1912 History of Southern Illinois

Union county is one of the older counties, having been organized January 2, 1818. It was previously in Johnson county. The wonderful resources of Union county are yet almost wholly undeveloped. The great wealth in the soil is only recently becoming known, and the mineral wealth is just beginning to be understood. The county lies on the divide of the Ozarks. Cobden on the Illinois Central is the highest point of the road in the Ozark region. Just a few miles northwest of Cobden is Alto Pass which is the highest point on the M. & O., and eastward in the edge of Johnson is Ozark station, the highest point on the Paducah division of the Illinois Central, and to the south and west is Tunnel Hill, where the Big Four pierces the Ozarks an eighth of a mile, the only tunnel in Southern Illinois.
In these hills are hidden wealth that it may take time to reveal. And on their sides are fruit orchards which yield their owners thousands of dollars.
Union county as it is now bounded, had for its first settlers two families, Abram Hunsaker and George Wolf. These two families had descended the Ohio to Fort Massac in the year 1803 and had spent some time along the Cache and were probably on their way to Kaskaskia. They staid over night near where Jonesboro now is. The next day they killed a bear and a wild turkey, and as the water was good they decided to stay, and in a few days they were building their future homes. For three years these two families were alone in the forest. In 1805 David Green built a cabin in the Mississippi bottoms. He was from Virginia.
Settlers were coming to points along the Ohio and the Mississippi, but none others came into Union county prior to 1809 when the Lawrences and Clapps came into the south part of the county and settled on Mill creek. Other early settlers were John Grammer and Wm. Alexander, who had to do with the founding of America in Alexander county. John Grammar settled south of the present Jonesboro. George James came in 1811 and Governor John Dougherty came with his parents who were fleeing from the "shakes" of the earth at New Madrid. By the close of the War of 1812 the immigrants began to come in large numbers. Among the new names following the war of 1812 are Patterson, Harriston, Whitaker, Parmelia, Butcher, Crafton, Menees, Littleton, etc. Jacob Lingle may have come as early as 1807. James McLain came about 1810.

By 1818 there were scores of settlers within the limits of the county as it is today. The new county seat was to be a town to be called Jonesboro and was to be located on the northwest quarter Section 30, township 12, range 1. John Grammar gave the land for the capitol of the county.
The first court met in George Hunsaker's house on March 2, 1818, and accepted John Grammar's gift of land for the county seat. The town grew slowly. "Peck's Gazetteer" for 1836, gives the town twenty-five families, seven stores, one tavern, one lawyer, two physicians, two ministers, one carding machine, etc. The court house was a frame building and two stories high. The jail was a brick structure. The court house stood in the center of the square from which point the land slopes away in every direction.
Probably the first school was taught south of Jonesboro near a spring by a man named Griffin; and later the school was taught by Winstead Davie and by Willis Willard.
The coming of the Willards to Union county in 1820 was an event full of meaning for the county. Jonathan Willard came to Cairo in 1817. He stopped at Bird's Point only a short time. From here he went to Cape Girardeau where he soon died, leaving his widow Nancy and four children Elijah, Willis, Anna, and William. Mrs. Willard came to Jonesboro in 1820. The oldest son, Elijah, was a young man when he came to Jonesboro, but he immediately began the life of a business man. He began life as a clerk and built up a business under the title of Willard & Co. that reached sales of $100,000 per year. He constructed the graveled road across the Mississippi bottom to the river at Willard's Landing. This point is almost due west of Jonesboro, nine miles. The road from Jonesboro to Willard's Landing was the best road of its length in Illinois. Here at the landing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise was landed, destined for the great wholesale house in Jonesboro of Willard & Co. Elijah died in 1848 and his business fell into the hands of his brother, Willis Willard. Willis became very wealthy and at his death was said to be worth half a million dollars.
Willis Willard was public spirited. He built substantial houses, both residences and business blocks in Jonesboro. He built in 1836, the first steam saw mill in the county. In 1853 he built a seminary for young ladies in Jonesboro at his own expense. He brought from Boston two lady teachers, and this seminary flourished for many years, and supplied a very pressing need of the people of this region of Illinois. "Mother Willard" lived to be 100 years old, lacking less than two months. She died in 1874.
Another family that greatly affected life in southern Illinois was the Hackers. Colonel John S. Hacker came to Jonesboro in 1817 and was identified with the interests of Union county till his death in 1878. He served in the general assembly, in the Mexican war, was a warm friend of Lincoln though of different political faith, was a forty-niner, surveyor of the port at Cairo from which he was removed by President Buchanan because Hacker was a Douglas Democrat. He was assistant doorkeeper of the house of representatives in 1856-7. His sons were prominent citizens.
Union county is a vegetable and fruit growing county. In 1860 an express agent carried to Chicago the first express package of fruit ever sent out of the county. This was in May, 1860. Now hundreds of carloads of fruit and vegetables are sent to Chicago every year. Often two or three cars will be shipped every day from some of the smaller villages along the Illinois Central. The road runs what is called the Fruit Express. Berries can be picked as late as 4 o'clock of an afternoon, be shipped at 5 o'clock p. m., and be on Water street at 9 o'clock the next morning or satisfying some epicure in the hotel at that hour. The following is somewhat the order in which the fruits and vegetables come into the market: Rhubarb, asparagus, raspberries, strawberries, radishes, onions, peas, beans, early apples, cherries, gooseberries, peaches, potatoes, blackberries, pears, sweet potatoes, winter apples, and in midwinter cold storage apples and sweet potatoes.
It is no uncommon thing to find four or five thousand barrels of apples and sweet potatoes in storage in any of the towns or villages. The Caspar brothers, living between Anna and Cobden marketed 100,000 baskets of apples in Chicago in 1911, the growth from one orchard.
There is no coal in Union county. Her mineral wealth is to be found in her great quarries, kaolin and silica mines. The development of these mineral resources has just begun. Considerable lime is being burned and silica mills are located at Jonesboro and near Willard's Landing.
Many springs abound and many of these have medicinal properties. Saratoga Springs are located on the third principal meridian at the northwest corner of township 12, range 1, west. The story of the effort to make these springs attractive is truly pathetic. Dr. Penoyer bought 160 acres of land including these springs in 1838. He laid off the town of Western Saratoga, built hotels and bath houses, advertised and waited for people to come. His prices of lots were beyond reason, and nobody bought.
People came by hundreds from many states. They camped out and drank the water. It was thought to be wonderful in its curative power. In course of time the hotels went down, bath houses decayed, and today only the remnants of old buildings are to be seen. The precious water still flows.
In the west part of the county is Bald Knob, a young mountain of considerable note. It is about three miles from Alto Pass. From its top a view of the country for many miles may be obtained.
Perhaps the most noted political event that ever occurred in Union county was the great Lincoln and Douglas debate, which is described quite fully elsewhere.
The principal towns are Jonesboro, the county seat, Anna the seat of the Southern Illinois Hospital for the Insane and the location of Union academy, a school supported by the Presbyterian church. Cobden, a cultured town on the Illinois Central at the highest point of the road, Alto Pass, on the Mobile & Ohio, Douglas, a fruit and vegetable shipping point and smaller country villages and post offices.

Extracted 10 Apr 2017 by Norma Hass from A History of Southern Illinois, published in 1912, Volume 1, pages 541-545.

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