The Grandfathers
Vol.I, The Hall and Overstreet Families
Carrol Carman Hall, Springfield, IL, 1981

Post Civil-War Period
Section VII
Chapter 23, Page 245

He was an Illinois Farmer

*from a legal document, 1873

…In God We Trusted…..
    ….In Kansas We Busted
family line:
Wm. (1)
Heze. (2)
Abner (3)
Jas. W. (4)
Jas. N. (5)

James Newton Hall
1849 - 1928

The Grandfather Who Was an Illinois Farmer

The road back from Kansas was long and tiresome. It seemed longer than had the way out as the dream of five years ago had long since faded. The wagon was the same, it might hold up for the trip home. One of the team had been on the westward trek and the family dog trotted between the horses - that is, until its pads became so sore that he was put in the wagon with "Em and the three boys. At least he gained a little, on the journey out there had only been two sons.

There wasn't much left and the experience may not have been worth it. There were a few household possessions in the wagon, including the family Bible which had survived the flooding of the dugout, in which the family had stood on the table to escape drowning. When it wasn't floods, it was drouth and dust, grasshoppers and the burning sun or the bitter cold. There were Indians, but only the stealing, drunken remnants of a once-proud people.

So, it was back to Illinois - leaving his brothers Henry and Charley along with some others of the home folks to give Kansas another chance. Some of those left behind were to succeed in a new and strange kind of farming - but that was years ahead in the unforeseeable future. It was the first time in the Hall family history of moving westward that one had turned back. This time back across the Mississippi and to Athens and to Menard county, Illinois; home country. +

Born the seventh in a family of thirteen children, James Newton Hall, "Jim" Hall, as he was known to his contemporaries, had lived as a boy through the stirring days of the Civil War and the ups and downs of his brickmason-farmer father, who was both a townsman and a countryman. There'd always been a house full of 'young uns' and a lot of sisters to boss younger brothers around. By the time he had reached his manhood, there were married sisters with families of their own and others still in the brat stage.


Schooling in those days was a hit and miss affair and not really very essential for a living, a man could always farm.

As far as known he never learned to lay brick from his father as did his oldest brother, Henry. So, he was a farmer, working on the home place or hiring out as a hand. He was the only son of his father to live out his life in Menard county, as the others hiked out for parts West as soon as they could.

It was as a farm hand moving around with the seasonal work that he met Emeline Pestel, 1850 - 1937, an orphan girl, who was being raised in a foster home, ++ A year younger than he, she was strong, hard working, and to bear seven children for him; she was to live after him until her eighty-seventh year.

But now, the problem was - what was he to do back in Illinois? That problem was to solve itself and the years to come would treat him more kindly, but as the 1870s came to a close that was not discernable. He was to become an Illinois farmer, with property of his own, and as much security as the times provided.


The early 1870s had been years of change for Jim Hall. In rapid succession, in 1870 and 1872, his parents had died. There was some property settlement eventually, not much, but enough to stake the trip to Kansas. In 1872 he had married, was a farm hand and by 1875 two sons had been born. Then the move to Kansas!

Kansas in the 1870s opened up. The Indians were under control, the Civil War over, and the new railroads were busy promoting settlement of the lands and building new towns. Land was cheap and lots of it. Kansas offered the opportunity to stake out one's future. Along with his two older brothers and their families and some of the other folks from the Athens area, the chance was taken.

The goal became north-central Kansas, Mitchell county, near the towns of Cawker City and Glenn Elder. +++ The land was there, but the house was a sod-hut (actually, a dug-out with a sod roof); the fuel was Buffalo chips and the neighbors far apart. It was rugged and nature was cruel. The settlers from Illinois trying to use methods successful at home found they didn't work. Years later, dry land farming was learned by those who toughed it out and the country given over to wheat raising. But, for Jim Hall and doubtless hundreds of others, it was back home and broke.'

A Farm!

Eventually, there was a farm waiting for him. It was three miles south-west of Athens, Illinois near the Sangamon River and Hall's Lake, an area where he had been born and lived as a boy. An original farm holding of his father was on the same road. ++++ It was in a Hall neighborhood, with other Hall families and kin nearby and not far from a school, long known as the Hall school.

