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Genealogy Trails - Calhoun County, Illinois

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Transportation History

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[Source: "History of Calhoun County and its people up to the year 1910"]
by: Carpenter, George Wilbur


Calhoun County has the unique distinction of being the only county in the state to be without railroads. But a glance at a map of the county will show why this condition prevails. Due to the fact that most of the farms of the county were not far from steamboat landings on either the Illinois or the Mississippi Rivers, the boats were able to handle the crops of the county in a satisfactory manner. Railroad companies hesitated to construct a road because of the hilly and rugged nature of the county, and because of the cost of bridging either the Mississippi or the Illinois River. At the present time the trucks are giving the farmers better service than railroads could ever hope to, so it is not likely that a railroad will ever be built in the county.


Although steamboat navigation began on the Illinois River in 1828, yet we find no record or mention of boats along the Calhoun shore until 1831. It was probably because the early settlers were living back some distance from the river, and no large villages had started near the river. Twichell's Landing was the first stopping place for the boats. The "Utility" stopped there in 1831 after a three day trip from St. Louis. The account of the arrival of the "Argus" in 1833 is told by John Lammy in his short "History of Calhoun County". His account is as follows:

"In the summer of 1833, the Crader family, who were then living two miles north of the present site of Michael, in what is now called Crater Precinct, tell of hearing thundering noises from somewhere down the river, and they were very much alarmed. About the head of hurricane Island the discovered what they thought to be a house coming up the river against the current. When it got closer they discovered that it was a steamboat by the name of the 'Argus'. The Graders helped the crew cut six or seven cord of wood. Young Jacob Crader hauled the wood to the river with a yoke of oxen and a cart. After 'wooding' the boat, the captain took the Crader family on the boat and took them about four miles up the river and back. The captain of the boat made arrangements whereby it was possible for him to get wood from the Craders each week. The price that they received was a dollar a cord."

In 1835 the "Don Juan" and the "America" began making trips. A few years later the "America" was sunk in the Diamond Island Slough (two miles north of Hardin) due to a collision with the "Friendship", a boat that started in 1836. The "America" remained in the water three or four weeks and was finally pulled out by forty two yoke of oxen and sixty or seventy men. Most of the men were settlers from the neighborhood.

The freight on these boats consisted of cattle, hogs, corn, and wheat. In 1845 the first grain cradle was first used in the county and in 1846 the threshing machine was introduced. After the introduction of these the farmers were able to increase the wheat production.

Until the coming of the hardroads and the trucks, the steamboats offered the only means of getting the produce to the market or of getting supplies from the city. Many of the farmers and their wives would go to the city when their grain or cattle were shipped, and buy supplies for many months to come. During and shortly after the Civil War, steamboating was at its height. Dozens of fine steamers would go up and down the river each day. When the railroads became more numerous, the steamboat business began to decline. Other counties along the rivers did not have to depend upon the boats, but as late as 1925, Calhoun people depended upon the steamboat nearly as much as did the people of twenty five or fifty years before.


Built: 1895, St. Louis, Missouri.
Built at the Carondelet Marine Ways, Carondelet, Missouri, and completed at the St. Louis wharf.
Type: Sternwheel, wooden hull packet.
Size: 180' 9" x 36' 4" x 4' 7".
Engines: 15's - 6 ft.
Boilers: Two boilers, each 44" by 26 ft.

The BELLE OF CALHOUN was named for Miss Anna Wood, "Belle of Calhoun County, Illinois" in a contest held by the Hardin Herald. Originally owned by the St. Louis & Clarkesville Packet Co., with Frederick W. Swartz president, she was sold in 1897 to Captain T.B. Sims; in 1898 to J.W. Fristoe, Frank P. Hearne and Captain Byrd Burton; in 1899 to the Memphis & Vicksburg Packet Co. who changed her name to the JULIA; in 1905 to the St. Louis; Calhoun Packet Corporation, and Captain Lee Cummings, who reverted her name back to the BELLE OF CALHOUN; and in 1913 she was sold to Captain H.W. Sebastian.

