Genealogy and History
Mount Pulaski, Illinois
Prior to the year 1836, the summit of the hill on which the old court-house stands, was for many generations the home of the prairie wolf. Here this primitive inhabitant of the Western prairie could find a dry, sandy home. The early settlers found it had been well improved by these animals, and for some time after the settlement of the country, sand, thrown up by the wolves, could be had in abundance.
Some of the earliest settlements in the county were made along Salt Creek, on the north of Pulaski, and Lake Fork on the west. The physician who sometimes practiced here was Dr. Alexander Shields, who then resided in Springfield. In the early part of 1836, during one of his visits to his patients in these settlements, he was struck with the great natural beauty and advantages of an elevated portion between these two creeks, and on his return to Springfield spoke enthusiastically of the location to Jabez Capps, then a merchant in Springfield, and an extensive owner of real estate there, then not held at a very high figure. If the reader will turn to his biography in the directory of Pulaski Township, many interesting incidents will be found connected with his life in the present State Capital. He was not then progressing as he desired in business, and was thinking of removing to some other locality and laying the foundation for a new town. Dr. Barton Robinson, who was in an adjoining room, heard the conversation passing between Dr. Shields and Mr. Capps, and became at once interested. Dr. Robinson became one of the most prominent men in this part of the county. He was well educated, and was an excellent physician and a very public-spirited man. He was born May 19, 1819, in New Malton, Yorkshire, England. He studied medicine in London, where he graduated. He came to America and joined his brother, James T., at Buffalo Hart Grove, Sangamon County, in December, 1831. He was married in this county in May, 1833, to Mahala Barber. In 1836, he went to Mt. Pulaski, and was always most prominently connected with the town. Here he practiced medicine many years, and was widely known. In 1858 he removed to near Farlinville, Linn County, Kansas, where he yet resides. His family consists of four sons, all living near him. Soon after a company, consisting of Mr. Capps, Dr. Robinson, and G. W. Turley, was formed, and in August these persons with Thomas Skinner, a surveyor, came to the present site of Mt. Pulaski and laid out a town. The company had, a few months before this, entered considerable land here, and made one of their number agent. After completing the survey, the party returned to Springfield. Mr. Capps made arrangements with Jerry Burks, a settler on Lake Fork, to remove a cabin he had previously built there to the west side of what was laid out for a public square. It was moved there, and placed on the spot of ground now occupied by the Post Office. Mr. Capps' wife had died early in the spring preceding these movements, leaving him with three small boys. He married on his return from the survey, and on the morning after his wedding started with his family for their new home. He put into his wagon some necessary furniture, some provisions, and a few goods, and with these followed the road leading to the Lake Fork settlement. From this settlement to the Mound was only a trail, which, instead of leading to its top, passed by the base on to Salt Creek. Following this, the family soon came to their new habitation, which they found moved and set up. Placing the family in this, the upper story of which they occupied, Mr. Capps returned to Springfield for other necessaries of life and additional goods. After making a few trips, he had a well-selected stock of a miscellaneous assortment of merchandise suitable for a pioneer store, embracing every article from a nail to a barrel of sugar.
Trade soon began to come to the enterprising pioneer. People from where Clinton is now situated, to the site of Decatur made this point one to purchase common household necessities. Those, who could not pay in money, brought peltry of various kinds, which Mr. Capps took to Springfield and exchanged for goods. He made nearly all purchases for several years in St. Louis. His goods were shipped up the Mississippi to the Illinois River, thence up that stream to Pekin, where he received them into his wagon, and hauled them across the country home. His route lay through Postville, then containing only a house or two. It was, however, quite a point, as the stages coming from Chicago to St. Louis, and from Peoria down would often meet there. The "tavern" on Sugar Creek was kept by William ("Pap") Ryan, as he was always known. He was a rather eccentric, but excellent, Christian man, and faithfully observed evening prayers, to which he would always invite any travelers who chanced to be stopping with him. On a certain evening, while conducting this service, a rather amusing incident occurred. For a light he used a "dip," being nothing less than a kettle-lid inverted, the hollow filled with tallow and a cotton rag placed therein, one end of which projected slightly over the edge of the lid, and being lighted made a good substitute for a lamp or candle. While at prayer, one of the travelers, a rather wild fellow, by some means got one of his hands in this dish, and pulling the rag wick into it, set it all ablaze, and severely burned his hand. Forgetting where he was, and being frightened by the sudden pain, he very emphatically exclaimed, "Gosh! darn the thing!" "Amen!" said Ryan, at that instant closing his prayer. For many days after, the two expressions were common by-words among the amused travelers.
During Mr. Capps' first two years of life at the Mound, he and the adjacent settlers often drove their hogs to Pekin, where they were slaughtered, and the pork shipped to St. Louis by the rivers. Occasionally he would exchange goods for dressed pork, which he hauled to the same place, and then shipped to the same market.
