The location of Menard County being so remote from large rivers, the roads of course, poor, and railroad transportation being then unborn, it is not to be wondered at if the early settlers did seriously ponder the navigation of the Sangamon. We are to bear in mind another fact, viz.: the forests being then undisturbed, the ground untrampled by stock and unplowed, and the flat prairies undrained, it follows, of course, that the average amount of water flowing in the river was at least a third more than at present; for, there being more vegetation then than now, there was then a greater rain-fall. Also, the ground being untrampled, the rain all sank in the earth and passed off regularly by springs, feeding the river constantly; whereas now the ground is hard, and the fall of rain runs off with a dash, The result of this is that we have greater freshets and lower waters than they had in an early day.
Not only was the matter pondered, but the experiment was absolutely made more than once. Some gentlemen in or near to Springfield, being very desirous for some lumber, conceived the plan of shipping it up from Alton by way of the rivers. A steamer was found at Alton of the desired size. It was duly laden with lumber, and started on its long voyage. The season was favorable to them, the waters being extremely high, as this was 1831, the spring following the deep snow. All went swimmingly until they reached the inevitable Salem dam of Cameron and Rutledge. The water was nearly level over the dam, and so they tried to run over it. Unfortunately, they hung; but, removing a part of the cargo, and taking a cable above and fastening it to a tree, and working the rope on the capstan, by steam and ropes combined they pulled over. From this on, they had no more trouble. It went as far as Cotton Hill, which is due east of the city of Springfield. The boat soon after returned in safety to the Illinois River. The name of this first steamer up he Sangamon was the "Talisman."
Five years later, in 1836, the steamer Utility came up the same river as far as Petersburg; but, owing to the rough usage it received coming up, and the low stage of the water, the Captain was afraid to start back to the Illinois with it. He sold the Utility, as he could not utilize it, to Col. John Taylor, one of the early pioneers of Petersburg. Mr. Taylor built the first frame house that was ever in Petersburg or Menard County, of the debris of this boat; the first glass windows in the town came out of this boat, and the first steam mill ever in the town or county was run by the engine belonging to it. One of the residents of the town at the time says that there was not a house in the town that was not ornamented with some part of the Utility. Certainly, the primitive "burghers" utilized it to pretty good purpose.
Some of the old citizens affirm that a third steamboat came up as far as this place; while other positively deny it. If such a vessel did visit the "wharf" of Petersburg, its name was never know to the people, or is entirely forgotten. It is true that the citizens sent Maj. Hill to Cincinnati, and had a boat built expressly "for Sangamon River ports." The boat was built and came on, but it was too large, and never made a voyage, as some say, but others say that it came to Petersburg and was sunk here in the raging Sangamon. So much for navigation.