Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties
Including Personal Reminiscens of Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902


CHAPTER XVII
Early Times in the Capitol of Menard

Page 178

While Salem was settled mostly by Kentuckians, Petersburg had a mixed population from all the states, though the Hoeys were the only ones from the old country, except John Warnsing, who was German. He lived with the Taylors and was the only German in the county, with the exception of Peter Brahm, who lived north of Petersburg, near Concord. He had three children - Thomas, Nancy and John A. Brahm, so well known in Petersburg in after years. I forgot to mention Jacob Laning, who lived in the south part of Petersburg. He was a tailor by trade, and run a shop. Tailors made all the clothing then. Charlie Brooks and Jacob Laning had all the work they could do. No merchant kept clothing then as now, but kept an assortment of broadcloths and other woolen goods. I have seen overcoats made out of red and white woolen blankets, but the most of the clothing was made out of Fuller's cloth, which was flannel beat up till thirty yards was beat into twenty yards, and then colored as the owner's taste might suggest. The every day clothing was made of Kentucky jeans at home by the good housewife. Dudley McAtee was a journeyman tailor who worked for Brooks & Laning. He was afterwards elected sheriff of Menard county, and married Martha Goodman.

On the corner north of where the Baptist Church now stands lived Nathan Dresser, who was the first circuit clerk. He was from old Virginia, and his wife was a sister of John Bennett. Dresser was a finely educated man and a gentleman in any crowd. He had no children. His brother, Henry Dresser, built the court house. Another brother, Charles Dresser, of Springfield, was an Episcopal preacher, and often preached in Petersburg. I well recollect the responsive reading at his meetings: "As it was from the beginning and is now and evermore shall be, amen and amen." * * *

John McNeal lived across the street from Dresser. He was a prominent member of the M. E. Church and was also a tailor. He came fro Virginia. His neighbors did not like him because he was so cruel to a bound boy he had, by the name of William Davidson. On the slightest pretext he would beat the boy, and his neighbors finally took the boy's part and gave McNeal to understand that the boy should have better treatment. He had come from a slave state, and had been used to Negroes. McNeal's residence was in the south corner of the block, while Hill's store was in the north corner, and still survives the wreck of time and stands today as it did sixty-five years ago, though it now would be considered a small, unpretentious building. It was, when built, a large and roomy house that Hill had moved down from Salem in the spring of 1840. He had been a mercantile king in Salem, and generally had things his own way. His house was the first store on the public square, and with the commencement of the building of the court house all the business houses of the town began to cluster around that building. Hill lived in the south part of his building, and used the upper part for his residence. Here is accumulated a fortune. He assisted Hardin Bale in his manufactory of cloths and added a flouring mill to the machinery. Samuel Hill only had one child, John, who died in Georgia a few years ago, while his wife, whose maiden name was Parthena Nance, died a year later. She was married to Hill in 1837, and was a noble woman. She will long be remembered for her good works.

The first brick stores built on the square was a double building about the middle of the block. The south room was built by John Bennett and the north room by John Warnsing. Bennett's was occupied by Wm. Cowgill and Warnsing's by Tilton McNeely, father of Thompson W. McNeely, still a resident of the 'Burg. These two stores, with Hill's, did most of the business of the country at that time, though their goods would be considered incomplete at this day.