At the expiration of nearly two years he was joined by three young men, Andrew Danner, a blacksmith, a Mr. Miles and Horace Roe, carpenters. All these boarded with Mr. Capps, and worked at their respective trades. Christian Danner, a brother of Andrew, came soon after with a family. These persons were from Pittsburg, and had probably come to St. Louis by water, and there hearing of some of the interior Illinois settlements, and their great desirability as homes, finally found their way to Mr. Capps' new town. Thus far it had received no name. In deciding upon one, the few residents, loyal to their country, chose that of Pulaski, (The hero from whom the town takes its name, was the son of a Polish nobleman. He was born In Lithuania, March 4, 1747. He warmly espoused the freemen's cause in his own land, and was in danger of his life thereby. Coming to America, be offered his services to Washington as a private soldier, but rapidly rose to distinction and to the grade of a general. He led a force of soldiers against the enemy at Savannah, where, on the 11th of October, 1779 he received a mortal wound. He was taken on board a vessel in the river, but expired in a few hours. He was buried in the Savannah River, and in after years the citizens of Georgia raised a monument at Savannah to perpetuate his memory.) and the place heretofore being called, from its location, the Mound, easily came to be called its present name. The situation is, indeed enchantingly beautiful. At the date of which we are writing, the scene must have been beyond description. The wildness of the prairie bounded on the north and west by the Salt Creek and Lake Fork timber, and on the east and south by an extended plain, whose boundary was beyond the vision, covered with the wild, rolling prairie grass, is a scene yet vividly impressed on the minds of these pioneers, and one on which they love to linger.
Christian Danner built a frame house soon after his arrival, it being the second in the place. Mr. Capps had erected one about a year and a half after his arrival, the upper story being used for a dwelling, the lower for a store. The carpenters found work enough among the surrounding settlers. The two named were soon joined by Willis Roe, who afterward lost his life by the fall of a beam in a building in which he was working. The blacksmiths set up a small shop immediately on their arrival, in which they sharpened hoes and plow-points, and made other instruments used by the frontier settlers. The plows then had only a wooden mould-board, and attached to the plow-point was an iron shoe, in which a socket was made for the insertion of the wooden plow-point. The corn was generally cultivated with the hoe and a single corn-plow.
No sooner had these families located here, than ministers of the gospel came to visit them. Even when Mr. Capps was the only resident on the "point," some stopped with him over night when on their way from one settlement to another. Prominent among these was "Father Bowles," as he was called, of the Christian Church. In 1840 or '41, Dr. John Clark located in the village, on the lot his family yet occupy. His was the fourth or fifth family in the place, while he was the first resident physician. The second physician was Dr. A. C. Dement.
The second store was built by Benjamin Davis, which stood near the corner of the square, on the ground now occupied by Mr. Scroggins' new hotel. This store was in all respects like its predecessor, and contained every article demanded by the settlers. Jefferson Scroggins built a house about this time, in which he accommodated travelers. It stood about where Fred Groesbent lives. Frank Schick, a German, was among the earliest residents in Mt. Pulaski, and afterward one of her most enterprising citizens. Soon after coming, he worked for Mr. Capps in his garden for fifty cents per day. Next he tried making shoes, and being the first, and for some time the only shoemaker in the village, soon built up a good trade. His shoes at first were more noticeable for strength than elegance; but people's t tastes were at that time not so difficult to satisfy as now. The "wear and tear" of the article was more considered than the appearance. The only tannery in the vicinity was at Carter Scroggins' - a "trough" tannery. The location of the persons and industries mentioned had given the frontier village quite a business appearance, and made it a good trading place. In 1846 the third store was built by Thos. Lushbaugh. Comfortable frame houses were being erected, and the comforts and luxuries of life were beginning to appear. In 1844 a frame school-house was built, and school regularly held therein. The Methodists held weekly services in Dr. Clark's house, and at Nicholas Moore's, a few miles north. The first brick house was built by Alexander Morgan, and used as a hotel. As such it is yet occupied. Mr. Brewer Bunn, now a prominent lawyer in Decatur, carried brick and mortar as a day laborer during its erection. The first brick business block was built by Dr. Robinson, referred to. It is now torn away. A brick house was not long after built by Mr. Zimmerman, also one by Mr. Craig.
At the organization of the county in 1839, the seat of justice had been placed at Postville, nearly he center of the county. Then the county's limits were not the same as now-portions of Tazewell and DeWitt having since been added - and, as has been noted in the history of the county, a division of Logan was anticipated. In 1848, the county seat was, by a vote of the people, removed to Mt. Pulaski, with the hope that a new county would be formed from the southern part of Logan. At that time Mt. Pulaski had increased to a prosperous village of three hundred-inhabitants, and was enjoying an excellent trade. The town by subscription raised $2,700; the county gave $300, and a comfortable courthouse, two stories in height above the basement, was built on the public square. It faced the west, and was ready for occupancy soon after the location of the seat of justice was fixed. The village had been incorporated in 1852; but this, by some means, was after a few years not recognized. The next year after the erection of the court-house, the incorporation was revived, and kept in active existence until 1872, when it was re-incorporated under the general law for the incorporation of towns. By some means the boundaries to the town had never been stated, and any suit brought by the village would not stand in court. After a few years the citizens saw this would not do, as criminals would always go free on an appeal to the county courts. In 1876, Mr. M. Wemple and others circulated a petition to the County Judge asking for an election to settle the definite boundaries of the town. This object was obtained, and under the amended incorporation, the town is yet governed.
