Sangamon County 
 Historical Society





Sangamon County Historical Society

Sangamon Stories

If you would like to submit a story or have an idea for a story related to the history of Sangamon County, please send an email to

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  • July 22, 2016 12:30 PM | Deleted user

    The Sangamon County Historical Society has awarded grants for the following county historical projects.

    Oak Ridge Cemetery Foundation - $1,000 for a bronze plaque bearing the original inscription, “In memory of Abraham Lincoln. . .”  The original tablet, upon which Abraham Lincoln’ remains were placed in the receiving tomb of the cemetery, has weathered over the years and is illegible. To preserve the history of the tablet, the new plaque will be placed in front of the slab on the bell tower.

    Williamsville Public Library and Museum - $1,000 for a historical marker for the Price-Prather House. The home was built in 1868 by James Price, a well-known breeder of Hereford cattle. In 1877 it was sold to John and Mary Price, who later sold it to their son J.F. Prather, a significant contributor of the local economy and founder of the Williamsville Bank. The marker will describe the historical significance of the home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

    “An Historic Christmas” – $1,000 for a musical program that will tell the story of Christmas as it was celebrated in the 1800s. Past Christmas traditions and practices will be showcased at various historic sites including the Lincoln Home, Edwards Place, Old State Capitol, Elijah Iles House, Dana-Thomas House, Vachel Lindsay Home and the Executive Mansion. The SCHS grant will cover the fees for Mr. Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln, musicians, singers and performers.

  • August 01, 2014 8:36 AM | Deleted user

    Most all of you are aware that Edwards Place is undergoing a major restoration and that funding is being solicited towards that goal.  What you might have missed is that in addition to the fundraisers out front and the restorers doing their thing behind, there are two sleuths digging around the walls and foundations of the old house and revealing its long held secrets with great delight.  

    Erika Holst, Curator at Edwards Place and archaeologist Robert Mazrim have been reveling in their "finds" and Erika has recorded them in an ongoing blog.  Her writing reflects her infectious enthusiasm for the task and the reader almost feels as if he or she is part of the discovery process.

    If you are an old house history buff, a "want-to-be" archaeologist, or just want to have some fun reading, check out Erika's blog at:

    Most all of you are aware that Edwards Place is undergoing a major restoration and that funding is being  solicited towards that goal. What you might have missed is that in addition to the fund raisers out front and the restorers doing their thing behind, there are two sleuths digging around the walls and foundations of the old house and revealing its long held secrets with great delight. Erica Holst, Curator at the Edwards Place and Robert Mazim, archaeologist, have been reveling in their ‘finds’ and Erica has recorded them in an ongoing blog on the website. Her writing reflects her infectious enthusiasm for the task, and the reader almost feels as if he or she is a part of the discovery process.


    If you are an old house history buff, a ‘want a be’ archaeologist, or just want to have some fun reading, check out Erica’s blog on

  • June 18, 2014 11:08 AM | Deleted user

    The Sangamon County Historical Society thanks Richard E. Hart for allowing us to print his eloquent speech delivered on May 24, 2014, the 154th anniversary of the dedication of Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, IL. 

    By: Richard E. Hart

    "How solemn, how impressive the scene!"
    These are the words spoken by former Springfield Mayor James C. Conkling 154 years ago today at the May 24, 1860 dedication of Oak Ridge Cemetery. Abraham and Mary Lincoln were present and heard these words. Later, Mary remembered Mr. Lincoln saying at the time that he wanted to be buried in this quiet place, Oak Ridge Cemetery.

    Conkling’s words remain true today. This is indeed a solemn place and an impressive scene. As has so often been said, it is the most beautiful jewel in Springfield’s crown.

    So how did Oak Ridge Cemetery come about? It didn’t just happen. There was no “Create a Beautiful Cemetery” I-phone app that one could press and have an instant Oak Ridge Cemetery. No, it happened over time with God and Mother Nature first creating and nurturing this place undefined these ravines, these trees and the creek.

    More recently in the 1820s, pioneers began coming to the Sangamo Country. Some settled and established a small frontier village about two miles south of where we gather today. They called their village Springfield. They soon dedicated two graveyards for the burial of their dead. The Old City Graveyard was on West Washington several blocks west of the Public Square. A second graveyard, called Hutchinson Cemetery, was located just a block or two further west where Springfield High School now stands and where Eddie Lincoln was buried in 1850.

    By the mid 1850s, Springfield had grown and both cemeteries were inadequate and created issues for healthy development around them. They were no longer used for burials.

    Enter Charles H. Lanphier, a member of the Springfield City Council and editor of Springfield’s Democrat newspaper, the Illinois State Register. In 1855, Lanphier proposed that the City acquire land for a new rural cemetery. The City followed his advice and purchased seventeen wooded acres about two miles north of the State House. This was the beginning of Oak Ridge Cemetery. It was a beautiful site, with an “undulating surface and a pleasing blend of hill and dale, interspersed with a natural growth of deciduous trees. Forest oaks of various species prevailed and prompted Mayor John Cook to suggest the name Oak Ridge Cemetery.

    The following year the Cemetery was expanded to 28 ½ acres when the City purchased an additional land parcel.

    In August of 1857, a cottage was built on the cemetery grounds to house the cemetery manager and his family.

