Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties|
Including Personal Reminiscens of
Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902
Petersburg in the Forties
Up the hill west of the square a little south of the street was the little school house were C. B. Waldo taught the first school. It was a house about twenty-four feet square, and was reached by a circuitous route among the hazel brush. Here some of the most brilliant minds of Petersburg were educated. I call to mind the Brooks family, the Lanings, the Miles, the Trents, the Greens, the Elmores, the Bales, the Bennetts, the Davidsons, the Wrights, the Hurds, and many others who laid the foundations of their future greatness here. It was a mixed school that Waldo taught. He had the primary class, the intermediate and Latin pupils. There was no free money to carry on the schools then. The patrons of the school would sign for a certain number of pupils for sixty days at $3 each, then they would send all their children and the number of days would be divided by sixty and the amount appointed accordingly. There was no elaborate furniture in the old school house. On the south side there was a writing desk that extended across the end of the house, and benches around the house for the larger pupils and benches in the middle for the smaller ones. Waldo was supreme ruler of the school. He was a good-natured man and had but little difficulty in controlling the school. If a pupil was very bad and would not be reproved after a sufficient length of time, he would be dismissed. I don't recollect but one pupil who was sent home. After a few weeks, if the pupil would promise to do better, he would be re-instated. Waldo's school had an average of fifty pupils, and he would teach eight months a year. He finally moved to Mason county and from there went south where he died forty years ago.
North of the public square commenced to build up with the erection of the court house. The large brick house east of the Smoot Hotel was built by G. U. Miles, and was at that time considered the best house in town. The little one-story board house next to the depot was built by James Miles. Edward Elam built a blacksmith shop one block north of the court house. This was a place of some importance. After he moved away his son, W. P. Elam, carried on the business. He lived west of the house on the street that ran up Tan Yard Hallow.
John Bennett built the first tan yard. It was just north of where the Christian Church now stands. There was about a dozen vats. They were ten feet square and ten feet deep. The hides were put in, then the bark was ground fine and a layer of bark on the hides, then another layer of hides, and so on, till the vat was full. The vats would be filled in the fall, and would be tanned in a year and then taken to a shoemaker.
West of Bennett's tan yard, there was another yard belonging to James Anno and his brother, Tallard. They were young men and had just come from Kentucky. They afterwards bought out Bennett and run both yards.
Tan bark was ground in a very crude way. A wooden wheel ten feet in diameter and two feet broad, with a shaft through the center, was set perpendicular and the bark laid in a circular form. A horse was hitched to one end of the shaft, and a boy for a driver, the wheel would roll around over the bark until it was ground fine. The outside of the wheel was filled with cogs that ground the bark. The hides were tanned in coal ooze.
The road up Tan Yard Hallow was a gradual incline, and was the best road that came to town from the west. All the other roads came down a steep hill.
Dr. Allen came to Menard county as early as 1834,and settled in Salem, where he lived six years. He was not a strong man physically, but did more to make the character of the people than any living man. He moved to Petersburg in 1840, and moved down the house in which he lived. It was situated north of where the Christian Church stands. The doctor was an active worker in the Presbyterian Church. He had hardly pitched his tent in Salem when there was preaching at his house, and he had not lived in Petersburg but a few years when he had a Presbyterian Church erected. It was a small frame house and is now used by S. B. Bryant as a paint shop, north of Rule's livery stable. This was the only church building in town until the Methodist Church was built on the spot where the new church now stands. Dr. Allen did not live in his many hears, but built the large brick residence on the hill on the site where stands Hon. N. W. Branson's residence. The house was large and commodious and was always open to friends. Dr. Allen had the larges practice of all the doctors and was a good collector. In the winter he would take dressed hogs on his bills and would get two or three hundred hogs at $1.50 to $2 per hundred weight. He would barrel up the lard and make bacon of the hogs, and by spring would have one thousand dollars worth of provisions to take to St. Louis, hauling it to Beardstown and by steamboat to St. Louis. By this way he would collect most of his bills. He doctored in the old style with calomil. If he had a bad case the patient was most always salivated.
The old-fashioned way of medical practice would now seem very cruel and the practitioner would be liable to be indicted for cruelty to animals. Doctor Allen's first wife was Margaret Moore, and his second wife was a Chandler. I think Dr. Allen died somewhere near 1860.
Peter Lukins was one of the first settlers of Petersburg. He was a shoemaker. His dwelling was west of the court house. I remember it because it was plastered outside, and I thing the only house of that kind in the 'Burg. Lukins was addicted to drink, and was subject to attacks of delirium tremens. He had a brother Jesse who went to the Mexican war and was killed. Gregory Lukins, his brother, married his widow, and died in Sugar Grove about fifteen years ago. Peter Lukins committed suicide while on a drunken spree.
From 1840 to 1845 the north part of Petersburg began to grow in the extreme north, where Dr. Antle lived. John Wright moved here in 1842. He had a contract to build the first bridge across the river, and moved from Sugar Grove for that purpose. The bridge was a very clumsy affair. Mudsills were sunk in the earth of a large dimension and hen bents with four posts, twelve inches square, with a cap on top twelve inches square, were placed, then stringers lengthwise and a floor of two-inch plank, with heavy railing, completed the first bridge across the Sangamon river, north of Springfield. This bridge settled the navigation of the river, as no steamboat could go under the bridge. After John Wright completed the bridge he still remained in Petersburg and was a good, influential citizen. I think Tilton McNeely married one of Wright's daughters.
Wm. Cowgill was one of the merchants from 1843. He occupied a double store house on the west side of the square, owned by John Bennett, while McNeely occupied the building owned by John Warnsing. On the south end of Cowgill's store was a ball alley, in which games were played all through the summer months. I believe the game has gone out of date. It was a very exciting game and full of exercise. Two or four persons could play the game.
Charles Goodman made brick on the branch in the north part of town for many years. Wm. Bennett was his partner. They furnished brick for the court house and all the other brick buildings in Petersburg. Goodman furnished the brick for Russell Godby's house, near New Market, going over there and making the brick on the place.
In an early day Thomas L. Harris came to Petersburg. He was a slender built man, and was reading law. Harris' ability was soon recognized, as he was no ordinary man, but poor and had a hard struggle to make enough to pay his board. I have seen him go out and work in the hay field to get money to pay his board. He had another thing to contend with. He was a Democrat, while most of the leading men at that time were Whigs, who were disposed to boycott him on account of his politics. He went to the Mexican war, was a brave soldier and was made a major, and after he came home he was elected to Congress, but as he had contracted disease while in the army, he died while a member of Congress. A man of spotless character, and as popular a man as ever lived in Petersburg. The old settlers delight to talk of Thomas L. Harris.
Joseph Pearson lived north of the Presbyterian church. He had a yoke of oxen and a cart, and hauled cord wood to town for a living, and a times done hauling of various kinds.
Daniel Staton was an all around man, and was useful as well as ornamental. He done the hog killing for the neighbors, and here let me remark that hog and hominy were the chief articles of diet in early days. I think the people used five pounds of pork then, where they now use a pound. It was before the days of meat shops and nearly every person had a few hogs.
Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson