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Illinois Genealogy Trails

 Jefferson County Illinois
History, Folklore and Anecdotes
of Winfield


If you go east on the first road south of the entrance to Inland Steel Coal Mine on State Route #148, you will be heading into an area of intense, early historic astivity. Half a mile down that road you will come to a T. Turn right and you will soon come to an old church which the founders called "The Horse Prairie Regular Baptist Church" when it was established in May 1842. The building you see was erected 115 years ago, in 1857, in the north end of Horse Prairie.
Several pioneers had settled within a few miles of this spot in the 1830's and 1840's. Passing through the area was the well traveled road leading from Brownsville to Mt. Vernon and points north. Brownsville was loacted about 3 miles west of the present city of Murphysboro, and it was the most important community in southern Illinois at that time. It was the site of the first public school for one thing, and also was the first hugh school in the state, but what enticed the settlers was the salt works. The Territory of Illinois had let the first contract to Conrad Will for the manufacture of salt at the Brownsville Salines in 1815 and a network of trails had developed in southern Illinois all leading to Brownsville. Salt was a very important item in the lives of the pioneers, so The Brownsville Road was really a salt trail. Some of the early settlers in this area had worked in the Brownsville salines before coming here, especially the Ridenours.
The settlers had come into the Winfield area in many ways. Some, like (Uncle Jack) J. J. Fitsgerrell, had come leading a horse with his wife and all their possessions on its back. Others came as Foot Padders, like Jim Chalfant, who came carrying a chopping axe and a rifle. Those who came in wagons, like the Martins, the Wards, and the Hartleys brought with them spinning wheels and looms, and choice pieces of furniture, some of which remain in the possession of their descendents today.
When they arrived they all had one thing in common, however, they must plant a patch of corn they they expected to have any bread. At first the corn was pounded into meal with mortars and pestles made of tree stumps and a rock or a block of wood.
We do not know when the first people arrived in the Winfield area, nor who they were, but the following names were recorded in the minutes of the Old Horse Prairie Regular Baptist Church as having served in one capacity or another in 1842.
Charter members were Joseph Hartley, Mary Hartley, Sarah Hillman, Claybourn J. Cash, John Fleener, Sarah Fleener, Fanny Clampett, William Miflin, and Anna Miflin.
Shown in the first minutes were Henry Ridenour, Amy Ridenour, Jane Ridenour, John Ridenour, John Stewart, William Fitsgerrell, Lewis Green, D. A. Mooneyhan, James Duncan, William Chalmer, William Graham, Thomas Derington, Meshac Hail, Barnes Reeves, Jesse Hull, Walney Lucas, David Hull, John Binion, James Nash, John Martin, Isaac Fleener, Isaac Clampett, Nathan Hall, Abner Cox, John Dodds, William Clampett, Susan Stewart, Rosilla Duncan, Martha Lusk, Elizabeth Hull, Sarah Hull, Martha Nash, Sarah Martin,Sarah Green, Mary Martin, Lucinda Fitzgerrell and Mary Clampett. There are a great many other people in later minutes with many names barely legible.
Some of these people were settlers in the Winfield area before 1842. Old church segregated the men and the women, even in the records of the members, so it is impossible to tell which were husband and wife.
Being members of the church doesn't necessarily mean that they were residents of the Winfield area, as churches were few and far between in those days and people traveled long distrances to attend church staying over night and sometimes three or four days with neighborhood residents, the men and boys sleeping in the barn while the extra women and girls slept on pallets on the floor in the house. But, the majority of the members were local residents or the church would have been located somewhere else.
Go east from the old church and you will soon come to a farmstead on the right with a long barn which has been a landmark in that area for a long, long time. This is the old Dr. I. G. Gee place, now the home of the Vince Kiselewski's. East of the barn is a road leading to the house. This is part of the Old Brownsville Road, it used to continue on South, but has now been abandoned.
Farther east you will come to an old school house on the right, it sets in the middle of a brush grown lot bordered by a line of taller trees. The east line of those trees is in line with the west line of the town of Winfield. Although nothing now remains to mark the site of the old community, along the north side of the road, for the next 540 feet, or until you come to an old road leading north that is blocked by a huge pile of earth, lies the area once occupied by the bustling town of Winfield. In 1881 it had 14 dwellings housing 74 people, plus a flour mill, 3 stores, 2 blacksmith shops, a wagon factory and 2 Doctor's offices.
The old road leading north was also a part of the Old Brownsville Road. It continues on northeast and crosses the Big Muddy about a third of a mile south of the Sub-Impoundment Dam. It then passes through the Elk Prairie settlement, (not called Dareville), and continues on into Mt. Vernon. That part of the road passing along the east edge of Winfield was somewhat neglected in the old days in order to encourage travelers to drive through town.
