Herrin’s Prairie History

Herrin’s Prairie was an inviting meadow to the pioneer coming to look for a home, its extent two miles east and west, three miles north and south. A wood of oak and hickory skirted the southern border, a slight ridge rose to the northwest. Indians frightened off the first settler, Mr. Hibbins. Isaac Herring was the first permanent settler, his land entry made at Shawneetown in 1816. His name was given to the prairie, but his son-in-law David Herrin arrived a few years later, and as time passed the two names were confused and the shorter was adopted.

Josiah Dillard, Samuel K. Perkins, and Conrad Baker made their homes on this prairie in the days when Illinois was still a territory. Isaac Herring was a Baptist preacher, and in 1820 he gathered his neighbors to build a rough log church they called Rich Grove. Elder Herring was its first and only preacher, save as some itinerant brother visited the prairie.

The first hint of industrial development came with the horse mill built by John Lamb in 1823, and the cotton gin Jonathan Herring built on the Dillard farm in 1825. Earlier they had used hand mills to grind their grain, and had gone to Harmony Town, Indiana for their wool to be carded. The Lamb mill was moved to Phelps prairie, and Jonathan Herring built a better horse mill, with two sets of mill stones, to grind both wheat and corn. But even with two horses at work, grinding one bushel of corn required two hours. The miller made a rule to grind only two bushels at a time for any customer.

Benjamin Chitty, who has left his name in Chittyville School, moved into the prairie during this time. The Bandy family made land entries in section 20, and started Bandyville. John Ferges made a new home for his family at Fergestown. The Hunter and Duncan families made homes to the east.

The trail from Jordan’s fort to Humphreys ford passed through the north side of Herrin’s prairie. Post roads and stage routes were laid out in the thirties. The legislature authorized a road from Frankfort to Brownsville in Jackson County, and it was routed through Herrin’s prairie. The Franklin county commissioners’ court set up a road district named in deference to the old preacher who was still active. Wesley Bandy was supervisor in 1838; Jesse Childress, in 1839.

“Herring’s prairie road district” was bounded: “Beginning a Mile below where the road Leading from Frankfort to Journsborou (Jonesboro?) crosses the Near fork of Pond Creek, Thence down said creek to big Muddy river, Thence to the Mouth of Hurricane Creek, Thence up said creek to Herring’s prairie road district line, Thence in due Easterly direction with said Line to where the Road from Golconda to St Louis crosses a small Branch near John Duncan’s old place. Thence in a north easterly direction to the beginning.” Warrenton K. Spiller and Benjamin Spiller were specifically instructed to work their “hands” in this road district. Each man living in the area was required to work five days of each year on the roads, or pay an equivalent amount.

When the Williamson county commissioners’ court met in October 1839 for their first session, they named Alfred Chitty supervisor of Herrin township’s roads. Road districts were made identical with congressional townships in that year.

Men of every family on the prairie went off to fight Indians threatening the northern settlements in the summer of 1832. One of their comrades was attracted by their descriptions of their home, and came back with them. This was George H. Harrison, who took a bride from Herrin’s prairie to his new home at Harrison’s mill. After a few years the family returned to the prairie, and Mr. Harrison became carpenter, storekeeper, and justice of the peace on Herrin’s prairie.

The settlers built a log schoolhouse in 1844. Isaac Stockton was the first teacher. His family lived near Marion and made bells with unusually clear tones. In 1849 the men of the family loaded a wagon with their stock bells, and drove to the winter quarters of the immigrant trains in Missouri. They caught the gold rush fever, drove on to the west, and established the city of Stockton, California.

Storekeeper Harrison saw a goldmine nearer home, in the new county seat of Marion. He turned over his Herrin’s prairie store to his brother-in-law Oliver Herrin, resigned the justiceship to William C. Stover, and started to open a store on the north side of the square in Marion. But death interfered with his plans. The widowed Delila Herrin Harrison brought her children back to the prairie, and managed their inheritance with much wisdom. She not only managed her household, but did a man’s work in the fields. She could build the best rail fences in the neighborhood, and her grandsons say her eye was very sharp to see a broken fence and send them running to repair it.