    On April 18, 1858, the Springfield City Council appointed the first Board of Managers and the first cemetery manager. Later in the same year the first burials were made in the new cemetery.

    And here we are back at Thursday, May 24, 1860, the day when Oak Ridge Cemetery was dedicated and James C. Conkling said undefined How solemn, how impressive the scene!

    It was a bright, beautiful early spring day as the Mayor, members of the City Council and a large gathering of citizens formed a procession at the Public Square at the State House and marched north to Oak Ridge Cemetery. It was just a few days before Abraham Lincoln’s nomination for the presidency.

    The dedicatory services were held at three o’clock in the afternoon. A band played and Rev. John G. Bergen, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, prayed and then the Hon. James C. Conking spoke and this is what he said:

    How solemn, how impressive the scene! Far away from the haunts of busy life, far distant from the ceaseless rush of active enterprise, far removed from the giddy whirl of fashion and of pleasure, we are assembled to consecrate this ground, not to the living, but the dead. Here we erect no stately edifice to supply the demands of commerce.

    We are assembled, my friends, for no such purpose. But here, with naught but the pure arch of heaven above us, and Nature in all her silent beauty and loveliness around us, we dedicate the City of the Dead. Here we consecrate this sacred enclosure for the last demands of frail humanity.

    The band played once more, Mayor Sutton dedicated the ground for the burial of the dead and Rev. James Leaton, Pastor of the First Methodist Church, delivered the benediction. As one historian put it, “And thus Oak Ridge Cemetery was dedicated as a City of the Dead, which it will ever be the duty and privilege of successive Boards of Managers to preserve and improve.”
    And from that time, that duty and privilege has been faithfully carried out by successive Boards of Managers and City Councils and citizens of Springfield and the nation.

    Since that day in May 1860, generations of Springfield citizens of diverse religions, ethnicities, cultures and races have made this a special place. They have selected it, dedicated it, planned for its use, implemented their plans and used it as the burial place for their loved ones and their most beloved fellow citizen and leader undefined Abraham Lincoln. They have ornamented it with thousands of personal memorials. They have constructed magnificent military memorials to honor our deceased veterans who served our nation. They have provided for and honored the nameless, the poor and the angelic little orphans. They have advocated for the maintenance, improvement and preservation of Oak Ridge Cemetery. Finally, they have chosen it as their final resting place. If any place deserves to be called sacred, this place must be so called undefined it is indeed a sacred place.

    On a lighter note, someone once famously and humorously observed, “One day we will all be North Enders.”

    Once properly dedicated, the early Board of Managers and the Sextons went to work improving the Cemetery. By 1865, they had selected a design, constructed a Receiving Vault, enclosed the grounds and planted appropriate trees and shrubs.
    Perhaps the oldest and most notable improvement was the design for the original old cemetery undefined the North or Old Section.

    The original design was made by William Sides, the Springfield City Engineer. Sides was a good engineer, but not much of a romantic or landscape architect. He laid out the cemetery lots in squares as if it were flat ground. He ignored all natural slopes and ravines and the general topography of the ground. His one dimensional plan for this beautiful site was impossible to implement in a three dimensional world and was soon abandoned.
    In 1859, the Board of Managers selected a second designer undefined a man who most of you have probably never heard of undefined William Saunders, of Washington, D. C. Saunders was a genius whose cemetery plans paid particular attention to the natural features of the grounds. His classic and historic design is with us today, 154 years later, in the beautiful North or Old Section of Oak Ridge Cemetery.

    So who was this man William Saunders? He has become famous in his own right as the landscape architect of three important Lincoln related sites. As I have said, he designed the old section of Oak Ridge Cemetery in 1859. In 1863, he designed the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg, the well-known site of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Finally, in September 1865, at the suggestion of General Ulysses S. Grant, he was charged with designing the grounds for the Lincoln Monument where we gather today.

    Saunders was a Scotsman who studied horticulture and landscape gardening and worked briefly in London before immigrating to the United States in 1848.

    By 1859, he was a landscape designer and horticulturist who designed Rose Hill Cemetery in Chicago and Oak Ridge Cemetery’s Old North Section.  

    As we commemorate Memorial Day with today’s events and the walking tour of 12 special trees, it is altogether fitting to note that in 1862 during the Lincoln administration, Saunders was appointed the first superintendent of the Propagating Gardens in the U. S. Department of Agriculture.  There he developed hundreds of plants, trees and shrubs that are grown throughout the United States. He designed Washington, D. C.’s park system and oversaw the planting of 80,000 trees there. He introduced the seedless Navel Orange which became the foundation of California’s successful citrus industry. He was the Guy Sternberg of his time.

    In about 1860, the Board of Managers authorized construction of the Receiving Tomb, one of the most significant early cemetery improvements. It was to benefit those who have not chosen lots, and who, “in sudden bereavement, are not prepared to make immediate selection of a final resting place for deceased friends, and also for the accommodation of those who may be awaiting the arrival of absent friends.”

    Sometime prior to 1858, the cemetery grounds were enclosed with a common post and board fence. Early in the year 1865, the Board of Managers authorized enclosing about forty acres on the east, north, and northwest boundaries of the cemetery with an Osage orange hedge. Today, remainders of that hedge can be seen along the east property line, north of the original Third Street entrance where there are 2 or 3 large old trees remaining.

