Fredonia History

Fredonia was the post office and meeting place on Eight Mile Prairie and revived the French traders name for the prairie, Fredonner. The French verb means to hum or buzz, and in the summer the prairie was a yellow sea of Spanish needle blossoms with the bees hovering above. The American pioneers learned of the old name, and reverted to it in an English version popular as the name of post offices back east when their petition for a post office was granted.

William T. Ryburn opened Fredonia post office May 27, 1837 at his store on land he entered in 1833. He suggested the name of his nine year old daughter as the name for the new post office and by coincidence it fitted older settlers’ memory of the prairie’s French name. Fredonia M. Ryburn became the wife of George J. North and lived near the North School. Her father was a candidate for representative of the Franklin County district at an election April 2, 1830, but was defeated by the better known John Dement of Frankfort, named state treasurer the next year.

The year after the post office was opened in a corner of Mr. Ryburn’s store, he added a good horse mill to his public services.  Soon after, his house was appointed the polls for Eight Mile election precinct. The August day citizens of Franklin County decided to become two counties, William T. and Reid Ryburn recorded the votes of the Eight Mile. When the Williamson County Commissioner’s Court set up new election precincts, they retained Mr. Ryburn’s house as the polling place and named the entire northwest part of the county Fredonia Precinct.

James W. Ryburn, who made his land entry in 1836, was a candidate for the legislature in 1840. Franklin and Williamson counties made one representative’s district at that time, and the two men elected received only the votes in his own county. Dempsey Odum had all Williamson County votes; Achilles Dollins, all Franklin votes. Ninety nine of Mr. Ryburn’s Williamson County friends voted for him.

Byrd T. Ryburn, a soldier in Captain Armstead Holman’s company for the Black Hawk War, succeeded as postmaster in 1846. Then for one year Thomas Corman ran the office.

Hugh M. Richart moved Fredonia post office into his home on the prairie in 1851. His, was a Pennsylvania family who came to the Eight Mile Prairie in 1840, and were prominent in the first Presbyterian Church in the western part of the county, known as Eight Mile Prairie Church. Hugh Richart was the eldest son of the family, and when his parents died, the seventeen year old boy somehow managed to keep his brothers and sisters together and educate them. He enlisted first for the Civil War in the Egyptian guards, then in Company G, 81st Illinois Infantry. At the assault on Vicksburg he was wounded four times within an hour, by buckshot, a cannon ball, and two musket balls. When the war was over, Mr. Richart married Miss Rebecca Harrison a sister of Mrs. George L. Owen of Bainbridge. Their son was Fred W. Richart of Carterville, engineer and first Williamson County student at the University of Illinois.

The post office passed from Mr. Richart’s hands into those of Jefferson Russell, youngest of the five who gave their name to Russell Corners. The Jeff Russell home still stood in section 5 of Carterville Township in 1939 and there the daily stages from Marion and Carbondale met and left the mail sacks. A star route served Blairsville. Postmaster Russell’s daughter, Mollie, later Mrs. Oliver H.P. Louden (1846-1938) of Carbondale, used to sort the letters and prepare the mail sacks.

Jeff Russell turned the office over to his nephew, John B. Russell, who resigned when the first call for troops was made in 1861. The uncle resumed the post office duties and the nephew came home a year later to die of wounds received at Shiloh. The post office was discontinued in the summer of 1865, and then reopened with Francis M. Sparks in charge.

When the mine development began at Carterville, Fredonia post office was transferred there and the name changed December 18, 1871. The Carbondale and Shawneetown Railroad made mining practical at Carterville and brought new life to Fredonia, where E.A. Hitchcock and O.L. Garrison sank their first Williamson County mine. The coal was used for fuel at their glass factory south of St. Louis, and the source was known as the Crystal City Plate Glass Company mine. Dundas Simpson was the superintendent and the young postmistress of Dago began to work in the mine office in 1891. Hitchcock and Garrison were also partners in Big Muddy Coal and Iron Company and opened the first mine at Herrin, Number 7, and Clifford.

Vincent Hinchcliff felt the prairie could not get along without a post office, and he secured the reestablishment of Fredonia March 1, 1872. The office was kept in the general store on the Hinchcliff farm, successor to the old French trading post and to Ryburn’s store. John Hinchcliff, a Yorshireman, brought his family to the Eight Mile in 1829; William Hinchcliff, his son, bought more land in 1846.

Besides Vincent Hinchcliff, the third generation was Robert M. Hinchcliff, the musician who taught the singing schools at Beaver Pond, and William H. Hinchcliff, his father’s successor at the family farm and store.

Ella Nora (Denning) Sprague, one of the early teachers at Stotlar School, was appointed postmistress of Carterville after her husband’s death. With the expiration of her appointment she brought her family back to their farm in Section 4 of Carterville Township. The neighbors petitioned for a post office, with Mrs. Sprague as mistress. It was established June 26, 1889 under the name of Dago. The old name of Fredonia was replaced August 3, and service continued until September 15, 1900. Mrs. Sprague had no equipment; she kept letters and papers, stamps and money in a bureau drawer. The mail sack was hung on a crane and grabbed as the train roared by.

The mines have been worked out; the railroad has removed its station, Fredonia is but a memory. Old timers still apply the name to its successor, Cambria.

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(Extracted from Pioneer Folks and Places, Barbara Barr Hubbs, 1939, on sale at the Williamson County Museum)