The next prominent house on the square was Bennett's Hotel, which was on the east side, in the middle of the block. It was built in 1844; as before mentioned it took about a year to get the lumber ready for the house. Bennett commenced in 1843; had his finishing lumber sawed at Shirley's mill on Rock Creek, near the Sangamon river. The lumber was built up in a dry kiln, and a fire kept up day and night for several weeks. The lumber was mostly white walnut, which comes the nearest to pine of any of our native timbers. For his flooring he had white and read oak; for siding black walnut. Bennett had nearly ten thousand feet of lumber in the dry kiln, and they had kept up the fire in the kiln for nearly four weeks, when one morning, English John, who had charge of it, stirred up the fire and added new fuel, when a spark got into the fuzzy lumber and in an instant the lumber went up in smoke. As the kiln was near my father's cooper shop I was at the fire. The loss to Bennett was great, but nothing daunted him and he went to work and built the hotel the next season. The old Menard House still stands as a monument to the energy of John Bennett. It was here at the stable that his son, Dick, was trampled to death while attending to the horses. It was at his hotel that Bennett's wife died. She was a sister of Alex and Phil Rainey. She was a good woman, as hundreds of her neighbors and acquaintances can testify. Besides Dr. Bennett, John had another brother, Wm. Bennett, who was a bachelor and was engaged in making brick. He had been in business and failed, and finally moved to Texas, the last I heard of him.

John B. Gum was then a young man, and was county surveyor. He built a two-story house on the northeast corner of the public square, and for many years was an influential man in the county. He had a large tract of land in Mason county, near Kilbourne, and died a few years ago at Havana. So one by one the old landmarks of Menard are removed by death.

Down southeast of the square lived Dr. Regnier. He moved to town from Clary's Grove. He was a very witty and eccentric man; had a large family of girls and one boy. He was a fleshy man, rather above the average size, and his wit was always available. One time his horse ran away with his sulky. The doctor threw out his leg against a sapling to stop the horse, and as a consequence his leg was broken. When the leg was being set the doctor kept an uproar of laughter by his witty remarks. Dr. Regnier lived and died at his home on the banks of the Sangamon. He had a large share of the county practice. A cabinetmaker by the name of W. Humphrey lived neighbor to Regnier at that time, and James G. Davis occupied the two-story house north of the doctor's premises. The town at this time began to build up, and around the public square business houses began to loom up on all sides.

The contract for the court house was let in 1842. No pine was used as finishing lumber. The stone for the foundation was furnished by Isaac Cogdal and was brought from Rock Creek. He had a number of ox teams and there was probably one hundred loads used. The brick was made in the north part of town by Charles Goodman and Bill Bennett. It took two years to finish the structure, and it was considered a fine building at the time it was built, but it outlived its usefulness and for many years before the present structure was built was an eyesore to the people.

Another two-story building was set on the southeast corner of the square. It was the old Park House, used by John Taylor in 1842. Before that date Chester Moon and Rial Clary had kept saloon in it. It was moved down and fitted up for a store room, and Elijah Taylor used it for a number of years.

West of the court house, back of Main Street, lived Alex Trent. He was a carpenter by trade, but did not work much at his trade. He had a large business. One of his sons was a tailor. His name was Anderson. He went to the Mexican war, and was killed at the battle of Cerro Gordo. He was a fine looking man, of a good character and was well respected by all who knew him. The next son was Ashby, who was more on the rowdy order; was a very strong and athletic fellow, and could whip his weight in wildcats, but his manner of life told on him and he died at an early age. Hugh and Wemps Trent were the other two boys. His girls were Nancy and Bell. The latter married Robert Moore, but got a divorce and then married Wm. Webb, and is yet living. Alex Trent used to be a witness on both sides of every case. He would have a talk with one side and then tell the other side what he heard, so both side would have him subpoenaed.

Where the Methodist parsonage now stands lived Abraham Goodpasture, a Cumberland preacher. He came from Tennessee, and married Dulcena Williams. He bought eighty acres of land in the bottoms, where the railroad bridge crosses the river. I worked two years for him and he always aimed to get the worth of his money out of me. Great crops of corn were raised in the bottom land, though it overflowed every spring. I think the water in 1844 was six feet deep all over the land, and no crop was raised that year. A man could start at coal branch and go up through Goodpasture's land; then run through Bennett Able's farm, and land near Bowling Green's house. All the rails would be carried down and landed in the drifts across the river from Petersburg. It seems as though the river used to get higher in early days than at present.

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson

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