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

Public Buildings, 1837 - 1852

Beardstown and Virginia

    When the county seat was shifted from Beardstown to Virginia and back, new buildings for a county courthouse and a county jail had to be rented or erected. During the first two years, 1837-1839, one of the several houses owned by Augustus Knapp in Beardstown was rented as a courthouse at $100 per annum.[40] The first courthouse and jail built by the county were, however, located at Virginia. The contractor for public buildings was naturally Dr. Henry H. Hall, the found of Virginia and owner of most of the real estate. The courthouse cost about $2,000; the cost of the jail was not mentioned in the records. On September 2, 1839 Hall notified the commissioners that the courthouse and the jail was completed; and the county clerk was instructed to advertise in the press that the offices in the courthouse were ready for occupancy by the officers entitled to them.[41] When the county seat was returned to Beardstown in 1845 the courthouse was leased to the school board district and the old jail and lot were sold  back to the son of the donor for $150.25.[42]

Beardstown 1845-1852

    The Beardstown authorities expressed their satisfaction over the return of the county seat by presenting to the bounty the lots and buildings upon them necessary for a courthouse and a jail.[43] The jail did not fill the needs of the county. Crime cases dealing with counterfeiting, horse thievery, and blackmail were mentioned often in the records during the 40's and 50's.[44] The county court was forced to use the Schuyler County jail in 1851 to hold some prisoners while the new jail, which it had decided to build, was in the process of construction. Thomas J. Burns, the contractor, finished his task December 7, 1852 and was paid the last installment of the total sum--$2,751.86.[45] The administration of prison affairs changed as the number of prisoners increased and a regular jailer was appointed for the new jail - the old practice of hiring out prisoners, disappearing.[46]

Other Administrative Duties of the Commissioner's Court, 1837-1849

    In addition to dealing with the problems connected with the establishment of the county seat and the erection of public buildings, the commissioners' court was charged also with the care of roads and bridges, the county poor, and county finances. These duties were not too onerous in spite of the fact that the scope of control exercised by the court was greater during the formative years than at any later period. Once the machinery to deal with local transportation, public welfare, and finance was set up, the subsequent developments were largely influenced by the growth of the population in the county.

Roads and Bridges

    Next tot the acquisition of cheap land, the subject most dear to the heart of the average frontier farmer was the building of roads, bridges and other means of transportation that would allow him to bring his produce to market. The state law concerning public roads of 1827 vested with the commissioners the general superintendency over the public roads within the county. The commissioners were authorized to lay out the county into road districts and to appoint road supervisors. They also were given the power to order all able-bodied males between 18 and 50 to perform road work or pay 75 cents a day for an 8-hour day, 5 days a year or less. Whenever the commissioners received a petition from at least 35 voters on the subject of opening a new road or closing a useless road, they were authorized to appoint viewers, hear their report, and accept or reject the views expressed.[47]

    In accordance with the provisions of this and subsequent road laws the county officials in Cass proceeded to deal with the problems of transportation in the county. In the very early meeting of the commissioners' court the county was divided into eleven road districts. The respective supervisors were Lawrence Clark, Thomas Wiggins, Francis Arenz, Henry Hopkins, William Lynn, James Hickey, Jeremiah Bowen, James Carr, William W. Babb, William Moore, and Madison Beadles.[48] As the population waxed, the number of road districts increased to 16 in 1840 and 21 in 1857.[49] One of the earliest roads viewed in the county, by Thomas Boyd, J. R. Bennett, and Julius Elmore, was the road leading from Peter Cartwright's place in Sangamon County to the town of Virginia.[50] Other roads constructed during the period from 1837 to 1840 were those leading from A. Job's place to Babb's West Bridge at the Bluffs, Beardstown to Petersburg, Beardstown to Amos Hager's place, the Illinois River nearly opposite Sugar Creek intersecting the Beardstown-Hager Road, Henry McHenry's place to the Huron Road, along the bluffs to the Jacksonville Road, J. P. Crow's place to the foot of the bluffs, the Princeton Road to the Lexington and Matanzas State Road, Beardstown to Manchester, and Lexington to Matanzas.[51]

    The county made at least tow attempts to secure funds from the state government for road purposes. In 1838 the county made an attempt to collect its proportionate share of the funds appropriated by law to those counties "through which no railroad or canal is provided to be made at the expense or cost of the state of Illinois...."[52] Since the depression of 1837 had "knocked the bottom" out of the rather chimerical internal improvements program, it seems that the county did no collect its share.[53]

