Pioneers of Menard & Mason Counties|
Including Personal Reminiscens of
Abraham Lincoln & Peter Cartwright
By T.G. Onstot, 1902
Reminiscences of Menard County
At the session of the Legislature in 1838 - '39, Menard county was stricken off Sangamon and named Menard, in honor of Col. Pierre Menard, a Frenchman, who settled at Kaskaskia. Menard was so popular in his day that when the convention framed the constitution of the state, a clause was included in the constitution providing that any citizen of the United Sates, who had resided in the state for two years, might be eligible to the office of lieutenant governor. This was done that Col. Menard, who had only been naturalized a year or so, might be made lieutenant governor under Shadrick Bond the first governor of Illinois.
As Menard county was named after this popular Frenchman, it might be interesting to give a short account of his life. He was born in the city of Quebec in 1767, and in his nineteenth year his spirit of adventure led him to seek his fortune in the territory watered by the Mississippi. He soon found employment with Col Vigo; in 1790 he formed a partnership with Duboose, a merchant in Vincennes, and shortly afterwards removed their stock to Kaskaskia. Menard, though possessed of a limited education, was a man of quick and good judgment. He was honest and full of energy and industry, and a leader among the people of his adopted home. For a number of years he was a government agent for the Indians and had the esteem and friendship of the tribes. This secured him great advantages as a merchant. He could buy their furs for half the price they could be purchased by other traders. He was a member of the legislature from 1812 to 1818. He was lieutenant governor from 1818 to 1822, and after that declined to accept any further honors from the people. He died in Tazewell county at the good old age of 77 years. Such was the man for whom Menard county was named.
The boundaries of Menard county are as follows: Commencing on the east, Salt Creek, north of Irish Grove and the Sangamon river form its eastern boundary, on the north the waters of the Sangamon form its northern boundary, on the west Clary's Grove, Little Grove and Puncheon Camp Grove form the western boundary, and on the south Rock Creek. The Sangamon river flows through the center of the county from south to north. The county contains two hundred twenty-five square miles. A number of small streams flow into the Sangamon and Salt Creek, affording plenty of fresh water for stock and other purposes. The surface of the country is generally level, though for a mile or so back of the streams it is broken. The greater part of the county, in its native state, was prairie covered with a luxuriant coat of grass with countless varieties of flowers. Groves and bodies of timber are interspersed all over the county in ample abundance for agricultural and manufactory purposes. Along the Sangamon, for a mile and a half on either side, the timber was once heavy with white oak growth, but the woodman's axe has laid the forest low and the lands have either been brought into cultivation or used for pasturing the countless herds of cattle or flocks of sheep. Rock Creek and Indian Point had in early day's heavy timber. In the eastern part of the country Irish Grove and Sugar Grove had splendid forests, while in the western part Clary's Grove and Little Grove had sufficient timber for its own use. The native timber was white oak, which was king of the forest, which, with read oak, walnut, hickory, cherry, elm and many other varieties, made up the forest. We counted the number of kinds of timber on old Salem Chautauqua grounds and found twenty-seven different kinds. The soft wood along the rivers are sycamore and cottonwood which grow to a very large size, while soft maple is a very quick growth and is used much for shade and ornamental trees. The sugar maple appears to be a natural growth all over the country, and in pioneer days the sugar tree furnished syrup and sugar for the early settlers.
The soil of Menard county is very productive, not only in the bottom lands, but the uplands are equally productive for pasture. The farmer only clears the land of the timber, which is soon set with a magnificent coat adapted to corn, wheat or oats. For many years the raising and feeding of cattle and hogs was very profitable to the farmer, but the high price of pasture land, when brought into comparison with the cheap western lands, did not leave as much profit as the farmer desired, and the Menard farmer now turns his attention to raising the finer strains of horses and cattle, and the Norman and Clydesdale and other fine breeds of race horses, are raised to a profit.
Another great source of wealth to Menard county is its inexhaustible beds of coal. In the first settlement of the county small veins of coal crept out at Petersburg and at the Purkapile branch. The coal was not used for fuel, and a blacksmith would only have to strip off the dirt two or three feet deep and get all the coal he needed. The first stoves used were wood stoves, and the women said the coal would burn the stove out. The coal is three veins in thickness and in every foot of coal there are twenty bushels of coal or one million tons of coal per acre. This is of itself an inexhaustible source of wealth. No nation can succeed without a supply of coal, as it drives the factories and the commerce of the world. There are a number of coal mines operated near Petersburg, furnishing labor for a large number of employes and furnishing a home market for a large amount of produce. The first coal shaft was owned by Elijah Taylor in the fall of 1845.
Stone is not as plentiful as could be desired. There are quantities of limestone on Rock Creek lying near the surface that makes excellent stone for foundation, but not lying near to a railroad, will never be developed for building purposes, though it makes an excellent quality of lime. Stone is also found at old Salem and at Petersburg but the quarries have never been worked. The natural advantages of Menard county are great, and no locality is better supplied with faculties for manufactory enterprises. There is also a clay of a superior quality for manufactory drain tile. Brick of an excellent quality is made all over y county. It is strange that manufactories for agricultural implements, plows, reapers, wagons and buggies are not made in the county, instead paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars to have them brought from other places.
Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson