The Illinois Ozarks
McLEANSBORO is the county seat of Hamilton County. The county was a part of White County till about 1821 when it was set off by the Legislature. A committee of three men was appointed to select a county seat and they chose a part of the farm of Dr. William McLean, who lived in a little log cabin where the city now stands. County business was at first transacted at the home of John Anderson, who probably lived outside of the chosen site, for the McLean cabin was the only dwelling on the twenty acres which was purchased.
The county commissioners immediately advertised for bids for building a court hose specified as follows: The court house was to fill the following description: "It was to be built of logs hewn on two sides, and was to be sixteen feet square, covered with boards, put on cabin fashion; was to be eight feet high, chinked and daubed; have a plank floor, one window (and this was to be a glass window) consisting of glass 8 x 10 and a good plank door, 3 feet wide."
The public square was the scene of much wrestling and fist fighting in the early days, as was the custom in all nearby county seat towns. Prize fights, football, basketball, and baseball now afford release of energy and amusement for others not so energetic. The same instinctive push is back of all of these performances both then and now. A high school girl expressed it when she said she liked basketball because it is "so exciting."
There was then not much county business and evidently there were not as many politicians as now, for Jesse C. Lockwood filled all of the offices except that of judge. He was postmaster, county clerk, circuit clerk, recorder, treasurer, sheriff, and justice of the peace, all at the same time, according to John B. Kinnear whose History of McLeansboro, 1884, is still available.
The first school was taught in a log house 12 x 14 feet. It is a long span of years since the first brick court house was built, more than 100 years. An office building was added soon after the Civil War. Better buildings for school, county offices, and homes succeeded one another. For a long time the court house was one of the least commodious of all in the Southern Illinois counties. Now it is one of the best and is indicative of the progress which has been made.
Oil development in several parts of Hamilton County has been very extensive. There is a great variation in the quality of soils in this county. It ranges from white or yellow clay upland to deep black bottom lands. An example of the latter is found northeast of Broughton. Part of the county was originally open prairie which was not true of the counties to the south. I remember that prairie chickens, which were always found on prairie land and not in timber, were frequently seen from the trains in passing from Eldorado to McLeansboro not more than thirty years ago.
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