McKinney Chapel, in section 36 of Southern Township, was given the name of their boy preacher by unanimous vote of the congregation when they organized in 1895. James Wesley McKinney was just twenty-one when he began a series of meetings in the homes of Willie James and Andy Starrick. The neighbors gathered of an evening and the preacher addressed them from the hearthstone. When he grew too warm on one side, he took it as a sign it was time to address the opposite group in the room.
In the spring the meetings adjourned to a brush arbor, and sixty-two converts were baptized. The Free Baptist church was organized, a building erected and named McKinney chapel, and the young preacher served the congregation seven years. It is still an active church.
Rev. McKinney married Miss Agnes L. Neilson (a grand-daughter of the preacher whose farm became Neilson junction) that eventful year of 1895, and was trying to farm as well as preach. When his church members wanted him to hold day services, corn planting time interfered. But men came with eleven teams, broke the ground, and planted the crop all in one day. Their ingenuity extended to practical jokes. One night when services were over the preacher was delayed until everyone had gone. He untied his horses and tried to get into his wagon, but its wheels were in the air. Boys had unhitched the team, turned the wagon over, and hitched up again. Some of the men were called back to right the wagon, and all went home.
From that first church, Rev. Mr. McKinney has served many congregations and all Baptists in the Southern Illinois Baptist association. He divided his time with school work, and supervised the schools of Johnston City, Carterville, and Creal Springs. In 1914, James W. McKinney was elected county Superintendent of Schools and then reelected for two more four year terms. His second son, Robert E. McKinney, was elected to the same office November 8, 1938, a promotion from his work as principal of three Herrin grade schools.
The McKinney family has been identified with the county from its first year. John McKinney was here in 1839; Thomas H. McKinney marched off with Captain Cunningham’s company to the Mexican war, and came home in 1848 to the welcome at Marion courthouse. James H. McKinney enlisted at Marion in Company B, 81st Illinois infantry. His desire to defend the Union cost him nine months’ imprisonment at Andersonville. But he survived the horrors of that prison, came home, married, and raised the boy preacher who was schooled in Lance district.
(Extracted from Pioneer Folks and Places, Barbara Barr Hubbs, 1939 which is on sale at the Williamson County Museum)