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Illiopolis Business Association 

Local History

 

EARLY SETTLEMENT OF ILLIOPOLIS TOWNSHIP     (Taken from the Centennial History of Illiopolis 1956)

The first settlements in the township were made in the timberland bordering the Sangamon River in the southwest part.  Here grew every variety of native hard­woods and wild fruit trees: the plum, crabapple, cherry, mulberry, and persimmon.  Wild honey could be taken from bee trees.  Game was plentiful and there were deer and bear in the woods.  Hogs could feed upon acorns and other nuts.

This region, rather than the rich virgin soil of the prairie lands, was the site chosen by emigrants, coming here chiefly from Virginia by way of Kentucky, where they had been accustomed to living near the streams.  From the forests they could get material to build and furnish their cabins, fuel for their fireplaces, and much of their food.  Also the rivers were their easiest method of trans­portation.

In 1826 the first settler, Mrs. Anderson, a widow, arrived with her family and hers was the first log cabin.  Soon after her came John and James Hunter, Mr. Allen, Joel Watkins, Samuel and Chesley Dickerson, William Gragg, James Hampton, John Churchill, Josiah Kent, Will­iam Bridges, and others.

 

Very little farming was done, but there were patches of corn and cane grown enclosed by stake and rider fences.  Sorghum and gristmills were built and there was a sawmill, though most of the logs for the cabins were hand hewn of walnut.  Fishing was done with lightweight poles cut from hickory or papaw, which were dried during the winter and peeled.  No glass rods or reels were needed.  From the fruits and berries, (elder, spice, and serviceberries) jam or preserves were made and stored beneath the floors in stone jars covered with wax.  Mechanicsburg was the nearest place where these early settlers might go to do their trading.

After the village of Illiopolis had been built, the later settlers, who were truck farmers, brought some of their products in to sell to the stores or to housewives.  Mr. Tom Disney would walk to town carrying a pail of blackberries in each hand, refusing to ride lest the berries be jolted down.  These he sold for forty cents a gallon and, on the return journey he might be seen shouldering sacks of flour or sugar.

These first settlers were the ancestors of the early farmers and residents of the village.  James Hampton was the grandfather of Mrs. Archibald Boyd.  James Hunter, who married Rachel Scott, was the grandfather of Scott Hunter, owner of a meat market, and the great-grandfather of Mrs. T. 0. Rule, A. E. Hunter, Elizabeth Hunter, and J. L. Hunter.  Mrs. Alta Peters, Mrs. W. S. Mussenden, Russell Johnston, Elizabeth and A. E. Hunter are great, grandchildren of William Bridges, a veteran of the War of 1812.  Edwin Dickerson is the great-great grandson of Samuel Dickerson.

 

The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring

 In the days of long ago,

Ranged where the locomotives sing

And the prairie fires lie low.

Vachel Lindsay-The Flower-Fed Buffaloes

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