Washington County, Illinois

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Looking Back
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Washington County, Illinois

 

      Following are a number articles under the banner of "Looking Back" appearing in the Centralia (Ill.) Sentinel and written by
Charles (Charley) Baldwin of Nashville.

      The exact published dates of many of these articles are unknown; however, the few dates that are noted it appears these were published between 1949 and 1951.

 

 

Transcribed, edited and furnished by : Jo House

        In 2010 Charley's son, J. R. Baldwin, provided some background information about his father:

      "... Charles was the oldest son of R. D. Baldwin who was one of the pioneers in the (fruit growing) industry. His farm was located just west of Irvington. Dad was born in 1881, so his experiences would have covered the period prior to the turn of the century until about 1920. It was interesting to note that during this period, the harvesting, which was labor intensive, consisted, to a large extent, of the "Hoboes." What prompted men to take to the "road" and live the life they did was as varied as the men themselves. Many were well educated which always surprised me. They had a code among them that they lived by and their differences were settled by their own rules. R.D. had to sew up one from time to time, but there was never need for "the Law." Later the migrant worker consisted of Mexicans, but the industry (began to wane) due to required housing standards which the growers could not afford considering the short harvest seasons. (This led to) the (ultimate) demise of the entire fruit growing industry (in Washington County)."

 

Centralia Sentinel,
Centralia, Illinois
Wednesday, June 22, 1949
LOCAL HISTORIAN TRACES ROUTE OF CLARK'S MARCH
Picks Spot Near Irvington Curve for State Marker

Editor's Note: The exact route taken by George Rogers Clark in 1779 when he marched his ragged band across Southern Illinois from Kaskaskia to capture Fort Sackville and the city of Vincennes (Ind.) on the Wabash river has always been a matter of interest to local historians.
      It is certain that it crossed the northern part of what is now Washington county and possibly the southern tip of Marion county (near Walnut Hill). He probably followed the old Vincennes Trace blazed by the French in the 1780's.
      Charles G. Baldwin, Nashville florist and boyhood resident of Irvington has devoted considerable time to putting a few scattered records together and drawing reasonable deductions as to the location of the historic route.


By Charles Baldwin

      It was almost 50 years ago that I first became interested in locating the exact trail used by Clark and his troops when they marched on the British at Vincennes. I was attending McKendree college, in 1901, and the president of the school, a Mr. Chamberlin, was doing some research for the Illinois State Historical society. As I was from Irvington, he asked me if I had any information on the location of the trail, in relation to the present city of Centralia.
      I told him that my grandfather, who had settled land near Irvington in 1834, had some definite ideas on the famous march. Grandfather's farm was located a quarter of a mile north of a famous landmark, "The Lone Elm" which in turn was about a mile southwest of the present curve of the highway where (Route 51) it turns west into Irvington.
      Grandfather said that Clark's band ate a noon meal at that tree.
      On another occasion he took me to a spot south of Walnut Hill and pointed out a slash through the wooded country which he said was the George Rogers Clark Trace. It could plainly be seen from the high ground where the Bates peach orchard now stands. It led off in the direction of Lone Elm.
      That gave me two points on the line of march. Several years later, in 1919, I received a letter from Homer Hosner of Nashville, who was a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C. He said that in going through some old records he came across a report of the expedition which mentioned "camping on the North Fork of Grand Point Creek." Also that the water was very high (The trip was made in February.)
      Taking into consideration the logical inference that Clark would shun the lowlands because of the high water; would travel across the prairie rather than through the woods, it would seem that Clark travelled the divide between the Okaw and Big Muddy rivers, running southwest between Irvington and Richview. I figure that Clark made his camp very close to the present location of Grand Point church.
      If you draw a line from the church past "The Lone Elm" (destroyed in a cyclone in '96 and on northeast to the visible trace near Walnut Hill, it would cross the highway east of Irvington just about at the curve.
      So, if the historical society ever gets the notion again of putting up a plaque on a hard road marking the path of Clark and his soldiers, I vote for a spot about a hundred yards north of the Route 51 curve east of Irvington.

 

ASA FLETCHER, SURVEYOR, WAS FIRST MAN TO DIE IN WASHINGTON CO.
      The Centralia Sentinel has given me the happy task of touching up in a series of friendly stories, the highlights in the stately history of Washington County -- the intimate little details, episodes and happenings, that are too local for more than passing mention by the historians.
      The assignment, which involves a study of the times -- the men who lived then -- and the incidents hold for me an absorbing interest. I can only hope I may be able to convey that interest to the reader.
      But first a bit of background is necessary. The records show for instance, that the first white man to die in the county met his death a full two years before the first white man came to settle in it. So in painting that background I'll go on back to the French settlements of 200 years ago.
      The French established a civilization and a delightful culture in the American Bottoms. Along the nearby bluffs running south from Belleville, they built their homes and planted acre after acre of grapes. From these vineyards they turned out wine equal, if not superior, to those of southern France. They built their homes of stone or brick -- many are standing today -- and under each was a vaulted carefully-ventilated wine-cellar ten to 12 feet deep.
      Then the British took the territory away from them. I can't help but feel -- with the soil, the climate, the know-how and those wine cellars -- Southern Illinois lost a gigantic industry to California when Johnnie Bull took over.
      In the 12-year interval, between the Revolutionary War and the formation of the United States, Virginia claimed all the land now in the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin and called it one of her counties. Patrick Henry, governor at that time, sent General George Rogers Clark with 175 men down the Ohio river to take possession, and he did. During the next 25 years he crossed and criss-crossed Washington County perhaps a dozen times. Soon after the Union was formed Virginia ceded this territory to the Federal Government and a huge surveying program got under way in preparation for settlement. In 1812 Congress made one of its many divisions, lopping off the land now in Illinois and Wisconsin and calling it the Territory of Illinois. Ninian Edwards was named as the governor.
      Now to go back a couple of years, Asa Fletcher, 29 years old, was the first white man to die in Washington county. While at work with a government surveying crew, July 13, 1808, in what is now Lively Grove township, down in the southwest corner of the county, he was bitten by a rattlesnake and died less than two hours later. He was buried "on the first hill south of Mud Creek" probably over the line in Perry county. The first settler came two years later (1810) -- John Lively and his brother-i--law David Huggins, with their families. They settled first -- maybe squatted is a better word -- near where young Fletcher met his death, but moved the next year to a location about two miles west of New Minden. And here the following year, the Lively family, with the exception of a half-grown boy, was massacred by Indians. But that is a story in its own right.
      Somewhere back there, before Governor Edwards took over in Illinois Territory, two counties had been organized, St. Clair, embracing some 80 present counties north of a line drawn through New Design, a sort of socialistic settlement four miles south of Waterloo and probably along our south county line, and the county of Randolph which took in the 20 remaining south end counties, Washington county which then embraced Clinton county also, was organized Jan. 2, 1818. In 1811 a Doctor William H. Barbsy settled on the west side of the timber on Crooked creek about two miles south of the Okaw river. This became quite a little settlement and as it was near the center of the new county, it was made the county seat under the name of Covington.
      Dr. Barbsby must have been a man of many parts for he was a farmer, a doctor, the county clerk, the circuit clerk and probate judge, surveyor, postmaster, treasurer -- when there was any money. And our fist state representative.

 

COUNTY HAD GOOD SURVEYORS
      Some people are lucky in the choice of a father or a grandfather. Others have to work all their lives. It's that way with the present owners of real estate in Washington county. They just do not know how lucky they were in the choice of an Uncle who knew how to survey their land for them way back there. Uncle Sam had a system.
      First, he established a base line and a meridian which he set at right angles to each other. Onto these he fastened townships six miles square. Then he checkered-boarded these townships into 36 sections each a mile square. Finally, he divided these sections into 18 forties, each in form of a square. And these forties are the units of land measure, all snuggled up against one another without loss of time or space. That system has saved Washington countians hundreds of headaches and thousands of dollars.
      Contrast that condition with the jam parts of St. Clair and Randolph counties are in -- those parts occupied by the French when they dominated the territory. The French people had some wonderful qualities but their notions of land division and distribution certainly were -- well -- quaint. Take Cahokia for example, and the land north of it.
      Each settler wanted a home near the blockhouse which was located at the Belleville bluffs and he wanted a waterfront on the Mississippi river, seven or nine miles northwest of the blockhouse. He needed only forty or maybe fifty acres of land. So, his farm was, say, forty feet wide and seven or ___ miles long, and meandered cross-country southeast and northwest. Later, East St. Louis was built on these farms. Result? Sometimes three -- or four -- sets of heirs claiming an interest in a single city lot. Finally in 1890 East St. Louis in desperation petitioned the state to confiscate all the land in the city and around it, take title to it, then deed it back to the owners and guarantee the title. It multiplied the costs thousands of dollars.
      In fairness though, our own early ancestors were just as quaint in the location of roads. Going from one place to another they chose the easy grades and the high ground, regardless of how crooked the road might be.
      Back years ago I had occasion to look up the report of a committee appointed by the first Circuit Court of Jefferson county to "view out a road from Mr. Vernon to Vandalia" in the ____________ brown, but it still could be read.
      Evidently the committee walked. And, just as evidently they forgot to take lunches along for they said after they'd cross the slough just north of Mt. Vernon they'd found a covey of quail and killed enough of them with clubs for their eats. They went on, in a northwesterly direction. Late in the afternoon they came upon some "crawfish land in a prairie" and being thirsty they cut some reeds and sucketh a drink, but of the crawfish holes. The next day, early -- they must have been east of where Centralia now stands -- they killed a couple of prairie chickens which they enjoyed very much. Next day one of them shot a wild turkey. A day or two later they feasted on a coon. And thus the report went. Not one single word about the road and not a single market set. And the Court thanked them for it.
      If the road afterwards was within a mile -- or five miles -- of where they passed, it was an accident. Verily, our ancestors were a happy-go-lucky lot.

