Transportation in Hamilton Co., IL


The roadways of the county, shown on old maps, remind one of a spider's web with the county seat at the center.  The famous Goshen Trail is one exception.  Dating back to 1808, the Goshen Road cuts across the web like a strand out of place, as did a few others.

The Carmi-Kaskaskia road traversed the county near the center from east to west, and dates back to about 1817.  The geographical location of this road, the earlier Goshen Road and one or two other trails influenced greatly the pattern of early settlement in the county.

At the June, 1817 term of White County court, John Wilson, Samuel Hogg and Ambrose Maulding were ordered to view and mark a way for a road.  This road was to begin at the south boundary of White, where the old road crossing from Hill Station from Rolins came in, then run to the southwest quarter of section 16, T.6S-R.6E.  This last location in present Hamilton County is about one mile east of Olga, and near the pioneer Hogg Settlement.  The road was to run from there to John Townsends'.  He lived in section 31, McLeansboro Township as shown in later records.  Townsend was a son-in-law of William Hogg according to Bryant's History.  This road was then to run to Daniel Crenshaw's, a place in Moores Prairie, present Jefferson County, and from there to the west boundary of White County, at that time the west boundary of present Jefferson County.

Some of the roads leading to and from the County Seat were sometimes known by more than one name.  However, the principal ones were more frequently called the Carmi, Frankfort, Crouch, Equality, Shawneetown, Golconda, Benton, Old Mt. Vernon, New Mt. Vernon, Cairo, Millshoals and Middletown roads, with the name McLeansboro annexed either before or after.  Some other roads not entering McLeansboro, were: New Haven-Frankfort, Wheeler's Mill-Knights Prairie, Griswold-Benton, Lowry-Auxier Prairie, Maulding's Mill-Shawneetown, Millshoals & Equality, Little Prairie Crossroad and Burnt Hill road.  (See Map.)

These angling roadways were the chief arteries of transportation and commerce, until, and in a lesser degree, after the arrival of the railroads.  Freight wagons, sometimes in trains, were used to transport produce in early times and to deliver goods to merchants in the county.

On these roadways rolled the colorful and storied stagecoaches, hauling light freight, carrying passengers and the mails.  Many of these roads were improved under the abortive Internal Improvement Act of 1837.  Numerous traces of old roadways are still visible in the county.  Many sites of old Inns, call Taverns in early times, stood beside these old roadways.  They are still pointed out and live in legend.

Opening, maintaining and improving roadways was a chief concern of the county commissioner courts of early times.  There was always a bridge to replace or repair with hand-hewn timber, whipsawed plank or puncheon floor, designated "arch" and "levying." In the muddy seasons the roadways became a quagmire.  Six horses hitched to one wagon was not uncommon.  The advent of the railroad solved much of the mud and transportation problem.


On November 3, 1868, the electors of the county voted to subscribe $200,000 to the capital stock of the Illinois Central Railroad Company (Shawneetown branch).  On November 2, 1869, $74,000 was subscribed to the Evansville and Southern Illinois Railroad Company.

By an act of the legislature, without consulting the electors of the county, which Judge T. B. Stelle said "Was practically an insult to the judgment of our people," the $200,000 was transferred to the St. Louis and Southeastern Railway Company which had been chartered in 1869.  That same year the Evansville and Southern Illinois Railroad Company was chartered, and on February 21, 1871 was consolidated with the St. Louis and Southeastern Railway Company, which company constructed the rail lines through the county.

The St. Louis & Southeastern Railway Company was composed of some well known men of that day, namely: O. Poole, James H. Wilson, J. J. Castles, A. G. Cloud, S. S. Marshall, R. W. Townsend, S. K. Casey, W. D. Green, T. H. Hobbs, and E. F. Winslow.  Gen. James J. Wilson was on Grant's staff and Gen. Winslow was from the state of Maine.  The names of persons forming the Evansville and Southern Illinois Railroad Company were not ascertained, except A. G. Cloud was president, and R. W. Townsend was secretary.

The rail lines connected McLeansboro with St. Louis, Evansville, and Shawneetown and with points between and beyond.  The trains began to operate in October, 1871.  The present L. & N. has served the county since about 1881, for many years by lease from the Southeast & St. Louis Railroad Company.  Other railroads were projected to cross the county and some surveys were made, but the rail lines were never established.

The "chuka, chuka" of the old steamer has given way to the P-r-r-r-r of the diesel.  The melodious voice of the old steam whistles, whose echoes reverberated across the countryside have been replaced by the diesel noisemakers.


These hard surface roads were built through the county in the 1920s and 1930s.  Five ribbons of travel now connect the county seat with Mt. Vernon, Benton, Carmi, Eldorado, Wayne City and to points beyond. 

From: Illinois Magazine, February 1978
An article by Ralph S. Harrelson.

Copyrighted All rights reserved.

Back to Hamilton County     Back to Hamilton County Miscellaneous