Happy Birthday, Montgomery County

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In the fall of 1820, John Tillson Jr., Hiram Rountree, Israel Seward and Eleaser Townsend presented a petition to the still-infant Illinois state legislature, asking that a new county be detached from Bond County.  The request was approved by the legislature meeting in Vandalia, and on Feb. 12, 1821, Montgomery County, named after Revolutionary War hero Gen. Richard Montgomery, was established.

Friday, Feb. 12, marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of Montgomery County, and a ceremony commemorating the bicentennial that had been scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 13, has been postponed due to below zero temperature forecasts.  

That event has been rescheduled for 12 noon on Saturday, April 10, on the front lawn of the Historic Courthouse in Hillsboro.  There, descendants of Montgomery County’s earliest settlers will be recognized, and county, state, and federal officials will congratulate the county on it’s 200th anniversary.

A larger bicentennial celebration has been set for Saturday, June 5, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Butler. A rain date has been set for Sunday, June 6.

Like all of Illinois, Montgomery County was first home to Native Americans like the Kickapoo and Illinois peoples, and was less than 55 miles from perhaps the largest native settlement on the continent near Cahokia.

Before Illinois was admitted to the union as the 21st state on Dec. 3, 1818, settlements had already been established in Montgomery County along Hurricane Creek in the present VanBurensburg area and the Clear Springs neighborhood near Shoal Creek.  According to Dorothy Bliss’ history book published in 1989, “Hurricane was settled in the fall of 1816 and the spring of 1817 by a colony composed of the families of Joseph Williams, Henry Pyatt, William McDavid, John and Henry Hill, Jesse Johnson, Henry Sears, Aaron Case, Harris Reavis, Joseph and Charles Wright, Easton Whitten, John Kirkpatrick, Henry Rose, John Russell, David Bradford, E. Gwinn and others.

“Colonists from Kentucky and Tennessee followed close behind, locating in the Clear Springs area, now a part of Hillsboro Township, in 1817 and 1818.  Moving there were the families of Alexander Williams, Solomon Prewitt, John Norton, Roland Shepherd, Jarvis Forehand, Gordon Crandal, William Clark, David McCoy, Nicholas Nockerman, Hugh Kirkpatrick, Melcher Fogleman, William Griffith, Joseph McAdams, Israel Seward, the Rev. James Street, Jesse Townsend, Jacob Cress, Israel Butler, the Harkeys and others.

“Other early settlers were scattered over the countryside, including John Nussman of North Carolina who had settled his family near an ever-flowing spring in what is now Central Park (in Hillsboro).”

The narrative continues, “More pioneer families were living on granted acres or as squatters when Hiram Rountree, John Tillson Jr. and Joel Wright settled in the area.”

Rountree was also a native of North Carolina who had studied law in Bowling Green, KY, when Tillson and Wright arrived from Boston in 1819.

Tillson left in 1822 to return to Boston where he married Christiana Holmes “and brought her back from fashionable Boston by river boats and stagecoaches to the pioneer life of the log cabin.”

The Tillsons later built the first brick home in Montgomery County, and Mrs. Tillson later wrote “A Woman’s Story of Pioneer Illinois” and is the namesake of the local Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) chapter.

After the state legislature founded Montgomery County on Feb. 12, 1821, Joseph Wright, Melcher Fogleman and the Rev. James Street were tasked to locate the county seat.  On March 21, 1821, at the cabin of Joseph McAdams in what is now Taylor Springs, the three voted 2-1 on a site three miles southwest of present Hillsboro on land owned by David Killpatrick and Joel Smith.  The county seat was to be named Hamilton.

Bliss’ history reports that “Hamilton was established, cabins were built, a store opened, and logs were cut and hauled to the site for a courthouse which was never built.  Hamilton, as a county seat, died a political death two years later.

“Joseph Wright, the Hurricane special committee member who had voted against the Hamilton site in the beginning, along with John Tillson, Hiram Rountree, Joel Wright, Newton Coffey and others, wanted to locate the county seat on a new site.”

On Jan. 20, 1823, the state legislature appointed three new special commissioners to settle the county seat debate, Elijah Berry, Silas Lee Wait and Aaron Armstrong.  That special committee voted to move the county seat to a 20-acre tract that Coffey offered to give to the county for the new county seat to be named Hillsboro.

The first courthouse of hewn logs was completed in June 1824, a frame courthouse was begun in 1833 to replace it, a brick courthouse replaced it in 1854, and a fourth courthouse, the present Historic Courthouse, was completed in 1873 to thwart a movement to transfer the county seat to Litchfield.  The current courthouse was completed in 1993.

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