar Essay Contest

2021 Essay Contest Winners

Win an opportunity to attend an all expenses paid, six-day seminar in Washington, D.C. (June 22-28, 2013) where you will:

How does the Monroe Doctrine determine our past and present dominance as a world power?

The deadline to submit the essays is December 1, 2012. For details on how to enter the contest, please click here.

To learn more about the Washington Workshops Foundation and the Congressional Seminars, click here.

Illinois students should send their completed applications and essays, either electronically or by regular mail to:

Mrs. Allan Gretchko
116 Woodbine Avenue
Wilmette, IL 60091-3330

For Graduate Students in American History

Each year, the Illinois Society of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America presents a a financial award to a Ph. D. candidate in American History studying at an Illinois university.

Part of the mission of our Society is to help educate our fellow citizens and ourselves in our country’s history and, in so doing, develop an appreciation of our colonial past and our obligation to uphold the values and responsibilities set forth by our ancestors. To that end we feel it is important to support scholars committed to research in subjects related to American History.

To download the 2012 scholarship application, click here. (PDF)
For more information, please contact us directly.

The Henry B. Clarke House

The Henry B. Clarke House is the oldest house in Chicago and the earliest example of Greek Revival Architecture. The house and surrounding four-acre park are owned and maintained by the City of Chicago. The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Illinois owns the furnishings collection, cares for the collection and supports educational programs.

The Clarke House Interpretation focuses on the social history of pre-Civil War Chicago (1836-1860) during a period of economic expansion and industrialization. Visitors learn about architecture, furniture, decorative arts and the links and similarities with the lives of Chicago's citizens today. The story is told of a middle-class family settling in Chicago, Henry Clarke's professional career, the social and holiday customs, the children's lives and how his wife Caroline raised her family after Henry died.

For additional information or to schedule tours, visit

What Can I Do?

Fly the flag! The flag may be displayed every day but on the days listed below, it is especially appropriate to display the flag.

Martin Luther King Day – Third Monday in January
Lincoln’s Birthday – February 12
Washington’s Birthday – Third Monday in February
Armed Forces Day – Third Saturday in May
Memorial Day (half-staff until noon) – Last Monday in May
Flag Day – June 14
Independence Day – July 4
Labor Day – First Monday in September
Veterans Day – November 11
Pearl Harbor Day (half-staff) – December 7

When flying the flag at half-staff, raise the flag to the top of the pole and then lower it to half-staff.

The U.S. flag should always be treated with the utmost care and respect. It is a living symbol representing the American people, a people dedicated to liberty, justice and freedom for all.

Send care packages to our troops who are away from home and their loved ones. Visit for details as to how to send packages abroad. It’s easy and rewarding.

Links To Other Relevant Organizations

1 Washington Workshops Foundation
2 The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America
3 Dumbarton House
4 Clarke House Museum
The Henry B. Clarke House is the oldest house in Chicago and the earliest example of Greek Revival Architecture.
5 National Flag Foundation
6 USO of Illinois
7 Gunston Hall
The home of George Mason, considered the "father" of the U.S.Constitution Bill of Rights. A National Historic Landmark.
8 Sulgrave Manor
The English ancestral home of George Washington.

Art Index

Almost 40 years ago, an index of portraits began as a state Historical Activities Committee project in Oregon. Soon it developed into a survey that was conducted by all the Corporate Societies of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America. Subsequently, the project was transferred to the Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture at the American Art Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Since 1972, the Illinois Society has been contributing information to the Smithsonian’s two comprehensive data bases: the Inventory of American Paintings and the Inventory of American Sculpture. Together the Art Inventories provide information on over 400,000 art works in public and private collections. These inventories are available to everyone.

The Illinois Society is a proud participant and invites you to view our data base at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

