The soil is adapted to agricultural pursuits in a very remarkable degree. Not only in the bottom and table lands is the black loam deep and rich, but the uplands are also equally productive. Of the 310.4 square miles, or 198,675 acres of land in the county, there were in 1878, 168,282 in cultivation, against 134,173 acres in 1870. Of this, 63,286 acres were in corn, yielding 1,875,096 bushels. The same year, 1878, there were 8,987 acres in winter wheat, yielding 125,149 bushels; 891 acres in spring wheat, yielding 6,244 bushels; 8,352 acres in oats, producing 263,666 bushels; 10, 168 acres in timothy meadow, yielding 14,542 tons of hay; 303 acres in Irish potatoes, producing 15, 620 bushels; 1,469 acres in apple orchards, yielding 56,157 bushels of apples. The acreage of grain raised in 1878 was not as large as usual, from the fact of the extreme wet weather in the early part of the season, preventing the cultivation of large amount of the flat and low bottom-land. Beside this, winter wheat has been such an uncertain crop for some years past, that little attention has been paid to it: but the yield per acre of what was sowed last year being so fine that the acreage the present year is almost double that of 1878, and the quality and yield are both much better. There are a variety of crops raised beside those named above, but those given are the most important.
The county is well supplied with the various kinds of stock, and for many years great pains have been taken to improve the quality by securing the best imported breeds. For a number of years, there was great profit in feeding cattle and hogs for the Eastern markets, and many of the cattle raised on the rich pasture-lands of "Little Menard" were shipped to European ports, and proved to be as rich and savory as the boasted beeves of the Old World. For a few years past, however, farmers have found but little profit in this department of labor, and raising cattle and hogs as a business is falling into desuetude. The price of pasture and the cost of raising corn, together with the Western competition in prices, render the cattle business very uncertain and dangerous, while the prevalence of hog-cholera for several years past, renders the business of hog-raising so dangerous that but little attention is given to it. In 1878, there were 5,961 head of cattle fatted in the county, the aggregate gross weight of which was 2,104,900 pounds. There were 1,089 milk-cows kept, from which was sold, beside the home consumption, 43,890 pounds of butter, 225 pounds of cheese, 15 gallons of cream and 2,300 gallons of milk. The same year, 18,902 hogs were fatted, the gross weight of which was 4,664,546 pounds; besides these, there were 22,495 hogs, big and little, died with cholera during the same year, the aggregate weight of which was 1,514,421 pounds. The sheep of the county yielded, in 1878, 19,689 pounds of wool. Of the horses, mules and asses in the county, we have no statistics later than 1870 that are reliable. There were then 6,840 horses and 921 mules and asses. Since that time, or six years, the attention of farmers has been turned largely to the improvement of the breed of horses. For this purpose, large sums have been expended in importing, from various portions of Europe, studs of the finest horses. The most popular breeds are, perhaps, the Norman and Clydesdale. In this short time, a marked improvement is observable in the stock all over the county.
The total valuation of farmlands, at the last census, was $7,944,895. The total farm products were estimated to be worth $2,237,505, and the livestock was valued at $1,617,389. This gives a total of $11,899,809 as the valuation of real estate, farm products and live stock, leaving out, however a number of minor matters that would aggregate no inconsiderable amount. This is distributed among a population of not more than 13,000 or 14,000 (only 11,735 in 1870), of whom only 8 were colored. The reader will bear in mind that, instead of the above estimates being exaggerated, those which were not taken from absolute official statistics taken in 1878, were taken from the census of 1870; hence the facts will fall considerable below the above figures. From 1860 to 1870, the increase of population in the county was about 23 percent; but for the last decade it will fall very far below this, as the emigration to Kansas and other parts of the West will equal, if not exceed, the immigration into the county, so that the population as given above may be too great.
Although this county covers but a small area of territory, yet there is no county in the State possessing finer natural advantages. As before intimated, pure, fresh, living water for man and beast, and for purposes of irrigation, is distributed in every part of the county; while the Sangamon River and Salt Creek afford abundance of water for driving manufacturing machinery, either by stream or by water power.