    Historical coincidence saw these improvements completed by 1865. The cemetery was ready – the stage was set undefined for the most important performance the cemetery would ever host, a performance that brought it forevermore into the eye of the nation and the world. Here to these sacred grounds the remains of Abraham Lincoln were brought on May 4, 1865, just short of five years from the May 24, 1860 dedication that he and Mary had attended.

    Today, we take for granted that Lincoln is buried here. But we must remember that the journey from that terrible April day when Lincoln died to the day when he was placed in Oak Ridge’s Receiving Tomb was a tumultuous one, fraught with controversy and uncertainty. The story of that journey is one worth the telling.

    On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was shot in the head while attending the theater. He died the next morning and the immediate question for the Lincoln family was “Where should he be buried?”

    On April 16, Mary Lincoln told her son Robert that she did not wish to go back to Springfield, and did not want Mr. Lincoln’s remains taken there, but to Chicago, if any where in Illinois, or perhaps the empty crypt in the U.S. Capitol that had been prepared for George Washington.

    Coincidentally, a large number of Illinois politicians were in Washington when Lincoln was assassinated. A few hours after Lincoln’s death, they met in Sen. Richard Yates’s room at the National Hotel, to arrange a burial in Springfield. Lincoln’s close friend Gov. Richard J.Oglesby was selected to confer with the Lincoln family on a burial place. He did so and it is said that Robert Lincoln persuaded his mother to allow a Springfield burial by promising to take Willie Lincoln’s body along to Springfield for burial with his father. Willie died and had been buried in Washington, D. C. By the end of day, April 17, 1865, Governor Oglesby had obtained Mary Lincoln’s permission to return Lincoln’s body to Springfield.

    But that is not the end of the story. Once Mary decided that Mr. Lincoln would be buried in Springfield, the next question was, “Where in Springfield?” The choices were either Oak Ridge Cemetery or Mather Place. Mather Place is the present site of the Illinois State Capitol. It was a 6-acre block owned by the family of Col. Thomas Mather and on this hill one could be seen from the Chicago and Alton Railroad line just a block east.

    Before noon on April 17, 1865, a committee for the selection of the Springfield burial site met and visited both of the proposed sites. They choose Mather Place. Its location it was believed would draw visitors into downtown Springfield. The committee observed that Oak Ridge Cemetery was “distant from town, and many times during the year hard to reach.”

    On April 18, 1865, the Illinois State Journal endorsed the selection of the Mather Place.

    But thank goodness, that was not the end of the selection process. Enter Mary Lincoln.

    Our best view into Mary Lincoln’s world at this time comes from correspondence and telegraphs between the White House and relatives and friends back in Springfield. They provide us with a fascinating account of the tug of war that occurred between Mary who favored Oak Ridge and the powers that be in Springfield who favored Mather Place.

    The first hint of a conflict was in a letter written by Springfield’s Ozias Mather Hatch, who was a passenger on the Lincoln funeral train as it slowly made its way home. He let his wife Julia know that Mary had decided on the “vault,” subject to her future determination.

    The President of the Board of Managers of Oak Ridge Cemetery, Clark M. Smith, who was also Lincoln’s brother-in-law, happened to be at the White House after Lincoln’s assassination. On April 24, 1865, the Springfield City Council received a letter from Smith directing that the Oak Ride Cemetery vault and main entrance gate on Third Street be properly draped and arranged for the reception of President Lincoln’s remains. The Board of Managers complied with Smith’s request and began making all necessary arrangements for the funeral. Arrangements included putting the Oak Ridge Cemetery roads and grounds in suitable condition for the funeral. They also ordered iron grated doors for the Receiving Tomb. So it was settled, Oak Ridge it would be.

    But not so fast. The following day, April 25, 1865, the Committee on the Selection of Grounds for the Tomb selected the Mather Block rather than Oak Ridge Cemetery, as the site of the permanent tomb of Abraham Lincoln. A dispatch was sent to various newspapers giving notice that the Mather Block had been purchased for $50,000. Jared Pinckney Irwin, a Springfield mechanic and brick contractor, volunteered to build a temporary vault free of charge, and began work immediately. The vault was designed to be a resting place for the remains until a grand monument could be erected. By men working night and day, through sunshine and rain, it was ready for use on May 4, the day of the burial.

    The Register of Wednesday, April 26, 1865, reported:

    The Mather property having been decided upon as the burial place of our late president, the erection of a temporary receiving tomb has already been begun. The tomb when completed will be a most important and appropriate structure.

    And since Mather Place rather than Oak Ridge was to be the burial site, Mayor Thomas J. Dennis told the Oak Ridge folks that: You will at once suspend all work, and preparations in Oak Ridge Cemetery for the reception of the mortal remains of our late President Abraham Lincoln, until further orders. This terse message was written out on the official letterhead of the City Clerk’s Office.

    The drama was heightened when on April 27, 1865, the burial date was changed from May 6 to May 4. This change was prompted by the rapid deterioration of Lincoln’s remains.

    On April 28, 1865, John B. S. Todd, a Springfield Todd who was in Washington at the time of the assignation wrote from the White House on behalf of his cousin, Mary Todd Lincoln, to his uncle in Springfield undefined John T. Stuart. This is what Todd wrote:

    Mrs. Lincoln desires me to say to you that her final & positive determination is that the remains of the President shall be deposited in Oak Ridge Cemetery, and nowhere else undefined see that this is done.

