Many of the earliest settlers in Fayette County came in small groups, bound together by family or religious ties.
The Paul Beck family is recognized as making one of the earliest permanent settlements, with members of the family camping on the banks of the Kaskaskia River during the winter of 1805, near what would become Vandalia.
When weather improved, they moved upriver, exploring a stream that would later bear the family name. At a gushing spring, they met their neighbors, the Indians, who also became friends. Near this spring, Paul built a double-hewed log cabin with a double chimney between the two rooms, so that each had a fireplace. A porch on the south side ran the full length of the cabin, in the plantation style.
Before Paul could build his log cabin or lay claim to any land, he entered into an agreement with the resident Indians to accept the Indian tribal government as his government, agree not to cut the old standing trees, and to protect and preserve game and fish. The family heads of the Lorton Settlement, farther up the bluff, would have made a similar agreement.
Wild turkeys, three or four deer, corn pone, pumpkin, squash and other pioneer delicacies were served at the annual feast that the Beck clan prepared for their Indian neighbors as part of their agreement with them. The feast lasted until all of the food was consumed.
Many of the early settlements did not last long enough to have their names recorded on a map. Other than deed books or cemetery records, the only place they may be mentioned is in the early county commissioner record books.
Allen’s Settlement was located west of Vandalia in 1823. Bailey’s Settlement is mentioned along with the Huffman Settlement in 1821, both located north of Vandalia. The Haley Settlement was east of Vandalia on the Old Vincennes Trace.
The Robertson Settlement, on the county line with Shelby County and east of Oconee, was named for Ebenezer and Rebecca Mathews Robertson, early settlers from Hopkins County, Ky. Parents of a dozen children, their descendants populate both Fayette and Shelby counties.
Schwarm’s Settlement grew up around the log cabin of John Schwarm on Hickory Creek. The cabin is now preserved at Ingram Pioneer Village at Kinmundy. Pope’s Bluff in Pope Township was established along the Kaskaskia River, but was passed over in favor of Reeves Bluff (Reavis) in selecting the site for the new state capitol in 1818.
As roads improved, more settlers arrived. Some towns, like Olivie, were surveyed and platted by boosters, but the lots did not sell. Presque Isle is another pioneer Fayette County village surveyed and platted because of westward-bound settlers. Surveyed by Silas Smith on June 23, 1840, for Robert Dempsey, his village was located in the east half of the southeast quarter of section 31 of Bear Grove Township. The plat was recorded in the Fayette County Deed Book D, page 145.
Presque Isle, possibly named after Presque Isle, Maine, is mentioned in the experiences of a traveler who recorded his visit to Illinois: "As the coach left Vandalia, traveling westward on the Vandalia to Greenville Road (now U.S. Route 140), they first passed Pond Grove, a 'small cluster of trees surrounding a small lake.'
"The next village was the Bowles Community, with a tavern called ‘Hell’s Half Acre.’ Rounding the curve and down the incline to Coon Creek, a few miles east of the Hurricane…As they passed down into the valley, they saw the village of Presque Isle on the right. A mill was built here later.”
Through my study of Fayette County place names, I learned that when I was very small, we lived in "Hogwallow." This was a low area at the north end of Second Street. A man raised a quantity of hogs here, and the Beccue Dairy also stood in this area, just east of Vandalia Auto Supply.
"Sapptown" is another suburb of Vandalia, named for Charles Sapp. This was the area west of the Fayette County Courthouse, bounded by Eighth Street. The old third ward school stood where Washington School stands today, and was called Sapptown School.
Several years ago, I compiled a list of all known settlements, villages and towns in the county; I came up with 130 listings. At the top of my list was Alderson Siding in Section 3 of Kaskaskia Township. Named for Thomas Alderson, “conqueror of the waste swamp lands in the river bottom,” he had camps and operated a store here for his lumbermen. This is in the area of the town of Woodyard on U.S. Route 51.
Some of the names indicated an area rather than a village, such as Confidence in Otego Township or Independence in Sharon Township.
Hitoga and Lotoga in Seminary Township, likewise, indicated a geographical area. Hitoga identified the area around Pittsburg, with Lotoga describing the district south of Pittsburg across Hickory Creek.
A news article from the April 19, 1920, issue of a Bond County newspaper tells of a free-for-all at Tamalco. The Hitoga men had sent word they were coming to break up the dance. The Tamalco and Keyesport men were waiting for them, and persons who witnessed it said it was more exciting than a movie.
For many towns, the establishment of a post office was the reason for naming a town. This was the case with Augsburg in Wilberton Township. The area residents wanted a post office, but needed a name for it.
Gottfried Metzger, a merchant in the crossroads village, discussed it with other church members and decided to honor their pastor, Rev. Suhren, who grew up in Augsburg, Germany. The post office was established on Jan. 13, 1898, and disestablished on June 22, 1904.
Today, more than 200 years since Paul Beck and his family first camped on the Kaskaskia River bank, more than 100 settlements, villages and communities have sprung up in Fayette County. Some flourished, others died and still others never made it from paper to reality.
Those that remain are bound together by family, religious and community ties…history repeating itself.