ILLINOIS STATE CAPITAL-the sixth in the State's history and the second to be
erected after the capital was moved from Vandalia to Springfield. Cornerstone laid
in 1868.
Copyright © 1964 by
All rights reserved.
Little did we realize what might emerge from one small "acorn"-a letter, sent
to me in November 1961 by Miss Emily Duke of The Virginia Society, suggesting
that our Committee prepare historical surveys of the Court Houses in Il1inois. In
1962 this research became a National Project of the Historical Activities COlllmittees, of member Societies.
Inspired and encouraged by our National Chairman, Mrs. J. \X'. E. Moore and
Mrs. ]. Horton Fall I1!, President of the Illinois Society, we hecame captivated by
the rich lore of Illinois history through which the thread of the life of Lincoln was
so clearly woven. The following October we proudly received high commendation
at the Biennial Council in Washington for our compilation of fourteen outstanding
Court Houses. And, having opened the door, more and more material came rushing
through, sparked by the suggestion of an enthusiastic member that we seek additional data from all 102 counties by sending post card questionnait-es.
Meanwhile, a story began to take shape so we turned to a talented author and
member of our Society to write the book. Lucy Miller (Mrs. Charles P.) Sturges
graciously accepted this assignment, adding material from four more counties.
Our warm thanks and deep appreciation to Mrs. Sturges for writing the
story with additional research, and preparing the bibliography; to Paul M.
Angle, Director of the Chicago Historical Society for checking the accuracy of the
manuscript and for his many helpful suggestions; to Mrs. Warren P. Collins for her
outstanding research of "down-state" records; to Helen Graham Lynch of Chicago;
Eleanor M. Connor of Peoria; Miss Mildred Warren of Mount Vernon; Clyde C.
Walton, Executive Director of the !IIinois State Historical Society, and to the members of my Committee without whose loyal support during the pa4t three years, this
project could not have been completed,
Mrs. Edwin Brand III-Mrs. Warren P. Collins-Mrs. O. Paul Decker
Mrs. F. Campbell Derby-Mrs. James M. Hopkins-Mrs. Richard H. Lamberton
Mrs. Manly S. Mumford-Mrs. Charles C. Shedd-Mrs. Charles P. Sturges
Miss Elizabeth Shedd-Mrs. Henry F. Tenney-Mrs. John Paul Welling
Mrs. Albert D. Williams-Mrs. Frank H. Woods.
Mrs. J Horton Fall III, Ex-Officio
Historical Activities Committee 1% 1-1964
The National Society of the Colonial Dames of
America in the State of Illinois.
March 1%4.
To complete the record the dates of original Court Houses and those of the present day are
listed immroiate1y fonowing the story "Historic Court Houses in JIlinois."
, 12
___ ... .__ .__ . . .__ .. .. 16
J-.l1l1dlldC ,., ,, .
.... __ ___ __ ___ _ _ 21
Monmcmth ..__ ....__ .
.... __ .... ...... 24
.. __ 26
.vI ""'1111> . __ .. _ .__ . __ _ _ _ .. __ .. _ 28
Springfield ... __ ,. __ .
_ .. ... .... ..----...-------.---------------- __ ._____ 33
.__ . ...... .. . ... 39
.. . ... __ ._ ..... .. . 41
. . .
. ... . 45
__ .. .__ .__ .. __ .__ ..... .... ... .... .... 50
.., . . . , ... ._ . 54
The Costliest Court House _
Macoupin County Court House-Carlinville
Grant's Galena _. __
Jo Daviess County Court House, Galena
Great Scott and Company _
Mount Vernon Appellate Court House
Carroll County Court House-Mount Carroll
A Ferry Tale and a Rnale
Putn'},m County Court House-Hennepin
____ 74
Dates of original structures (many of which were destroyed by fire or tornado) .
Dates of Court House buildings in use today.
The State of Illinois has 102 Counties, 55,935 square miles of territory with
the 1960 census listing a population of 10,457,000.
Illinois has had its share of historic court houses. Some are still in
use after more than a century, others have been promoted to museum
or State memorial status, and a few exist only in yellowed records of
the past. Their individual histories vary, but each one symbolizes the
fierce local pride of the pioneer settler, determined that his community
should outstrip its neighboring rivals in power and prestige.
This brief survey, prepared by the Historical Activities Committee
of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State
of Illinois, does not pretend to be an authoritative treatise, but rather
a glimpse into a phase of Americana that lives on, in one form or another, into the present time.
Except for a few houses in Cahokia, there remains little structural
evidence to prove that Illinois was, at one time, a French Colony. The
midwestern architect borrowed from many sources, from Haiti and
Greece to Victorian England, but each surviving edifice has some purely
indigenous characteristics and recalls some segment of American history from its colonial beginnings to the sophisticated civilization of the
turn of the century from the nineteenth into the twentieth.
To understand the importance to a pioneer society 0f the county
court house, often the most imposing structure for miles around and
representative of the town's respect for law and order, one must realize
that the county was a geographic division in the days when each westward outpost was looked upon as a potential metropolis by its adventuresome founding fathers.
The term "county" was borrowed from England, where it was
originally called a "shire", signifying a tribal settlement or, as in the
case of Kent, an entire kingdom. These "shires" became known as
"counties" after the Norman conquest because of their resemblance to
the ancient domains belonging to the counts, or noblemen of France.
Chief officers of the shires or counties were the earl, as military
commandant; the sheriff in charge of the county court; the coroner to
settle matters of life and death; and various justices of the peace. The
English county was introduced into the American Colonies and, in most
of the United States, became the main administrative division between
the State, municipality, parish and town.
The pioneers, pushing westward from the south or east, huddled
in isolated settlements in the wilderness and longed for some legal authority on a less remote and lofty plane than either the Federal or the
State government. The size of the counties was determined by custom,
not law, and varied considerably in geographic dimensions. There was
one criterion-a man had to be able to reach the county seat, by horse
and buggy, in one day's journey from any point in the compass of the
county's borders. Some counties, large to begin with, were later subdivided into several and the boundary lines changed often in the early
Even today, a large percentage of the counties in the United States
are rural, alt~ough containing or contained in large cities. This often
creates a conflict of interest between rural and urban areas in the same
county, as in the case of Chicago and its county of Cook.
Outside of New England, where it is of the least importance politically, the county generally administers poor relief among other legalistic duties which are, primarily, concerned with the functions of justice, rather than those of legislation.
In Southern States, the county is the basis of representation, retaining its former importance as a unit of settlement and, at least in the
smaller communities, has not lost its local significance. Nor has the
"County" forgotten all social overtones. Southerners still tend to refer
to friends and relatives as coming from "Fairfield County" or "Warren
County", thus conjuring up nostalgic mental images of fonner plantation days.
Certainly the focal point of many midwestern nineteenth century
American towns and villages was the local court house, its cupola
rivalling church towers and spires as a landmark visible for many miles.
The court house might be Greek, Roman, Renaissance or Victorian
(and sometimes a bit of each) in design, with a nationalistic touch or
two added to the architectural confusion, but dignity and grandeur
predominated. Golden domes and gilded gargoyles illuminated the
landscape, and pretentious facades echoed the aspirations of citizens
desirous of "looking up" to the law. Local materials were used in the
construction whenever possible.
The surviving examples retain an aura of that hearty period in the
1840s and 1850s when itinerant groups of lawyers traveled in "rigs"
from one county seat to another, within a prescribed circuit i met their
clients on the court house lawn before cases ;vere tried i and afterwards
repaired to the nearest village inn or tavern for a convivial evening. In
the days before radio and television, this gave the local populace a
chance to hear news from the outside world.
Following the old English custom transplanted to many States, including Kentucky from where many Illinoisans came originally, a judicial circuit system was adopted in Illinois in ,1839. The State was
divided into circuits, and each such division assigned a<judge who
traveled from county court to county courf for monthsOn end.The old
Eighth Circuit, which Abraham Lincoln rode out of Springfield was
enormous, but towards the end of his career as a lawyer, itbecame
much reduced in size, comprising only five or six counties although
still covering several thousand square miles.
Clients wer.e few and far between in the sparsely settled territories,
and only by~ircuit riding could lawyers ofLincoln'stime eke out a
living. Some, like Lincoln, had had little formal training, while others
were well educated. Here was, a real matching oflegaLwitsand talents.
Lawyers with books in their saddlebags helped to tame a frontier country. It was a rugged life. Sometimes they drove theirrigs across the
prairies on trails where the mud rose to the wagon whee1hubs, or
forded creeks swollen by torrential rains. Sometimes they rode through
storms of sleet and snow, mittens frozen upon hands<scarcely able to
grasp the stiffened reins. On frosty mornings they had to break the
ice in hotel room pitchers before they could wash their hands and faces.
The fees were small, the Iiving conditions almost intolerable, yet
Lincoln seems to have thrived on, it alL His famous story telling sessions, the close friendships and political ties formed by him during
those years more than compensated for the weary hours of travel, the
poor food and lodgings. He spent about half of each year that he practiced law, except for his term in Congress, in circuit riding.
Metamora court house in Woodford county was once a part of the
old Eighth Circuit and it remains substantially the same as it looked
when Lincoln came there to argue cases before Judge David Davis.
Judge Davis, who later became a Supreme Court Justice, was one of
the men responsible for Lincoln's nomination for the Presidency by
the 1860 Republican convention in Chicago.
STiTE MEMORll ... -.c
WOODFORD COUNTY COURT HOUSE-(Metamora) Eureka. Built in 1845, now a
State Memorial.
The court house was constructed in 1845 in the southern colonial
style, complete with cupola of bricks burned in local kilns, and hardwood timbers hewn from the surrounding forests. In 1870 the stairway
was moved from the back to the front of the building, and two wings
were added some years later, but no other changes have been made
in the forty by fifty foot structure.
Lincoln and Judge Davis made the Eighth Circuit famous, as the
countryside echoed to the sound of their eloquence. A court session
was an important event in the pioneer society-almost as exciting as
a country fair. Farmers managed their chores so they could come to
town to see the judge arrive, and when his carriage drew up before
the court house, men and women rushed forward to greet him. All
work ceased while a case was being tried. People sat out under the
trees, watching the lawyers and their clients-the accused and the
plaintiffs-as they came and went.
One western traveler wrote: "Court week is a general holiday. Not
only suitors, jurors and witnesses, but all who can spare the time
brush up their coats and brush down their horses to go to court."
Woodford, like other counties in Illinois, was not immune to change
during its early history. Many of the settlers were Mennonites who
found the territory to their liking and decided to farm there after
making the long journey westward from Pennsylvania. The first county
sea~ was Versailles, a rural community in lower Ohio township, where
court sessions were held in a private house.
In 1843 the seat was moved to Hanover and the town)s name
changed to Metamora. The court house, built on grounds donated by
the local authorities, cost $4,400 and was paid for within two years.
It was abandoned as a court of law when the county seat was again
shifted, this time to Eureka, in 1894. The Chicago Historical Society
has a model of the Metamora Court House in its Lincoln Diorama.
One notes, time after time, in the early histories of the Illinois counties, how the pressures brought to bear by ambitious city fathers to
have a county seat moved from another town to their own, proved the
importance of the courts in pioneer society. Often the county seat was
awarded to the highest bidder, to whichever place offered a bigger and
better court house or improved facilities for rendering justice. Howls
of anguish arose from citizens who saw the court snatched from their
own door step and established in some rival township.
The Metamora court house, now a notable addition to the Illinois
roster of Parks and Memorials, was presented to the State in 1921 and
when properly restored, opened as a museum. Today it contains pioneer relics donated by residents of Woodford County as well as por14
traits of Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, Robert G. Ingersoll and Adlai
Stevenson, Vice President of the United States, and grandfather of the
present United States Ambassador to the United Nations and fonner
Governor of Illinois. All these, and many other distinguished jurists
tried cases in the second floor courtroom at Metamora.
Documents on file there in the Clerk's Office include a poll book of
the 1860 election, maps of the Eighth Circuit, early court orders pertaining to livestock and real estate values, and a docket book listing
two cases tried by one A. Lincoln.
Now an Illinois State Memorial, the reconstructed court house in
Postville was once the most imposing structure in all Logan County.
Postville was platted in 1835, at a time when Abraham Lincoln was
still a young surveyor poring over his law books at night. By 1836 the
town had mushroomed, at least on paper, into a "city" comprising 150
blocks. The following year a depression forced its founder-namesake,
Russell Post, to sell most of his holdings to other promoters. One of
these, Seth M. Tinsley, offered in 1839 to build a court house without
cost to the county.
As a reSult of this magnanimous gesture, Postville won out by one
legislative vote over Mt. Pulaski, its chief rival for the honor of becoming the Logan County seat. Tinsley supervised the construction of the
court house, which was completed in 1840. It rose two stories from a
stone foundation, had oak beams and walnut siding, and cost Tinsley
and his partners $1,176.83. While it was being built, court sessions
were held in Deskins tavern. Later the county built a jail of notched
logs, twelve feet square and two stories high, the interior boarded with
heavy oak planks.
Postville did not retain its courtly eminence for long. In 1847 the
booming town of Mt. Pulaski, named for Count Casimir Pulaski of
Revolutionary War fame, offered a business block and a new court
house as an inducement to lure the county seat away from Postville.
The offer was accepted and the records moved to Mt. Pulaski where
the citizens raised $2,700.00 supplemented by a State appropriation of
$300.00 with which to build a court house.
Postville did not give up without a fight, however. The removal of
the county seat brought on litigation in which Abraham Lincoln took
part. At the time of the location of the county seat in Postville, the
proprietors had agreed orally to erect a court house on a block owned
by them and deed all to the county, which they did.
The deed was in fee simple without reservations or conditions. On
removal of the county seat, the commissioners sold the block and the
POSTVILLE COURT HOUSE-Built in 1840-once the most imposing structure in Logan
County-now a State Memorial.
building, whereupon the Postville proprietors sued the county for
damages. The case was tried before Judge David Davis at Mt. Pulaski
in August, 1849.
Abraham Lincoln appeared for the county. His former law partners,
Logan and Stuart, represented the Postville proprietors. Lincoln contended that the agreement was against public policy and founded on
corruption and that, in deeding the land without reservations, the proprietors took their chances on the county seat being changed some day.
Judge Davis found for the county and, on appeal, the Supreme Court
sustained his decision. The opinion has been cited in Illinois and other
States, and by the United States Supreme Court, as a leading case in
similar litigations.
Unfortunately, the Logan county records burned in 1859 and little
is therefore known about other cases handled by Lincoln in Postville,
oldest of the courts in the Eighth Circuit.
After losing out as the county seat, the court house was used as a
civic center, a church, and a place for public gatherings. Despite the
protests of its leading citizens, the building was sold in 1929 to Henry
Forc( who moved it bodily to his Greenfield Village complex of early
American structures near Dearborn, Michigan. There it stands today,
facing the village green and adjacent to the Thomas Edison laboratories.
At the time of its purchase by Henry Ford, the court house was
occupied rent free by a needy family. For two decades the owner, T. T.
Beach, had tried in vain to give the building to Logan County, on condition that the Board of Supervisors would maintain it. The county never
accepted his generous offer.
In 1953 the State received from the Logan County Historical Society
the square block of 1.14 acres upon which the court house had stood
until its banishment to Michigan. On this site, used for years as a
children's playground, the State erected a replica with exhibits pertaining to early Illinois judicial affairs.
Abraham Lincoln was probably as well acquainted with the Mt.
Pulaski court house as with any similar edifice on the Eighth Circuit.
This excellent example of Greek Revival architecture stands today as
it did in Lincoln's time, and is maintained by the State of Illinois as a
memorial to its most illustrous citizen.
Judge David Davis, Stephen A. Douglas, William H. Herndon,
Asahel Gridley and Benjamin S. Edwards were but a few of the brilliant barristers whose names are linked with Mt. Pulaski in its heyday.
This lasted until 1853, when by legislation, the county seat was removed to Lincoln, a thriving new community named for the Springfield lawyer who was a trusted friend and attorney for the town's
founding fathers.
The Mt. Pulaski court house was used as a school until 1878, then it
became in turn a city hall and jail, a post office, and headquarters for
various city officials. In 1936 it was converted into a State Memorial.
During the restoration, the original Hoor boards were uncoverd beneath
later ones, and some partitions were removed to give the rooms their
former dimensions. Furniture proper for a court house of the period
has been acquired, and the court house contains portraits of nvted
jurists, as well as the gavel used by Judge Davis. The court house saw
much of Lincoln who, for nearly a quarter of a century, rode the cir18
cuit fir~t as a partner of john T. Stuart, later as an associate of Stepher
T. Logan, and finally as the senior member of the firm of Lincoln ant
Herndon, a partnership dissolved only by Lincoln's assassination. On<
of Mt. Pulaski's leading attorneys, Samuel C. Parks, garnered cases fo
him and worked with him in court trials. The future President hac
similar associates in other counties of the Eighth Circuit.
By turns moody or ebullient, cracking jokes or brooding alone, Lin
roln was one of the most colorful of the itinerant company of lega
lights to travel the circuit. He became a familiar figure throughout th,
entire area. Gaunt, tall, with enormous hands and feet, he cast a pro
phetically long shadow across the scene, not caring much for his per
sonal appearance, but recognized for his sound knowledge, commOI
sense and endless store of wit. Historians agree that Lincoln's years or
the circuit had much to do with his later rise to power and tame. It i
noteworthy, too, how often localities claim, with more legend than fact
that "Mr. Lincoln argued many cases here" much in the same vein a'
the often disproved boast that "Washington slept here" in towns anc
inns along the Eastern seaboard.
In "Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years" Carl Sandburg quotes ;
contemporary's description of the Springfield lawyer: "He rose fron
his seat, stretched his long, bony limbs upward as if to get them ir
working order, and stood like some solitary pine on a lonely summit.'
Sandburg noted, on another page: "Sometimes a poetry of fine wis
dom in short words came from his tongue as carelessly as rain drops 01
high corn," using as an example Lincoln's statement that "All rising te
power is by a winding stair."
The late judge Lawrence B. Stringer of Lincoln, Illinois, wrote abou
several interesting cases in which Lincoln participated in the Mt
Pulaski court rooms. One of them, called the I Iorological Cradle case
involved the trade of an alleged patent on a cradle for a tract of land
"The patent as described by Mr. Lincoln," wrote judge Stringer
"was a cradle rocked by machinery with weights running on pulleys
Th~ cradle served as a pendulum which being wound up, would rod
itself until rUlI down, thus saving time for nurses and mothers."
Lincoln operated the cradle in open court and when judge Davi!
asked how the thing could be stopped when desirable, replied: "It's
like some of the glib talkers you and I know, Judge. It won't stop until
it runs down."
He won the case only to have the verdict reversed in a higher court.
Lincoln took the cradle to his office in Springfield, where he operated
it in his leisure time and showed it to all visitors. During the same term
of court at Mt. Pulaski, he tried another patent case, this one involving
a "cast iron tombstone."
Among the innumerable anecdotes concerning Lincoln's circuit years
is the story of the woman he defended in the Metamora Court House.
During her trial for the murder of her husband, the defendant walked
out of the court house and vanished into thin air, never again to reappear. It seems, the story goes, that she wanted a drink of water and
Lincoln told her the water in Kentucky was very good! This court
house also 'contains a table with the under section cut out to accommodate the very long legs of Abraham Lincoln.
Among the many Lincoln shrines in Illinois! Beardstown ranks high.
This was the first Cass county seat! retaining the distinction until deprived of it by Virginia! Illinois in ] 872. Beardstown! however, never
relinquished the claim of being the most historic site in the area.
The territory was explored by Thomas Beard from Ohio and General Murray McConnell of Jacksonville! who set out together on horseback to penetrate the lush prairies and woodland stretches of the
Illinois River country.
Beard was enchanted by the site of the future Beardstown, and concluded that it would be an ideal place upon which to found a settlement. He constructed a log cabin at the foot of what is now state
street and began trading with the friendly Indians in the vicinity. The
next spring he put up a two story brick building on the present site of
the post office. This served for eighty-five years as a store and an inn.
Thomas Beard's letters home to Ohio were filled with such alluring
descriptions of his Promised Land that soon his entire family joined
him there and within a decade so many settlers had arrived that the
city was platted and laid out in September! 1829. It} consisted of 23
blocks fronting the river, and three blocks running inland.
Beardstown's most generous gift from its founder and namesake was
a plot of land to be used as a market place for farmers coming into the
settlement to trade. Thanks to the good judgment and persistence of
Beardstown's citizens, no public buildings have ever been erected on
this square and it remains a park ornamented by shade trees, walks!
and flowers.
Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, in a fiercely contested
Senatorial race in 1858, stumped the State even before the start of their
famous seven debates (in which Lincoln was the challenger) and
Beardstown was one of the many localities to hear the sound and fury
of their impassioned oratory.
Upon one occasion Douglas told a crowd that Lincoln had run a
grocery store where he sold whiskey. Lincoln replied: "But the difference between Judge Douglas and myself is just this: that while I
was behind the bar, he was in front of it!"
In the course of the Lincoln-Douglas campaign, in a speech at Clinton, Lincoln made his classic pronouncement: "You can fool all of the
people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you
cannot fool all of the people all of the time."
The practice of shorthand had been recently introduced into the
western country, seemingly just in time to record the words of the two
political contestants, and as Lincoln began to speak one day, a voice
from the crowd called out: "Hold on, Lincoln. You can't speak yet.
Hitt ain't here."
"Hitt ain't here?" Lincoln repeated. "Where is he?" The shorthand
reporter hadp't arrived, and the debate was held up until another
expert in the newfangled hieroglyphics had arrived. Not only Illinois,
but the whole nation wanted to hear about every word spoken in those
verbal battles between Lincoln and Douglas. Theirs was the first political campaign to be recorded stenographically.
