Ford County

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The trip through the South-Central Illinois took two days because of how long it took to travel about the backroads.  Therefore, I took a special trip to Ford County to get the last courthouse on the trip.

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Ford County – Paxton

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The Ford County Courthouse is like many in the area rebuild in the early ‘00 of the 20th century out of red brick and concrete.  The copper dome is understated in the building and actually fits the structure better than most.

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The square is a mix of residential and government structures.  Unfortunately the grounds are marred by a large communications tower and ugly jail built directly behind the building.  The town itself is an non-descript rural railroad community that didn’t seem have anything of note.

Rantoul

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Rantoul is another mid-sized town in Ford.  It features and nearly abandoned Air Force base that is open to the public for urban exploration.

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Unlike the grounds, the hangars are in decent shape and are home to private aircraft as well as storage.

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In the center of the air base houses a small commons area with a monument to the flyers that were once stationed here.

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Unusual statue made of wood and stone.

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There is an air museum located at the base, but it was closed when I toured the area.

Central Illinois Travels

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I took a short trip around central Illinois to track down four more county courthouses.  The area of South-Central Illinois is flat and rather boring.  The main features are the U of I, corn, more corn, and some soybeans. 

Piatt County – Monticello

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The turn of the 20th century court house of Piatt County is a nicely maintained brick and concrete structure in the middle of Monticello’s town square.  For a courthouse, it is understated with minor near the roof and several fake columns above the building entrances.

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The grounds the courthouse sits one is lifted about a foot or two off the square and nicely lined with trees and well maintained lawn.

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Plain entrance spiffied with a few potted plants.

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The near ubiquitous plaque of Lincoln in that pops up in Central Illinois.

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The downtown geared towards the areas upscale residents and has stores for the occasional tourist.  Even the few vacant buildings are well maintained.

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Steeple Gallery is a coffee house/gallery off the square in a converted church.

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Monticello likes converting its local churches.  This is Monarch Brewing Company.

The town seems to be a bedroom community for Champaign-Urbana given how upscale and well kept the town seemed to be.

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A random horse head statue.  Like the rain stain the marble the metal.

 

Bement

Bement is a small town south of Monticello.  I stopped because the entire town was out in force celebrating the Old Glory Festival.

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When milling through the festivities, I notice the Bryant College Historic Site where Lincoln and Doulas discussed how to run their debates in 1858.  Such a tiny abode for even well off residents in rural 1850s America.

Moultrie County – Sullivan

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The Moultrie County courthouse was built around the same time the Piatt County one above with its brick and stone features.  It uses better materials with the façade a rich yellow marble likely taken from quarries closer to the Illinois River.

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The dome is a bit out of place compared to the rest of the building.  It is sided in metal with several working clocks at the top.

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The grounds feature several war monuments and this fountain.

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Keeping it real.

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An impressive Civil War Statue.


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The square is contains many and vacant buildings that haven’t been updated recently.  The bank has to neat walk up teller.  I love the font of the signage.

Amish

Once outside of town, I saw several Amish and Mennonites through out the backroads.

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A Hippy Memorial in Arcola.  Very unique considering that the area is somewhat conservative.

Douglas County – Tuscola

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The Tuscola County Courthouse sits in a residential area of town.  This was unique in my travels because the usual placement of government buildings are either in the town square or someplace just of the main road through town.


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It is built more or less like a US Post Office.  It screams that there are government institutions herein.  The west entrance as a cool glass windows above and written about the building in a Greek lettering font.

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The town felt more run down than most.  My guess is that the residents relocated towards the I-57 interchange.  Across the street is an abandoned church.

Champaign County – Urbana

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The Urbana County Courthouse is a mix of old and new.  The section containing the clock tower was built of red stone around 1901.   It looks like it should be a part of U of I just down the road.

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The newer section is a ugly attempt at keeping the decorum.  The plaza in front of the northern section is non-descript and plain.

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The bell from the old courthouse sits unloved behind the parking garage on the west side of the building.

