Early History of Lexington, Illinois

(October 2008)


Lexington Unit Journal, April 24, 1958


First Installment in Series From Special Issue of Unit-Journal, Printed in 1914


     Three-quarters of a century and a decade have passed since the advance guard of the sturdy pioneers drew up their jaded oxen and their “prairie schooners” along the fertile banks of the Mackinaw river and selected their camping place.  Soon the campfire was lighted and they prepared their frugal repast to refresh themselves after a long, weary journey.  Here was the water of abundance, timber for the erection of cabins and luxuriant growths of native grasses for their beasts of burden.  Surely this was an inviting outlook and the land of promise which they had been seeking in their many weeks of travel toward the setting sun.  The air was laden with the sweet perfume of wild flowers on every hand was evidence of the great fertility of the soil in rank growing vegetation.  There was wild game in plenty on which they might subsist until a cereal crop could be raised from the soil.  The timberland along the Mackinaw valley abounded in wild native fruits and this would add to their meager fare.  The region was explored and on every side nature gave evidence of a “Land of plenty.”  Unexpectedly the explorers came upon an Indian village.  Their hearts willed with fear and dismay.  They turned about to stealthily retrace their steps, hoping to get away without being seen by the redskins but the sentinels of the Indian camp had sighted them and given the signal to the tribe.  Out of the teepees came women, children and a few old men and gazed curiously at the intruders.  Seeing no hostile demonstration the white approached the village, making the sign of peace.  They found the village to be composed of a small tribe of friendly Kickapoos, who made them welcome and offered them food.  The tribesmen were away on a big hunting expedition and the village was unprotected save for a few young bucks and men too old to join in the chase.  The squaws were cultivating a patch of corn and beans near the village and the storehouse of the tribe was well filled with maize, dried venison and buffalo.  One of the whites who had served in the Indian campaigns of the country farther east was well versed in the lore of red men and ascertained that the Indians of this vicinity were at peace and that so long as the whites did not encroach upon their rights there would be no trouble.

     Soon the forest was ringing with the echoes of the white man’s axe and logs were being hewed for the erection of the first log cabin in the territory of what is now the central portion of Lexington township.

Some Early History

(By A. V. Pierson)

     The first white man to visit the Mackinaw country in what is now Lexington township was Charles Lee, who accompanied a party of traders here in 1805.  At that time the Mackinaw country was swarming with buffalo, elk, deer and wolf.  Beavers and otter was also plentiful and while there were no panther or bear to speak of in this vicinity, farther down the mackinaw they were found in great abundance.  The Mackinaw Indian town was near Salem and the Delaware town near here, at that time.

     The first white people to make a permanent settlement in what is now Lexington township was made by John Patton and his family in March 1929.  They located at the Kickapoo Indian town, which was about one-half mile east of where Selma now stands.  The Pattons were closely followed by the Haners, the Downeys and the Brumheads, all settling in the near vicinity of John Patton’s and was known as the Patton settlement.

     The first brick made on the Mackinaw were made by the Henlines in 1829.  The first orchard set out on the Mackinaw was by the Henlines in the fall of 1829, Mrs. Henline making the trip to their old home in Kentucky on horseback that year and brought the young trees back with her to her Illinois home.  The first schoolhouse built on the Mackinaw was built in the fall of 1830 and was located on section 31 in what is now Lawndale Township.  It was built by the Henlines, Joseph Vail, Patrick Hopkins, and Valentine Spawr and son, John A.  Mr. Sheldon was the first teacher.  This was the only school on the Mackinaw that numbered Indian children among its pupils.  These Indian children came from the nearby Delaware Indian town.

     The first house built by a white man in Lexington township was built by John Patton in 1829.  Every white man along the Mackinaw, ten in number were present at the raising of this house, which is still standing on the farm of Mrs. Mary J. Pierson.  It is probably the only house in the state which the Indians helped to build.

     The first orchard set out in Lexington township was set out by John Patton in the spring of 1830.  The trees were procured in St. Louis.

     The first election ever held in Lexington township was held at the home of John Patton in the spring of 1830, with John Patton, John Henline and Coonrad Flesher as judges, which positions they held for years afterward.  At this election John B. Thompson was elected justice of the peace and Henry Flesher constable.  These two men enjoyed the distinction of being the very first elected to office in Lexington township or Mackinaw precinct.

