Page 291Transcribed by: Jeanie Lowe
If the ghosts of some of the pioneers, whose settlement we have been noting in these pages, could rise, like that of Banquo's, imbued with power to observe the changes wrought since they first saw the country, their astonishment would doubtless exceed that of Rip Van Winkle's, when he awoke from his long nap in the Catskill Mountains and found himself no longer the loyal subject of George III., but the free and sovereign citizens of "the greatest country in the world." While white men came here, nearly sixty years ago, the forests were unbroken; the prairies were yet in their pristine beauty, fresh from the Creator's hand, and were the abode of the wolf and the wild deer. The canoe of the Indian was paddled up and down the "Sangamon," and its forests echoed the crack of his rifle, while the paths worn by his moccasined feet were the guiding trail of the emigrant. The flight of years has clothes those "verdant wastes" with flocks and herds, with waving harvest-fields and vast trail has become obliterated by the railway track, and the ox team and "prairie schooner" are displaced by the locomotive and the rushing train. The land-scape, where first the savage set his tepee and where his pale-face successor built his "pole cabin" or his "three-faced" camp, is now dotted with hundreds of happy homes, churches and schoolhouses; the silence broken by the Indian war-whoop and death song, now echoes to
"The laugh of children, the soft voice
Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn
Of Sabbath worshipers."
And these are not all. Many other changes and improvements have taken place, which these rude and honest pioneers never dreamed of in t heir most extravagant flights of fancy. They were content then with the old "Cary" or "barshare" plow, drawn by the patient ox, and were thankful if they had corn meal and wild-deer meat to satisfy the cravings of hunger. Their homes were cabins, built of poles or split logs, with puncheon or dirt floors, clapboard roofs and stick chimneys, and their beds were usually wild prairie grass, which honest toil and contentment rendered "soft as downy pillow are." Nor were the women idle spectators. They were in truth helpmates, and metaphorically they put their hands to the plow and, when occasion demanded, did not hesitate to do so literally. They spun and wove cloth, manufactured their own and their families' clothing. No doubt they were as happy then in their humble attire as their fair sisters of the present day are, when robed in silks and satins and sparkling with jewelry. But the pole cabin, the Cary and barshare plow, and the homely raiment are thins of the past and are buried beneath the years that have come and gone in rapid succession, while the panorama has been unfolding to view. Soon these "relics of barbarism" will be wholly forgotten. Even now, they are fast becoming fireside legends.
As is usually the case in township or precincts wherein are located county seats, the more important events center at the capital, leaving little of historic interest in the township at large. Thus it is in Petersburg. Beyond the mere fact of settling the country, the history of the precinct is mostly confined to Old Salem and to the county's metropolis. The first stores, mills, post offices, churches, schools, shops, etc., were established at these places. With a brief notice on one or two points of interest, we will pass to the history of the city.
The church history, as we have said, is given more particularly in the town of Petersburg. It is proper, however, that a notice of Baker's Prairie Church should be given in the precinct history. It is one of the old church organizations of the Baptist denomination in the county, and was organized about 1835, by Rev. John Antle. The first church was a log building, and served as both church and schoolhouse for a time, and stood two or three miles east of Petersburg, and about the same distance north of Tice's Station. In 1849-50, a frame church superseded the old log structure, and is still in use as a temple of worship for this pioneer society, Rev. H.P. Curry, who has been a frequently mentioned in this work as a Baptist preacher, at present administers to the spiritual wants of the Church. Another of the early churches of the precinct is the Methodist Church at Tice's Station, which will be noticed in connection with that place.
The railroads passing through this precinct are the Jacksonville Division of the Chicago & Alton and the Springfield & North-Western, which cross at the town of Petersburg. But, as they have been fully noticed already, we will not repeat their history here. Suffice it, they give the precinct and the town the benefit of transportation in any direction and to any market, and, indeed bring the best markets in the country to the people's very doors.
Petersburg Precinct is Democratic in politics, as is the entire county. During the war of the rebellion, it furnished many soldiers to the Union armies, and performed a good part to maintain the supremacy of the Government. But for a more complete record of these stirring events, the reader is referred to the war history of the county, which is given in a preceding chapter.
As the first schools taught in the precinct were in the present town of Petersburg, the school history is mostly given in that connection. The schools of the surrounding country are in a flourishing state, corresponding with those in other portions of the county. Comfortable houses are conveniently situated, and efficient teaches employed during the usual school term, so that a good common-school education is within the reach of all, and there remains no excuse for children growing up in ignorance.