HISTORY OF RICHLAND COUNTY
Source: "Counties of Cumberland, Jasper and Richland, Illinois: Historical and Biographical"
F.A. Battey & Co, 1884
Submitted by B. Ziegenmeyer
The formation of the county, as noted elsewhere, was not accomplished without much effort, the
interests of the three counties conspiring to aid in the division. This being fixed, the organizing act of the
Legislature provided that on the third Monday in June, just two weeks later, the people should meet at their various
polling places and vote for a site for the county seat. On this subject there was a wide diversity of opinion,
and the two weeks intervening between the elections were spent by a considerable number of the citizens of the
new county in electioneering for the various sites proposed. Matthew's Mill, or Fransonia, was proposed by T.
J. Decker, an influential citizen and first collector of the county. Fairview was presented by James Ruark; the
old village of Watertown, by Amos Builard; Olney, just west of the site of the present village of that name, by
Judge Aaron Shaw, and a site by Benjamin Bogart, just east of the present county seat. The places thus offered
in competition had little to offer save a fair plat of ground, and the influence of the friends of the situation.
It was not long before the general sentiment found expression in favor of a central locality, and Fairview and
Fransonia never stood equal with the others in the race. In pushing the interests of his site on the east side
of the Fox River, Judge Shaw was indefatigable. He had large posters printed, the town named Olney, and the advantages
of the location concisely placed before the public. Watertown, while making less of a figure in the canvass, was
really the strongest candidate for the coveted honor. It had been platted early, and lots disposed of to various
individuals all over the county. In this contest, every lot owner was an active partisan for the selection of this
village, and in the end only fell short of victory by a narrow vote. All this became apparent to many citizens
before the vote occurred, and considerable effort was put forth to avert the location of the county seat so far
to the west of the center, and in the vicinity of the river where it was thought the village might prove unhealthful.
Bogart, in the meanwhile, desiring to limit the number of places to be voted on, lest by some accident one of the
more remote points should be selected, agreed to submit the advantages of his site, with those of Olney and Watertown,
and withdraw, if a committee of three should so decide. After an examination, a majority of the committee selected,
decided against Bogart's place, and the latter was withdrawn, though much to the dissatisfaction of a large number
of the voters, and it was freely hinted that it was not an unbiased judgment. Determined not to be thwarted in
that way, certain of the people of the county approached William Elliott to offer a site, and to Barney and Lilly.
The latter persons made up their minds very soon, and thirteen acres were offered as a donation to the county in
case the seat of justice was placed here, the present site of Olney. Just before the day of election, Judge Shaw,
observing that the real contest was between Watertown and the Barney-Lilly donation, withdrew his site, and these
two, with Fairview and Fransonia, entered the final contest. There were but three polling places for this election,
the west precinct voting at John Jefford's, near Watertown, the south precinct at Fairview, and the north precinct
at Brinkly's, in the present township of Claremont. It was decided very early in the day, that Fairview and Fransonia
were out of the race, and a good deal of interest was manifested by certain of the citizens. Messengers were sent
on fleet horses to ascertain the vote of the various polling places, and in the afternoon it was discovered that
Watertown was developing unexpected strength. John Wolf was one of the active ones in this election, and riding
to Fairview, he explained the situation, and secured the votes of the clerks and judges for the Barney-Lilly donation.
This, with other votes secured at the last moment, defeated Watertown by barely nineteen votes. The next important
question to decide, was the name of the new county seat. Messrs. Samuel R. Lowry, James Laws, and Joshua L. Johnston,
the temporary County Commissioners appointed by the organizing act, were confused by the number of names presented
and pushed for recognition. The decision finally lay between Farmington and Olney, the name adopted by Judge Shaw
for his site. The Commissioners, unwilling to decide, left it to the crowd that had assembled, and Olney was fixed
upon, and became the name of the new county seat.