Lincoln lost the senatorial race, but achieved such national prominence because of the debates that two years later he was nominated
for the Presidency by the Republican party.
In Beardstown, then the Cass county seat, Lincoln successfully defended Duff Armstrong against a murder charge, in the famous Almanac case, using an almanac to prove that there wasn't sufficient
moonlight on the night of the murder for the attack to have taken
place in the manner described by a witness for the prosecution.
The old Beardstown court house, now the city hall, was built in
1844. It is a small structure, dwarfed by a huge chimney. In 1872 the
cIJurt records were moved to Virginia, Illinois, the new county seat, and
the court house in Beardstown became a school and later a meeting
place for religious groups and civic projects. Today it harbors the
offices of the City clerk, the Chief of Police, and the Fire department.
The Fire Chief's family occupies an apartment above the jail section.
The city council and court affairs are conducted in the second floor
room where Lincoln defended Armstrong, in an atmosphere as nearly
like Lincoln's era as possible. Two pictures hang on the wall: one of
Lincoln, the other of Thomas Beard.
The building also houses the Rudie A. Black collection of American
firearms, an assortment of Indian relics, and a set of dishes that once
belonged to Thomas Beard's wife, Nancy. Outwardly the court house
has been little changed, although the ancient small-paned windows have
been replaced with modern glass, concrete floors laid, and coat after
coat of paint added to the walls.
Towns, like people, sometimes rise to eminence from "log cabin"
beginnings. In 1825 Warren County was established, consisting of the
territory combining the present counties of Warren and Henderson.
The modest home of Alexis Phelps, in the town of Yellowbank (now
Oquawka) served as the first seat of government until 1831.
The county seat was then moved to Monmouth, where a log cabin
court house was erected for $62.00. A more pretentious edifice, with
a $10,600 price tag, replaced this a few years later and in 1893 Monmouth built its present court house for $125,000. There is no record to
indicate whether the level of justice rose with each cost increase. But
the early histories of the region state that the log cabin was used to
shelter residents during the Blackhawk war and that, upon more than
one occasion, upwards of 18 people jammed themselves into the tiny
building for protection from the Indians.
Cherished amid old documents in Monmouth is a tract drawn up
and certified "A. Lincoln." Warren county claims Wyatt Earp and
Charles Alexander Reynolds among its distinguished citizens. Reynolds
served as an army scout under General Custer in the Battle of Little
Big Horn.
Monmouth, fifteen miles west of Galesburg, is located in stock
raising country. It has creameries, farm tool manufacturers, and potteries in the vicinity as well as the Presbyterian Monmouth College,
founded in 1856. Henderson, once a part of Warren, was established
as a separate county in 1841, with Oquawka as its seat. The small
court house remains in use today, with two wings added. This was
built on land donated by S. S. and Alexis Phelps, the original proprietors of the town, who also gave 200 lots to be sold to finance the construction of the court house, with the provision that should this ever
be removed to another town, the property would revert to the Phelps
estate. In bidding for contracts, Alexis Phelps, a county commissioner,
submitted the low bid of $1,219.00 to be paid within eight months.
HENDERSON COUNTY COURT HOUSE-Oquawka-Original building still in use. Built
in 1841. Wings added later.
This resulted in some frenzied financial maneuvers climaxed by the
decision not to pay the entire sum immediately, but to give Phelps 8%
interest until the total had been paid to him.
Oquawka cannot boast of a Lincoln-Douglas debate, but its citizens
heard Douglas speak on October 4, 1858, and listened to Lincoln's
rebuttal on October 9th. A docket kept by Stephen A. Douglas and a
chancery record of the many cases he passed upon in that court house
in the 1841-43 period are guarded there, under lock and key.
In those days, Oquawka was a flourishing river port. Steamers and
packets plying their trade up and down the Mississippi tied up at her
dock with great regularity. Not far from the town one can see one of
the few old wooden covered bridges in Illinois. This bridge, named for
a prosperous farmer, Thadeus Eames, is thought to have been erected
in 1835.
The Mormons played a brief but dramatic role in Hancock county
history. Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon sect, migrated in 1840
to the settlement of Far West, Missouri. Driven from there, he and
his followers crossed the Mississippi to a place called Commerce, III.,
changed its name to Nauvoo, and built up a flourishing community
Smith is supposed to have received"a Revelation from God commanding him to build in His name a House which he (Smith) and his
family would have a right to use as a permanent residence." Mansion
House was co!npleted in 1843, as a private dwelling, then turned into
a hotel by the Smiths, who retained a few rooms for their own use.
This has been restored and may be seen by tourists.
The Mornlon Temple in Nauvoo was completed, furnished, and
dedicated despite the Mormon's knowledge that they were soon to be
driven away from the town. The day following the dedication, all furnishings were removed from the Temple and it stood empty until
destroyed by fire in 1848. Meanwhile, Smith and his followers had
become embroiled in politics. Joseph Smith even became a selfpromoted candidate for the Presidency of the United States. He and his
brother Hyrum were arrested (for the last but by no means the first
time) and jailed in Carthage, Illinois, the Hancock county seat.
The court house there never witnessed their trial, however, for before this, both men were murdered by a mob in June, 1844 during the
absence of Gov. Thomas Ford who had marched to Nauvoo with several companies of militia in a show of strength. There is evidence, but
no proof, of collusion between the mob and those members of the
militia left to guard the prisoners in the Carthage county jail.
The times were troubled indeed, and descendants of Carthaginian
pioneers remember ancestral tales of huddling behind locked doors
while hoofbeats thundered along the levee and gunfire sounded spasmodically. The Mormons were driven from Illinois after Joseph Smith's
death. At that time, Gentile residents of Nauvoo must have fled as well,
for a traveler Thomas L. Kane, arrived there in September, 1846 and
found it a newly deserted ghost town. Only a few days earlier Illinois
militiamen had ejected the last of the Mormon inhabitants. The soldiers, encamped near the Temple, showed him through its spacious but
empty rooms.
Led by Brigham Young, who had returned from England after the
murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, one large contingent of Mormons
found its way to Utah. Young became Covernor of the Territory of
Utah for two terms.
A house in Nauvoo bears his name, but there are no records to testify
that Brigham Young built it. Another Mormon residence still to be
seen there was once owned by Wilfred Woodruff, editor of the church
newspaper from 1840 to 1845. After the Mormon War in 1846, he left
with the "hand cart" brigade of "latter day saints" on their perilous
journey westward across the plains, reaching Salt Lake City on July
Also during the Mormon interlude in lllinois occurred the shooting
of Dr. Samuel Marshall, the county clerk, by sheriff Minor Demming,
following a quarrel about the proper execution of court orders. Demming died in jail in June, 1845, before he could be tried for the killing.
The old jail in Carthage, scene of so many melodramatic events, is
still standing, but the 1839 county court house in Carthage has vanished. In it was held the murder trial of William Fraime, the only man
ever executed by hanging in Hancock county. His defense attorney
was Abraham Lincoln!
This was one of the first murder cases handled by the Springfield
lawyer, then a partner in the firm of Stuart & Lincoln. Horse thieves,
murderers, outraged citizens and scandalmongers came to his office to
pour out their stories, but Lincoln had quiet times when there was little
business because there was little litigation. In his office account book he
wrote: "Paid for food ... 50e. Paid for saw ... $2.25. n If not occupied
practicing law, Lincoln could always keep busy sawing wood.
In 1858, while campaigning for Congress against Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln addressed a large concourse of people on the court house
lawn in Carthage. The Daughters of the American Revolution have
placed a boulder there, to mark the spot.
Only history can testify to the fact that. Illinois was, atone time, a
French province. No trace of an accent spices the l11idwestern tongue,
nor does any Frankish influence in food, dress or language remain as
a monument to those intrepid "voyageurs," ."col11mandants," •and
"habitants" who navigated the rivers, exploredthe forests and prairies,
and made friends or warred with the local tribes of Indians__depending
upon trade, treaty or international intrigue.
The era ended so quickly that by 1818 Illinois had castoff Hrst
French, then British rule to become part oftheUnited States ofAmerica, and this~outpost of King Louis XIV'srealmhadlongabandoned
allegiance to the Lilies of France in favor of the Stars and Stripes.
Only the little town of Cahokia stands as a ratherwistfglghost of
New France with about a dozen buildingsretnaining asretninders. of
the French epoch in Illinois. These include the Holy Family Church,
the ]arrot mansion, a few houses, and the old court house which led a
migratory existence before being returned to Cahokia•asanexhibit of
the Division of Parks and Memorials of the State of Illinois.
CAHOKIA COURT HOUSE-Oldest court house west of the Alleghany<Mountains--
built about 1737 as the home of Captain Jean Baptiste Saucier lbuilder of Fort de
Chartres!. It became a court house in 1793 and was in use until 1814. State Memorial.
The Cahokia court house, south of East St. Louis, is the oldest building in the State, quite possibly the senior citizen of structures in the
midwest, and most assuredly the dean of law courts west of the
Alleghany mountains. It may also hold a record for the number of times
it has been moved, and it has the distinction of having served-for a
time-as a saloon! During this stage in its history, the courtroom was
used as the tavern, with a bar in the corner where the jury box had
Originally the home of Capt. Jean Baptiste Saucier, builder of Fort
de Chartres, this excellent example of a French pioneer log house was
constructed shortly after 1737. The walls, with interstices filled with
stone and mortar, rest on a foundation of stone nearly two feet thick.
The floors are of sassafras puncheons on walnut beams. The cantilevered roof slants steeply down, over the front and side porches. Facing north, the building runs 35 feet north to south and 43 feet, eight
inches from east to west. Its grounds cover four city blocks. When it
became a court house, one room served as a court, another as the jail,
and the remaining two were probably used as government offices.
When it was built, Cahokia was part of the French province of
Louisiana. Marquette and LaSalle failed to stop there, but it is the
oldest permanent settlement on the shores of the Mississippi, having
been founded in March, 1699, by three missionaries frqm the Seminary
of the Foreign Missions in Quebec. These priests built a chapel dedicated to the Holy Family.
Jesuit priests had previously explored the territory and, for a time,
continued to work with the Seminarians. Finally the Archbishop of
Quebec recognized the latter as the sole local representatives of the
Church and they remained in charge for 65 years.
The word "Cahokia" signifies "wild geese" in the Indian dialect and
the town was named for a tribe belonging to the Illinois Indian Confederation. With their close associates, the Tamaroas, the Cahokias
lived in a wooded strip of land between the Mississippi river and
Cahokia Creek. Here they gathered in summer for their councils. In
the wintertime they ranged the prairies in great hunts after game. Fur
traders followed the missionary-explorers to Cahokia, and permanent
settlers were not far behind.
As a result of the Seven Years War, Canada and the Illinois country
were ceded to Great Britain. In 1764 St. Louis was founded four miles
to the north, across the Mississippi, and many Cahokians moved to the
new community, wishing to escape the river Aoods and to remain on
French soil. Soon they learned, to their sorrow, that the St. Louis side
of the river had been secretly given to Spain, by France.
Cahokia became a part of the United States on July 5, 1778, after
surrendering on the previous day to Ceorge Rogers Clark and his
"Long Knives." The head of the Cahokia militia, Capt. Francois Trotter, and the men under his command were commissioned American
officers by Clark, who managed, through clever diplomacy, to persuade
the Indians to remain neutral.
Until St. Clair county was established in 1790, the local citizens
practically ru~ed themselves as a sort of small city-state. The county
was part of the Northwest Territory, at the time, and its boundaries
reached all the way to Canada. The home of Capt. Saucier, then owned
by his son, Francois, was purchased in 1793 for use as a court house.
It was the site of the fir!3t U. S. election and the first American court
session to be held in Illinois. There deeds to land were conveyed i
criminals indicted and tried i and administrative orders issued for an
area that included Peoria, Prairie du Chien, Chicago and Green Bay.
Because of the constant threat of floods to low-lying Cahokia, the
county seat was moved to Belleville in 1814 and the former court house
in Cahokia became in turn a saloon, a storehouse, a meeting place or
hall, then once again a private residence. It was dismantled and moved
in 1904 to the grounds of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St.
Louis, and at the close of the Fair, portions of the original structure
were brought to Chicago and set up on an island in the Jackson Park
lagoon, where they remained for many years.
Historically minded Illinoisans began agitating to have the Cahokia
court house returned to its place of origin. This was done in 1938,
under the auspices of the Illinois Department of Public Works, now
the Division of Parks and Memorials. During the excavation of the
original site, the old stone foundations, fragments of iron work, and
many ancient artifacts were uncovered. A detailed study of old draw30
ings of the building preceded the actual reconstruction, in which was
used every morsel of original material that could be found.
Those interested in the French period in Illinois need not journey to
Cahokia to learn how the 18th century "habitants" lived, for the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Illinois
has erected within the Chicago Historical Society a typical French
Colonial house with log exterior, its two rooms furnished with authentic antiques of the era. Most of the furniture was acquired, after considerable sleuthing, in out of the way parts of French Canada for, as
we have mentioned before, when the French occupancy of Illinois
ended, so did its brand of civilization, leaving scarcely a footprint in
the sands of history.
Cahokia's story had a happy ending, from the conservationist's point
of view, but in Illinois annals are recorded many instances in which
court houses and other public buildings were allowed to fall into a state
of ruin. This must have been especiaUy true during the 1830s, for civic
pride in such structures can be noted in rising crescendo through the
period of the mid-19th century in the State.
But in Edmund Flagg's "Far West," a book of travels published in
1838, the author mentions the pleasant little town of Shelbyville on the
west bank of the Kaskaskia river. "Its seat of justice," he notes, "was
fearfully portended by a ragged, bleak-looking structure called a court
"Its shattered windows and flapping doors and weather-stained
bricks perched in the center of the village remind one of a cornfield
scarecrow performing its duty by looking as hideous as possible. Dame
Justice seems to have met with the most shameful treatment all over the
West, through her legitimate representative, the Court IIouse."
Flagg also refers to another court house, this one in Jefferson County.
"Mt. Vernon has a court house of brick, decent to the eye, but said to
be so miserably constructed that it is a perilous feat for his Honour
here to poise the scales of justice."
Despite his critical comments about the state of Illinois court houses
in that year, 1836-37, Flagg praised the territory as "The New England
of the West ... not a slave state ... internal improvement is a feature
of its policy and measures for the universal diffusion of intellectual,
moral and religious cultures are in active progression ..."
This pioneer tourist thought very little of the court house in Kaskaskia, which he described as "A huge, ungainly edifice of brick, like
Joseph's coat of many colors and ... sadly ruinous as regards the
items of windows. This circumstance notified me that this was neither
more nor less than a western court house ..."
Flagg had kinder things to say about Springfield, and obviously
agreed with men like Lincoln and Douglas who wanted the capitol of
the State to be moved there from Vandalia. "A flashing cupola above
the trees reminded me I was approaching Springfield/' he related in his
"Far West." "The town was laid out ten or twelve years since but for
a long while contained only a few scattered log cabins. All its present
wealth and importance dates from six years. Yet such is its location by
nature that it can hardly fail of becoming a place of extensive business
and crowded population, while its geographic central situation seems to
designate it as the capital of the State.
"An elegant State house is now erecting in the public square. A
green, pleasant lawn enclosed by a railing contains the court house
and market, fine structures of brick. The sides of the square are lined
with handsome edifices. Most of the buildings are small, however, and
the humble log cabin not infrequently meets the eye ... among the
public buildings are the jail and several houses of worship. Society is
said to be excellent, and the place can boast much literary taste."
Randolph county is perhaps the richest in Illinois historical lore. Kaskaskia, its county seat until 1847, was settled near the junction of the
Kaskaskia and Mississippi rivers by a group of Jesuit missionaries in
1703. French influence remained until the English were granted ownership of the area in 1763, only to be driven out by George Rogers Clark
on July 4th, 1776. Kaskaskia became the capital of the Illinois Territory
and then of the State. Establishment there of the territorial government
in 1809 brought to the little town a number of distinguished residents:
Governor Ninian Edwards, Nathaniel Pope, Judge Jesse B. Thomas and
Matthew Duncan, who published the first Illinois newspaper in 1809.
A brick court house was erected in Kaskaskia in 1821 i a year after
the State capital had been removed to Vandalia. In the great flood of
1844, water stood seven feet deep in the court house and raised the
question of finding a safer place for the county records. Three years
later, the legislature provided for a vote on the question, and the first
election showed Chester, Sparta, and Kaskaskia in that order. There
were five hundred more votes than in the congressional election in
1846. The second ballot eliminated Kaskaskia, which threw its strength
to Sparta, not because it loved Sparta more, but because it hated
Chester intensely. Some six hundred illegal votes were cast, each town
being more or less guilty, with Chester importing many of its voters
from Missouri. Chester won out, perhaps due to a group of citizens
who offered to build a court house without cost to the county. This
was erected in 1850, and furnished by county funds. Its exterior structure has been but little altered during the years. An addition with iron
shutters was built in 1864 to provide more office space and fireproof
storage for the valuable records.
After Vandalia became the capital in 1820, Kaskaskia, as if in
mourning for its past, dwindled in size and was eventually swept away
by erratic changes in the course of the Mississippi. Only a small island
community remains to perpetuate, in name only, the original capital of
Illinois, now lost beneath the swirling, rapacious waters of the great
Abraham Lincoln saw Vandalia for the first time in 1834, and he was
not impressed, although the State capital, with a population of around
900, was then the mecca of politically and socially minded Illinoisans.
Thomas Cox, senator from Union City, discovered the site for
Vandalia in 1819, when Kaskaskia, the old capital, had been found
subject to floods and badly situated with respect to the Illinois boundaries decreed by Congress. Pioneer Illinoisans had an eye for profit/
too/ in their quest for a new center of government, since the land selected would thus be greatly increased in value.
The First Illinois Legislature petitioned Congress for land grants in
the heavily wooded area overlooking the Kaskaskia river and named it
Vandalia/ for reasons unknown. Woodsmen were hired to drive back
the wilderness/ the town was platted, and even before lots were sold at
auction, log cabins sprouted in the clearings.
By the time that Sidney Breese, clerk for the Secretary of State/
brought the Illinois records in a small wagon from Kaskaskia on December 4/ 1820, the legislators were amazed at the "dents" made in the
"wilderness." The second General Assembly of Illinois convened in a
simple State house whose barren rooms, heated by fireplaces, were reportedly "furnished with smoke as well as heat."
Within a year, the capital was flourishing, with a plentiful supply of
stump and log buildings. The surrounding woods echoed to a new
sound-instrumental band music provided by members of a colony
from Hanover, Germany.
By the time of Lincoln's arrival in Vandalia/ a new capitol had been
erected. This would later serve as the Fayette county court house. It
was "a brick building plain of line and in a condition of extreme disrepair/ as plain and primitive as a Quaker meeting house" in which the
Governor and other officials sat on hard wooden benches to conduct the
affairs of state. They had lodgings little better than the other residents
of this frontier community where quarrels were settled in public by fist
fights held in a place called the Bull Pen, near the edge of town. These
combats usually concluded with a celebration in the local tavern.
That the new capitol was already too small to house the legislators
did not seem to Lincoln a very strong argument for keeping the government in Vandalia. The Tenth General Assembly found plaster not
yet dry and"chambers uncomfortable if not unsafe tenements."
A bank investigation brought Lincoln to the capitol, where he made
a strong defense which was printed in the local paper, his first speech
to be published. "Our friend carries the true Kentucky riRe, and when
he fires he seldom fails of sending the shot home," commented Simeon
Francis, of The Sangamon Journal.
In 1834, Lincoln was elected a member of the Illinois legislature on
the Whig slate, and served until J 841 as one of the Long Nine-so
called because they averaged si x feet in height and more than '200
pounds in weight. Their grandiose plans for the State were in proportion to their size. Lincoln led the Long Nine in finding the votes to
move the State capital from Vandalia to Springfield, nearer the center
of Illinois, and the passage of the biJl he introduced was a personal
triumph for him. At the ensuing celebration, in Ebenezer Capps' tavern,
the 110 legislators are reported to have consumed 81 bottles of champagne!
The regular session of the Eleventh General Assembly-from December, 1838 to March, 1839, was the last held in the capital carved
out of the wilderness two decades earlier. In June, Governor Carlin
proclaimed that, as of July 4, Springfield would become. the Capital of
. I1Iinois. State officials moved north without delay. Wagons loaded with
furniture and public papers deluged the narrow roads, and Vandalia
was reduced to the status of the Fayette county seat. Lincoln, and
other members of the Long Nine, went northwards too.
It must have been a cold spring that year! for one night the soft mud
turned hard in an hour and a man, riding to Springlleld, froze in his
saddle. lie had to be carried, saddle and aJl, into a house to be
thawed out.
Abraham Lincoln rode into Springfield in March, 1837! on a borrowed horse, with seven doJlars cash in his pockets and more than a
thousand dollars in debts. He arranged to take his meals with WiJliam
.J. Butler, who told him not to worry about the board bill, and he hung
out a shingle with John T. Stuart as his partner in law.
About this time a contemporary described Lincoln: "he \vas awk35
SANGAMON COUNTY COURT HOUSE-Springfield-formerly the State Capital building-now a Lincoln Shrine and Museum. The entire building was raised eleven feet
at the turn of the Century, and a lower story added. The above photo shows the
building before this was added.
ward, homely and badly dressed ... caring less for his appearance than
any other respectable lawyer in the State. He wore a rusty old hat, his
pantaloons were too short and his vest and coat too loose. His features were rugged, his hair coarse and rebellious."
Springfield was, in 1837, the big town of Sangamon county, its 1500
inhabitants selling to the county's 18,000 most of their supplies-grain,