    On the same date, April 28, Mary sent a message to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, stating that her decision was final undefined Lincoln’s remains must be placed in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

    The following day, the Committee on Selection of Grounds for the Tomb received both of these communications and replied to the Secretary of War that the Committee would comply with Mary’s wishes.

             To the Secty of War

    I have received your telegram. The committee instruct me to say that the wishes of Mrs. Lincoln shall be complied with.

    J. T. Stuart

    Chge Finance Committ.

    Even so, work on the vault at Mather Place continued.

    On April 30, 1865, another telegram from John B. S. Todd to John T. Stuart again expressed Mary Lincoln’s strong demands that her husband be buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

    Have your dispatch of 29th.undefined The remains of the President must be placed in the vault of Oakridge Cemetery undefined and no where else undefined This is Mrs. Lincoln’s fixed determination.
    On May 1, 1865, Robert Lincoln wrote to Illinois Governor Richard J. Oglesby that his mother’s wishes that burial must be in Oak Ridge Cemetery could not be disregarded. “There seems to be a disposition at Springfield to disregard my mother’s wishes in regard to the interment. Both the temporary and final interment must take place in Oakridge Cemetery.”

    On May 1, 1865, John B. S. Todd telegraphed Clark M. Smith, President of the Board of Managers of Oak Ridge Cemetery, who by then had returned to Springfield:

    Mrs. Lincoln desires you to see that the remains of the President are placed in the vault of Oak Ridge Cemetery & nowhere else. undefined Robert leaves for Springfield this P.M.
    It was now a mad rush to prepare Oak Ridge Cemetery for the funeral.

    On May 1, Edmond Beall and the other carpenters climbed onto lumber wagons and creaked out to Oak Ridge to build a speaker’s stand and seats for a three-hundred-voice choir. Beall recalled the event:

    There was only a temporary vault in Oak Ridge on the side of a hill. Seats had to be built for the choir, and we all hurried off to the cemetery to erect the seats. The choir of three hundred voices must be provided for. We had to work two days and one night to complete the work in time, and when through, we were a tired lot.
    The Oak Ridge Receiving Tomb was readied, as was the Mather vault undefined as a “contingency.”

    When Robert Lincoln arrived in Springfield, the group advocating burial at Mather Place requested Robert to ask his mother to reconsider. Robert did so sending her a telegram in Washington. He was still waiting for her reply as the funeral procession assembled at the State House on May 4, 1865.

    As the procession was ready to leave, Robert received his mother’s telegram. She stated as firmly as a telegram can convey firmness, that her husband’s body was to be placed in Oak Ridge Cemetery or she would have it returned to Washington, D. C. and there placed in the crypt in the National Capitol. The message was clear and the Funeral Procession proceeded slowly to Oak Ridge Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln and his son Willie were both placed in the Receiving Tomb on May 4, 1865.

    Charles R. Page, of the New York Daily Tribune was present and reported:

    Up to this morning it had not been finally determined whether the remains would be deposited at Oak Ridge Cemetery or in a vault hastily built on the “Mother [Mather] Place,” which is a fine property of ten acres in the western part of the city, and which the citizens, on hearing of his death, bought (paying $50,000) as a place for his tomb and monument. Preparations were made at each place, but this morning, on the arrival of Captain Robert Lincoln and John G. Nicolay, late private Secretary, from Washington, the question was decided in favor of Oak Ridge, though it is quite possible that the body may finally rest at the “Mother [Mather] Place.”

    And the New York Weekly Tribune, reported:

    The public has a confused understanding of the fact that there was an earnest struggle over the final resting place of the mortal remains of Abraham Lincoln, which was not terminated till the day of their interment; Robert Lincoln …announced the unanimous and unchangeable resolve of the family that the ashes of him they loved should repose in a cemetery undefined that of Springfield, if that were allowed; if not that, in some other. While doing justice to the liberality and public spirit which dictated the purchase of an eight acre lot for the tomb, at a cost of $55,000, we must say that the decision of the family seems to us that which good taste and right feeling would naturally prompt. And the monument to Mr. Lincoln will rise over his remains in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

    On May 5, 1865, the day following the funeral, Robert Lincoln and United States Supreme Court Justice David Davis visited Oak Ridge Cemetery and selected the site for the construction of a permanent tomb for Abraham Lincoln. The site selected is where we gather today.

    Three days later, on May 8, 1865, Robert Lincoln wrote to John T. Stuart that his mother had examined the map of Oak Ridge Cemetery and he thought she was pleased with the site selected.

    So it was finally final. Lincoln’s remains would forever remain in Oak Ridge Cemetery. Again, not so fast.  

    Despite Mary Lincoln’s wishes, a group of fifteen men led by Governor Richard J. Oglesby had every intention of constructing Lincoln’s tomb in the Mather Block. On May 11, 1865, they incorporated as the National Lincoln Monument Association, and stated that the “object of the Association shall be to construct a Monument to the memory of Abraham Lincoln, in the city of Springfield, State of Illinois.”

    The Monument Association proceeded with plans for a grand tomb in the Mather Block. Within two weeks of the funeral, the Monument Association was busily soliciting funds to pay for the shrine. Circulars were sent to universities and colleges, public schools, and Sunday schools across the nation, asking for donations.