Until the following regular August election,, the affairs of the county remained in static quo,
the temporary Board of Commissioners having authority only in canvassing and providing for the vote on the county
seat and the election of county officers. In August, however, the following list of county officers was chosen:
County Commissioners, Lot Basden, Amos Bullard, and Hugh Calhoun, Jr.; Recorder, M. B. Snyder, Probate Justice
of the Peace, R. B. Marney; Treasurer, W. H. Reed; A. F. David, Surveyor, and J. F. Reed, School Commissioner.
The first records appear as follows:
At a County Commissioners' Court, begun and held at the house of Benjamin Bogard, county of Richland, and State of Illinois, on Monday, the 23d of August, A. D., 1841, were present Lot Basden, Amos Bullard, and Hugh Calhoun, Jr., Esquires, County Commissioners, who after having been duly qualified, proceeded to business. Ordered, there being no Sheriff, that Lewis Sawyer, a Constable of said county, act as Sheriff to this court. Ordered, that Morris B. Snyder be appointed Clerk pro tern to this court. It being determined by lot, Lot Basden is to serve three years, Amos Bullard, two years, and Hugh Calhoun, Jr., one year, as County Commissioner. Morris B. Snyder, who had been elected Clerk (probably Recorder) of this court, now here presented his bond for the acceptance of the court, which was ordered to be received and spread upon the records of this court, and in open court he was qualified as the law directs, etc. (Here follows his bond in the sum of $100, with S. R. Lowry and John Snyder, Jr., as securities). Ordered, that the lots in the town of Olney, Richland County, be sold on the 20th of September next, and that the Clerk give notice that the said lots on that day will be offered for sale, and sold on the following terms, to wit: purchasers will be required to give bonds with approved security, payable, one third in six months, one third in twelve months, and one third in eighteen months. Adjourned to court in course.
" September term, 1841. At a County Commissioners' Court began and held at the house of Benjamin Bogard, in Richland County, on Monday, the 6th day of September, A. D., 1841, when present Lot Basden and Hugh Calhoun, Jr., Esquires, County Commissioners. Ordered, that Lewis Sawyer act as Sheriff to this court. Ordered, that the county of Richland be laid off into Justices Precincts as follows, to wit: First, to begin at Fox River, two miles north of town line between Townships 3 and 4, thence north to Fox River; thence with Fox River north to the county line; thence east with said county line to the northeast corner of the county; thence south with said county line to the southeast corner of Section 24, Township 4 north, of Range 14 west; thence west with said section line to the place of beginning, to be called Troy Precinct. Second, to begin at the northeast corner of Section 25, Township 4 north, of Range 14 west, thence running south with the county line to the southeast corner of said section; thence due west with said section line to Fox River; thence up Fox River to the southwest corner of Troy Precinct, to be called Olney Precinct. Third, beginning at the northeast corner of Section 25, in Township 3 north, of Range 14 west, thence with the county line to the southeast corner of the county; thence with the county line to Fox River; thence up said river to the southwest corner of Olney Precinct, to be called Parker Precinct. Fourth, to begin at Watertown, on Fox River, thence west with the State road to the county line; thence north with the county line to the northwest corner thereof; thence east to Fox River; thence with Fox River to the place of beginning, to be called North Precinct. Fifth, beginning at Fox River on the State road, thence west with the State road to the county line; thence south with the county line to the southwest corner thereof; thence east with said county line to the Fox River; thence north up Fox River to the place of beginning, to be called South Precinct. Ordered, that the above precincts be general election precincts. Ordered, that all elections for Troy Precinct be held at the house of John. Allen; for Olney Precinct, at the house of Benjamin Bogard; for Parker's Precinct, at Fairview; for North Precinct, at the house of Wright Mash; for South Precinct, at the house of William Holbrook. Ordered, that the judges of election shall be for North Precinct, James Nelson, James Coghill and Arvin Webster. For South