Centerville [Centreville] Precinct, St. Clair County, Illinois

The St. Clair County Courthouse
completed in 1861

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Much information in this history is factual as recalled by people living at that time. However, memories are not perfect, and all researchers are urged to verify the people, relationships, places, and events mentioned below with civil, governmental, private, and religious documents written more closely to the actual fact stated. Many of these original record groups are identified and located in St. Clair County Research and Resources, available from the Society.

Centerville [Centreville] Precinct

Scanned and proofread from pages 252–255 of St. Clair County History, (Philadelphia: Brink, McDonough, and Company, 1881). This history does have some errors in it so it is prudent to confirm the statements below with other sources closer to the actual event. Any additions by the webmaster within the text are surrounded by [brackets]. Footnotes have been added, and appear at the end of the sketch.

Precincts were those areas of the county that later became townships in 1884. Precincts defined the boundaries of polling districts for local and state elections. Justices of the Peace were elected for each precinct and carried out some civil legal functions. For example, a Justice of the Peace could peform a marriage and hear legal disputes between two parties. While all marriages were to be recorded at the county level, the J.P. was only required to keep a docket of minor civil disputes, not a full record of the proceedings. Very few dockets survive to this day.


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THIS is an irregularly shaped precinct, in the western part of the county, bounded on the north by Prairie du Pont, Cahokia and Belleville; on the east by Belleville and Richland ; on the south by Richland precinct and Monroe county, and on the west by Monroe county and Prairie du Pont precinct. It contains 51¾ square miles, or 33,120 acres. Agriculturally it is an excellent body of land, especially well adapted to the raising of wheat. From its centre, water flows to every point of the compass. Ross' creek rises in sections 16 and 17, T. 1 S. R. 9 W. [Township 1 South Range 9 West], flows a south-easterly course, emptying its waters into West Fork, on section 36. West Fork of Richland, takes its rise in sections 23 and 24, flows a southerly course, leaving the township on section 36. Spring creek takes its rise in a perennial spring, on section 31, flows a southerly course, leaving on section 33. Prairie du Pont creek is fed by numerous springs in sections 18, 9 and 3, the tributaries from which leave the precinct along its northern boundary. It is well watered and well drained. Along its north-western boundary are the bluffs which overlook a part of the Great American bottoms. At the foot of these bluffs on an old military claim is Hill Lake, a resort for fishermen. Not alone are the water courses followed by strips of timber, but here and there, are fine natural groves; which. seem to beautify the landscape.

Centerville had, according to the census of 1880, 2471 inhabitants, nearly ninety per cent. of whom are German, or German descent.

Not only is this precinct well adapted to the raising of grain, but underneath the surface lie great mines of wealth. Coal of excellent quality abounds, in places cropping out at the surface. The first ever taken out was by a blacksmith, Joshua Hughes, as early as 1830, from a hill-side, about a half mile south-east of Centerville. Stone, both lime and sand, is quarried in sections 31 and 32, T. 1 N. R. 9 W. It is claimed to be of very superior quality. The quarries of Wm. Lark were the first opened, in 1835.

Vague rumors are circulated, too, about silver having been once mined near Centerville. Two Mexicans, years ago, no one knows when, directed by divining rods, staked a claim, built a cabin in the solitudes of a vast wilderness, and every now and then visited the settlements with pocket well lined with silver. At last they disappeared. A visit to their hut led to the discovery of an earthen oven, of perhaps eighteen inches in thickness, which bore traces of having been used in the reduction of silver ore. It is also affirmed that a tanner living in Monroe county knew the location of the mine. Now and then he would mysteriously appear from the surrounding woodlands, carrying sacks of crude ore, which he exchanged in St. Louis for provisions. Before his death he told his wife the location of the silver quite accurately, describing the

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vicinity of the deserted hut of the Mexicans. Search was instituted and quite vigorously prosecuted without avail, yet many citizens firmly believe silver to be among the undeveloped resources which will yet contribute to the wealth of this community.

This precinct was formed by order of the county court, June 5th, 1839. The first election was held at the house of Lewis Pulse. Isaac S. Reed, Robert Gooding and Philip Creamer acted as Judges of the election. At present there are three voting places in the precinct.