pork, beef and produce as well as tools. It had stores, churches, schools,
banks, newspapers, government offices, law courts, taverns and saloons.
It was a city claiming that it had dispelled the wilderness.
The farm women who came to town wore shoes where they used to
go barefoot; the men had changed from mocassins to rawhide boots
and shoes. Fanners no longer spent time killing deer, tanning the hide
and making leather breeches to tie at the ankles. It was cheaper and
easier to raise corn and sell it to buy pantaloons which had come from
Massachusetts via the Ohio or Mississippi or the Great Lakes. Stores
advertised "velvets, silks, satin and Marseilles vestingsi fine calf bootsi
seal and morocco pumps for gentlemen;" and for the ladies: "lace veils;
Thibet shawls, fine prunella shoes."
Carriages held men in top boots and ruffled shirts, and women in
silks and satins. The people were mostly from Kentucky, coming by
horse, wagon and boat across the country not yet cleared of wolves,
wildcats and horse thieves. There were in Sangamon county 78 freed
negroes i 20 registered indentured servantsi and six slaves.
The center of the town was a public square, with the court house,
jail, stores, churches and bank lining its borders. The streets and sidewalks were of black Illinois soil, with sticks and stones at the crossings.
The Sangamon county court house was on the lower floor of a twostory building. Upstairs one could find the law office of a new firmStuart & Lincoln-in a little room with a few loose boards for bookshelves, an old wood burning stove, a ta ble! chair! bench! buffalo robe,
and a small bed. Since his partner was running for Congress! Lincoln
handled all the cases, dividing the fees equally with Stuart.
The young lawyer could look out of his office window onto the main
street and the square! always busy with a motley throng of passersbylandowners, merchants, squatters! farmers, housewives, washerwomen,
the town drunk being dragged towards the jail by the constable. There
were French Canadians! Pennsylvania Dutch, Irish, Geqnans, Kentuckians, Virginians and Yankees to be seen! all going somewhere or
coming into town to stay. Below his window creaked farm wagons
laden with corn, wheat or potatoes. Droves of hogs wallowed past
through the mud. And there were horses of every breed and color, as
well as the men who rode or drove them.
In a letter to Levi Davis of Vandalia, Lincoln wrote: "We have generally in this country, Peace! Health and Plenty, and no News."
The first State capital in Springfield, later used as the Sangamon
county court house, was bought back by the State under Governor Kerner's regime and ultimately will be turned into a Lincoln
shrine. It was there that Lincoln made his famous"A House Divided"
speech in 1858, a speech so plain that, as Carl Sandburg wrote: "Two
farmers fixing a fence on a rainy morning could talk it over in all its
ins and outs ... its words as fresh, beautiful and terrible as Donati's
silver comet with its tail of fire that had been recently flashed across
the sky."
According to Sandburg, "When committees met him and escorted
him to the hall or court house or grove where the steer was over the
fire for a barbecue, Lincoln was easy to pick out as the speaker of the
day. At the end of his long body and head was a long stovepipe hat
that made him look longer; a lengthy linen duster that made him look
lengthier. With a little satchel in one hand, a faded brownish-green
umbrella in the other, he looked as though he came from somewhere
and was going somewhere."
According to tradition! Louis Joliet and Pere Marquette were the
first white men to explore the Will county region in which the city of
Joliet is now located. The two Frenchmen camped on a mound just
south of Rockdale in 1673! but it was Saint Cosme'! another French
explorer journeying through the territory! who gave it the name of
Mound Juliet. The settlement was greatly hindered by fierce Indian
wars. In his book "Forty Years Ago/' Ceorge H. Woodruff states that
the assassination of Pontiac! the great Ottawa chie( during a meeting
for peace negotiations! led to bitter savage reprisals and the ultimate
annihilation of the Illinois tribe on Starved Rock.
Later the scene of battle shifted to the vicinity of Aurora! and Mound
Juliet was occupied by the Potowatomiesr a friendly and peace loving
tribe. The first account of a permanent white settlement in the area was
recorded by W. R. Rice! who reached Hickory Creek in 1829. At that
time! he noted! a Mr. Brown and Col. Sayre were living near what is
now Fourth Avenue! while a Mr. Friend occupied an Indian shanty
Other pioneers moved in! dividing the land into lots! laying out
streets and boundaries. By 1834 there were 50 white people in the
region! and within three years the number had risen to 600. The village
was then known as Juliet! in honor of the daughter of James B. Campbell who owned several acres of lanel.
W. W. Stevens! in "Past and Present of Will County! Illinois/' relates that a fort was erected in 1832 as a means of defense against the
Indians. Because of its poor and impractical construction! it was called
Fort Nonsense andr in 1835! torn down to make room for private
The first settlers subsisted mainly on roast corn! and this remains the
number one crop of this farming area. Crain trade and stone quarrying
were the major industries of the town which was known as Stone City
at one time! with eight quarries in operation. Its first newspaper, the
Juliet Courier, made its debut on April 20, 1839, printed on the third
floor of the Merchants Row building erected by Martin Demmond in
1835 and still standing.
One of the earliest commercial structures in Juliet was constructed
on the northwest corner of Exchange and Bluff streets to house a department store whose proprietor devised a novel method of attracting
business. He served Black Strap, a potent alcoholic beverage, to all
Will county, until then a part of Cook, was organized in January,
1836, and the Board of Commissioners authorized the immediate building of a court house on the village square of what had been the original
town plat of Juliet. The limehouse structure, with jail cells and storage
rooms in the basement, cost $2,700.00. Will county was already living
up to its Mptto: "Where There's a Will."
In 1845 the name Juliet was officially changed to Joliet, at the suggestion of President Martin Van Buren. A second court house was
erected in 1846, the county having already outgrown the first, and
additional space for courtrooms and seating for interested onlookers
during trials was provided. This was completed in 1848, crowned with
a cupola set with a large clock that proved useful to local citizens, few
of whom carried time pieces. The present court house, whose cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1884, also boasts a cupola with a four-faced
clock visible from almost any vantage point in Joliet.
Will County likes to talk in "firsts." The Great Sauk Trail cut a
first swathe across what had been wilderness. The first concrete roadeight feet wide and a mile long-was laid four miles east of Joliet.
Telephone service was first started in 1880, with 60 subscribers, and
electricity was first introduced there in 1879. The court house contains a record of claims bought in 1835 by Martin Demmond, a key
figure in the growth of the community, from James McKee, who
claimed the land in 1820. There, too, one finds portraits of Marquette,
Joliet, LaSalle, Dr. Conrad Will (for whom the County was named)
and the Pioneer settler, Martin Demmond.
No trace remains of the 1853 Cook County court house whose
cupola dominated the downtown area of Chicago until it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1871. The present County building,
CHICAGO COURT HOUSE-Cook County-1865. The combined court house and city
hall, erected in 1853 at a cost of $110,000 stood at the corner of LaSalle and
Randolph Streets. " was a scene of activity until levelled by the Fire of 1871. lincoln's body lay in state here after his assassination in 1865. Present court house built
in 1907.
enveloped in a gray cloud of grime{ has none of the stately quality that
made its predecessor a landmark for the entire city.
Chicago was known{ in the mid-19th century{ as the Garden City
because of the spacious greenery skirting private residences and public
buildings alike{ and pictures of the early court house show it set in
the midst of lawns and trees{ at the corner of LaSalle and Randolph
streets{ with horsedrawn streetcars{ surreys and broughams swirling
past in a ceaseless clatter of high stepping hoofs.
Cook county has had four courthouses in all{ not counting the
"powder room" or magazine at Fort Dearborn, nor pioneer cabins
where the affairs of the embryo county were at first conducted. The
first white families huddled in the shadow of Fort Dearborn realized,
in 1823{ that the long arm of civic authority had extended to their
cabin doors when officials of Fulton county, within whose confines
the unorgarlized settlement existed, levied a tax of four mills on the
dollar on all personal property-exempting only household furnitureas provided by law. Ambert C. Ranson, Justice of the Peace, was appointed Collector for the Fort Dearborn Settlement (as Chicago was
called at that time) and he managed to enrich the Fulton County treasury by the vast sum of $11.42. This, in simple mathematics, assessed
the total valuation of personal property in Chicago at that date at
When Peoria County was organized two years later, Chicago-a
name by then applied either to the river or to the cluster of cabins
along its marshy banks-came within its jurisdiction. HaVing at long
last obtained a coveted land grant{ the Illinois and Michigan Canal
Commissioners were authorized to layout towns in certain sections
allotted to them, and Chicago was surveyed and a plat published on
August 4{ 1830, by James Thompson{ a canal surveyor. This date
marks the real birthday of Chicago and the demise of the Fort Dearborn settlement. In the following year the young "city" received the
added distinction of being designated the seat of justice for the newly
established County of Cook.
The Act passed by the General Assembly and approved on January
15, 1831{ also directed that an election be held on the first Monday in
March of that year for the offices of Sheriff, Coroner, and three County
Commissioners. It further provided for a ferry service across the river,
"Free to inhabitants of the County."
The first official business transacted by the Commissioners was to
issue licenses to two Chicago landlords, Elijah Wentworth and Samuel
Miller, for a fee of $7.00 and $5.00, respectively. About this time
the State granted to the County 24 canal lots, the proceeds from the
sale of which were to be spent for the construction of public buildings.
Sums accrued from the sale of 16 of these lots were used to defray
current expenses, and the remaining eight were set aside as a public
square, now the site of the present City and County buildings.
According to the records, the first structure to be erected was known
as the "Estray Pen," a place in which to pen stray horses. It was put up
at a contract price of $20. The contractor, Mr. Miller, settled for $12,
admitting, as charged by the Commissioners, that he had not done the
work properly according to contract. Contractors and the building
business have changed considerably since that time!
By the close of 1832 there were few signs of expansion in Chicago,
only about a score of permanent residents having been added to the
local population but there was, nevertheless, a feeling of optimism about
the town's future because of her geographic position and her natural
advantages as a Great Lakes port. Inspired by this sense of Coming
Events, many pioneers heading westward through Chica$o decided to
remain there instead, as settlers.
During the summer of 1832, George W. Dole built what may have
been the first commercial structure in Chicago, on the corner of South
Water and Dearborn streets, and in the fall Philip F. W. Peck began
construction on the second one, at South Water and LaSalle. Twentytwo years later (1854), some 12,000 immigrants arrived by railroad
within one week, to say nothing of the "movers" in covered wagons
that cluttered up the dusty streets, some heading towards far western
"homesteads," others content to put down'roots in the midwest farmlands.
That year Cyrus H. McCormick, the farm reaper inventor already
established in the river front city, decided that it would become the
farm machinery center of the world. He sold 1,558 reapers in 1854,
and aimed at 3,000 for 1855. A century later, on August 26, 1954,
Alexander Beaubien, great grandson of the Chicago pioneer Mark
Beaubien, came down from Waukegan to make a notable contribution
to local history by depositing in the archives of the present court house
a unique document believed to be the first transfer of real estate in the
annals of Chicago. The deed records the sale in 1800 by Jean Baptiste
Point Du Sable to Jean Lalime of a frame house, out buildings, furnishings, livestock and farm implements on the north bank of the Chicago
river opposite the future site of Fort Dearborn.
John Kinzie, who later acquired the same property, was a witness to
the transaction. DuSable also sold his trading post, and moved to
Peoria. The original deed, written in French, was recorded in Detroit,
then the seat of a territory which included the tiny settlement at the
mouth of the river.
This historic document became the 16th million to be filed in the .?
Cook County records office since the present numbering system was
inaugurated in 1874. Mr. Paul M. Angle, Director of the Chicago Historical Society, was present at the ceremony in 1954 and received for
his files a photostatic copy of the original bill of sale.
Lalime enlarged DuSable's house and occupied it until 1804 when
John Kinzie, fur trader and silversmith, bought the property and moved
his family to Chicago from Niles, Michigan, becoming the first American born white settler to establish residence there. There is evidence
that he formed a working agreement with the American Fur Company,
founded by John Jacob Astor, obtaining from that concern such items
as knives, guns, ammunition, blankets, trinkets and whiskey to trade
with the Indians for their beaver and other furs.
In 1832 the capture of Blackhawk and his warriors wiped out forever the danger of Indian attack, making the settlement safe at last.
Fort Dearborn closed its doors officially on December 29, 1836. Cook
County had been born i a city founded i and the great era of fur trading brought to a close.
The first permanent home of white settlers in the Knox County area
was a log cabin constructed by two brothers, Daniel and Alexander
Robertson, who came up from Kentucky in 1828. Two years later,
there were enough residents to form a county and a petition presented
to Judge Richard M. Young of Lewistown, Fulton County was granted
on June 10, 1830.
The new county was named for Gen. Henry Knox (1750-1806) in
accordance with a custom of giving the names of Revolutionary War
heroes to counties within an area called the Military tract. This territory, lying between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers and south of a
specified East-West line, was set aside after the war as a soldier's
bonus, with veterans receiving land grants within its boundaries.
Judge Young appointed Charles Hanaford, Briggs Pennington and
Philip Hash as commissioners to proceed with the election of county
officials. The election, for which judges and clerks were allowed 75
cents a day for their services, was held in the log cabin of John B.
Gum in Henderson Township on July 3, 1830.
Gum became Treasurer, and his cabin was designated as the first
seat of justice in the county. The commissioners platted the village of
Henderson, changed its name to Knoxville in 1831, and began construction on a log court house 28 feet long and 21 feet wide at a cost
of $395.43.
When the community outgrew this edifice and built a new one, the
old court house was sold to Alvah Wheeler for $89.50. A third was
erected in 1840, serving as the county seat until 1873, when all records
were transferred to Galesburg and the Knoxville court house became a
meeting place for the city council.
It continues to be used in that capacity, and also as a museum, regarded by many as the most handsome public building in the State
because of its classic Greek Revival style. Designed by the Architect
John Mandeville when he was only 23 years of age, it stands today as
a symbol of a way of life in America at a time when the White Man's
civilization had begun to take form in the midwest.
The decade preceding the erection of the 184? court house had been
an eventful one in Illinois history. The Indian troubles ended with a
final war dance by the Potowatomies and the laststandof Blackhawk's
warriors. In that era, a plow that would "breakth~prairie'Jwashammered out of a saw blade in Grand Detour, and the reaper anq threshing machine were devised.
There were but 2,800 miles of railroad tracks inthe country; the
Morse code had yet to be invented; and steam navigation across the
Atlantic had recently become a reality. WhitUer,)[ongfellow, Poe,
Hawthorne and Emerson graced the literary world. Therewasno>national debt. In fact, a surplus of $37 million was divided between the
St,t" ;0 1811" Ifnwevcc, a pank the folloWiogye,ac'0';~<';t
end to surpluses in the National Treasury. ••••• •• ••• ....../
In 1840 the population of the State was less. thanhalfafilillion
that of the nation stood at 17 million. The Village ofChicago had
been incorporated a few years before. On the nationalscene1i\Villiam
Henry Harrison-the first Territorial GovernorwhenIllinoiswaspart
of the Indiana Territory in 1800-was elected Presidentofthe~nited
States. He survived only one month in office, to be succeeded by John
Of greater interest in the State was the rise oftwo budding politicians. One, an immigrant from Vermont namedStephetlA.Douglas,
was 27 years old when the Knoxville court house wasbuilt.(Hehad
already served as Secretary of State for Illinois and was to become a
member of the State Supreme Court the followingyear.
The second star soon to rise in the political sky was a productof the
frontier, one Abraham Lincoln, at 31 twice a member of the State Assembly from New Salem and twice from Springfield;cngagedto marry
Mary Todd; and beginning to cast an eye on the scene··of national
This, in short, was the period in which the court house .came into
being and played its part in history as the setting for many noted legal
battles. Here, in 1841, Stephen A. Douglas held circuit court and, in
1854, debated President Blanchard of Knox college on the question of
extending slavery into the new States.
John Mandeville, a young architect, arrived in Knoxville in 1836 to
draw up plans for the court house. He rented the log cabin of John
Gum for $8 a month and, judging by entries in his 1836-37 Journal
did not consider it much of a bargain.
"It is totally void of any convenience, on the outside, and only one
room partly finished within," he wrote. "Yet, if it were worse, we
would be compelled to put up with it as it is the only tenement in town
which is to let.
"Knoxville is considered the prettiest inland town in the Bounty tract
and lies about in the center, being 45 miles from the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. It contains at present, I should say, about 1,000 inhabitants. It has a Methodist Society, Presbyterian Congregation, eleveli
stores, three physicians, and two lawyers but, these last I am compelled
to say, are a disgrace to the profession. The post office is held by John
Sanburn, who is also the county clerk."
Mandeville described the journey to Knoxville: "Left the old place
where I have been residing ever since I came out to this country and
started for Knoxville, which is the county seat of Knox County, Illinois.
We, that is my wife and myself, were taken out by my father-in-law.
We left home about six o'clock in the morning and w~nt along very
smoothly until we had nearly reached Farmington, a small town about
24 miles from Peoria.
"There we were so unfortunate as to get stuck. The wheels went
down in mud to within six inches of the hub. We obtained three yoke
of oxen from a gentleman who lived near of the name of Wilson ancl
fastened them together with a team of horses to the tongue, but they
were unable to start it. After making several attempts at drawing the
wagon out forwards, we hitched the cattle to the back of it and drew
it out. This detained us about an hour, when we proceeded on our
journey. Arrived at Knoxville about seven o'clock."
"One great difficulty about the town is that the ground is too wet to
have a cellar deeper than three or four feet, and many places not that,
but there is an addition to the town laid off by George Charles which is
on much higher ground and commands a much greater prospect of in
a few years being occupied by the majority of dwellings. There you
may have a cellar six or seven feet deep and to a person who lives in a
country like this, the cellar is the best part of the house.
"It is on this eminence that I am now building me a house. It is
sixteen feet front and fourteen feet deep. It is small but I consider it
will be as much room as my wife and I will want for some time and
then I hope that materials will be lower. The lot on which I am building
I received as a present. It is one of the prettiest in town."
One brief entry in Mandeville's Journal reads: "Rained all day so I
stayed home and worked on plans for the court house which I am
drawing up for those Knoxvillians." On another page, the architect
noted that veal was quite a rarity in those parts but he had managed
to get five pounds of it, paying only five cents a pound which he considered very, reasonable.
A major problem in the Knoxville area in the t9th century must have
been MUD, judging by entries in the Mandeville Journal and by the
heroic size of the ancient bootscraper still to be seen outside the portico
of the court house.
Restoration of the court house has been carefully carried out, even
to the pine mantels painted over many times but now stripped back to
the natural beauty of their wood. Heating was by fireplace alone, at
first, but stoves were soon added. Most of the woodwork is the original, and there remains a quantity of the early handrollecl glass in many
The Greek portico, with its fluted Doric columns, still shares a dignified harmony with the twin iron staircases leading to a second story
balcony which was, no doubt, dear to the hearts of the 19th century
orators since no highway then passed before the door, as it does today,
and the surrounding lawn provided a natural arena for spellbound
Next door stands the Hall of Records, elating back to 1854 and now
used as the Knoxville Public Library. The court house museum contains a rather glum looking portrait of John Gum, its pioneer settler,
and likenesses of Gen. Henry Knox (a fine florid figure in his Revolutionary uniform) and his great and good friend, Gen. George Washington.
Henry Knox, for whom the town of Knoxville was named, first appears in history as an ardent Bostonian Whig who designed the early
defense of Roxbury, as a civilian, but was installed by General Washington as Chief of Artillery with the rank of colonel after he succeeded
in bringing back from Ticonderoga the cannon captured by Ethan
Allen. He advanced rapidly in the Continental Army, serving with distinction in many battles. His well worn artillery commanded the field
at Yorktown and, after the surrender of Cornwallis, he was promoted
to the rank of Major General.
It was Knox who first held out his hand when Washington bade
farewell to his troops at Fraunce's tavern in New York City, but
Washington-overcome by emotion-threw his arms around his old
Artillery Chief. An oil painting commemorates this scene.
President George Washington chose Knox as his Secretary of War
after the organization of the federal government.
The cannon he rescued from Fort Ticonderoga was lost through the
ice of the Mohawk river west of Waterford, N. Y. It was found in 1853
and taken to Cohoes, N. Y. where it became involved in a dispute
between rival political factions and was thrown back into the river by
disgruntled participants in the quarrel.
Left there until 1907, the unfortunate cannon was again rescued from
a watery grave and given to a museum in Cohoes, N. Y In a burst of
misguided patriotic zeal during World War II, the gun was turned in
for scrap. Somehow escaping the melting pot, it was shipped from junk
yard to junk yard until finally being acquired by the Fort Ticonderoga
museum, in exchange for some guns of World War I vintage. A photograph of this peripatetic artillery piece may be seen in the Knoxville
court house museum.
An historic marker stands on the site of a I6ng vanished Illinois
hamlet called Log City, whose brief life span lasted onlyfrom 1836
until 1839 but served a purpose in providing temporary· housing for
a group of adventurous pioneers. The plaque reads:
"Founders of Knox College moved from New York State to the
grove near this marker, living temporarilyinlog<cabinswhile
building.their homes where Galesburg now stands. In Conger's
cabin, just west of here, one of Knox's first teachersl Nehemiah
Losey, taught the youth of the settlement."
In the sUll1mer of 1836 a band of settlers fromOl1eidacounty, N. Y.,
arrived in Illinois as the advance guard of a largercompanyintenfon
founding a college and town on the Midwest prairies. They were led
by the Rev. George Washington Gale. Beforetheirarrivalfundshad
been subscribed, explorers sent out to find a suitable site,and 20 sections of government land in Knox county bought for $1.25 an acre.
This was sold to homesteaders for $5.00 an acre,with the profits set
aside to endow the new college.
All efforts were bent to speed the construction ofGalesburg, and as
