Montgomery County Illinois History

History of Bond and Montgomery Counties, Illinois

Chapter XXIII written by G. N. Berry in 1882
Zanesville Township
Pages 362 - 367

Position - Boundaries, etc.

The original Zanesville Precinct included within its area the townships of Pitman and Bois D'Arc, and was reduced to its present dimensions as an independent division in the year 1873, when the township organizations throughout the county were called into effect.  It lies in the western part of the county, south of Pitman, north of North Litchfield and west of Raymond Township, with Macoupin County as its western boundary, and contains a fraction over thirty-four sections of choice tillable land, which in point of fertility and productiveness, is second to none in this part of the State.  Topographically, the country may be described as principally of an even face, in the central and northern portions, with occasional undulation of a somewhat irregular character in the southern part, while in the southeast corner the land is more uneven, though in no place is it too rolling for farming purposes. 

Soil and Productions

The soil is similar to that of the surrounding townships, being the rich black prairie loam common to this part of the country and everywhere noted for its fertility.  This township lies in the great wheat belt of Illinois, and that cereal is the principal staple, although corn, rye, oats, flax, barley, together with the root crops usually found growing in this part of the State, are raised here in abundance, while nowhere in Montgomery County is there better encouragement offered to the fruit-grower.  A soil of peculiar adaptability and a climate equally favorable, insure a large yield almost every year, facts of which many of the citizens have taken advantage, as is evidenced by the numerous orchards to be seen in different parts of the township. 

Creeks and Timber

The country is sufficiently well watered and drained for farming purposes by several streams that wind throughout the township and numerous small tributaries flowing into them from many points.  The largest of these water-courses is the West Fork of Shoal Creek, which has its rise in Section 30, from whence it takes a devious course, flowing in a northeasterly direction about one mile, and then a southeasterly direction, passing through Sections 28, 27, 26, 35 and 36 before leaving the township.  There is a small creek in the northern part, flowing through Sections 7 and 8, which affords stock water and drainage to that locality the greater part of the year.  During the early spring months, these streams are hardly sufficient to carry off the immense quantities of water which spread over certain parts of the country, and from mere rivulets they become raging torrents, overflowing their banks for considerable distances on either side, and sometimes doing a great deal of injury to the farms through which they pass.  From the head of Shoal Creek to the southern boundary of the township are several strips of timber of the varieties usually found in woods of Central Illinois - walnut, hickory, elm, sycamore, maple and oak predominating.  The original timber has disappeared long since before the ax of the lumberman, a character who made his appearance coeval with the first settler, and that which is now standing is, comparatively speaking, of recent growth.  Much attention is given to the growing of timber and many farmers have surrounding their dwellings and outbuildings groves of considerable magnitude, which, in a few years, will furnish them not only with lumber for all practical purposes, but with fuel as well.  That this part of the county was at one time in the dim and remote past inhabited by a prehistoric race possessed of many of the attributes of what we term a high degree of enlightenment, is probable, from the existence of several mounds at different places throughout its territory and numerous strange relics that have been unearthed in several localities.  Who were these strange people?  Whence came they?  Whither did they go?  These questions must forever remain to form a melancholy interest in the wondrous past, and a mystery which neither time nor circumstance, nor science, nor the more wondrous future, may reveal.  But since their time, another race, mighty in numbers, has come and gone from their ancient homes and favorite hunting-grounds, though yet not quite extinct.  When the white man made his first appearance in what is now the territory of Zanesville, it was a favorite hunting-ground and retreat of several tribes of savages, notably among which were the Kickapoos and Pottawatomies.  Their camping-grounds were usually selected near the source of Shoal Creek and in the timber skirting Macoupin Creek, a small stream just across the line int he adjoining county.  When the white settlers began to increase in numbers, these Indians moved farther west, though at different intervals for several years re-visited the scenes of their former camping-places but never to do any mischief.  These visits were discontinued about the year 1830, and since that period no Indians have been seen in the northern part of Montgomery County. 

