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


CHAPTER XXIII
City of Petersburg

Page 239

Among the early settlers of Petersburg were the Taylors, John Wamsing, the Davidsons, Chester Moon, Charles Brooks, Martin Morris, the Colbys, George Warberton, Peter Lukins, A. D. Wright, Dr. John Allen, Dr. Bennett, Henry Onstot, James and William Hoeys. The Bennetts came from old Virginia. He was a cabinetmaker. Jacob Lanning came from New Jersey in 1838. The Lanning family still live in and around Petersburg. John McNamer lived in Salem and after its decline moved to his farm north of town. Chas. B. Waldo was the village schoolmaster. He and Nathan Dresser were brother-in-laws. Dresser was the first circuit clerk. George U. Miles was a prominent merchant with his wife's brother, James McCoy. Martin Morris was a fine blacksmith. Robert Bishop was a gunsmith and served in the Mexican war. George Warberton and Peter Lukins were at one time the proprietors of the town. They both were addicted to drink. Lukins went by taking an overdose of poison. He was one of three brothers, Jesse and Gregory, being the other two. We stated in another chapter that Gregory died in Sugar Grove. In this we are mistaken, as he died in Topeka, Mason county, about ten years ago. The Brahms settled north of Petersburg. They were Germans and at one-time, with John Wamsing,, were the only Germans in the county, with the exception of Peter Himmel, who lived in Petersburg one year before - he moved to Mason county. The Colbys were wagonmakers and had their shop on the branch just north of the Charter Oak Mills.

The Bales lived at Salem till Hardin moved his machine to Petersburg in 1841, on the west side of the street from Onstot's cooper shop. Jacob Bale first lived west of Petersburg. The Bales appeared to be adapted to the running of machinery. Aaron B. White was a carpenter and builder, and finally studied theology and made the discussion of baptism his hobby. William McNeely and his brother, Tilton, were prominent citizens of the county. William was a bricklayer and plasterer and lived in Salem when it was in its glory. He then moved out to the prairie west of Salem, but for forty years was a resident in the suburbs of Petersburg. Thos. McNeely was a son of Tilton's who was a merchant. These persons comprise most of the early settlers around Petersburg.

Petersburg is beautifully situated on the west bank of the Sangamon river, where the Chicago & Alton crosses the Sangamon. It was first called the Springfield & Northwestern. Since the advent of railroads the glory of the Sangamon has departed. The river is spanned with numerous bridges, which are built without draws, and could not be navigated even were there plenty of water.

Petersburg has many fine residences on the bluffs which belong, we are told to lawyers. "They toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these." No discredit to lawyers. Peter Lukins and George Warberton did not have much success in selling Petersburg town lots, so they sold out to John Taylor and Hezekiah King, who infused new live into the town and it began to grow. Lots sold high. My father paid $300 for two lots, that had a branch running through them at an angle. As Petersburg grew, Old Salem diminished. The trade that Hill had in Salem was transferred to the Taylors and Bennetts and Hoeys at Petersburg, and the trade that went to Springfield also went to Petersburg. There was no trading point on the north until Havana was reached. Abraham Lincoln re-surveyed Petersburg and had the plat recorded February 22, 1836. The town was named for Peter Lukins. Warberton wanted it called Georgetown. They finally agreed to play a game of old sledge. Lukins won and the town was called Petersburg.

The first lawyer was David M. Rutledge, a brother of Anna Rutledge, who was engaged to marry Lincoln, but whose untimely death prevented the consummation of the contract. Dr. Bennett was the first practicing physician. The first school was taught by Charles B. Waldo. It was taught in 1837 in the south part of town in a log cabin. A frame schoolhouse was built in 1840 on the hill south of Dr. Allen's. It was out in the hazel brush and was reached by circuitous paths.

Tallula is situated in the extreme part of the county and is a prosperous town. It was laid out in 1857 by W. G. Green, J. G. Green, Richard Yates, Theodore Baker and W. G. Spears. Tallula is in the center of the first settlement of Menard county. Jack Clary was the first man. He settled upon the farm that George Spears lived on so long. Clary then moved to Concord, where he lived half of a century. The Whites and Bells lived in the suburbs of Tallula sixty years ago. Tallula was a fine grain and stock market from the start and the country was thickly settled. The farms were of the finest soil.