Operating on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, her original crew in 1895 was; Captain Aaron Hall (master); Joe Chatterton and Harry H. Monaghan (pilots); Edward Young (first clerk); Zollie Block (second clerk); Oliver Cotrell (chief engineer) and William Tracy (mate). In 1913 her crew was; Captain George Carvell (master); Captain Roy Watson (master); H.S. Ruby (pilot); William Blaine (steward). In 1914 and 1915; Selby Crader (pilot). In 1915; William Bush (pilot). In 1917; Captain Ed Nowland (master).

In 1895, the Waterways Journal ran a contest to find the most popular packet crew operating out of St. Louis, and all the honors went to the crew of the BELLE OF CALHOUN.

On May 27, 1896, she was badly damaged in a tornado at St. Louis, sinking up to her cabin. She was raised and repaired. In October, 1914, she sank four miles above Alton, Illinois, with 4,700 barrels of apples on board. Her bow was on shore and her stern was in twenty-feet of water. Around 800 barrels were lost, and she was raised and repaired. In October, 1929, she sank again about three miles above Hannibal, Missouri, and was raised yet again. Obviously, she was not destined to sink. In the winter of 1930-31, she burned in Alton Slough.


In the year 1834, J. M. Peck wrote a book in which he described all counties and towns of the state, In his article about Calhoun he tells of a canal that was being planned across the county.
He says:
"A company has been organized to cut a canal near Gilead to the Illinois River at Guilford, The distance does not exceed three miles and by tunneling a short distance Under the bluff, it is said the work can be accomplished at comparatively small cost. This communication would save fifty miles navigation from the Illinois River to the Upper Mississippi, and as the Mississippi is elevated considerably above the Illinois, it would create an immense water power project, which is one of the objects of the company. None of the early county records or the writings of the early settlers mention this canal, so it is possible that the company was affected by the Panic of 1837, and all plans for the canal dropped.


In the early days of the county the oxen were used for farm work and for hauling grain and logs and wood.
One pioneer said:
"Ox teams were the rule as horse teams were not considered able to haul loads out of the hills, roll logs, or break new ground".

Another said:
"The wheels of the wagons used in those days were sawed off ends of large round logs, and nothing but ox teams were known." After the Civil War few, if any, oxen were used by the farmers.


For the first fifty years after Calhoun became a county, the principal industry was that of lumbering. Mr. Pooley in his book "The Settlement of Illinois", says:
"Calhoun at the extreme southern end of the Military Tract was never thickly settled. The lumbering industry in which most of the settlers were interested, tended to make the population an unstable one. Here we have an example of settlement which is an exception to the rule. Primarily the population was one aiming to exploit the lumber resources."

An early settler in speaking of this industry during the Civil War period said:
"Then nearly every man was in some way connected with or interested in the 'lumber business' as it was called. He was either buying, selling, cutting, or boating staves or cordwood or engaged in getting out and rafting logs. Even the well-to-do farmers would make som staves or cord wood during the winter to haul and sell during the summer and fall. By doing this he killed two birds with one stone; cleared the land and raised some money. Stores along the river usually had a sign reading thus: 'Cordwood on the Bank a Legal Tender.' "

Most of the farmers and early settlers had little money so they would take cordwood, poles, or staves to the merchants who would accept them and give the settler goods and wares in exchange. Thousands of cords of wood could be seen piled' along the river bank, together with millions of staves and hoop poles. Sometimes the steam boats would take the cordwood and staves to the market, and some times smaller boats or barges would transport them to St. Louis or other centers.

When we read the biographies of the early settlers of Calhoun County we find that many of them worked in the lumbering business for several years and with the money that they saved, purchased land for themselves. They would continue to engage in the lumbering business until they had enough land cleared to begin farming. Others bought land immediately upon their arrival in the county and began to clear the land.

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