    By June 1865, Mary had moved from the White House to Chicago and learned of the activities of the Monument Association. Again, the insensitive Monument Association approached Mary, traveling to Chicago to make a personal appeal for the Mather Place. However, word of the planned trip got to Mary and she refused to see the Governor. Robert Lincoln handed him a letter that, in part said “My determination is unalterable.”

    On June 5, 1865, Mary sent an ultimatum letter to Richard Oglesby, Chairman of the Monument Association.

    I feel that it is due to candor and fairness that I should notify your Monument Association, that unless I receive within this next ten days an official assurance that the Monument will be erected over the Tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery, in accordance with my oft expressed wishes, I shall yield my consent, to the request of the National Monument Association in Washington & that of numerous friends in the Eastern States & have the sacred remains deposited in the vault, prepared for Washington, under the Dome of the National Capitol, at as early a period as practicable.

    Five days later she repeated this message.

    On June 14, 1865, by a vote of 8 to 7, the members of the Monument Association reluctantly agreed to the Oak Ridge site. At last, the National Lincoln Monument Association acceded to Mary’s wishes. Oak Ridge Cemetery would be the site of the Lincoln Tomb and the final resting place of the remains of Abraham Lincoln.

    And thus we gather here on this Memorial Day Weekend and respectfully look back and pay our respects to him, and to the veterans and to those who have gone before us and who are now buried here. We thank them all. We pledge to them that we will be good stewards of this place and we will someday happily join them as North Enders.

    The Future

    So where do we go from here? As I see it, Oak Ridge Cemetery is flourishing. I belief that this will continue not only for the next few years but well beyond. And why do I say that it is flourishing and should continue to do so?

    First and foremost, we are most fortunate and grateful to have the strong support of our present City government – our Mayor and City Council. We thank them for that support.

    Second, we are thankful for our excellent Director and outstanding staff, both office and grounds. They make the wheels turn here 24/7/365.

    Third, we are blessed to have a new Oak Ridge Cemetery Foundation that is working with the Board of Directors to improve the cemetery. At present the Foundation provides the leadership for the recreation of the Third Street Entrance in time for the 2015 commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s burial.

    Fourth, we have very cooperative relations with our friends at the Lincoln Tomb and the Veteran Memorials and we thank them for planning and hosting today’s program. We look forward to future such events.

    Finally, and most importantly, we have the strong support of our community--the many City residents and businesses who share their skills and treasure with the Cemetery. Without a doubt the star in this category is Bob Voss. Bob has been the most productive citizen and leader on behalf of the Cemetery in our lifetimes and we trust that his support will continue in the future. In thanking Bob for his service, the Board thanks every other volunteer and contributor.

    As we approach the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s burial here, we must prepare Oak Ridge for the eyes of the nation and indeed the world. We are taught today that we must tend to our trees, both those living and those that are dead. Let us all resolve to make Oak Ridge shine as the most beautiful jewel in the City’s crown as the 2015 anniversary events are reported from this site.

    Beyond 2015, we all must resolve to do our best to protect and preserve this sacred place. We must be constant in our vigilance to see that it is neither neglected nor minimized in either good times or bad.

    Thank you for coming today and thank you for being good advocates and stewards for our beloved Oak Ridge Cemetery.



  • October 16, 2013 12:05 PM | Deleted user
    The October edition of our ongoing County History Vignettes series highlights a section the massive History of Sangamon County Illinois, published in 1881, titled "The Bar of Sangamon County" (pages 76-80).  The chapter details the evolution of the legal system in Sangamon County and gives a biographical sketch of some of the best legal minds and most colorful characters in the earliest decades of the county's history.  This excerpt details John Reynolds.  Though he later became governor of the state, Reynolds gained the trust of local citizens as a lawyer and judge.  In this exchange, one is struck by the civility with which Reynolds pronounces sentence on a condemned man and settles on a date of execution.  

    Chapter V

    The Bar of Sangamon County

    The Bar of Sangamon county has ever been a subject of pride among her citizens. Some of the best legal minds, fairest logicians and finest orators of the age have practiced before her courts, many of whom have claimed a residence in the county. In reviewing the history of the Bar, it must be born, in mind that as the prosperity and well-being of every community depends upon the wise interpretation as well as upon the judicious framing of its laws, it must follow that a record of the members of the Bar must form no unimportant part in the county’s history.

     [The history goes on to provide sketches of some of the more prominent members of the bar. Some of the sketches were brief biographies, but some provided a glimpse of a personality as did the one for  John Reynolds, one of those lawyers listed in the first decade of Sangamon county records.]

    John Reynolds is well known to every student of the history of Illinois, having been Governor of the State, member of Congress and Judge of the Supreme Court of Illinois. He was a ripe scholar, a man of great natural ability, yet withal modest, seeming more disposed to conceal than to blazon forth his accomplishments to the world. An amusing story is told of the Governor which occurred while holding a term of the circuit court at Edwardsville. At that term a man named Green was tried before him on the charge of murder, and was convicted. Reynolds, who was always seeking popularity, desired the ill will of no one, even of a murderer, and after the verdict of guilty had been read by the clerk in open court, turned to Green, his face all beaming with sympathy, said:

             'Mr. Green, I am truly sorry for you; the jury have found you guilty of murder, and I suppose you know you have got to be hung.’

