Looking For Lincoln: Metamora, Il.

The Metamora Courthouse - One of only two courthouses that remain in its original place.

The Metamora Courthouse – One of only two courthouses where Lincoln practiced law that remain in its original place.

Metamora, Illinois is a small town in West Central Woodford County just East of where my ancestors first settled in the county in 1832. Owing to that proximity it is no wonder that my ancestors were involved in about 7 of the 70 cases Lincoln tried during his time on the 8th Judicial Circuit here in Woodford County.  If you have an interest in the Lincoln Law Practice you can find more information here and search the various cases Lincoln participated in as a lawyer. Woodford County became a county in 1841 when parts of Tazewell and McLean counties were combined to make the present day Woodford County.  In the Past and Present History Of Woodford (1878) a nice description is given of the town of Hanover, now Metamora:

Metamora, the county seat of Woodford County, is situated on the western division of the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis Railroad, about one hundred and thirty-six miles southwest of Chicago. It was originally called Hanover, and was siirveyed and laid out by the County Surveyor of Tazewell County for the Hanover Company in 1836, who owned the greater portion of the land. The Hanover Company was composed of the following gentlemen, viz.: Dr. Warner, of Bloomington, Rev. Wm. Davenport (agent), Dennis and William Rockwell, William Major, Jacob Cassell, John T. Jones, D. P. Henderson, J. L. James, Joseph Taggert, Israel, and owned 12,000 acres of land in the immediate neighborhood. The village retained the name of Hanover until a year or two after the removal of the county seat to this place in 1843. It having been ascertained, when getting the post office, that there was another Hanover in the State, the question finally came up for a change of name. After much discussion, and the proposal of several names, Peter H. Willard, then a prominent merchant of the place, proposed the name of Metamora. accompanied with the information that the name had been suggested by his wife, and as a compliment to her it was unanimously adopted. The first post office established in the village was called Partridge Point, on account of there being another office in the State called Hanover.

After the name of the village was changed to Metamora, that of the post office was also changed to harmonize with that of the village. As already stated, John W. Page built the first house within the village corporation in 1836, the year the village was laid out. The first house erected purposely for a tavern was built by Samuel S. Parks in 1843,* who had it opened in time to accommodate visit- ors to the first session of Circuit Court held after the removal to this place of the county seat from Versailles. This tavern is still standing, and, with some changes and additions, is known as the Metamora House. Alfred Baker opened a blacksmith shop in 1837, which was the first in the township.

and the court house:

The present Court House of Woodford County was built in 1845, by David Irving. The contract was taken by Rockwell and Parks, two prominent citizens of Hanover, and the former a stockholder in the Hanover Company, which com- pany owned some 12,000 acres of land near the town. Its members had taken an active part in getting the county seat removed to Hanover, and maile, it is said, liberal donations toward the erection of the public buildings. Neither Rockwell nor Parks being mechanics, they sub-let the contract for building the Court House to Mr. Irving, who at once proceeded to work preparing timbers and material for it. Building facilities were not so good nor so complete then as at the present day, and such a contract was looked upon as an undertaking of stupendous magnitude. Railroads in Illinois, as well as in the United States, were in their infancy, and such a transaction as going to Chicago, buying the material for a large building and receiving it on the spot in a day or two after purchase, was an event beyond the wildest imagination of the most visionary individual of the time. Irving burned his own brick, got out the timbers in the neighboring forest, cut logs and hauled them to Parks’ saw-mill, at what was then called Partridge Point, from which the lumber was sawed for the joists and the floors. The finishing lumber was white walnut, from Johnson’s mill, near Spring Bay, where the logs were cut and sawed. It was covered with shingles made of black wal- nut, in the woods near town, and the lime, with the exception of a small quan- tity burned near the work, was hauled in wagons from the Kickapoo bluffs, beyond Peoria.

The contract for building was taken by Irving for .$4,400 and was paid for with the lots donated by the Hanover Company for the purpose, and with the surplus revenues of the county for two years. It is a substantial two story brick, of much better material and workmanship than is usually put into a building at the present day, at that modest price, and is a type of the old court houses of forty years ago, still numerous in Illinois. The house use^ in Versailles, for the sessions of the Honorable Court, has, it is said by .some, passed away -with other relics, and, by others, that it has fallen from its exalted position and been converted into a stock barn. After the removal of the county seat to Hanover (now Metamora), and until the Court Couse was completed, court was held in a little house which stood at the southeast corner of the square, whei-e Plank’s law office now stands. The September session, in 1843, was the first Circuit Court held in- the new- metropolis. In those days there seem to Lave been no blue or red ribbon societies as now, as the records of the court for several years show that most of the indictments were for selling liquors, with a few variations occasionally, for ” harboring slaves.””

As you can see from the picture above, there isn’t a problem finding Lincoln in Metamora. However finding the route Lincoln took out of Metamora has been a bit more challenging as we shall see in my next post.


Looking For Lincoln: Woodford County, Illinois – The Washington-Metamora Road

The Washington-Metamora Road looking South towards Washington. The 8th Judicial Circuit County Line marker is seen to the left.

The Washington-Metamora Road looking South towards Washington. The 8th Judicial Circuit County Line marker is seen to the left of center.

We begin our search for Lincoln’s route through Woodford County, Illinois where the Washington-Metamora road enters Woodford County from Tazewell County.  As Lincoln and the other men who rode the 8th Judicial Circuit made the rounds they left Springfield and headed North into Tazewell County.  Tremont was the county seat until 1850 when it was moved to Pekin where it remains to this day.  From Tremont or Pekin, the judge and lawyers of the 8th Judicial Circuit traveled North through Washington and into Metamora.

On the County line sits this 8th Judicial Circuit Marker.

8th Judicial Circuit marker on the Tazewell-Woodford County line.

8th Judicial Circuit marker on the Tazewell-Woodford County line.

And here is an image looking North towards Metamora.

Washington-Metamora Road Looking North towards Metamora.

Washington-Metamora Road Looking North towards Metamora.

This road was not hard to discover since it was already marked but considering it is a major thoroughfare in the county between two important cities is should come as no surprise that the road is still in use today. You can find more details about this historical marker at the Historical Marker Database (HMdb)

Looking For Lincoln: Woodford County, Illinois


Figure 1. Map of the 8th Judicial Circuit (1847–1853). The solid line shows the route of the circuitriding lawyears. The broken line shows changes in the route as a result of county seat relocations. (Map Courtesy of Guy C. Fracker)

One of the main reasons I returned to blogging was the map above.  It comes from an article on the 8th Judicial Circuit called “The Real Lincoln Highway: The Forgotten Lincoln Circuit Markers” by Guy C. Fraker.  Mr. Fracker is the author of the book in the previous post.  The maps shows the general route the judge and lawyers of the 8th Judicial Circuit in Illinois traveled twice a year from 1847-1853 and includes the location of modern historical markers.  There are two types of markers, ones that mark the county seat on the 8th Judicial Circuit and those that mark the path of the circuit where it crossed county lines.

However the lines on the map are approximate and do not show the exact roads traveled by the men on the circuit.  I want to know the exact line of travel especially in Woodford County, my home county.  So, I set out to try and discover if the roads traveled by men like Judge David Davis and Lawyers Leonard Swett and Abraham Lincoln still existed.

The upcoming posts will tell that story of discovery.