(To Be Continued)



 Lexington Unit Journal, May 1, 1958


First Installment in Series From Special Issue of Unit-Journal, Printed in 1914


(Continued From Last Week)

     During the Black Hawk war in 1832 there were three forts built along the Mackinaw (which was the northern frontier of McLean county at that time), for defense against the Indians; Fort Bartholomew, built in money Creek township; the Patton blockhouse, built at the Patton settlement in Lexington township, and Fort Henline, built at the Henline settlement in Lawndale township.  Of these three forts the Patton block-house alone remains.

     Owing to the deep snow during the winter of 1830-31 and the Indian troubles that immediately followed, there was no schoolhouse built in Lexington township until the fall of early winter of 1832.  This first schoolhouse was built at the Patton settlement and stood across the road south of the ford.  John Patton, was the first teacher.

     The first death in Lexington township was the death of two little children of Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Foster at the Patton settlement in August, 1829.  The children  were buried in the Pleasant Hill cemetery, which was the first piece of ground set apart for burial purposes in Lexington township.

     The first wedding in Lexington township that we have any record of occurred in the Patton settlement, July 5, 1832, John Messer and Susannah Espy Patton being the contracting parties.

     The first child born in Lexington township or on the Mackinaw was John Wesley Brumhead, born July 27, 1829.

     The first Methodist class organized on the Mackinaw was organized at the home of John Patton in the spring of 1830.  It numbered ten members, with Joseph Brumhead as leader.

     The first mill built on the Mackinaw and inside the borders of Lexington township, was built in 1832.  It was run by horsepower and was the product of the combined genius of John Patton and William Haner.  The mill was located on the ridge on the farm now owned by Stephen Finley and stood about sixty or seventy rods north and a little east of where Mr. Finley’s residence now stands.  The mill was well patronized by the settlers.

     In 1832 a public threshing floor was prepared in the Patton settlement.  These threshing floors were community affairs and were constructed for the use of the public, the men helping each other about the same way the farmers so at present.  This floor was about 35 feet in diameter and was located about 40 rods east of where the schoolhouse stands at Selma and on the south side of the road.

     January 13, 1836, Lexington was laid out by Ashael Gridley and Preston Brown, one a full blooded Yankee, the other a Kentuckian.  A Mr. Carpenter opened the first store in the newly laid out town.  The financial crash of 1837 put him out of business and he removed to Bloomington.  He was succeeded by Henry Apple, who began business where Thomas Stable’s harness shop now stands.  Mr. Apple brought his entire stock of goods in Lexington in a large barrel.  He manifested such a tendency to sell wet goods that the citizens of the community arose in their wrath and drove him out of town.  This incident was the first expression of the temperance sentiment in Lexington.

     Jacob Spawr, a Mr. Lamar and Charles Tilbury were among the first to become residents of the newly laid out town.  Mr. Spawr erected a cabin north of where the Presbyterian church now stands.  Mr. Lamar built his home where A. A. Richardson now lives, and Mr. Tilbury building his house and log blacksmith shop on the property now owned by L. S. VanDolah.  Mr. Tilbury was Lexington’s first blacksmith.

     Jacob Spawr was Lexington’s first postmaster, first road commissioner and first school trustee.  In 1837 the settlements along the Mackinaw were divided into three school districts, designated as upper, middle and lower districts.  The upper district comprised the Henline and Spawr settlements, middle district included the Patton settlement, with John W. Smith, trustee.  The lower district included Lexington in its boundaries, with Jacob Spawr, trustee.

     Lexington’s first physician was Dr. Abbott Goddard, who came here in 1836 and whose practice extended from Fort Clark (Peoria) on the west to Ottawa on the north and east to the state line.

     The first sawmill in Lexington township was built by John Patton in 1836.  It was run by water power and stood on the north bank of the Mackinaw, about one mile south of Selma.  About one year later William Haner built a grist mill on the Mackinaw about west of the Patton mill, on land now owned by Charles Becker.  In 1851 or 1852 Combs & Soule built a steam mill at Selma and Fletcher Goddard built one at Lexington.  Henry Pierce built the Henline mill in Lawndale township in 1853.

