Cumberland County is named after the famed
Cumberland Road, construction of which by the United States Government
to be one of the chief factors in the development and growth of the
west. This great national highway, extending from the Potomac almost to
the Mississippi, was first authorized by Congress, after being
favorably reported by the Senate Committee, in an act "to regulate the
laying out and making a road from Cumberland in the State of Maryland,
to the State of Ohio," the act being approved by President Thomas
Jefferson, March 29, 1805.
contracts were let on April 11th and 16th 1811, and by 1818 United
States Mail coaches were running between Washington, D.C. and Wheeling,
Virginia. By the time building operations began in Illinois, around
1830, emigration, given tremendous impetus by the extension of the road
to what was then the far west, was in full swing. The Cumberland Road
reached what is now Cumberland County about 2835, and ended at
Vandalia, fifty-five miles away, about three years later.
The formation of
Cumberland County arose from the dissatisfaction of early settlers over
the long distance to be traveled to Darwin, the county seat and center
of trade of Coles County. business men of Greenup, hoping to promote
their own village as the prospective county seat, were the chief
agitators for the change.
When the feeling
of dissatisfaction finally culminated in the demand for the creation of
a new county, two factions opposed one another. Settlers of Charleston
demanded that the county of Coles be divided into three equal parts,
which would result in the creation of two new counties the
Greenup contingent, as well as others, insisted upon a division in two
equal parts, or the creation of only one new county. The two
propositions were known respectively as the "crop" and the "split".
Candidates were put up by both sides, and in 1842, after much spirited
campaigning, the declaration of E.H. Starkweather, one of the leaders
in the fight, for the "split" resulted in the creation of the new
county of Cumberland by act of legislature, March 2, 1843.
The Act designated
the boundary lines, set the date and place for the first election, and
named the village of Greenup as the seat of justice until a permanent
county seat should be selected according to the terms set forth in the
Act. The first election was held on the first Monday of the following
April, and resulted in the choice of the following officers: Sheriff, Thomas Scones; Coroner, Hiram Buell; County Surveyor, Judson E. Holly; Probate Judge, E.E. Starkweather; County Recorder, Otis Perry; Treasurer, Abrah Trease; School Commissioner, Daniel C. Docius; County Commissioners, James Gill, Charles P. Chowning, and David P. Wisnor; J. Ewart was appointed Clerk of the County
The first session
of the county commissioners court, a special term, was held May 1 1843,
and one of the first acts was an order on the treasurer to pay the sum
of fourty dollars to William Price, who had loaned the county two hundred
dollars with which to defray current expenses and purchase books and
stationery. This sum was to be paid out of the first money received by
the requirements of the act of creation, an election was held on the
first Monday in August to determine the location of the county seat. At
DeKalb received a majority of
the votes. James
Gill and Thomas Scones gave bond for the donation of De Kalb, but it was subsequently discovered that
the title was not clear. Despite considerable controversary, De Kalb went ahead with its plans, even to the
extent of hauling logs to begin building operations. The rival village
of Greenup, however, making capital of the encumbered title, finally
secured the county seat. They managed to hold on to it until 1855, when
it was removed to Prairie City, which had been laid off in April, 1843
by N. Berry, John Berry, L. Harvey and W.P. Rush. fighting a losing battle, Greenup
stubbornly sought to retain the seat of justice by refusing to give up
the official records, and it was not until 1857 that all the county
records were finally removed.
During the time Greenup was
county seat there were no public buildings, the county seat and clerk
of the circuit court being furnished temporary quarters by JamesEwart. A house later secured from Daniel Porter, served as the courthouse for the next
ten years. The circuit court was somiciled in an old log schoolhouse,
and here court was held and cases tried by men who later became famous
as statesmen not only in Illinois, but throughout the nation. among
them was Abraham
Lincoln, who tried many of his
cases here, including the famous "Lustre Case".
When in 1855,
Prairie City succeeded in wresting the seat of justice from Greenup,
one of the stipulations provided for the erection of public buildings.
accordingly, a contract was let to Filey Ross and Bennet Beale to build a courthouse, the contract
providing that the building be forty feet square and the walls
twenty-seven feet high. the specifications called for three doors,
nineteen windows, and a cupola with a bell that could be heard for five
miles. There was so much opposition to all this by the county clerk,
that he did not record the contract, and it did not appear on the
commissioners' journal until a new clerk was elected and recorded it is
1857. The first courthouse was destroyed by fire in the early part of
1885; the second erected the same year, is still being used. It is a
two and one half story brick building with stone trimmings, seventy two
feet long, seventy-two feet wide, and forty-two feet high.
The first jail, a
single, two story building of brick, twenty by thirty-two feet and
including the jailers quarters, was constructed in 1859 as a result of
a prisoner's escape. Prior to this time a jail had been thought to be
unnecessary, as the Sheriff used an old "gum" which stood in his yard.
This had a wire netting over the top, and in the opinion of the
sheriff, a prisoner was as safe there as in a jail. Finally one
prisoner, in an attempt to escape, climbed to the top, but as he was
getting the wire netting off, the "gum" toppled over into the river.
this was considered as easy a way as any of releasing him, and no
effort was made to recapture him.
In 1859 Cumberland
elected to adopt the township form of county government, the
administrative county court being succeeded by the first county board
of supervisors, elected in April 1861 representing eight townships. In
the early part of 1874, the name of the county seat was changed from
Prairie city to Toledo.
strictly an agricultural county, but in the vicinity of Greenup is
found potter's clay which makes a fair quality of stoneware, there is
also some copper, but not in sufficient quantify to warrant mining.
lies in the south tier of the area improperly called Central Illinois,
on the border of the section known as Egypt. It is bounded on the north
by Coles County, on the east by Clark, on the south by Jasper and
Effingham, and on the west by Shelby and Moultris. It has an area of
350 square miles, and according to the 1930 census, the population is