Alexander County/Illinois Genealogy Trails

Photo contributed by Harriet Ellene Kuehne.  It is the entrance side of the courthouse.  For more pictures of the old courthouse, click here.

Thebes was established in the early 1800s by two Sparhawk brothers traveling up the Mississippi River from New Orleans. They were attracted to the land along the river and a bluff overlooking it. It was first known as Sparhawk Landing. The settlement was patented to Franklin G. Hughes and Joseph Chandler October 15, 1835. It was platted March 2, 1846. Since 1832 this region of Southern Illinois was known as "Little Egypt." A crop failure in central Illinois prompted farmers to come to "Little Egypt" for grain. Just like in the Bible. Some of the early settlers included: Dr. H. C. Barkhausen, William Bracken, Martha Bracken, Martin Brown, William Brown, Thomas Brown, A. Corzine, O. G. Ford, Dr. J.A.M. Gibbs, Levi L. Lightner, Jacob Light and many others.

Thebes was the county seat of Alexander County from 1846-1859. In 1848 a two-story sandstone courthouse was built at a cost of $4,400. It sits atop a bluff, commanding a sweeping view of the Mississippi River. The architect was H. A. Barkhausen. Abraham Lincoln visited the courthouse when he was a frontier lawyer. Fugitive slave Dred Scott reportedly was imprisoned in the courthouse dungeon. Judge L. L. Lightner was the first judge to officiate in the courthouse. In pre-Civil War days, lawyer John Logan, regularly argued cases in the courthouse. He later become a Civil War hero, U. S. Congressman, senator and vice-presidential nominee. This historical courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places.

--Source: HISTORY OF ALEXANDER, UNION AND PULASKI COUNTIES, ILLINOIS, edited by William Henry Perrin, ©1883, Chicago: O. L. Baskin & Co., Historical Publisher, 183 Lake St.

The first store in Thebes was opened by J. H. Oberley, who had for a partner afterward, John Hodges, the father of the present Sheriff of the county (1883). The first baby born in Thebes was Adaline Barkhausen, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Barkhausen and now wife of Henry A. Planer (1883). The first marriage was Judge Lightner, the first county judge, and Mrs. Susan E. Wilkerson.

Thebes was founded in 1846.  It was named after Thebes, Egypt.  It is located in the South half of Section 3, Township 15 South, Range 3 West.  Coordinates:  37º13'9"N 89º27'25"W.  Thebes was built along the Mississippi River.  The Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad came in 1899.  The Missouri Pacific Railroad went through Thebes in 1902 and the Cotton Belt Railroad came later.  The Cairo & Thebes Railroad began acquiring property for a road to connect the two towns in 1906.  Thebes was the original site of a riverboat landing called Sparhawk's Landing.  It was the county seat of Alexander County from 1845 to 1860.  The courthouse still stands in Thebes as a museum.  John H. Oberley opened the first store there.  A steam-powered flouring mill was opened in 1875 by Martin and William Brown and William Slosson started a sawmill nearby.  The town still exists.  
--Researched by Danielle Carthell 
for the Illinois History Class of Egyptian High School, 2013; submitted by History teacher, Darrel Dexter.

Old Courthouses

Transcribed and submitted by Darrel Dexter 

(Jonesboro Gazette, Jonesboro, Illinois, May 1904)

    There are perhaps very few of the rising generation in Cairo who know that there was ever any county seat of Alexander county other than Cairo, says the Cairo Bulletin.  Visitors to Thebes may have noticed standing on a hill near the roadside an old building which is occupied as a boarding or tenement house.  This building has occupied this same spot for the past fifty years or more and until the year 1859 was used as a court house for the county of Alexander.  It stands on a hill overlooking the Mississippi river and for a number of years the residents of Cairo were compelled to go to Thebes, a distance of twenty-six miles, to attend court.  After its abandonment as a temple of justice, it was altered and used as a Baptist church.  Since that time it has again been sold and is now doing service as a boarding house.
    Thebes is not the only town, however, that can boast of having once been the county seat of Alexander County.  In 1833 Unity was made the county seat and court was held there until the removal to Thebes.  Previous to the removal of the court house from Unity, the territory now comprising Alexander and Pulaski counties was one county and was known as Alexander County.  The first county seat of this territory was America, where a brick court house and jail were built in 1820.
    Several pictures have been taken of the old Thebes court house as it now stands and many older Cairo residents will remember when they went there to attend court, with Judge M.C.Crawford of Jonesboro presiding.

Sketches of an Illinois River Town

By Lowell A. Dearinger
Excerpts from an article in OUTDOOR ILLINOIS Magazine, January 1972, pgs 8-18.