FIRST LAND ENTRIES. (1)

The first land entries in T. 1 S. R. 9 W., were by Thomas Harrison, of 320 acres, being the West ½ of section 1, Sept. 7th, 1814; by Sinil Lacey, of 340 acres, being the N. E. ¼ and the S. W. ¼ Sect. 2, Aug. 15,1815; by Daniel WhiteSides, 160 acres, being the N. W. ¼ sect. 2, Dec. 16,1814; by James Johnson, 320 acres, South half sect. 3, Dec. 16, 1814; by Martin Randleman, 160 acres, being the S. E. ¼ sect. 9, Aug. 16th, 1814; by Mathew Langford, 160 acres, being the N. E. ¼ sect. 23, Sept 6th, 1814; by Cornelius Gooding, 160 acres, being the S. W. ¼ sect. 10, Sept. 10th, 1816; by William Morrison, 160 acres, being the N. E. ¼ sect. 1, April 10th, 1815. In that part of T. 1 S. R. 10 W., which lies in this precinct, first entries were by Absalom Bradshaw, 160 acres, being the N.E. ¼ sect. 24, Sept. 17th, 1814; by Samuel Hill, 122 61/100ths acres in sect. 4, Jan. 24th, 1817. Before government lands had been surveyed, sone claims had been made, and confirmed as follows: Claim 1800, Survey 429, to George Lunceford; claim 1054 survey 782, to Thomas Marrs; claim 339, survey 430, to George Lunceford; claim 598, survey 557, to widow of Jacob Groot. All these lands were first claimed in payment of military services rendered in 1790, although some of the claims had been transferred. Representatives of the Lunceford family yet own and live on claim made by George Lunceford. Lunceford had been a soldier under Clark in the service of Virginia, in the conquest of Illinois. He settled first near Kaskaskia. In 1796 he and Samuel Judy opened a farm on Sugar Loaf, on claim above-mentioned, which, in 1800, became the sole property of Lunceford, Samuel Judy saying he desired more elbow-room than this tract furnished. George Lunceford died there in 1809. His son William was born here in 1796, the first birth in the precinct.

To him should be accredited the honor of being the first settler in this precinct. For many years it was occupied as a common hunting ground. The breaks in the bluffs which arose from the Mississippi bottoms afforded excellent harborage for panthers, wild cats, wolves and bears, whilst the prairie stretches, dotted here and there by groves, ofttimes with a spring of living water, laughing under their shade, invited deer in great numbers to luxuriate upon their fatness. It was indeed a hunter's paradise. An old man, yet living in the precinct, told the writer that he had counted forty-one deer in one gang, and was met in his pathway by a panther the same night.

Old settlers speak of a deserted house-site on the bluffs, about two miles south of Falling Springs, and just within the limits of this precinct. Occupied by whom or when deserted no one knows. It perhaps was built by one of the parties that attempted making a settlement in this vicinity in 1796, including such pioneers as Short, Griffen, Gibbons, Roberts and Valentine, which was soon after abandoned. A grave-yard to the south-west, in Monroe county, marks the location.

In the north-eastern part, some of the parties who came from Hardy county, Virginia, and the vicinity of Hagerstown, Maryland, settled in 1800. For history of this immigration, including the Stookeys, Eymans, Millers, Randlemans and others, see the chapter on Pioneers. Of their number Randleman and Teter stopped in this precinct.

Among other early settlers might be mentioned Cornelius Gooding, (1816), James Glass, Robert Gooding, (1816), John Mauzy, Charles Jones, Matthew Roach, (1815), the Laceys, John Primm, of Cahokia, at an earlier date, and Goodner, the Baileys, John Little, Simon Stookey, 1822.

John Little selected a home on section 4, and exercised the precaution of setting out a small cedar tree as a guide when he should return with his family, which he shortly afterwards did. The tree is yet standing.

In early times these settlers were-compelled to repair to Whiteside's station, in Monroe county, for safety from marauding bands of Indians.

Reynolds, in his history refers to John Primm as follows: "In 1803 John Primm emigrated from Virginia, and settled first in the N ewDesign -- made a crop there, and settled at the foot of the Mississippi bluff, south-east of Cahokia; remained there several years, and moved to his plantation, a few miles south-west of Belleville. Here he died in 1836, aged almost eighty-seven years. Mr. Primm was born in Stafford county, Virginia; served in the Revolutionary war, immediately under General Washington and assisted in the glorious capture of Lord Cornwallis, at Yorktown, in the year 1781. This was the crowning battle for the freedom of the colonies, and Primm enjoyed the honor of aiding in this great and glorious victory. He had a large family--seventeen children--four girls and thirteen sons. He lived the even, temperate life of an agriculturist, and performed all his duties to the Creator, and to man, in a moral and correct manner."