 

LIVELY FAMILY KILLED BY INDIANS
      The fate of the Lively family in 1813 constituted one of the tragic chapters in the history of Washington county. Ordinarily we associate Indian atrocities with the winning of the West, but this one occurred in our own backyard, so to speak, and illustrates a phase of pioneering not usually associated with Illinois.
      As mentioned heretofore, John Lively and David Huggins were the first settlers in Washington county -- stopping for a year in the southwest corner of the county then moving to a location two miles west of New Minden. Perhaps they wanted to be a little closer to a neighbor, for Dr. William H. Barbsby was settling at Covington only a few miles northwest of there.
      The territory at that time was infested by bands of roving Indians whose activities usually were limited to begging and stealing, with an occasional prairie fire. But under the constant prodding of Black Hawk and other chiefs they were growing bolder.
      Early in 1812 the Huggins moved. The record here is meager and a bit confused. Where did Huggins go and why? In the light of subsequent events, I'm inclined to believe the settlement at Covington consisted of only two or three families and Huggins wanted more protection than that. Anyway, the best guess seems to be that he went to Hill's Post, about 25 miles southwest on the Okaw river where Fayetteville now is located. And later events prove the wisdom of his course.
      Lively was a rugged, more determined man. He stayed and his family stayed with him -- a wife, two daughters and a couple of half grown sons. His theory was the old one -- that one good white man can lick 20 Indians any time anywhere. But even so, under the persuasions of his family he finally consented to move. So he sent the hired man and his older son to round up the horses while the women folk did the milking preparatory to settling out for somewhere - anywhere safer than their present location. He was with the women folks with his rifle.
      While the hired man and the boy were yet some distance away they heard rifle fire, unearthly shrieks and other evidences of a battle coming from the direction of the homestead. The crept closer and saw their home going up in flames.
      Unarmed, there was only one course left -- they must go for help. And here's why I believe there were at most only two or three families at Covington. They started out at once for Hill's Post, 15 miles away. If Covington, only two or three miles distant, had held much hope for them surely they would have gone there.
      Before going many miles the boy was exhausted. The hired man carried him until he too was unable to go farther with his burden. By the time they had reached a grove of trees in the southwest part of the county. Family tradition has it that the hired man hid the boy under a log, promising to come back for him. It is from this tradition incidentally that Lively Grove township gets its name.
      When the rescuing party arrived at the Lively home they found it in ashes and the bodies of Livelys, scalped and horribly mutilated, lying in the cow lot. But they did not find the little boy, the Lively's youngest son. They set out on the trail at once, thinking of possible reasons. But a few miles away they found him. A hole had been driven through his chest and his little shirt had been crammed into the gapping wound. He had been scalped.
      True to his promise the hired man returned to the grove and brought the older boy from his hiding place under the log. The boy grew up, married and lived a long useful life. Some of his descendents live in Nashville; others elsewhere, all of them honest, God-fearing people.

 

BEAUCOUP LARGEST TOWN IN 1815
      Beginning around 1815 the settlement of Washington county took on considerable speed, the most rapid growth taking place around Beaucoup, four miles east of the present city of Nashville and in the Elkton-Oakdale area in the southwestern part of the county.
      There was considerable rivalry between these two settlements, both in matter of size and religion. In the Beaucoup area the Methodists and Baptists predominated. At Elkton-Oakdale the settlers were almost all members of one or the other of the two main branches of the Presbyterian church -- the Scotch Covenanters (the Reformed Church) or the older organization. On the whole, this was a healthy cleavage although there were times when denominational differences probably influenced political leanings, as I will show in a later story. In the political campaign of 1826, the candidates were asked to "declare" themselves in advance in the matter of the selection of a site for the new county seat.
      By the time Illinois was admitted as a state in 1818, Beaucoup probably was the largest settlement in the county. Its roster is replete with such family names as White, Whittenburg, Livesay, Lyons, Henry, Anderson, Jack, Walker and others; names that have come down through the history of the county to the present time. In the Elkton-Oakdale area we have the Ayers, Evans, Rountree, Maxwell, McClurkin and McCord families, all of them represented in our present generation.
      William Ayers was the first settler (1816) in the Elkton-Oakdale area, and among the first in the county. He stopped for a time on Elkhorn creek near the road to Fayetteville and not far from what later became the village of Elkton. He afterwards moved to Ayers Point (Oakdale) which is located on an old Indian Trace that, in an early day, became the Vincennes-Kaskaskia Trail, part of which we now call the Black Top road., our main east-west artery across the south part of the county. Incidentally this was the route travelled by the "Pony Express" in an early day, between Vincennes and Fort Kaskaskia -- similar to that between Shawneetown and St. Louis which I've mentioned.
      Here's an interesting side-light on that "county-seat controversy" in the election campaign of 1826. Prior to that election it had been decided to give up Covington as a county-seat. The county commissioners had been ordered to find a new one. They selected, not one but two, prospective sites; the one to be chosen was to meet certain specified conditions laid down by the commissioners.
      The Circuit judges in those days were circuit riders of course, the same as were lawyers and preachers. The judge had been ordered to hold court in Washington county, at the county-seat. When he arrived there wasn't any courthouse to hold it in, nothing but a post set in the ground marking the spot on which it was to be built. He was so disgusted he adjourned court then and there, climbed on his horse and rode away, a flock of disappointed lawyers following him.
      And here's another item that makes me think maybe all good Indians are not dead Indians after all. When the above-mentioned Rountree family arrived in the Elkton-Oakdale area they were all sick and a half dozen young Shawnee bucks pitched in and built a house for them.
      Here's the way Locust creek got its name. The Post Riders, carrying the mail from Vincennes to Fort Kaskaskia, never knew when they started on a trip when they'd get back. So they hid eats along the way for emergencies. Tradition says a family just coming in had been without food for two days when they met a rider. He had some grub hidden in a Locust tree near the creek and gave it to them. The family settled on this creek and gave it that name out of gratitude.

 

(Published Monday, Oct. 30, 1950)
STONE HOUSE - FORT OR BARN?
      There is quite a bit of controversy among the old-timers as to whether or not the old stone house with its 37 openings high up in its walls, on the John Phillips farm south of Beaucoup was a block-house built in an early day as a defense from the Indians; or merely an old smoke-house.
      Those who lean to the smoke-house theory point to the so-called loopholes and say they were to chamber the joists for a second floor that never was put in. Those favoring the block-house idea, say the walls are too thick and too carefully built for a smoke-house. They say it was the custom in those days to place all openings in buildings high up as a protection against stray bullets and arrows; and that the defenders stood on elevations inside the walls to do their watching and firing. Why, they ask, should a smoke-house be built of stone when all the other buildings around _____ were built of logs. And why have a well under the same roof and near to the only door, except for water in time of siege?
      All in all, those favoring the block-house theory seem to have about all the logic on their side. It will be recalled from other stories in this series that the Lively family was tortured and killed by the Indians less than ten miles away in 1813; and that the settlement at Beaucoup was established several years before Illinois was admitted into the Union in 1818. Of the half dozen tribes of Indians who roved over Washington county, only the Shawnees were friendly to the white man. Remember too that Black Hawk, the Indian Chief, was just as blood-thirsty and savage -- and just as good a promoter -- as was Geronimo down around Sante (sic) Fe, New Mexico in the 1870's. And he was stirring up trouble all the time. Indeed, the soldiers of the Federal Government had to march against him in 1832, and wipe out his stronghold, before finally he was subdued. And the menace of the red man ended.
      And here's another thing. The early settlers had to protect their salt line. To us moderns who can call up our neighborhood grocer and order a package of finely-grounded, iodized salt -- and have it at our kitchen door with a few minutes -- it is almost impossible to realize that the early settlers of southern Illinois had to haul their supply in wagons or ox-carts from the salt deposit -- salt-licks they were called -- down in Saline county. This salt came from the deer wallows that about down there and was scouped (sic) up dirt and all hauled to various points of destination and fanned and washed until it was fit for human consumption. Later the government took over the salt work there. It is well established that there was a number of cut--offs from the old Shawneetown Road down into the salt country. It is believed that one of these cut-offs passed near the old Phillips' farm. It would seem to be natural, and practical, along this supply line, to build an occasional block-house or a fort, even if there were no other reason for it.
      Anyway, the old building stands there, just as it was in the beginning, one of the very few land marks which our progress has not destroyed. And it serves to show how far we've come since then.

 

START SCRAP FOR COUNTY SEAT
      While the fight for a new county-seat was going on developments in other parts of Washington county were moving with increasing rapidity. Settlements at Plum Hill, Ashley, Okawville and Venedy were established in that order. The Palmer family moved into the Du Bois territory and a little settlement began there. All over the state there was increased activity.
      Fort Dearborn, now Chicago, was beginning to strain at its swaddling cloth and showing signs of the aggressiveness that has since made it the second city of the nation. With the Great Lakes-Erie Canal, water route to the eastern seaboard now established, Fort Dearborn began to agitate for a canal down through the heart of Illinois that would connect the Great Lakes with the Mississippi river -- a project the coming of the railroads killed just before it forced the state into bankruptcy. Black Hawk the Indian chieftain was becoming increasingly bold are (sic) various Indian tribes within the state were becoming increasingly reactive.
      Still smarting from the predicament back in 1826 when the circuit judge was ordered to Washington county to hold court and couldn't find a courthouse to hold it in, the first act of the county commissioners -- after Nashville had become the county seat in 1831 -- was to provide for the construction of a new courthouse. It was a temporary affair built in what was established as the "Court House Square." It served until 1840, when a contract was let to Tom Moore to erect a permanent frame building at the same location for the sum of $4,885. This served until 1883 when Nashville had the big great fire in its history. All the business houses south of the Square went up in smoke and the court house went with them. The next year the present structure was built.
      In 1821 John D. Wood, just turned 21, squatted on a piece of land northwest of Nashville. It is possible at this late date to _____ the exact location. He began _____ career, first as a farmer and later as a realtor and general all around businessman. When Black Hawk stormed back across the Mississippi from his stronghold in Iowa, Wood volunteered as a private to help put down what became known as the Black Hawk War. He came back in 1832 as a Major. More of him later.
      It is said that: "From little acorns might oaks may grow." And so with taxes. At the August Term of Court, 1819, John Martin, county collector, reported that he had collected as taxes the sum of $129.30 in less than 20 years. There was. Slaves were taxed at $1.00 each; horses at 50 cents. Public Houses that sold liquor had an interesting set of rates. One on the "U.S. Road," presumably near the ferry over the Kaskaskia river at Carlyle was taxed $8.00 per year. Five others had rates that ranged down from that to as low as two dollars. And ferries were taxed too. That one on the "U.S. Road" was ten dollars; others in the county not so well located for business ranged from two to $10.00.
      But evidently there was some expense attached to running a country. For instance, the payment of $2.00 for each wolf scalp dug rather deeply into the treasury. And they were getting ready to build a new courthouse -- if they could get the site question settled. So all in all the increase seems justified.
      And another thing. The authorities didn't intend for the keepers of "Public Houses" to make a racket of the business. Here's what they were allowed to charge their patrons, Breakfast, Dinner, or Supper...87 cents. A pint of whiskey, 12 cents; the same of Peach Brandy, $1.00. Horse feed (grain), 18 cents. Horse feed for night, (hay and grain), 50 cents. The public was equally well protected at the ferries.