fast as the dwellings became available, the settlers moved into them.
When Log City had served its purpose, it was sold to Peter9rosscup,
owner of a brickyard, for $1,000. He is said to have paid for his purchase with bricks that went into a Knox College call1Pus buildingcalled
East Bricks. Old Main, where the issues of slavery were debated between Lincoln and Douglas, is now a National HistoriC landmark. It
was built in 1837 by courageous anti-slavery men, most of who111 lived
long enough to hear Lincoln proclaim his belief in freedom for all
human beings.
Newspapers reported the Lincoln-Douglas debates in full detail, to
a waiting nation. On his way from Peoria, Lincoln stopped at Knoxville and was met at the depot by a large delegation that escorted him
to Hebard House. Knoxville, ever jealous of Galesburg's growing size
and prestige, was disposed to make the most of her small part in the
The next morning all of Knoxville escorted Lincoln to the Galesburg
city limits in a mile long parade of carriages, wagon floats and horseback riders.
Lincoln got out of his carriage to shake hands with an old friend
from Sangamon County, Isaac Guliher, while the whole procession
came to a halt and waited. Meanwhile, one of the Galesburg floats
coming to meet the Knoxville contingent andr incidentally, advertise
the rival town's business, reached the spot. The float contained a display of the Brown Corn Planter works as well as a steam engine raucously tooting its whistle and manned by the entire working force of
the BrOW11 factory.
When Lincoln came away from Guliher's door he found the men
lined up, cheering. He took time to shake each one by the hand. According to reports of this gala "progress." Lincoln left his carriage at
intervals to visit informally with the people.
Some 20,000 people gathered em the Knox college campus that
afternoon, October 7, 1858r to hear the debate between the two rival
candidates for the U. S. Senate-a race that was followed with close
attention because the political and moral issues at stake were felt deeply
by all America.
"There is only one path to peace ... allowing each State to decide
for itself ..." trumpeted Douglas.
" ... He is blowing out the moral lights around us, when he contends
that whoever wants slaves has a right to hold them," cried Lincoln.
On a later occasion, Senator Douglas debated the issue of slavery
with the President of Knox Colleger Jonathan Blanchard, before a large
and excited crowd in the Knoxville court house. Clark E. Carr! a Knox
student, came with his friends to support their president. He gave an
eyewitness account of the affair in his book! "The Illini."
"1 shall never forget Senator Douglas' appearance as he emerged
through an open window of the building upon the platform/' he wrote.
"Immaculately dressed in the latest Washington style ... bold, defiant! confident, he seemed the personification of strength and power.
"Blanchard was a sound scholar, a great preacher, and conspicuous
as an extreme abolitionist. It was a great debate. To us students it appeared that our champion had simply 'mopped up the earth' with his
Clark Carr's tall, Victorian mansion in Galesburg was the scene,
many years later, of the only United States cabinet meeting ever held
outside the nation's capital. President McKinley convened an emergency session there during the Spanish-American war crisis, when he
was in Galesburg to speak at Knox college and staying with his close
friend, Clark Carr, then Minister to Denmark.
Due to its railroad facilities, Galesburg outstripped Knoxville in
population by the 1860's and there grew up a popular demand (popular
in GalesblJrg, at any rate) for the removal of the County seat to the
more populous city. A long and acrimonious contest ensued, climaxed
by the passage of a bill introduced by W. S. Gale of Galesburg, a mem- ,~
KNOX COUNTY COURT HOUSE-Galesburg-Built in 1840-0riginal still in useRestored in 1958.
ber of the legislature, for the transfer. This bill became law, but the
issues were not settled until January, 1873, when the Supreme Court of
Illinois upheld the contention of Galesburg.
The cornerstone for a court house on the park site near Knox College
was laid on June 24, 1885. The building, completed in 1887, is of
Berea sandstone in a rather massive, Victorian style of architecture. It
contains photographs of all Judges of Knox county from Judge George
C. Lanphere (1849) to the present incumbent.
Even before becoming a county seat, Galesburg was busily making
history. The town claims many "firsts," including the Ferris wheel (invented by George Gale Ferris, Jr., for the Chicago World's Fair in
1893), and a pioneer power and light company. It was also the home
of the first anti-slavery society in the county, and produced the first
Republican elected to office (1854).
Galesburg wears still another star in its civic crown-as the birthplace of the venerable poet and Lincoln scholar, Carl Sandburg. Of
him Stephen Vincent Benet wrote: "he came to us from the people
Lincoln loved because there were so many of them, and through his
life, in verse and prose, he has spoken of and for the people. A great
American, we have just reason to be proud that he has lived and written
in our time."
An Act of the Illinois State Legislature of January 16! 1836! provided
for the organization of Winnebago county! including at that time all
of Boone and portions of what is now Stephenson. The first elections
were held in August of that year. Since neither written nor printed ballots had as yet been introduced into Illinois! voice vote alone was used
and a total of 120 votes counted. Simon P. Doty, Thomas B. Talcott
and William E. Dunbar were elected commissioners! with Daniel S.
I-hight chosen to be the sheriffi Daniel H. Whitney! the recorderi Eliphalet Gregory! the coroneri and D. A. Spaulding, the surveyor.
The first; session of the commissioners convened in Daniel Haight's
home, with the most important official business being the establishment
of ferries with toll rates set as follows:
For each carriage! wagon or cart drawn by two horses, oxen! or
mules! 62Y2¢; for the same drawn by one horse, 37!/z¢i for each additional horse, 12Y2¢i for man and horse, 25Y2¢i for hogs, sheep and
goats! per score, 50¢ i and for each foot man! 6~¢.
The commissioners also established hotel rates for licensed inns: for
victualing! per meal! 37Y2¢i lodging per night, 12!/z¢i oats per bushet
$1.25 i and liquor per glass! 61/~¢. 1t cost a man more to feed his horse
than his wife or himsel( it seems! in those "good old days."
The first tax levy in Winnebago county for 1837 totaled $562.59Y2!
of which $464.00 was collected. From 1838 until 1844! the tax revenue
ranged between $237.00 and $640.00 per year. Haight's home served
as the first circuit court! which met on October 6, 1837. Two years before, every living soul in the county could have been comfortably
seated inside a single 12 x 14 cabin. Ten years later! settlements had
reached into all corners of the territory and the wild prairie was subdued into farmland.
Bitter rivalry lasted for years between residents of East and West
Rockford for the honor of having the county court house on their side
of the Rock River. In 1839 the County Commissioners selected the
public square on the east side of the river, and a large quantity of building materials was delivered to the site, but construction was delayed
due to lack of funds.
A structure to house the county offices was erected in 1841, and also
a twelve foot square log jail. In April, 1843, six men of East Rockford
offered to build a court house and jail for $4,000. West Rockford citizens countered this with a similar proposition, promising to finish the
work within the year 1844. This offer was accepted on condition that
the buildings would be worth not less than $6,000 and that the block
be deeded to the county.
This closed a controversy of seven years' duration. Jail and court
house were completed on schedule, without the outlay of a dollar by
the county. The court house was a one-story structure with Doric columns and contained a court room that could accommodate 300 persons.
Grand as it seemed, it had to give way before increasing demands of
business and prestige. When on February 22, 1873, Freeport dedicated
a new court house surpassing "in size and elegance all other buildings
west of Detroit and north of St. Louis," the civic pride of Rockford was
struck a serious blow.
"Shall Rockford take a back seat to Freeport?" demanded the citizenry in the streets and in local government. It was an era of intense
rivalry, and Rockford residents could not bear to have freeport outshine them. Thus it came about that in February, 1875, a county board
committee was named to determine the type of court house suitable
for Winnebago. The committee concluded that Rockford should match
Freeport, stone by stone, in design, material and workmanship.
"We have unanimously decided that a court house nearly similar
to the one in Freeport ... constructed of like materials both externally
and internally, and of the same or nearly the same kind of workmanship would, in our opinion, be such a court house as is required by this
county," decreed the committee.
A Chicago architect, Henry L. Gay, assured the board that it could
be built for $104,000. The low bid, however, was $165,000 submitted
by W. D. Richardson of Springfield. Board members dared not think
of cheapening their proposed edifice for fear that it would not match
Freeport's and the contract was approved on March 8, 1876.
The cornerstone was laid amid great festivities on June 24, 1876.
The city was decorated with flags and "every door thrown open to invite guests, and everybody was invited."
On May 11, 1877, while under construction, the court house dome
collapsed. As crowds gathered, they found the building in ruins. As it
crashed, the dome had crushed most of the interior, killing seven workmen and injuring many others, two of whom died soon after. This
disaster still ranks as the greatest in Rockford's history.
Not to be thwarted in their determination to have a court house, the
County commissioners immediately authorized the work of rebuilding.
Instead of costing $104,000 as originally hoped, the structure ultimately
bore a $211 ,000 price tag. For its day, the court house was considered
a model of architectural beauty, in a style euphemistically known as
"French Venetian with American treatment." The 30 x 30 dome rose
119 feet above the ground. When the building was completed in 1878,
it was far too large for the business needs of the county, but by 1916
the space seemed insufficient. An addition was therefore authorized
and carried out.
Only one man ever lived in Winnebago county as a slave. He was
Lewis Kent, sold to Germanicus Kent in 1829 in Alabama for $450.00
cash. When Mr. Kent moved north, he brought along the slave who
obtained his freedom in 1839 when his owner executed and placed in
his hands a deed of manumission. This document, later filed for record
in the county court, officially proclaimed Lewis Kent to be a free man.
A transcript in the clerk's office remains as the sole evidence that
slavery once existed in Rockford. Lewis Kent lived until 1877, working
his own land as a gardener.
The Rockford archives also contain the first recorded conveyance of
land in Winnebago county, executed on August 25, 1835, in which
Catherine Myott, a half-breed Indian woman, conveyed 627 acres of
land to Nicholas Boilvin, at one time a government agent for the Winnebago Indians.
A pamphlet printed upon the occasion of Rockford's Centennial
celebration in 1944 urged visitors and local citizens:
"In your visit to the court house on this centennial occasion, make
it your plan to see every office. Pay your respects to the county
officers and other employees who perform the duties entrusted to
them by you. County and township government are the essence of
home rule and control. Preserve them; strengthen them!"
Carlinville, the seat of justice for Macoupin county, has in alllikelihood the most expensive court house in Illinois. It cost the grandiose
sum of $1,380,500.00 and was not fully paid for until 40 years after
its completion. When the cornerstone was laid in 1867 for this building, more pretentious than most State capitols, Macoupin county was
not even under township organization. The sheriff doubled as tax
collectori the Civil War had ended but two years previously; and the
country west of the Mississippi remained largely undeveloped.
There is no official record of the reasons for putting up such a regal
edifice, practically in the wilderness, but in the early 1860's there was
talk of dividing Macoupin county and taking away the seat from
Carlinville. Quite possibly the City fathers concluded that once their
costly project was begun, no one could stop the plan or divide up the
Macoupin had already had two court houses. The first one, of logs,
cost $128.66 to build in 1830. The second, a brick building with a
belfry on top, cost $15,000, plus an additional $230.00 for a fence to
surround it. Macoupin was still economy minded at the time (1836)
as evidenced by an order changing the window sills from stone to walnut at a saving to the county of $175.00.
Lincoln tried a chancery case there, and the circuit court office has
on file a court order in his handwriting. When the brick court house
was demolished in 1869, its bell, which had been rung by an officer or
citizen whenever a court was called to session as notification that the
mill of justice was about to grind, was bought by St. Paul's Episcopal
In 1867 the County commissioners decreed that the building of the
new court house was to be financed by a tax of 50 cents on each
$100.00 worth of property, with the cost not to exceed $175,000. The
Illinois legislature authorized the county to borrow further sums. Later,
bonds were issued. However, the costs continued to rise and the grand
MACOUPIN COUNTY COURT HOUSE-Carlinville-The costliest court house built in
1867-in appearance ranks with many State Capitals.
total grew and grew. The residents of Macoupin county began to
protest, meetings were held, and letters appeared in tpe newspapers
denouncing the tax. Litigation followed litigation.
Despite this, work continued and the court house was officially completed in 1870. A county jail was built at the same time, across the
street, with the ingenious feature of having each stone in its construction hollowed out and stuffed, like an olive, with a cannon ball to prevent any single stone being removed by a prisoner intent on escape.
So far as the record show, the cannon ball method was effective.
General John M. Palmer, one-time Senator, later Governor of the
State, served as attorney for the county commissioners during the court
house building troubles. Ile took the stand that the court house could
not be left unfinished, and therefore the cost must somehow be borne.
A native of Kentucky, General Palmer came to Macoupin county in
1839. He was admitted to the bar with Stephen A. Douglas as one of
his sponsors. A man of integrity, and of character above reproach, he
became a friend and political co-worker of Lincoln's/ equally opposed
to slavery. Palmer appeared on the platform when Lincoln spoke in
Carlinville on August 31, 1858. He organized the 14th Illinois Volunteer Infantry/ rose to the rank of Brigadier General in the Civil War,
and later became a great criminal lawyer. His tombstone bears the
words: "Lawyer: Soldier: Statesman."
The Carlinville court house storm centered around Judge Thaddeus
L. Loomis and County Clerk George H. Holliday. Loomis/ known as
the "Iron Chancellor/' was aggressive/ fearless, able/ and much vilified
although few believed he secured any personal gain from the building
of the court house. Ife constructed the Loomis Hotel in 1869 and lived
on until 1910.
George Holliday, a man of culture and superior education/ was a
connoisseur of books and had one of the finest libraries in the west. At J
one time he was the owner of a Carlinville newspaper. One night in
1870, Holliday boarded a Chicago & Alton train and was never seen
again. Indicted in absentia for his part in the court house scandal, he
could never be found and brought to trial. A man thought to be George
Holliday was arrested in the 1880's but not identified.
John Moran was another individual connected with Carlinville's financial problems. An Irishman/ he came to Macoupin county in 1863
and practiced law there for 50 years. He refused to pay taxes/ so his
property was offered at delinquent sales quite frequently. Each time,
Moran went to court and managed to block the sale.
He was well informed/ if eccentric in his views/ and could talk on
any subject with more force than eloquence. Moran declared there was
no such thing as gravity, taking pride in his assertion that he was
the first man to "prove" the earth stands still. His special aversions were
the court house taxI vested interests/ office holders/ and politicians. He
published a book called "Searching the Record" denouncing the expenditure of funds for the court house and contending its site was
illegal since the County commissioners, in selecting it, ignored the 1829
law specifying that the seat of justice should be erected on the public
For forty years debt hung over Macoupin county like a financial
pall. Taxpayers denounced it, prospective land buyers shuddered, say60
ing: "The debt is a burden detrimental to residents of 'the great State'
of Macoupin!"
In 1910, the last mortgage bond was burned by Judge Charles S.
Deneen as the climax to a two-day celebration. This Jubilee featured
an automobile parade in which prizes were awarded for the best decorated vehicles, and there was much oratory spouted in praise of the
court house-"an edifice of magnificent proportions. Note the beautiful symmetry of its Roman Corinthian columns!" Made more beautiful, no doubt, by the lifting of the shroud of debt from Carlinville.
"In April, 1860," to quote from Hamlin Garland's "Life of Grant,"
"men stood on the levee watching the steamer Itasca nose her way up
the tortuous current of the Galena river. As she swung up to the wharf,
attention was attracted to a passenger on deck wearing a blue cape
overcoat. As the boat struck the landing this man rose and gathered
a number of chairs together, evidently part of his household furniture.
"Who is that?" asked one man of a friend on the river bank.
"That is Capt. Grant, Jesse Grant's eldest son. He was in the Mexican War-he is moving here from St. Louis" was the reply.
"Capt. Crant took a couple of chairs in each hand and walked
ashore with them. His wife, a small, alert woman, followed him with
her little flock of children-Frederick, Ulysses, Jesse and Nellie. The
carrying of chairs ashore signified that Ulysses Simpson Grant had
become a resident of Galena."
There was no way of knowing, then, that Grant would become Galena's most famous citizen and that eventually the whole town would
be a memorial to him. The Grants rented an unpretentious, hilltop
house on a street appropriately called High, reached by a steep flight
of wooden steps. Within a few days, Grant was established in his
father's leather store at 120 Main Street, quietly and faithfully performing his duties as a clerk for a salary of $600.00 a year.
Great changes were brewing, however. Four days after the firing on
Fort Sumter launched the Civil War on April 12, 1861, a mass meeting was held in Galena, in the Jo Daviess county court house. Owing
to his West Point training and military experience, Grant presided,
although there were some who objected to this, saying that he was
"only a clerk in a leather store."
One might question the clairvoyance (or lack of it) around Galena
at the time, but never the area's patriotism. Jo Daviess county contributed 2,500 men (or nearly one tenth of its population) to the
Union cause and produced a grand total of nine generals for the
armed forces. Grant was given command of the 21 st Illinois Volunteers
a few months after his re-enlistment! and his rise was a rapid one.
Fame came like a blinding light to the once quiet Indian retreat!
perched high on bluffs in the northwest corner of Illinois and chiefly
noted! until the Civil War! for the lead mines with which the area
abounded. The discovery of lead had brought wealth! greed! hatred
and prominence. Grant added military and political renown.
The stone buildings! steep streets! and crumbling tombstones stand
today as monuments to the past. Galena cherishes its 19th century!
General Grant period grandeur. One weekend each autumn! certain
of its ponderous old houses! commanding because of their hill crest
eminence! are open to the public. Then hundreds of strangers (and
some local citizens too) tramp through parlors and bedrooms furnished in dark oak or mahogany as befits their Victorian heritage! with
horsehair sofas! antimaccassars! flowers" sous cloche" and gold framed
portraits of Grandmother and Grandfather.
Galena can! however! look much further back into history than the
Ceneral Grant epoch. It is the dowager queen of northern Illinois settlements and its First Presbyterian church (1832) is the oldest church
building still in use in the northwest territory.
Indians found lead in the region tucked away in the hills bordering
the Mississippi! as did a few French explorers! around 1700! but the
first record of any white settlers known to have lived there did not
occur until 1820.
Mining privileges on a royalty basis were granted in 1823! with a
smelting furnace being erected in that year. Soon American settlers
moved in! a trading post was established! and the hamlet became
known as Frederick's Point. Within three years the population had increased to 150! a post office was built! and a \veekly mail service instituted from Vandalia! the capital of the State.
Aleady the big river boats were calling there! to take on cargoes of
lead in exchange for other products. Pilot's Knob! one of the highest
points in Illinois had served as a landmark for river captains ever since
that part of the Mississippi was first navigated.
According to early accounts! the best and worst types of people
were drawn to this spot where wealth could be found within easy
reach. There was little respect for God-only for the riches from the
earth that brought power and created greed. These were held in high
esteem. Might was right and the quickest on the draw won every
argument, or so it seems from old chronicles of the region.
On February 17, 1827, a law was passed by the Illinois State Legislature providing that: "To perpetuate the memory of Colonel Joseph
Hamilton Daviess, who fell in the battle of Tippecanoe gallantly charging upon the enemy at the head of his corps, the said county shall be
calIed '.10 Daviess'."
Frederick's Point was re-christened Galena and named the county
seat. When the three duly appointed county officials-Abbott, Swan
and Moses-were sworn in on June 5, 1827, they met in a tavern at
the cornel; of Main and Green streets, carrying their legal papers in
their hats since they had no office in which to work. The first circuit
court convened in a "rough boarded building" where the De Soto
Hotel now stands. Presumably all county business was enacted there
until March, 1833, when the County Clerk received orders to rent the
"large frame structure" belonging to Charles Peck for a term of three
years, for use as a court house.
The John Dowling house on Main street was rented in 1837 for
$150.00 and then bought as the first official court house for Joe Daviess
County. The building still stands.
About this time, prizes of $100.00 and $30.00 respectively were
offered for plans for a permanent court house and a jail. Charles H.
Rogers won both awards. John H. Slaymaker and Father Charles
Samuel Mazzuchelli, a Roman Catholic priest, were chosen as the
architects to carry out Rogers' plans in 1839. The Greek Revival structure was heated by stoves and contained fireproof vaults-quite an
innovation in their day. Although remodeled from time to time, the
court house remains basically the same and its second floor court room,
where Grant conducted the patriotic rally at the outbreak of the Civil
War, is still in use.
By 1845, Galena was the most important port on the Mississippi,
north of St. Louis. As many as eighteen ships often docked at the
same time, loading and unloading cargo until the river front resembled
JO DAVIESS COURT HOUSE-Galena-Original court house still in use. Built in 1839.
Present front was built around original court house at later date. Jail is still in court
a busy market place. One writer described the town in that era: "There
is mud in the streets knee deep i the log, frame and stone bUildings are
all huddled together along the waterfront i boats are landing their
freight and passengersi everything is lively and noise and good nature abound."
At the close of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Crant came home to Calena
in the role of a conquering hero. On the railroad journey from Chicago
he was given an ovation at every hamlet and whistle stop along the
route. Minute guns were fired in salute as the train steamed past, and
a crowd of 10,000 persons awaited him at the Galena Station to escort
him to the DeSoto Hotel where the Hon. E. B. Washburne delivered
an address of welcome.
The town went wild with excitement. Throngs appeared from neighboring statesi flags decorated every corneri and in front of the hotel
an immense arch spanned the street, bearing the inscription: "Hail to
the Chief who in Triumph Advances!"
Another sign, high above Main Street that day, proclaimed: "Gen65
eral, the Sidewalk is Built!" This called attention to a new walk of
shiny pine boards ready for the General to use.
During the early part of the war, he had been home on furlough and
a friend remarked: "Some day you will be candidate for high civic
Grant replied quietly: "I would like to be Mayor of Galena. Then
I might get a sidewalk built from my home to the depot."
