ILDEWITT-L ArchivesArchiver > ILDEWITT > 1998-11 > 0911003475
Subject: Ghost Towns of DeWitt County
Date: Fri, 13 Nov 1998 19:31:15 EST
Found this in DWCGSQ Sprint 1983 Vol. IX No. 1. Though you all would enjoy.
Mentions a couple of lost cemeteries.
GHOST TOWNS OF DEWITT COUNTY ILLINOIS
by Fern Lane Briggs
(The following speech was prepared by Fern Briggs and presented at a
recent Old Settlers Reunion.)
When I was asked to give this talk today, my answer was, "No!"
I am not a speaker and you will most likely agree with me before I am
First of all, let me introduce myself. I am Fern Lane Briggs, Editor of the
column "Kinfolk Korner." which appears in three local newspapers, The Clinton
Journal, The Farmer City Journal and the Focus section of the Decatur paper.
I am a native of DeWitt County; my forefathers settled in the Rock Creek area
in 1830. They were Tillmon and Margaret (Lyon) Lane.
My talk is to be on the ghost towns of DeWitt County. You will see on the
poster that I have prepared that only three are actually shown as ghost towns,
but there are many more; some I have located and some I haven't.
The village of Franklin once stood at the site of the old Pastime Park. The
beginning of Franklin, as near as can be determined was in 1838, when James
and Melville Lowery settled in Section 2 of what is now DeWitt County, where
they built a water mill. At first this mill was equipped only as a saw mill,
but was converted so as to grind both corn meal and wheat flour. These
articles of food, a necessity, and in great demand by the early settlers, were
ground by means of stone "burrs" made
from rock secured along Salt Creek and shaped and fashioned into workable
condition by hand. The first mill was in operation until 1844, when an
unusually high water washed it, dam and all, away, completely destroying the
building and raining most of the machinery.
But the Lowerys were not to be disheartened and at once rebuilt the structure,
bigger and better than ever. The big trouble was that old Salt Creek had the
a habit of going on a "rampage" quite frequently and, although the Lowerys
were good machine operators, they seemed to be unable to build a dam that
would "stay put and after repeated "washouts" they became disheartened and
sold their business to Levi Davenport.
Mr. Davenport operated the mill only a short time when he sold to John H.
Morrison. This was sometime around 1850; and in 1854 James A. Kirby, a native
of Ohio, came to Illinois and located at what was already known as Franklin.
Here he built a small building with living rooms above. His was the third,
and also the last, store building to be built in this village. Besides this
store, which also happened to be
the first post office in Tunbridge Township, Franklin also boasted of a
blacksmith shop and a school house. While the other buildings were of frame
construction, the school house was of logo, cracks between them were not
chinked, and school was only held in mild weather. The names of the first two
merchants were William Barbee and James W. Armstrong, and the blacksmith shop
was owned by J. Q. Burgett.
The town of Franklin began to fade away and die" when the village of Kenney
was started and several of the buildings were moved to the new village. The
mill remained and the little post office was not done away with until the late
1880's. The first store to be moved to the new town of Kenney was the Barbee
store, then the blacksmith shop, Mr. Morrison himself operated the Armstrong
store for a short time while the other Morrisons--George, Harry and Ira ran
After the decline and fall of the village of Franklin the historic old picnic
ground "Pastime Park," came into being. This was somewhere in the 1880's it
became a spot widely and favorably known. I feel that the story of Pastime
Park deserves to go down in history as a "ghost town," too; even though it was
not a town, it was a place which had much history about it that needs to be
This little village was located in Section 22 of Wapella Township. The first
church built in Wapella was a Christian church at Zabriska, which was still
standing during the 1880's, and possibly later. It was located so near St.
Patrick's Catholic Cemetery north of Wapella that unless one knew, they would
assume it was a Catholic church.
The first post office in Wapella Township was operated from the private
residence of Abraham Swearingen in 1845 but the service was moved to Zabriska
in 1849. William Rolofson constructed the first saw mill at Zabriska in 1843.
