Montgomery County Illinois History

HILLSBORO ILLINOIS (626 alt., 4,435 pop.) lies approximately midway between Springfield, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri, a short distance east of U S 66, the main highway between those two cities. The table-top farms of the Illinois prairie circle the town, but at the town site the prairie folds gently, giving a roller-coaster hump to State 16 as it enters the town from the west. The fold rolls on through the town, and may have accounted for Hillsboro's name, although some contend that it commemorates Hillsboro, North Carolina, whence many of the pioneers came.

There has been an organized community here for more than a century, and a settlement of sorts for almost a century' and a half. Although a considerable portion of Hillsboro was built up since the turn of the century, the town as a whole has the appearance of being long settled. Old elms arch over wide streets that were platted decades before any of the present residences were built. Yet the dominant residential architecture is redolent of the days of Grant, Hayes, and McKinley: generous lawns surround houses, some of which were built when Frank Lloyd Wright was still in his swaddling clothes, before the Chautauqua was in full flower and the horseless carriage was the subject of ironic editorials. And the long commercial corridor of Main Street is in keeping with this note, for although chaste plastics and chromium have been applied to the ground floors the cornices and fancy brackets above belong to the period when a store was a "mercantile emporium."

On South Main Street, where Dunn Brown and Company and H. M. Beckwith have offices, stands the oldest store building (1855) in Hillsboro. A stone's throw away is the Walker Building, newest commercial building, erected in 1934. The Hillsboro that saw the Walker Building go up is basically much the same as that which watched the construction of its old neighbor almost eighty years earlier. Hillsboro is a country town that almost became a city. Although it achieved incorporation as a city in 1869, it remained essentially a rural trading center until the first decade of this century. By 1912 it boasted three coal mines, two smelters, and a large glass factory. But this sudden rush of industrialization leveled out within fifteen years, and Hillsboro today is a typical county seat with several manufacturing plants and a coal mine, rather than an industrial center with an incidental courthouse.

This fact makes itself evident in the tempo of the town and in its appearance. The courthouse, with its pretentious mansard tower, dominates the town's unobtrusive skyline and appears to stand as a sentinel over Main Street. On Saturdays farmers swarm into town to shop and to exchange produce for merchandise; but there is a steady trickle of them through the week, as they converge on the courthouse to pay taxes, attend court, and record deeds, to enter births for the newly born and wills for the newly dead. Generally they come in automobiles, but the hitching rack on Berry Street—just one block off Main—is not completely an anachronism. There the nearby flour and feed stores, the poultry houses, a blacksmith shop, and a harness shop make the automobile, rather than the occasional horse-drawn rig, seem out of place and out of time.

The trade attracted by the courthouse has resulted in a Main Street commercial district somewhat larger than the population of Hillsboro itself warrants. There are two banks, two movies, and two newspaper offices, where many towns of 5,000 afford only one of each. A few other signs indicate the modest prestige of the county seat; an abundance of lawyers, a smattering of real-estate and abstract offices. During the past few months the town has experienced the excitement of a potential oil boom. Crews working north from southern Illinois oil fields are making tests, and a few wells arc being drilled in the vicinity of Hillsboro. Other than this recent flurry of activity, Hillsboro might well serve as the Middletown of Midwestern county seats.

The roots of a county seat go out beyond its borders, and much of Hillsboro's stability comes from the land. Some of the most fertile soil in the state is found near the Ware's Grove community north of town where years ago the settlers organized a drainage district and coaxed the muddy waters from a vast swamp. There is the highly productive corn ground—the dark loam which with normal rainfall gives enormous yields of corn to be fed to cattle and hogs, or marketed as a cash crop. To the southwest lies the Shoal Creek area, where the bottom lands keep the corn growing even during long dry spells. Although corn is a major crop, the entire farming community is rapidly becoming a soybean producing center.

There is no large scale dairying, but almost every farmer has a few cows. Some milk from the Hillsboro area goes to the Litchfield Creamery and to the larger dairies in St. Louis. Close to town browse the herds of Guernsey's, Holsteins, and Jerseys which supply much of the milk for Hillsboro tables. In recent years some farmers have specialized in raising Hereford cattle for the market.

Taken from "Hillsboro Guide" 1940

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