HISTORY OF BARR, ILLINOIS, MACOUPIN COUNTY
By Velma Sonneborn - Taken from the "The Story of Macoupin County 1829-1979"
The township was once a vast wilderness. There were no roads and no bridges. In the spring of the year and winter season when the creeks were not frozen, the pioneers had to ford the streams and often the water was swimming depth. In those days the pioneers experienced much more cold weather. One winter on December 20, 1837, a severe storm came up in the afternoon. It had been remarkably cold for some time, but late in the afternoon it suddenly turned very cold. The wind preceded the cold by only a few moments and before the geese could get out of the pond, They actually froze fast in the ice and perished. The men rushed to shelter as fast as they could when they heard the noise and came near freezing before they arrived at the house. One pioneer was out in the field with a team and heard the wind’s noise. He whipped up as fast as he could; but before he could lay up a low fence where he had driven through and drive half a mile, he thought he would freeze stiff.
Hogs froze to death in a few moments. Many droves of hogs were being taken to the Alton Market, and a large number froze on the road. Andrew Heredith, and his men were driving 1500 head of hogs to market from Sangamon County. When they were seven miles south of Scottville, they encountered the storm heralded by a heavy black cloud and a terrific wind which transformed a slow rain into sleet, hail and snow. The temperature dropped many degrees below zero within a few seconds. The men sought shelter and survived but the animals perished.
Mr. Joseph Elliott, a squatter, was the first white inhabitant of Barr township. He settled on section 21 in the year 1828 or 1829, and built a log cabin and cultivated some land--improvements which he sold to William Handlin in 1830.
John Markham settled here in 1830, and George O. Solomon came in 1834. A Mr. Kennedy, Silas Drum, and the Wiggins came in 1835. Benjamin and Hugh Barr, in honor of whom Barr Township is named, James B. Steidly, Hampton Bates, William Taggert, Thomas Coddle, and Michael Buchanan were among the first settlers.
David Henderson came from the Old Dominion in the fall of 1832 and settled on section 30, Barr Township. His uncle, John Henderson, settled on section 20 at the same time. These were the first two settlements in the southwest part of Barr Township. J. W. Henderson, a son, was two years old at the time the family arrived here.
Solomon Steidley and wife Rachel (Barr) Steidley came from Frederick County, Virginia to Macoupin County in 1834 and settled in Barr Township. William Metcalf, Jr. was a Kentuckian and arrived in Macoupin County on April 22, 1835. He entered a quarter section of land in Barr Township, also a part of a quarter section in Western Mound Township. Thomas M. Metcalf was a Kentuckian who came to Macoupin County with his father.
The first preacher in Barr Township was Joseph J. Gray, a Presbyterian, who held services in an old schoolhouse on section 20.
The first congregation was organized by Rev. James Corrington, a Methodist circuit preacher of Carlinville. The first church was built by the Methodist denomination on section 20 and was called the “Asbury Chapel.” The first members, Charles Maxfield and wife, Nathan Henderson and wife, were from the Hermitage Society” in Greene County.
The Asbury M. E. Church, built by Luther Releford in 1917-1918, still remains standing as a land mark of earlier days. Rev. Hostetter was the minister when the building was dedicated. Adults and children of the church regarded him with high esteem.
The Methodist Church at Barr’s Store, on section 9, was dedicated Smithson’s Chapel. On the Sabbath, the green shutters were thrown back from the windows and the people of the area gathered for worship. Prayer meetings were held on Wednesday nights, and a series of “revival” meetings were held during the winter months.
Gilead Baptist Church was constituted at Mt. Ragan School House, section 26, March 18, 1869. In march 1888, church members and others of the area met at Mt. Ragan schoolhouse and decided to build a church in the village of Hettick on land purchased from James Patterson. The church was dedicated November 3, 1889. This building was replaced after several years of use by a larger and better church which was dedicated July 31, 1921.
Laura Neva Collins, daughter of Lorenzo Charles and Rachel Emeline (Brooks) Collins, was born October 20, 1878, near Fayette and later resided in the Goshen neighborhood where she taught school for several years. Miss Collins attended Moody Bible Institute at Chicago and prepared to be a missionary. Her wide circle of friends, particularly of Goshen , Palmyra, Chesterfield and Carlinville, followed her earnest endeavors on the mission field and supported her with their prayers and contributions. Goshen Baptist Church honored her with a farewell basket dinner on Easter Sunday of 1928. Group singing followed her farewell address. Russell Andrew presided at the organ, and A. Lincoln Andrew accompanied on the cello.
The small hamlet, Barr’s Store situated on section 9, received its name from the Barr family and was laid out by James B. Steidley in 1865.
Benjamin R. Barr set up a store, the first in the township, which gradually became the center of the little hamlet as well as the shopping and congregating center for miles of the countryside. The store was a two story frame building. The second floor was used as a polling place on election days and served as a community hall on those days when were called that were not of a religious nature. The Modern Woodmen of America Camp of Barr’s Store held their meetings and lodge socials in this hall. The lower floor was the scene of marketing activity. Women brought their produce such as butter, Chicken, eggs and other items to exchange for necessities of sugar, calico, red bandanas, thread, buttons, pins, matches, coal oil, lamp chimneys, salt, spices and that which could not be homegrown. Odd pennies supplied the children with peppermint candy.
While the women shopped, the men sat on benches in front of the store and talked in groups or perused the bi-weekly mail distributed by a little partitioned-off office in the rear of the store. Benjamin J. Barr served as Postmaster in those early days. J. H. Hinkle was the Postmaster in 1879.
The mail route in operation between Greenfield and Barr’s Store was the Star Route. John Beard carried the mail from Barr’s Store to Greenfield during the summer of 1879. Ira M. Converse was another carrier. When road conditions were such that Converse’s two white ponies could not complete the route, Converse hitched the ponies to a tree or to a post to rest for the return trip to Greenfield, then he completed the route to Barr’s Store and returned to his ponies on foot.
A steam flouring mill was erected in 1863 by Shane and Henderson, and in 1879 the mill was operated by Moser and Tyler. The mill was a point of activity in the hamlet. When the early pioneers arrived at the mill, they sometimes found several others there in advance of them. All were anxious to get back home. The mill was primitive, and it took a long time to grind a few sacks of corn or wheat. Each one had to wait his turn, and it was not uncommon to have to wait even a day or two.
The first schoolhouse was built of logs in 1836, and Mr. J. B. Steidley was the first teacher who taught in it.
The first schools had backless benches made from the trunks of small trees split in half with the flat side hewn smooth. The desks were made of the same construction except the heavy cross sticks that served as legs were longer to permit knee room between bench and desk.
In the early days, settlements were sparse and privations incident to a life in the new country vied with each other for supremacy. In Barr Township, pioneers lived and worked with plow and hoe. They applied themselves diligently to their work until the wilderness was made to blossom like a rose. Pioneers saw schoolhouses erected for the education of the young, and churches were erected where men and women were edified in the work of their Master. Donated by Anne Stinnett