A Pictorial History of Williamson County
The Nannie Gray Parks map of Williamson County, Illinois, as the county existed in 1839 when it was created from the southern half of Franklin County, has been called Nannie Gray Parks’ greatest achievement by Homer Butler, who for many years wrote a column called “Glances at Life” which appeared in the Marion Daily Republican newspaper, and which served to remind us so often of our county’s colorful, sometimes riotous, history, is also responsible for calling the map a pictorial history of Williamson County’s early years.
Although Nannie, as she was affectionately known to her many friends, never wrote a book, she was able to provide Paul Angle with much material that he later used in his book, “Bloody Williamson.” Barbara Burr Hubbs, who in 1939 wrote “Pioneer Folks and Places of Williamson County, Illinois,” and who worked with Mrs. Parks, as a young woman in collecting historical material, attributes much to Mrs. Parks’ research. It was in appreciation of such that Mrs. Hubbs permitted the Williamson County Historical Society to reprint her book. Copies of the book are still available through the Historical Society.
Among the materials Mrs. Parks bequeathed to the Williamson County Historical Society at her death in the 1960′s is a handwritten story of how she obtained material for the souvenir map which she prepared at the request of the Pioneer Sons and Pioneer Daughters organizations (forerunners of the present Williamson County Historical Society.)
For the greater part of her eighty years of life Nannie Gray Parks worked at her hobbies, genealogy and history. After serving eight years as a member of the Marion Carnegie Library Board, she became its librarian in 1922, a post she held for the succeeding thirty-six years. In that position she devoted all her spare time to studying and preserving the material she discovered about the lives of early settlers in the county. She often traced their ancestry back to their families’ migrations westward from the colonies on the east coast.
Records indicate that, in preparing the map, she searched court records, land deeds, war records, marriage and cemetery records, store account records and family records and family bible records. She studied existing maps and histories of the area. She questioned friends, acquaintances and people she met during her years as librarian, and enlisted the aid of three youths from the Civilian Conservation Corps to assist her in finding, old, forgotten, rural cemeteries where gravestones gave her information about our pioneer ancestors. Securing the help of Karl Smith, a cartographer and designer of Louisville, Kentucky, she paid for his services from her own meager salary as librarian during the latter half of the great depression of the 1930′s. We know she submitted the designs for the mills, churches, blockhouses and Indian camps, as well as other sketches that appear on the map. She collected the names of more than 400 families who came to the county between 1804 and 1840. These names and the dates of their settling here were shown around the boundaries of the map.
This is no ordinary map. It is actually a pictorial map of the county as it existed in 1839 when Williamson County was formed. One can almost write the story of that early settlement from the map itself, for by following the early trails across the map, the Worthen Trail from the eastern part of Illinois, the Post Road from Jonesboro in Union County, the road to Kaskaskia from Lusk’s Ferry, the Jordan Trail which led from Charles Humphrey’s blockhouse, where in 1808 the Humphrey family, friends of Alexander Hamilton, so the story goes, settled near the Blairsville post office, and “Pulltite” where travelers could cross the Big Muddy River in their search for a new home in what was then wilderness.
In the southern part of the map we find where it is alleged George Rogers Clark and his men traveled from Fort Massac through Williamson County in 1778 on the way to conquer Kaskaskia and claim the Northwest Territory for the United States. A little to the east on the map is a drawing of some Indian braves. These may have been among the twelve who accompanied Tecumseh when he crossed the Wabash, traveling through our area with the objective of enlisting the Creek Indians in his war against Governor Harrison. We have heard the story of his passing through the county, through the present site of Marion, thence westward to the Kaskaskia Trail.
Scattered throughout the map are drawings of Indian camps and old mills such as existed in those early days. Toward the center top of the map we find Schoharrie Prairie where Mr. Campbell built the first brick house in the county in 1840. Not far from that house is Lake Creek Post Office, which in 1830 served the village of Jeffersonville, better known as “Shakerag”. Mrs. Parks took pains to identify Shakerag. At some time early in that period, we are told, an enterprising entrepreneur in Jeffersonville advertised by placing a red rag over his low mud roof, thus letting people know, as they climbed the hill, that a new supply of whiskey had arrived.
Shakerag of course, exists today only in the memories of descendants of the families that placed their homes and businesses on rollers transporting them westward to establish the link town of Johnston City beside the newly laid Chicago, Paducah and Memphis Railroad tracks.
Near the upper right-hand corner of the map we find Jordan’s blockhouse, the first settlement in Williamson County. Here, history tells us. about six years after the seven Jordan brothers had arrived at what was to become Franklin County, Francis Jordan, one of the brothers, built a fort at a point just inside the north line of what later became Williamson County This was in 1810 and in 1814 Francis Jordan traveled to the new land office in Shawneetown to record his claim, the first land entry for Williamson County.
Near the middle of the county most of the early trails crossed at Bainbridge, said to be the first place in Williamson County where people gathered into a village where a Mr. Kipps opened the first store in the county. Bainbridge, of course, has disappeared, as have many of the other communities shown on the Parks map. That settlement was gradually deserted as its residents moved closer to the county seat at Marion. However, according to Barbara Burr Hubbs book, Professor Bugg’s school of higher learning, established at Bainbridge in 1840 was the first place, in the county where children were afforded “a better education than reading, writing and ciphering to the rule of three.”
The map, of course, cannot tell these stories in detail, but it does call to mind tales that have been told and retold over the years in Williamson County. This unusual map was prepared as a souvenir of the 100th anniversary of the formation of Williamson County and 500 copies were printed and sold at that Centennial celebration. In 1977, 40 years later and seventeen years after Mrs. Parks died, the Williamson County Historical Society, of which she was a loyal and hard-working member, decided to reprint the map. The Society altered the size somewhat in order to fit our more modern frames. Among the Nannie Parks papers which had been bequeathed to the Society were discovered eighty-five more names of pioneers who had entered land prior to 1840 and these were added to the right side of the new copies of the map.
To the list of people who have preserved much of the priceless history of our area one should also add the name of Nannie Gray Parks, an unforgettable woman who spent her lifetime attempting to conserve information about early families and interesting stories about the county. The Nannie Gray Parks papers, bequeathed to the Williamson County Historical Society in the 1960′s, were microfilmed by the Church of Latter Day Saints when they worked in Williamson County, and the microfilms of almost 300 files she painstakingly preserved are in use in libraries all over the United States. It was from these notes and from her lifetime of research that she produced this map – this “unique history of the county in map form.”
(“A Pictorial History of Williamson County, Written by Pearl Roberts; published in “Footprints” a quarterly publication of the Williamson County Historical Society, Volume 8, #2, 2005)