By Howard F. Dyson, 1918
The stories of the first settlement of Schuyler county and the mode of life of the pioneers, as protrayed by those who passed thru these experiences, serve as an introduction to the second phase of county history when the little colony of homeseekers took up the task of civil government, established courts, and founded the city of Rushville.
Two years after the first settlers came Schuyler was organized as a county, the Illinois general assembly in January, 1825, creating 10 counties in the Military Tract. Adams, Peoria, and Schuyler counties had the required population to organize at once, and provision was made for civil organization by selecting a commission to locate a county seat. John Adams, Stephen Olmstead, and James Dunwoody of Morgan county were named as this commission by the legislature, and they located the county seat about a mile west of the present village of Pleasant View, and it was named Beardstown.
The first election in the county was held July 4, 1825, and Thomas McKee, Samuel Horney, and Thomas Blair were elected county commissioners. They took the oath of office before Hart Fellows, who had been appointed clerk of the circuit court by Gov. Edward Coles, and the first session of the commissioners was held July 7, 1825, in the cabin of Jacob White. At this first meeting of the commissioners, grand and petit jurors were drawn and were served with summons by Sheriff Orris McCartney to appear at the first term of circuit court held November 4, 1825.
In the organization of the county it was necessary to have three justices of the peace, and Hart Fellows, James Vance, and Willis O’Neal were recommended to Gov. Coles for appointment. Later appointments made by the county commissioners in 1825 were: Wm. H. Taylor, census commissioner; Jacob White and Joel Pennington, constables; Riggs Pennington and Nathan Eels, overseers of the poor, and Samuel Gooch, John Ritchey, and Jonathan Reno, fence viewers.
The first location of the county seat did not meet with approval of the settlers, and the legislature was petitioned, asking for the appointment of a new commission. The petition was granted, and commissioners appointed were Levin Green, Thomas Blair, and Benjamin Chadsey. It was the intention to locate the county seat a mile or more north of the present city of Rushville, but the tract desired had been entered and the commissioners, being short on funds, looked about for a cheaper site. The southwest quarter of section 30, 2 N. 1 W. was entered by the commissioners for a town site and to secure funds for civic purposes, the east half was sold to Jacob White for $150. But in the end it has proved a costly bargain, for the land owned by Mr. White came within 80 feet of the east side of Liberty street, and on the tax books it is necessary to carry the names of property owners on the east side of the square in different additions, as the business block extends 112 feet into the Wm. Manlove addition, afterwards platted on the land sold by the county to Jacob White.
On March 4, 1828, property liable to taxation was listed by the county commissioners as follows: Slaves, indentured or registered negro or mulatto servants, all wheel carriages, stills and distilleries, stocks in trade, horses, mules, mares and asses, meat cattle, sheep, goats and hogs, watches with their appendages and clocks. It was not until 1832 that the commissioners specified household goods and farming utensils as subject to taxation.
As originally formed, Schuyler was the largest of the 10 counties created in the Military Tract, and it so remained until 1839, when the territory lying south of Crooked creek was detached and the county of Brown was organized, thus reducing the area of Schuyler county from 864 to 430 square miles, and making it, next to Calhoun, the smallest county in the Military Tract.
The agitation for division of the county had been carried on for several years with consequent agitation of a change in the county seat, but when the separation was finally made the county seat was permanently established at Rushville.
In 1853 Schuyler county adopted the township form of government. John C. Bagby, I. N. Ward and Jesse Darnell were appointed commissioners to divide the county into townships, and with minor changes, the boundaries so fixed are in force today.
It was most natural that the early settlers should desire a court house, and soon after the town of Rushville was laid out the first county building was erected. It stood on the north side of the square about where the Kerr hardware store stands today, and was built of logs. The specifications for this building as recorded in the commissioner’s record of April 24, 1826, are meagre as they call for a story and a half log building occupying a ground space of 22×18 feet.
Within a year after the first court house was completed the county officials were asking for larger quarters, and on Dec. 3, 1828, notice of letting for the construction of a clerk’s office in the middle of the block on the east side of the square was given. This building was 24×16 feet and cost $116.75.
On June 1, 1829, it was decided to erect a new brick court house, and Hart Fellows was appointed commissioner with full power to contract for the building and superintendent its construction.
This old brick court house, 42 feet square, was located in the center of the park, where it did service for more than 50 years. In 1880 the contract for the present court house was let and the building was occupied two years later.