               ‘Yes, Your Honor,’ said Green.

               ‘Mr. Green, I want you to understand that this is none of my work, but of a jury of your own selection. I would take it as a favor of you if you would communicate this fact to your friends and relatives. The law makes it my duty to pass sentence upon you and carry out the verdict of the jury. It is a mere matter of form, Mr. Green, so far as I am concerned, and your death can in no way be imputed to me. Mr. Green, when would you like to be hung?’

             'Your Honor,; said Green, ‘if I had any choice in the matter, I should not like to be hung at all; but as it seems I have not, I have no preference of one time over another.’

              Reynolds then turned to the clerk and said:

            ‘Mr. Conway, look at the almanac and see if the fourth Friday in December comes on Sunday.’

             Conway, being a man of considerable humor, gravely turned to the almanac, and then looking up, said:

              ‘I find, your Honor, to my utter astonishment, that that day comes upon Friday!’

               ‘So it does, so it does,’ said Reynolds. Turning to Green, he said:

              ‘Mr. Green, the sentence of the court is that on the fourth Friday in December, between the hours of ten o’clock in the forenoon and four o’clock in the afternoon, the sheriff of Madison county will take you from the jail to the place of execution, and there, Mr. Green, I am sorry to say, he will hang you till you are dead, dead, dead, and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul. And don’t forget it, Mr. Green, that it is not my work, but that of the jury which tried you.’”

  • September 11, 2013 9:49 AM | Deleted user
    This edition of our ongoing County History Vignettes series details a section the massive History of Sangamon County Illinois, published in 1881, appropriately titled "Dark Deeds" (page 524-530).  While the chapter commences with a form of justification for chronicling violent crime in the county, most of the chapter details cases that resulted in acquittal.  However, the excerpt we chose for you today details the first murder and prompt execution of the first murderer in Sangamon County, along with an unusual twist at the end. 

    For more information about our ongoing series of County History Vignettes, see our previous post:


    “Thou shalt not kill,” is a Divine precept. Its obligation is incumbent upon every one. Not-withstanding this, since the day that Cain slew his brother Abe, crime has been rife in the land. Laws are passed and heavy penalties are inflicted upon the guilty, yet crime does not cease to exist. Neither the terrors of this world or that which is to come deters the deterined and wicked man from taking the life of a fellow-being. Sangamon county has, with every other county in the State, been the theatre of bloodshed, and however distasteful the task may be, it is a part of the historian’s duty to record the dark deeds that have been committed; not to pander to taste of a depraved people for the sensational, but as a warning alike to the pure, and those who have murder in their heart. The first case in which life was taken was that of the


    On the morning of August 27, 1826, Nathaniel VanNoy, in a fit of drunken frenzy, killed his wife. He was arrested and lodged in jail the same night. The sheriff at once notified Judge Sawyer, who at once called a special session of the Circuit Court. A grand jury was empanneled and sworn, who found a true bill of indictment against him. The following named composed this jury: Gersham Jayne, foreman; Stephen Stillman, John Morris, John Stephenson, jr., James White, Thomas Morgan, James Stewart, Jacob Boyer, Robert White, John N. Moore, William Carpenter, Jesse M. Harrison, Robert Cownover, James Turley, Aaron  Houton, John Young, John Lindsay, Charles Boyd, William O. Chilton, Job Burdan, Hugh Sportsman, Abram Lanterman. The bill of indictment was presented to the court, and a petit jury was then called, consisting fo the following named: Bowling Green, foreman; Samuel Lee, Jesse Armstrong, Levi W. Gordon, Thomas I. Parish, Erastus Wright, William Vincent, Philip I. Fowler, John L. Stephensen, Levi Parish, James Collins, George Davenport.

    The jury was sworn, and the trial commenced on the 28th. James Turney, Attorney General of the State, acted for the people, and the accused was defended by James Adams and Jonathan H. Pugh, both of Springfield. A verdict of guilty was rendered on the 29th, and sentence pronounced the same day, that the condemned man be hung November 26, 1826. Thus in less than three days was the murder committed, the murderer tried and condemned to be hung. The sentence was carried out, at the time appointed, in the presence of almost the entire community. The execution took place about where the State House now stands. Many are yet living who witnessed the summary disposal of the first murderer in what was then Sangamon county.

    Just before the execution VanNoy sent for Dr. Filleo and enquired of him if a man could be brought to life after he had been hung. The doctor replied that if the neck escaped dislocation, and that if the condemned person did not hang too long there was a possibility that by the galvanic battery, life could be restored. Van Noy then told him that if he could be brought to life that he would be willing to pay a reasonable sum but otherwise the doctor might have his body for dissection. He followed the doctor’s advice and his neck was not broken. The sheriff, however, fearing that he would come to life, kept him hanging nearly an hour, and when he was taken down his soul was too far in the land of the spirits to be called back. Dr. Filleo made the attempt notwithstanding, and when he applied the galvanic battery, the nerves of the dead man twitched spasmodically several times in quick succession. There was no life in them and they only moved in obedience to the powerful battery that was brought to bear upon them.

  • September 04, 2013 8:31 AM | Deleted user

    Collecting and preserving the history of an area has been practiced since the invention of the printing press. William Bradford of Plymouth is recognized as the father of such histories in this country for his manuscript Of Plymouth Plantation, wherein he recounted the details of the founding of the Plymouth colony and the lives of the colonists in its early years.