The original town was made up of four blocks of four lots each, but an additional two blocks of four lots each was added to the north end by J. J. Fitzgerrell. The streets running between them were 60 feet wide. Very broad streets for a town in those days. The town plat was dated March 26, 1860 and was laid out by A. M. Grant for J. J. Fitzgerrell on land owned by him.
The lots were 60 by 132 feet, except that those along the south edge of town had an additional 60 by 60 feet added for barns and stables. In those days everyone needed a horse and a cow, for transportation and dairy products, plus a few chickens for eggs.
The only refrigeration was provided by cellars and wells. Most wells had a basket or bucket of perishables hanging in them in the summertime which must be drawn up before you could draw any water, unless you wanted to live dangerously. These vessels contained butter, milk, and cream for the table, and sometimes a mess of freshly killed meat such as a squirrel or a chicken that must be kept cool until time to prepare it for dinner. Many a well had to be cleaned out because some unlucky person spilled the milk while trying to draw a bucket of water.
The road running north marks the east boundary of Winfield, fifty yards up that road and on the right you will see an old pond. This is the old mill pond, and like all mill ponds it was "The Ol' Swimmin' Hole" to the boys of Winfield who spent many happy hours there. Sometimes the women of the town objected to the little bare bottoms parading around the pond bare and put a stop to their swimming for a while. Such was the case when Tom Atkins, Dr. Harvey Ward, and Walter Baker were boys swimming there.
The 2 acre patch where the mill pond is located was once the site of a flour mill. One of the first flour mills in this part of the country. There were a great many grist mills, but few flour mills. This mill was finally abandoned about 1890 and the building destroyed. (Some say it burned down and Mrs. Wm. Norris burned up in it, but we were not able to authenticate this.) But the old steam engine remained. Sinking deeper into the earth with each passing year while grinding out thousands of barrels of make-believe flour for each new generation of children. Some of the more adventerous ones even crawled into the firebos and made pretend repairs to the old boiler, according to Kirby Rogers who spent many happy days playing around the old engine.
Old records say Isaac Clampett had the first mill, later a John Knowles acquired it, and then William Norris owned it. Finally the Ward family bought it and made a great many improvements.
Shortly after 1900 Arlie Lemons moved onto the 2 acre patch with a differenct kind of mill. A sawmill, and he brought a big steam engine that really worked, and a great many people benefited by Arlie's mill.
At that time some of the first timbert in the world was growing in the Big Muddy Bottoms, and a hundred acre patch of huge oak trees stood right south of town. The mighty giants of the forest were cut and sawed into structural timberts. They were then hauled to Waltonville and stacked alongside the W. C. and W. railroad tracks where the hard working Hagle family loaded them into cars for shipment to distant points. Thus the timber industry of Winfield contributed to the construction of buildings, the high trestles in amusement parks, railways, bridges and many other structures in all parts of the United States, wherever strong timbers were needed.
Several people were employed in the cutting, sawing, and hauling in the timber industry brought about by Arlie Lemon's mill. Harl Martin says he himself made many a weary trip to Waltonville with a wagon load of large timbers from the saw mill at Winfield.
Flour mills and timbering were not the only industries to be located in Winfield. One of the earliest industries was a wagon shop, or factory. The Wicks' who ran a black-smith shop were also known as wheelwrights and built wagons. Many years ago the late John Earls told the writer about going to the wagon shop at Winfield and buying a brand new wagon. The Grandfather of writer also bought a new wagon there before 1880 says old family history.
The first store was opened by Isaac Boswell, the Ward's had the second according to old records. In the early days there were 3 stores. One operated by William Graham who was also the first Post Master. His store later belonged to Mathie Dunn. IN the later days it was owned by Nathan Kelley who moved his stock of goods to Sesser when that town was built in 1906, leaving Winfield without a store. He set up store somewhere near where the Catholic Church is now and was the first merchant is Sesser. Some say there were intermittant attempts to maintain a store in Winfield until after WWI, but without success.
In those days, stores stocked such items as sugar, salt, soda, tobacco, coal oil (kerosene), lamps, lamp chinmeys, (in large quantity), burners and wicks. There might be a barrell of crackers, or one of rolled oats, also one of salt pork. There was bound to be powder, lead, shot, and bullet molds, and probably some candy. It would have been impossible to get a load of bread without making arrangements for some housewife to bake it. The usual fare was biscuit for breakfast and Sunday dinner, with vorn bread for dinner and supper. (you might call these meals luncheon and dinner now, but most rural people still call these 2 meals dinner and supper.)
The first school in the area was located half a mile north of the site of Win-field, across the road from the Hartley Cemetery. It preseced Winfield by several years. A John Norris taught school there during the 1850's and many of the ancestors of our present population attended school there.
