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Illinois Genealogy Trails

 Jefferson County Illinois


"At the request of Mr. James Peavler I did on the 17th day of December 1867 survey and establish the streets and lots of one square of ground to be known as the Town of Williamsburgh. Said square beginning at the NE corner of section 35t. 3S. R. 1E. 3rd PM running thence south 660 feet to stone at south east corner, thence west 620 feet to stone at southwest corner, thence north 660 feet to stone at northwest corner, thence east 620 feet to stone at place of beginning. South street is on the east side of said square and is 60 feet wide by 660 feet in length. Pine street is 260 feet west of South Street and is 50 feet in width by 660 feet in length. Main Street is on the north side of said square and is 30 feet in width by 620 feet in length. Green Street is 250 feet south of Main Street and is 50 feet in width by 620 feet in length. And Union Street is on the south side of said square and it is 30 feet in width by 620 feet in length. Lots 1 to 11 inclusive front South Street and are 50 feet in width by 110 feet in length. The remaining 16 lots between Main and Green streets are 50 feet in width by 125 feet in length. The remaining 16 lots between Green and Ohio Streets are 50 feet in width by 150 feet in length. The said square contains in all 43 lots and is situated in the NE 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of the NW 1/4 of section 35 T 3S R 1 S 3rd PM.
Signed J. D. Williams, Surveyor
Jefferson County, Illinois

And thus was born the town of Williamsburg, did J. D. Willliams the surveyor, have any connection with the naming of the community Williamsburg? He spelled it Williamsburgh. This was not the whole story, however, for on July 29, 1885, Kirby Smith, County Surveyor for Jefferson County, Illinois, laid off an addition to the village of Williamsburg for J. ?. Jeffries, consisting of 12 lots on the east side of South Street beginning at the northwest corner of section 36 and extending south for 600 feet, each lot being 50 feet wife by 165 feet long east and west. This would include the old Jeffries house, now empty and owned by Pete Ochap.
Because business and industry deserted the town of Williamsburg with the building of W C & W railroad, nearly eighty years ago, and the dwellings dwindled away until it was abandoned as a town site, it is very hard for the present generation to assiess the importance of the little community as it existed for the first 25 years of its life.
In 1870 it was a thriving little settlement, located very near the junction of 2 important highways. The Mt. Vernon and Pinckneyville Road, which carried traffic to all the towns in the direction of Chester (the very route which the W C & W Railroad would later take) and the Nashville and Shawneetown Road, which carried all the traffic heading in the direction of McLeansboro, Benton, Galatia, Harrisburg, and Shawneetown. Thus it was an important way stop for travelers going to any of these places.
Combination stage and freight lines passed through and served Williamsburg going to many of these places. Mostly they were served by a wagon which was called a Stage Wagon as it hauled passengers (mostly Drummers) as well as freight and mail. No doubt some housewife furnished accommodations for travelers and boarders.
Among the earliest memories of the writer are tales of Williamsburg area in the 1870's as his father Melvin Elliston was born and raised a few miles northwest of Williams-burg.
Capt. Laur ran the stage line from Ashley to Spring Garden delivering freight and express that came in on the I C Railroad to merchants along the wya. Melvin said he got his forst pair of boots off Old Capt. Laur's Stage Wagon. HIs father had taken him to the cobbler at Ashley who had placed his foot upon a piece of stiff insole leather and drew a line loosely around it, he then showed him models from which he must choose a style, then they came back home. He was about 6 or 7 years old at the time. Several days later he was riding to the woods on the running gears of a wagon, behind his father, when they met Capt. Laur's stage wagon. Mr. Laur said, "Sonny! I've got something for you", and handed him a shiny little pair of red topped, copper toed, boots. The wood's were forgotten and they went back home to try on the new boots. At first they were a way too big, then for a long time they were just right, then they grew smaller and smaller until one day when no amount of tugging and stomping would get them on and they were handed down to a younger brother.
Would you believe that the circus was almost an annual visitor to Williamsburg? It is true. Circusses visited Williamsburg quite often, probably stopping to garner what-ever money they could while enroute to some place else.
Again memory recalls a childhood tale. Somehow word had gone ahead and the rail fence on each side of the road were lined with people who came to watch the circus go by. The road was muddy and deeply rutted, but as the procession neared the community, a 4 or 5 piece band strutted ahead beating on drums and blowing on horns, strange instruments to a fiddle and guitar conscious backwoods society. They were followed by 3 wagons with cages. Each was pulled by 4 bespangled horses. Monkeys chattered and frolicked on top. Sometimes scrambling down and stuggling through the mud to retreive a tidbit offered by a fence sitting spectator, and fastidiously cleaning their feet when they got back aboard the wagon, to the delight of the natives. Behind came 3 elephants and a bear. The elephants placed their heads against the wagons and pushed them out when they became mired. In the cages were a lion, a tiger, and a wild man from Barneo.
The countryside was densly populated in those days so they probably drew quite a crowd and the little town of Williamsburg was no doubt crammed with sight seers and shoppers (in those days stores stayed open until nine o'clock of later).
Sometimes there was more excitement than just the shopping and the show. One fine summer day when Dr. J. W. Wells and Raleigh Newell were barefoot lads a circus came to Williamsburg. Neither boy lived very far away, so they hurried to the village to see the sights. While gawking about they wandered into the tent where the performing bear was kept. As soon as their eyes became accustomed to the dim light they noticed that the bear had gotton loose from his chain. Fearing they would be blamed for turning the bear loose if it were known they had been in the tent, they sneaked out and barefooted it for home. It wasn't long until the bear sauntered out and started wandering up and down the streets of Williamsburg, among the milling crowd. Needless to say there was excitement aplenty and some people got their fill of the circus before the show even got started.
Many people living today can remember when the circus used to travel through the country in horse drawn wagons on our old dirt roads.
Neva Elliston told of a time when she was very young girl, a circus came down the road and one of the elephants was very tired and thirsty. Smelling the water in the horse trough it insisted upon stopping for a drink. The trainer asked her father if he could water his elephant and they led it to the trough and pumped and pumped until its thirst was sated. Still it did not want to leave the nice cool water so the trainer began prodding it to get it to move. Finally, it sucked up a snoot full and squirted it all over him then it turned and hurried after the rapidly vanishing circus train.
When they made application for a Post Office in 1871 they found that there was already a Post Office named Williamsburg, Illinois, in Lee county so they decided to call the Post Office Laur for Captain Joseph Laur who had commanded a company of men from the area during the Civil War, and was to carry the mail of Star Route 11799, from Ashley to Spring Garden on his stage line.
On May 28, 1871, David J. Hicks and Edward McAtee made application through Cynthia C. Lacey on a document replete with the beautiful penmanship for a Post Ofice. The application was approved and the office opened on July 10, 1871 in David J. Hicks' Drug Store on South Street. Thereafter settlers came for miles to get their mail twice per week.
When you search through old records and find that a person's address was Laur, Illinois, it does not necessarily mean that that person lived in close proximity to Williamsburg for people all over Long Prairie had Laur as a mailing address as did many people living just as remote in other directions.
Although countless thousands of letters were mailed at Laur, Illinois, very few letters with the Laur postmark remain in the area today.
Postmasters at Williamsburg were: David J. Hicks, 7-10-1871, Clark S. Foucher 8-19-1874, O. P. Norris 4-21-1875, Isaac (Wilse) Robinson 4-18-1889.
Wilse Robinson moved the Post Office from his drug store on the north east corner of Pine and Green Streets in the center of Williamsburg on November 11, 1892 to a wooden building just east of the old jail in Waltonville. That morning the mail pouch was un-loaded from the W C & C passenger train.
We do not know where they cut the ice, but their was an ice-house in Williamsburg. No doubt the first ice-cream in this part of the country was made there. The first soda pop was sold there also, in Wilse Robinson's Drug Store.
The first breech-loading shot gun and rifle shells as we know them today were sold there. All these things were concocted while Williamsburg was a thriving community.
The first barbed wire in this part of the county was sold there also. There is an old tale that Capt. Laur would haul barbed-wire, but would not load or unload it. One day he had some for a merchant in Williamsburg and he couldn't find anyone to unload it. When it came time to go Capt. would'nt wait and drove off with it still in the wagon. He sold it to a man in Spring Garden and came back with the money. No doubt he was promptly unloaded after that.
Mrs. Elsie Hodge said that most of the people in the surrounding area would gather at Williamsburg on a Saturday and shop and visit all afternoon.
The noon meal could be had for only a few cents, but most people brought a lunch in a basket under the buggy seat. A child with a penny was a big spender and could buy many wonderful goodies.

