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Pittsfield History 

Pittsfield is the County seat of Pike County, Illinois, United States. The population was 4,211 at the 2000 census. It is the county seat of Pike County.  It was home to John Hay, Lincoln's personal secretary, ambassador to England under President William McKinley, later Secretary of State for Theodore Roosevelt and creator of the Open Door Policy in China. As county seat, the town was one of the various places in central Illinois where Abraham Lincoln practiced law as part of the circuit court, working on 34 cases between 1839 and 1852. One local newspaper, now known as the Pike Press, was then owned by another of Lincoln's future secretaries, John Nicolay, and featured an editorial containing one of the first known suggestions of Lincoln as the Republican nominee for the presidency.

Pittsfield is the self-proclaimed "Pork Capital" of the Midwest, owing to the long history of pork production in the region, which fed into the large meat-packing industry of Chicago. Though agriculture in the region is no longer so dependent on pork, the town still hosts a yearly "Pig Days" festival.

The local high school football team, the Saukees, still holds the record for longest winning streak in the state. Starting with their season opening 6-0 win over North Greene in 1966, the Pittsfield Saukees reeled off 64 consecutive wins, which included 15 straight shutouts between 1969 and 1971. The streak extended all the way through to the second game of the 1973 season, when Pittsfield dropped a 12-0 decision to Winchester.The Saukees arch rival was Quincy Notre Dame High School, but from 1994 thru 1998 the Saukees lost to QND 7 straight times. The Saukees then decided to stop playing them and the rivalry was over. Pittsfield is the birthplace of TV actor Ryan Carnes, the two-time Illinois state wrestling champion, John Wise, the Illinois single season home run record holder Scott Riley, as well as countless other Pittsfield graduates who have achieved far more than temporary stardom.

Pike County Courthouse

 

There are many historic landmarks within the city limits, the most notable of which is the Pike County Courthouse. The corner stone for the octagonal shaped building was laid July 12, 1894. Architect Henry Elliott designed the building. Robert Franklin, a stone mason from Nebo, cut the stone with the help of some of his family. It was the third courthouse in the town, but the fourth in Pike County. The courthouse is fashioned of Cleveland sandstone, and is widely recognized as one of the most beautiful courthouses in the state and the midwest. Transoms above the windows feature stained glass panels. Inside you will find graceful twin curved stairways that form a balcony on the second floor. In the courthouse rotunda is a photograph of Abraham Lincoln that was taken in Pittsfield on October 1, 1858 by Calvin Jackson. There is no record of Lincoln serving in this courthouse. Nearly 550 documents of cases associated with Lincoln were found in courthouse records. Visitors may tour the courthouse at their leisure.

Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, spoke in this courtyard during the senatorial campaign of 1858. Lincoln's private secretaries that accompanied him to the White House were from Pittsfield. John Hay, author of Pike County Ballads, diplomat and Secretary of State 1898-1905, received his academic education in Pittsfield and John G. Nicolay, edited the Whig Free Press which was published in Pittsfield prior to the Civil War.

 

Historic East School

 

Historic East School is 51st on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built between 1861 and 1865, during the Civil War. Classes started in 1866. The school was built by John Houston of Griggsville. The contract price was $35,000. John Miles Vansdel of Chicago was the distinguished architect. He is also known for the Governor's Mansion in Springfield, Illinois.

The stones used in the building were brought down the Illinois River from Joliet. The bricks were "burned" on Monroe Street. The windows are all arched with stone. A large clock was mounted in the tower and the bell strikes on the hour. The clock was restored and the bell was donated by Colonel Ross. It was estimated that the building would comfortably accommodate 1200 students. The building, fully completed and furnished, cost $45,000. At the completion of the East School in 1866, it was one of the finest and largest buildings of its kind in the state and "fulfilled the requirements of a modern school plant." The school held all of the grades in eight large identical rooms, with a closet in each. The third floor was the gymnasium.

The original building was heated by hot air piped from furnaces in the basement. There were no inside toilet facilities, but there were outside "privies" located east of the building next to the street. Presently, restrooms are in the basement, through the side doors near the front.