 

MYTHICAL CITY OF GEORGETOWN
      The history books tell us Illinois had had three capitols, but they fail to make mention of the fact that Washington county has had four county-seats. I would like to fill in that vacuum.
      In 1824 the north half of the country was peeled off and organized as Clinton county with Carlyle as the county seat. The first dividing lines between the two counties ran along the "Base Line" which located Covington, our first county-seat, just over the line in Clinton county. This was not so good so, later, the north lines of Irvington, Hoyleton and part of Covington townships were moved north two miles and all of Washington county north of the Okaw river was given to Clinton county. And we got our county-seat back again. Even so, it was too far away from the center of the county.
      In 1825 the county commissioners located a new seat of county government and named it Georgetown. They set a post in what they considered the exact center of the county -- approximately five miles due west of what now is Nashville, on land belonging to T. H. West. "This is it," they said, "provided Mr. West will donate 20 acres for public buildings etc. In the event he does not make this donation, Georgetown is to be located on land belonging to John Hutchings, who has offered us 20 acres in the southwest quarter of Section 17."
      West refused to make the donation. The site therefore was moved to Section 17. That high ground between the two hard roads, at the "Y" about four miles west of Nashville. But even here the commissioners had their troubles. Hutchings refused to make a deed until Georgetown was surveyed, laid out in lots and certain of the lots sold.
      Then the mountain labored and a mouse was born. By the summer of 1826 this was all done and the lots sold for a total of $168.00. But alas Georgetown got itself into politics in the election that fall. Beaucoup was not the biggest settlement in the county but it certainly was the most vocal. It didn't want Georgetown nor any part of it. The Elkton-Oakdale settlement down in the south western part of the county fought back but the new county-seat was doomed.
      In the spring of 1827 a compromise was effected -- Beaucoup would be satisfied if it be built where Nashville now stands. There was a sort of gentlemen's agreement that no matter where it finally landed it was to be named Georgetown -- the county had been named in honor of Washington; it seemed fitting to give its county-seat his Christian name. But a brand new difficulty arose.
      The new site was on government land. Where was the hundred dollars coming from to buy it? The Commissioners, David White, Livesay Carter and Joseph Whittenberg spent three years trying to find the answer to that one. They couldn't raise a dollar. What had become of the $168.00 raised from the sale of lots on the other Georgetown? Nobody knows.
      Eventually in 1830, a pair of promoters from St. Clair county named Robert Middleton and W. G. Brown -- tipped off presumably by Ninian Edwards that there was "a ripe plum over in Washington county" -- put up the necessary cash and the new county-seat was on its way. A new town was born in March, 1831, the Commissioners declared it to be the county-seat of Washington county. But the Commissioners would not stand for the name Georgetown -- they'd had too many headaches with it. So since Carter and Whittenberg came from near Nashville, Tennessee, they voted to call it New Nashville. And that settled it. It was so named. Then it took several years to rub out that "New."

 

WOOD TAVERN WAS 1822 HOSTELRY
      Evidently some of the early records of Washington county were lost in the fire that destroyed the courthouse in 1883. If indeed, such records ever existed. For instance, the only history of Washington county extant, published in 1878, makes no mention of the oldest hotel, the old "Half Way House," located on the old Shawneetown-St. Louis Road back when Nashville was only a figment of the imagination in the minds of three terribly-agitated county commissioners. Yet the old building still stands -- almost a wreck and being used as a stable -- in the northwest part of Nashville to prove it. Nor does it mention -- except in a fragmentary way -- its owner, Major John D. Wood, one of the keenest, most enterprising business men in the county at that time, whose tombstone lies neglected about a hundred feet west of the old building. This is believed to be the oldest public building in the county, if indeed not the oldest along the entire Shawneetown road. And it deserves a better fate.
      In the 1820s and for ten years afterwards, the Shawneetown Road was the main east-west artery across the new state. Its exact location in Nashville is lost. Suffice to say it was somewhere north of Court House Square -- to eliminate the hill on which the business section stands. This accounts for the location of the old building which stands at the end of Wood Avenue, two blocks north of the present main street.
      During that time it was the rendezvous and meeting place -- so runs tradition -- of politicians of every shade and leaning, of every party, for Wood was too keen a business man to dip into the affairs of his guests. It is said, but cannot be verified, that on one or two occasions during those four agonizing years without a court house, court was held within its walls. It was the stopping-place of circuit-riding lawyers and preachers and of the riders of the Pony Express as well as transients.
      John D. Wood came to Washington county in 1821 in his twenty-first year. In common with most settlers at that time he "squatted" on a piece of government land, built his habitation, took his own sweet time about "proving up" on his land. According to the available records he did not "prove up" for 11 years.
      In the meanwhile, the inference is that the home he built was this Half Way House -- probably in 1822 or 23. And he opened it up for business immediately. For a year or so he farmed as a sideline but gradually worked up a real estate business.
      The next ten years were the golden age for the Half Way House for when the surveyors laid out the city of Nashville they disregarded the old Shawneetown Road's meanderings, placed the Court House Square at the top of the hill and thus relegated the hotel to a back street; or rather, no street at all. A new hotel -- the one mentioned in the history of the county -- was built on East Main street and it slowly sapped the older hostelry's business.
      During the 1820's Black Hawk was making himself a nuisance. Finally the U.S. Government decided to stop him and issued a call for volunteers. Wood "proved up" on his land January 2, 1832 and entered the service as a private. He came back a major. His career after the Black Hawk War is history and need not be rehashed here.

 

FIRST SETTLERS WERE DOCTORS
      Early in my research for this series I ran into the astounding fact that three of the first seven settlers in Washington county were doctors. And my reaction was: How on earth did they make a living?
      The answer is: They didn't as doctors. They had to develop sidelines. Most of them settled on farms and raised crops and live stock. Others went into politics. Some practiced law. All of them, I imagine, dabbled in real estate for land rather than money was the medium of exchange. They became powerful in their communities. The question intrigued me. I went back to my history books for a fact I'd almost forgotten. Yes, there it was.
      Five signers of the Declaration of Independence were doctors -- with side-lines, politics first and farming second. Surely, I thought, there was a doctor without a sideline somewhere in the wilderness.
      I plowed through the 700 page "History of Early Medical Practice in Illinois" in search for him. There was Ninian Edwards, doctor, lawyer, farmer, realtor, banker and merchant prince. He went into politics, becoming governor of the Territory of Illinois from 1813 to 1818 also its second governor after it had been admitted into the Union as a state. Later he went to the U.S. Senate and later still he was Minister to Mexico. He didn't qualify.
      In Washington county there was our own William H. Barbsby, doctor, realtor, farmer, county clerk, circuit clerk, probate judge, surveyor, post master, and our first state Representative. And the Hale boys who were among the first settlers in Plum Hill township. Both were doctors but they were farmers also.
      I read on. At last I thought, I've found him. A doctor who claimed he'd found a sure fire cure for cancer and was toasted throughout the effete East as the savior of mankind because of it. There is no point in naming him but he lived close enough to Washington county to make it interesting. I read on through his biography -- to the point where the cancer turned into a carbuncle.
      And there was one who lived down towards Old DuQuoin. He tried out whiskey for snakebite. It worked and he became very popular, as popular as a prescription writer in Prohibition days. But, even he didn't get rich.
      True there was some excuse for these sidelines. Doctors had to eat and a clientele of only two or three families didn't offer much in the way of nourishment, especially when they had little but land with which to pay. Besides, there weren't very many diseases in those days -- mostly chills and fever. And, not many medicines -- a little quinine maybe and calomel. (Dover's Pills came in when I was a boy.) Of course, small-pox vaccine had found its way into Fort Kaskaskia and Cahokia but it was a long time getting into suburbs like Washington county. After all, there just wasn't any percentage for the doctor in swapping forty acres of land, say for a bottle of vaccine and then retailing it by the drop. Surveying crews in those days were not geared to it and there was no way to "make change."
      I was about to give up my search for a full-time doctor when I recalled a case I had run into several years ago by accident when I was running down a Marion county title in the Court House at Salem. I dug in my notes. And there it was. An old-time doctor who had licked the wilderness by the simple expedient of allowing his bill to drag until it reached $19.00, then taking a deed to forty acres of land, about the smallest fruits the surveyors had time to bother with. And I mean he really licked it. This forty I'm speaking of has yielded up to his heirs, successors and assigns, a cool million dollars worth of oil since then. I have no idea how many more forties he acquired.