Pioneer Settlements

We have no data from which to give an exact statement, as to either the time the first settlement of the township was made or the individuals who made it.  It is known, however, that a man by the name of Robert Palmer settled near the site of the present village of Zanesville, where he kept a hotel as early as the year 1824.  His place was a stopping-point for travelers, on the road leading from Springfield to Vandalia, being one of the first public houses in the county.  Palmer proved to be a notorious gambler, blackleg and a very bad character generally.  His house was a rendezvous of a gang of thieves and rowdies as bad as himself, and the place became noted throughout the country as a dangerous locality.  Several daring robberies having been committed in the neighboring towns and settlements, and the evidence being very plain against Palmer as the perpetrator, he left the country rater unceremoniously and fled for parts unknown.  It was afterward ascertained that he went to Iowa, where he was arrested for complicity in a brutal murder, convicted and hanged.  So much for the first pioneer of Zanesville.  Several transient settlers located in the vicinity of Palmer's tavern shortly after it was erected, but none of them appear to have taken up land or in any way improve the country.  The next actual settler of whom we could learn anything definite was one George Brewer, who entered the land where Zanesville Village now stands, which he laid off into town lots about the year 1828.  Through his efforts, a post office was established, which, together with the town, was called Leesburg, after Robert E. Lee, a wholesale merchant of St. Louis, in whose name the land was entered.  Brewer appears to have been a man of considerable public spirit, and, seeing an opportunity, as he supposed, of making a fortune in the town which could not help but grow, expended quite an amount of money in various improvements, among which was a good-sized store building.  This building was stocked with a miscellaneous assortment of merchandise, purchased at the house of Lee in St. Louis, from which place it was transported in wagons, a distance of about seventy-five miles.  Soon other parties, attracted by the promising opening which the village presented, or by the fertile lands in the vicinity, came in, and, by the year 1830, there was a thrifty and enterprising community on the high road to prosperity.  The town grew apace; lots were sold rapidly at good round sums; shops of various kinds were established; a school was organized, other storerooms erected, and business of all kinds increased to such an extent that the village at one time was considered the second place of importance in the county.  In the year 1829, a settlement was made in the south-west corner of the township by immigrants from the South, among whom can be named Isaac Bailey, James Crawford, Thomas Williams and Zebedee Williams.  These were all men of consequence in the early settlement of the township, and left the impress of their characters on their descendants, many of whom still reside in the community which their ancestors founded.  A prominent settler in the same locality was Robert Allen, who came in a little later, and who, for a number of years, appears to have been a leading and respected citizen of the township.  Between the years 1835 and 1840, Beatty Burke, George Burroughs, Dores D. Shumway and a man by the name of Chastine entered and improved lands near the village of Zanesvillle.  Those early pioneers are all dead or have moved to other localities, as the writer was unable to learn any facts concerning them in his canvass for information among the old settlers of the township.  From 1840 to 1848, a settlement was made around the head of Shoal Creek and a number of farms improved.  The principal men connected with this settlement were Walker Williams, Elgin Smith, Jeff Parrott and Moses Martin, all of whom had formerly resided in the South.  Among other prominent settlers were Joseph Vignos, a Frenchman, who located near the central part of the township; Dr. Caldwell, one of the earliest physicians of Zanesville, and S. Smitherman, a noted farmer and stock-raiser, who purchased land near the village, all three of whom are still living.  The northeastern portion of the township has been settled more recently, yet in point of progress and improvements it is behind no other locality, and, in many respects, is far superior to some.  Since the year 1848, the settlements in different parts of the township have been so simultaneous that a mention of names of early settlers entitled to a notice in these pages would transcend the limits of our space.  Suffice it to say, however, that they are justly entitled to all the honors accorded them as founders of a community which occupies a prominent place in the galaxy of townships forming Montgomery County. 