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The town center is a mix a upscale eateries and boutiques and run down buildings.  This is a picture of abandoned Urbana Hotel and Conference Center attached to the dying Lincoln Square Mall.

Trip to the Mouth of the Illinois River

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On a stormy morning in June, I took off to see the counties following the Illinois River and to see where it stops at the great Mississippi.

Menard County – Petersburg

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The town of Petersburg is nestled near the Sangamon River.  This river valley gives the area a sense of height and beauty with the hills hiding the full size of the town in the beautiful forest. 

The Menard County Courthouse is a few blocks away from the river sitting in the middle of the town square.  The landscaping is rather pretty, it is one of the few that grows native flowers and trees.

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Built around the turn of the 20th century, it is rather imposing brick and concrete structure compared to the smaller commercial structures lining the square.

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The square is a mix of dying  establishments catering local tastes and a few small tourist shops that are only open during the weekend.  The later businesses seem to survive because Lincoln’s New Salem State Park is just down the South IL-123.

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An old school converted to residential and mixed use.  The wording on the central building was so faded that I couldn’t tell what the name was.  It was one of a number of closed school structures near the downtown signifying the slow decline in population in the area.

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Former home of Edgar Lee Masters, a poet and writer famous in the late 19th and early 20th century.

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The town of Petersburg doesn’t have a statue of Lincoln.  This is not surprising as just down the road, visitors can get their fill of his life at the state park noted above.  In the park there are many depictions of the man.  Boy do artists seem to revere him.  The statue above makes him look like Adonis.  True man’s man in frontier Illinois.  He is famous in the area as a surveyor before becoming a lawyer and president.

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The park is a reenactment of live around the time of settlement in Illinois.  Not being of interest to me as this area doesn’t have wifi, I took a quick look and moved on to the next town.

Cass County – Virginia

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The Cass County Courthouse is in the small town of Virginia.  Built in 1875, the locals couldn’t keep well enough alone with poorly added addition over the next 100 years.  The wings mar the interesting main section of the building.  The structure reminds me of a what you’d see on a southern plantations built around the same time. 

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On the side of the entrance shows the Ten Commandments.  I saw similar plaques in Carrolton and Carlinville.  These were all added around the same time in efforts to solidify the conservative nature of the area, although I am not sure when it happened.

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The square is a bit run down with many commercial buildings constructed around the same time as the courthouse.   The businesses that were left seemed busy unlike other towns I visited.  Given its remoteness in the wilds of corn and soybean plots, Virginia is likely a hub of activity for the rural residents.

Morgan County – Jacksonville

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The Morgan County Courthouse in Jacksonville is an impressive stone structure.   Built in 1868 of large limestone blocks, it looks like a cross between an Italian villa and a older catholic church. 

Oddly, it is a block away from one of the larger town squares I have seen that looks like the read center of the towns summer activities.   The plaques on the square says that after the second courthouse burned down, they decided to relocate it further west.

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The clock tower on the southeast side of the building.

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In place of the old courthouse, and impressive roman inspired statue to that solutes the end of slavery.  I actually found this a bit ironic since one of the major employers in the area is the Jacksonville Correctional Center.

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The Constitution and Bill of Rights in the town square.  The square is very well kept, with a stage and other park equipment.  The businesses around look like they cater to the local population.  Most of the buildings in the area seemed well kept even if they were vacant.

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Jacksonville is home to two small colleges and several specialized schools.  MacMurray College is a small private liberal arts college that was once women only.  Now it is the bright spot in an otherwise run down area of town.  It is not as bad as the barbed wire and high steel fences surrounding Knox College, but the area is more neglected than most college campuses I visit.

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Illinois College is the larger college in town.  This liberal arts college is nestled in an older well kept area of town.  The college quad reminds me of Illinois Wesleyan College in Bloomington but with a more southern flare in the architecture.

Scott County – Winchester

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Scott County Courthouse looks like the model southern Illinois courthouse.  Built in the late 19th century of brick surrounded by tin painted in a pretty pearl color.

