St. Clair 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.

St. Clair Precinct

Scanned and proofread from pages 367–369 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. Photocopies may be obtained from the Belleville Public Library for a small fee.

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.


THIS precinct is situated in the south-eastern part of the county, and is bounded on the north by Mascoutah, east by Washington county, south by Athens, and west by Fayetteville precincts. Its entire northern, western and southern boundaries are formed by the Kaskaskia river and Mud creek. The Kaskaskia river, Mud creek, and Little Mud creek, which enters the township from the east, in section 13, flow in a westerly course, emptying into the Kaskaskia in section 16, and together with their small tributaries, water and drain the entire precinct. The timbered lands bordering on these streams furnished the attraction which impelled the first hardy pioneers to the creation of homes in what was indeed a dreary wilderness. The broad prairies, luxuriant in their growth of wild grasses and flowers, and which form the greater part of the township, were passed over by these pioneers as unfit for the habitation of men. Deeply studded woodlands with rippling waters hard by, were looked upon as oases in the vast prairie stretches of Illinois. As early as 1816, the savage who returned to the loved banks of the Kaskaskia, where his wigwam had long, held sentinel, found the pale face in possession, energetic in hewing out a forest home. Undiscouraged by the absence of neighbors; eager to meet and conquer the hardships incident to pioneer life, Nathaniel Hill, who, far away in North Carolina had heard of the fame of the Illinois country, was the first to erect a cabin within the boundaries of this precinct. Soon after, perhaps the same year, there arrived from the mountains of East Tennessee one, who by his great energy and successful invitation to others to come also, a person whose name is yet perpetuated as that given to the locality, Andrew Free, who brought with him a family of grown sons and daughters. In 1817, Isaac Rainey, then living in Middle Tennessee, brought with him his family, essaying to cross the river and locate in what is now Fayetteville precinct. Owing to floods he was deterred from this, and luckily, found a welcome at the home of Nathaniel Hill with whom he passed the winter. His first intentions were never carried out. With willing hands he aided Hill in the felling of timber, in hunting and trapping until spring, when he erected a dwelling close by. In 1818, the population of what was already the name of the "Free" settlement, was augmented by the advent of Joshua Pennington and family from East Tennessee, and Isaac Allen from Red Bud, Randolph county, a young bachelor, drawn thither by the irresistible charms of Elizabeth Free, to whom he was married March 5th, 1818. This being the first wedding in the settlement entitles it to more than a passing notice. The ceremony was performed d by Peter Mitchell, a Justice of the Peace, living at the time in Fayetteville precinct; that it attracted great attention, and furnished fresh zest to gossip, we entertain not a doubt.

Richard Beasley, Sr., located on Mud creek in 1822. During the same year, or the year following, H. Darter settled on section 13, the present site of the St. Libory Catholic cemetery. David Pulliam erected a cabin on the east side of the Kaskaskia, north of the mouth of Little Mud creek, on section 16, in 1822. Thus, one by one, brave, generous, hardy pioneers gradually redeemed from the wilds of nature this beautiful country. Schools and churches there were none. Occasionally a traveling preacher, bearing the "glad tidings of great joy," was welcomed to their firesides and greeted by all the neighbors who assembled to hear the "old, old story." Such a preacher was Washington Ballard, and also Nathaniel Powers.

The first birth was that of John Hill in 1817, the second is believed to have been that of Jefferson Rainey, April 20, 1820.

The first death was that of Mrs. Beasley, first wife of Richard Beasley, Jr. Her maiden name was Sallie Curry. They were married June 21st, 1824, and in less than a year death claimed her. The second death was that of Mrs. Free in 1827. She was buried on section 27, three quarters of a mile west from present site of Darmstadt. Jack Baggs was buried about the same time on section 14, on the east bank of Mud creek. It is related that Absalom P. Free stole a girl, Patsey Belsher,

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from a camp of emigrants on their way to Missouri, and married her. They were married May 1st, 1818. The second marriage in the vicinity.

The advent of a blacksmith, Jared Wilkinson, (colored) was hailed by the farming community gladly in 1831. For several years he enjoyed a monopoly at his trade, the next nearest smithy being far distant, and, at seasons of the year when most in demand, quite inaccessible. Jared Wilkinson was brought, a slave, from Virginia by his master, Washington Ballard, who gave him his papers of freedom. As illustrative of the lack of educational advantages those living in the Free settlement, who would master the three "R's" were compelled to go to Sparta. Jared Wilkinson, ambitious, as he was, to become more proficient in his calling as a preacher (for he was a Methodist preacher, and it is said a good one, as well as a blacksmith) in company with Jefferson Rainey attended school at that place. It was not until 1831, .that a school was attempted in this precinct, then several neighbors, each contributing labor or material, or both, put up a primitive school-house on Little Mud creek, about two miles north-west of Darmstadt. John Campbell was the first teacher. He received $2.50 per scholar per quarter, took pot luck with patrons, or boarded around, as it was called, and had fourteen or fifteen pupils.