     The first churches organized in Lexington township were the Methodists, organized at the home of John Patton in October, 1838, Rev. Stephen Begg, presiding.  The U. B. church, was organized the same year, and prior to the organization of the M. E. church.  The Cumberland Presbyterian effected an organization this year at the Patton settlement, Rev. Mr. Thomas presiding.  The first house of worship was built by the U. B. people in  1842.  This structure was of hewn logs and was erected on land  donated for that purpose by Mr. and Mrs. Coonrad Flesher.  This building was used freely by the entire community without regard to denominational lines.  Owen Lovejoy delivered three or four strong antislavery addresses in this log church from 1844 to 1850 and one or two occasions narrowly escaped mobbing at the hand of the pro-slavery element.       

(To Be Continued)


  Lexington Unit Journal, May 15, 1958


Reprinted from a Special Issue of the Unit-Journal     Printed in 1914, but not given regular distribution


          The Methodist built their first church building, a frame one in Pleasant Hill in 1845 or 1846.  A Mr. White of Bloomington had charge of the construction.

          The Presbyterian built their first church, a frame building, surmounted with a tall steeple at Pleasant Hill in 1853, R. W. Mahan being the builder.

          These two church buildings were the first frame churches to be erected in McLean County, outside of Bloomington, by their respective denominations.

          In 1844 an Anti-Slavery society was organized at Pleasant Hill by Rev. Levi Spencer, a congregational minister from Bloomington.  It numbered among its members W. R. Mahan and family, Dr. Alexander Mahan and family, Mrs. A. W. Mahan, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Wincher, Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Myers, Mrs. Delilah Denham, John and L. P. Scrooge, Thomas P. Kerr, S. S. Wright, A. J. Flesher, John McCollum and others.  This society developed into one of the best organized depots for the “Under ground railroads” in the state, aiding more than 100 slaves to escape all of whom reached Canada in safety.

          Lexington’s first newspaper was the Lexington the Lexington Weekly Globe established in the spring of 1859, James D. Moody being editor and proprietor.  He soon sold the paper to Ira A. Batter ton and William Craig, who in turned sold out to J. C. Mahan and George Knots.  In 1886 they sold the paper to Isaac S. Mahan and John Rogers, who changed the name of the paper to the Lexington Herald.  The Herald was succeeded by the Lexington Courier in April 1869, Fisher & Edwards, proprietors.  Fisher & Edwards sold out to a Mr. Batterton, who changed the paper to the Lexington Banner.  The Banner was succeeded by the Mackinaw Sentinel, January 1873, J. D. Rogers, owner, and so continued until July of that year, when it was succeeded by the Enterprise, E. M. King, proprietor.  The name was afterwards changed to the Lexington Spectator.  The Spectator gave place to the Local Leader, Keifer and Leek, proprietors; C. M. Leek, editor.  The Local Leader was succeeded by the Lexington Review, March 1883, Shepherd & Stark, proprietors; W. H. Shepherd, editor.  Stark sold his interest to Shepherd in 1884 and he in turn sold out to Verne McGilvary in 1891, who changed the name of the paper to the Lexington Unit.  In 1897 McGilvary sold out to the present proprietor, E. F. Wright.  Some time after this transfer was made the McLean County Journal was started, with W. H. Shepherd as editor and proprietor.  After a year of so Shepherd sold out to E. F. Wright, who consolidated the two papers under the name of the Lexington Unit-Journal.

          The first passenger train out of Lexington was on July 4, 1854, and was from Lexington to Bloomington, the north end of the road not yet being completed.  There are some still living who were passengers on this train, almost 60 years ago.

          The first grain buyers in Lexington were Charles Elliott and Thomas Kincaid, under the firm name of Elliott & Kincaid.  They were forced to the wall in the financial crash of 1857 and were succeeded by Claggett & Mahan.  The first shelled corn delivered in Lexington was by John B. Crum in the summer or fall of 1856.  The contract called for 1,000 bushels of yellow corn, price 20 cents per bushel.  The corn was shelled on a large hand corn sheller, Evan Wickoff and Moses Cochran, two well-known young men of Pleasant Hill, furnishing the motive power.  The time occupied in the shelling and delivery of the corn was five days.

          The first grain elevator was built by Horace S. McCurdy about 1870.  It was a three-dump affair and was afterward know as the Claggett elevator.



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