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While the clock was added later, it still was broken.  Must has been because of the 1.21 gigawatt lightening strike it received is the past.

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When driving south of Springfield, Lincoln is not revered as much.  Instead, Stephen A Douglas becomes more of a historical figure.   On this spot in Winchester is where Lincoln got into politics after a debate about legalizing slavery in Illinois, which would go against the Missouri Compromise.  This argue culminated in the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

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The abandoned Winchester Hotel on the southeast side of the square is indicative of the state of the town.   Given its remoteness to larger communities, there is not much here to keep the youth from migrating away.

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On the way to Hardin, one needs a boat ride.  This is one of the two farriers that Illinois operates.

The drive down from Winchester to Hardin is one of the most beautiful in Illinois.  Their are many large farms surrounded by forested bluffs.  The farm land changes when moving south from Central Illinois.  The soil becomes sandier and there is more irrigation piping.  Since it is warmer, the crops are much further along.

Calhoun County – Hardin

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Calhoun is the least populated county in Illinois.  As such, their county courthouse looks more like a small church or elementary school.   From the outside, it looks new, but it is actually older than most.  The center section was built in 1848 and slowly expanded over time.

Hardin is a surprise after the rolling valleys north of it. The town is up against hills and looks more like it should be on the Mississippi River.

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After Hardin, it was off to the mouth of the Illinois River near Grafton Illinois.

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Where the Illinois meets the mighty Mississippi is much like any other location in Mississippi with bluffs surrounding wide flood plans.


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Look the lawnmower of my dreams!  This swag is just what I expect in a tourist trap.  Grafton is a tourist town, albeit a dying one.  I’d wager this is because it is hard to find since it is not on an Interstate and the fact there are so many nicer places to take vacations in the 21st century.  The area is ideal for fishing and hiking, but the town doesn’t offer much to those with kids.  Most of the vacationers around town were older married people without kids in tow.

Jersey County – Jerseyville

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The Jersey County Courthouse is an impressive limestone mansion married by its central tower.   The central tower looks like a mushroom sprouting up over the roof.  It is oddly colored and doesn’t match the decorum of either the rest of the structure or the other buildings surrounding the courthouse square.

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The counties closer to St Louis features Back the Blue signage,  This is a movement that shows support for the police that started after the problems in Ferguson.  Jerseyville showed the most support but it is likely there is strong support throughout the counties bordering St Louis where I haven’t gone yet.

Greene County – Carrollton

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Green County Courthouse sits in a large busy square in the center of town.  Like many others in the area, it is impressively built from the local limestone.  While traveling in the rural parts of Greene and Morgan counties, the bluffs in the area seemed extensively mined.  Many of the older buildings in the small towns in the area have similar construction.

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Scales of justice.


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Founder of the town, Thomas Carlin, a Democratic Governor of Illinois back in the 19th century.  The statue makes him look like a magician.   Other than this statue, their wasn’t much around town displaying his accomplishments.

Macoupin County – Carlinville

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Macoupin County Courthouse is built in true federal style using the local limestone instead of traditional granite.  The cast iron dome is a little worse for wear but it doesn’t detract from its grandeur.  Surrounding the buildings grounds are large blocks of limestone that used to house a iron fence that was dismantled  some time in the past.  I bet when the fence was up it made the place seem more like a castle grounds for a Duke than a place for judges.

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The veteran memorial is one of the better ones.  Focused around a brick walk way, it displays the name of all the fallen in all wars from 1812 through the present day.

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The old jail just to the south of the courthouse.  The entrance leaves no doubt for what it was originally used for.

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Just to the west is the Carlinville’s town square.  The buildings are mostly in tact with a mix of local watering houses and some touristy shops.  Some of the buildings maintain the limestone facades so common in the older commercial building found throughout the area.

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The town is home to Blackburn College, a small liberal art university.  Its moto Learn. Work. Earn. is very utilitarian though it has a Game Design major.  While on campus, there were many students milling about giving the place more life than the others I visited during the trip.

