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Livingston County, Illinois
Genealogy and History

Pontiac History
Livingston County, Illinois


(Transcribed by: Teri Moncelle Colglazier)

Seat of justice and largest city of Livingston County is Pontiac, located on the Vermilion River in the geographical center of the county.

Although the corporate population of Pontiac is 8,990, it is the center of a retail trading area estimated at more than 40,000.

Within the boundaries of the city is located the Pontiac branch of the Illinois state penitentiary system. It occupies twenty-six buildings on a twenty-acre tract of landscaped ground and houses more than 2,000 inmates.

Just west of Pontiac may be found the Chief City Airport.

On the courthouse lawn in Pontiac may be found a stone memorial to the celebrated Indian chief after whom the city is named. Here, also, stands the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, memorializing men of the county who fell in the Civil War.

The city's central business district contains branches of such national chain stores as J. C. Penny Company, Kroger, A & P, National Tea, Montgomery Ward & Company and Sears Roebuck & Company.

Among leading manufacturing plants within the city are the Fashion-Hilt Shoe Company, the Johnson Press Company, the Brockton Heel Company and the Morton Printing Company.

The city has two banks which, in 1954, had savings deposits totaling $624,936.41.

Only newspaper of the county seat is the Leader, which in 1954 had a circulation of 4,770.

Located ninety-two miles southwest of Chicago in the midst of a rich farming area, Pontiac is served by the Illinois Central, the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, and the Wabash railroads, as well as by US 66 and state highways 116 and 23.

This city is the only community of Pontiac Township which in 1950 had a total population of 9,906. Parts of the township were annexed to Pontiac city in 1942 and 1946.
[Source: "This is Livingston County, Illinois" by: John Drury, The Loree Co., Chicago, Illinois (1955)]


The first JAIL was built at Pontiac in 1866. Previous to that time, the prisoners of the county were kept at Joliet, Ottawa or Bloomington, where such conveniences of civilization existed. In that year, a good substantial stone jail was erected at a cost of $18,000.
[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


The first POST OFFICE was that established in Pontiac, in 1837, and Cornelius W. Reynolds was the first Postmaster.
Letter postage was then twenty-five cents, payable either on mailing the letter or at the office where it was received.
No inconsiderable number of letters came to the office unpaid, and such was the scarcity of money that some of them would remain in the office for weeks and even months, before they could be taken out and paid for.
Martin A. Newman was the first Route Agent. He traveled on horseback from Ottawa to Bloomington, by way of Pontiac and Lexington, and made a trip in two weeks.

Jerome Garner was the second Postmaster at Pontiac, and when he received his appointment he purchased a bell-crowned stove-pipe hat, and in it he kept all mail matter which arrived at this point. He was extremely fond of fishing ; and when any one was desirous of mailing a letter or expecting to receive one, it was necessary to seek for Jerome up or down the Vermilion until he was found, when he would take off his hat, perform his official duties, and then return it to his head.
[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


Settlers & Settlements

John Foster, who resides with his son Robert, at Pontiac, is the oldest settler in that part of the county. He reached that point from Cayuga County, New York, in 1836. Two deserted cabins were then the only buildings on the site of the now flourishing city. The land was then considered too low and swampy to be habitable. Foster saw the town laid out, and took the contract for building the first Court House, the price agreed upon being $800. The building is still standing near the M. E. Church, and is owned by Jacob Streamer and leased to the city for various purposes. Foster also kept the first hotel, and, in the early days, he entertained the Judge, attorneys, juries and litigants to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.

In order to maintain his reputation as a landlord, he would, when a term of the Circuit Court was approaching, go out into the country and borrow bedsteads, beds and bedding, and what crockery there was to loan. This manner of procedure worked very well for a time, but on one occasion, the portly Judge David Davis, who had perhaps retired to rest with a heavy case on his mind, occupied one of the borrowed bedsteads, and he quashed it. The Judge was rescued from the debris by friendly hands ; but the bedstead, as a bedstead, had lost its usefulness, and thereafter Foster found some difficulty in inducing his neighbors to loan furniture.

Foster, on these occasions, entertained Douglas, Lincoln, and other distinguished lawyers, for the attorneys followed the judge from county to county. Lincoln, during one term of court paid his hotel bill by attending to a suit, in which Foster, as Constable, was concerned in the replevin of some goods taken on execution. Lincoln gained the case, and Uncle John formed a high opinion of his new boarder. Foster's recollections of these early days are vivid and interesting.
[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


Court House

The first Court House was erected in 1839-40, by Henry Weed, Lucius Young and Seth W. Young. It was accepted from them, and a bond of $3,000 surrendered, in which they had stipulated to erect the house at their own expense, provided the county seat was located on the land selected by them.

The second Court House was erected under the county judgeship of Billings P. Babcock, and was as good a building as could be erected at that time for the money expended. Judge Babcock gave the same particular care to every item of its material and construction that he displays in his own financial affairs.

The previous year. Judge Henry Jones erected, at Pontiac, the first brick building ever erected in the county. It is the one that has recently been remodeled, and is now occupied as a residence by Joseph P. Turner. The brick of which it was composed were purchased at Bloomington and hauled to Pontiac ; and, in stipulating with the contractors, Judge Babcock required the brick to be of as good quality as the material used in the building of this house. This opened up a new industry, and the first bricks were made during the same year.

The building was two stories high, having offices for the Circuit Clerk, County Clerk, Sheriff and Treasurer on the first floor, and the court room and jury room on the second floor. In 1871, a fire-proof vault, in an added wing, was completed.

On the 4th day of July, 1874, this building was destroyed by fire, together with Union Block and the Phoenix Hotel.

The present Court House was erected the following year, and was completed in the month of December, and dedicated by the first Old Settlers' meeting. This structure is one of the finest in the State. J. C. Cochrane, of Chicago, was the architect, and the contract for building Avas awarded to Colvin, Clark & Co., of Ottawa.

To the Building Committee of the Board of Supervisors is due an honorable mention for the honest and satisfactory manner in which they discharged their duty, in this connection. The names of these gentlemen were James E. Morrow. Edson Wilder, Jacob Phillips, E. G. Greenwood, Wm. S. Sims and J. B. Parsons. The entire cost of the building and furniture was $75,000.
[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]


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