    Historians and publishers have been following Bradford’s footsteps ever since, usually inspired by some ‘bump’ in history such as an anniversary date. That may explain why John Carroll Power published his History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois  as “A Centennial Record” in 1876. Power’s book has become ever more valuable as time has passed and the indexed reproduction put out by the Sangamon County Genealogical Society in 1991 has made it much easier to navigate. Originally published "under the auspices of the Old Settlers’ Society", the book includes the minutes of the early meetings of that group and several other events that colored the experiences of the early settlers and defined their world, but Power's book does not pretend to be a county history; merely a history of the early settlers and a glimpse into the world in which they lived.

    The first real "county history" was published in 1881. By this time the value of preserving local history had been realized by publishing companies in many places. In the spring of 1881 the Interstate Publishing Company of Chicago sent to the area a “corps of experienced historians with instructions to prepare a faithful and reliable history of the County.” The first, and wisest, thing that ‘corps of historians’ did was to secure the cooperation of the Old Settlers’ Society, and its President R. W. Diller.  The Old Settlers’ Society appointed a committee, headed up by John T. Stuart with representatives from each township to “examine and correct the history of the respective townships”. By the time of publication the company also expressed its thanks to William H. Herndon for his cooperation in examining and correcting manuscripts and to Charles H. Lanphier for his knowledge of the affairs of the county, most particularly its political matters, and for his proof reading skills.  They went on to mention others, most particularly J.C. Power, who aided and supported them without ever indicating that he felt they were invading his turf.

    The title page of the volume has a doubly ambitious title:

    History of Sangamon County Illinois - together with sketches of the cities, villages, and townships, educational, religious, civil, military, and political history: portraits of prominent persons, and biographies of representative citizens.

    Then there is a partial line across the page and below it:

    History of Illinois, embracing accounts of the historic races, aborigines, Winnebgo and Black Hawk wars, and a brief review of its civil, political and military history.

    The 1000 plus pages of the volume do a credible job of covering all of the above, and sometimes, in rather fascinating ways.

    From time to time, beginning this fall, the Sangamon County Historical Society is pleased to provide vignettes from that important volume for you.  We trust you will find it interesting reading! 









  • July 31, 2013 1:42 PM | Deleted user

    By: Jerry Smith

    Sunday, July 21, 2013 marked another chapter in the restoration of the Clayville Historic Site. On that afternoon about 150 members of the Purvines Clan, related families, and general public gathered to view the progress made recently to turn the center section of the Purvines barn into a Pioneer Agriculture Museum honoring the early settler-farmers of Central Illinois.

    The barn was originally built by Oramel Green Lee Purvines prior to the Civil War. Purvines was the third generation of his family who settled in Cartwright Township. His Grandfather was John Purvines, a Revolutionary War soldier who came here about 1820. John Purvines son and Oramel Green Lee’s father, Alexander Caldwell Purvines came at about the same time from North Carolina. Green Lee inherited 80 acres from his father and built the farm to over 500 acres of fine Illinois soil by the 1870s. The barn and the family home were located less than a mile east of Clayville. Late in the 1890s the family home was struck by lightning and burned but the barn survived. The property soon passed to James Henry Irwin and his wife Mary Etta Purvines Irwin (daughter of Oramel Green Lee), then to James and Mary Etta’s son George Purvines Irwin who eventually sold it to the Kettlekamp family – Mrs. Kettlekamp was also a Purvines descendent. In the early 1960s the Kettlekamps donated the barn to Dr Emmet Pearson who was beginning to build his pioneer village at the Clayville site and the barn was disassembled and reconstructed where it now sits.

            Purvines Barn in 2009                                                  Purvines Barn in 2013

    The Pleasant Plains Historical Society has been the proud owner and operator of Clayville since July, 2009. Their first priority was saving the buildings which were in danger of deteriorating to the point of no return. Since then they have made substantial progress to put Clayville “back on the map” as a local historical attraction, open to the public for tours for the first time since 1992. Their most recent accomplishments have included the reconstruction of the porches on the Broadwell Inn (they had fallen off by about 1920) and now the addition of the Pioneer Agriculture Museum to the village.

    Clayville is located 15 miles west of Springfield Illinois on State Route 125 toward Pleasant Plains, Illinois. Open for tours Tuesday through Saturday from 10am until 4pm April to October and for various special events and festivals throughout the year.

  • April 13, 2013 11:08 AM | Nancy Chapin
    Raising money for infrastructure is nothing new for residents of Sangamon County. In 1921 there was excitement about the possibility of raising enough money just to oil the main county roads.

    The following article appeared in the Illinois State Register on Thursday, January 25, 1921: 

    Cost of Oiled Roads

    With the township highway officers and the majority of the taxpayers behind it, the effort to secure the oiling of all main roads in Sangamon county should be successful. The committee appointed by the board of supervisors is carrying on its negotiations with the township officers in a tactful manner and they are responding in a fine spirit of co-operation.

    There are some difficulties in the way of financing the work. It may be necessary in some of the townships to submit to the voters at the spring election the question of a special tax to cover the expense.