The farm was owned by his sister Martha, and her second husband; it had been acquired through the death of her first husband in the Civil War as a part of the England family holdings. It was in total about 125 acres (a small tract of river bottom land was acquired in later years), with a good house and out-buildings, timer, well-water but limited in crop areas.

It was first rented then it was purchased. In the Book of Deeds, p 553, Menard county, Ill., appears the following: 'from Thomas A. Swaringuin and Martha, his wife, +++++ a quit-claim Deed dated March 23, 1883 to James Hall and Jacob Shamberger with the legal description of the land. By this time Jim and Em's oldest son was ten years and the family still accumulating.

Jake Shamberger

At this point another character enters the Hall family story - Jake Shamberger. An immigrant from the Alsace-Dorain area of France, Jake had migrated to this country with the cannons of the Franco-Prussian War (1870) still ringing in his ears. As was common in those days, he found work as a 'hand' on the Hall farm. As long as the Hall boys were too young for the heavy work, he remained there. With his knowledge of fruits, he help develop a fine orchard. Thrifty, he was able to help his farmer-partner aquire the land; which, in time, became Jim Hall's.

About the turn of the century, Jake moved to Springfield, Illinois where he came the gardner and 'handy-man' for a well-do-do family. There he married an Irish housemaid 'Katy' and they established a home on South Eighth street. His ample yard was a small vine-yard.

The writer has some interesting memories of Jake and Katy. Their 'brogued' language fascinated him and their mannerisms and tales of other countries intriguing. Katy's afternoon 'Tay' was an institution, especially the cookies and cakes for a small boy. My father, who had been a boy on the farm with Jake, always kept close contact with the Shambergers. At our own home, our grapes started with cuttings from Jake's vines was the best in the neighborhood.

Life in the 1890s

The Hall farmstead was typical of the type of farm home of the last part of the 19th century. It was as self-sufficient as could be. Very little was needed from the outside - clothing, salt, sugar. The cash came from the butter, eggs, chickens and cream ---'traded' at Seligman's store in Athens for overalls, shoes, dress goods and grocery staples. * The part played by Jim's wife in the economics of the farm was immeasurable.

The farm itself was far from a rich one. It was best suited for grazing, but some of it was cleared for grain and the soil was thin. During the winter months, grandfather and the older boys felled the magnificent hardwood trees along its streams to make railroad ties, which were sold for twenty-five cents a piece. (A few of the Walnut trees they felled, would today give many times their total sales of that time for timber.) In later years, when the orchard came into production, the men of the family sold wagon-loads of apples in Springfield, hawking them along the city streets. It took all this to pay for the farm.


Recreation was simple, schooling barely adequate, hunting and fishing plentiful and the food ample and wholesome. Jim Hall's only daughter and younger sons worked with their mother in the garden which he had plowed for them and berries and nuts were hunted along the fence rows and in the timbered areas. Meat was salted down, cheeses made and the root crops buried to be eaten during the cold months. (The aroma of the old 'Smoke House' where the hams were cured still stirs the author's memories.) It was hard work, so hard that in the end only one of his sons remained to farm, the others succumbed to the lure of the cities. **

The land on the farm should not have been cropped. Only in later years has fertilizer made it productive. It was gullied by two branches - small creeks in fact - great for playing in and exploring but erosive. It was a farm made for adventurous boys, not really for farming, but it was home. Later, a small acreage of bottom land along the Sangamon River was purchased. This was gambling land, great corn land in the seasons when the River didn't misbehave.

James Newton Hall

James Newton Hall was a typical Illinois farmer of his time, overalls and all. His type is no longer seen on the village streets or shopping in the big city. He looked like a farmer; he dressed like one; and he behaved as one. When he put on his store clothes to go to a funeral or a trip to the city, he still looked like a farmer. In spite of his dark blue suit, his black felt hat, his watch chain across his vest; his ruddy complexion and drooping mustache betrayed him. He puffed a pipe, using up matches by the fistful!