Sangamon County – Springfield

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Unlike the State of Illinois buildings in the area, the Sangamon County Courthouse looks stale and utilitarian.  Built in similar ways to modern courthouses such as Urbana, Lincoln, and Pontiac, its red brink and glass features make it unremarkable.  To make matters worse, the areas around the building are either vacant lots or run down commercial plots. 

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The front looks like some sort of sun capturing device.

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The Illinois Supreme Court building is built in typical federal style with long marble pillars set throughout its face.  Its is far less impressive than the capital building across the street.

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The seal statues in front on the north side are neat.

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The entrance on the west side of the building.

March County Courthouse Travel

In March, I started taking pictures of Illinois county courthouses.  The boring aim was to visit every county in Illinois.  Because most counties don’t have few interesting things in them outside another corn farm, the courthouses seemed like an interesting stopping point in each. 

Outside the few urban areas in Illinois, most courthouses are in the largest communities in the area and are the economic powerhouse of each (such as it is in a broke state.)

Outside Chicago area, which houses 2/3rds of the population, most counties have a low population density.  At least 1 in 3 have fewer than 25,000 souls.

DeWitt County – Clinton

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Clinton is home to the DeWitt County Courthouse.  Built in 1986, it is totally utilitarian.  It reminds me of my middle school, Carl Sandburg.

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It is not much to look at and is fairly depressing to look at.  I wouldn’t want to enter it to fight a traffic ticket.

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Unlike some other counties, they demolished their old building.  The square now houses a amphitheater, monument…and…

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Lincoln!

Overall, Clinton is a decently prosperous town.  The reason lay in the fact that it is home to the Clinton Nuclear Power Plant.  There is talk of it closing, so if this tax base closes, it could cause the town to dry up like so many out of the way places.

Macon County – Decatur

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If I was going to shoot a new 1984 or Brazil, this is where I’d go. The Macon County Courthouse is an imposing structure on the southeast part of the downtown.

Built in the 1940, it looks like a typical WPA structure being solid wall of concrete.  Given the size and shape of the windows, I bet the inside is is dark and dreary.

The clock on the building wasn’t working when I was their.  Kinda indicative of Decatur.  The town is a show piece of a run down Rest Belt city.  There are many abandoned and blighted building scattered throughout town.

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On the south side are the jail and a building that looks like a gym.

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Walking north from the courthouse, there is decent historic shopping district, with a statue of Illinois’s favorite man.

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A park in the downtown with a statue of our fallen heroes.

Christian County – Taylorville

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The Christian County Courthouse in Taylorville is a well maintained structure build about the turn of the 20th century.  It is one of the more common versions I’ve seen in Illinois as well as other states with a neat clock tower and large cathedral like windows on its top story.

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Unlike the Macon courthouse, the clock on the tower was working.

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It was still March when I visited but the grounds look well tended.

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The square was about 2/3rds full of shops.  It was not the most vibrant that I have seen.  There were few people on the street even being around noon on a Friday.  The establishments were aimed mostly towards local interests.

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The overall appearance of the building was decent.

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Of course Lincoln is here.

Montgomery County – Hillsboro

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Hillsboro was the first town where it felt like the south.  The buildings of the area have a southern flair similar to what I have seen in Kentucky or Virginia.  The old courthouse still stands in the town center.  Situated at the top of a hill, it and the grounds are well maintained.

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The new Montgomery County Courthouse is situated a little farther north of the historical version next to a cool church.

 

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Built in 1993, it looks more like a fire or police station.

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It is not much to look at.  It would be a building that I wouldn’t give a second thought to when exploring a town if Google Maps didn’t point it out.

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Hello Lincoln.

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The downtown is fairly vibrant.  This is likely because it is the largest town in the area.  The area is scenic meaning it is likely magnet for sportsman tourists.

