Lost town of Circleville featured in WEEK-TV segment

The lost Tazewell County town of Circleville, and the town’s most (in)famous residents, the Berry Gang, are the subject of a special segment by WEEK-TV weeknight anchor Caitlin Knute which aired during the 10 p.m. news on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016:

SPECIAL REPORT – Circleville: A Lost Town and its Most Infamous Residents

Circleville was previously the subject of a weblog post here:

The lost town of Circleville

Click on the “Circleville” tag below for other mentions of this town at “From the History Room.”

The old Tazewell County Courthouse Block is shown in this detail from an "Aerial View of Pekin," a unique map that was printed in 1877. The old Courthouse, which stood from 1850 to 1914, is near the middle of this image. To its left are two buildings -- at the corner of Fourth and Elizabeth was a building that held county offices for elected officials such as county clerk, recorder of deeds, etc.  Just below that, at the corner of Fourth and Court, is the old Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff's Residence (which was replaced in 1891 -- today it's the location of the McKenzie Building, which was built as a new jail in the 1960s).  Since this map was drawn in 1877, it's only eight years after Bill Berry's lynching in 1869, which took place outside the jail at the corner of Court and Fourth.  Note that there are four trees represented in front of the jail -- there's no telling which of them was Berry's gallows tree.

The old Tazewell County Courthouse Block is shown in this detail from an “Aerial View of Pekin,” a unique map that was printed in 1877. The old Courthouse, which stood from 1850 to 1914, is near the middle of this image. To its left are two buildings — at the corner of Fourth and Elizabeth was a building that held county offices for elected officials such as county clerk, recorder of deeds, etc. Just below that, at the corner of Fourth and Court, is the old Tazewell County Jail and Sheriff’s Residence (which was replaced in 1891 — today it’s the location of the McKenzie Building, which was built as a new jail in the 1960s). Since this map was drawn in 1877, it’s only eight years after Bill Berry’s lynching in 1869, which took place outside the jail at the corner of Court and Fourth. Note that there are four trees represented in front of the jail — there’s no telling which of them was Berry’s gallows tree.

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The lost town of Circleville

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in September 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

The lost town of Circleville

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In a recent Local History Room column, we reviewed the history of Green Valley, which is the largest community in Sand Prairie Township. However, as noted in that column, prior to the founding of Green Valley, the title of largest community in the township belonged to Circleville.

Those who might wish to visit Circleville today will search for it in vain – the village is long gone, the land upon which once stood houses and businesses and streets ploughed under. The community was located a few miles southeast of South Pekin. Circleville Road, which used to be East Street in Circleville, is still there, but other than that all that remains of Circleville today is the Prettyman Burial Ground, the old cemetery that was located just south of town. If you’d like to pay your respects to those buried there, you can follow these directions, found at the Illinois Ancestors website:

“Starting from Pekin, at Koch and 14 street, travel south on 14th for about 6 miles, to Townline Road. Turn east (left) on Townline to Pfanz Rd. and travel 1/2 a mile. Travel south (right) on Pfanz Rd. for about  1/2 a mile. The cemetery will be on the left in the middle of a cornfield between Pfanz and Circleville Roads. Or you may take Route 29 south from Pekin to Townline Rd. Then east on Townline.”

If you do visit the Prettyman Burial Ground, don’t forget to wear your clod-stompers.

The previous column on Green Valley’s history quoted a passage about Circleville from page 13 of ”Green Valley, Illinois, Celebrates 125 Years! – 1872-1997.” Here again is what it says about Circleville, which was located in Section 1 of Sand Prairie Township, at the township’s northeast corner:

“This was the first town in the township. It was a stagecoach stop on the old stage line from Springfield to Pekin. As the inn was on rather high ground overlooking the Mackinaw bottom and surrounding prairie, when it came time for the stage to arrive the innkeeper would go upstairs, look out the window to see the coach, then rush downstairs to put potatoes on to boil for the meal. Another story was the open well where they used to cool the beer during the summer. One time someone placed the beer in a sack and when they went to draw it out of the well, the sack broke and the beer fell into the well.”

Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” page 617,” has the following to say about the first settlers of Section 1 of the township, including the founding inhabitants of Circleville. We recently reviewed the life and death of one of those settlers, Major Isaac Perkins:

“Elisha and Major Isaac Perkins settled on sec. 1, about 1824. Both of these gentlemen were active, enterprising pioneers, and were prominent in the early history of the county. Major Perkins was killed in the famous battle of Stillman’s Run, during the Black Hawk war. Isaac [sic – Elisha] moved to Iowa about twenty-five years ago. They came here from near Shawneetown, Ill. Gideon Hawley came from the East and settled on the section with the Perkins’. He died on the farm where Jas. Hamson now lives . . . Jno. Sommers was from North Carolina; he erected his cabin on section 1 . . . John Vancil was among the first to come; he settled on section 9, and is the only one of the earliest pioneers of this township now living. He resides in the town of Circleville. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1798. When he was but two years of age, his parents moved to Kentucky. Here he remained until he was nineteen years old, when he was married to Miss Nancy Tuley, who was born in North Carolina, Jan. 20, 1800. Her parents also moved to Kentucky when she was a child. Shortly after their marriage they came to Illinois, and to Tazewell county.”

On page 620 of his history, Chapman in passing mentions the founding of Circleville:

“There are two towns in the township. One of them, Circleville, is located upon section 1. It was laid off Aug. 7, 1837, by Spencer Field and E. M. Perkins. It will be seen, therefore, that Circleville is one of the oldest towns in the county.”