    Chairman Roger E. Chapin of the board of supervisors, at the meeting held Tuesday, very sensibly called the attention of the supervisors and road commissioners present to the fact that while the initial expense of carrying out the oiling plan may seem to be burdensome, the fact is that if the results are considered in connection with the expense as spread over a series of years in the future it will be found that the cost of oiling the roads and making them permanently good will be no more, and may be less, than the cost of working them in the old way and making them good only until the next muddy period.

    This is certainly worth the consideration of the taxpayers who have to stand the expense of road-making. If we can get better roads for the same or less money we surely should have them.

  • December 11, 2012 12:48 PM | Deleted user


    Compiled by Donna G. Catlin


    With the opening of the National Museum of Surveying in Springfield, Illinois in September 2010, all eyes were on our own favorite surveyor, Abraham Lincoln, who had served as a Deputy Surveyor of Sangamon County.  Another famous surveyor connected to Sangamon County was John Calhoun.  On October 14, 1806, John Calhoun was born in Boston, Massachusetts moving to Springfield in 1830.  He became a surveyor and served in the Black Hawk War with Abraham Lincoln. 


    Joseph Ledlie was another surveyor for Sangamon County.  He did the surveying for the Chicago and Alton railroad, platted the village of Sherman, Illinois and performed many local surveys.  Ledlie was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 18, 1812.  He was the son of Arthur and Catharine Ledlie who immigrated to this country from Ireland in 1801 and settled in the East.  Ledlie’s family later moved to Ohio with Joseph Ledlie and his brother Arthur coming to Illinois about 1836.  Around 1837 the brothers returned to Gallipolis, Ohio and taught school in an academy.  In 1838, Ledlie returned to Illinois in the Macoupin County area farming and teaching school.  Joseph Ledlie moved to Springfield around 1846. Mr. Ledlie had a very inventive and mathematical mind like his father and that was the reason he was appointed by John B. Watson to deputy county surveyor soon after arriving in Springfield.


    In 1854 with the personal influence of Stephen A. Douglas, President Franklin Pierce appointed John Calhoun as Surveyor General for the Territories.  John  Calhoun appointed local men, U.S. Deputy Charles A. Manners and U. S. Deputy Joseph Ledlie in the year of 1855 to survey the First Guide Meridian East in Nebraska and Kansas, respectively.  Manners was also contracted with testing the Baseline between the two future states which was previously surveyed by John P. Johnson.  Both Manners and Ledlie discovered that Johnson had failed to accurately establish the 40th Parallel of Latitude.  Beginning in 1855 Charles A. Manners and Joseph Ledlie went to work doing a complete resurvey in the states of Kansas and Nebraska, looking to correct mistakes from previous surveys.  With their fine work over the next few years, they both became heroes to surveyors in Kansas and Nebraska even in 2010.


    Commencing with the title November 8, 1858, the date of record of the plat of said Town.  “Plat Of The Town Of Sherman In Sangamon County, Illinois.”  I hereby certify that on the 21st and 22nd days of September 1858, I surveyed the Town of Sherman for Virgil Hickox, David Sherman, Cornelius Flagg and Joseph Ledlie.  The said “Town” is situated on the St. Louis, Alton and Chicago Railroad in the N. part of the E. ½ of the S.E. ¼ of Section 25, T. 17 N., R. 5 W. 3rd. P.M. as shown by the plat.  The names, lengths, breadths and positions of Streets and Alleys as also the numbers, dimensions and locations of the Blocks and Lots of said Town are marked and shown on the Plat. Signed by Joseph Ledlie--County Surveyor.  Adopted October 7, 1858 and acknowledged October 9, 1858 by Virgil Hickox and Catharine E. Hickox, his wife, David Sherman and Elizabeth Sherman, his wife, Cornelius Flagg and Joseph Ledlie, proprietors, before L.B. Adams, J.P. Sangamon County, Illinois.  Recorded: November 8, 1858.


    In 1881 Joseph Ledlie married Miss Emma Snell.  Mrs. Ledlie was born in Massachusetts on July 4, 1817 and came to Illinois around 1865.  Mr. Ledlie died on May 4, 1893 and Emma remained his widow until her passing in March of 1903.  Both Joseph and Emma Ledlie are buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois.  A street in Springfield is named for Ledlie.  


    On August 2, 1827, U.S. Deputy Charles A. Manners was born in Somerset County, New Jersey to his parents John S. and Penelope Stout Manners.  On October 2, 1861, Mr. Manners married Miss Elizabeth A. Long, daughter of Major Thomas Long of Taylorville.  On January 31, 1888 surveyor Charles A. Manners died.  Both Charles and Elizabeth Manners are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Taylorville, Illinois.


    Later John Calhoun became known as “The villain of Kansas.”  On October 13, 1859 his career in the politics of Kansas came to a sudden end with his unexpected death at St. Joseph, Missouri. Today in 2010 researchers still work on piecing together the amazing historical story of John Calhoun and his co-surveyors.


    The new Surveying Museum in Springfield is a jewel for Sangamon County with the location being near the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  President Abraham Lincoln, John Calhoun, Charles A. Manners and Joseph Ledlie are great examples of past history of Sangamon County’s local surveyors.

  • October 08, 2012 8:20 AM | Nancy Chapin
    Donna Catlin, photo administrator for the website, has added some wonderful new pictures of various events. Check them out! 
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