Lincoln Land History


Lincoln Land History


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(Following 1763 Treaty of Paris)


 Acquired by Great Britain from France following the 1763 Treaty of Paris, the Ohio Country had been closed to white settlement by the Proclamation of 1763. The United States claimed the region after the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War, but was subject to overlapping and conflicting claims of the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Virginia, as well as a lingering British presence that was not settled until the War of 1812.

 The region had long been desired for expansion by colonists, however, and urgency of the settlement of the claims of the individual states was prompted in large measure by the de facto opening of the area to settlement following the loss of British control.

In 1784, Thomas Jefferson proposed that the individual states should relinquish their particular claims to all the territory west of the Appalachians, and the area should be divided into new states of the Union. His proposal was adopted in a modified form as the Northwest Ordinance of 1784. This ordinance established the example that would become the basis for the Northwest Ordinance three years later. Michigan, Illinois, and Washington would eventually be used as state names.

The primary effect of the ordinance was the creation of the Northwest Territory as the first organized territory of the United. On August 7, 1789, the U.S. Congress affirmed the Ordinance with slight modifications.

Arguably the second most important piece of legislation (after the Constitution) , it established the precedent by which the United States would expand westward across North America by the admission of new states, rather than by the expansion of existing states.

Further, the banning of slavery in the territory had the effect of establishing the Ohio River as the boundary between free and slave territory in the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. This division helped set the stage for the balancing act between free and slave states that was the basis of a critical political question in American politics in the 19th century until the Civil War.





Treaty of Greeneville, 1795 -- And the Future Red Hills State Park

The area of hills in eastern Illinois that became Red Hills State Park was an important historical crossroad. It was the western most edge of the first land in Illinois ceded by a conferation of Native Americans to the United States. The borderline runs through the park from southwest to northeast (See map below), and was set by a treaty made in 1795 at Greenville, Ohio, by General Anthony Wayne. The tribes in the confederacy included the Wyandot, Lenape, Shawnee, Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Miami, Wea, Kickapoo and Kaskaskia.  Then, the area was called Vincennes Tract.


With the Indians having been forcibly removed (so the Feds thought), the way was open -- legally and on paper if not actually -- to settlement by Euro-American settlers from the original Thirteen Colonies.  Many came by flatboat on the Ohio.  Others traveled on a road called the Old Cahokia Trace, commonly known as the "Trace Road." (See map below)  It ran east and west just north of what is now U.S. 50, and was for many years the principal route from historic Vincennes, IN, to St. Louis and the west. 

Some twenty miles west was an area that was to become Olney, Illinois.



Settlement  of Olney 1815

Settlement of the Richland County area began around 1815 when Thaddeus Morehouse a native of Vermont arrived by Conestoga wagon and built a log cabin along a stagecoach route that ran from Vincennes, Indiana to St. Louis. This log cabin operated as a hotel and tavern.


Settlement Patterns and Statehood 1818

Two forces resulted in the early settlement of Illinois to be heavily in the bottom part of the state: Indians warring against Whites in the central and northern portions of the state and, secondly, the double push and pull of hard prairie sod in the north and forests in the south.



 Sod Busters – 1837 John Deere Creates a Steel Plow

Many new immigrants to Illinois found themselves challenged by the task of converting the open prairie to agriculture. Although the prairie's soils proved very rich, farmers using traditional wooden plows struggled to prepare them for planting by breaking the tall grasses' dense, deep root systems.

Many times wooden blades did not prove sharp enough to break the dense root mat. Often the lush black soil clung to a wooden blade, obliging the farmer to stop often to clean it. In 1837 John Deere of Grand Detour, Illinois devised a steel plow that proved much more adept at breaking the prairie soil. This invention enabled succeeding generations of agriculturalists to turn the prairie, in Illinois and beyond, into a thriving agricultural region.




In 1860 Republican Party leaders styled their candidate Abraham Lincoln as "the Railsplitter" in an attempt to appeal to the common man. While Lincoln, eager to leave his backwoods past behind, was not happy with the designation, it had a basis in shrewd observation.
Frontier men, and sometimes women, knew that in order to survive they must be handy with an axe. On the trail to a new home forests provided fuel for campfires and the makings of temporary shelters.
Settlers in woodland areas, which included most of the southern Illinois and portions of the state's central and northern regions, found themselves confronted by a daunting first task: clearing an area for habitation and cultivation. Working alone, a settler might take weeks to clear his land.


Organized 1841

Richland County was organized as a county in 1841 when it was formed by a partitioning of Edwards County (See map above). There was some talk of naming the county Reed County after the Reverend Joseph Reed, an early Settler. Mr. Reed modestly declined that honor and suggested the name Richland County after the county in Ohio where he originally made his home. There was some controversy regarding the location of the county seat. In spite of the fact that the it was only a settlement and planned community, Olney was determined the choice based on a donation of land and the central location..


The name of the town Olney was suggested by Judge Aaron Shaw who desired to honor a friend and Lawrenceville banker,  Nathan Olney.

Olney Incorporated 1848

It was not until 1848 that Olney was incorporated as a village. For a few years there was no county Courthouse. County Commissioners met in the cabin of Benjamin Bogard.

Courthouses, 1841 and 1873

The first court building was a log cabin which the county shared with the Methodist church.  In 1843 the county contracted to build a new courthouse. Once completed it was said to be the finest in this part of the state.  A newer courthouse was built in 1873 . An impressive building this courthouse burned in 1914, the fire possibly caused by the spark from an Illinois Central engine landing in a pigeon or sparrow nest that occupied the cupola  of the courthouse. The present courthouse was built at a cost of $100,000 around 1916 on the same T.