    The second effort to secure extra-county aid for roads proved more successful. Under the swamp Act of 1850 Congress gave the "swamp and overflowed" lands to the states in which they were located. Illinois in turn presented these lands to the respective counties for the purpose of constructing the necessary levees and drains to reclaim the lands, and for "the purpose of education, roads, and bridges, or to such other purposes as the courts or county judge may deem it expedient."[54] In accordance with this act C. Van Ulich was appointed drainage commissioner; and the county hired legal advisers to make claim for its proper share of land.[55] The monies that were received plus $2,000 from private subscription, were allocated as follows: (1) $300 was appropriated for the road from Beardstown to Petersburg; (2) three fifths of the rest of the money went to the road from Beardstown to Virginia; and (3) the remainder was given for the road from Beardstown to Arenzville. The reason given for allocating the funds in the above manner, to appease the eastern sections of the county, were: that it would benefit a majority of the people of the county; that the Federal and state governments had contemplated that the proceeds should go for the drainage of that part of the county in which lands were situated (and most of the land was located in the western part); and that the eastern part of the county had benefited to the amount of $50,000 subscribed to a projected railroad in that area.[56]

    Besides roads as an agency of transportation there were other methods which facilitated trade, commerce, and social intercourse. Beardstown on the Illinois served as a connecting point with St. Louis and all intermediary points via steamboat.[57] Bridges and ferries across the Illinois, Sangamon, and other rivers and creeks were provided for very early in the history of the county.[58] In fact, the first ferry anywhere along the Illinois River was licensed by Thomas Beard at Beardstown in 1826, and served the surrounding country until 1888 when a wooden toll bridge replaced it.[59] An attempt was even made in the early 40's to build a Beardstown and Sangamon Canal,[60] but the idea was given up when it was realized that the Sangamon River was not suitable for steamboat transportation. With the coming of the railroad in the 1850's the relative economic importance of other means of transportation decreased, and the program of internal improvements, centered mainly around roads and railroads.

Public Welfare

    The care of the needy in the earlier period of the county history, much in the same manner as the problem of internal improvements, was vested in the hands of the local authorities. The poor law of 1833 provided that the justices of the peace, together with a person appointed by the county commissioners, shall act as the overseers of the poor. Their duty was "diligently to inquire after all such person...unable to earn a livelihood in consequence of any bodily infirmity, idiocy, lunacy, or other unavoidable cause and to provide for them the necessary comforts of life, by confiding the care of such poor person or persons to some moral and discreet householder or householders in the district, of sufficient ability to provide for them."[61] The law also authorized the commissioners' court to establish a poorhouse--in which case the powers of the overseers of the poor were to be curtailed.[62]

    During the first years, and , in isolated cases, after the purchase of a poor farm, each pauper was given individual consideration by the commissioners. Some of the cases dealt with were: (1) Francis Ashbury Hardy was assigned to his brother James W. Hardy and the county paid $8 a month for his board and keep; (2) John Miller, a lunatic, was confined to the county jail,, but when the commissioners found out that he had relatives and property in Pennsylvania he was shipped there by the county; (3) Frederick Witte was allowed $25 for keeping his son who was insane; (4) William S. Clemons was paid $6 for digging four graves for a Mr. Steward and wife, an Irishman, and Murgus, a poor person; (5) physicians in the county were hired for lump annual sums ranging from $40 to $75 to take care of the health of the poor; and (6) -- and unusual case to be sure--"William Blair (was) allowed $85 to build a small frame as a substitute for a hospital for keeping a deranged woman in Sugar Grove district..."[63]

    By 1846 the number of needy persons had increased sufficiently to warrant the purchase of a poor farm. The farm of Reddick Horn, 130 acres located near the present station of Bluff Springs, was bought by the county for $1,500. An addition to the poor farm was made in 1852 when a piece of land was bought from James Buck for $1,050. The total area of the poor farm numbered 194 acres.[64]

    Periodically the poor farm was rented out to the person who was the successful bidder. This individual would pay the county rent for being allowed to till the farm land and would be paid for taking charge of the poor on the farm. The statement of James Buck, lessee for 1850, showed that he was charged $141 rent and was owed a similar amount by the county. The same general practice continued for many years.[65]

County Finances

    The brevity and simplicity of the early assessment reports to the commissioners' court reveal in a telling way the frontier conditions existing in the county. On September 8, 1837 "the court ordered the following kinds of property to be taxed at the rate of one-half percent. Town lots, indentured or registered negroes, or mulatto servants, pleasure carriages, Stock in Trade on all horses, mares, mules, asses and all neat cattle over and under three years old. Hogs, sheep, wagons and carts."[66] The statement in 1838 showed that the tax upon personal property was $576.34, and the tax on land was $356.01. Licenses and fees paid to the commissioners amounted to $148.[67] The tax on land was levied on the basis of the list or transcripts of all land subject to taxation procured by William Babb from the clerk's office at Jacksonville.[68] In 1840 the court ordered that the county be divided into three assessor's districts, but this division was abolished the very next year.[69] During the ante-bellum period the sums of receipts and expenditures total only a few thousand dollars for the county, and the tax rate averaged between 30 cents and $1.00 on $100.[70]

