Jefferson County Illinois
Illinois Genealogy Trails
Mill Town


It is very likely that the area once served by Mill Town, Williamsburg, and not Waltonville received its first settlers from the Washington county settlements, as many early settlers in Washington county were of the same family name as those who settled in the Grand Arm Area of Blissville Township.
Perrin's History says some of the early settlers in the Knob Prairie - Mill Town area are: Sherman Ross, Jesse Green, Jesse P. Dees, John Hailes, John Finch, Will Linsey, Reuben Green, Lewis Green (Jesse A. Dee's step-father).
So very many Green's came into the area about the same time that it makes one wonder whether they were not related and may have settled near each other for that reason. Others were a Mr. Herron, Peter Sibert, Erastus Fairchild, Thomas Bagby, Samuel Hunter, James Welch, Joseph Laird, H. Hackett and others.
The very first settlement in Knob Prairie, however, was made by David Fairchild, but he soon sold out to Benjamin L. Hirons who came in 1822 and may have been the second settler. He lived just west of the old part of Knob Prairie Cemetery. Fortunately for the historians Mr. Hirons was a record keeper, as was his father, and so we have a great many records of their doings.
Eli Gilbert moved into his new house in Knob Prairie in December 1839 after coming from Ohio by flatboat to Shawneetown and overland by ox cart. It was the first frame house west of Mt. Vernon, the first house with glass windows, also the first 2 story house, and he set out the first apple trees.
Perrin says he opened a store in Knob Prairie in 1840, and that was no doubt the first such enterprise in the southwest quarter of Jefferson county. It was also the be-ginning of the little Hamlet of Mill Town.
Eli had ran a sawmill and gristmill in Ohio and before dismantling the mill had sawed enough lumber to build a mill, a house and a store. He had hauled this lumber from Ohio, too.
He dammed the Big Muddy just north of the fork where the Shawneetown Trail crossed the river and built a waterwheel to run the mill. Here he again ground grain and sawed lumber, but the dam washed out so many times that he finally abandoned the waterwheel and moved the mill to Knob Prairie where he ran it with a long sweep pulled by horses, and it too became a part of the little community.
So the store, the mill, and later, a blacksmith shop together with three or four houses made up the first village in this part of the county. It was generally called Mill Town, but was sometimes referred to as the Knob Prairie settlement, or just Knob Prairie. Sitting astride the old Kaskaskia Trial it was no doubt visited by a great many travelers.
All the old timers who were familiar with old Mill Town are now long gone and it lives only as a memory of a twice told tale.
The late Edd Hicks and Happy Newell told the writer about the little community that existed in Knob Prairie long before the Civil War.
In 1867 Williamsburg was laid out only a quarter mile away and the little community perished. Just 2 years before that the 2 acre "Mill Lot" had sold for $800.00 but with brick buildings going up a stones throw away, it sold in 1867 for $75.00 Striving to learn about Mill Town was a seemingly hopeless task until a beautiful, sunny afternoon in late winter when Mason Newell and Jerry Elliston undertook to search the ground for evidence.
Going a quarter mile west of the Williamsburg corner they walked north across a wheat field. About a third of a quarter north of the road the wheat played out into a corn field that had been combined, and scattered upon the ground and the stalks and other debris was the remains of a chimney.
Searching the area carefully they found that they could almost delineate the very outlines, where buildings had once stood. It was familiar ground to Mason as he had plowed the land with a walking plow when he was just a lad many years before and could remember seeing the debris from the old houses when it was much fresher.
They found that there had been a row of at least three buildings about seventy five feet east of the fence row. One must be the store, but which one? They searched care-fully for a clue. Amid the debris they found scraps of crockery, china, bottles, and other glass, some home made bricks, both whole and broken, and a great amount of sandstone. In the debris from the southernmost building, they found four buttons, a part of a kerosene lamp burner, a part of an old harmonica containing 2 reeds, and the stem portion of an old clay pipe, still new and shiney. It had never been smoked. But most important they found mini hand wrought, square, nails. Nails meant lumber and the store was supposed to have been made from the lumber brought from Ohio on the flatboats. Doubtless the other buildings were log houses. They found neither nails, buttons, burners or pipes in the ruins from them.
