Sneed’s Chamnesstown History

Chamnesstown was located in section 19 of West Marion Township. When John Chamness died at Turkey Hill in St. Clair County in 1825, his widow, Sarah, brought her children to the Chamnesstown location on Crab Orchard Creek. One son, Wiley Berry Chamness moved one mile south of Chamnesstown and built a home, later his descendants built a flour mill there and the place was called Chamness Crossroad. All this is in Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge and is in a restricted area. The mill was at Chamnesstown and Ogden road crossing. The concrete foundation of the old mill can still be seen there.

The first Chamness to come to America from London went out one night on a family errand. While he was crossing London Bridge he was knocked unconscious and taken aboard a British freighter. He was forced to work as a sailor all the way over to America. When the ship arrived in Philadelphia, the captain demanded he pay his fare before he left the ship. He had no money when he was shanghaied and he had no money when he landed across the Atlantic. Chamness was sold to a Quaker in Philadelphia as a bond servant. Bond servants were not slaves in that they were not permanent property of their master. A meager wage was set and when the passage was paid in labor, Chamness was free. Chamness was a servant of the Quaker quite a long time and the Quaker had a great influence on Chamness and his descendants.

Wiley Berry Chamness became a prominent Missionary Baptist preacher. The Quaker influence showed up in him. He always wore the broad brimmed hat of the Quaker and addressed people in the first person singular, thee and thou.

Joseph Mouser moved into the community in the late 1880’s. He put up a general store in 1888. Mouser had an eye for business and soon added a grain elevator, flour mill, farm machinery agency and a buggy and wagon agency to the store. Chamnesstown Post Office was opened in the store January 24, 1889 and Marshall E. Chamness was the postmaster. It was closed April 30, 1902. Dr. Gillespie set up an office and began practicing medicine about the time Mouser arrived.

Although the community was small, it was important. Farmers came here to sell their cream and eggs, their wheat and corn. Here they bought their groceries, farming tools, wagons and buggies. Here they bought their stock feed and had their corn ground into meal.

The buggy sales dropped in the 1920’s but wagon sales held up until the 1930s. The Great Depression hurt Chamnesstown as it did all Southern Illinois. In 1935 Crab Orchard Lake Project was begun as a W.P.A. project. The Federal Government bought all the land in the Chamnesstown area. The town was bulldozed down and burned. The Crab Orchard Lake Project was finished in 1938 and the water of the lake began to cover the sight of Chamnesstown. The water now covers the sight of Chamnesstown and an unnamed Indian village that was there long before it. The lake is relatively shallow here and one can see the foundations upon which rested the buildings of Chamnesstown. In another generation all memories of the village will be gone but the foundations will remain like buried tombstones, monuments of a hamlet that died that Crab Orchard Lake might live.

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