With the advent of the court-house, a remarkably rapid growth of the town began. In ten years the increase of population was over one hundred per cent. New stores and comfortable dwellings were rapidly built, and several new industries came quickly into existence. A jail was completed shortly after the court-house was built. It was constructed of brick, and was made two stories in height. The windows were covered with, iron grating. This jail contained criminal and debtors' cells, and, though considered an improvement on the old log jail at Postville, could hardly be recognized as equal to it in safety. The contractor received $1,000 for its erection, and, from the present appearance of the jail, must have cleared considerable money. When the county seat was removed to Lincoln, in 1856, this jail passed into the hands of the town trustees, by whom it is yet used as a lock-up.
In 1850, the Methodists erected their church - the first in town. Two years after, the First German Evangelical Lutherans erected their first house of worship.
The industries of the town were the ordinary blacksmith and wagon shops, carpenter shops, and a small mill. Prior to the opening of the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis railroad, in 1853, mail was brought from Springfield, or from the stages on their route from Chicago and Peoria to St. Louis. When this railroad was completed, a stage made regular trips to Postville, or Lincoln, which was then just coming into existence. At every session of court, lawyers from Springfield and Peoria were in attendance, and during that time the town presented an animated appearance. Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, David Davis, and others since famous in state and national history, were often seen in attendance at the Mt. Pulaski courts. The gentlemen named generally stopped with Jabez Capps while in town, he being an old friend and neighbor of Mr. Lincoln's, at Springfield.
On the adoption of the new state constitution, in 1848, all hope of a division of Logan County was lost. Ere long, people living in the north part of the county began to complain of the long distance they were compelled to go to court, and a more central location was demanded. Colby Knapp was in the legislature at the time, and succeeded in passing a bill allowing the residents of the county to vote on a re-location of the seat of justice. This was in the session of 1852-3. The bill authorized the people to vote upon the question, but contained certain provisions relating to the removal of the county offices and county records, stipulating that they should remain in Mt. Pulaski until the completion of the new court-house. This was not ready until late in December, 1855, at which time the change was made.
This was a severe blow to Mt. Pulaski. During the next four years the population, fully six hundred in number, increased only fifty-three. The lawyers removed to Lincoln, and that town began to partake of the early prosperity of Mt. Pulaski. Its founders were men of energy, money and enterprise, and made vigorous efforts for the advancement of their town. They had the advantage of a direct railroad between the two largest cities in the West, and were not slow to improve their opportunities.
From the removal of the seat of justice, the growth of Mt. Pulaski was marked by no important events. It has been slow and sure, and since the completion of the railroads, crossing here, has been rather rapid. On the east and south sides of the public square, and on the west side of the street leading south from the southwest corner, good brick business blocks have been built. On the southwest corner of the square, Mr. L. K. Scroggins, a prominent farmer and banker, is erecting a large brick block, the lower story of which will contain three store rooms and a bank, while the upper stories will be fitted for hotel purposes.
In the summer of 1863, Mr. S. C. Beam erected his flouring mill and elevator. After the completion of the railroads to this point, in 1871, Mr. C. R. Capps built a second mill, at an expense of $12,000. In 1875, he sold it to the present owner, Thos. Billington. The same year this latter mill was built, L. D. Dana, of Elkhart, and J. W. Ewing erected the elevator now operated by McFarland, Maston & Co., who purchased it in 1873. The building of these mills and the elevator greatly increased the trade of the town in grain, while the railroads brought a corresponding increase in the stock trade. L. K. Scroggins and W. P. Sawyer opened a bank, in 1872, which has maintained a good exchange business. A small plow manufactory, several shops of various descriptions, three hotels, and twelve or fifteen stores, with an equal number of various tradesmen, complete the list of business commodities in Mt. Pulaski. Situated, as it is, upon a high plateau of ground, thereby keeping dry all times in the year, and having two railroads, there only remains the energy of its citizens to secure a large and flourishing town. The population is now nearly two thousand.
Mt. Pulaski contains seven organized churches.
Quite a number of societies of various kinds exist here, all possessing a large membership.
The two railroads crossing here, were built in the fall of 1871, and each ran a construction train to the town within an hour of the same time. The Gilman, Clinton & Springfield Road furnishes a route to Chicago and eastern markets, as well as to the West, through Springfield, while the Pekin, Lincoln & Decatur furnishes means of transportation to northern and southern markets.
[History of Logan County, Illinois, 1878; by cddd]
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