Away in the north part of the county lies Oakford. It was laid out in 1872. Located on the Springfield and Northwestern Railroad. It has no competition on the north until Kilbourne is reached. None south till Petersburg is reached, which is ten miles away. Non on the west till you come to Chandlerville. None on the east till you come to Greenview. The proprietors of the town were William Oakford and William Colson. The land belonged to Colson and he gave Oakford one-half of the town for securing the railroad. The town lies a few miles below Miller's Ferry, which had been used for fifty years as a crossing from Springfield to Havana. At one time the county seat question was to be settled, a town was laid out at Miller's Ferry called Huron, but when that question was settled, Huron went into liquidation. William Oakford built the first storeroom. In the summer of 1872 Cal Arterberry opened a general store. Sutton Bros. finally bought out the store and the sold out to Sam Watkins. In 1873 S. A. Bennett started a drug store, so the business houses in Oakford kept changing hands. Oliver Maltby and J. W. Walker started a harness shop. C. P. Smith run a confectionery store. J. S. Carter, from Petersburg, run a furniture store, but closed it out and run a saloon. Gilbert Skaggs built the first blacksmith shop. The village started on the road to prosperity, but soon relapsed into a state of innocuous desuetude. A murder was committed here in 1879, in which James McElhe lost his life at the hands of A. J. McDonald. There was a good farming country around Oakford. The Sangamon bottom north of the town is the finest land in the world, but subject to overflow on the west. The pecan bottom was settled away back in the "thirties." Robinson Mills was long and favorably known as the center of trade.

Oakford is the only town in the county that has no coal shaft. "The black diamonds" have not been unearthed. If there is any coal in the town or vicinity it is so deep that it would not be profitable to mine it. The hills and bluffs around Oakford extend for miles and on the Sangamon river it seems as if the mound builder that inhabited the country before the Indian had become an extinct race and had left nothing to explain the building of the mounds so a person has to imagine and speculate as to what kind of a race they were. One thing we know, they must have been a very industrious race to have built the chain of mounds from the mouth of Salt Creek to the mouth of the Sangamon.

We will now cross the river and land at Greenview. This town was laid out in a pioneer day on the Chicago and Alton Railroad at the northwest corner of Sugar Grove. It may be well termed the Gem of the Prairie. If one of the early settlers of Sugar Grove had been told that in the latter part of the nineteenth century a busy bustling young city should spring up in the open prairie, were the Indians once held undisputed sway, where the wolves made night hideous with their noise, he would have listened with incredulity. The country around Greenview was settled in an early day. It was laid out by Wm. Engle, October 2, 1857. The land was once owned by Chas. Montgomery. Its name was in honor of W. G. Goken, a prominent Menard county farmer. The first house was built by Robt. McReynolds, James Stone put up the second. The first brick house was built by John Wilkinson and was converted into a hotel. One of the first business houses was built by McReynolds, the two first stores were McReynolds and Meyer Bros. Silas Beekman has a store before the railroad was built. The first hotel was kept by John Wilkinson. The first blacksmith shop was built by Jacob Propose. The first doctors were Davis and Calloway. The first grain merchant was Harvey Yeaman.

Greenview is a great grain center. Most of the corn is fed to cattle and hogs, while a large amount of wheat is annually shipped and a large amount of stock is shipped to Chicago. Greenview, since the mining of coal, is a place of great importance. Several hundred tons are daily raised and shipped to the surrounding towns. The coal is said to be of a superior quality. Its coal interest is what gives Greenview its commercial importance, as it gives employment to a large number of workmen, who in turn, spend their money in the town. A large public square is located in the heart of the town, which helps its looks.

Sweetwater, in the northeastern part of the Grove, was once a place of prominence. In the days when Bill Engle was a power in the community, Engle was a great trader. He kept country store and went to St. Louis or New Orleans once a year. He would gather up the produce and have it hauled to Beardstown, then have it shipped south and then go down and sell it and bring back groceries. We may have related the big onion crop that Bill raised one year, but will tell it again. He had been to New Orleans one fall and saw red onions selling at two dollars per bushel. He bought enough seed to sow eight acres. He had eight acres of pasture land that was very rich and he planted them. He raised a large crop and he housed two thousand bushel. My father had made him three hundred barrels to ship them in but that fall onions would not pay the freight, and Engle had to sell them out to his neighbors at ten cents per bushel and had plenty of onions left. Coal is also mined at Sweetwater, but there being no way of shipping it by rail, it supplies the wagon trade. There was a splendid body of timber in the grove in an early day. Large walnut trees were cut in the grove. The gunnels of a house boat, that was to run on the Sangamon, were gotten out in Sugar Grove. But the machinery loaded down the boat and it had no power to stem the current in ascending the river.

The village of New Market existed only on paper. It was laid out by Dr. Ballard and a man by the name of Spears. Ballard put up a large two-story house, intended for a hotel, but it was never needed. Clarke opened up a store, Sanders and Rodgers a blacksmith shop. With the location at Petersburg it dwindled away into nothingness. The place is now occupied by Aunt Nancy Rule as a farm.

Transcribed by:Brenda Hamilton Johnson

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