Williamsburg Hill was home to mastodons in the ancient days...
Leroy Hunter, a resident of Williamsburg Hill, had a theory as to how Williamsburg Hill was formed. Mr. Hunter believed that the "Hill" marks the junction of two glacial rivers. After the last great glacier melted, the rivers cut deep gorges across the beds of ice and left pockets of sand to stand as bare hills. Leroy believed that the whole chain of lesser hills, from Williamsburg to Tower Hill, marked the winding course of an ancient glacial river. A confirmation of this theory is the fact that Williamsburg Hill is formed entirely of gravel.
Regardless, of how it is believed that the Hill was formed, we know that it was bare of both soil and vegetation, in the early days. The flooded gravel pit stood while the floods gradually melted away from the prairies until only big pools of stagnant water and marshes remained.
The great dust storms formed in dense clouds for hundreds of miles. The storms lifted the earth where the water had receded and deposited it on the hills. Through the years, every dust storm has made a small contribution to the surface of the Hill. The soil that covered the Hill, was found to be four to five feet deep by the 1930's.
As the mastodon and the great mammoth retreated into oblivion, the barrens and marshes grew lush with grass and other vegetation.
The peaceful, Indian mound builders first came to stay on the Hill. Other Indians, came from the northwest and completely annihilated the mound builders. The remaining Indians were not farmers as the mound builders had been. They traveled to the Hill more often and in greater numbers. They were composed of many warring nomadic tribes that took advantage of the game, water, and the Hill's vantage as a lookout spot. The Hill was an ideal place for the headquarters of many Indian villages.
In 1673, the French claimed the Illinois countryside. The French traded with the Indians of the area, who bartered with furs and pelts.Between 1673 and 1778, the prairies had been o wned by France, claimed by Spain, captured by the British, and surrendered to the colonies as property of the United States of America.
In 1818, when Shadrach Bond was governor, Illinois was admitted to statehood. It was during that time that the first settlers came to Williamsburg Hill. At first, there were eight families. Charles Wakefield, Sr., his wife, and three married sons were one of the first families to settle there. Mr. Wakefield was the first to buy land from the government at $1.25 per acre. The entry to that sale was made, in 1821, at the state capital, in Vandalia, Illinois.
Problems for the first settlers was procuring meal. The nearest horse mill was located at Greenville, IL. The pioneers got a log, a hand spike, and an iron wedge and fashioned their own log mill. First they burnt out the log, about half way down. After that, they bored several holes into the top of the log. After that, the corn was pounded into meal with the hand spike to which the iron wedge was attached A sieve, made of deer skin stretched over a hickory loop, was made. Holes were punched into the deer skin. The meal was poured through the sieve. The finest meal was used for bread making and the courser meal was used for hominy. In 1821, Simeon Wakefield brought the first horse mill to Shelby County.
The first school house was erected, in 1821, near Williamsburg Hill. Moses Story was the schoolmaster. The first religious meeting in the county was conducted there in 1825 by Joseph Foulke, a Methodist circuit rider. At about the same time as Abraham Lincoln walked through Williamsburg on his way to court in Vandalia, the founder of Methodism in Illinois, Peter Cartwright, was preaching. Mr. Cartwright preached on the old ridge camp ground, located on the southern slope of Williamsburg Hill. People flocked from miles around to hear Cartwright preach. The Methodists and the Masonic Lodge built a two story building and the lower story was used for church and the second story was used as the Masonic hall. People knew that he would be there for the two to three weeks when church camp was held each summer. Mr. Cartwright was tested by some “rowdies” that were bent upon breaking up the camp meetings. When they caused a disturbance, he hustled them outside and proceeded to thrash them soundly, quoting scripture all the while. Cartwright was a Democrat that had sympathy with Abraham Lincoln. He denunciated the crime of human bondage. Men upon Williamsburg Hill were divided on the topic of slavery. The original Methodist Church was dismantled and moved to Lakewood around 1900.
The village of Williamsburg, which was also called Cold Spring for a time, was laid out in 1839 by Dr. Thomas Williams and William Horsman. Cold Spring was the first settlement in Shelby County. It was named that because of the springs located there. Cold Spring was located on the south side of the large hill and, for about 40 years, was a bustling community of about four square blocks.
At one time, there were two churches, a doctor‘s office, a saloon, a post office, a blacksmith shop and a number of modest homes. Orville Robertson carried on a general store, Dr. Thomas J. Fritts administered to the sick, and J.W. Torbutt was the blacksmith of the village. J.P. Dunaway was the carpenter and builder.
The Cold Spring Site was an ideal place that had water, fuel, game, and all things that pioneers thought were necessary to make a successful settlement. At first, they only farmed the hillsides. In some places they cleared the land and in other tracts, they simply girdled the trees and planted their corn amoung them.
The main street of the community was once part of the "Old Anglin’ Road", a stage route that ran from Shelbyville to Vandalia. It was this stage line that brought prosperity to the village for many years but when the stagecoach died out, Williamsburg followed suit. The end came in 1880 when the Beardstown, Shawneetown and Southeastern Railroad constructed their line to the east of the village. The residents of the village moved along with it and most settled three miles to the east in the now burgeoning community of Lakewood. Other influences were the Civil War and the Goldrush of 1849. All took their people away and most of them never returned.
Over the years, the strange occurrences of the supernatural and the ghostly have been attributed to Williamsburg Hill. The occurrences are well accounted for on the internet and by people that live on the Hill. Red lights, strange shadows, sightings of ghosts, strange sounds, and a general feeling of unease have been reported by visitors at Ridge Cemetery.
No matter what you believe, Williamsburg Hill is an interesting place, full of history. If you go there, you can think back on the stories of old and imagine the Indians and pioneers that settled this beautiful countryside. If you are ready for a Sunday drive that will take you back in time, visit Williamsburg Hill and Ridge Cemetery, just south and east of Tower Hill, Il .
(Information obtained from “Here and There in Shelby County”, written by Beulah Gordon and several internet stories. Pictures Gennell Black)
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