Alexander County/Illinois Genealogy Trails
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
This picture was contributed by
Harriet Ellene Kuehne. It is the entrance side of the courthouse.
For more pictures of the old courthouse, click here.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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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