The General never became Mayor of Galena, but he got his sidewalk, and much more. Galena's proud citizens honored their fellow
townsman with the gift of a home more suited to his new way of life
than the one he had left in 1861. This was a fine brick dwelling, on
the high peak of Bouthillier Street, bought from Alexander Jackson
who had built it in 1857. The Grants moved in, renewing old friendships duripg the time that Grant remained a private citizen.
After his two terms as President of the United States, and a trip
around the world, General and Mrs. Grant returned once more to Galena and lived there until 1881, when they moved to New York City.
On a celebration of Grant's birthdate, April 27, 1904, his eldest
son-General Frederick Dent Grant-with his wife and distinguished
visitorsr presented the Grant home to the city of Galena, in the name of
the heirs to his father's estate. It now belongs to the Illinois State
Department of Works and Buildings, and the public may visit the
handsome house.
A small but historic countYr called Scottr was carved out of Morgan
county in 1839. Its zigzag boundariesr unchanged in all these yearsr
resulted from the efforts of the Ceneral Assembly to retain from the
parent county the towns of Lynnville and Bethelr with the rich farm
lands surrounding them.
As soon as the county lines were drawnr propositions popped up
from various communities desirous of becoming the county seat. Winchesterr as the most eligibler succeeded in eliminating North Prairie
and Manchesterr thanks to a liberal offer from its citizens to provide
the site and $5/000 towards the construction of a court house and jail.
This court house served its purpose until a bond issue carried in
the general election of 1884 authorizing the sum of $40/000 with which
to erect a new county building. The old one was sold to Winchester
for $2r650 with the understanding that the structure be demolished and
the site used for a public park. The present court house was erected in
the fall and winter of 1885/ a two story brick edifice of early Romanesque architecture with cut stone trim and an attractive clock
The first railroad constructed in Illinois in 1837 extended from
Naplesr a port on the Illinois River in Scott county/ to Jacksonville in
present day Morgan county-a distance of 25 miles. It used strap iron
rails spiked on wooden stringers/ and mules for locomotive power.
Naples at that time was the principal city in the area because its location on the river's edge afforded an excellent landing place for settlers
who came/ by boatr with their few personal belongings to make their
homes in Scott county. Now Scott has a population of around 8)00
and consists mainly of fine farm lands.
One of the most beautiful public buildings in Illinois/ in the opinion
of architectural connoisseursr is the Appellate Court in Mt. Vernon r
serving 34 downstate counties since 1848. The present structure dates
back to 1854/ with extensive remodelling done twenty years later when
MOUNT V~RNON APPELLATE COURT HOUSE-Marion County-Built in 1857. This
historic ante bellum building was formerly the Supreme Court. Here in 1859 Abraham
Lincoln won one of his most important cases. The architecture is Greek Revival with
Ionic columns on the East side and wrought iron stairways. The law library contains
priceless volumes printed in England in the Seventeenth Century.
the north and south wings were added. The Greek Revival court house
has simple classic lines. Two fluted pillars support the front gable
adorned with a medallion depicting the scales of justice. Twin wrought
iron stairways on the exterior facade lead to the second floor. It took
three weeks to bring this double staircase from St. Louis by ox cart,
according to local legend.
Inside, the rooms are high ceilinged with arched doorways and widebeamed woodwork. Originally the place was heated only by huge
fireplaces. On the ground floor are three bedrooms with private baths
for the use of the Justices when court is in session in Mount Vernon.
The court house also contains a fine library of law books, some of them
extremely rare and dating back to the 17th century.
For years the myth has persisted that "Mt. Vernon chose the Supreme Court instead of the State University, and picked the wrong
one," but the University of Illinois was not established at Urbana until
1867, and the enabling act for the erection of the first court house for
the Southern Division of the Illinois Supreme Court at Mt. Vernon
had been passed by the General Assembly as far back as 1848.
During a tornado on February 19, 1888, an emergency hospital was
set up in the Mt. Vernon court house under the supervision of Clara
Barton! founder of the American Red Cross. This court house! the
pride and joy of Mt. Vernon, has been selected by the Advisory Committee of the Historic American Buildings Survey as possessing exceptional historic and architectural interest, worthy of the most careful
preservation for the benefit of future generations. Toward this end! a
record of its present appearance and condition has been made and
deposited for permanent reference in the Library of Congress.
Perhaps some day another generation may cite a yet unborn court
house in Watseka, Iroquois county, for its beauty and historic significance. For few counties can boast of having left to them in a will the
tax free endowment for a new court house! This was the unexpected
legacy received by Watseka from Katherine Crace Clifton! the shy and
retiring heiress who! several years ago, left one third of her five million dollar estate for the purpose of replacing the ancient edifice now
serving the county seat. Mrs. Clifton's fortune was derived largely
from the progressive policies of her stepfather, Judge C. W. Raymond
who enriched his farmlands by scientific agricultural methods far ahead
of his time. Mrs. Raymond and Katherine! her daughter! spent much
of their time in Europe and the Orient, while the Judge stayed home
and tended to his farms. Consequently, Katherine knew little of home
life despite two marriages, never learned to cook, and wa$ satisfied in
later life with a modest apartment on the outskirts of Watseka.
Upon the death of Judge Raymond, she took over the management
of his lands, piloting her own plane over the extensive holdings to
check the crops, drainage problems and other details of operating a
vast acreage.
The reason most commonly accepted for the $1,500,000 court house
bequest is that Mrs. Clifton felt an obligation to the people of Watseka
and Iroquois county, realizing that her wealth came from the land, and
that she wanted to subsidize a project that would be for the public
The records of many Illinois counties contain crisp and cryptic explanations about the reasons for tearing down old court houses and
building new ones. Sometimes it was a question of space, when a
growing community simply had outgrown its legal facilities. Often the
existing structure was in a state of (1I~;repalr h"f',"1"'"'''''a
had to be taken down before it fell
Mercer reports that its county seat
then in Millersburg, then in KE~itrlsbuf!S;,
erected until the county headquarters
1856. The present seat of justice,
for reasons of space and conv,enience.
bition, and civic rivalry all played
from one town to another, and
house them.
"Death by natural causes" also
during the Jast century and a
hac! more than its share, for the first
1826 burned down i so did the
erected in 1~77, was wrecked by a tor'nado
ing dates from 1950.
MOUNT CARROLL COURT HOUSE-Built in 1858--TheAnnex builtin 1895. Addition
connecting original building and Annex built in •• 195/3, 100 years later.• Original
court house still in use.
The Carroll County court house in Mt. Carroll! was put up in 1858,
with a separate addition always referred to as the Annex built in 1895
and still another connecting structure added exactly one hundred years
after the original.
It is not difficult to understand why Macomb wanted a new court
house in 1869! for the first one built in McDonough county! dated
1841! cost all of $69.50 and was made of logs. The second, more ornate and of bricks, was built for the price of $4,83'2.
A local historian from Paris, l1linois, states wistfully that the Edgar
county court house! while described by many as a "Victorian Monstrosity" is, in reality! a handsome structure. It was built in 1891! the
third such edifice in the county history since the first frame building
was erected there in 1823.
In 1831 the State legislature passed a law fixing Ottawa as the seat
of justice for LaSalle county, and the commissioners entered into a
contract with William F. Flagg to complete a court house for $40,000.
A tremendous row about the location of the bUilding had first to be
settled. This happened in many counties where it was not uncommon
for fisticuffs to be employed before a final agreement wa,; reached.
There being no jail in Ottawa at the time, prisoners were confined
in Juliet (the early name for Joliet) and William Redick was paid $60
to convey them there in wagons. During the construction of the court
house, Flagg received instructions to excavate down to the solid rock
and place a basement jail therein. This changed his architectural plans
and added considerably to the expense.
In those days, the entire taxable property in the county was only
worth a few thousand dollars, and there was almost no money in
circulation. Business was done on the barter plan! with coonskins, deer
pelt and "grog" used for legal tender. The price of the latter was regulated by the county commissioners, who licensed "groceries" and
"taverns." The county could count on little credit beyond the honesty
of its citizens. Nevertheless, bonds were issued to cover the cost of
the court house. Flagg sold these bonds as best he could, but soon
found himself in all kinds of financial troubles.
The commissioners had agreed to pay a good rate of interest on the
bonds, but when these came due it was found necessary to redeem them
with new bonds, and thus the debt grew while the contractor waited
for his money. Flagg finished the court house and jail in 1841 and
then, weary of waiting for payment, refused to give up possession of
the building. The county instituted a law suit to evict him from the
premises. Eventually, Flagg was pacified by the payment of still more
new bonds. He withdrew from the jail, and the suit was withdrawn
from the court.
The court house remained in use for years, to be replaced in 1882
by a larger and sedately handsome building of Joliet stone with sandstone trimmings for the windows and doors.
Citizens of Geneva, Illinois, have always been proud of their town,
which retains its "early settlers" look because of the numerous century
old residences still lining its tree-shadowed streets near the banks of
the Fox rivl..'r. In 1844 the first court house of Kane county, circa 1837,
was replaced by a more ample and substantial building for which the
commissioners paid $800 to Leonard Howard, the builder.
Although there is no official record to confirm it, tradition persists
that the very small cost can be attributed to a great deal of stone and
handwork donated by Geneva pioneers to enhance the beauty of the
county seat.
In 1856, the present court house square was purchased and a fine
stone building erected in which much of historical interest took place,
especially during the Civil War era. A fire in March, 1890, destroyed
the structure beyond repair, although the records were saved because
fireproof vaults had been installed. The present court house was dedicated on September 30, 1892.
Disputes about the location of county seats flourished like the tall
corn in many sections of Illinois. Washington county was no exception. At one time, the commissioners decreed that justice should be
dispensed in a place called Georgetown. This decision was hampered
by the fact that the town did not exist, except on paper.
When Georgetown was surveyed and laid out in regular order, a
sale was held to dispose of the lots on September 13, 1827. This transaction realized $168. A year and half later, Judge Smith came to hold
court in Georgetown. He found no trace of habitation or civilization
save a few wells that had been dug, and a flagpole standing in soli-
tary grandeur. The judge abandoned Georgetown forever, and nothing more was ever heard of it as the county seat.
The Georgetown location never had pleased any considerable number of county inhabitants, and the "county seat question" became a
disturbing element between the "east and west" settlements, as the
townships of Beaucoup (shades of the French era in Illinois!) and
Elkhorn were then known.
The issue entered into political contests, forcing aspirants for office,
like the great hunter Davy Crockett, to define their position. There
were many citizens who favored the location of the county seat in the
town of Nashville, but the settlers in that area were too poor to raise
the ready money to purchase the land. David Pulliam, a farmer and
stock raiser, was said to be the only man in the district who could raise
a hundred dollars in cash whenever he desired to do so.
A deputation was sent to urge him by all means to proceed to Kaskaskia and purchase the land. This angered Pulliam, who pulled off his
hat, threw it on the ground, and exclaimed: "I would not give that
old hat for all that that town will ever make!"
Robert Middleton and William C. Brown, men of considerable
means from St. Clair county, were finally induced to buy the land for
the Nashville court house, which was built of wood in 1831, to be
replaced within the decade by a larger one. Fire destroyed the second
court house in 1883, but its successor, a well built and well preserved
structure, remains in use at the present time.
Effingham County Historical records show that the county (ould
boast of four court houses within a period of forty years after its organization in 1833. Two were built in Ewington, the first seat of justice,
and two at Effingham, the current seat. Ewington was, in 1835, considered a boom town, but later dwindled in size. The Effingham court
house dates from 1871.
Putnam county/ once the largest in the Stater fell victim to "border
warfare/' lost much of its territory/ and hecame the smallest of Illinois
counties. Hennepin/ however, retained the honor of being the county
seat and its court house/ built in 1839/ can boast that it is the oldest
such seat of justice still in use in the State.
On Sunday/ September 17, 1939/ a ceremony was held to celebrate
the dedication of the Hennepin bridger connecting Putnam with part
of its forn1er territory/ now called Bureau county/ on the other side of
the Illinois river. The occasion also marked the centennial of the Putnam county court house.
Before the new bridge was built, the river at lfennepin was crossed
by ferryboat. Some historical notes in "Over the River/' a souvenir
booklet printed for the 1939 Dedication/ remind readers that when
the ferry was first launched in 183'2/ the following rates prevailed:
Foot passenger..................... 6~¢
Man and horse. . 1'2~¢
One-horse pleasure carriage 50¢
Goods/ per 100 lbs. .. 6~¢
It seems that pleasure came high, even in those days! So did the
Hood waters/ apparently/ for a further note on the list of ferry rates
warned: "When the water is out of its banks, the above rates will be
Special allowances were paid to ferrymen who/ from time to timer
had to go far astream to rescue their craft/ which had been carried
away by storm or ice and were often found many miles away.
The first steamboat to arrive at Hennepin/ "The Caroline" came in
1831 and meant much to the commerce and industry of the area. A four
hour trip to Peoria by steamboat cost one dollar. Previously/ keel or
flatboats were used to transport the enormous crops of potatoes grown
in Putnam county_ The voyage from Hennepin to New Orleans required two months aboard the huge and awkward flatboats that had
to be floated downstream/ then dismantled and sold after their cargo
was delivered. The smaller keel vessels could be rowed or poled up or
down the river. Crews up to twenty men in number were employed on
these primitive craft.
According to tradition, the first court house in IIennepin was a
blacksmith shop where an anvil served as a bench for the judge, and
the jury "room" was the wide prairie!
In 1835, a slave was sold in Putnam county for $1.50 to an abolitionist who promptly freed him. Hennepin was a center of abolitionism
before the Civil War. Two men, Owen Lovejoy and Benjamin Lundy,
devoted their lives to freeing slaves. They travelled widely through the
middle and eastern states to arouse anti-slavery sentiments. Lundy, a
local philanthropist! published an abolitionist newspaper in Hennepin,
which was an active "station" on the "underground railroad" transporting slaves from the South into Canada through Putnam and the
neighboring Bureau counties.
The actual railroad passed Hennepin by, and perhaps for this reason
PUTNAM COUNTY COURT HOUSE-Hennepin-built in 1839-The oldest cou,t house
still in use in Illinois-in the smallest county.
the town managed to retain its quiet air of 19th century grace. It has
many fine old houses, parks, and tree shaded streets. The old court
house is a handsome, classic structure complete with pillars. Hennepin's
lack of hustle and bustle can best be illustrated, perhaps, by Paul M.
Angle's story of his visit there, some years ago.
He went to the court house to obtain permission from an elderly
presiding judge to take a newly discovered treasure trove of ancient
newspaper to the Illinois State Historical Society in Springfield. The
Hennepin jurist and the present Director of the Chicago Historical Society were deep in a pleasant discussion of historical matters when
interrupted by a young state's attorney,who opened the. door and
rather abruptly demanded the judge's advice about some plaintiff's
Said his;jhonor: "Young man, if anyone else comes around here today pantin' for justice, teJl him to come back tomorrow, please!"
Jacksonville, Illinois may not have an old court house to point out
to visitors, but it has had a long and interesting civiclife.Morgan
county originally included the present counties of Cass and Scott, with
the county seat at a place caJled Olmstead's Mound. Theicourtwas
removed to Jacksonville, where a frame court. house was erected in
1826. On July 4, 1861, Colonel UlyssesS.Grant marched his raw
regiment, the 21 st Illinois Infantry, into the FairGroundsatJac~sonville, and the legend persists that the Colonel worked hard to prevent
bootleggers from seJling whiskey to his recruits!
Jacksonville is the site of Illinois CoUeger chartetedin1829.Beecher
Hall, on the campus, was named for thefirstpresidentEdwardBeecher-brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe amll-Ienry \Xfard Beecher.William Jennings Bryan graduated from the college,anc! practiced law in
Jacksonville at one time. The town was also notedasone.ofthe"stations" on the "Underground railroad".andas the home oftheC'Ladies
Society for the Promotion of Education ofFemales,"now known as
:~: ~;:~i::u~~~:,~::a~nSi~'c:~:~:~:.~~1¥1833;}4:saidtOh;~e1e!,"
One could continue, almost indefinitely, a recital of the court houses
both ancient and modern that have been erected at one time or another in the 102 counties of Illinois. Space prohibits such an undertak76
ing. Thus, with a glimpse into the past and a hint of things to come in
the near future, we conclude this brief and fragmentary survey of the
county court houses in this State. Those described are but a few of the
proud reminders of a pioneer civilization that, for the most part, looked
up to the law and cherished the buildings that housed and symbolized
the high authority vested in man.
On the following pages may be found a complete li,~t of the 102
county court houses in 1I1inois, with dates of original structures and
those of the present day. This chronology has been compiled by Mrs.
Thomas R. Gowenlock and members of her Historical Activities Committee for the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in
the State of 1I1inois.
In addition to local newspapers of the era, tourisfpal11phlets and information supplied by county clerks too numeroustomentionby name,
the following sources were consulted, mainly in the Library of the Chicago Historical Society:
ALVORD, CLARENCE WALWORTH. 1he ]llinois CounHy,1673-1818.
Published by the Illinois Centennial Commission in 1920.
FLAGG, EDMUND. 'Flagg's 'Far 1Pest,18:1 8.
CLAHK, CLARK E. 1he mini. A. c. McClurg, '--'111t..dl:)U,
SANDBUHG, CARL. Abraham Lincoln, 1he
Harcourt, Brace & Co. New York, 1926.
WOODHUFF, GEORGE H. 1Pill COllnty, ]llinois.
Baron & Co., 1878.
GAHLAND, HAMLIN. Ti1ysses S. yrant: :'His Life and Character.
Doubleday & McClure. New York, 1898.
LINN, WILLIAM ALEXANDEH. 11le Story of tbe Jlform0t15.
The MacMillan Co. New York, 1902.
PEASE, TIIEODOHE C. 1be frantier State, 18! 8-1848.
From Vol. II of the Centennial History of Illinois .• Illinois Centennial
Commission, Springfield, Illinois, 1918.
FAHlS, JOHN T. Romance of 'Forgotten 10wns.
Harper & Bros., 1924.
BUHGESS, S. A. El1Ily 'History of 7IJmll'oo. Missouri, 192-.
MAYHEW, HENHY. 'History of the jHormons.
BAHINGEH, WILLIAM E. Lincoln's 7/andil/iil.
Rutgers University Press, 1949.
FAHNHAM, ELIZA W. Jlits. 1. J. 'Farnham, 1815-1864.
Life in Prairie Land. Harper & Bros., New York.
WEBSTER, MAHTIlA FARNIlAM. SE'uenty ~-':ive Significilnt )Iears, 18.37-1912.
Wagoner Printing Co., Galesburg, Illinois, 1912.
Works Progress Administration. Washington, D.C.
CALKINS, EHNEST ELMO. yales!JUrq, yenesis of a Railroad.
Illinois State Historical Publication No. 42.
Knox College Centenary Publication, 1937.
CALKINS, E. E. 'They Broke tbe Prairie.
Scribner's Sons. New York, 1937.
BHOOKS, NOAH. 'Hemy 'Knox,! 750- 1806.
G. P. Putnam's Sons. New York and London, 1900.
STEVENS, WILLIAl\l WALLACE. P<1sl <1l1d P,cSCIII OJ 711,11 COl/lily.
S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. Chicago, 1907.
U. S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C., 1941.
The Municipal Reference Library, 1963.
JOHNSON, CHARLES. Cook COl/illy 71islory.
SMITH, CARLISLE F. A 7'Jcw CCllll/IY for 0111 Old Coltrt 7/01/IC, /8·10-1858.
(newspaper article).
DEDMON, EMMETT. 'F<11Jl1I0tlS Chic<1ijO.
Random House.
SMITH, HENRY JUSTIN. Ch'CilL!O: A7-fisli'ry oJ ils RCPI/(<1(ioll.
MASTERS, EDGAR LEE. Jbe Si1lI(1(//ll(Hl.
Rivers of America series. Farrar &. Rinehart. New York, 1942.
DANSKIN, LILLIAN IRLAND, ed. JOlllillq7-iisloric1<1cksolll7llle.
Chamber of Commerce, Jacksonville, 1927.
ANGLE, PAUL M. 'Jbe JHOr1ll011S ill 7llillOis.
Chicago History quarterly. Spring 1963.
TI1e Chicago Historical Society, Vol. VI, No. 11.
PETERSON. 7'Jotes on Old Clbokiil.
Illinois State Historical Society Publication, Vol. 42.
McRAE, JOSEPH A. and EUNICE. Old Cmtlwije Jill!.
Pamphlet. Carthage, Illinois.
.... Belvidere
Still stands. Addition under construction.
BROWN. . .Mt. Sterling 1859 1942
BUREAU ..Princeton 1868 1936
CALHOUN Hardin 1837 1848
CARROLL. .. Mount Carroll 1858 1858
Annex built in 1895, additions in 1942 and 1958. Exactly J(~) years between original building and the latest addition.
CASS . Virginia 1844 1872
Original Court House was in Beardstown and built in P~44-now the
City Hall-"}/i/oric COllrt }-IolIsn'
GIRISTIAN Taylorvillc
CLARK Marshall
County scat was moved from Darwin to Marshall in 19f13. Fire practically
destroyed original at Marshall but no dates given for Darwin original or
Marsball original.
CLAY . Louisville 1818 1912
Original Court House built in Clay City in 1818. Later moved to Louisville. Shawnee Vandalia road crossed old Natchez Trace. Included in its
corporate limits Maysville as lirst county seat.
CLINTON . Carlyle ! 883 1883
Addition built in 1")59 for more space.
COLES.....Charleston 1831 1898
Original was a log structure near town branch, replaced by brick building in 1835. Twice enlarged in 1858·1860 and 1864-1866. Present day
building of limestone erected 1898-1899 with renovations and repairs
in 1951-1952.
COOK .. Chicago 1835 1911
"}-/istoric COllrt }-Iol/ses"
CRAWFORD ... Robinson 1818 1897
Has had 6 Court Houses, 1818, 1832, 1833, 184,~, 1849, 1897.
CUMBERLAND. Toledo 1854 1887
DeKALB . . ..sycamore 1838 1904
First too small, second built in 1850-51. First court held in Coltonville
west of Sycamore. Town now gone. All 3 Court Houses mentioned were
in Sycamore.
_____ Clinton
No information on two e;lrlier structures_
DOUGLAS __ Tuscola 1861 1913
Origin;l! 2-story fr;ln1e. Second huilt in 1kl16, never satisf;lctory·--repl;lced
by cbssic stone 3-story.
DuPAGE __ Wheaton 1896 1896
Land grant hy \'larren Wheaton Additions in 1'J53 ;lnd 1961.
EDGAR___Paris 1823 1891
First of fr;lme, second brick ;lnd present building referred to ;lS "The
Victori;ln Monstrosity" but re;llly ;l handsomc structure.
Addition East Side in 1941.
·.Historic Courl}!ollses"
FAYEITE _____ Vandalia 1820-1824 1932
The tlrst st;lte capitol W;lS erected in V;lnd;l!i;l ;lnd W;lS for ;l time thc
terminus of The Nation;ll Road, which followed the wilderness Tr;lce th;lt
D;lniel Boone ;lnd his followers blazed ;lUOSS the Alleghanies. There is a
gt-;lceful building in the city, now a historical museum, where the budding
statesm;ln, Abraham Lincoln, once vaulted out of a window to viti;lte ;l
quorum c;lIL Chicago Trihune M;lrch 1kth, 1%4. ".Histel/ic COII/t }lelll 1(',"'
FORD Paxton 1841 1876
FULTON_Lewistown 1823 1898
Second f,ame built 1830, third brick 1k3'\ present erected by township
citizens through priv;lte don;ltions.
GALLATIN5hawneetown 1826 1939
Town moved three miles west after Ohio River flood of 1937. Origin;l!
Court House W;lS in Equ;llity-built in 1k211.
GREENE Carrollton 1824 1892
GRUNDY Morris 1841 1912
I-IAMILTON McLeansboro 1821 1937
First log court house burned ;lfter which brick building was used-suffered stigma bec;luse of no real court house for m;lny ye;lrs.
HANCOCK Carthage 1823 1839
".Historic COlldHouses"
HARDIN _ _ Elizabethtown 1858 1923
First Court House built before the Civil \i;lr hurned in 1884. A new one
was built and burned in 1920

