Sneed’s Bainbridge History

The Trail that Colonel George Rogers Clark and his men followed from Fort Massac to Fort Kaskaskia was crossed by the Frankfort to Jonesboro Trail at a point west of Marion. This point lies in section 16 of West Marion Township. These trails were only paths made by the buffalo and followed by the Indians. There was an Indian Camp where the trails crossed until about 1813.

A man named Kipps came to this point and opened a trading post in 1818. Another trader by the name of Thompson set up a store in a log house in 1819. Thompson sold coffee for 75 cents a pound, calico for 50 cents a yard and other articles at the same high prices. Other traders followed; among them were Allen Bainbridge and his brother John. On February 18, 1837 Allen Bainbridge opened a post office in his store and became its first postmaster. The post office and town, hitherto nameless, became Bainbridge. In 1839 the Frankfort-Jonesboro Trail was cut out into a Post Road. Passengers arrived daily. Bainbridge was fifteen miles from Frankfort by stage.

Being a crossroad town, when crossroad towns were few and far between, Bainbridge had an unusual amount of taverns. Taverns in those days were hotels where one could get a room, meals and whiskey. John Bainbridge, F. F. Duncan, William Turner, D. Demsey, John Davis and James Goddard all ran taverns in the hamlet.

Many craftsmen came to Bainbridge; among them was Samuel Dunaway, who set up a hattery. He later built and was president of the Carbondale and Shawneetown Railroad, in 1871. He made sure that the railroad was built through his home town and that its principal station was located there.

In 1837, Franklin County was divided so as to form Franklin County out of the north half of it and Williamson County out of the south half. Bainbridge was near the geographical center of the new county and it was named county seat of Williamson County. The county seat was moved to the newly laid out town of Marion, in October of 1839.

Dr. George L. Owen set up practice in Bainbridge in 1840. He became a leading citizen in the pioneer community. Besides practicing medicine he ran a store. As soon as the store was set up the Bainbridge Post Office was moved to his store and he became postmaster. He also collected the federal tax on whiskey distilled in the county. He was land agent for the Illinois Central Railroad. In this capacity he sold land given to the railroad to subsidize its construction. The doctor was a member of the commission that supervised the location and building of Anna State Hospital. He was an intensively loyal unionist during the Civil War. In April 1861, he learned of a conspiracy to burn the Illinois Central Railroad Bridge over Big Muddy River north of Carbondale. This railroad was the chief supply route for General Grant’s Army. Dr. Owen rode horseback from Bainbridge to Carbondale to the telegraph office and revealed the plot to Governor Richard Yates. The Governor ordered a company of soldiers, with some artillery, to stop at the bridge and guard it. This guard spent the entire war years here. The remainder of the troops on the train went on to Cairo.

The school at Bainbridge was established by Dr. Owen in 1840. He served as its first teacher. Nehemiah A. Hunt taught the school until he began his ministry as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in 1848. Dr. James Hayton taught there four years while he was practicing medicine with Dr. Owen.

Bainbridge Missionary Baptist Church was organized May 15, 1865. The first meetings were held in the schoolhouse until a church could be built. W. T. Chamness was the first pastor.

A Professor Buff started “a school of higher education” in Bainbridge in 1840. It lasted six years.

The Regional Military met for drill in Bainbridge in 1845 and the troops began drinking. Arguments arose, tempers became hot and boys were at the point of war when lightning struck a huge cottonwood tree on the drill ground. Almost the same instant the sky opened and rain poured down like from an enormous bucket. The soldiers forgot their differences and ran for shelter. Not many drill meetings were as exciting as this one.

The town gradually declined. The post office was closed in 1881. Dr. Owen died in 1883 and the village lost its most active promoter. The Illinois Central Railroad Company bought the Carbondale and Shawneetown Railroad and Samuel Dunaway no longer controlled the railroad or its influence on the town.

Today the village is gone. The railroad still passes through the spot where it stood. The land is under cultivation. A rustic sign reading “BAINBRIDGE 1839 1st County Seat” stood at the place where the road crossed the railroad but it is now gone. Only the post remains. Across the railroad south of the village sight is the old Bainbridge Cemetery. It has grown up in trees. All the gravestones are broken down except one, a large red granite inscribed, “Julia the wife of Samuel Dunaway.” Samuel Dunaway’s tall stone has fallen down, also, Charles A. Dunaway and Martha R. Newton. The oldest burial seems to be George W. Brown, born March 18, 1860; died December 22, 1860. There is a pile of broken gravestones under a tree.

One and one-half miles east of the intersections of State Highways 148 and old 13 is a road leading north. One-fourth up that road is the railroad, cemetery and sight of old Bainbridge. T. W. (Bill) Moncur owns the land now and lives in a house back from the road.

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(Ghost Towns of Southern Illinois, by Glenn J. Sneed, published 1977)