It is believed that within the limits of this precinct, or its extreme western boundary, was enacted a tragedy which resulted in the death of Vallis and capture of Biggs, in 1788. The old trail from Bellefontaine to Cahokia passed through here, and at the point where it begins its descent into the valley is a fit place for such scenes. The account, as given by Reynolds in his history of Illinois, is as follows: "In the spring of 1788 Lieutenant Biggs had been out hunting, and had got some beaver fur, which he was desirous of selling at Cahokia. He then resided in Bellefontaine, and started in company with Vallis for Cahokia. Early in the morning of March 28th, whilst riding on the road to his trading post, they heard the report of two guns. Biggs supposed them to be hunters; but soon after he saw sixteen Indians with their guns presented. He and Vallis whipped their horses, but in vain--all the Indians fired their pieces at him and his comrade. The bullets riddled the horse of Biggs, killed him, and shot four holes through Biggs' overcoat, but did not hit him. A ball entered the thigh of Vallis, of which wound he died six weeks afterwards. The horse of Vallis carried him to the Fort. Biggs, his furs, saddle and all fell off his horse; and, after running some distance, the Indians caught him !and made him a prisoner. He was taken to an Indian town on the Wabash river, traveling the three hundred miles in ten days. He was ransomed, by agreeing to pay a Spaniard, Bazedone, two hundred and sixty dollars ransom, and thirty-seven more for other necessaries with which to enable him to reach home. He descended the Wabash and the Ohio to the Mississippi-up that river to the Kaskaskia, and on home to Bellefontaine. In 1790 he was appointed by Governor St. Clair Sheriff of St. Clair county, which office he held for many years.

In this precinct it was that Thomas Harrison built the first cotton gin ever established in Illinois, which was erected in 1813.

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Frank Roach built the first mill more than sixty years ago, a primitive corn mill, erected on section 12 T. 1 S. R. 9 W. Subsequently Samuel and Matthew Roach built a mill on Forbes' Fork, which was washed away the same year. Frank Roach lived to the great age of 106 years. When 102 years old he went with a grandson to the store kept by William McClintock, in Belleville, and challenged him to a wrestle.

The first cemetery was that near the Union Meeting House (2), on sect. 11, T. 1 S. R. 9 W. John Ross was the first person interred, October 1st, 1823. Thomas Jarrott, the second, October 16th, 1823. Union Meeting House was the first house for worship built, which was in 1819.

A. man named Gallop taught the first school. Taught in the Union Meeting House, about two miles north-east of Millstadt, in 1824.

Dr. W. C. Goforth, alias"old pills," was the first physician to practice in the precinct. He lived in Columbia and Cahokia, afterwards in Belleville, where he died.

Joshua Hughes was the first blacksmith, as well as the first coal operator. His smithy was opened in 1829. He took out coal from a hill-side, about a half mile south-east of Centerville, in 1830. This bank was afterwards transferred to, and operated by Benjamin Goodner. It has long since been abandoned.

Among the earlier marriages were Isaac Gooding, to Polly Cox, March 28th, 1820, and Nathan Cox, to Elizabeth R. Gooding, September 13th, 1826, by Cornelius Gooding, J. P.

Coal Mines.--George Grossman has a mine on section 25, T. 1 S. R. 9 W., which was first opened by Andrew Pfeiffer, in 1842. It is entered from a hill-side, thus becoming what is known as a coal bank. The vein of coal is about 6½ feet in thickness, and is of very superior quality. It is not worked to its full capacity, only sufficiently to meet local demands.

Teuerhahn, Muskopf & Co. operate a shaft about fifty feet deep within the corporate limits of Millstadt. Vein six to seven feet thick, local trade.

In early times Simon Stookey and Daniel Eastwood ran for Justice of the Peace. Eastwood was elected. The first case brought before him was for assault and battery. He fined the victor in the fight three dollars, which he promptly handed to the vanquished party, saying, "You got licked and are entitled to the fine." The squire's ideas of justice were more consistent with equity than with law, as many of his decision prove.

In 1825, a dollar of paper money passed current for twenty-five cents, cut in two; each half would pass for twelve and a half cents, or a "bit," as it was termed. Bits being popular change, half bills were common.

