Genealogy Trails History Group

Franklin County, Illinois

Benton is the Capitol of Franklin County, founded in 1839 and was named after
Missouri Senator,
Thomas Hart Benton .

It is located in Southern Illinois, 22 miles south of Mount Vernon. Franklin County is rich in
Trade for coal, oil, natural gas , farming, livestock, poultry, and dairy products. It is also
well known for Rend Lake Reservoir with is abundant fishing, hunting, and golf.

Benton Court House

Photos and News Clippings


 Franklin County Court House
Do You Remember--Court House Built Here in 1845
A few days ago Justice of the Peace, George B Shaw, residing at 204 North Eighth
Street, brought a faded picture to this office. Time had just about blotted out
that which the camera had recorded on a post-card size photo.

The picture was taken to Michaels Studio and Mr. Michaels, with modern equipment,
soon brought out the picture, perhaps even better than its original state, and it
was easily identified by the older citizens as the county's third court house and
the second erected in Benton.

Mr. Shaw said the picture was given to him 44 years ago by Uncle Frank Mason, the
county's first abstractor. Mason was 80 years old when he gave it to Shaw.

The first action of the county pertaining to the building of the structure as
pictured above, was taken in March 1842, when it was ordered that a brick court
house be erected in the town of Benton, and that the contract for the building of
the same be awarded to the lowest bidder at the June term of the court in that
year, the plans and specifications to be made prior to that time.

Accordingly the contract for all of the building, except the inside was awarded
to Joseph T Tucker. The building was constructed and the county commissioners at
their December term 1844, examined it and found a deficiency in the roof above the
chimneys, and other deficiencies and there upon retained $100 form the contractor
to cover such deficiencies and accepted the building. They then awarded the
contract for the inside work to other parties. The building was completed in
1854, the whole costing about $3000.

As pictured above, it was a two-story structure about 40 feet square, with the
office of the clerk of county commissioners' court, and the clerk of the circuit
court on the first floor, and the court room on the second. The building was
erected for the contractor by Jarvis Pearce.

There are a large number of residents of Franklin County who remember this building,
as it served the county until 1874, when the present court house was built.

The first court house in Benton was built in 1841 by Augustus Adams at a cost of
$539.50. This court house, which was a small frame building, stood on the public
square until the building of the second court house was commenced, and then moved
to the corner of what is now South Main and West Church streets, or to be more
exact, north opposite the First Baptist Church on a lot now occupied by part of
the Jackson building.

The contract for building the present court house was awarded to John J StClair,
of Benton, for the sum of $23,750, which amount was afterwards raised on account
of certain changes in the plans and specifications to $24,000. He used some of
the material of the second court house in the construction of the new building,
which at that time was described as a substantial and quite ornamental two-story
structure, with halls and stairs. St Clair purchased the second court house (the
one pictured above) for $125.

In studying the above picture it will be observed that the building was encircled
by a plank fence, in one corner there being steps for the accommodation of those
having business at the seat of justice. The fence according to old-timers, served
two purposes. One to hitch to and the other to keep hogs and other livestock off
the grounds around the court house. However, we have the word of one Benton
gentlemen, that the hogs watched the people go over the steps, and soon learned
to do likewise.

Calvin Clark was the first circuit clerk to occupy this building, and it was said
that Clark had two mischievous sons, who one night, armed with hatchets, peeled
the bark off all the trees around the court house, and the following spring nothing
remained but dead timber.

Some noted lawyers of those days practiced at the bar of the above court house.
Among them were Gen John A Logan, John H Mulkey, Walter B Scates, William A Denning,
F M Youngblood, Thomas J Layman Sr, W H Williams, and C C Payne. Mulkey, Scates
and Denning afterwards became justices of the Illinois Supreme Court. A D Duff
was the circuit judge at that time.

One of the most remarkable cases that was ever tried in Franklin county was in the
above court house, wherein an innocent man became in danger upon circumstantial
evidence, of having to suffer the penalty for the crime of murder. It was the case
of the People vs. David Williams. Williams was accused of killing a man named McMahan.