Roads and Mills

There was a regularly laid out road through Zanesville Township as early as the year 1830, known as the Jacksonville & Vandalia road, as it connected those two places.  It is still traveled, and its direction, though slightly devious, is on the whole pretty direct, the general course being northwest and southeast, and differing but little from the original route.  Another early road which was pretty generally traveled was the one leading from Carlinville to Taylorville.  Its course through this township was from northeast to southwest, though its direction has been greatly changed of late years, and it is no longer the important though fare that it was during the early days of the county.  Among other early established highways were the St. Louis road which passed through the township in a northwesterly direction; the Girard road which crossed through the western part of the township, from north to south, and the Zanesville & Litchfield road, connecting these two points and running in a southeasterly direction from the former place.  There are many other roads traversing the township and intersecting each other at different points, but, like other roads of the county, are deserving of no particular description.  Among the pioneer industries of Zanesville was the little horse-mill erected by Edward Crawford, in the western part, about the year 1838.  This primitive mill was the only one aside from the present mill at the town of Zanesville ever erected in the township, and, for a number of years, was operated almost constantly in order to supply the demands of the neighbors for flour and meal.  It was torn down several years ago, and at present there remains no vestige to mark the spot it formerly occupied.  The Zanesville Mill was built in the year 1869, by Mossrs, Sharpe, Johnson, & Berry, at a cost of $16,000.  It is operated by steam, has three run of buhrs, and when kept running all the time, can grind about 100 barrels of flour per day.  From 1869 to 1872, it did an enormous amount of custom and merchant work, and returned to the proprietors a large per cent of the capital invested.  Johnson sold his interest to Samuel Caldwell in 1872, who in turn, disposed of the same of Sharpe & Berry the same year.  The latter parties becoming financially embarrassed on account of various speculations, sold the mill to S. Smitherman and Clark Sinclair, in the year 1873, and since that time from some cause unknown to the writer, the machinery has stood idle, much to the regret of the farmers of the surrounding country. 

First Election and First Birth

The first election in the township, of which we have any reliable record, was held in the year 1835, when George Brewer and James Crawford were chosen Justices of the Peace, offices which they held uninterruptedly for several consecutive years.  Stephen Crawford, son of James Crawford, was the first white child born in Zanesville, the date of his birth being the 13th of November, 1831, the same night of the great meteoric display known as the falling stars. 

Early Schools

The early educational history of the township is somewhat vague and disjointed, although sufficient information has been gleaned "to warrant the assumption that schools were not established until several years had elapsed from the date of the first settlements".  We of the present day with our pleasantly located common schools, normal institutes and colleges, can scarce realize the vast difference, when even scenes depicted in that popular and much-perused work, "The Hoosier Schoolmaster", would have been looked upon as a wonderful advancement toward what might now be termed the extravagances of a higher education.  For several years after the advance guard of the early pioneers who made Zanesville what it is today, first came into this part of the country, schools and intellectual training were thought of only as adjuncts of that civilization which they had left behind - things to be desired by hardly to be hoped for.  It was for some time simply a question of keeping body and soul together by laborious toil, and the hardships endured in procuring the bare necessities of life, precluded the possibility of looking far for intellectual improvement.  But as the farm lands broadened, the little settlements grew more numerous, and the labors of the inhabitants had, by the favor of a kind Providence, placed them beyond immediate want, they bethought themselves of their duty to their little ones, and schools were established.  The names of the early teachers cannot be given with that accuracy which we term reliable, although it is generally conceded that the first pedagogue was Henry Mayer, who taught in the southern part of the township about the year 1833.  This school was attended by about fifteen children, and, like all early schools, was supported by subscription, the teacher being compelled to collect the tuition fees.  The first schoolhouse was built by Edward Crawford and others in the southwest corner of the township.  The land on which the building stood was afterward entered and the house lost before it was occupied as designated.  Another house was built of logs the same year, on Section 26, in which the school already mentioned was taught.  The second term was taught near the village of Zanesville by a teacher whose name was not learned.  In educational matters at present, Zanesville is not behind her sister townships of the county, as is proved by the presence of six neat frame schoolhouses, furnished with all the modern improvements.  Teachers skilled in their profession are the only ones employed by the efficient School Board.  The terms lasts eight months of the year, and generally begins the first Monday in October. 