Circleville is perhaps best remembered as the home of the Berry Gang, a group of horse thieves and cattle rustlers who committed numerous crimes in Tazewell County during the lawless and violent 1860s. The core of the gang were four brothers of the Berry family, William (“Bill”), Isaac (“Ike”), Emanuel (“Man”) and Simeon (“Sim”). The story of their crimes and how the law caught up with them, leading to Bill Berry’s lynching in Pekin on July 31, 1869, is told at length in the book “Lynch Law,” written by retired Pekin police officers Jim Conover and James Brecher. The book includes photographs taken around 1939 of two buildings of Circleville that were key locations in the story – McFarland’s Saloon, where the Berry gang plotted an ambush of the lawmen who were seeking to arrest then, and Ditmon’s Grocery and Tobacco across the street from the saloon. Both structures, which were on East Street (Circleville Road) are long gone, and even by 1939 had long been abandoned.

What happened to Circleville that caused it to die? It could be that the bad reputation and painful memories from the Berry Gang days made it the sort of place where people preferred not to live and businessmen preferred not to invest money. Be that as it may, this pioneer prairie community thrived while it was on the old stage coach line, but during the golden age of railroads, communities that hoped to prosper needed a railroad. Being bypassed by the rail lines, in time Circleville dwindled and faded away.

image0000

The layout of the streets and lots of old Circleville are shown in this plat map. The Prettyman Burial Ground is indicated by the cross at the bottom.

#berry-gang, #circleville, #elisha-perkins, #green-valley, #isaac-perkins, #preblog-columns, #tazewell-county-history

Green Valley’s long and fertile history

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in May 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

Green Valley’s long and fertile history

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Recently this column took a brief look at the history of Creve Coeur, one of Pekin’s neighbors to the north, with the help of a published village history in the Local History Room collection of the Pekin Public Library.

This week we’ll turn our attention to one of Pekin’s neighbors to the south, Green Valley, with the help of another published history in the Local History Room collection – the Green Valley quasquicentennial volume, “Green Valley, Illinois, Celebrates 125 Years, 1872-1997,” also titled, “Quasquicentennial: Green Valley, Illinois, 1872-1997.”

Green Valley is a small rural community in the south of Sand Prairie Township, not too far north of Malone Township. As a small rural community, its history naturally would not be limited to the families and events of the village, but would include the landowners and farmers in the surrounding area. Consequently, the quasquicentennial volume puts a spotlight not only on Green Valley, but also on Sand Prairie and Malone townships.

Small though it is, Green Valley is the largest community in Sand Prairie Township. Prior to the beginning of Green Valley’s history, however, the title of largest community in the township was held by the vanished village of Circleville. Sand Prairie Township originally was called Jefferson Township, and it used to be larger than it is today, encompassing parts of what is now Malone Township. Around 1824 – the year Jonathan Tharp built his log cabin at the future site of Pekin – white settlers first came to the future site of Circleville, in Section 1 of the former Jefferson Township.

“This was the first town in the township,” the Green Valley history says. “It was a stagecoach stop on the old stage line from Springfield to Pekin. As the inn was on rather high ground overlooking the Mackinaw bottom and surrounding prairie, when it came time for the stage to arrive the innkeeper would go upstairs, look out the window to see the coach, then rush downstairs to put potatoes on to boil for the meal. Another story was the open well where they used to cool the beer during the summer. One time someone placed the beer in a sack and when they went to draw it out of the well, the sack broke and the beer fell into the well.”

Circleville later became notorious as the favored hangout of the Berry Gang, a group of outlaws led by four brothers, William, Isaac, Emanuel and Simeon Berry, who had a homestead just outside of Circleville. The criminal career and ultimate doom of the Berry Gang is told in “Lynch Law,” a book authored by local historians and retired law enforcement officers Jim Conover and James Brecher.

An 1864 atlas map of Tazewell County shows Circleville in the northeast corner of Sand Prairie Township, but one will search in vain for Green Valley on that map. In 1864, the land that would become Green Valley was then the Dickson and Schureman farmsteads. (Other long-established and familiar family names of Sand Prairie Township include Woodrow, Deppert and Talbott. The wealthy Cummings family of Pekin also used to own land in the township.) Nine years later, the 1873 atlas map of Sand Prairie shows both Circleville and Green Valley. But visitors to Sand Prairie Township today will find no trace of Circleville, which slowly dwindled away after the heyday of the Berry Gang.

“The land where Green Valley now stands was purchased from the government in 1852 by Samuel Schureman for $3 an acre,” the Greek Valley history says. “He built a one-room house on the side of the present Schureman homestead. Another house was where the 1912 grade school was later built. A Schureman tale is told of the days when wild game ran through the prairie grass and prairie chickens were so thick that when they flew to roost in the evenings on the rail fences, the rail could not be seen for the number of chickens covering it.”

On Oct. 19, 1872, the unincorporated village of Green Valley was platted out by Samuel Schureman. The little settlement’s development was anchored by the Illinois Central Railroad, which was built in 1870, and the Smith-Hippen grain elevator, which was built in 1872. The village celebrated its centennial in 1972, commemorating the original platting by Samuel Schureman, but another centennial milestone is only three years away: March 11, 2016, will be exactly 100 years from the date Green Valley was incorporated as a village.

The community formerly boasted its own newspaper, the Green Valley Banner, which was founded by Clark Nieukirk in the late 1890s and which continued to be printed until it fell victim to the Great Depression in the 1930s. Microfilms of the Green Valley Banner from July 15, 1897, to Dec. 28, 1922, are available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room.

#berry-gang, #circleville, #green-valley, #preblog-columns, #schureman, #tazewell-county-history