"Necessity is the mother of invention, "so, too, necessity drives to the use of her inventions. A growing community presents growing wants. The idea of going fifteen or twenty miles to mill especially when compelled to do so during the night-time, because of endangering animals to the attacks of myriads of insects with which the prairies swarmed, was repellant, so, when Isaac Rainey, who had returned from a temporary home in Randolph county, built a horse-mill, in 1834, it was regarded as an answer to a great existing necessity. It was a primitive band-mill. Slow but sure. The reader is not a sked to credit the story that a hound attracted the attention of a passer-by by his moaning, who found him waiting, rather impatiently, until the grist, slowly accumulating, would be sufficient to make a "bite." The dog wanted a square meal, and here was his opportunity.

The first German settlers were Bernard Dingwerth, William Harwerth and Joseph Stempel, who located here in 1833. Of these Mr. Harwerth is still living. Soon after coming, Messrs. Dingwerth and Harwerth built a raft on the Kaskaskia, and furnished a home market by buying up country produce, chiefly chickens, corn and potatoes, and leisurely floating down with the current into the Mississippi, thence to New Orleans, where they sold boat as well as provisions.

In 1835 the first store was opened by Robert G. Shannon and Samuel Foster. This effort was followed up by Conrad Benner in 1844. Benner had followed peddling for several years. His business grew to such proportions that he was constrained to have an abiding place, hence the store.

Isaac Rainey kept the first post-office, called Mud Creek, at his own house, about 1 1/2 miles from Darmstadt. It was afterwards moved to Hermanntown, in 1856. In 1878 the name was changed to St. Libory.

In 1842, William Waeltz opened a blacksmith shop within a mile of Darmstadt, and during the same year, Peter Rodemeyer commenced a smithy within the present limits of the same village.

The Protestant Lutheran, on section 27, built in 1842, was the first house for public worship. It was a small log building, and, in 1866, gave place to a more commodious brick structure, which was destroyed by lightning the following year. A cemetery, first used as a burial place in 1839, marks the location of the church. George Heberer was the first to be buried there.

In 1837 the German population had many accessions to their numbers. John C. Eckert, Nicholas Petri, Michael Funch, Wendel Eckert, Nicholas Worm, among them. Wendel Eckert was married to Mary Perschbacher, March 1st, 1839, by John Stuntz, J. P., notable as being the first wedding among the German population.

J. G. Eckert had a singular experience with wheat the first season after his arrival. He prepared the ground, as he was accustomed to do in the old country, although Jeff. Rainey expostulated with him, foretelling the result, which was a very rank growth to straw, so rank that the wheat fell of its own weight. It only took a man five weeks using a sickle, to cut twelve acres of it.

In 1836 a proselyting elder from the Mormons, drumming up emigration for Mount Zion, Jackson county, Missouri, came into this township. His urgent appeals and fair promises, coupled with great religious zeal, resulted in numerous converts to the Mormon faith. Many laid aside their Bibles as being full of idle tales, and accepted the book of Mormon as God's revealed will. Among those to travel Zion ward, or, Missouri-ward rather, were George Baggs Free and Thomas Nelson. Nelson soon after returned and told his friends that the scales had fallen from his eyes upon reaching Mt. Zion; he had seen Mormon life in all its hideousness; fell out with the leaders; had a free fight, out of which he came first-best, and struck a bee-line for his old home. Some never gave up their Mormon faith.

Agriculturally, this is an excellent body of land. The streams are skirted with timber, and the land is undulating; the greater part of the precinct is a beautiful prairie, now under a high state of cultivation. The farm-buildings are good, and the farmers intelligent and enterprising. Population :--census of 1880-1,639. The acreage is 23,895, of which fully five-sixths is prairie. Great crops of the cereals gladden the hearts of farmers, while large numbers of stock, principally hogs, are annually fattened for the market.

Lack of facilities, furnished by railroad transportation, is the great drawback. At one time it was thought proposed improvements along the Kaskaskia would obviate this difficulty by giving water communication, but all that has flitted by, as a thing of the past. The precinct was organized, upon petition of its citizens, April 16th, 1870; prior to that time it was a part of Athens.

THE FIRST LAND ENTRIES (1) Were made by H. Darter et al. of 160 acres, being the S. W. ¼ of sec, 10, April 19, 1815; Daniel Stookey, of 119.12 acres, being part of N. W. ¼ of sec. 20, July 31, 1817; David Pulliam, of 80 acres, being the east half of the N. W. ¼ sec. 11, November;17, 1817; William Glasgow, of 240 acres, being the N. W. ¼ and the west half of the N. E. ¼ sec. 10, February 16, 1817; and John Walker, of 160 acres, it being the S. W. ¼ sec. 3, December 8, 1817, all lying in that part of T. 2 S., R. 6 W., and by Henry T. Whitman, of 480 acres, in sec. 14, July 8, 1818, in T. 3 S., R. 6 W.

