Transcribed by: Ellen Booth.336
The early pioneers found none of the conveniences by which they are to-day surrounded. Naught but wild waste of country, fertile indeed, yet unsubdued. It was unbroken by the single habitation of civilized man, and was yet, the hunting-place of the red man of the forest. Without roads and without bridges, and far removed from the public marts, the incentives to engage in the tilling of the soil were few. Yet surrounded by the manifold annoyances which ever attend the early pioneer, in the love of that liberty which they earnestly desired to transmit to their children, and in the fond hope of one day possessing themselves of many of these broad, fertile acres, they erected their rude cabins and began their life-work. One thing which contributed largely to the success of the early settlers of this section was the inflexibility of purpose with which they set about making a home for themselves and their families. Though most of them were men of limited means, they were not of that class often found in the first settlement of a country, who, having made a slight improvement, are ever ready and waiting for an offer to sell out and again move forward to the frontier.
There are many here to-day, an abstract of whose title is couched simply in the patent from Government to their father, and in the deed from father to son. Not a few hold their title direct from the Government, over the signature of John Quincy Adams. The difficulties and inconveniences endured by these early settlers were such as would appall the heart of the stoutest of the present generation. Their milling was obtained at points 100 miles distant, and supplies for the family were obtained from a like distance. Mr. William Primm relates that his father used to go to mill at St. Louis, distant 120 miles. Mills, however, were established in quite an early day on Salt Creek, and at points on the Sangamon. The history of the earliest mill in the precinct belongs in the history of the village of Athens and will be given in that connection.
The first post office, established north of Sangamon, was at the house of Matthew Rogers, and was known as Rogers’ Post Office. The exact date of its establishment cannot now be ascertained, but was probably not later than 1826-27. The mail at that time was carried on horseback from Springfield to Lewistown by way of Rogers, Walker’s Grove and Havana, and was known as the Spoon River Route. John Renfro was mail carrier on this route for a long time. At that date, four weeks were consumed in the transmission of a letter from New York to this point. The office continued to be kept at the house of Mr. Rogers until the laying-out of Athens, when the name was changed from Rogers to that of the village, and it was removed there. Henry C. Rogers, after attaining his majority, succeeded his father as Postmaster and held the position a number of years. At this office, among others who received mail matter for quite a while was our late martyred President, Abraham Lincoln. He came to the office from Salem on horseback, when he did not make the trip on foot, which he often did. Mr. Rogers says, if he had been at that time commanded to shoot at a future President of America from among the number that frequented the office, he should have turned his gun upon many another before singling out the long, lank youth from Salem.
The first school in the precinct was kept by J. A. Mendall, in a cabin near the residence of Henry C. Rogers. Mendall was an Eastern man, finely educated and a successful teacher. The only drawback to his usefulness in the community was the fact that he was too fond of the flowing bowl, and often indulged in a spree to the annoyance of his patrons. The last account had of him here he had located in Peoria where he was engaged in the study of law. Henry C. Rogers was himself an early pedagogue in this section, and taught in the days when it was fashionable for the “Master” to “board around” and when scraps of old copy-books greased with lard were used for the admission of light. But these primitive temples of learning have long since passed away, and we find the precinct dotted over to-day with houses well adapted to the wants of the age, and more advanced and cultivated tastes of society. The citizens in and around Indian Creek, recognizing the need of a higher education for their children than could be obtained at the common schools, conceived the idea of establishing a school of a high grade in their midst. To this end, individual subscriptions to the amount of $3,000 were secured, and, in 1856, the North Sangamon Academy was erected. The building is a substantial brick, two stories high, and situated most eligibly in the edge of Indian Creek timber. Located as it is in a grove of native forest-trees and where they are: “Books is the running brooks, sermons in stone, And good is everything.”One would naturally infer that the enterprise would meet with merited success. Such, we are glad to state, has been its history so far. During the first years of its existence, it drew patronage from points as far distant as Jacksonville. A boarding-house was erected for the accommodation of foreign students, and for a number of years was well patronized. Prof. D. J. Strain was the first Principal and held the position nine years. The interests of the school have been in charge of Prof. W. B. Thompson for the past year, in whose hands its former good reputation has not been permitted to suffer. A neat cottage residence for the use of the Principal was erected a few years ago at a cost of some $1,400. The first merchant in the precinct was Harry Riggin, who opened a small stock of goods at his farm residence as early as 1825-1826. This was a matter of great convenience, as, prior to its establishment, the nearest trading-point was Springfield. To that point and to Beardstown the produce of the farmer was taken to market and the supplies for family consumption were obtained. But as year succeeded year in rapid flight, population increased, villages sprang into existence as if by magic, conveniences multiplied on every hand and the trials and difficulties with which the early 338 pioneer was wont to contend became things of the past.