Visit Illinois State Site

Montgomery County
Early Settlers and the History of Hillsboro


Three special commissioners were appointed to select a site and choose a name for the county seat, they were Joseph Wright of the Hurricane settlement, Melcher Fogleman and Rev. James Street of the Clear Springs neighborhood.

The special commissioners met on March 21, 1821 at the cabin of Joseph McAdams, located in what is now Taylor Springs, to determine where the county seat would be located. The site was 3 miles southwest of the present day Hillsboro on land owned by David Killpatrick and Joel Smith. The new county seat was name Hamilton. Hamilton was established and died a political death two years later

Elijah C. Berry, Silas Lee Wait and Aaron Armstrong were named as the new special commissioners to relocate the county seat. The new County Commissioners were: Newton Coffey, Major James Wilson and Harris Reavis. The special committee met at Luke Lee Steel's home and voted to move the new county seat to a 20 acre tract that Newton Coffey donated. The 20 acres were deeded to the county on June 30, 1823.

No record of why the county seat was named Hillsboro or Hillsborough. Some think it was because of the hilly terrain and others believe it was named for Hillsboro, North Carolina, the state of Hiram Rountree, John Nussman and others were from.

George File surveyed and platted the 20 acres, which lies north of Wood Street between Broad and Hamilton, extending almost to Brailley street.

Main Street was originally named Coffey street after Newton Coffey. Berry Street was named after Elijah C. Berry which ran south from the southeast corner of Courthouse square to Wood Street. Wait Street, ran north from the northeast corner of the square to Brailley Street and was named for Silas Lee Wait. Armstrong Street was named for Aaron Armstrong and ran north from the northeast corner of the square – political clout later closed Armstrong Street.

The alleyway extending south from the southwest corner of the square to West Wood Street [then named Maple Street] was named Hamilton Street after the first county seat. Later the name was transferred to the now Hamilton Street. The first Hamilton Street became an unnamed alley. Seward Street was named for John Seward and Israel Seward. Israel became the first school commissioner. Israel also owned the first pair of mules in the county. The street that led to the spring near Mr. Nussman's cabin was named Water Street.

The first sale of the 80 lots was held on August 12, 1823. Among the first to purchase lots were Henry Cress, who paid the top price of $66 for Lot 42; Hiram Rountree who bid $60 for Lot 57; William Rice paid $60 for Lot 43; James Isaacs paid $55 for Lot 51 and Jacob Cress paid $53 for Lot 50.

Other purchasers were Cleveland Coffey, John Seward, Aaron Casey, James Meredith, Daniel Meredith, David Killpatrick, James Wright and Luke Lee Steel. These lots were between $30 and $50.50 each. Most lots were 60 feet wide and 105 or 120 feet deep.

Hillsboro was incorporated as a village in 1855.

Courthouses of Hillsboro
Donated by Debbie Quinn - Taken from the Hillsboro History
The First Courthouse

The first courthouse was made of logs and was erected by Thomas McAdams in 1823 & 1824. On August 24, 1823 the three county commissioners: Newton Coffey, Harris Reavis, and James Wilson, awarded the contract to McAdams. The total cost was $221.23 plus the cost of the furnishings. Judge Thomas Reynolds presided over the first term of the Circuit Court on June 17 & 18 in 1824. Hiram Rountree was the clerk of the court and received $8 for his first term. Joel Wright was the Sheriff and Jarvis Forehand was the Coroner.

The Second Courthouse

On October 11, 1833 the county commissioners: Aaron Casey, Thomas Mann and John Meicenheimer, awarded Austin Whitten a contract to construct a frame courthouse for $1,800.00. He was required to give bond and Easton Whitten was used as security. Judge Theophelas W. Smith was the first judge to hold court, Hiram Rountree was clerk of the court and was also the county clerk. John Kirkpatrick was Sheriff, Thomas Gray was Treasurer and George White was the Coroner.

The Third Courthouse

It was built of brick in 1854. Rev. Alfred Bliss, Stephen R. Briggs and Hiram Rountree were the county commissioners. E.T. Rice was the Circuit Judge, Benjamin Sammons was the county clerk, John Corlew was Sheriff, Andrew Burke was treasurer, David B. Jackson was commissioner of schools and James R. Webb was the county surveyor.

The Fourth Courthouse

In 1868 the county commissioners: Judge Hiram Rountree, Judge Joseph C. Hanner, and Judge William FitzJerrel approved the remodel of the third courthouse.

The first floor housed the following: Circuit Clerk Charles W. Jenkins, County Clerk William D. Shirley and the three county commissioners: Judge Edward Lane, Judge Jonathan Bowers and Judge William Chapman. Also located on the first floor was the abstract office of Gilmore and Maddox.