Bond County – Greenville

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The Bond County Courthouse in Greenville was built in 1884.  It is smaller than many, looking more like a Gilded Age mansion rather than a courthouse.

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Situated on a rise, it towers over than builds surrounding the square.


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Fallen hero monument

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Picture of the post office on the southwest side of the square.  It looks like it was built around the same time.  The building of the square are well maintained with most of them built from 1880 to about 1925.

This trip was cut short.  I could only capture 5 counties.

County Courthouse Hunting in May

In early May, my friend Mike and I headed towards the Illinois River after a series of torrential spring rains to see the aftermath.

We ended up hiking around Chautaugua National Wildlife Refuge near Havana, IL about an hour south of Peoria.  The river in the area was flooded but walkable if you kept to the flood berms.

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The forest that was underwater closest to the main flow of the Illinois River.

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There was lots of wildlife sunning themselves around the area from snakes to this critter.

After the hike, I decided to check out a few courthouses to check off a few counties.

Mason County – Havana

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The original part of the courthouse was built around 1851 but when walking around the grounds, it was hard to see the old sections as it was updated sometime in the later half of the 20th century.  It looks more like a elementary school than a courthouse.


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The square grounds are large and open, a nice place to stroll.


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Given the grounds are so large, the war monuments are spread throughout the southern and eastern sides.

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The flag was at half mast since one a soldier died recently in Afghanistan.

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Another memorial to the fallen.

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Havana’s downtown is a typical run down river town.  About half of the buildings are empty.  The city hall is in an old century old bank building.  There was a eclectic  general store selling saltwater taffy.

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Next door to city hall was a run down theater so common in the small towns of Illinois.  I wonder if they were playing pro wrestling or actually had a troupe in town.

Fulton County – Lewistown

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The thing that separates the Fulton County Courthouse is the cool dome of some unknown metal.  I figured it was made of lead mixture since there were a lot of plaques about being stop along the lead road that was mined in the Galena and moved south.

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Built in 1897, it was in good repair built of impress slabs of stone.

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Close up of the dome. The clocks still work.

Illinois County Courthouses–June 2017

Early June saw my 3rd drive to capture picture of all 102 Illinois county courthouses.  It was an unusually bright and warm day, perfect for sightseeing.

Trip 3 Map

 

Logan County – Lincoln

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Built in 1905, the people of Lincoln still use their county courthouse set in the middle of the downtown square.  Unlike many of the courthouses in Central Illinois, it doesn’t look like it has been modified much from when it was originally constructed.  The plaza was originally home of a smaller courthouse that Lincoln seems to have used when he was a lawyer.

Overall, the site is in decent condition, even the four clocks at the top were still working.

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Picture of the west side.

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There is a bronze statue of its namesake.  As any Route 66 traveler can tell you, the town loves Lincoln.  This is one of the many portrayals of the man scattered throughout the town.

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The site features one of the better Civil War memorials I’ve seen.  Plain and distinct.

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Overall, like most of the small towns I have visited so far in Illinois, the square around the courthouse has seen its better days.  The buildings where about 2/3rds full, with mostly local establishments and some local artist areas.

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Neat little arcade style building on the south side of the square facing the courthouse.

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This is the Postville Courthouse that was originally in Mount Pulaski and moved to the town before after Lincoln become the county seat.  The original name of Lincoln was Postville, before it was renamed in the 1850s.  The building is a state historic site.  Like many others in Illinois, it needs a little TLC. 

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The world’s largest covered wagon.  Of course the top-hated man needs to be riding it.

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The town is trying to be a Route 66 tourist attraction, so of course there would be tacky historic buildings scattered throughout the town.

Tazewell County – Pekin

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On my way to Pekin, I passed an old high school in the dying town of Harness.  The town has seen its better days.  They didn’t even have the population to turn the building into a community center as more prosperous towns do on occasion.

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The Tazewell County Courthouse is an imposing structure built in 1916.  Like most of the public building of the era, it attempts to look like something from Greece. 