It had a small circular saw and was run by horse power. It had disappeared
from the scene long before 1880. Wapella was not surveyed until the autumn of
1854, and the lots were sold in the spring of 1855.
By 1891 the village of Zabriska was called Long Point. It has never been
determined how the name of Zabriska came about.
The G. B. Lemen and Isaac Swisher families arrived in Harp Township Section 2
in 1836. Other related families and friends soon followed. The area later
known as Swisher was originally called the "Lemen Settlement.
Thomas Wilson, of Maryland, erected the first saw mill in Section 2 that same
year near the present old Swisher Hill Bridge. In 1840, he added a burr for
grinding corn. There was no bridge at Swisher Hill until after the turn of
the century. The first schoolhouse was taught in the Lemen Settlement by John
Dougherty, who it was said was too lazy to do manual labor so he called
himself a teacher. His students later said that he could not distinguish a q
from a p or a b from a d. South of the settlement approximately one-half mile
is an early burial grounds now overgrown and
nearly obliterated, where interments were made even before the permanent
settlement in 1836. It was known as Lemen Cemetery.
Solomon Despain., a Baptist minister who first settled near Waynesville, came
to Lemen Settlement in 1837 and set up a blacksmith shop about halfway between
Swisher Hill and the later established Swisher School.
Until the 1920's the mile of road between Swisher Hill and the Swisher School
had six turns in it. One turned south at the top of the hill, continued for
several yards and then turned-east. If one desired to go south, instead, that
curve to the west was called "Smoky Row. In 1860 a Mr. Leonard erected a
blacksmith shop near the crest of the hill, not far from Tom Wilson's mill.
When school, districts were organized and schools were every two miles apart,
the school east of Lemen Settlement, was named for the Swisher family, and
gradually the immediate area became known as "Swisher."
Prior to 1900 Jeremiah Curl operated a store there. The residents of the
neighborhood came there to pick up their mail, which was brought in from other
points by Frank Merrifield. He was the father of Harry Merrifield, Pauline
Merrifield, Mrs. Zula Thorp, Gladys Ives, Hallie McKinley, Rebecca Coons, and
Around 1906 a cobbler shop was operated by John Walker and his brother William
Walker, who had a blacksmith shop there. Their mother was a Mrs. Brady, and
they lived where Herman Short now owns. All three are buried at Walters
Cemetery. Jonathan Swisher lived across the road from the school (north) and
was along in years when, he married a Swedish woman, much younger, and her
daughter attended the nearby school.
At the crest of the Swisher Hill, was a grocery store owned by Lew Taylor; his
father, Samuel Taylor, lived in a-house to the north of a long lane. That
house has been gone for many years.
Fred Smalley, who lived at the-bottom of Carter Hill west of Salt Creek,
bought out Lew Taylor's stock about 1914 and rented the building. Due to a
disagreement over the rent Smalley moved the inventory to a mall building
across the road from his house north at the bottom of Carter Hill. This was
the last business place in this settlement, and it ended by 1920.
The town of Swisher had a post office from 1886 until 1905.
I could write a book on the things that I personally remember about the
Solomon area when I was growing up, but they would not give you the
history--just pranks that my brothers and sisters, along with our friends and
schoolmates pulled. Since this is supposed to be the history of the
community, I will try to stick to that today. I had to call on several old
timers of the neighborhood for my facts. In the different interviews, I found
a few discrepancies, but you will get a good picture of what Solomon once was.
