Illinois Genealogy Trails History Group

Clark County Illinois
Genealogy and History


Chapter 22


The History of Crawford and Clark County
W. H. Perrin, O. L. Baskin & Co., 1883



" Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plain."

IN the center of Clark County, as near as may be, lies the township of Auburn, resembling on the map of the county, the ornamental piece which ambitious young ladies place in the center of their first patchwork counterpane. Its history as a separate organization dates from the year 1859, when it came into being as a political afterthought. Its territory comprises sixteen sections,which were contributed to its formation by the townships of Marshall, Anderson, Martinsville and Dolson, the two latter townships contributing the larger portion. The object of this "gerrymander" it is difficult to ascertain. It is said that an influential gentleman in the county desired to be elected justice of the peace, and that in the event of a new township constructed on this plan, his jurisdiction could be exercised with convenience to himself as well as satisfaction to the community, and so, on this theory, the new political factor was built up around the village of Auburn, the name of which it shares.

Its physical features are not especially marked. The eastern part is considerably broken, well timbered, and drained by Mill Creek which passes through the northeastern part of its territory. Other small streams vary the configuration of the surface, flow into the south or southeast and finding an outlet into other streams in other parts of the county. The soil is a light clay, which furnishes the chief material resource of the citizens here, who are devoted to agricultural pursuits.

Its settlement had few marked characteristics, and though the community brought together by its modern limits had hitherto looked to different centers of influence, their allegiance was easily transferred to the new center established, and so far as township affiliations are concerned the community of Auburn is as homogeneous as that of any political division in the county. Its settlement, owing to its central position, was rather later than many other points. Until the National Road made it a point of attraction there was little to invite the pioneer. Land was plenty and good as in other parts of the county and the lines of business activity rather led elsewhere. The agitation in regard to the final removal of the county seat, however, aroused an interest in its central location, and its evident fitness on that account as the site for a seat of justice, and this, perhaps, more than any other reason, determined its first settlement. Jonathan Rathbone, a shrewd Yankee, from one of the New England States, entered land here and came in l833, largely with a view of speculating on the event of a change in the county seat. He erected a cabin on the site of the present school building in Auburn village and lived here until his death in 1839. He was followed in the following year by Ralph Haskett, a native of New York, who built a cabin on the west fork of Mill Creek, on the National Road, and lived here eight years. Orendorff an industrious German, came in 1835, from New York, improved a good farm but attracted by the California excitement sold his place to Robert Downs in 1830, and sought his fortune in the goldfields.

The National Road was at this time one of the principal routes to the West. It was very much the custom for emigrants to travel with eyes open to any eligible site and ready to come to a permanent halt wherever the country promised the best advantages. Notwithstanding the natural competition of Marshall which had been recently founded, and the energy of its proprietor, Auburn profited by these circumstances to a considerable extent. Among the settlers thus attracted was .John Fredenberger, who came here almost direct from Germany. In his company was his father, Peter, who was a very old man and subsequently died full of years at the age of one hundred years. The family, noted for their thrift and industry, improved a good farm adjoining the Orendorff place. Adam Weaver was another accession of this year and settled where Fredenberger now lives. A few years later he entered land at another point. Samuel Williams, a native of Kentucky, was also a settler about this time, and reared his cabin on the National Road near the village. He subsequently moved into Auburn and kept hotel. About this time, or perhaps a little later, William and Zachariah Shields came here in wagons from Kentucky. They settled near the main road west of the village, but both moved again further west, William selling to J. Flood in 1850. In 1850, three Davis brothers came to the township. Oliver and Hayward entered land in the eastern part in partnership. Allan bought land in the same locality but subsequently sold to his brothers about 1840, and died a little later in Iowa, whither he had removed. The others soon afterward left the county. They are remembered as boisterous, muscular men, always ready to participate in a row which was not an frequent occurrence. William Duckwall of Kentucky, entered land here about 1840,and settled where Nicholas Hurst now lives. Duckwall was a man of good intelligence, a blacksmith by trade but skilled as a physician, and earnest as a Methodist preacher. He served in this triple capacity for some years when he sold to Mr. Hurst James, his brother, settled near him about the same time.