The quality of the composition and penmanship of the records left by them attest to the quality of the education received by them. School terms were short and few pupils attended for more than four or five years, yet they acquired quite a lot of "book learnin" just the same. Records in those days were all made in long hand and yet they are easily read today unless completely faded away.
In 1883 school was being held in a two story building, with a hall on the top floor, on the north side of Main Street in Winfield. Later a new schoolhouse was built on the site of the present one on the south edge of town as shown by the accompanying map.
A very unfortunate tragedy once occured in the small community saddening and creating much bitterness. Winfield folklore says there were once two well liked, prankish, young men in the neighborhood, named John Cunningham and Dick Ragland. One night, (probably Halloween) someone took an anvil from one of the blacksmith shops and threw it in a well. To some it may have been amusing, but to the blacksmith, who must retreive the heavy object from beneath several fett of water, it was not at all funny.
One night the 2 men met in front of Mathie Dunn's store and one accused the other of the deed. A fight ensued in which Ragland grabbed a scale weight and threw it at Cunningham. The heavy object struck him in the head, crushing his skull, and killing him instantly. Ragland swore he had "pulled a knife" on him, and sure enough they found an open knife at the scene of the fight, the next morning.
It was a very sober community for a long time after that.
Life in Winfield wasn't restricted to industrial activity. There was joy and sadness and hapiness and pleasure, just as there are today. The pleasures and re-creational activities were different from those of today, but they made up the good things in life just the same.
Dell Wells says that the rural youth and young ladies from the surrounding area used to gather in Winfield of an evening and buy candy and other condiments. Sometimes, when there was a snow on, some one of the young men would hitch a spirited sled, load on it a wagon box filled with hay and covered with blankets and drive through the country gathering the young folk for a ride to Winfield, where they would partake of such urban activities as the small community had to offer. Buying candy and other goodies for the young ladies and courting their favor just as young folk do today.
You must remember that Winfield was an isolated little community and it was a long way to other towns using the transportation available in those days, so it was the center of activity for a large rural area.
When they petitioned for a Post Office in 1874 they discovered that there was already a Winfield, Illinois. Post Office in DuPage county that was established 22 years earlier, in 1852, which is still active today. They then chose the name Fitzgerrell in honor of the town's founder.
The application, with William Graham as Postmaster, is dated August 17, 1874 and locates the Post Office thusly: "(It is situated in the town of Winfield in the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of section 32, town 4 south and Range 2 east of the third principal meridan. It is about 62 miles west of the Ohio river. 1 1/2 miles west of Big Muddy and a quarter mile north of Honey Creek. The nearest Post Office is Elk Prairie which is located 6 miles northeast by the traveled road. The name of the nearest Post Office on the same route is Spring Garden which is 10 miles east. It is located 12 miles from the Tamaroa station on the Illinois Central railroad.)" An old map shows the route of travel of the Star Route Carrier running in a direct line from Tamaroa to Spring Garden and passing through Winfield.
At first the mail was delivered to Winfield on a once a week star route carried by Frank Willis. According to Willie Hannah there was a lot of snow in those days and Frank sometimes made the route in a sled for weeks at a time, in the winter, with sleigh bells ringing out his passage and alerting the people that the mail had arrived.
At that time a star route carried by Captain Joe Laur ran out of Ashely to Spring Garden serving Williamsburg and Elk Prairie en route, so that if you mailed a letter at Williamsburg addressed for delivery at Winfield, it would travel to Spring Garden on Capt. Laur's route and back to Winfield on Frank Willis' route. So you see, mail has always went to those out of the way places before reaching its, destination, just as it does today.
IN 1887 the route changed to a daily loop route, out of Tamaroa, serving the little Post Offices of Brayfield and Portland in Frnaklin county as well as Fitzgerrell. By that time the route was known as U. S. Mail route #35168. (The term star route got started because the clerks in the central came to be called Star Routes, and the term sticks today). The records show that Portland was 5 miles southwest of Winfield and Brayfield was 7 1/2 miles southwest. Brayfield was served on the way from Tamaroa to Winfield and Portland on the way back.
This route was carried by Henry Martin for a long, long time. He lived in Tamaroa and made the long route each day, crossing Little Muddy riber each eay, some-times having to swim his horse as there were no bridges in those days. He arrived at Winfield, which was about half way, about noon each day.
In 1900, while Moses B. Atkins was Postmaster, the little Post Office at Meso was established and the route served it also. Meso was located 5 miles west of Win-field, say the records.