Jacob Randleman brought the first clock to the precinct, an old­fashioned wooden one, about six feet high. His brother Michael was a blacksmith. One day he proposed to Jacob the feasibility of their making a duplicate clock so that each could have a time-piece. Jacob, being a carpenter, agreed, saying, "I can make the woodwork, if you can iron it," says Michael; "I know I can iron it." So at it they went, taking the old clock apart, using its wheels by which to mark out patterns for the second edition. Having all their patterns completed, they concluded to put the old clock together, which they attempted. .A. sorry job it was. .After it was together, and when they couldn't see another place to put a wheel, they had material enough left for another clock. They wound it up, the hands refused to move, not so the striking weight. It went lustily to work, and without ceasing rung out a full week's striking. The brothers thought the thing bewitched, and after repeated trials to replace the old-fashioned clock, they confessed their ignorance of clock, making and burned up the unruly machinery.

We have phrases peculiar to states, to districts of country, and why not one peculiar to a precinct? Of such a character is the expression, "a Bornman trip." Its origin is this. .About 1840, Daniel Bornman started for St. Louis on horseback, with two baskets of eggs slung across his horse. On his way the rope broke, and as a consequence the eggs also were broken. He returned home rather crestfallen at his ill luck, and ever after a disastrous trip is called by the neighbors" a Bornman trip."

The first German settlers here were Daniel Wagner, Theobald and Jacob Miller, who crossed the sea together in 1834. They landed at New Orleans, thence proceeded to St. Louis and Centerville, where they bought land the same year. This was the nucleus of a settlement that continued to grow until now the German population occupy the territory included in the precinct almost exclusively. There are but seven families of English descent in the congressional township in which the town of Millstadt is situated. They are an industrious, frugal, and energetic people. Thoroughly awake to every improvement which promises additional comfort or added wealth, they suffer no idlers among them, believing that" by the sweat of the brow man should earn his bread." They perpetuate their social societies for purposes of mutual improvement, and are loath to give up the customs they brought with them as an inheritance from the "Vaterland."

TOWN OF MILLSTADT

In 1836, Simon Stookey was having a barn built on section four. Several men were lending a helping hand, among them Joseph Abend, a bachelor saddler, and Henry Randleman. It was there proposed to Randleman that this would be a most eligible town­site. The matter was talked over. Abend said it was seven miles to Belleville, seven to Columbia, and seven to the lake, and he proposed the name of Centerville for the embryo city. Randleman acted on the suggestion, and on March 13th, 1837, Centerville was platted, forty lots being set apart in section 9, T. 1 8. R. 9 W. To the original site four additions were made, respectively July 15, 1837, sixty lots; October 27, 18-12, eleven lots; October 28, 1842, fifty lots, and October 15, 1845, two hundred lots; all in the S. W. ¼ section 9. August 27, 1847, George Henckler made an addition of seventy-nine lots on W. ½ S. E. ¼, same section, followed by another addition, same party, of sixty-nine lots, November 25, 1848. Cornelius Gooding made an addition, north of town, of forty lots, August 1, 1850; James Glass, one of thirty-six lots, August 1, 1850. .James Glass et al. addition of twenty blocks, March 25, 1852: George Henckler, addition on the W. ½ N. E. ¼, section 16, and Joseph Kopp, addition, August 21, 1860, of thirty lots. Thus, from time to time, ample provision was made to accommodate the growth of the town. The name Centerville was retained until the year 1880, when the Board of Trustees, after giving thirty days' notice wherein to offer any remonstrance, changed the name to that of the post-office Millstadt.

It was incorporated by the unanimous vote of her citizens, Oct. 26th, 1867. The first board of trustees were elected Nov. 2d,1867. George W. Seiber, Adam Hoffmann, John Olinger, Henry Schultheis, and Nicholas Theobald, Trustees.
Population-census of 1880-1274.
Dr. W. S. Van Cleve, now a resident of Belleville, was the first physician to locate in Centerville. Located here in 1845. His practice extended for fifteen miles.
George Kuntz was the first postmaster, appointed in 1841. The mail was carried on horseback once a week.

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Henry Randleman, and William Davis, opened the first grocery store in a log building, 16x18 feet, in 1837.

Loyat Brater kept the first general store in 1849. Cummings opened the first house for public entertainment, on the site now occupied by Brenfleck's Hotel in 1843. The original building was a two-story frame. Leonard Daub built a brewery in 1846. Continued in operation until 1874. In 1842 Conrad Schmidt had erected a brewery on section 16, south of Centerville, which was abandoned in 1849. All traces of its location are gone.

Valentine Brenfleck built a brewery in 1849, at a cost, including improvements made since, of $31,000. Operated it until 1878, since which time it has stood idle. After it was first built, he stored his beer in a coal bank, west of Centerville, paying for the privilege two kegs of beer per annum.