In the American Aerial County History series published in 1955, I found the
The only community of Wilson Township on the north border of DeWitt County is
the hamlet of Solomon, with a population of 51. It is situated in the midst-
of a level fertile farming region. The township in which Solomon is
located has a present population of 335. Among early settlers in the township
were Thomas and Edward Wilson, brothers, who came in 1834. Another of their
brother arrived in 1837. Other settlers were Jacob Walters, John Lash, John
Guittman and Michael Troutman. William Wilson was the first justice of the
peace. Dr. Moran was the first blacksmith, Jacob Weaters was the first
shoemaker, and for many years made the boots and shoes for the settlers for
Wilson Township was settled shortly after 1830 and that area received the name
of Solomon in the following way. An early settler by the name of Samuel
Franklin Merrifield had a store across from the old tile factory now owned by
Ray Johnson, just east of the present home of Donald Dunlap in Wilson
Township. This was the site of the first Solomon store, and it was used as a
post office also. Mr. Merrifield wrote to Springfield to see if the area
could be named Merrifields, so the post office could have a name and an
addressed. The officials wrote back that there was already a settlement in
Illinois with the name of Merrifield, but that it could
officially be called Solomon. Later the store was moved to the area near the
T- road just south of the Walden Cemetery. At-one time there was a library in
the store, and I understand that a lady in Clinton Illinois, has one book that
came from that library.
One store owner pulled teeth at $.10 a tooth, and another charged a fee for
legal advice rendered. (I haven't learned who these men were.) People that
ran the Solomon store through the years were (they may or may not be in
succession). Park Gardner, Robert Emery, Solomon P. Merrifield, Kenny Van
Deventer, a Mr. Dolly, Ira Emery, Clarence Price, Jake Harrold, W. E. Walden,
James Yones, E. G. 'Mike" Walden, Hugh Stapleton, Jack Clemons, Coy Torbert,
D. W. Vanpotten, and Marie Lane (wife of Chelsa Lane).
When Jake Harrold owned the store in 1918, my grandfather Jack (or J. P.)
Lane, drove a wagon loaded with groceries through the neighborhood for Mr.
Harrold, to accommodate those people that couldn't always get to the store.
Grandpa Lane also owned a pool hall across the road from the store; he later
sold it to a blind man by the name of Lon Walden. Stories are that he was
doing a flourishing business, but the congregation of the Rucker Chapel Church
objected so strongly that Mr. Walden burned it to the ground without removing
any of the furnishings or his inventory. Rumors are that $1100.00 worth of
Harvey Wilson owned the first blacksmith shop also across the road from the
store. Other owners were Winfond Kanser, Tom Payton, Henry Peavler, Gordon
Worthy, Lee Kelley and Bill Peavler, a son of Henry. Again, I can't say that
the names given are in the order of ownership. When Henry Peavler had his
blacksmith shop it stood on the same side of the road as the store, and his
house stood just a few yards
south and west of the shop.
The Solomon store has been in four locations: first in Section 13 before 1860;
second in Section 24 about 1860; third in Section 25 about 1875; fourth in
Section 26. I dont know when it was built, but Jake Harrold was in the
fourth location in
1918. Albert Bray dug a hole with a bulldozer in September 1966 and buried
Solomon. That old store, probably from the time of its first existence, was
for many years the meeting place for all the men for miles around. They would
gather there winter and summer to swap yarns, each one trying to tell a bigger
one than the man before him.
Robert Emery lived on the east side of the road and had a Farmers Exchange
telephone. He also went to DeWitt once a week to pick up the mail and used
his home as a post office.
At the present time the only thing left standing to show that a town was once
there is the old hitching rack on the east side of the road.
One more thing that I feel is very important in Solomon history is the many
rugs woven on that big old loom by Mrs. Carter, the first house on the north
side of the road on top of Carter Hill. How fascinating it was to watch her
weave those beautiful rugs. I parted with my last one when I left Chicago in
1976, and it was used constantly from 1932 to 1976. I believe my husband's
sister may still have one that I
gave her, probably in the year of 1932.
And last, but not least, was the swimming hole on my great-grandfathers farm.
Everybody called it "Dinky Lane's Bottom." I think some of the Carter family
now own it.
I could go on and on, but my time is running out. I was asked to give a short
talk, not to take up the whole day.