Sneed’s Blairsville History

In section 20 of Blairsville Township, the banks of Big Muddy River are high. On the east banks the Indians found good camping ground. There is a good gravel bottom ford at this point and the Indians built a village there. Here they lived for many years. Here they hunted game in the forest and caught fish from the river; tilled their fields of corn, squash, and beans. Here they bore their young and buried their dead. A brush arbor trading post was built where furs were traded for tools, knives and cooking ware. Some tell us the Spanish came here in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

After the white man came and heavy wagons crossed the ford they pulled mud from the banks and deposited it in the stream, making the ford more difficult to cross. The once excellent ford acquired the name “Pull Tight.”

The ford was first paved with wooden poles making what was known as a Corduroy road. Then a wooden budge was built over the river and it could be crossed even in high waters. Williamson County laid a one lane concrete pavement from Bush to Blairsville and a narrow steel truss bridge was built over the river. Today it is crossed by a two lane state built highway and a new bridge was built in 1938.

William Campbell built a log cabin near the ford in 1823. He did not live there very long for he soon forsook his cabin and went to virgin land in Wisconsin. The settling of Steven Blair near the ford in 1832 was the beginning of Blairsville. To him the village owes its name. He built a water mill on the east bank of Big Muddy River a short distance upstream from the ford. The foundation of the old grist mill is still there.

Wiley Blair came from his native Posey County. Indiana and joined his older brother on the banks of Big Muddy. He set up a store and the point became a place where settlers came to trade and have their corn ground into meal. Wiley was a constable as well as a miller and storekeeper. Wiley moved from Blairsville to Herrin’s Prairie and became miller there. His daughter attended Chittyville School.

When Steven Blair abandoned the mill on the river, Ethan Allen Sprague purchased the sight and made a fish trap of the dam. Sprague was a proud fisherman. If you did not know already, when you bought a mess of fish from him you would find that he was from Vermont and was elated about his Green Mountain heritage.

George Aiken and John H. Mulkey opened a store in Blairsville April 26, 1850 and a post office in the store two days later. George Aiken was the first postmaster. Also on the 28th of April, Blairsville was laid out. It consisted of 8 blocks of four lots and was recorded in Plat Book C page 292.

George Aiken served as postmaster until he enlisted in the 128th Illinois Infantry to fight in the Civil War. Aiken became quartermaster for the 128th Infantry. He served his hitch and returned to lead the notorious Aiken Gang.

John H. Mulkey sold his part of the store to George Aiken, before Aiken went to war and set up a law practice in Cairo. He later became circuit judge and district judge. One partner became a law officer and the other became an outlaw. Both excelled in his field. Aiken was tried before Mulkey for murder, convicted, and Mulkey sentenced his former partner to be hanged. The sentence was carried out.

The railroads missed Blairsville and it began a slow decline. This befell all such towns. Then in 1908 Madison Coal Company sank Number Twelve Mine south of the village. Almost immediately land values soared. Lots in Blairsville were worth more than they had ever been. During the second decade of the century, Blairsville had five stores. They were owned and run by Nickles, Romeo, Milton, Anderson, and Balena. There was also a barbershop run by Russell and Greer. Milton Colp opened a blacksmith shop. The one room school had to be expanded to two and again to three rooms. New houses were built. Places to board were difficult to find and prospective boarders were abundant. The Southern Methodist Church grew and served the village well. Then the mine closed in 1932 as the Great Depression began to take its toll. The village declined rapidly.

Today there are two businesses in the town, a Christmas tree outlet for Twinkle Tree Farms, owned by Romeo; and Elliot’s Tavern. There are about twenty houses scattered along the old one lane county highway. The Methodist Church closed and was sold to Joseph Harrison. The church was rented and reopened by the Royalton Nazarene Church as a mission for two years and closed again. The Jesus Name Tabernacle bought the building, repaired it and is holding church there now. Blairsville is a dying town, a ghost of what it once was.

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