Precinct, James Elliott, J. R. Lewis and Henry Taylor. For Troy Precinct, John Allen, John Lamb and Mclntyre Ryan. For Olney Precinct, Joseph Bunch, William Tarbox and William Elliott. For Parker Precinct, George Higgins, J. H. Reed and George Mason. Ordered, that the following trustees of school lands be appointed: For Township 4 north, Range 9 east, Arvin Webster, James Coghill and John Graham. For Township 4 north, Range 14 west, Thomas Utterback, John Allen and Charles Stuterville. For Township 4 north, Range 10 east, Richard Phillips, Joseph Bunch and George McWilliams. For Township 3 north, Range 14 west, J. H. Reed, Canada Clubb and Stephen Gardner. For Township 3 north, Range 10 east, J. L. Johnson, John Nelson and Erastus Ruark. For Township 2 north, Range 10 east, Elcana Richards, John Walker and James Parker, Jr. For Township 2 north, Range 14 west, William Higgins, Thomas Spencer and Daniel David. For Township 3 north, Range 11 east, Henry Calhoun, James Thrapp, Sr., and William Perry. Ordered, that the Overseers of the Poor in the various precincts shall be as follows: Troy Precinct, John Cotterell; Olney Precinct, Bryant Bullard; Parker Precinct, James Parker; North Precinct, James Nelson; South Precinct, Joseph Gardner, Sr. Ordered, that a scrawl be adopted as the seal of this court. Ordered, that the town of Olney be laid off into lots, according to the plat of Lot Basden. [The first money order was made in this term in favor of the judges and clerks of the previous election. Then followed the selection of grand and petit jurors and provision for the first jail, and besides the location of a road and the granting of a few licenses, this covers the business of the first year of the County Commissioners' Court of the new county.]
The precincts of Richland County have been subject to comparatively few changes. In March, 1844, the original precinct of Olney was extended to a north and south line, three miles west of Fox River, beginning at the southwest corner of Section 17, thence west with said line to the southwest corner of Section 13; thence north six miles; thence east to the Fox River. In December, 1852, Claremont Precinct was formed with the following boundaries: Beginning at the northwest corner of Section 30, Township 4 north, of Range 14 west, thence east to the county line between Richland and Lawrence counties; thence south six miles; thence west six miles to the southwest corner of Section 19, Township 3 north, Range 14 west; thence north to the place of beginning. In June of the following year, a mile off the west side of this precinct was added to Olney, and in September a mile was added off the south side of Troy Precinct. In September, 1853, on petition of Lemuel Truitt, Noble Precinct was formed, beginning on the section line at the northwest corner of Section 30, Township 4 north, Range 9 east, thence on said line east to the northeast corner of Section 25, Township 4 north, Range 9 east; thence south to the southeast corner of Section 14, Township 3 north, Range 9 east; thence west to the county line; thence north with said line to place of beginning. There were thus seven precincts when Jacob May and a large number of other citizens of the county petitioned that the matter of township organization be submitted to the people. The matter came up at the election of November, 1858, and was adopted by a vote of 838 to 376, out of a total of 1,280 votes. According to the provisions of the general law, Messrs. John M. Wilson, O. P. Heisland and Sylvester Utterback were appointed commissioners to divide the county into townships. The county embraces about ten sections in Range 8 east, and the entire Ranges 9, 10 and 11 east, the latter consisting of but a single fractional section in width, and Range 14 west. Of these ranges, Townships 3 and 4 are found entire, with five tiers of sections in Township 2, and two tiers of sections in Township 5. Township 2, in Ranges 8 and 9 east, has but three tiers of sections. The width of the county covers nineteen sections, and in the division into townships the committee, with the design of making the outlines of each township as regular as possible, ran north and south lines on the line between Ranges 9 and 10 east, and between Ranges 11 east and 14 west.
Of the east and west lines, the upper one goes due west through the county, six miles from the northern boundary. The second one forms the southern boundary of Olney and Claremont townships, seven miles south of the upper line.