 

DEMPSEY KENNEDY - A BIG SHOT
      A member of one of Washington county's oldest families, an inveterate hunter, told me the other day that while after squirrels last summer in a little neck of woods two miles east of Nashville, he came upon the old Kennedy burying ground. "The story in our family is," he said, "that Dempsey Kennedy used to own a number of slaves and some of them are buried there. And he's buried beside them." He told me how to find the spot. I found it -- and launched myself on the most baffling search so far in this series.
      Imagine a little knoll covered with oak trees a foot in diameter and two Douglas Firs 40 to 50 feet high, and a tangle of almost impassible underbrush. In the center of it picture a high monument with a shaft reaching skyward at least fifteen feet. It all stands on a point of land jutting into a dry creek bed about 150 feet south of the hard road and the same distance east of the rock road to Posen. The legend on the monument reads: "Dempsey Kennedy, Born 1800, Died 1870." The story, I said to myself, of the man rating a monument like this ought to be interesting.
      I looked through the "History of Washington County" -- and found practically nothing. But beginning in the early 1830's the records in the courthouse reveal that he had bought and owned literally hundred of acres of land; and was selling very little of it. That high a vagrant memory of my boyhood came to me -- the story of my father and a Dempsey Kennedy driving hundreds of hogs overland to St. Louis before the L&N railroad was built. Yes, this was going to be interesting. I began a search among the old-timers and their family traditions.
      Where did Dempsey Kennedy come from? No one seems to know, but probably Kentucky. Was he wealthy? That's the only point on which all agreed. At one time he was rich. Was he a slave owner? "Naw, he was a Republican," one tottery old-timer told me. Another one said: "I've heard he owned lots of slaves -- and thought enough of them to bury them in the family grave-yard." Did he raise hogs? "Yes, lots of them, during and after the Civil war." This in a way, verifies that the vagrant memory of mine. My father's first business ventures had to do with buying livestock and driving it to market. And the timing was right. They'd probably dealt in hogs together. Did Kennedy leave family? "Yes but they have moved away. Don't know where to."
      Surely, I thought this man rates more of a place in the history of the county than he seems to have. There is a kind of snobbishness sometimes, even among historians, that won't allow a true evaluation if a man's foot happens to slip a little. Could that be the case with Kennedy? I went back to the records in the courthouse -- and found it. He had slid down hill financially. Toward the end he was just about broke. Armed with this information I talked again to the old timers. "Yes," one who knew him told me.

 

WASHINGTON COUNTY VIGILANTES
      The Pony Express and the Vigilantes have been so glamorized and dramatized in the winning of the West that we've come to think of them as strictly western institutions. Not so. Washington county had them both long before the west was opened up. I've already mentioned the Pony Express and a couple of its riders. Here's a story of the Vigilantes of Washington county 135 years ago operating at the best and at a time before the Law has caught up with the development of the country. It was told to me by a dear old lady who, naturally, wants the names deleted.
      "When my grandmother was married," she related, "her mother gave her half a dozen geese as a wedding present. It was the custom in those days to brand all live stock, geese included, but she did not get around to selecting a brand for hers for some little time.
      One of her neighbors branded his geese by cutting off the left toe of the left foot at the first joint. One evening, following a snow flurry, her husband noticed the geese were leaving bloody tracks in the snow. He examined them. Each had lost a left toe at the first joint of the left foot, and he figured our neighbor was planning to claim them as soon as the wounds healed.
      He notified one of the Vigilantes committee. The next morning three of them came and took the evidence. Then they estimated the value of the man's crops. Before noon they went to him. 'Young man,' they told him, 'you're a thief and we don't want you in the community. Here's the money for your crops. We'll give you two hours to pack our belongings in your wagon. By sundown you are to be so far away that we can't see you, hear you, nor smell you.' And the man left ' long before sundown."
      And in other things too Southern Illinois was up on its toes. We have come to regard bootlegging as a twentieth century manifestation associated with Al Capone and Prohibition. But the very first grand jury ever convened in Washington county indicted one man for assault and battery and four for bootlegging.
      And got home that night to do the milking.
      Chain stores? Ninian Edwards had over a dozen of them scattered around over the county long before Woolworth was born.
      Experiments in Socialism! One was tried out right on our back doorstep more than 150 years ago. Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas and the present British government were mere copy-cats. This experiment was at a settlement very appropriately named New Design, located four miles south of where Waterloo now stands, in Monroe county. It started out with the idea that all the inhabitants were to share the wealth equally. But, there was no provision made for sharing the burden and the responsibilities and it failed.
      "Of course it failed," snorted an old man to whom I was talking about it. "All these modern 'isms are going to fail till we breed a race, without a lazy bone in its body; and till every individual in it is so ox-like he's willing to let the powers-that-be say whether he's gonna clean the streets or be the banker."
      I've stood on the site of New Design, beautiful spot, overlooking the fertile American Bottoms and beyond that the broad sweeping Mississippi. A view that grips imagination, inspires dreams, (rest of sentence cannot be read).

 

FLOUR MILLS CAME TO COUNTY
      In the last analysis, there is always one man -- or a group of men -- behind every invention and every movement. The story of Washington county is the story of wheat; but the story behind it is of inventions and a group of men. The inventions are first, a sod-plow by a Nashville man named Runk, a plow capable of cutting the prairie sod.
      And second, the McCormick Harvesting Machine invented in 1848 by a man named McCormick. The group of men were a galaxy of highly-skilled German flour millers who saw in the fertile prairie lands of southern Illinois an opportunity to bring their old-time friends and neighbors, whose families had raised wheat in the old country for generations, to their old occupation in a brand new setting.
      Phillip Postel who settled in Mascoutah in about 1845 was the first of these millers. John Huegely who settled in Nashville was second. Then came Sauer of Evansville, Pfeffer of Lebanon and Gaebe of Addieville to name a few. All around 1850. And they started a movement that amounted to the mass migration of a whole race of people. During the 1850's these people came in droves. In Washington county from Irvington to Okawville was settled almost solidly by the Germans. And wheat came into its own. For a century it has been one of the high five wheat counties of the state. Some years it has topped them all.
      Then came the invention of a patented process for making flour. By the middle 1870's flour mills, ranging in size from little 25-barrel outfits to giants turning out 2,500 barrels a day, dotted the county. Even villages like Hoyleton, New Minden and Venedy, with no railroad facilities, boasted of their flour mills and hauled their output to the roads or to market in wagons. These were the golden years for the millers. But a double blight struck them.
      Kansas began to compete, with a hard wheat said to be superior to the winter wheat of Illinois. And too the railroads discriminated against the outlying mills by placing a low freight rate on whole wheat and vastly higher one on flour, thus forcing the milling business into the larger cities. Milling in Washington county declined, but wheat still reigned. With wheat production like that we were sure of our bread.
      As time went on we began to look around for some butter to put on it. And the answer was -- cows, he perfect companion for wheat. William Barrenpohl of Venedy was probably the first big milk producer in the county. After the L&N was built he shipped the milk from a hundred cows to East St. Louis and had a delivery service there of his own.
      By the middle 1880's creameries dotted Washington county even as had the flour mills a decade before. But the handwriting was on the wall for them. The big city dairies absorbed them. Nevertheless, the milk business was here to stay. And the farmer had two cash-crops instead of one.
      And what about the cow? Seventy years ago the cow had no rights anyone had to respect. If she was lucky she had a straw-pile to rail around in winter; if not so lucky a barbed wire fence was her only wind-break. Today there are cow barns in Washington county with milking parlors, lounging room and individual drinking cups, with fingerbowls a possibility. Truly the cow has come farther than anyone.

 

1856 MIGRATION TO TEXAS
      Way back there in the early days of Washington county "Uncle K" Morgan laid out a little town he called Bridgeport on that high ground just across the slough north of where Okawville now stands. Nowadays it is called "Pinch." A tragic event took place there in 1856.
      A group of citizens in Irvington township and Brookside township over in Clinton county, plus a couple of families from what now is Centralia township made up their minds to migrate to Texas, "God's Country" as it was advertised. There were 22 families and they made up a train of 22 wagons. My Grandfather Baldwin was one of them. They camped that first night at Bridgeport. During the night one of the men, his name was Brooks, took suddenly ill -- and died before morning. That raised a question: Should the widow and children continue with the train or turn back?
      Inasmuch as Brooks had cashed in all his assets -- amounting to about a thousand dollars -- it finally was decided that the Brooks' family should stay with the train. So they buried Brooks on a little hillside near where they were camped and went on.
      Down through Missouri and Arkansas they moved, slowly and painfully fording the creeks and once in a while where there was no ferry fording the rivers also. Through Indian Territory they traveled the Chisholm Trail, afterwards famous as the great cattle trail of the southwest and so into "God's Country."
      Father was eleven years old then. Exactly fifty years after I was in the Indian Territory and he came to visit me. We hired a rig and drove for 80 miles along the trail they had traversed. Even then there was not a bridge in the entire distance.
      But to get back to the story. When the wagon train reached Texas and the wagons were unloaded, that thousand dollars which Mrs. Brooks had believed was hidden somewhere among the household goods in her wagon was gone. Nor did they ever find it. And the widow was destitute indeed. But with the pluck of the true pioneer she staked out a claim and she and the children buckled down to making a living. And they made it too.
      The following year grandfather decided Texas wasn't living up to its advance notices and since he had not sold his farm here he came home. At that distance Irvington township looked mighty good to him. He told Mrs. Brooks of his intentions and asked her if she'd like to come along. But she said No. It was her husband's dream to some day have a home in Texas. She'd stay there and make it.
      What became of that thousand dollars? It was in gold. Mrs. Brooks believed -- and the rest of the train believed with her -- that Brooks had put it into a money belt and was carrying it around his waist, under his shirt. And that it was buried with him at Bridgeport right here in Washington county.
      Who knows? Some day, when someone is spading in his garden or digging a foundation for a new home -- or when erosion has washed down that little hillside -- that gold may again see the light of day. Stranger things have happened.