Original blackboards were simply black paint on the plastered walls. Generally, they were completely around the room, including between the windows. The slateboards were installed around 1900 over the black painted area. Benches were available for small children to stand upon to reach the blackboards and attached to the walls under the blackboards so they could be hinged down when required. They were in the southwest, southeast, and northwest rooms on the first floor.

Electric lights were not heard of until after 1866. It is presumed that due to the many large windows, additional lights were not required. Electric lights were added around 1910. The present fixtures are believed to be the originals and have been cleaned and refinished to their current condition. The east and west exit porches are of concrete today, but were originally made of wood. The north main doors are the originals.

During original class period operations, the janitor rang the large bell at 9 AM and 1 PM.

 

Abraham Lincoln in Pittsfield

Pike County in general and Pittsfield in particular have an incredibly rich history and ties to many historical characters. The most famous of these would be Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President. Lincoln had many friends in Pittsfield and spent a great deal of time here beginning in the 1830's. His law practice and later, political ambitions, brought him back to Pike County numerous times. This page contains a few of the more prominent houses he frequented and a brief description of each. With the exception of the Shastid House, all are privately owned and occupied.

For more information or to make a donation please submit to Abe Lincoln Project P.O. Box 62, Pittsfield, IL 62363 or call City Hall (217) 285-4484 or e-mail: pittsed@pittsfieldil.org

Lincoln Sites

 


Shastid House

The Shastid House is located at 326 E. Jefferson Street in Pittsfield. John Greene Shastid and his family entertained Lincoln during his numerous visits to Pittsfield.


 

 

Star Hotel

The Star Hotel on North Monroe St. was built by Capt. George Edward, half-brother to Dr. Thomas Shastid. He sold it to the Watsons who said Lincoln used to stay there.


 

 

Grimshaw House

The Grimshaw House at 750 W. Perry St. was the site of Wm. Grimshaw's law office. He and Lincoln worked on several cases together and later had Lincoln represent him in federal court.


 

 

Milton Hay House

The Milton Hay House is located at 332 W. Washington - Presidential Secretary John Hay lived here while attending the Thompson Academy. John was a nephew of Milton Hay, an attornery who studied law under Lincoln.


 

 

Scanland House

The Scanland House is located at 402 W. Washington Street. Mrs. Scanland's turkey dinner grew cold while Lincoln was telling tales at the local drug store. Mayor Scanland was with Lincoln at the time.


 

 

The Lame House

Located at 409 E. Fayette Street. Mrs. Lame denied Lincoln access to her house to visit her injured husband, Charles. Lincoln had an ambrotype taken in Pittsfield and delivered it to the Lames.


 

 

The Gilmer Site

The Gilmer site is where Daniel H. Gilmer's home and law office were located. It was at the southeast corner of E. Washington and Monroe, the present location of First Bank. Lincoln visited Gilmer's home & office often. Gilmer was a leading attorney and Whig supporter. Lizzie, Gilmer's daughter had charged Lincoln a toll to attend a luncheon her mother had prepared for her father, Lincoln, friends and leading political supporters.


 

 

The Colonel Ross House

The Ross House is located a short distance east of Pittsfield on State Highway 106. Lincoln stayed here during his 1858 Senatorial campaign visit. Ross helped secure Lincoln's nomination for President in 1860. Other delegates included William Grimshaw.


 

 

The Garbutt House

The Garbutt House is located at 500 E. Washington Street. Presidential Secretary John Nicolay was taken here at age 16 by foster parents Reverand and Mrs. Zachariah Garbutt. Nicolay later wrote an article advocating Lincoln for President.


 

 

The Noyes House

The Noyes House is located at 629 E. Washington Street. Michael Noyes was the founder and editor of Pike County's first newspaper in 1841 "The Sucker and Farmer's Record". Noyes Family history says Lincoln gave a speech here.


 

 

The Heck Bakery Site

The Heck Bakery site is presently Irving & Irving Law Building located on Adams Street directly north of the Court House. It is also the site of the first Pike County Courthouse in Pittsfield. John Nicolay took Lincoln to "Penny Hecks" for cider and gingerbread October 1, 1858 during his Senatorial campaign visit.