As a kid, I used to be impressed by this type of building.  Build solid and impregnable, it looks out of place among the run down side streets of the surrounding commercial district.

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Nothing says welcome like several artillery piece surrounding the building.

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The building sides have these impressive looking arches leading toward the side entrances.

 

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The grounds are well kept and rather beautiful.

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The front of the courthouse has many run down looking buildings.  Many are empty and have label scars of previous tenants.

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Given the size of the town, there was no one around.

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Wow, this must be the last pay phone in town.  It even still worked.

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Masonic temple on the south side of the court house. 

Peoria County – Peoria

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As suspected, I found the Peoria County Courthouse is the largest one I’ve seen so far.  Built in that 1960s brutalist architecture that people found so enlightening at that time it gives the area a lost in time feel. 

It is not only this building.  Much of Peoria’s downtown area looks this way, from the Busey Bank building to Caterpillar’s headquarters.  You can really tell that the cities height of growth was in the 1950 through the 1970s.  Now the city looks like many so many other Rust Belt cities.

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I am not sure if Lincoln ever practiced in town, but that doesn’t stop him from popping up in bronze.

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The employee entrance on the north side.

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The bell from the original courthouse that was on site from 1876 until 1962.  Too bad they didn’t keep the building.

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The WWII memorial on the south side.  In the background you can see  Caterpillar Headquarters.

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The overall building is nicely kept up to date.  The grounds is a little lackluster though.

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Large Civil War memorial built in the 1910s (I think.)  I is quite impressive, but needs a little up keep.

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Stark County – Toulon

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I was surprised that the Stark County Courthouse was so old, and still in use.  Built pre-Civil War Era around 1856, it is one of the older building that I have come access in my travels that is still in use.

Toulon itself is very small for a county seat.  Overall, Stark county has less than 6,000 people, so I assume there is no need for a larger structure.

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To the west side of the building, their is some sort of annex.  It looks like it was once the jail house but was repurposed for office use.

Like many other rural seats, the grounds was impressive and well kept.

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The building is in decent shape.  It looks like the county has tried to modernize it over time here are their, but it still has that quant feel.

 

Marshall County – Lacon

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The Marshall County Courthouse is a mix of old and new.  Built in 1853, it has been heavily renovated and looks like a much newer structure.  The grounds are larger than most with many trees and a few walking paths.

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The renovations make the structure look a bit curious and utilitarian.

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At some point in the 20th century the build was enlarged with one of the ugliest and out of place annexes that I have ever seen.  This addition makes the north and east side unpleasant to walk around.

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The grounds shown from the southeast side of the building.

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The tank on the southwest side is one of the cooler things found of the grounds of Illinois courthouses.

Woodford County – Eureka

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The Woodford County Courthouse is rather imposing.  Build just before the turn of the 20th Century, it a tall three plus story building that seems to dwarf the rest of the buildings surrounding the semi square.  Both the grounds and building itself are well kept up, at least on the west and south sides.

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The building is built on top of a rise.

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Facing the south side of the building.

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The east side is less impressive with a large parking lot detracting the the grandeur of the entrant.  The north side holds the police station an jail.

Urbanization in the US

Playing with Tableau, I created the video below of how the US Mainland slowly become more urbanized over its founding.

 

Data gathered from Wikipedia and the US Census.

It is neat to watch Manifest Destiny in action.  We were predominately rural until about 1920.  First we moved west until the 1870s.  With no more land to take from France, the Indians, and Mexico, we started moving towards cities as we became a more industrialized society.  In the 1910s most Americans we in cities as they moved off the farm and into factories.

 

US Urbanization by Region

 

While the largest in area, the Western States are the most urbanized.  This is because there are relatively fewer farms and most people live in a narrow strip by the Pacific Ocean.  The South and Midwest are the least urbanized by are slowly catching the other areas.  People move into the cities of the South and people leave farming towns of the Midwest for better economic opportunities.

 

Median Age by County 2016

This migration has lead younger people away from rural areas.  This as caused the median age of many rural areas to increase.