 

UPSTATE KEPT ILLINOIS IN UNION
      I've always believed the Almighty Himself, has directed the destinies of this nation of ours; that this government of, by and for the people was and is a sort of Divine Experiment, placed in the hands of our constitutional forefathers. True, they made mistakes, muddled if you like it better -- that's the inevitable human side of it -- but always back there somewhere He was on guard and He planted the seed to nullify those mistakes, before it was too late.
      Take states rights. In the constitutional convention each of the 18 states had some cherished idea -- tinctured by self-interest -- as to what states rights means and insisted that idea must somehow be integrated into the whole. Those diverse ideas were dumped into the hopper of debate. And came out a compromise, a masterpiece of evasion that meant all things to all men. It took the Civil War to clear it up for us. That it was war between the North and South over slavery was an accident of timing. It might well have been between the East and West at some later period.
      Illinois -- and Washington county to a lesser degree -- played a vital part in that war, yet it was by a margin of less than 1,700 votes that she cast her fate with the Union. To my mind, the seed that produced that margin was planted by the Almighty Himself back in 1812. Let's look at that record.
      The Territory of Illinois, consisting of Illinois and Wisconsin, was established in 1812 and Ninian Edwards, a Kentuckian, was named as Governor and so confirmed by the U.S. Senate. His appointment was hailed as a victory the pro-slavery elements in the Senate and out of it Nathanial Pope, his son-in-law, was appointed his secretary. But Edwards was not pro-slaves, nor was Pope. When Illinois was admitted as a state in 1818, dispute arose. Wisconsin wanted the dividing-line at the very southern tip of Lake Michigan. Pope went to Washington and almost single-handed forced that line fifty-one miles up the lake. So what you ask?
      Well, when the big test came near the beginning of the Civil War, the people in the 51 mile strip furnished more than enough votes to hold Illinois to the North.
      Our own Sidney Breese, of Carlyle, a U.S. Senator in the 1830's summed it up in the Senate. I've read his speech in the Congressional Record and will quote a part of it as nearly as I can from memory.
      "In the event of war between the North and South -- and war is possible -- Illinois must have water-connections through the Great Lakes; otherwise her commerce must pass through New Orleans, thus binding her economically to the South. We must find some way to bind her spiritually to the North."
      By the way of background. In 1818 when Pope made his fight there were no railroads and no steamboats and none in the middle west when Breese made his speech. People (and produce) floated downstream or came in covered wagons or they walked. Our only outlet for surplus produce was down the Mississippi river. But the completion of the Erie Canal from Albany, N.Y. to Lake Erie changed all that, for it gave Illinois a better market in the North by way of the Great Lakes. Hence the economic importance of that 51-mile strip. And still more important was the spiritual lift for it made possible the settlement of thousands of Swedes and Irish and down-easterners in northern Illinois who were against slavery almost to a man.
      I shudder when I think of what might have been. At best we might have been a state of guerrillas and bushwhackers at worst, we might have furnished our 250,000 men to the South. And we would have had no Lincoln.
      Let's not call Nathanial Pope a happy accident. Rather, let's say the Almighty foresaw both the Civil War and this hideous thing we call Communism and worked through Pope to settle the one to combat the other.

 

(Published: Sept. 29, 1950)
WASHINGTON SEMINARY - 1840'S
      The early settlers in Washington county did not neglect the education of their children. In fact, as soon as a man came into a community with sufficient time -- and the ability -- to teach the three "R's", he was put to work sometimes in his own log cabin, sometimes in a log structure hastily chopped out and put together for that purpose. And the teacher, supported by private subscription boarded around among the homes of the pupils. If he was a bachelor that worked well enough; if he had a family of his own it made matters slightly more difficult and more costly. However, from the beginning it appears that the small fry for the most part learned to read and write, and to figure.
      There were exceptions of course. I've heard my father say that his first teacher was an Englishman with four children of his own. The pupils went to the teacher's home to recite their lessons and the four children were not allowed to come into the room while school was in session. In fact, not one of them ever learned to read or write.
      But eventually, by a long slow process, the county was carved into school districts and the system we now know evolved. Even so, for years and years only the so-called "Three R's" were stressed. Geography and History were introduced into the district school at Irvington in the late '70's; Civil, Government and Grammar in the '80's. Physiology came even later. As to Physical Culture, well a kid could get enough of that with a hoe or an ax, or behind a plow. No use taking up a teacher's time with anything a kid could learn at home.
      This was the general pattern. Among a goodly number there was a craving for more. In the late 1850's in a little settlement called Richmond about a mile southwest of where Richview now stands agitation started for an institution of higher learning. By the early 1840's that ambition was realized. It was called Washington Seminary. As I understand it, it was a private affair supported entirely by tuitions. It languished for several years -- until a man named Williams bought it for $1,500.00. Under his management it became quite a school. A good big segment of the second generation that grew up in this county attended, some for the full four year course. Later, about Civil War time or a little before, it began to slip. Mr. Williams was getting old and another institution less than five miles away, with an endowment of 640 acres of land and a bigger faculty was in the offing. And finally it folded.
      Nothing remains of Washington Seminary now except its tradition still kept alive in the memories of the children and the children's children of those who went to school there. And indeed, except for three or four homes, nothing is left of Richmond -- now called Old Town -- whose people moved to the present site of Richview when the Illinois Central railroad came along.
      Unfortunately this Richmond library was lost in the fire that wiped out the last vestiges of Washington Seminary at Richmond years ago. But the cultural instincts of those old pioneers still runs strong in their descendants. Just after the turn of the century a devoted group lead by Alvord Stanton and ably assisted by Mrs. Willis McDonald and others set out to build a new one. They started from scratch, by giving a pie supper, buying a few books, renting them at a dime a week; and repeating. Until today the Richview Library, through donations etc. is housed in its own building and enjoys the distinction of being one of the first in the county.

 

AGRICULTURAL COLLEGE IN 60'S
      One of my first memories -- that would be in the early '80's -- is of being lifted up onto the big white front-gate post at my home west of Irvington and watching about twenty cadets drilling on the grounds of the old Agricultural College that used to be there. They had blue uniforms with broad yellow bands that went over the shoulders and down to the belt and crossed in front and back. They carried the old Springfield rifles, the Army regulation piece at that time. I don't recall the headgear. To my mind this suggests that in addition to being an agricultural institution, the college had something of a military flavor.
      In 1878 or 1879 the most, if not all, of the 640 acres which belonged to it was sold. Father bought 80 acres of it, the forty on which our house stands lying about a quarter of a mile northwest of these training grounds. At that time or possibly later, Uncle Jack Henry of Nashville bought the huge college building and the three-story dormitory where he raised most of his family.
      There is quite a bit of dispute as to why it was closed down. Even the year in which it closed seems to be debatable. Without taking sides in the matter, the leading tradition around Irvington was -- and still is -- that John A. Logan of Carbondale used his influence which was considerable at that time due to his Civil War record to relocate it to his own home town. Be that as it may, Carbondale opened up an institution of higher learning at about that time and it is said the library and some of the faculty went there. Others, including a Miss Fish and Uncle Miles TenEyck remained at Irvington. Also the stuffed American eagle with wings outstretched, was left on his perch in the big Assembly room on the second floor of the old college building.
      Evidently it was quite a school in its time. I've met numerous graduates including such men as Norman Moss and Albert Watson, lawyers of Mt. Vernon, who told me they attended. Indeed Mr. Watson who afterwards was a member of the Illinois Supreme Court, told me he met his future wife there, a Miss Way. The campus covering about 5 acres was set out with maple trees, each tree said to have been planted by a graduate of the school. The last class, numbering seven, planted their trees in a circle of six with the tree of the valedictorian standing in the middle, midway between the college buildings and the dormitory.
      I don't know when it closed officially as a college but I do know that it operated as a sort of private school for the lower grades for several years. In fact I was a student there in 1888. And Miss Fish was one of my teachers. I remember her principally because she wore an enormous bustle and kids dumped chewing gum and paper wads on it when she passed around the room.
      Regardless of why the college was moved from Irvington, I feel that from the standpoint of the institution itself, the moving was a mistake. It had the buildings and a section of mighty good land, and it had the prestige that goes with a going concern. The students from the south end of the state would have come to Irvington as readily as to Carbondale. And it would have drawn students from much further north than it does in its present location. Thus it would have increased its usefulness. But that's that.

 

(Oct. 4, 1950)
HOYLETON SEMINARY FOR GIRLS
      Back a hundred years and more, it didn't seem as important to educate the girls in the family as it does today. Possibly it was not. They were supposed to function mainly as wives and mothers. But somehow those New Yorkers and the families from Ohio who settled around Hoyleton about that time felt different about it. They wanted their daughters to have an even break or better -- with their sons. And they set about getting it for them.
      So they applied for and took over, a portion of Section 14 which the government had set aside for educational purposes in each township and used it as a seminary exclusively for girls. The thought was that it should teach more than the proverbial three R's. Perhaps be a sort of finishing school. Title to the necessary land was taken by a set of three trustees -- Ward Atherton, a Mr. DePew, and a third man whose name I haven't learned. A big two-story structure was built and here, for a period, the institution thrived -- as a seminary, a real Girl's School.
      In the late forties and during the 1850's the nationality of the community underwent a change. The German immigration of that decade was under way. As each of the earlier settlers sold his holdings he moved away. When the Civil War broke the change was practically complete. The Germans brought their own culture with them -- their churches and ministers, their schools and teachers. And their sons and daughters were educated alike.
      The Girls Seminary, therefore, lost is usefulness -- as a seminary; but it came into a new, and perhaps a greater use, as an orphanage. It stands today, as a monument to the foresight and idealism of its founders and to the later Germans who had the vision to utilize it for a worthy cause after its original need had ceased.
      It has served, too, in another great capacity. Its annual strawberry festivals of a half century and more ago, when the Mike & Ike ran excursions from Salem and Chester and when people from all over Washington county attended, played a splendid part in amalgamating the different races during that always -- difficult first generation period. Through these gatherings German and non-German alike discovered the old old truth that the other was a good fellow and wanted to be a friend and a neighbor.
      The Hoyleton Orphanage burned years ago and by one of the strangest quirks of Fate it was re-built as an exact replica of the original building, the same foundations, the same number and locations of rooms as were in the old Girls' Seminary. All the difference is a degree of modernization in the facilities. The story of how this all come about is worth telling here.
      In the construction of the original building the trustees of course made certain requirements as to size, rooms, etc. The first trustees died or moved away. And apparently when the property was taken over as an orphanage a new set of trustees were selected to hold title to it. When it burned a strange twist in the law, it seems, required that it be replaced as was otherwise there would be a flaw in the title. And so, to meet those specifications it was re-built just that way.
      Thus it happens that Washington county has a landmark, built in the tradition of a century ago, which still serves a useful purpose.