In 1904 Willie Foreman obtained enough subscribers to establish a rural route out of Waltonville which passed through Winfield. It was 2/3 as long as many auto routes are today and traveled over roads that would mire a snipe most of the winter.
The star route out of Tamaroa was discontinued and Winfield began to receive its mail by a locked pouch, still arriving there about noonn each day, but carried in the back of Mr. Foreman's buggy. He carried the Fitzgerrell pouch for a long time without incident then one day he pulled up in front of the Post Office at Winfield, climbed out and reached under the seat for the pouch. Huh Oh! There wasn't any. It was safe back in the Waltonville Post Office. He had to hurry back to Waltonville and retreive it. It was way in the night ere he completed his route that day.
The Post Office at Winfield had 15 Postmasters before it closed under William A. Willis on May 15, 1906. After that the area served by the Post Office known as Fitzgerrell, was served by a rural route out of Waltonville.
The Postmasters are listed below. Each one served until relieved by the incoming Postmaster.
William Graham: July 2, 1874; Isaac Ward, January 3, 1876; William Hampton, February 14, 1876; John R. Knowles, November 9, 1876; Isaac G. Gee, November 18, 1877; Andrew J. Black, Mary 14, 1889; Matthew Dunn, June 12, 1889; Andrew J. Black, January 4, 1890; Matthew Dunn, November 1, 1890; John B. Martin, June 14, 1893; Joseph H. Dunn, June 29, 1897; Ellis A. Kelley, September 8, 1899, Wesley S. Walker, October 5, 1899; Moses B. Atkins, December 15, 1900; and William A. Willis, May 12, 1903 until May 15, 1906, when it was discontinued.
At first the settlers produced everything necessary for their welfare with their own 2 hands, with the help of a bountiful environment. They had very little money and small chance of getting any. There was a market for deer hides (we still call a dollar a buck in memory of that period), but they had to be hauled to St. Louis. Livestock reproduced at a rapid rate, and the woods was full of them. Occasionally an enterprising drover would buy up a bunch and attempt to drive them to St. Louis losing most of them on the way. Even then the settlers received due bills which were redeemed when and if the drover returned with the receipts of the sale. Most trading was done with due bills or script in those days, there was little hard money in circulation in that area.
With the completion of the Illinois Central railroad, in 1854, however, everything changed. The people now had access to city markets. Livestock of all description was driven to Tamaroa to be loaded into railroad cars for shipment to distant markets. A very common sight was a drove of geese, ducks, turkeys, or pigs being herded by a man, a woman, and a large family of children on their way to the railroad at Tamaroa. Descendents of those people remember their grandparents telling about making such drives. Sometimes the trip took more than one day, in which case they camped beside the trail and continued the trip the next morning. These herds were paid for in cash.
There was also an insatable demand for railroad ties, and many people made a living for the next sixty or seventy years hewing out railroad ties, while others spent their lives hauling them to the railroad.
There was also a market for hoop poles for the barrel factories at Ashley and Nashville, with an even greater demand for stave timver to make the side of the barrels.
With all this money available there was no stores or markets closer than Tamaroa or Mt. Vernon. So the little town of Winfield was built, providing mills, blacksmiths, harness makers, Doctors, and stores of staples needed by the residents of the area.
Railroads drew people and industries like superhighways do today, so the mer-chants left Winfield and moved to Sesser with the building of that community in 1906. Thus Nathan Kelley and Jim Fitzgerrell moved to Sesser with their stock of goods and set up the first store there.
With the coming of industrialization fewer and fewer people produced more and more goods, and transportation improved to such an extent that there was no longer any need for such isolated little communities as Winfield, so the people moved away and the buildings rotted down. The last house in Winfield (the Old John L. Wicks residence) was torn down by a bulldozer after Inland Steel acquired the property.
With the mechanization of agrigulture most of the farm families were eliminated so that even the school was closed and the few remaining pupils were bused to Waltonville. Only the old school house now remains to mark the site of the former community and it will soon join the other buildings as a pile of rubble.
We tend to belittle the efforts of our ancestors because their lives were not automated as ours are today, but many scientist believe that, although there is a lot less suffering today, there is much less happiness and a great deal less self esteem than in the days of our grandfathers when most people were living in a state of subsistance economy, providing everything they ate and wore with their own hands. They point to the divorce rate, the suidice rate, and drug problems as proof of our unhappy state.
A map of Winfield showing the stores and houses as they were in the 1890's follows, also the census as taken from the records of 1880.
Thanks to Mr. & Mrs. Kirby Rogers, Harl Martin, Tom Atkins, Willie Hannah, Dell Wells, Glen Martin, John Hartley, & especially to Mrs. Melissa Kirkpatrick Wells. Without their help this article could not have been written.