The big moments in his life came by visiting the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904 and sometime around 1915, he and 'Em' taking the long train ride to Salt Lake City to visit his second oldest son and family. Going to the Illinois State Fair at Springfield was routine and an occasional trip to Athens afforded breaks in the rounds of daily chores.

When the family was older and on their own, there were visits to see them and usual summer return visits to the farm. Grand kids were numerous and difficult to keep a'tract of. In later years a new house, modern by pre-World War I standards, was built nearer the road and, in summer, one could watch the Fords going by in a cloud of dust. Times were changing. The cream separator was in; as was the telephone and steam threshing rigs, and there were rumors of paved roads. ***


In the records of the Menard county, Ill., Circuit for July, 1892 is the record of J.N. Hall's lawsuit about a horse. He had bought a stallion for the purpose of breeding and refuse to complete his payments for it. The reason; the horse died soon after he purchased it. The owner of the horse, H. A. Wood brought suit. It was heard at the Court House in Petersburg, following a local court suit at Athens.

The verdict went against Grandfather (his argument was that the owner had misrepresented it, etc., and that it was not suited for breeding purposes.), and the case was appealed. The jury met the next day and again he lost. What did it cost him? Seventeen dollars and fifty-five cents, plus court costs. It appears that he could be stubborn!

By 1901 the older members of his family were leaving the farm, within a year the first marriage among his children would take place. The younger sons were still at home but casting eyes at other careers than farming. In 1915, J.N. Hall was ready to retire, a little too early perhaps and without adequate planning. He was ready to let someone else take in over. The WWI farm prosperity hit him, but he did not succumb to the urge to buy up more land, as did some of his neighbors - by the 1920s they had lost all.

Looking Back

Was James Newton Hall a successful man? In terms of his times, his own brothers, his father and other kin, the answer is yes. When he finally moved into the nearby village of Athens, he owned about 140 acres of land, he had some money in the bank. He owned his home in town, with its garden plot. The farm produced income and he could sit on the porch, smoke and argue. (He had all the time-worn Republican political arguments and used them.) There were plenty of retired farmers to sit on the porch with him. He could stroll down to the post office and once-in-a-while go as far as the railroad station. Being sure to be back home in time for the meals. He wasn't a 'do-gooder', nor a churchman, nor civic-minded (except to keep the taxes down); his only public service in memory was serving as a Director of the country school where his kids went.

He lived in a day when there was no Social Security. He had no Civil War pension as did any number of his cronies. Everyman was to provide for himself - in his way. The greatest provision was a cemetery lot, long since paid for, to pay taxes and have plenty of smokin'. (Grandma had her peppermint candy!) His farm and modest estate kept him to his death; his wife almost to her last days. There were no debts, but the farm was not coveted by his children and was gone - the money from the mortgage to keep his wife in her final years.

This is the story of an Illinois farmer, who in many ways must have resembled his own great-grandfather, Hezekiah Hall, who lived on Back Creek in Virginia. He was not a craftsman like his father, nor an adventurer as was his great-grandfather, but a good man of the soil. In the words of one of his sons, 'for his times he was a good farmer, he owned his land, he fought erosion, he diversified his produce, he had cash crops, and he stayed out of debt.' By these measurements, he was a successful man. ****

+The Kansas years were to be a part of the family lore for years to come.
++See: section titled "A Family Mystery Story.'
+++Principal town in area was Beloit, Ks.
++++Known in later years as the "Bill Daley' place
+++++See: section titled 'Halls in the Civil War."
*this was true 'trading'. The Cash account accumulated at the store, purchases were made on a seasonal basis and the kids got candy treats when the account was given its annual balancing.
**His son, James L. Hall
***Grandad's farm operated on horsepower, he never owned a tractor or an automobile.
For another family law case, read; Grandma's Turkeys, in the appendix of this volume.
****His success was obtained at a price - the hard work of his sons; and by the strength and hard work of his good wife who not only bore him seven children, but contributed greatly, to the income of the farm. Without her help, the struggle would have been greater.



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Illinois Ancestors