To the northeast, could be seen a clump of bushes. Deep in the middle they found an old well. It had a concrete platform with a square hole in the middle which was covered with a slab of steel. Mason said his father had placed it there fifty years before when he had cleaned out the old well so he could use the water. He had hired Dick Earls who had a pump pulled by a gasoline engine to pump the old well dry. An interview with Dick evoked the following information.
After pumping all day there was still about 40 feet of water left in the well and they quit for the night. Next morning they found the well lipping full again, so they cranked up the engine and began pumping again. The pump had a 1 1/2 inch outlet pipe and enough force to squirt the water several feet before it hit the ground, but when evening came again, there was still about four feet of water left in the well and it was at a stand still. It was running in as fast as it was being pumped out.
Planning to use a hand pump as well, they went to the old blacksmith in Waltonville to have some irons made and the Smithy (Willie McAtee) told them that he had always heard that the well was dug to a sandstone bottom then a hole was jobbed through the sandstone with an old hand drill and the water started pouring in. In order to pump it dry they would have to plug the hole. So they sharpened the end of a long pole and after much searching and prodding, the hole was plugged and they pumped the well dry in a very short time.
In the debris removed from the old well was more than a dozen old wooden buckets which had slipped their bails and been lost in the well during its near hundred year history. Also recovered was about forty feet of old scoop type, hand cranked, pump chain.
After leaving the well they went north to where the old granary had stood. (Mr. Newell and moved it to his own barn lot about 1920 and build sheds on three sides of it.) They visited it later and found that it was of the old mortice and tenon type of construction, held together with wooden pins. They soon found the exact location where it had been so many years ago and carefully drew a map of all that they had found.
Crossing what was once the old trail they soon found pieces of brick that were apparently from a blacksmith's forge as they had been subjected to such intense heat that some were glazed, some had a rounded, throat like, shape. Also found was an ancient file and several pieces of grindstone.
Farther north there was evidence of a large building, but scant material regained to mark the spot. They assumed that this was the site of the mill. They made a carefully drawn map of all that they had found and later made a sketch showing how the little community may have looked in 1850.
On a subsequent trip Mason and Kathryn Newell discovered the ruins of still another house.
A search of the land records revealed that the land was first bought by Eli Gilbert, at Shawneetown, on March 7, 1839 and a 2 acre patch called "The Mill Lot" had been sold to Waldo Gilbert in 1853. It was sold to S. S. Mannen in 1859 and to W. A. Bay in 1866. When he sold the land to Andrew J. Reynolds, later that same year, he reserved a quarter of an acre. which would no doubt make an interesting story if we knew the reason. For the quarter acre was reserved in subsequent deeds and was fenced off for many,many years. Reynolds sold the land to McAtee who owned it for a long, long time.
"The Mill Lot" is described as "Commencing 26 rods north and thence 20 rods east from the S. W. corner of the S. W. 1/4 of the S. E. 1/4 of Section 26, then north 20 rods, east 16 rods, south 20 rods, and west 16 rods, containing 2 acres."
Thus we now know quite a lot about the old hamlet known as "Mill Town."
There was a Post Office named Knob Prairie from May 30, 1860 until July 1, 1862 which we strongly suspect, was located at Mill Town. The Postmasters were John A. Shipley-May 30, 1860 until March 24, 1862. Jacob A. Taylor, March 25, 1862 unitl July 1, 1862 when it was closed. Postal records do not show the exact location of the site, nor do they show how it received its mail. The map that accompanied the Application for a Post Office at Williamsburg in 1871 shows the location of Mill Town.
Old invoices in possession of Mac Hirons which show large purchases of lumber from Eli Gilbert by Benjamin L. Hirons in the 1840's prove that the mill was a lumber mill as well as a grist mill and was a much larger operation than was formerly suspected.

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