Inexhaustible deposits of bituminous coal of the best quality underlie the entire area, and at such a depth that it can be mined at the trifling cost. This coal is deposited in three layers, or strata, that have been worked, and Prof. Worthen, the State Geologist, says that the strata in this part of Illinois will all together make at least twenty-five feet in thickness. A tolerably correct idea of our wealth in this direction may be gained when we remember that miners estimate that in every foot of the vein in thickness, there are twenty million bushels, or one million tons to the square mile. Now, to say nothing of the twenty-five feet of strata of which Prof. Worthen speaks, let the reader contemplate the wealth that is hidden in the being that is now being worked. This layer averages over six feet in thickness; but, for safety, we will estimate it at six feet. This gives us 120,000,000 bushels or 480,000 tons to each square mile of area.
This, of itself, is a source of inexhaustible wealth. A writer in the London Quarterly Review said, not long since, that no people can succeed in the arts of Christian civilization without a supply of coal; and as it is essential to many classes of manufacture, and to the navigation of the ocean, and consequently to the commerce of the world, the statement does not appear to be extravagant. The same writer says that the paddle-wheels of European enterprise are constantly stirring up the dark waters of superstition in the East, and every Christian steamer that navigates those waters goes as a herald of Christian civilization and advancement; and the coal is thus becoming a grand and essential agent in the enlightenment of the world. Such were the stores of coal deposited tin the bowels of England, and her supply so inexhaustible - as supposed - that the expression, "carrying coals to Newcastle" has long been the manner of expressing the inexhaustibleness of the deposit. But present indications bid fair for it to become literally true, and also that the "coals carried to Newcastle" shall be from America. Thus we see that in respect to this source of wealth, this little county is behind none of her neighbors. Some seven or eight coalmines are being operated successfully in the county: the most of them, in fact, nearly all, are in the immediate vicinity of the town of Petersburg. In addition to the fact that we thus keep the price of this article at home, it also affords employment for a large number or laborers, and in the same proportion, it furnishes market of our produce. The coal interests are just beginning to be developed here: but the time is not far in the future when this will be an important branch of industry here. The first regular coal-shaft was opened by Elijah Taylor, in the southeast part of town, in the fall of 1865. Since that time, the several shafts near town and that of Tallula have been opened.
Stone is not as plentiful in the county as could be desired, yet there are some quarries that, when fully opened, will be of great value. A large field on Rock Creek is under-laid with fine strata of limestone, lying near the surface in many places, and is finely adapted to building purposes. These quarries have never been properly opened, though great quantities of stone have been taken out along the hillsides where the ledge crops out; but the time is not far in the future when they will be properly opened. Limestone is also found on the Sangamon River at Old Salem, and also at Petersburg. Near the east end of the highway bridge over the river at Petersburg, is a stratum of sandstone, though it is not yet known whether it is of a good quality, or of sufficient quantity to pay for working. Some have used this sandstone for foundations and cellar-walls, but some have fears that it will not resist the weight of the walls and the influence of the frost. There is rock in small quantities in other localities, but these named are the most important and promising.
Taking all the natural advantages of this county into account, no locality possesses more or better facilities for manufacturing enterprise. Here is the timber, the stone, the coal, the water, and as Mr. Hardin Bale has recently demonstrated, we have also a quality of clay for the manufacture of drain-tile that is equal to the best in the State, or elsewhere. Brick of an excellent quality are also made here in abundance. Taking all these facts together, it is strange that these advantages have not been utilized before the present time. The vast amount of agricultural implements purchases every year by our citizens, takes out vast sums of money, for which we have but little return made. The plows, reapers, planters, threshers, wagons, buggies, etc., that are annually purchased, cost a vast sum. If our advantages were utilized, not only would all this money be kept in our midst, but other great advantages would accrue to us. A market would be created here at home for our surplus timber, which is not rotting in vast quantities all over the county; a demand would be made for greater quantities of coal, and this would employ a great number of laborers; the erection of these factories would create a demand for stone and brick, and sand, and lime; then all these, so well as the timber to manufacture, must be delivered on the ground, thus giving employment to a great number of men and teams; and last, but not least, this would call together great numbers of laborers and mechanics, who, bringing their families with them, would improve our towns, and create a market at home for all the products the soil produced by our farmers. Surely our people will not remain blind to this important matter many years longer.
The raising and fatting of cattle and hogs having ceased to bring remuneration to the agriculturists, they must look in some other direction for a reward for their toils.
The county is intersected by two railroads, the Jacksonville branch of the Chicago & Alton Railroad, and the Springfield & North-Western Railroad. A detailed account of the erection of these roads will be given as we advance in the history of the county, as giving facts in their proper chronological order will enable the reader to understand and retain them to a much better advantage. Having thus hastily glanced at the resources and advantages of the county, we are now prepared to enter into the history of the (early settlements).