In the early part of 1866, the remains of a human body were found about two miles
southeast of Benton on top of a fallen tree and were supposed to be the remains of
McMahan. A Corner's inquest was held and upon the verdict of the jury, Williams was

Later Williams was tried before Judge Duff. He was prosecuted by T J Layman and
defended by F M Youngblood. The evidence was that the last seen of McMahan, he
was in the company of Williams; that he had several hundred dollars in his poss-
ession and a pocket knife found with the remains was identified as one belonging
to MCMahan. The hair of the murdered man was red, and so was McMahan's and certain
teeth of the dead man were removed, corresponding with the lost teeth of McMahan.
The people through their attorney were making a strong case on circumstantial evidence.

On the second day of the trial when the evidence was nearly closed, and the guilt
of the prisoner fully established in the minds of those who had heard the evidence,
the closing scene of the tragedy was enacted. Just at this critical moment, the
supposed murdered man, McMahan, deliberately, and to the great astonishment of all,
walked into the court room. He was immediately identified by a number of his former
acquaintances, and also by witnesses on whose testimony the case was being made
against the prisoner. This, of course, put an end to all further proceedings against
the prisoner, and he was set free.

A man who knew these parties and who knew of the prosecution of Williams happened
to be at the depot at Tamaroa and saw McMahan among the passengers on an Illinois
Central train. He prevailed upon McMahan to get off and come to Benton to save
the man who was being prosecuted for his murder.

It was not publicly known who the murdered man was, but from certain incidents
which came to light, he was supposed to have been a gambler, who had been killed
by another gambler in an old house on the south side of what is now West Main street.
This house being unoccupied at that time, was a place of resort for gamblers.
It was supposed that some strangers of that profession had congregated there,
and quarreled, one of their number being killed and his body concealed in the
fallen tree.

Pictured above at the left of the court house, is the old Naylor hotel. It was
situated on the lot now occupied by Blough's hardware store.

At the rear of the picture was a string of buildings on the north side of the
square east from North Main street. These buildings were referred to in that day
as "The White Row."


Source: "Benton Evening News" date...possibly printed circa 1939 during a
series of articles written about Franklin County the year before the Benton
Centennial. The "fuzzy" picture accompanying this article is of a square, two
story, brick building, with what appears to be an octagonal cupola in the center
of the roof. There is a four-rail fence surrounding the building, with individual
horses and horse team at the rails. There are other buildings in the background
that surround the court house square.

Submitted by: Sheila Cadwalader

Photos submitted by: Sheila Cadwalader

Benton House Hotel

The Benton Evening News dated 21 February 1938, and includes a picture of a large white frame building with a porch that wraps around the front and side of the building; there is a balcony atop the entire porch. The following story concerning the old Benton House, was prepared by Mrs. Frederick H Wykes, granddaughter of the late John C Swofford, who owned the hotel.

Benton House
We native Bentonites take great pride in our ancestry, some people think it unwise, others think it vanity - but they usually have no ancestors of whom to be proud. The person who does not know who his grandparents were naturally would not care who they were. But we native Bentonites have pride of ancestry because we know both who and what.

As a writer once said, "There are many excellent persons who can go no farther back than papa and mama, who doubtless eat and drink and sleep as well and love as happily as if they could trace an unbroken lineage back to Adam."

Nevertheless, we native Bentonites are proud of our ancestry and expect to remain so to the end, for we believe that the simple story of the struggles , the sacrifices and the triumphs of the men and women - our foreparents - (although we shall never know that story in all its fullness and completeness) is the richest heritage which shall ever come into our possession. If we can pass this story along to the young people of their struggles, their love for country and home we may not fear for the future of our homes not for the destiny of these United States.

Nowhere in Benton was the gracious hospitality of the south inherent in the personalities of the first settlers (who mostly came from the south) evidenced more than by the landlords and their families of "The Benton House", where the Swofford building now stands, to the guests who came for a meal, for a day, and some, who made it their permanent home.

In March, 1844, the commissioners of the county, Carter GREENWOOD, William EUBANKS and Elijah TAYLOR, sold this town lot at auction to Abraham REA for the sum of $255 (on which he built a round log house, 14 by 16 feet, for a grocery store). It bringing the highest bid of any of the townsite lots, which were given by W S AKIN and Elijah T WEBB, because of the fine deep well of water on it. Within three months the lot was sold to William ROGERS, who within six months sold it to James ROGERS and from all data available James ROGERS built "The Benton House" in 1845, as it appears in the picture.