Samuel Stotlar brought his family to the prairie in 1856, and bought from David Herrin a part of the homestead the first settlers had entered at the United States land office. The Stotlars were Ohio people, and brought better ideals of education to their new home. A boxed building was erected in what is now the south side of the city, and named Stotlar School. There the children of the prairie received the best instruction the times afforded.

David Ruffin Harrison joined his uncle in 1858 in the store his father had opened during his boyhood, and began his life work. The Harrison daughter married William Jasper Pope, son of the doctor on Pope’s prairie where Zeigler now stands. Mr. Pope had run his father’s mill, and with his wife’s brother and uncle Jackson Herrin as partners Herrin s prairie flouring null was built in 1862. This was the third steam mill in the county and was operated by Mr. Pope until his death in 1867.

The Civil war was on, and though many of the men were away, farm prices were high and prosperity visited the prairie. Mr. Harrison built a frame store building, and on May 26, 1864 he opened a fourth class post office with the name Herrin’s Prairie.

In the winter of 1864 and 1865, Elder Samuel Wilson called the people together in Stotlar school and organized a Christian church. The original members were Newton Bradley, Samuel and Elizabeth (Parsons) Stotlar, Nathan Cox, George and Sarah J. (Ferges) Cox, William and Louisa Williams, and Granny Lawrence. In 1867 this congregation built a church house alongside Stotlar School, and occupied it until 1898.

A Missionary Baptist church was organized in 1865, largely from members of Hurricane church. D. R. Harrison was elected clerk of the church, and kept the records many years.

When William Jasper Pope died, his widow and the other owners of the milll brought Wiley Blair from Blairsville to be the miller. A little cotton gin was part of the plant.

The mill had a little room upstairs, and there Herrin’s Prairie Masonic lodge, number 693, was organized October 1, 1872. Dr. Samuel H. Bundy, who had preached at Gum Springs Church, was master and his son William H. Bundy was the last charter member of the lodge at the time of his death in 1938. D. R. Harrison was already a Mason, but his cousin John D. Herrin, merchant at Carterville, and the miller Wiley Blair were initiated. John G. Williams, who had started to the Civil war in the same regiment as Ephraim Snyder Herrin, transferred his membership to the new lodge and became one of the early officers. Mr. Williams married Louisa Harrison Pope and their sons are Walter and Dayton Williams.

Carterville was developing its coal, and a railroad was built from Carbondale to Marion. Abraham Whitcotton, who succeeded his father as mail carrier for Herrin’s Prairie post office, began making trips twice a week for mail at Carterville, instead of the weekly trips he had made to George W. Sisney’s house on the stage route between Carbondale and Marion. Mr. Whitecotton was paid 50c a trip, money that often came out of postmaster Harrison’s pocket, for the sale of stamps on Herrin’s prairie was small.

But business was good, and a new brick building was constructed for Harrison’s store in 1874. A brick kiln was built on the grounds, and the Harrison home was built at the same time just as it stands in the northwest part of the city today. The Masonic Lodge moved into a hall built above the store. Mr. Harrison was master of the lodge through these years, and was honored with the thirty third degree of Masonry.

Coal at Carterville indicated coal at Herrin, and a drilling venture was financed in 1892. Ephraim Snyder Herrin joined with his cousins, D.R. Harrison and Mrs. Williams, and hired Peter Schneider of Murphysboro to do the first prospecting for coal on Herrin’s prairie. They chose the southwest corner of Mrs. Williams’ farm, now the corner of Legion Boulevard and East Herrin Street, as the site. Their farms joined there, at the corners of the old North and Northeast Public roads. The men put up the cash, Mrs. Williams boarded the workers. A fine vein of coal was found at 185 feet.

The Chicago and Carbondale Railroad Company was organized in 1895, and Ephraim Herrin persuaded the engineers to route their line through Herrin’s prairie and connect with the railroad through the center of the county at Johnston City. The first railroad station on the prairie was built in 1895. Drilling took place in several locations that year and the next. In 1896, the Big Muddy Coal and Iron Company sank the number 7 mine in section 20 of Herrin Township.

Herrin’s prairie was on the way to becoming the city of Herrin.

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