The August Artifact of the Month at the Western Illinois Museum is a photograph, taken in 1905, of the Old Settlers (or Pioneers) Club of McDonough County. The photograph was taken in front of the J.F. Grier Furniture Store on the south side of the Square. The Old Settlers met as a club, an association, or a society, depending on the year of the organization. Despite the name variations, the premise of the group was basically the same – an organization which met to bring together those persons who were over a specified age and/or had spent a number of years in the county.
In 1905 it was noticed by the residents of Macomb that a consistent group of “elderly” residents would gather on a regular basis on the square to sit and reminisce of earlier days and engage in friendly conversations. J.F. Grier, who owned a furniture store, provided seating for the gentlemen in front of his store and ultimately encouraged a photographer from the Gaites Studio to come and take a photo of the group in front of his store, with a nice advertisement for his store prominently displayed. The original photograph showed 24 of the elderly residents, and then another photograph of 48 men, shown here, was taken and then printed in the local newspapers, with all of their names noted. The group was encouraged to meet at that year’s annual fair and thus the Pioneer Club of McDonough County was established in August 1905. Over 300 members had joined by the end of the year, aged from 71 to 101 years old. The only requirement was that they all be of “three score years and ten.” The oldest member at the fair of 1905 was Mrs. Mariah Neece, step-mother to Macomb’s Hon. W.H. Neece, one of the town’s noted lawyers and political figures. The August 16, 1905, Macomb Daily Journal contained an article about the groups meeting that year, however, it did not mention that this group had existed in previous years.
In July of 1869, an announcement was placed in the Macomb Journal calling together the “Old Settlers” of the county, and shortly after the first Old Settlers meeting took place. At that meeting at Campbell’s Hall, a roster of the men was taken, which included their name, place of nativity, age, the date they had settled in the county and where they currently resided. In addition to this, a resolution was made “That all persons living in McDonough County, who have lived in this State thirty-three years, may become members of the Old Settlers Society.” At that meeting, over 50 men were in attendance and presented their personal data for the roster. There was no minimum age for membership in this first group, but six men, over the age of 70, were present. William Pennington (70) held the notoriety of having been the first of the age group to have arrived in the area in January 1828, even before the county was established. He was the first settler in what was to become Pennington Point in New Salem Township. James Clarke (71) came to McDonough Co. in March 1830, and settled in the Macomb area, where there were but a few families living at the time. Clarke was instrumental in getting the county organized and held several of the county’s first offices, including that of county commissioner. The next of the county’s early arrivals was James W. Brattle (74) who came in August 1831, followed by William W. Bailey (72) in May 1833. Joseph McCrosky (71) came in April 1834 and the last of the septuagenarians, John Clark (74,) moved to the county in September 1835. Several other remembered names were in attendance, including James Campbell, Joseph P. Updegraff, Joseph Wyne, and James Creel. A second meeting was scheduled the following week, encouraging other “old settlers” in the county to join the group.
The 1878 History of McDonough County states that annual meetings of the Old Settlers’ Association were held in conjunction with the county fairs, with the exception of the year 1875. The purpose of the meetings? To provide a means where the men could gather and have considerable pleasure and satisfaction. The 1878 History also provides the articles of the constitution of the group in which Article 1 states that membership at that time was for “all citizens of McDonough County, who have resided therein thirty-three years, or who have resided in the State of Illinois thirty-three years, and who are now residents of said county, by giving their names, place of birth, age, and residence, become members of this Association.” In this history, a list of over 170 names were given, including eleven men who were born prior to 1800. Included in the list were two War of 1812 veterans who had moved to the county and died in or near Blandinsville: John Gilfrey, Sr. and David Glenn. As the group of “Old Settlers” aged, their numbers dwindled and by the time the 1885 History of McDonough County was published, a resolution was proposed and adopted that to be a member of the association, one only had to have lived in the state for 33 years, regardless of age.
Whatever the age or residence criteria for the group may have been, the meetings of the members, whether it was at the annual meetings or at their daily gatherings on the square, gave testament to an unspoken continued pride in their community. These men, and women, were the town’s forefathers, community leaders, merchants, educators, and every-day residents. Their collective and individual stories were shared, written down, and helped to document the history of Macomb and McDonough County.
This 1905 photo is on display at the Western Illinois Museum, 201 S. Lafayette Street, through August 2015. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; there is no admission, but donations are appreciated.
Photograph: The 1905 Old Settlers (or Pioneers) Club of McDonough County. A corresponding numbered list of the names is below.
1. Falder, Cornelious,- 76, Germany
2. Keithley, George W.- 71, Indiana
3. Wetherhold, A. P.- 73, Pennsylvania
4. McDonald, Josiah- 78, Ohio
5. Daily, I. W.- 75, Virginia
6. Beard, L. F.- 81, Kentucky
7. Compton, Henry- 76, Ohio
8. Hays, W. H.- 81, Kentucky
9. Brookling, William T.- 81, Kentucky
10. Allen, Joseph- 86, Connecticut
11. Logan, J. P.- 73, Illinois
12. Jones, Clinton- 73, Kentucky
13. Maguire, Ed- 75, Kentucky
14. Gesler, John- 77, Ohio
15. Randolph, D. L.- 80, Ohio
16. Miller, William- 72, Tennessee
17. Yard, Thomas C.- 74, Connecticut
18. Gash, James S.- 72, Kentucky
19. Stickle, A. B.- 80, Pennsylvania
20. Claxton, James- 70, England
21. Jaggard, Tolbert- 76, New Jersey
22. Tobin, Richard- 73, Ireland
23. Walker, O. F.- 75, Indiana
24. Ritter, William- 92, Pennsylvania
25. Colbert, T. S.- 78, Pennsylvania
26. Machin, James D.- 81, New York
27. Cline, A. J.- 74, Kentucky
28. Archer, John M.- 78, Ohio
29. Ewing, John- 87, Ohio
30. Robertson, J. S.- 81, Kentucky
31. Robinson, John- 74, Pennsylvania
32. Sapp, W. T.- 78, North Carolina
33. Cole, E. O.- 72, Ohio
34. Pace, G. W.- 79, Illinois
35. Horton, Thomas- 73, England
36. Bailey, William S.- 84, Kentucky
37. Gillam, Amos- 84, Pennsylvania
38. Eyres, George W.- 94, New Jersey
39. Kirkpatrick, R. A.- 80, Ohio
40. McLean, Alexander- 72, Scotland
41. Gash, Henry W.- 70, Kentucky
42. Higganson, A. B.- 71, Indiana
43. Newton, Hiram- 94, New York
44. Shannon, James F.- 74, Tennessee
45. Hoskinson, John L.- 86, West Virginia
46. Axford, John- 74, England
47. Greer, A. W.- 71, Kentucky
48. Shumate, Daniel- 78, Kentucky