 

SOD-BREAKER PLOW INVENTED HERE
      Why did the first settlers of Washington county choose their homes along the timber rather than in more fertile prairies? There were three reasons.
      First, they were closer to fuel, water and building material. Second, there was less danger from prairie fires, started sometimes by accident but oftener by the Indians for the purpose of burning them out. And, third, the plows of that day were not built to bust the prairie sods. I've heard my grandfather say the first plow he ever used had a wooden moldboard faced with a few iron strips. A man-killer, he called it.
      Time eliminated the first two reasons. Then a highly successful sod plow was invented -- tradition has it -- by the first blacksmith of Nashville, a mechanical genius named, J. L. Runk, who joined up in a manufacturing project with a group of Sparta (Illinois) men under the name of the Sparta Plow company, and they put the plow over in a big way. The important feature of the plow, as I recall it from one we had when I was a boy at Irvington, was a long sloping blade set vertically on the land-side of the plow-shear which ripped through roots and sod, taking the place of the modern rolling coulter. The sharper this blade was kept the better it cut. A big cumbersome tool and a man-killer too, but it turned the sod.
      After the plow came into use the prairies settled up rapidly. The B & O coming into Illinois saw the influx of New Yorkers, many coming to Hoyleton prairie and putting the plow to work. That is, all but one of them put it to work -- a man named Marx. Marx' experience with it ended in a "success story" with a few equals in the county and deserves a place in this series.
      He was a young bachelor from one of the smaller cities of New York state, who knew nothing of farm work. He came with Mr. and Mrs. Ward Atherton, a young couple also from New York. They bought adjoining eighties about a mile and a half west of Grand Point creek beside the Irvington-Hoyleton road. Also, they bought a sod plow, horses, and harness. They were to take day and day about busting up that sod.
      Atherton's turn came first. Then it was Marx' time. He fought that plow all day -- with his Sunday shoes on. That night he slept -- or tried to -- on his experience. Next morning he told Atherton his land and his interest in the equipment were for sale -- cheap.
      "I don't mind the work," he explained. "Nor the two-inch roots that fly back and crack my shins. I guess I could get used to snakes, and the field mice running up my pants' legs. But I've got a new corn on every toe and both heels are blistered. Besides I've ruined my Sunday shoes ... I'm gone."
      Atherton bought him out. His mind still must have been on his feet and those ruined Sunday shoes for he went into the shoe business in Chicago. Some years later he sent for Atherton's oldest son, Frank, and between them they built the Marx Shoe Company into one of the biggest shoe manufacturers in the middle west.

 

KI MORGAN PLANTED CLOVER
      In common with the rest of the county, the first two generations of Washington county farmers mined their soil instead of farming it. Not that they meant it that way. They just couldn't understand why virgin soil that yielded forty to 50 bushels of wheat per acre couldn't go on being virgin soil forever. But Nature had other ideas about it. During the seventies the yield decreased to 20 bushels. In the 80's it dropped to an average for the county to around 10 to 12 bushels. One year, I believe, it was down to eight -- chinch bugs getting most of the blame. Something had to be done. And it was done.
      But before going into that, I want to mention a couple of old fellows who foresaw what was coming and were so near right in their diagnosis and their remedy -- yet, couldn't do much about it -- that when they arrived at the Pearly Gates old St. Peter must have patted them on the back and said, "Well done, anyway."
      Nearly a hundred years ago one of these men, "Ki" Morgan of Okawville was farming in a big way. He began preaching -- and practicing -- the gospel of red clover and a four year rotation of crops. But he couldn't get his clover to "catch" except occasionally in spots. He lacked the one ingredient -- lime -- to sweeten the soil which was becoming increasingly sour with every crop taken from it. And there were no rock quarries around from which to get the lime. He failed, "by just that much."
      A few years later a bee-man named Courtney settled near Richview. The honey, derived from a "weed" called sweet clover is of very high quality. He secured seed from somewhere and grew sweet clover on his little bee farm, where it served a double purpose -- nectar for his bees and seed for propagation. Not having much land he scattered it along the highways where it grew and thrived and what a roar that raised! More than one farmer wanted to "tar and feather the old devil" for scattering weed seed over the country side. He was at our house one day when I was a kid. He had a stalk of sweet clover with him, roots and all. He pointed out the nitrogen podules on the roots. "This ain't a weed," he explained, "it's a crop. Plow it under and it'll bring the land back. Take off three crops and put back one. See what I mean?" He too was on the right track but didn't have enough land of his own to prove it.
      I've often thought if these two old men could have got together they would have saved Washington county a whole generation of headaches and disappointments.
      But help was coming. In 1890 the state university added an agricultural department -- to prove scientifically what was the matter with our soil and to do something about it. Cyril G. Hopkins was put in charge. One of his first acts was to buy the poorest farm in Southern Illinois. He found it, south of the hard road between Odin and Salem, and named it "The Poor Farm." "I'm going to prove," he said, "that this soil will produce forty bushels of wheat or 80 bushels of corn to the acre." And for the last sixty years that farm has been doing just that, sometimes more than that. And here's how he did it. By combining the ideas of Uncle "Ki" Morgan and old man Courtney, and adding lime plus a bit of commercial fertilizer.
      And now Washington county is slowly beating back -- twenty-five to 30 bushels of wheat per acre is not uncommon with an occasional field yielding 40 bushels.

 

THE BIRTH OF THE MIKE AND IKE
      Along in the middle 1880's an idea germinated in the fertile brain of one "Hoot" Schmidt, of Red Bud, Illinois -- the idea that it would be a good thing to build a railroad, beginning in Chester and meandering northeast through Washington County by way of Oakdale, Nashville, Hoyleton and Nolting Station, to Centralia. That idea was destined to grow and grow, and finally flower into the Centralia Chester Railroad, variously and affectionately nicknamed, the "Chase & Crackers," the "Cow & Calf," and lastly the "Mike & Ike." It has had more than its share of heart-breaks. And each heart-break has brought it closer to the hearts of the people it serves. Its trials and tribulations belong in this series.
      Old Hoot used to say "All it takes to build a railroad is a silk hat, a Prince Albert coat and a box of cigars." But he was wrong, as I've learned by a hard experience. It takes more than that. It takes a Santa Claus -- or a bunch of them. It takes work and worry on the part of the promoter; setbacks, delays, bitter disappointments; long sleepless nights; stomach ulcers -- and guts. It takes scheming and a smattering of law. Sometimes the promoter has to take the law into his own hands and risk the consequences. Hoot had all these qualifications and a spare. And he built the road.
      One of the real heart-breakers in the construction-period was inherent in the direction in which it was built. Its course was to the northeast, therefore it cut diagonally across the farms it touched. And be it said just here, no matter how much a property owner wanted it built close to him, nor how friendly he might be to the general proposition -- nor how much it would enhance the value of the rest of his property -- he just couldn't bear to see it dividing his particular property into two pie-shaped pieces like that.
      Generally speaking a bit of money -- sometimes a lot; sometimes a little -- was sufficient to salve the hurt; but not always. And for these last, old Hoot had his own stock technique. And he worked it time after time. Knowing that with common carriers possession is nine points in law, he would shove his silk hat back on his head and say, with bland persuasiveness, "You're exactly right, my friend. We'll do just as you say. But we'll have to go to Chester to do it. Now listen. Go in and put on your Sunday pants. We'll go down there and get it over with."
      Needless to say, while they were gone the construction-crew as working feverishly. And old Hoot would see to it that there always were some details on which they could not agree. If he figured it would take the crew two days to cross the property he'd find some way to entertain the owner in Chester that long. When they got back home the road was built across and property and could not be moved off. Taking the land owner along, he would hunt up the construction-boss.
      "Why didn't you wait, you blankity-blank? Didn't you know I had a deal on with this man?" And after giving the boss a dressing down he'd turn blandly to the owner. "I'm sorry, my friend. The company has possession. If I tried to do anything about it, the company would skin me alive." And he'd get away with it.
      That worked out in the country. When the road nosed its rails into Nashville and up to the L&N railroad, old Hoot had another job on his hands. Some of the property owners didn't want the tracks across their property and the L&N didn't want a little jerk-water outfit cutting in a crossing. Hoot couldn't take them all on a visit to Chester and expect to get away with it. So he pulled a brand new rabbit out of that hat of his.

 

RELOCATING NASHVILLE'S DEPOT
      After "Hoot" had established his right to a crossing over the L & N at Nashville, he had comparatively easy sailing. The infant road meandered on it s journey, through Hoyleton, through Nolting Station into Centralia. In that bustling city it made "wheelage" arrangement with the Illinois Central whereby it used the latter's tracks to a point about half a mile north of Central City. There it cut off and continued on to Salem, its present terminus. Hoot had built his road at last.
      For a few years thereafter, he was busy consolidating his victory. To the south, in a deal with which I am not familiar, he brought in a "feeder" line. At a point across the Mississippi river opposite St. Genevieve, Mo., there is a cut-off that leads down to the river and connects up by a ferry with a little road that leads to Bismark, farther down in the state, in the lead belt. Thereafter, the C & C began to move chatts -- a by-product of the lead mines -- into Illinois to be used for ballast on the railroads and as the aggregate for concrete. The road was doing quit a business now.
      At Nashville, however, the set-up was not satisfactory. The depot was too far from the business section. "Hoot" wanted to give the lumber yard and the two flour mills switching facilities that would put his road on a par with the L & N. Also he wanted to bring the depot into closer touch with the community. But as it almost always happens with a project of that kind certain of the property owners objected. He set about getting what he wanted with that effrontery which endeared him to his public and to his stock holders. He got himself set for his coup then waited for a nice moonlight Saturday night. An injunction remember, can't be issued on Sunday.
      At midnight a crew of men appeared, some cutting into the C & C tracks for a switch, others throwing up a roadbed, still others jacking up the depot. A track-laying outfit began laying steel. At day break the good citizens were awakened out of their Sunday morning slumbers by the song of the spike mauls. They rose -- to see the Cheese & Crackers depot lurching down the street on its way to its new destination. "Hoot" had scored again.
      But with all his ability "Hoot" was not able to dig up enough business to keep his baby on an even financial basis, and in a few years it was in bankruptcy. There just wasn't enough local business along its lines too justify its existence. "Hoot" passed forever out of the picture.
      I'll pass over the next few years of the road's vicissitudes and the heartbreaks of the citizens along its line. They're too much like those of other roads in their infancy. But the story of how a former Chicago bootblack with a dream of empire bought it at the receiver's sale and revived it is well worth the telling. And spice is added to that story by the fact that he was sent to the federal penitentiary for doing so; what he served for several years -- until President Taft learned that a grievous error had been made and pardoned him, just a few days before he died.
      The story -- and the bootblack's dream --was told to me in 1912. I'll pass it on as nearly as I can remember it.