  Dwellings 14----population 74
Name                    Born                    Name                    Born
Atkins, Moses           1833                    Kimmel, Joseph          1855
        Pauline         1832                            Josephine-w     1858
        1-Parmelia      1862                            1-Arthur        1879
        2-Edward C.     1868
        3-Van           1871                    Knowles, John           1835
Brown, Luther           1870                            1-Rosetta       1862
                                                        2-Sarah         1867
Crawford, John          1857
                                                Little, Isaac           1836
Dean, Elmore            1863                            w-Lizzie        1850

Dunn, Matthew           1835                    Little, James           1841
      w-Zilva           1838                            w-Elizabeth     1845
      1-Cora            1869                            1-Alice         1865
      2-Anna            1873                            2-Bill          1872
      3-Mary            1874            
      4-Joseph          1876                    Louck, Sarah            1853

Elder, Sarah            1824                    McNeil, William         1843
       Maria            1863    
                                                Parson, Willie          1875
Gee, Isaac              1841    
     w-Elzinia          1850                    Roberts, Asa            1836
     1-Harl             1875                            w-Patience      1845
     2-Earl             1879                            1-Charles       1874
                                                        2-Della         1875
Graham, Elizabeth       1849                            3-Florence      1879

Haney, Samuel           1867                    Rose, Martha            1817

Hicks, Joseph           1843                    Smith, William          1857
       w-Mary           1843
       1-Ada            1869                    Thornton, William       1873
       2-Ora            1872
                                                Wicks, John             1847
Isom, John              1852                            w-Mary          1857
      w-Susan A.        1854                            1-Daisy         1877
      1-John            1875                            2-Elmer         1879
      2-Joseph          1879
                                                Wicks, Louisiana        1822
Kelley, Nathan T.       1831
        w-Malinda J.    1832
        1-Julia         1862                    Wilderman, Charles      1844
        2-Mary          1865                               w-Henrietta  1845
        3-John          1868                               1-Logan      1871
        4-Chas.         1877                               2-Emma       1875
                                                           3-Minnie     1877
Willis, Francis         1852                               4-Monroe     1879
        w-Mary          1853
        1-Arthur        1876

By Mrs. J. W. Wells
The town of Winfield, fives miles south, one and one quarter miles east of Waltonville was a thriving town during this era. It had a mill, blacksmith shop, two stores, a school and a Medical Doctor. It had no church but The Regular Primitive Baptist Church was one half mile west of town.
The merchants in the early 1890's were Matthew Dunn, (the Post Office, Fitzgerrell, was in his store), John B. Martin, during this time traded his store and stock of goods to Smith Conlee for his farm which is now known as the late Dan Strickland farm. The blacksmith was John L. Wicks, probably the Atkin's still had a shop. Dr. Emza Ward was the Physician.
The stores were stocked with such staples as salt, flour, meal, and brown sugar in the barrel. Occasionaly one could buy refined sugar, but it cost more than the brown. One could get hominy grits, rice, rolled oats, in the bulk, it had to be weighed for each customer. Soda crackers in boxes of several pounds, Oh Yes! Those three inch square, delicious, sweet crackers were always a treat to any younster. One could get spices such as whole cloves, nutmeg in the nut cinnamon bark, cheese, lard, side bacon, and sardines in oil, Lennox laundry soap, Merry War Lye, and bluing.
Available was Horse Shor plug tobacco, Hill Side sack tobacco, leaf tobacco, Bull Durham tobacco and cigarette papers. Axle grease, oil cans, oil matches, lanterns, lamps, chimneys, and wicks.
Fly paper could be bought during the summer months.

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