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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Former home of Edgar Lee Masters, a poet and writer famous in the late 19th and early 20th century.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
The clock tower on the southeast side of the building.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
After Hardin, it was off to the mouth of the Illinois River near Grafton Illinois.
Where the Illinois meets the mighty Mississippi is much like any other location in Mississippi with bluffs surrounding wide flood plans.
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
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.
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
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.
Scales of justice.
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
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.
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.
The old jail just to the south of the courthouse. The entrance leaves no doubt for what it was originally used for.
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.
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
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.
The front looks like some sort of sun capturing device.
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.
The seal statues in front on the north side are neat.
The entrance on the west side of the building.