The widow of James ROGERS sold the hotel to B W MARTIN on February 14, 1857, and from this date we have been given many interesting items by the descendants of the owners and landlords of this once famous house. Mrs. W F DILLON, granddaughter of Mr. MARTIN, tells of the visit of Stephen A DOUGLAS to Benton, who was a guest during MARTIN'S tenancy. In November 1858, B W MARTIN transferred the property to Isaac WARD for consideration of $2450, who, with his family lived in the hotel until Mrs. Sarah HOGE purchased it in June 1867, for $3000. This deed having a $3 Civil War revenue stamp. Her husband, Marion HOGE, served as sheriff of the county and while living there, their daughter, Lavicia Jane, was married to one of Benton's former mayors, Sidney B ESPY, grandparents of Judge S M WARD, an attorney of this city.

You note in this instance the Benton House was managed by a landlady instead of a landlord. Mrs. HOGE held the property until November 1868, and then sold it at a profit of $1500 to Lewis H BRITTON, the deed also bearing a war stamp of $4.50. In February 1869, Lewis H BRITTON and his brother, Joshua BRITTON, made a deed to William MOONEYHAM for $4000, including hotel and lots on East Main Street now known as the Pemberton building. These were occupied by a large livery barn, which was a very necessary adjunct to a hotel business. The travel was by horseback and horse drawn vehicles and there had to be a place to feed and rest the teams as well as the traveler.

Major MOONEYHAM and his wife, Sally Ann, made this their home for nine years, during which time many noted guests, including John A LOGAN and wife were entertained. The Major had seven daughters, five of whom were married in the hotel parlor. They were: Sarah Jane to J G BUCHANAN: Louise Ellender to J W TAYLOR; Lucretia Margaret to S FITZGERRELL: Malinda Caroline to Lawrence JONES; and Harriet Emaline to John C SWOFFORD. The eldest daughter, Rebecca Angeline, was married to William R WEBB prior to their removal to the hotel. Two daughters, Almira FITZGERREL and Mrs. SWOFFORD, are still living.

Major MOONEYHAM will be remembered by many as Benton's first centenarian, his 100th natal day being observed December 4, 1919. He was elected Captain of the Franklin County Militia in 1839, taking an oath to refrain from dueling while serving as Captain. He also served two 2 year terms as sheriff of the county, collecting taxes and taking them on horseback to Springfield.

In the phonograph are the Major, his wife and son, Thomas J MOONEYHAM, on the south upper porch, and daughter, Almira, on front upper porch. Below is James BARR, at that time editor of the Benton Standard, Johnnie SPILLMAN, and Emma MOONEYHAM, now Mrs. SWOFFORD.

In 1878, Dr. John S NORMAN, father of Mrs. L C PEMBERTON, bought the property and on June 27, 1879, sold it to John C SWOFFORD. John C SWOFFORD was engaged in business with William WARD and Carroll MOORE and at the time of his death was president of the Exchange Bank of WARD-MOORE and SWOFFORD. Following his death, management to the hotel fell to his widow, Mrs. Emma SWOFFORD. In a few years, Mrs. SWOFFORD remodeled the building, removing the south porch and roof which extended over the porches on the front replacing board walks with brick, removing banisters on the lower porch, which section was reserved for ladies. Ladies in those days did not go into the men's office, the smoke was too dense. A street light lantern on a post was put up at the corner of the square and East Main Street, and the post holding aloft the sign "The Benton House" was taken down and with a new coat of paint on the remodeled building, a new name, "The Arlington Hotel".

Some of the landlords that have been called to mind are John HILL, Tillman McCOLLUM, Malin C TINGLEY, great uncle of Curtis E SMITH, Mr. GRADDY, and John B MOORE, SR, who was elected sheriff in 1888. While he looked after the law and order of the county, his versatile helpmate efficiently took part of landlady.

In the days of the hotel, the meals were announced by the ringing of a bell at the front by a handyman. The parlor was a common meeting ground for the swains and lassies on Sunday afternoons and the office, at all times, was for the businessmen, the town philosophers, the Politicians, and the traveling men. There were no tele-phones, no radios, and for many years no railroads nor hard roads. How welcome were transients, who brought not only to the landlord, but also the townspeople, the news, and when court convened the whole countryside came to town and the hotel office and the ladies' parlor was the common meeting ground.

In 1904 the hotel building was destroyed by fire and was replaced in 1905 by a brick business block..."

