Donated by Jean Davis - Marshall County Illinois History Society

Marshall County, was one of the last counties founded in Illinois. Named after Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, it was established by the state legislature on January 19, 1839.

Adjoining Peoria County’s northern border, Marshall County is among the smallest counties in Illinois. It consists of 395 square miles, largely prairie except for valleys following the Illinois River.

The County was not a part of the Old Eighth Circuit which Lincoln, David Davis and other famous lawyers traveled, however, Lincoln is known to have visited the County several times in his role as a politician.

Early pioneers who came to the area encompassed by the County were amazed at the beauty and virility of the land. During the summer tall grasses and myriad kinds of flowers stretched endlessly across the prairie. Wildlife was abundant. Here were lynx, wildcat, bear, timber wolves, large droves of deer, prairie chicken, ducks, geese, cranes and passenger pigeons by the thousands. Bones of buffalo and elk were still present .

Records indicate that John Strawn and his family were among the first pioneers to settled in the County. They came to the area on September 21, 1829.

The County’s first courthouse was built at Lacon in the center of the County. Constructed in 1840, it was a brick, two story building measuring 55 by 40 feet. Its cost was $8,000. Supreme Court Justice Thomas Ford presided at the first circuit court session on April 23, 1839 in the Lacon Methodist Church.

An early morning fire from a defective flue destroyed the first courthouse on January 5, 1853, but, fortunately, most of the movable fixtures and records were saved.

The second and existing courthouse (depicted on the front cover of this issue of the Illinois Bar Journal) was constructed in 1853 at a cost of $7,351.89. It was built on the same site of the first courthouse and probably was a duplicate, since records indicate that both the first and second courthouses at Marshall were built from the same plans as the Metamora Courthouse (now a state museum.). As a result of the removal of four columns from the front of the courthouse in the 1880’s and subsequent construction of additions, it no longer resembles the Metamora Courthouse.

Lincoln visited the County on at least four occasions. The three volume work, “Lincoln Day By Day”, states that Lincoln appeared in Lacon on July 18, 1846 and made a speech in behalf of tariff and two days later crossed the Illinois River, which bisects the County, to speak in two precincts of Marshall County. The Illinois Gazette of Lacon reports that on November 1, 1848 the “Hon. A. Lincoln addressed a numerous assemblage of our citizens from all parts of the county” urging them to vote for General Zachary Taylor for President.

Both Lincoln and Douglas were reported to have visited Lacon on October 17, 1854 and were billed to make speeches, but for some reason neither spoke. On September 29, 1856, Lincoln boarded the 11 a m train in Peoria to travel to Lacon. The following day, Lincoln and Owen Lovejoy, brother of the martyred Elijah Lovejoy, addressed a meeting of 2,000 Marshall County Republicans and a delegation of Henry citizens who made the trip across the prairie in 64 wagons led by a brass band.

The County apparently was a hotbed of anti-slavery activity. An underground railroad for runaway slaves was maintained in Lawn Ridge and on one occasion Nathaniel Smith helped a group of seven fugitives escape. The first runaway was brought to the area by a Dr. Cutler hiding under a featherbed in a wagon.

A number of prominent lawyers have practiced in the County and one of the first was Ira I. Fenn who helped train others for the law, including Silas Ramsey and Mark Bangs, the latter of whom was one of 88 lawyers and judges who met in 1877 to found the Illinois State Bar Association.

G L Fort, a Lieutenant Colonel during the Civil War and a Congressman from 1873 to 1881, is listed as one of the most prominent of all lawyers to have lived in Lacon. Old histories indicate that he once was considered a prospective candidate for Governor. He came to the County at the age of 9 in 1834 and died in 1883 at the age of 58.

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