".Histo/ic Court }louses"
1841 1841
County Seat Original Present
HENRY Cambridge 1838 1878
First court house built at Richmond in 1838 burned down. Next one built
at Morristown and moved to Cambridge in 1840, where two others were
built as the need for space increased.
IROQUOIS Watseka 1845 1867
New court house under construction since 1963.
JACKSON Murphysboro 1816 1926
First court house built at Brownsville in 1816 and burned in 1843 and
county seat was moved to Murphysboro.
JASPER Newton 1835 1878
An addition in 1%3.
"Ristoric COllrt J-loll\e>"
JERSEY J Jerseyville
'.}listoric COllrt Jiouses"
KANE Geneva
KENDALL Yorkville
Addition in 1958.
KNOX Galesburg 1840
Original still standing but restored in 1958. "}fistoric Court Rouses"
LAKE Waukegan
Original still stands but addition in 1922,
LaSALLE Ottawa
Remodeling took place from 1952·1962,
LAWRENCE ....Lawrenceville
LEE Dixon
LOGAN "'" Lincoln
A state memorial. "Ristoric Court }follses"
McHENRy.. Woodstock
McLEAN Bloomington
MACON . Decatur
MACOUPIN. Carlinville
"J-listoric COllrt J-lollses"
County Seat Original Present
MADISON ...Edwardsville 1818 1915
Home of Thomas Kirkpatrick used from 1812·1817. Had no formal
court house.
MARION ... ..
MARSHALL ". __ .Lacon
Additions put on in 1884 and 1958.
MASON .Havana
MASSAC ..Metropolis
MENARD .. Petersburg
MERCER ... Aledo
191 1
County seat was first in New Boston, then Millersburg, then Keithsburg
but no court house was erected in these cities