The second floor housed the following: The Circuit Courtroom presided over by Judge E. Y. Rice along with his office and legal library and the living quarters for the sheriff - John T. McDavid.

The jailhouse was located on the third floor.

Businesses of Hillsboro

John Nussman was the first white settler, wagon maker by trade, and operated a whiskey still in the woods behind his cabin.

John Tillson operated a store in one room of his log cabin home, and became Hillsboro's first merchant. He opened a general store where he also conducted the duties of county postmaster, treasurer and his land agency.

John Prentice opened the second store in 1825 after moving here from St. Clair County.

Benjamin and Joseph Miller were given lots for establishing a tanyard at the foot of Seward Street in what is now Central Park.

John Hawkins Rountree [brother of Hiram] received a lot to open a blacksmith shop and he became sheriff in 1826.

Early tavern keepers were licensed and were required to furnish people with food and lodging, provide stables and feed for horses. The maximum prices in effect in 1823 were: whiskey, wine or brandy- 37 ½ cents per pint; cider-12 ½ cents per quart; lodging-12 ½ cents per night per person; stable fee-12 ½ cents per horse; feed for horses-12 ½ cents per head; breakfast- 12 ½ cents; dinner and supper 18 ¾ cents each.

James Rutledge opened the first tavern-hotel in 1825 on the site of the present Red Rooster Inn. He had a sign embodying a large tiger on a white background surrounded by the owner's name and occupation.

David B. Jackson operated an Inn which was a 2 story frame hotel and tavern known as the American House on the southeast corner of Main and Wood streets in 1829.

C.B. Blockburger a tinner and brickmaker who made bricks used in building a 2 story brick stagecoach inn on the northwest corner of Main and Tilson streets in 1830.

Wesley Seymour and John Nussman were wagon makers.

John Meisenheimer and William Loomis were carpenters.

Jacob Wilson, John Slater and Deacon Alexander Scott were shoemakers.

Dr. Levi Boone – physician. Was elected coroner in 1830.

Charles Holmes, Thomas Sturtevant and John S. Hayward were also early merchants.

James Blackman, Alfred Durant and E.B. Hubbell were furniture makers.

Pioneer blacksmiths included Nathan and Burton Harmon, W.A. Morrison, Kimball Prince, Fred Hillsabeck and Ned Gorsage.

Early brick masons and makers were: John Dickerson, David Eddy, Ira Boone, Isaac Horner and Hudson Berry.

Solomon Harkey opened a tanyard about 1830 and built a 2 story frame house on Broad Street in 1832.

Others were D.B. Starr, James Card, Peter Hill, Lloyd Marten, “Granny” Wright and son James and Stephen Fullingsworth, “keeper of the stray pen”.

The five Clotfelter brothers – Amos, Lee, William, D. Stokes and James, and their sister, Zikpha, arrived in 1833 from North Carolina.

John Tillson built the first brick house in the county. It was started in 1825, it was a massive 2 story structure located on the northwest corner of Main and Tremont streets, and was completed in 1827. It was built by John Dickerson and David Eddy from bricks made by Isaac Horner, a talented black man who was raised a slave in Maryland and was freed there by his master. Clay for the bricks was dug from Tillson land.

Also built during that period was a 2 story brick and stone residence erected in 1831 by Hiram Rountree on the southwest corner of Rountree and Wood streets. Four generations occupied the property until it was torn down in 1962.

The Gazeteer of Illinois reported in 1834, Hillsboro, the seat of Justice of Montgomery County, has 6 stores, 4 taverns, 3 blacksmiths, 2 tanneries, 1 shoemaker, 2 tailors, 1 tinner, a post office, land agency, 50 families, 250 inhabitants. Principal roads pass through Hillsboro.

Early Schools of Hillsboro

1861 - the first "free school" later known as the North School and then as Winhold, was completed.

1904 – The second high school was built on the old fairgrounds

1887 – The South School, later named Edison School, was built.

Israel Seward became the first school commissioner.

county teachers held their first institute in 1858.

"Hillsboro History" by Dorothy Bliss

was settled in 1817, by a colony from Tennessee and Kentucky, consisting of Jarvis Forehand, William Clark, John Norton, Gordon B. Crandle, Roland Shepard, Hugh Kirkpatrick, Alexander McWilliams, Nicholas Lockeman, Solomon Prewet, and David McCoy, with their families; this settlement was made south and southwest of section 16, and near Woodboro Church. During the same year, Elder James Street preached a sermon in the house of David McCoy, on section 22. This is supposed to be the first sermon preached in the county. William Braselton taught the first school, in a cabin owned by William Street, on section 17. In 1822, they erected a log school-house on section 9.

[Source: "ILLUSTRATED ATLAS MAP, MONTGOMERY COUNTY, ILLINOIS", 1874 - Submitted by Lynn Reener]


© Genealogy Trails and Debbie Quinn