Submitted by: Sheila Cadwalader


History of Benton Library

The first Benton Library Association was formed by a group of private citizens on January 24, 1879. A private club, association members met in each other's homes to exchange, read, and discuss books. The Association continued as the only library until February 21, 1916, when Mrs. W. H. Hart, president of the Benton Woman's Club, Mrs. F. H. Wykes, chairman of the Benton Women's Club's Library Committee, and Judge W. H. Hart presented a petition to the City Council to establish a library and reading room in Benton. In May, 1916, the City of Benton passed Ordinance No. 126 which established a Library for the residents of the City.

Almost a year later, the City Council named the first Library Board of Directors: Lucy A. Helm, Mary C. Stotlar, Emma P. Browning, Moses Pulverman, Earl R. Hamilton, F. L. Skinner, E. B. Nolen, J.L. Ohle, and Carl Burkhart. Progress was slow but finally on January 13, 1924, the Board voted to lease rooms 27, 28 and 29 of the Ward Building located on the southeast corner of the Square. In the spring of that year, Miss Helen S. Dickson was employed as the first librarian at a salary of $1,500 a year.

A permanent location for the Library was assured when on December 5, 1929, Andrew S. Cleveland donated his family home and property to the Board, to be used solely as a public library.

The Cleveland home served as the Library until a disastrous fire destroyed it the night of January 9, 1955. Virtually all the contents were destroyed. A temporary library was set up in the ground floor rooms of the Wood Building on the Square.

The current library building was built by E. C. Fraily and Sons at a cost of $37,850 on the site of the Cleveland home. On July 23, 1956, the new building was opened to the public and has been in constant use as the Benton Public Library to the present.

The residents of the Benton Elementary School District Voted to establish the Benton Public Library District in November, 1985. The change from a city library to a district library brought in additional funds for the library. These funds enabled the library to expand their hours in order to meet the needs of the community.

The Library District currently serves the residents of Benton Grade School District #47 and Logan Precinct 3. A branch library is located in the Logan Community Center and is open three days a week. The Benton Library is one of only a handful of public libraries in this region open seven days a week. Many civic organizations and individual citizens have generously supported the library over the years to make it one of the outstanding libraries in the area.

Submitted by: Sheila Cadwalader

Benton Historical Sites

Old Franklin County Jail
209 W. Main St., Benton 

National Registery of Historical Places
 (added Feb. 1, 1999 - Building - #99000111)

Historic Significance:
Area of Significance: Law
Period of Significance: 1900-1924, 1925-1949
Owner: Private
Historic Function: Government
Historic Sub-function: Correctional Facility
Current Function: Recreation And Culture
Current Sub-function: Museum


County Jail

* Jail has been restored to original 1905 condition
* Home of the Franklin Tourism Bureau.
* Civil War Memorbilia, John A. Logan historical items, and local history items.
* Room dedicated to Doug Collins a high school, college, and professional basketball standout , who spent his childhood in the area and lived in the mansion while his father was sheriff. His one-time bedroom has been converted into a room dedicated to his basketball career.
* 17-foot monument to Gen. Logan and the 209 Union Soldiers from Franklin County who died to preserve the nation.
* On April 19, 1928 Benton was the site of the last public hanging in Illinois, when local gangster Charles Birger was executed on the gallows next to the county jail for the December 12, 1926 murder of Joe Adams, mayor of nearby West City, Illinois.
*Memorbilia from Prohibition, gangs, and Charlie Birger in the 1920's.
*A new jail was built in 1991

Franklin County Garage 1910 Museum
 211 N. Main St.
Benton, Illinois

The garage was built in 1910 as Franklin County's first Ford Dealership. The building, which contains about 90% of its original equiptment, has been restored as an automobile showroom and machine shop of that era.
Exhibits currently include:
* 5 Ford Model T automobiles, including a car that belonged to Southern Illinois gangster Charlie Birger. * Among other Birger memorabilia are the handcuffs Birger was wearing when he was hanged April 19, 1928 and a bullet-proof vest that Birger often wore.

Places of Interest

 Public Library  
 502 S. Main   
 Benton, IL 62812

 Benton Evening News
 111 E. Church
 Benton, IL 62918

 Franklin County Hist. Pres. Society 
 PO Box 1641 
 209 W Main St 
 Benton, IL 62812 

 Rend Lake Conservancy District
 POBox 907
 11231 Marcum Branch Rd 
 Benton, IL 62812  

Franklin County Clerk
202 W. Main
Benton, Illinois 62918

Vital Records

Circuit Clerk
Court Records

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Nanette Riley 2007 ©Illinois Genealogy Trails History Group