    In newly organized communities dishonest officials were common enough not to cause too great a furor. In Cass County the case of Lemon Plasters, collector and sheriff during the years 1837 to 1840, was especially interesting since he and his securities were released from liability by a special act of the legislature, approved March 3, 1845, on the plea that Plasters was insolvent and the securities unable to pay his defaulting bill of $1,819.15 excluding cost.[71] Sometimes an official, usually the treasurer, was unable to make his report on time because the delinquencies in payment of taxes were many.[72] The difficulty in arriving at final tax settlements also caused the financial statements of the county to be incomplete.[73]

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[40] Ibid., p. 9, 13, 15, 18, 26, 36, 90.

[41] Ibid., p. 40, 53, 57, 64. On June 5, 1838 Dr. Hall was allowed $49.50 for locks, iron grates, and bolts for the jail. The cost of the courthouse is given in Perrin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 95.

[42] County Court Record, v. B, p. 83, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[43] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 274, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3; Deed Record, v. B, p. 22, see entry 76.

[44] The Case of George Davis, found guilty of counterfeiting, was quite sensational. Cass County Circuit Court Record, v. B, p. 359, see entry 163; Mason County Circuit Court Record, v. A, p. 378. See also County Court Record, v. B, p. 25, 169, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[45] Ibid., p. 18, 26, 28, 64, 67, 82, 108, 130, 143, 149.

[46] For examples of early methods of jail administration, see Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 27, 28, 60. In 1875 a residence for the jailer was built in Virginia (County Court Record, v. D, p. 383, 384).

[47] R. L. 1827, p. 340-46. For examples of provisions made for road work in the county, see Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 6, 20, 47, 158, 159, 240, 242, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[48] Ibid., p. 3-6.

[49] Ibid., p. 82-89; County Court Record, v. B, p. 329.

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

[51] Ibid., p. 72-78.

[52] L. 1837, p. 135.

[53] Ibid., p. 121-51. William Thomas of Jacksonville, Morgan County, was appointed the collecting agent for the county. Commissioiners' Court, v. 1, p. 21, 35, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[54] L. 1852, Second Sess., p. 178. See also p. 179-86.

[55] County Court Record, v. B, p. 142, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3.

[56] Ibid., p. 595, 646; Ibid., v. C, p. 47.

[57] Shipping rates from St. Louis to Beardstown in 1839 were 37 1/2 cents per hundred pounds of freight. See Conger, History of the Illinois River Valley, I, 167, 168.

[58] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 14, 48, 123; County Court Record, v. B, p. 64, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3; Priv. L. 1865, II, 267-69; Priv. L. 1869, II, 354, 355.

[59] The history of the Beardstown ferry is very interesting since it is intimately connected with the growth of Beardstown. See Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 9; County Court Record, v. C, p. 211; Perrin ed., History of Cass County, p. 20; Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 781; Priv. L. 1865, I, 536.

[60] L. 1839, p. 196; L. 1841, p. 48

[61] R. L. 1833, p. 480, as amended in L. 1839, p. 138.

[62] Ibid., p. 138-40.

[63] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 38, 357; County Court Record, v. B, p. 26, 35, 69, 634, 656, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3. The building of the frame house by Blair is described in Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 108; County Court Record, v. B, p. 281, 321, and v. D, p. 236.

[64] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 347, 353; Deed Record, v. B, p. 530 and v. F, p. 189, see entry 76; County Court Record, v. B, p. 113.

[65] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 540; County Court Record, v. B, p. 31, 142, 225, 281, 656 and v. C, p. 92, in Supervisors' Minutes (Record), see entry 3. See also Martin, ed., History of Cass County, p. 672, 673.

[66] Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 8.

[67] Ibid., p. 51.

[68] Ibid., p. 9.

[69] Ibid., p. 41, 90.

[70] Ibid., p. 98; County Court Record, v. B, p. 18, 53, 654; ibid., v. C, p. 3.

[71] L. 1841, p. 305; L. 1845, p. 127, 128, 343. Case of John Crain, 1849. Commissioners' Court, v. 1, p. 511.

[72] Case of Joseph McLane. County Court Record, v. B, p. 30.

[73] Case of Phineas Underwood. County Court Record, v. B, p. 529.