Among the early pioneers of Zanesville were many persons in whom the fear of God was a predominate element and their religious duties were at no time neglected.  The first public services were conducted by the veteran pioneer preacher, Elder James Street, at the residence of Jacob Baker, about the year 1830.  The first church was a society of the United Baptists, which was organized at the head of Shoal Creek, where the organization is still maintained.  They have a substantial temple of worship, a progressive membership and are doing much good in the community where the church is located.  The disciples or Christians organized a church a number of years ago, which is still a prominent society, numbering among its members some of the leading and substantial citizens of the country.  A very handsome and commodious house, situation in the southeastern part of the township, serves the congregation as a place of worship.  The Methodists maintained a flourishing organization at the village of Zanesville for a number of years, but the society was finally merged into churches at other points, and at present there is no class at that place. 

Village of Zanesville  - Its Growth and Decay

The village of Zanesville to which we have already referred in the opening of this chapter, is situated in the northwest corner of the township, about two and a half miles east of the county lines, and is but a mere shadow of its former self.  During the early years of the county, it was a prominent business point, a reputation it sustained until the year 1869, at which time there were four large stores, all doing a good business, one grocery, three blacksmith shops, two wagon shops, two hotels, cooper shop and two plague spots in the shape of whiskey saloons.  Among the merchants who did business here at different times were the following:  Harvey Madison, Joseph Vignos, unknown Sharpe, William Street, Joseph Booth, James Little, John McNiel, John Hamilton & Son and Emert & Son.  The earliest physicians in the place were George Mayfield, J. W. Wheeler and G. W. Caldwell, the last named being still in the village.  Strong efforts were made by the citizens of the village and surrounding country to induce the Wabash Railway Company to run their road through the town, but without avail.  The road was built two and a half miles west, and, together with the growing town of Litchfield, proved a death blow to the business interest of Zanesville, as it began to wane from that time.  The merchants moved their stores to more eligible places, shops were closed, mechanics sought more remunerative fields of labor and a general decay fastened itself upon the once prosperous village.  The post office was taken away in the year 1881.  George Hamilton was the last Postmaster.  The business of the place at present is represented by one small grocery store and a blacksmith shop.  What few buildings remain are old, time-worn and present a very dejected appearance, and the time is not far in the future when the village is destined to disappear entirely. 


Several incidents of tragic nature have transpired at this town at different times during its history, two of which are worthy of mention.  In the year 1853, Andrew Nash and a man by the name of Lockerman had an altercation brought on by the too free use of whisky, during which the former stabbed the latter in a very brutal manner.  Lockerman died immediately, and Nash, becoming alarmed, fled the county.  Detectives were placed on his track, and succeeded, after several weeks' diligent search, in finding him in Arkansas, where he was arrested, brought back to Carlinville, tried and sentenced to be hanged.  A petition was put in circulation by his friends, praying the Governor to commute the sentence to imprisonment for life, which was accordingly done, but before the prisoner was made aware of this step in his behalf, a mob, or rather the appearance of a mob, gathered about the jail one night, which so frightened the poor fellow, that, rather than fall in to their hands, he hanged himself with a sheet, which had been twisted into a rope and made fast to a beam overhead.  Dr. Mayfield and a man by the name of Hardy had been enemies for a number of years,and the former took occasion to insult the latter whenever they chanced to be thrown together.  They met one day in the highroad, and, as usual, Mayfield threw out some of his taunts, which provoked several spirited replies from Hardy, whereupon the former alighted from his buggy and gave Hardy a sound horse-whipping.  A few days afterward, while the latter was passing the hotel, Mayfield came out of the house and commanded him to halt; he was told to mind his own business, which answer so exasperated the Doctor that he drew a revolver and fired, some say directly at Hardy, while others contend that the shot was only for the purpose of frightening him.  Hardy stepped around a corner of the building, drew out an old-fashioned horse pistol, with which he had armed himself, came back and fired directly at his enemy, the shot taking effect in his side.  Mayfield returned the fire with two shots, neither of which took effect, and then fell.  He was carried into the hotel, where he expired within a very short time.  Hardy was arrested, tried and acquitted on the ground of self-defense.  This occurred in the year 1854.

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