 

JOHN WALSH AND HIS RR DREAM
      John R. Walsh began his career as a boot-black in the Loop district in Chicago. There, as a dirty-faced barefooted kid, he learned the stern facts of life. He learned loyalty to his friends and he leaned to hate his enemies. He learned to fight and to use his wits. He grew up in the shadow of the Chicago board of Trade and it had a strange fascination for him. Especially the stock market, railroad shares in particular. By the time he had reached middle age, a dream had formulated in his brain -- a railroad of his own from Chicago to New Orleans by way of Hot Springs, Arkansas. And there's where his career becomes interesting to Washington county.
      When he bought the Illinois Southern and the Missouri Southern at the Receiver's Sale, he already owned the Indiana Southern which ran from Chicago to Vincennes. By joining the latter city with Salem, Illinois -- a matter of some 80 miles -- he would have a through line clear into Bismark, Missouri. Another small construction job would put him into Hot Spring on his own rails! From there to New Orleans he would make wheelage arrangement with the N.C. & St. Louis and his dream of empire would be realized.
      By that time -- he was up in his sixties -- he also had acquired the controlling interest in one of the big Chicago banks and he owned the Chicago Inter-Ocean, then the second largest newspaper in the city. He paid around $700,000 for the bankrupt C & C and its little subsidiary down in Missouri. Then to make his dream come true, he mortgaged them for ten times that amount (around seven million dollars) and floated the entire issue through his Chicago bank, using his newspaper as an advertising medium.
      He'd made many enemies in his two-fisted fight to the eminence he had reached and those enemies went to work. He was prosecuted for something like foisting worthless securities on his bank and using the mails to defraud. He was sent to the federal penitentiary and this ended his dream.
      It also ended the Chicago Inter-Ocean and his connection with the bank. The family decided to save the Illinois Southern (the C & C) and the Missouri Southern from the wreckage. John R. Jr. was installed as operating vice president but it is said that the old man really operated the road from the prison. It was during this period that I met Johnnie and we became friends. And when he told me this story.
      Then Fate intervened -- and it saved the old man from dying a felon.
      It will be recalled that at the turn of the century a movement was inaugurated to squeeze the water out of railroad securities. Surveying crews were placed by government on every railroad in the United States and were sworn to count every rail, every tie and fishplate, every yard of ballast and earthwork, every bit of rolling stock, every bridge and culvert the railroad owned, and every foot of ground and the buildings. These all were given a predetermined value. The idea being to find out just what the roads actually were worth.
      The Walsh family had enough influence to have its property valued among the first in the country. When the returns were all in and totaled up, it was discovered that the actual physical value of the property was around $200,000 more than the mortgage floated in the old man's bank. The prosecution therefore was a frame-up. President Taft pardoned the old man, thereby vindicating him. But death was just around the corner. John R. died within a week.
      After that the Missouri Pacific bought the road and as the Mike and Ike, it has come into its own. It even has oil wells on its right of way in Marion county.

 

THE NASHVILLE CROSSOVER
      When one railroad wants to cut a crossing over another railroad's property, since the Public Utility Act came into being in 1914, it is a very lady-like affair -- based on the theory that the new baby has just as much right to be here as has the one that got here first. Two sets of lawyers, with their bags full of affidavits, exhibits and what not, appear before the Commission and with ponderous dignity present their claims and counter-claims, their charges and counter-charges. And the Commission says: "All right, boys. We have heard it. Sit down." It makes its ruling -- just like that. And the crossing is cut.
      Not so when "Hoot" Schmidt was building the old Cheese & Crackers railroad through Washington county -- and Nashville, especially. In those days possession was nine points of the law. The new baby had no rights that anyone was bound to respect. And at just such times old "Hoot" was at his best. The first time I ever saw him I was a kid, following a slip scraper on the C & C dump about a mile and a half northeast of Hoyleton. That shining silk hat came out on the job with "Hoot" under it -- and he became my boyhood ideal. I worshipped him like the modern boy worships Enos Slaughter or Al Capone as the case may be. The old boy long since has climbed the golden stair that leads to a box seat in the heavenly grandstand where all good promoters deserve to go -- whether they get there or not. But his spirit still lives.
      When the little road reached Nashville and had established a rail-head at the edge of the L & N right of way, "Hoot" calmly set about erecting a depot beside the track and busying himself with the other details of construction that led up to putting that much of his road into operation. To all appearances he'd given up the idea of tapping Hoyleton and Centralia. But he had an ace up his sleeve. There is a quirk in the law, probably an oversight or a throw-back to our puritanical days, that does not permit a Judge to issue an injunction on Sunday. And that means from midnight Saturday night until Sunday midnight -- 24 big fat hours. And this was all the old boy needed.
      Quietly his engineers surveyed the L & N tracks giving special attention to the angle of contact between his rails and those of the L & N. Then they made up a plan with all the necessary specifications for a ready-built tailor-made crossing. And he had it put together under the strictest secrecy and shipped to him. When everything was ready he cracked his whip.
      At exactly one minute after midnight one beautiful moonlit Saturday night a gang of men -- one eye witness places the number at 500 -- waded into the job of cutting the L & N tracks, throwing up a road bed for the C & C across the other road's right of way. And edging the ready-made crossing into position where it could quickly be shifted into place. At this point a question arose: Were the rails of the crossing itself placed at the proper angle? If not, the whole scheme would fail -- the tracks would not line up across it. When at last the crossing was in and the rails of the two lines spiked into the ties, it is said "Hoot" walked down the L & N a way and sighted the alignment. Not a kink in it. He walked down the C & C. It lined up too in good shape. Then he turned to his engineer, threw his arms around him and kissed him on both cheeks.
      For the rest of the day and night "Hoot" had an engine steaming slowly back and forth over the crossing -- to prevent the L & N from doing the same thing to him that he had done to it. When morning came he had possession. All he had to do Monday was get out an injunction forbidding that his tracks be disturbed.

 

SHOOTING GAME ALONG THE I.C.
      Uncle Owen Timmons, first I.C. section-foreman at Irvington, through his daughter, Mollie, had an impact on our little village second to none in its nearly one hundred years of existence. So, this story will deal with the two of them.
      When I first knew Uncle Owen a generation after the Illinois Central was built, he still was as Irish as the city of Cork itself, or the County Clare where he was born. He and my grandfather, both retired, were cronies and they had a lot in common. Both had traveled extensively for that time and age, both were real entertainers and both liked the same brand of whiskey. In fact, I doubt if either of them ever sat down to a meal in his own home without a bottle on the table -- not to be used as a vice I hasten to add but as an appetizer, or a medicine.
      It was no hardship therefore, no matter who was visiting whom for either of them to stay for dinner so these sťances usually lasted all day. I went along whenever I could for I loved those stories of early railroading. How, when they were coming home from work, they gathered up dozens of prairie chickens that had flown against the new telegraph wires and killed themselves; how they'd stop the handcar so one of the men could shoot a deer standing on the track; how a wolf hunt over in Jefferson county had driven a pack of them to the old culvert north of Irvington.
      My very first recollection of the I.C. was when Uncle Owen took me along one day to see the pay-car come in and stop. He proudly pointed out to me the shining brass bands on the engine. "And she's burnin' coal, too be gory! he boasted. And another visit too we made together -- when old 840, said to be the biggest engine in the world at that time, made her maiden run. He was tottery and feeble then; but he got a lot of kick out of it when we kids promptly nicknamed the biggest, fattest woman in town "Old 840."
      But, to Mrs. Sam Summerville, Uncle Owen's daughter.
      In addition to raising four children about my age she was a school teacher, and a good one. At that time the Irvington school kids took a vast pride in their meanness. My first teacher [lasted] until morning recess the first day when the big boys took him to the millpond on a rail. After a week the directors found another one, a big burly brute, who beat up 12 boys and one girl the very first day. I was so scared all winter that I got into the Second Reader before spring. It was that kind of school. Beef wanted; not brains. The kids hated the school -- tried to burn it once -- and they hated the teachers.
      When I was 11 years old the directors tried an experiment. They hired Mrs. Summerville. Something had happened to her the summer before and she was a cripple. Had to be brought to school in a lumber wagon, had to be carried in and placed in her chair and had to be carried out and hauled home at night. I don't know what it was but something, maybe it was her very helplessness, or the way she took us on faith, or maybe it was her smile, anyway something drained all the meanness out of us. It just wasn't fun anymore to fight -- and hate -- the teacher. Before long we were anticipating her wants, helping her every way we could -- even to getting our lessons. That winter was the turning-point in the Irvington school. No rowdy-ism, or rough stuff went, and it's been that way ever since.
      A dozen or so years later it came my turn to teach there. I don't recall that I licked more than one or two or maybe three kids in the two years I taught there. And the little cusses learned something too, if I do say it myself.

