Historical Sketch

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Inventory Of The County Archives Of Illinois No. 9 Cass County (Virginia). Prepared by Illinois Historical Records Survey Division of Community Service Programs Work Projects Administration

Early Economic Development

    Economic and social institutions, like political forms and ideas, were transplanted by the settlers and immigrants from their old homes and introduced in their new ones. As population quadrupled in Cass County during the first two decades of its existence and agriculture and business began to flourish, schools and churches were built and newspapers appeared throughout the region. By 1860 orderly society was firmly established in Cass County.

Growth of Population, 1840-1860

    The largest increase in population in the entire history of Cass took place in this early period. From a total of 2,981 persons in 1840 the population figures jumped to 7,253 in 1850 and 11,313 in 1860. The colored population was very negligible during the whole period--there being but 5 Negroes in the county in 1850 and 12 in 1860. The foreign-born, however, were considerable by 1860. There were 2,454 persons in the county born outside the United States the year before the Civil War broke out, and these came largely from Germany, Ireland, Great Britain, and the Scandinavian countries.[74]

Agricultural Development

    The inhabitants of Cass County in the ante-bellum period were engaged mainly in agriculture and business. Very little of the area of the county was not suited for agriculture and two fifths of the rich prairie could produce maximum crop yields.[75] A chemical analysis of the soil was made in 1840 by Justus Liebig and a Mr. Bausingault; and later analysis showed that over 50 percent of the soil belonged in soil grades no.1 to no. 5 (no.1 being the most productive soil grade, considering only the major crops grown in the county and no.10 submarginal land). The chief crops grown were corn, wheat, oats, rye, barley, buckwheat, potatoes, Irish and sweet, as well as a great variety of vegetables.[76]

    The pioneers also tried their hands at raising cotton and establishing an extensive pork and beef center in the county. The cotton experiment failed after the great snow of 1831;[77] but the other effort proved to be successful. Before the era of extensive railroad building many Cincinnati (also called "Porkopolis") packing firms had branches in Beardstown, and the cattle-raising farmers in the vicinity brought their animals into the town to be slaughtered. Already in the 1830's one farmer had 700 head of cattle, and John Prunty, as late as 1874, had a thousand-acre farm devoted almost wholly to livestock. Some farmers were engaged in raising pure-bred cattle of various kinds and even racing horses.[78]

    Early in the 1850's many farmers, and business people closely allied to farming, join the Illinois State Agricultural Society under the leadership of Francis A. Arenz. In 1856 the Cass County Agricultural Society was organized with Arenz as its first president.[79] The Society bought ten acres of land from Robert Hall in 1857 and formed the Cass County Fair Grounds Organization to serve the agricultural and social interests of the farmer and his family.[80]

    By 1860 the value of the farms in the county was $4,260,382, and the number of acres improved and unimproved were 104,041 and 92,224 respectively. The implements and machinery used on the farms were worth $139,213; the livestock in the county was valued at $649,730; and the animals slaughtered at $264,030.[81]

Business Activities

    The early businesses in the county were largely dependent upon the agricultural needs of the inhabitants. Mills to grind corn and cut timber were established throughout the county in the 20's and 30's. Some of these mills were: Horace Billing's mill set up in the 1820's; Richard Sheppard's mill on Indian Creek (1821); John Thompson's mill (1830) in the Virginia vicinity; A. S. West's and William Morgan's mill on Panther Creek (1838); Richard McDonald's mill and Henry L. Ingall's mill also on Panther Creek; the horse mill around Arenzville in 1830; and James Watkin's small water mill in the northeast portion of the county. Horace Billing's mill proved to be a failure, and those on Panther Creek engaged in sawing timber were all carried down the stream in floods. N. B. Burns built the first steam mill in Virginia but it was burnt in 1852 or 1853. The firm of Armstrong and Beasley was, however, successful in setting up a steam mill in 1862, and in running it until 1871 when it was sold to Mr. Cooper.[82]

    Blacksmith shops, general merchandise stores, and taverns were also opened very early in the county's history. Smithies were at work in the Beardstown and Virginia vicinities in the 20's; Matthew Holland set up his shop in the northeast in 1835, and Dr. Chandler provided a blacksmith for the convenience of his locality in the same year.[83] Merchandise licenses were granted to J. L. Wilbourne at Beardstown, Leonard Wilkey, and H. C. Meyers in the late 1830's.[84] The first tavern license granted by the commissioners' court was to George H. Nolte of Beardstown; others followed.[85] The general order concerning the regulation of taverns by the commissioners in 1839 provided the following maximum charges for the various services rendered by them: each meal of victuals, 37 1/2 cents; each night's lodging, 25 cents; feed for a horse, 25 cents; keeping a horse per night, 50 cents; half a pint of whiskey, 12 1/2 cents; half a pint of brandy, 25 cents; half a pint of gin, 25 cents; half a pint of rum and cordials, 25 cents; and a half a pint of rum, 25 cents.[86] Some years later the court attempted to discourage the sale of liquor by ordering that "hereafter no license or permit to keep a grocery for retailing ardent spirits be issued for less than $200 per annum."[87]

    Among the businessmen and artisans in Beardstown in 1834 were Francis Arenz, L. W. Talmage and Co., T. and J. L. Wilbourne, J. M. Marchant and Co., Haywood Read, and J. Parratt and Co., general merchants; John Allred, M. Kingsbury, and Liscomb and Buckle, tailors; J. Roulston, hatmaker; Henry Boemler, cabinetmaker; M. McCreary, cooper; and Maloney and Smith, forwarding and commission business.[88] An important tanning yard, established by the father of James Cunningham, was located in Beardstown.[89]

    A traveler through the town in 1848 described Beardstown as a enterprising trading center. He wrote: "In the spring of 1848 I spent a week or two in Beardstown. This was an ambitious place - had a brick tavern and a landing, and was the entrepot and the outlet of nearly all the saleable products of a large part of the State. A traveler between Springfield and Beardstown would rarely be out of sight of heavily loaded wagons carrying out the productions or bringing in the merchants' goods."[90]

    By 1860 there were 7 manufacturing establishments in the county whose plant and equipment were valued at $41,756, hiring an average of 71 employees a year and paying $23,928 in wages.[91] They produced carriages, flour and meal, furniture, iron castings, saddlery and harness, tin copper and sheet metal and ironware.[92] The value of the products was $83,840.[93]

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[74] U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, Population, p. 79; ibid., Ninth Census of the United States, 1870, I, Population, 23, 351.

[75] University of Illinois, Information Pertaining to Farm, Home and Community, p. 9, (Hereinafter cited as Farm, Home and Community.)

[76] Farm, Home and Community, p. 9, See also Martin ed., History of Cass County, p. 730-34.

[77] Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 26.

[78] Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 730-34.

[79] Bateman, et al., Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, I, 22, 23.

[80] Priv. L. 1857, p. 1181, 1182; Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 67, 70, 71.

[81] U. S. Secretary of the Interior, Agriculture of the United States in 1860, p. 30, 31, 33.

[82] Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 83, 84, 122, 123, 125, 127; Conger and Hull, eds., History of the Illinois River Valley, I, 471.

[83] Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 22-24.

[84] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 6, 475, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3; Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 138, 139.

[85] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 7.

[86] Ibid., p. 44.

[87] County Court Record, v. B, p. 255, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[88] Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 31.

[89] Conger and Hull, eds., History of the Illinois River Valley, I, 468, 471.

[90] A. W. French, "Early Reminiscences," Illinois State Historical Society, Transactions, 1901, p. 61.

[91] U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, III, Manufactures, 84.

[92] Ibid.

[93] Ibid.