The division line between Noble and Decker townships was placed a mile further north. The county was thus divided into nine townships, and were first named as the precincts had been, beginning in the northwest corner and proceeding from north to south, as follows: Boone, Noble, Jackson, Douglas, Olney, Madison, Troy, Claremont and Bonpas.
Parker Precinct had been changed in 1848 to Fairview, and South or Brown's Precinct to Southwest, and North to Northwest Precinct.
Under the new nomenclature, Parker appears as Madison, the South as Jackson, and the North as Boone, while Douglas and Bonpas were new.
This list was further modified by the Board of Supervisors, by changing the name of Boone to Denver, Jackson to Decker, Douglas to Preston, and Troy to German, which leaves the townships as they are now found. In 1878, there was manifested a strong dissatisfaction with the way county affairs had been managed, and on petition the question of returning to the old form of organization was submitted to the people, and township organization was annulled.
The County Commissioners elected, divided the county into six assessment districts, but left the voting precincts unchanged save the Olney was divided into two, East and West precincts. In 1880, however, a return to township organization was made, and the old arrangement was maintained.
Denver Township contains just the area of a Congressional township, thirty-six sections, but made up from Townships 4 and 5, in Range 9 east. This township forms the northwest corner of the county, and was originally principally prairie land, with some open timber skirting Sugar and Harrison creeks. Since prairie fires have ceased to run, the young growth has rapidly sprung up, and this township is now well wooded. Onion Hill, in this township, is the highest point in the county, and a landmark for some distance about. The upper end of Fox Prairie and Ten Mile Prairie are the names of the open lands, the latter being largely settled by Germans. The settlement of this region was not early, Harrison Graham, in 1842, being about the first in the township. During the succeeding ten years others gathered in, among whom were Jesse Toliver, Peter Wachtel, Joseph Spencer, Wesley Nelson and William McCarty. It is a good agricultural section, and is not subject to overflow, the streams being very small. Wakefield, in the northwest corner, and Wilsonburg, close to the southern border, are small hamlets.
Noble Township, next south of Denver, in the western tier of townships, contains about forty two sections, six of which are in Township 3, Range 8. The surface of the township was originally high, rolling prairie, with timbered bottoms along the Fox and Big Muddy rivers. The Evans family were the earliest settlers, who came here in 1818. L. L. Allender, who had a ferry across the Muddy on the old "trace road," was an early settler, and Gilmore, the Sheriff of Clay County in 1841, was another. Lemuel Truitt, James Braughton, Alvin Webster, William Elliott and Owen Coats were among the early and prominent citizens of the township. Wheat and corn, upon the prairie and bottom lands respectively, are sure and profitable crops. Noble village is the second village in the county. Glenwood is the name of a village that once caused some excitement, but was never more than a paper town.
Decker Township forms the southwest corner of the county, and is composed of some thirty-five sections. Five sections are in. Township 2, Range 8, and form the irregular western boundary along the Little Wabash and Big Muddy. The Fox Prairie covers about ten sections in the central part of the township, the rest of which is covered with heavy timber. The bottom lands are extensive and subject to overflow, some of them being comparatively worthless. Among the earliest settlers were Eli Craft, David Bates, Taylor, George Poff, Hughs, Jordan, and Thomas J. Decker, after whom the township was named. The latter was the first Collector of taxes, and an influential citizen. An early grist mill was built near Fransonia by John Matthews, and gave name to an early polling place, and a competitor for the location of the seat of justice for the county. Jeremiah Lewis, a local preacher, introduced the experiment of silk raising in this township, but the worms did not thrive, and the effort finally foiled. Fransonia is a hamlet on the Fox River, in the northeastern part of the township.