1873 - 1914

An impressive building this courthouse burned in 1914 , the fire possibly caused by the spark from an Illinois Central engine landing in a pigeon or sparrow nest that occupied the cupola of the cupola of the courthouse. The present courthouse was built at a cost of $100,000 around 1916 on the same T.





Railroads Crisscross Illinois - and Olney, too, 1850s

By the mid-1850s, Olney, Illinois, had two rail roads which all-but assured the town's stability and even growth -- perhaps even more so than that little village on Lake Michigan, known as Chicago.  The "Westward Movement" provided locals with jobs providing for the needs of the constant flow of migrants heading first to St. Louis.  The two railroads connected Olney in four key directions: east to the industral states; south to Cairo which for a time looked like it was going to be a key river city; north to Chicago; and, of course, west to, well, The West.


The Illinois Central Rail Road - 1856


The Illinois Central was officially chartered by the Illinois General Assembly on February 10, 1851. Upon its completion in 1856, the IC was the longest railroad in the world. Its main line went from Cairo, Illinois, at the southern tip of the state, to Galena, in the northwest corner. A branch line went from Centralia (named for the railroad) to the rapidly growing city of Chicago. In Chicago, its tracks were laid along the shore of Lake Michigan and on an offshore causeway downtown, but land filling and natural deposition have moved the present-day shore to the east.


The Ohio and Mississippi Rail Road, 1855

The Ohio and Mississippi Railway (earlier the Ohio and Mississippi Rail Road) was a railroad operating between Cincinnati, Ohio, and East St. Louis, Illinois, from 1857 to 1893. It merged in 1893 with the Baltimore and Ohio Southwestern Railway.


Baltimore & Ohil Railroad Station, Olney, IL., 1920's



B&O RR Agent, Ray Williams, Outside the Station, 1940's

Civil War Turmoil

The Civil War brought a great deal of turmoil to the County as there were sympathies for both sides. Lincoln and Douglas spoke at separate political rallies in Olney September 20, 1856. The Olney paper was said to be the first newspaper to endorse Lincoln. While most citizens rallied around the Union it was necessary to have troops stationed in Olney to enforce the draft as union deserters were found refuge among local citizens . It was reported that on one occasion the Sheriff of Jasper County along with a pose from Jasper and Crawford Counties were headed to Olney to free Union deserters held at the local jail but turned back when they learned that local citizens were guarding the jail. The local paper was accused of Copperhead sympathies during the war and as a result, a group of Union soldiers home on leave wrecked the presses of the Olney Weekly Press.

Wars -- 1700 Fight For the Union  - 1000 for WWI

Overall however the county was pro Union and an estimated 1700 Richland County citizens fought for the Union in the Civil War. Nearly 1000 Olney residents served in World War I and during World War II Richland County may have been the only Illinois county outside of Cook that provided 4 generals for the war  effort.

1850 & 1950

The first census of Richland County was in 1850 at which time 4,012 people resided in the county.  One hundred years later the 1950 census found Olney (Citizens of Dundas may disagree) to be the population center of the United States.



 The Heritage House Museum

The Heritage Museum is a non-profit organization staffed by volunteers. This community effort resulted in  the restoration  of an 1870's homestead which was completed in 1991.



The Carnigie Building Museum

401 E. Main 


In 1994 the museum foundation expanded when it restored the local Carnegie library and opened this building for the display of local artifacts.  Both buildings are open  Sundays  April through November or by special appointment. The heritage house is open in December for display of Christmas decorations. Tours and educational programs have been offered for local schools.  The 1870's home includes period furniture. The Carnegie library building includes displays on local history, including the local oil industry in Richland County, Native American Artifacts, Civil war relics and Antique radios


Main at Whittle -- Looking East



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Olney Township High School From 1907 To 1915


Olney Township High School From 1915 To 1952



by J. H. Battle 1882
Transcribed and contributed by Barb Ziegenmeyer


The first school taught in Richland County was taught in an old log building erected for a tavern, on the old ' trace road,' two miles west of Olney, in what is now Olney Township, in 1822 and 1823, by John I. Chauncey. The schoolroom was partitioned off from one end of the tavern, and Was furnished with slab seats, and board desks. Uncle Elijah Nelson attended that school for four days.     

In 1841, there were four schools held in the county, one at Fairview, one in the Baptist Church near old Claremont, one in the Richard Philips neighborhood, four miles north of Olney, and the other at the Morehouse Schoolhouse, two miles east of Olney. These were all subscription schools, the State fund being so meager that the people refused to organize under the school law. On the platting of Olney, Mrs. Powers became a resident of the village and opened her house for the purpose of teaching school.


It would be difficult in any case to trace the growth of the common schools from this small beginning to the present advancement. In 1866, Judge Kitchell having donated the ground, a public school building was erected in Olney, and occupied the following year. This structure is an object of pride to every citizen and is well worth their admiration. It originally contained twelve rooms, and with the furniture cost over $33,000.


For the 1881 school year the superintendent’s report places the number of persons of school age in the county, at 5,455; the whole number enrolled, 4,574; the number of graded schools are four, one each at Olney, Noble, Claremont, and Parkersburg ; there are in addition, seventy eight ungraded schools.

Of the eighty-two schoolhouses in use, five are brick, seventy five are frame, and two are log structures. Four districts have libraries valued at an aggregate value of $483. The total value of school property in the county is $84,935; the Olney property alone being estimated at $40,000.   


The entire apparatus of the county is put down at $1,559. The average monthly wages of male teachers is $35.95; of female teachers, $24.49. The amount of district tax to support schools is $21,306.50; $6,400 of this being raised in Olney. There is a bonded school debt of $4,162. The total receipts for the year were $47,683.79; total expenditures, $33,025.54, of which $21,975.34 was paid to teachers.