MONROE .... ... Waterloo 1832 1853
Addition in 1906.
MONTGOMERY .... Hillsboro 1823 1835
Court house remodeled in 1875.
MORGAN ... __ ..Jacksonville 1826 1868
":Historic COlirt :Hollses"
MOULTRIE ...Sullivan 1845 19M
OGLE ..... Oregon 1841 1891
. Peoria 1825 1878
New court house now under construction.
PERRY.. _ Pinkneyville 1829 1939
PIATT . __ Monticello 1843 1903
Land donated by William Hart Piatt, son of James A. Piatt, for whom
the county was named.
PIKE.. _ __ .. Pittsfield 1821 1894
Original court house was built in 1821 at Coles, moved to Atlas in 1823
until 1826 when it burned
An uncompleted building was used until county seat was established in Pittsfield.
POPE .. _... Golconda 1816 1873
PULASKI ..... Mound City 1912 1912
PUTNAM ... __ Hennepin 1839 1839
Putnam county is the smallest county and has the oldest court house still
in use. Chief Shaboney was one of the first settlers and his picture hangs
with a group of Lincoln. There is a daguerrotype of every county judge in
walnut frames.
":Historic COlirt :Hollses"
RANDOLPH __ ..... _....Chester 1850 1850
Included in ":Historic COllrt :Hollses"
RICHLAND ". .. Olney 1841 1915
This county is included in "1{istoric COllrt 1{ollses"
SALINE Harrisburg 1853
Original court house was in Raleigh and moved to Harrisburg in
with an addition in 1938.
Court house remodeled in 1960.
ST. CLAIR Belleville
SANGAMON Springfield
"Historic Caliri 1{ollses"
SCHUYLER Rushville
SCOTT Winchester
"1{istoric Court 1{ollses"
SHELBY .. .5helbyville
STARK Toulon
UNION . Jonesboro
Reconstructed by W.P.A. in 1937.
WABASH ..Mt. Carmel
WARREN Monmouth
County Seat Original
".Historic Court 1{ollses"
WASHINGTON Nashville 1884 1884
WAYNE Fairfie1d "\819 1891
WHITE Carmi 1883 1883
There is a drive on at present for a new court house much needed for
safety of records.
WHITESIDE ........Morrison 1866 1866
WILL .]oliet 1837 1884
"1{istoric Calirt 1{ollses"
WILLIAMSON Marion 1841 1888
WINNEBAGO Rockford 1844 1878
"1{isioric COllrt 1{ollses"
WOODFORD .....Eureka 1845 1894
"Historic COllrt 1{ollses" County Seat originally in Hanover (now Metamora). Moved to Eureka in 1894. Metamora Court House now a State

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