Preston Township embraces the area of a Congressional township in Range 10 east and six sections of Range 11 east. It is six miles north and south by nearly seven miles east and west. It is bounded by Denver on the west, by Jasper County on the north, German on the east and Olney on the south. Fox River flows southward through the central part, and the timber skirting its banks and those of its tributaries, covers the larger part of the township. The Grand Prairie extends into the township on the eastern side, and has an area here of some fifteen square miles. It is a well improved and well-to-do farming region, and produces the usual cereals equal to any other township. Among the early families were those of James Quales, Wheeler, John Underhill, George Me Williams, Henry Swallen and John Phillips. These families were principally from Kentucky and Tennessee. In 1838, a considerable emigration from Ohio settled here, and occupy the eastern side. Dundas is the name of the railroad station and post-office in the northern central part.
Olney is located in the center of the county and has the largest area of any township in the county. Fox River runs from north to south along the western part, while its branches cross the township from the eastern side. The timber which skirts these streams divides the surface of this part of the county into little prairies of a few miles square. The country is under a good state of cultivation, and all improvements are in an advanced state. The interest of the township, however, centers in the city, which occupies a position a little north of the center. Among the earliest settlers were Morehouse, Bogard, Elliott, Nelson, and others already mentioned elsewhere.
Madison Township occupies a place in the central tier of townships, south of Olney. The central part of this precinct was occupied by the Sugar Creek Prairie, some twenty square miles in extent, while the rest rs covered with the timbered bottoms of Fox River and Susrar Creek. George Ward and William Richards were early settlers. James Parker, Sr., a comrade of Daniel Boone, and an old Indian fighter, was also one of the early settlers. Among others were William Nash, Daniel Williams, John Rogers, Matthew Duckery, James Sharp, James Enson, Curtis Rose, Abraham Morrell, Thomas Mason, Lloyd Rawlings, John Wolf, and others. Shadrack Ruark first projected the village of Fairview. He was the pioneer of Ohio emigration to this county, and a man of considerable influence. Parkersburg is a small village in the southeastern part of the township, and Fairview is another on the northeastern corner.
German Township forms the northeast corner of the county, and embraces an area of thirty-six square miles. Grand Prairie extends into the western side, and Stringtown Prairie into the eastern side of the township. The central part of the township is high and was originally covered with timber, but much of this has been cleared off and replaced by good farms. Among the first settlers were Samuel Butler, John Cotterell, J. H. Jones, Thomas Utterback, Joseph Tague, William Crabtree, and John May. The latter was a veteran of the war of 1812. John Bush and J. L. Allen were a little later in the settlement. About 1840, the German emigration from Stark County, Ohio, began to fill up this township. Among this inflow of population were the families Clepper, Haus, Spitz, Snider, Stirchi, Jaggis and Eyer. This nationality has increased until it is the largely predominating element there and gave name to the township. This township is one of the most prosperous agriricultural townships in the county.
Claremont is next south in the eastern tier of townships. It is one of the later precincts formed, but was one of the earliest settled. William Laws, Willis Blanchard, Bryant Bullard, Richard Brinkley, Lot Basden, Canada Clubb, Jacob and William Coanour, and the Calhouns were among the early residents of this part of the county. Cristy Prairie extends into the northeastern part and is divided by the Bonpas Creek from the Calhoun Prairie, which extends southward along the western side of the township. The two branches of the Bonpas rise here, and mark the site of the timbered portion. A blue-limestone quarry is found in the township, just south of the center. The village of Claremont ranks third among the towns of the county, and is situated on the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad, just north of the center of the township.
Bonpas Township forms the southeast corner of the county, and was originally heavily timbered. It is watered by the river from which it takes its name, and the surface, somewhat broken in places, is generally rolling, and is especially adapted to growing wheat and clover. It is now generally well settled, and cut into small farms, which are under a good state of cultivation. It was the site of one of the earliest settlements, but when the prairies became better understood, the more open townships attracted the immigration, and Bonpas suffered considerable neglect. During recent years this has somewhat changed, and this township is well settled and is rapidly being cleared up. The first settlers were William and George Higgins, Reason Ruark, Joseph Spencer, Medad, Simmons, Beard, Benjamin Bunn and others. The first water mill in the county was built here, and before the building of the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad, this township furnished the coal and stone for the county principally.