Nicholas Hurst, though not an early settler in Auburn in point of time, was a prominent and influential citizen, and left his impress upon the destiny of the township. A native of Kentucky, he first came to Douglas Township, and later to Auburn. He early figured prominently in county politics, serving four years as associate judge; as county treasurer four years; as sheriff one term, and as justice of the peace fourteen years. To him is due the peculiar organization of the township, which, at the late day in which it was accomplished, indicates the possession of considerable influence or a general belief in the wisdom of the change. He still survives to enjoy his success, and is popularly called the " Emperor of Auburn," though there is little about him to suggest royalty, unless a wooden cane with a carved serpent twined about it may so distinguish him. Archibald Starks, a native of Kentucky, was another man of some note in the township. He entered 840 acres in the southwest corner, and by his untiring energy kept success always within his reach. His silk hat was the pioneer of its kind in this community, and the man and that were seldom seen separated. He subsequently became involved in a law suit with Hitlebert and sustained some very heavy losses.

There was very little of the romance of pioneer life in the community here. Life had its inconveniences, its privations, its urgent demand for toilsome achievement, but it lacked that last degree of exaction in all these requirements that gives to isolated frontier experience a touch of heroism. There were no mills at first in the township. The streams were small and uncertain, and the near location of other mills discouraged any of these cheap attempts that are so valuable an addition to an isolated settlement. About 1842, however, Laban Record erected a horse mill east of the village, which was literally patronized for a number of years. After running it some eight years the mill was sold to Stephen Oxendine, who operated about the same length of time, when it was abandoned. It was a rude affair, and the old buhrs still do service as a well top on Mrs. Gilbert's place. A steam mill was subsequently erected in the village with a frame building and somewhat more modern appliances.

Of the early experiences in Auburn, there is little to be said. There was nothing to individualize the community. The people lived in log cabins, wore home-made clothing, subsisted upon game and the products of the soil, and indulged in the recreations common to the rest of the county. The community was peculiar in one respect, however. The early settlers had great expectations for the village which utterly failed, and with this failure went the prospect of the town. The village was platted by O. B. Ficklin, Demas Ward and Jonathan N. Rathbone, and located on the west half of section 31, in what was a part of Marshall Township. It consisted of twenty-seven squares, through which the Cumberland road passed as Main street. Block thirteen, fronting Main street from the north, was reserved for the use of the county buildings, but in the event of some other site being chosen for the county seat, it was provided that this square should be used as a public ground. The contest for the location of the seat of justice was sharp between Marshall and Auburn. Whisky was a potent factor in every phase of life, and it played a prominent part in this contest. Every form of amusement that could be devised was used to call the voters together and entertainment the most lavish that the times would afford was freely furnished. While Auburn had the advantage of central location and pleasant surroundings, Marshall had the heaviest vote. This defeat ruined the prospect of the village.

This first show of village growth was a wayside inn, by R. B. McCowen, about 1836. He was an emigrant from Kentucky in 1834, but in the latter year he entered land near the site of the village, erected a hewed log house and hung out a sign on which a deer was painted. There was considerable travel on the road, and the old " Buck Tavern," as it was called, did a good business. McCowen was a man who looked upon his own achievements with great complacency; was something of a horse jockey and politician. About the same time John Burks, a Kentuckian by birth, put up a blacksmith shop just west of the village site. He subsequently moved to York Township. On the laying out of the village Samuel Williams moved on to the plat put up a cabin and opened it for public entertainment. It became the stage hotel and for some ten years did a thriving business. A second tavern was started by George Baker and was maintained for a number of years. These were the pioneers of the village business, which had but little following. A store was early opened in a log cabin near the central part of the village by John Salmon, where a few groceries and dry goods and a good deal of whisky was sold. This store was noted as a rendezvous of rather rough characters. A second store of much better character was kept by James Booth, and several others have since had little mercantile ventures here. The village is now marked by a store, two blacksmith shops, a wagon shop and a dozen houses.