THE TOWN OF DARMSTADT

Is situated in the north-west quarter of section 35, T. 2 S., R. 6 W. It was laid off by Isaac Rainey, February 1, 1855, who, singular to relate, gave it the German name of Darmstadt. His ideas of a village were moderate, extending only to laying off thirty-six lots, one of which was already occupied by the blacksmith shop of Peter Rodemeyer, and another by a tavern, erected in 1845 by Henry

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Kaylor. At present the town has a population of about 350. Prominent among its industries is a mill, built in 1863, by a company composed of George M Eckert, Hermann H. Voskamp, Leonard Kayser, Henry Koch, William Massmann, and Henry Eckert. This company made, May 11, 1864, an addition to the town of Darmstadt, calling it" The Mill Company's addition." The mill is now owned and operated by Martin Eckert. It has four run of stone. Its capacity is 200 barrels of flour per diem; gives employment to five men; cost about $30,000. Flour is hauled by wagon to Marissa station, six miles distant, thence shipped chiefly to St. Louis, Mo., and Cairo, Ill. The mill has contributed much to the upbuilding of the town.

Pleasantly located, in the heart of a large agricultural district, Darmstadt, despite its inconvenience for railroad facilities, enjoys a prosperous trade. It is well supplied with schools, having a public and two private ones supported by the churches. There are two churches-the Lutheran, built in 1865, and the Protestant Lutheran, transferred, after its destruction by lightning, from its former site to a desirable location in the village. Built in 1877.

SECRET SOCIETIES.

True Bund No. 15 was organized November 9, 1871, with nine charter members.

A lodge of the A. O. U. W., was organized February 10, 1878, with nineteen charter members. Has at present twenty-three members. Meets in hall owned by John Lehr.

There is also here a singing society, "The Concordia," with fourteen members, organized October 25th, 1878. Christian Keim, leader.

BUSINESS HOUSES.

General Stores-Joseph Reith, Bernhardt Twenhaefel, opened in 1854-5.

Hotels-John Lehr, John Schlesinger.

Blacksmiths-Hartmann Koch, William Ludwig. Physician-Dr. F. X. Fischer.

Saloons-John Lehr, John Schlesinger, Bernhardt Twenhafel.

Wagon Makers-Jacob Theobald, Henry Steinheimer.

Tailor-Henry Koehler.

Saddler Philip Koehler.

Soda Manufacturer - Christian Gross. Puts up for the trade about 4,000 boxes annually. The surrounding villages furnish a market.

Hall-John Lehr, built in 1864, capable of seating two hundred people.

Post-master-Martin Eckert. Was appointed when the office was first established, which was on petition in 1864, and has held it ever since.

TOWN OF ST. LIBORY.

October 18, 1866, John Wessels laid out on the N. E. part of the S. E. quarter of the N. W quarter of section 18, T. 2 S., R. 6 W. the town of Hermanntown. Close by was a Catholic church, erected in 1846, and to which the name of St. Libory [St. Liborius] was given. In the village was the general store of H. Ruetter, who had established it in 1849. In 1856 the post-office, called "Mud Creek," was moved to this store, and H. Ruetter was appointed post-master-so that, when the town was platted, there were three names struggling for the supremacy. Mills were built; business prospered, and, although people built on all sides of the platted town, no additions were made thereto. In 1874 the name of the post-office was changed from Mud Creek to St. Libory, and by common consent other names have been dropped, so there is presented the anomaly of a village of perhaps 250 inhabitants, on land not regularly platted as a town site, with a name not recognized in the public records, save by common consent. A large mill has stood idle for several years past, while a small custom mill, owned by Gustav Hessler, meets the demands of the community.

BUSINESS HOUSES.

General Stores - Barney Ruetter, Pohlmann Bros., Stephen Knuewe.

Drug Stores-Dr. Dickinson, Dr. Fischer.

Builders-Henry Scheiper, Conrad Busse.

Saddler and Justice of the Peace-C. D. Hausmann.

Wagon Makers-Frank Schroeder, Bernhardt Otten.

Gunsmith-Arnold Rudenfranz.

Blacksmiths-Frank Frischemeyer, Joseph Franke.

Hotel-John Biermann.

A coal shaft, operated by the St. Libory Coal company, is among its industries. It has a depth of 186 feet; is operated by horse power; employs three men, and has a capacity for turning out 300 bushels per day.


FOOTNOTES

(1) These lands are the Public Domain Land Sales which began in 1814. Lands were granted before 1814 as preemption (squattors’) rights, grants, donations, and militia rights. The Illinois State Archives has an online index to all Public Domain Land Sales in Illinois and can also provide documentation for Preemptions.

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Last updated January 2016