 

(Friday, Oct. 27, 1950)
HOW RAILROADS 'BORROWED'
      Back before the Public Utility Commission made railroading genteel and lady-like, it was ethical -- and proper -- to steal anything needed from another road. The reasoning back of it, I imagine, was like that of a small boy raiding a watermelon patch -- if I eat 'em I ain't stealin', if I sell 'em, it is.
      When we got ready to build the new streetcar line down to the new yards at Centralia, we didn't have a tool and not much money to buy them with. I wasn't supposed to know it, but the foreman I'd hired had a key that would fit all Illinois Central toolboxes, so when a man hit me for a job I'd tell him he had to furnish his own tools. One darkey's reply fits for all of them: "Boss, I ain't got no tools today, but I'll shuah have some in da mawin'." Anyway, we soon had a full supply of tools. In fact, the I.C. ran short. One day a foreman with three men came over on our job. He had a telegram from Superintendent Clift, himself, ordering him to search us.
      I picked out three tools we would not need that day -- so each man would have one to carry. And back they toddled. I expect we got them back again later. If we needed them, I know we did.
      And don't think for a minute the I.C. wasn't threatening us the name way. We'd bought a carload of nice sawed ties at a bargain and had unloaded them on our right of way just west of the I.C. roundhouse, several days before we were ready to use them. I happened down there one morning. Someone had cut the right of way fence and a gang was carrying them into the roundhouse. By my count they already had nearly a thousand spiked under the rails. Of course the foreman claimed he thought they belonged to the I. C. and was awfully sorry. But that didn't get our ties back. Later, I got back at least as many by raiding the I. C.'s pile at the car-sheds -- in broad daylight. But the point is: Everybody was doing it. And the more we did it the better we seemed to like each other.
      One day after that Clift's private car was parked on a house track just north of Broadway. I was passing. He called me in. We sat down at a little table and the porter sat a bottle between us -- stuff so smooth it tickled my tonsils. "Golly, Mr. Clift," I exclaimed, "I'm glad rule G (that non-drinking rule) wasn't intended for us big shots."
      "Baldwin," he said, "I called you in to ask you just one question." "All right, Shoot," I told him.
      "Now, honestly," he went on, "If the Illinois Central had her just rights wouldn't she own the streetcar line?"
      "No," I replied. "It's the other way round. If the streetcar line had her just rights, she'd own the Illinois Central." And I told him about all those ties of ours in the roundhouse. He threw back his head and laughed. Then he called the porter. "Take this bottle out of here," he ordered, "before he gets it too."
      When the streetcar job was finished, I rounded up the tools and took them back -- spike mauls, picks, shovels, lining bars, track wrenches, crowbars, Johnson bars; a dozen track jacks, rail drills, three push cars and a handcar. Stuff that would have cost us $500, if we'd had to buy it. And since I'd already got even on the ties, we were all square. And I guess that's the way it generally worked out. Anyway, it added spice to the job and kept us up on our toes.

 

CONSTRUCTION OF THE RAILROAD
      On the heels of the invention of the steam engine, the latter two-thirds of the nineteenth century witnessed a miracle -- for the first time in the history of the world the commerce of a nation was moving on wheels instead of water. The railroads were born. In the 1830's the Baltimore & Ohio nosed its way across Marion and Clinton counties on its way to St. Louis. In the late 1840's and 1850's a two-pronged, north-and-south project with one prong beginning at Amboy up near the Wisconsin line and the other at Chicago, crawled slowly south across the prairies of Illinois until they met at a frogpond just north and a bit east of the northeast corner of Washington county. Here they joined and angling across our country, went on south to Cairo as a single line. This was the Illinois Central railroad.
      At this frogpond the railroad established a division point. Here too, on a little rise running parallel to, and west of, the tracks a store was built, where three grades of whiskey could be bought all from the same barrel. The best grade cost a quarter a pint; the worst, a dime. This was Centralia -- in its swaddling cloths.
      In this age of bulldozers and huge self-dumping trucks drawn by caterpillar tractors which can move thousands of cubic yards of dirt in a day, it is a little hard to visualize the equipment with which the Illinois Central was built. Not even the little horse-drawn slip scraper chambering three cubic feet of dirt had been invented. Dirt was moved in wheel barrows, with crews of four -- one man to push the brute and three to fill it. Weeks and multiplied weeks, and a hundred men, were required to do the earthwork at Double Rock creek which cuts across the right of way between Centralia and Irvington. And for some time after the road was in operation there was no ballast in the roadbed. During the rainy season the mud from under the joints in the rails sloshed up and covered the rolling-stock; when it was dry, dust didn't settle for an hour after the train had passed.
      The first locomotives, fired with cordwood piled along the way, were dumpy little contraptions with an oversized smoke stack. The trains consisted of two or three freight cars and a combination baggage and passenger car hooked on behind. The engine had a whistle that screeched like a wildcat.
      Where, you ask, did these construction gangs sleep? And what did they eat? Well, sleeping was not much of a problem. Except in the worst kind of weather, each man picked out a spot, rolled up in his blanket and slept on the ground. As to eats, they "lived off the land" principally. That is to say, there were plenty of deer, wild turkeys and what not and the company supplied hunters to kill them. Once in a while, when the men wanted a change from that wild stuff these hunters bought -- or stole -- a few shotes or a steer from some settler along the way. They managed to live well enough.
      This is a word-picture of early I.C. railroading as it was painted in for me when I was a little wide-eyed boy sitting on the lap of "Uncle" Owen Timmons, the first Illinois Central section boss at Irvington. Uncle Owen got his first job after landing in this country, from the Illinois Central; and he was the "pusher" in one of those wheelbarrow crews all the way from Chicago. When the road went into operation he grabbed off the Irvington job. He was up in his eighties when I knew him and long since retired to a little farm near ours, but he loved the old I. C. and he loved to talk about it.

 

ASHLEY WAS A TOUGH-LUCK TOWN
      It seems to me that early Ashley was one of the real tough luck towns of Washington county. But with the courage characteristic of her and her citizens she has always shaken off that luck -- and such mistakes, if any, she made and comes back for more. You just can't lick people if they will not stay licked. Today she bids fair to be one of the outstanding little cities of our county. Come to think of it, maybe that's why; maybe those early setbacks are just what she needed.
      Consider this one. After the Civil War ended, the South was devastated; her people ruined. Many of those ruined families -- "refugees," they were called -- flocked north to carve but new fortunes for themselves. Immediately after the war the U.S. Government promised free transportation for them to any point within 100 miles north of the Mason & Dixon Line. Ashley, 98 miles north of Cairo on the new Illinois Central railroad, was the "end of the line" for them in this direction. The result was that they dropped off there in droves. With true hospitality the people of Ashley fed and sheltered them until they could locate themselves or move on but were eaten almost out of house and home in the process. It is said that the John Robinson Circus, the big show of that time, during an exhibition in the county heard of this hardship and donated $200 -- a princely sum in those days -- to relieve that situation.
      Here's another one. Tradition has it that the original blueprints of the L&N railroad called for a division point at Ashley instead of Mt. Vernon. Some people say Ashley didn't want it; others denied it. And that surely can be classed as touch on Ashley, one of those might have-beens. If the judgment of a grizzled old railroad engineer to whom I was talking is any good that change in plans were tough on the L&N railroad too. And here's why:
      "The L&N was the real goat" he said. "There's a long steep grade at Roach's Station, east of Ashley. The hogs (engines) they have got on that road can't make that hill with anything but a little bob-tailed 1,000-ton train. And they have to go all the way into East St. Louis with dinky little tonages. If Ashley had been the division-point, they could take in long trains like the I.C. It would save millions of dollars in operating expenses."
      "But," I objected, "the L&N goes in for short trains and high speeds. Claims that gives better service."
      "I know all about that," he retorted. "Charley Brown was one of their pets, one of those high speed babies. He went through that crossing at Ashley, and tore up a thousand feet of track -- and they fired him. I still say they could take in long trains, like the I.C. does. And save millions."
      And here's another thing, too. Maybe, just maybe, with the division-point at Ashley she would have the Car Shops. With it in Mt. Vernon she didn't have a chance. But as I said in the beginning, after each jolt she has her face lifted, gets another hair-do and comes up smiling. There's no way to beat that kind of spirit.

 

The Main Street View, Editorial
Nashville, Journal
Nashville, Illinois
(Date Unknown)
Did He or Didn't He?
      Although the historical old "Half Way House" has been on the same location for more than 125 years, the story in last week's Journal in connection with its being torn down rekindled considerable interest in the history of the thing and brought up the old question of whether or not the Great Emancipator actually slept there.
      Since delving into the background of the old tavern for last week's piece, we have gone a little bit deeper into the Lincoln story and because of the dates involved and little or no evidence that the then lawyer Abe was ever in this part of the country at that particular time.
      There is no doubt as to the authenticity of the Half Way House as a famous stopping off place of its day. As pointed out last week, it was a popular overnight stop on the old St. Louis-Shawneetown road which was the popular highway of its day for boat connections at Shawneetown. We're not to authentic as to how far the old boys rode on a horse or traveled by stage coach in a single day, so we can't even estimate whether it would be the stop for the first night out of St. Louis, second or possibly the third of fourth. Our ability to ride any distance on a horse would have hardly gotten us from St. Louis to Belleville the first day so we would have probably taken all week to reach what is now the outskirts of Nashville.
      We have since found reference in one of our Lincoln volumes to the fact that 35 miles was considered an average day's ride so this could have been the second night taking it easy or the first if you rode hard and started early.
      Be that as it may, let's get back to the historical evidence. According to the late Charlie Baldwin's notes on the subject, Major Wood, who built the tavern and hotel came to this community about 1821 which was the decade before Nashville was a town. Also, according to Charlie's notes, he is believed to have built the Half Way House about two years later and it is said to have flourished as an inn for a period of about 10 years after which its decline was rapid due to the formation of the town of Nashville and a change in the general thoroughfare by passing the hostelry.
      According to history, Lincoln did little or no circuit riding until he had finished his term in the legislature in 1837. History also tells us that he only rode the circuit for a period of about three years and in 1840 had to give it up because of his health. Thus, it would seem from the facts that Lincoln did not start his extensive travel from Springfield until several years after the Half Way House was off of the main highway. So, the evidence according to the dates involved would indicate that in all probability he never got this far south while the local inn was in its hey-day and thus never stretched his long frame overnight on local soil.
      We are, however, open to correction in our historical figuring and if anyone can contribute new and authentic light on the subject, we would be very much interested.
      In any event, it makes a good story and as we said above, there is no question of the historical authenticity of the old landmark or the fact that it was the oldest historical building still standing in this community.
      It was incorrectly stated last week that the land on which the old tavern stood had formerly belonged to Jim Wilson. It was purchased by S. M. Elwood in 1881 and the total 185 acres was bought the land from the estate of Mrs. Lillian Elwood Fuller. However, Mr. Wilson managed the land for Mrs. Elwood for many years.

 

 


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