The following is from a paper called, "Early Jefferson County, Illinois Villages" by
Beatrice Tuttle.
John Hagle built the first store-house and David Hicks the first residence. His son opened a Drug Store and built a residence into which Thomas Westcott moved. The Lannings came a little later, then the Places, Henry Willis erected the first brick buildings, Anderson built a mill, and sold it to Boswell and Boswell sold it to John Dare. A good school house was built. J. D. Norris had a General Store; I. W. Robinson and William Hicks had Drug stores. Two churches were established - the Universalist and the Methodist.
The Universalist Church was organized by Eli & Susannah Gilbert, who had migrated from Washington County, Ohio, in 1839. They had been charter members of a Universalist Church in Rockland, Ohio. The church at Williamsburg had about 40 members. No list of ministers at Williamsburg was available, but one recalled by early residents was Jonathan Mattox. The last minister, Rev. R. G. Harris, came from Jackson, Missouri, in 1870. He married Rebecca Jane Gilbert in 1871. Their daughter was Mrs. D. E. Hicks, who resided in Waltonville. Rev. Harris died in 1876, and is buried in the old part of Knob Prairie Cemetery.
When Waltonville came into existence, the Universalist church was moved, in 1895, to the new village. That building burned as did the one which replaced it. The second building which burned in 1964, was replaced by a modern structure and dedicated on October 30, 1966.
The Methodist people had services from about 1857 until late 1870 in the home of Jacob R. Watkins, who had migrated from Guernsey County, Ohio. A son Thomas C. Watkins was converted at a camp meeting in Robinson's Grove, near Woodlawn, and later became a well known minister in the Eastern States. The following trustees purchased a lot for fifty dollars: Jacob R. Watkins, John H. Moore, Joseph Laur, Ranson Boswell, and Josiah Tuttle. The building was dedicated on Christmas Day, 1870. The church was flourishing about 1883, but almost quit in the late 1880's. In 1890 Rev. J. C. Kinnison found this condition and started services. The only remaining members in the community at the time of reorganization were: Anna Gilbert, Laura Baldridge, and Mary (Polly) Daniels. Henry Tuttle, who had recently moved from Guernsey County, Ohio, Ida E. Newell, and Hattie B. Hicks were the first 3 members received. The church was prospering in the early 1890's when Waltonville was founded. The coming of the Wabash, Chester and Western Railroad started the new town. The Methodists held services in the school house at Waltonville and built a parsonage (north of the present building) before moving the church from Williamsburg. It was brought in sections on hay frames across the fields and set in place under the supervision of Ichabod Newell and George Baldridge. The main part of Waltonville church is at present (1972) that structure.
Several houses were moved from Williamsburg to Waltonville, two of which were the William McAtee and the I. W. Robinson houses. At present (1972) these homes are occupied by the Emil Norris family and Mrs. Clara Johnson respectively.

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