    Early in the 1800's George Sparhawk shipped yellow poplar (Tulip tree) from the site of Thebes to New Orleans.  The demand for this wood was good, yellow poplar being termite-proof.  A few families from New Orleans settled at the steamboat landing, the men being employed by George Sparhawk.  This small community became known as Sparhawk's Landing.  
    In 1843, Sparhawk's Landing was renamed Thebes.  And in 1844, Thebes townsite was laid out.  In February or March, 1845--sources differ--the county board decided to move the county seat to Thebes.  Land for financing the building of the courthouse had been donated by George and Martha Sparhawk.  
    According to his descendants, Henry Barkhausen was the King's Architect in his native Prussia.  He came to America in 1835.  A year or two later he settled on a farm near Thebes.  He operated a woodyard and a ferry across the Mississippi to Missouri.
    In 1845 Henry Ernst Barkhausen is supposed to have been awarded the contract for designing and supervising the erection of the Thebes court house.  The builder's contract dated December 17, was with Ernst Barkhausen.  Construction consideration was $4,400.
    Local materials were used extensively in the construction.  The stone was taken from the "public square."  Stucco was applied over the stone.  Local trees were felled and were hand-hewn and whipsawed by local labor.  Mortar and plaster were made locally.  Construction was completed in 1848.
    The court house is located on the bluff above the town.  The court room is on the upper level, as is a porch which commands a view of the Mississippi rarely equalled along the river.  Offices and dungeon-like cells are on the first floor.  When new, the gables, the porch, the supporting columns and the stuccoed walls all were painted white.  This neo-Grecian temple of justice must have been an impressive sight from passing steamboats, standing out in contrast as it did to the endless forest border along the Mississippi.  
    After the county seat was moved to Cairo in 1860, the court house was for a time used as a public hall.  It then was sold to the Baptists.  It now is owned by the Thebes Historical Society, which maintains there a public library, a historical museum, and a gift shop.
    An important event in Thebes' history was the building of the Missouri Pacific railroad bridge across the Mississippi.  Ground was broken July 8, 1902.  the first train passed over the bridge April 18, 1905.  The bridge is of steel, double track, with five spans.  The cantilever (channel) span is 671 feet long.  Each of the other spans is 521 feet in length.  The total length of the bridge, including the concrete approach arches, is 3,910 feet.
    Nine hundred and forty-five thousand cubic feet of concrete were used in the construction of the bridge.  Of steel, 27 million pounds were used.  To haul this in one delivery would require two trains, each consisting of 135 fifty-ton cars.  It is the only railroad bridge across the Mississippi between St. Louis and Memphis, a distance of some 400 miles.
    During construction of the bridge Thebes experienced a vicious race riot.  One man was hung by a mob, others were thrown into the river.  In one melee, 1,000 shots were fired.  Thebes had eight saloons at the time.  During the latter years of prohibition there was much to do in Thebes over the drinking question.  Some of the women declared that the town needed cleaning up, claiming 16 speak-easies.  Holly C. Marchildon, mayor at the time, claimed there were none.
Mrs. Roy Gammon, wife of the Kleagle of the local Ku-Klux Klan, ran for mayor.  Three sister citizens ran for the town board. It was a hotly contested election.  A cross was burned at the Marchildon home.  The women won.  By the time for the next election the town treasury was empty.  The voters became disillusioned with the female administration, claiming mis-management.  The women ran again, but the opposition decided that they literally should return to their kitchens, and otherwise tend to their knitting.  And so ended that Women's Lib movement in Thebes.
    Maps of Alexander County show five areas of early land grants.  There is evidence that these could have been Spanish grants.  Behind these grants is a story of international intrigue, plots, county-plots, and obvious treasonable actions against the United States by men high in the public esteem.  Spain seems to have been the chief instigator.  During this hectic period, according to a family source, an American, Daniel Flannery, served as a spy for the Spanish Government.  He was paid in cash for his work.  In addition, the Spaniards granted Flannery the right "to locate a quantity of land equal to an area four leagues in length, and a third of a league in width, anywhere in the Spanish possessions not within one mile of Fort Massac.  There is no record of any claim made by Daniel Flannery, but there are claims of 400 acres each made by Thomas, Joshua, and Abraham Flannery, who may have been heirs to the Daniel Flannery grant.
    The 1,200 acres of the Flannery grant are located in Alexander County, in the Thebes-Fayville area.  Title to this land was contested, but "By means of certified records in addition to oral statements a perfect title to this land was established in the heirs at law."
    In the same area claims of 400 acres each were allowed to John McElmurry, Jr., and Joseph Standlee.  These grants supposedly were Spanish.  The first settlement in the land grant area was known as McElmurry's Station.  Later it became Santa Fe.  The present name is Fayville.  
--This article was donated by Joy Varner.

--In the 2000 Census the population of Thebes was 478.

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