Page 297Transcribed by: Jeanie Lowe
As noted in the general history, the set for the formation of Menard County was passed at the Legislative session of 1838-39. The new county included the larger part of the present county of Mason, which was not set off until two years later. One of the first questions of agitation was the location of the seat of justice. New Market, Huron, Miller's Ferry and Petersburg were the contestants, and, after a short, but sanguinary struggle, it was decided in favor of Petersburg, and, in the spring of 1839, it became the capital of the county. Its competitors in the struggle for official greatness were long since submerged "neath the waves of dark oblivion," and few, except the grizzled pioneers who are left, know that such places ever existed in their county. From this time forward, Petersburg rapidly increased in population, and grew in importance.
After the formation of Mason, it was found that, by a favorable stroke of fortune, the county seat of Menard had been located very near its geographical center. For four years after the organization of the county, court was held in the sore of Grinsley & Levering. In 1843, the courthouse was erected, at a cost of $6,640. The old and time-worn building, with the moss of more than a third of a century growing upon its walls, still adorns the town, and though an eye sore to many, is, perhaps, more preferable to the majority than being encumbered with an exorbitant debt, contracted to supply a gorgeous edifice. It is the old Kentucky tobacco-barn style of architecture, and on a par with the courthouse built in this section of the State forty or fifty years ago. About the time the courthouse was built, a jail was erected, at a cost of $300. This served as a repository of the lawless until 1870, when a new jail was put up, of brick and stone, which cost about $22,000, and is a far more gorgeous building than the courthouse itself.
The coal interest of Petersburg has become an extensive business, and the mines now in successful operation in the immediate vicinity afford employment to a large number of men. The South Valley Shaft and the North Junction Shaft area among the most productive being worked. As the coal interest is more particularly mentioned in the county history, we will not dwell on it here. Suffice it to say, with the double advantage of coal in endless quantities and the waterpower afforded by the Sangamon River, there is no reason why Petersburg should not become a manufacturing town. The facilities are almost unbounded, and all that is necessary is to encourage enterprising businessmen and capitalists to locate in the place.
The Petersburg Woolen Mills are but a sample of the facilities presented by this locality for manufacturing enterprises. As an institution of considerable importance, it is appropriate that a description of their origin and progress should appear in the history of Petersburg. The present proprietor, Hardin Bale, a son of Jacob Bale, one of the pioneers of Menard County, built a carding machine at Salem about 1836-37. After Salem became extinct, he moved the establishment to Petersburg. Here he started up his wool-carding machine by horse or mule power. As trade and business increased, he added machinery and improvements until 1852, when he purchased an engine, enlarged his building and introduced a spinning-jack of 168 spindles and four looms. With these improvements, he commenced the manufacture of woolen goods, and added a storeroom to accommodate his increased business. In 1865, the entire building, including others adjacent, were destroyed by fire, involving a loss of nearly $150,000. Nothing daunted, he made immediate preparations to resume business, and being the owner of a large brick pork house, he at once placed all necessary machinery in it, consisting of a jack of 240 spindles, cards, fulling-mill and five looms. After a short season of prosperity, he was again, on the 22nd of February 1869, burned out, this time at a loss of $45,000. Again he set to work to rebuild, and in a short time after the conflagration, had still another fine woolen-mill in operation. About the first of May 1874, he leased it to C.P.Horner, who operated it for a time, when Mr. Bale again assumed control, and is now operating it successfully.
In company with his son, Mr. Bale commenced the manufacture of drain tile in 1878, and at this time is conducting an extensive business in this branch of industry. They manufacture drain tile of all the sizes in common use in this section of the country. When they first opened their factory, they used clay taken out of the hill near by, but now work the clay form the coal shaft, which makes, it is said, a better tile. Such enterprises as those given above, merely go to show the advantages possessed by this locality, and what a busy manufacturing little city this may become if it has a chance to develop its resources. Mr. Miller, in the general history of this work, speaks very intelligently upon this subject, and to his timely hints the attention of businessmen and friends of the town is directed.