The first school was held in a little cabin west of the village, and taught by Robert Rankin, who came from Kentucky about 1838. He was an illiterate man, addicted to gambling, and ruled his school by main strength. When subsequently elected constable, he proved one of the best collectors in the county, a man without fear, and successful in the most difficult cases of arrest. It is said on one occasion he was given a warrant to arrest a man who lived on the east side of the county, his house being, in fact, on the Indiana side of the line. He had been over to the man's residence several times, but found no opportunity of catching him within his jurisdiction. Rankin had gone out on another occasion, but the man, suspecting the constable's errand, refused to be drawn over the fatal line in a heedless moment, and so the former resorted to a ruse which proved successful. After talking upon indifferent subjects for a time he rode over to the Illinois side of the line, and suddenly feigned to fall from his horse, at the same time giving an outcry for assistance. The whole maneuver was so cleverly performed that it threw the observer entirely off his caution, and the man ran to the constable's assistance only to realize it was a ruse when Rankin seized him and read a warrant for his arrest.

Another early teacher was an old man by the name of Kennedy, who, though quite an old man, was very strong, and acted upon the theory that whipping was the main part of school teaching. Samuel Lowry was one of the early teachers also.

The first frame building was built near the central part of the village, about 1846, by Thomas Leise. Since then the township has been divided into four districts, each of which is provided with a frame building.

The first effort to introduce Christian worship in this township was met with no more encouragement here than elsewhere in the county. The people were rather given to the excessive use of whisky, gambling and horse racing, which did not prepare them to accept religious services in a decorous way. There were among the settlers notable exceptions to this general rule, but their number was too small to protect traveling ministers from the rude jests and gibes of the crowd. The first religious services in the township were held at the cabin of Samuel Williams, by Rev. Chas. Doyle, an Irishman, but protestant and a Methodist. He was a loud-voiced speaker and accompanied his sermons with the most violent gestures. This was a novel entertainment and of a character to draw out the majority' in the settlement. On one occasion some of the " boys" intending to embarrass the speaker, placed a pack of well used cards in his hat. After his sermon, on taking up his hat the cards fell out before the audience, and without the least hesitation or embarrassment, he said: " If the brother who owns this property will come forward he may have it again." Rev. Mr. Witherspoon was an early itinerant of the Protestant Methodist denomination, who held religious services in the private houses here. In 184;i he organized a society which flourished for several years, holding its meetings in the houses of the members. The society never erected a house of its own, and gradually passed out of existence.

About 1850 Rev. Robert Carson organized a Missionary Baptist church at the village of Auburn. There were about twenty-five members, and very soon after organization the society set about erecting a place of worship. It was not completed by the church, however. The project halted and finally fell through entirely. It is now finished and used as a stable. After some years of existence it was merged into the Bethel church.

In 1851 Elder Gilbert moved from Ohio to Auburn. He was a Missionary Baptist preacher, and finding there was no church of his denomination nearer than ten miles he determined to organize one in the township. In the following June, those interested in the movement met in a school-house and effected an organization, with the following members: Elder Gilbert and wife, Eleeta Norris, Sarah Wright, Willis Gilbert, William Beabout, Sr. and wife, Celia McCune and Eunice Gilbert. Soon after this organization. Revs. Fuson, J. Riley and H. Humphrey met with the society and formally recognized it as a church, in regular standing. In 1860 a new log school-house, about two miles northwest of Auburn was erected and the little church held its services there until 1873, when a frame building, 30 by 40 feet was erected on the National Road, two miles west of Auburn and three miles east of Martinsville, at a cost of about a thousand dollars. Elder Gilbert preached for the church about fifteen years without pay, and was succeeded by Revs. R. O. Hawkins, Bridgman, J. Bratton, A. Jones, and R. Wiley, the present pastor. The church is out of debt, numbers about eighty-six members, and holds services about once a month. A Sunday school was maintained from the first nearly every summer. In 1880 the school was reorganized and since has been regularly maintained, using the regular quarterly lesson helps, and having an attendance of about sixty-two scholars.

The "Christian" denomination organized a society in Auburn, in 1863, and met at the school-house for a year or two under the ministrations of Elder Thomas Good, but it since has died out.

Transcribed by Barbara Z.

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