The Lutheran church (Zion) was first built in 1844; since a new church has been erected. The Catholic (St. Jacob's) [St. James], in 1847.

Prominent among the enterprises of Millstadt, in fact the most important in the town, are two extensive merchant mills. That now owned by Becker and Sterns was first built in 1857-8, by Franz Baur. The present proprietors have added to its original capacity, by putting in a new Corliss engine, and erecting an elevator attachment, with a capacity of storing 40,000 bushels. The mill is provided with five run of stone, and can turn out 325 barrels of flour per day. Edward Schooning is Manager, and Chas. Jacobs, Clerk.

Franz Baur's mill was erected in 1876, at a cost of $50,000, and has the latest improved machinery; six run of stone, with a capacity of 450 barrels of flour a day. It is kept constantly busy, and manufactures an average of 300 barrels of flour per day, which is shipped chiefly to St. Louis, Mo., and Providence, Rhode Island. Jacob Theobald, Clerk.

BUSINESS OF MILLSTADT

Hotels; "Planters' House," by Val. Brenfleck; "City Hall," by Joseph Carl; John Darr; Peter Kalbfleisch has a Hotel in progress of erection.
General Merchants; Henry Imbgeus; Henry Plate, Philip Balz, Christian Hess, Joseph Marxer, Nicholas Theobald, Charles Young, Hermann Brueggenjuergen, William Tennius.
Boots and Shoes; Henry Hahn.
Drugs; Eugene Kring, Alfred Kring.
Cigar Makers; Francis Wilkens, No. 81, established 1862, makes from 75 to 80,000 cigars annually, for which a home market is found; W m. Tennis.
Wagon Makers; One of the leading industries is represented by Henry Hinton; George Altschuk; William Sieber; William Brauser; John M. Diesel; Fred. Hartmann.
Tinsmith and Stove Store; George Nolte.
Blacksmiths; Daniel Schmahlenberger; George Oldendorph; Adam Herbert; Phillip Mueller; Frederick Mueller; Cornelius Markle; Jacob Muskopf.
Physicians; Adolph Schlernitzauer; A. Berkebile Vogel. Postmaster; John Dehn.
Shoemakers; Henry Petré; John Dehn.
Harness and Saddlery; Peter F. Breidecker; Louis Theobald.
Twelve saloons flourish here.

SECRET SOCIETIES.

Treu Bund, No. 267, organized Jan. 10, 1875, with twenty charter members. Meets every 'Wednesday evening.

I.O.O.F. Lodge, No. 567. Instituted April, 1875. Meetings every Tuesday evening.
In addition to these there is a local Union Aid Society, organized Sept. 23d, 1866, with seventy members, which meets semi-monthly on Saturday evenings.

ROACH TOWN

is a small collection of houses in the S ½ of the N. E. ¼ of section 12, clustered about Roach's Mill. This mill was built in 1864. It is a frame building, one story with basement. Has one run of burrs. In 1867 a saw mill was attached to the grist mill. Owners are Samuel P. Roach & Son. This mill occupies the site improved by the erection of a mill by the grandfather of the present proprietor more than sixty years ago. Samuel and Matthew Roach also aided in perpetuating the reputation of the Roach's as mill owners and builders, by erecting one on Forbes' Creek, which was washed away the same year.
Crime:--A most atrocious murder was committed in this precinct March 19th, 1872, by whom or why are matters yet to be determined. Stelzenriede, his son and his son's wife, and two children were all killed the same night. The coroner's inquest developed the fact that their heads had been pounded as though by a billet of wood. and their throats cut.

This precinct furnished three soldiers to the Black Hawk war, Joshua W. Hughes, who was 1st lieutenant of a rifle company, C. T. Askins, and Gregory.

There are churches, here and there, throughout the precinct, among them a Presbyterian, not heretofore referred to on section 28, T. 1 N. R. 9 W. For additional history of schools, churches, &c., see appropriate chapters in this work.


FOOTNOTES

(1) These lands are the Public Domain Land Sales which began in 1814. Some may be lands granted as Preemption (Squattors’) Rights. The Illinois State Archives has an online index to all Public Domain Land Sales in Illinois and can also provide documentation for Preemptions.

(2) Union Hill Cemetery tombstone inscriptions have been published by SCCGS. See SCCGS Quarterly volume 9, no. 3, pp. 139–145. No stone was found for a John Ross, and the stone for Thomas Jarrot was inventoried as Thomas Jarrard (date died identical). The D.A.R. also did an inventory years earlier but contains many fewer stones than the SCCGS inventory.


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