Montgomery County Illinois History

1909 Old Settlers Main Street Hillsboro

By Idabel Evans

In 1834, according to the Gazetteer of Illinois, Hillsboro was a "healthy and flourishing town" with 50 families and 250 inhabitants, six stores, four taverns, three blacksmiths, two tanneries, one shoemaker, two tailors, one tanner, a post office and a land agency. Only 11 years old, the thriving little town owed its existence to a controversy.

At the time Montgomery County was organized in 1821, the Legislature appointed a Commission to locate the county seat. A site three miles southwest of Hillsboro was chosen and a town, named Hamilton, was laid out and contracts let for public buildings. However, one of the Commissioners, Joseph Wright, dissented, saying that most of the settlers were in the southeast corner of the county and could get to Hamilton only if the weather were dry or the ground frozen. His account of the distribution of population in the county at that time was 34 families on Hurricane Creek, four on Bear Creek, seven at Clear Springs, six on the West Fork, two at McDavid's Point and three on Seward's Hill. Because of the controversy, a new Commission was appointed in 1823 and chose the present site of Hillsboro.

Newton Coffey, one of the earliest settlers in the county, purchased the site from the government for $50 and donated the required 20 acres for public buildings. The town was laid out in the fall of 1823. Old maps of Hillsboro show the main street as "Coffey Street" but the name apparently became lost over the years.  

The first courthouse was of hewn logs, two stories high, and was erected in 1823 at a cost of $221.83 1/3. The present courthouse, which dominates Hillsboro from the center of the square, was completed in 1871 at a cost of $61,444.25. In 1968, the County restored the hand- some exterior of the building, which had been hidden by a nearby century of paint and grime, and plans to remodel the interior to meet the need for modern offices and courtrooms.

The first family to settle in the Hillsboro area was that of John Nussman, who built a cabin on the hill west of present day Central Park several years before the town was founded. His son Eli is believed to be the first child born in Hillsboro. The oldest house still standing in Hillsboro is the Solomon Harkey house located at the corner of Broad and Water Streets. The house is now owned by the Historical Society of Montgomery County and will be restored as a museum.

Although the Old Settlers Association of Montgomery County was formally organized in 1883, Old Settlers Reunions were held as early as 1873. In 1883, an Old Settlers log cabin was built on the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. Each log in this cabin was furnished by a man who had lived in the county at least 40 years and was inscribed with his name. The cabin burned in 1932, but an early photograph of it is on display at the courthouse, where the Historical Society has arranged an Old Settlers exhibit.

Taken from “Official Program 1969 Old Settlers Reunion”

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