Local History Videos - Kelly Bros. Circus & The Ring Barn
The history of Menard County is rich in legend and lore. What is presented below is but part of the story. More videos will be added over time as local historians and interested citizens are bringing local history back to life, including the new videos on our Video page. The first video in a series involves the Kelly Brothers Circus and the major impact that it had on Petersburg. Hear the story and the legend in the video. Additional videos will be released this summer. The photo below is courtesy of Kitty Kelly Collection and Menard County Historical Society.
The Abraham Lincoln Travel Route Through Menard County
Abraham Lincoln lived in the village of New Salem, currently Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site, from 1831 - 1837. Lincoln stopped in Athens, Illinois in the eastern part of the county during his trips to Springfield as this was the shortest route. While in the legislature, Mr. Lincoln worked to establish the boundary lines that have separated Menard from Sangamon county since 1839.
Lincoln’s New Salem is located two miles south of Petersburg on IL Route 97, just 20 miles from Springfield, Illinois. The park is open year ‘round and offers self-guided tours through the restored village. Interpreters can often be seen in period clothing and tell the stories of the individual cabins and life in the 1830s during Lincoln’s time here. The village is home to major festivals throughout the year and hosts Theatre in the Park with outdoor performances throughout the summers. Be sure to visit the Attractions page.
Menard County Towns and History
The area was settled in 1819 and by 1822 Athens had a store, blacksmith shop and a tavern. It became a city in 1831 and is the oldest city in Menard County. The Abraham Lincoln Long Nine Museum is located at 200 S. Main Street in Athens.
Fancy Prairie, Illinois
This town is located in the very southeast corner of the county. Old Fancy Prairie, the original Fancy Prairie, was laid out around 1850 and had a Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In 1898, when the railroad came through, the village was relocated on half mile to the east.
This town was incorporated on May 6, 1869. The town was named for William “Slicky Bill” Greene who played an instrumental part in bringing the railroad through town. A. H. Bogardus was a champion marksman. He shot 500 clay pigeons in one day. Rumor has it he used two shotguns and Bogardus fired so fast that he had to cool one gun in a tub of ice water while he fired the other.
The town was surveyed by Abraham Lincoln and was named after Peter Lukins. He and George Warburton were instrumental in the development of the new town. A number of the existing buildings around the square are located on property surveyed by Lincoln. Due in part to its location, Petersburg grew and nearby New Salem died out around 1840. Petersburg became the county seat. Some of the wealthy inhabitants built the beautiful Victorian mansions that are perched high atop the local hills and overlook the town and Sangamon River Valley.
Sweetwater was laid out by the William Engle and Alkire families on March 11, 1853. The first postmaster was William Engel while Jacob Probst Jr. was the first blacksmith. Dr. John Hughes later became the village’s first physician. The first mill was constructed and operated by the firm of Deal and Hughes.
The town was founded in 1857 by William G. Greene, an associate of Abraham Lincoln. Greene named this town “trickling water” for the abundant springs in the area. Today the railroad is gone, but Tallula retains its place in the county history.
Tice is located five miles west of Athens. In 1874 it was referred to as Tice’s Station because of the railroad. By 1899 it was being called Tice and around the turn of the century there was a church and school here.
History Around the Menard County Courthouse
Walking around the Menard County Courthouse in downtown Petersburg, Illinois is like going back in time and reliving history. The courthouse was built in 1896 and replaced an earlier courthouse that was built decades earlier. Once inside, there are many historical documents and artifacts on display. After touring the courthouse, you’ll exit on the north side of the building. On the northwest corner is a plaque honoring Peter McCue, famous quarter horse whose birthplace is five miles north of the courthouse square. Today, 75% of all registered Quarter horse, Appaloosas and Paints have Peter McCue’s bloodline. On the southwest corner of the square you’ll see the Menard County Historical Society’s Museum & Illinois Land Surveyors Museum. View records and artifacts of the fascinating history of Menard County and the development of land surveying in Illinois, including Lincoln’s work as land surveyor. Right across the street is a Looking for Lincoln storyboard that tells the story of this point in which Lincoln surveyed the land that is now Petersburg. Now walk to the east and you will be at the southeast corner of the square you’ll see the stately Memorial Monument dedicated to the memory of veterans in Menard County who gave their lives for their country. Walk north to the northeast corner and view the monument that states, “Abraham Lincoln traveled this way as he rode the circuit of the 8th judicial district 1847-1857, erected in 1921.”
If you are on a walking tour, you’ll notice another Looking for Lincoln sign outside of City Hall on the east side of the square. Another block to the east, you’ll see signs telling the story of the famous Ring Barn. You can also watch a video on the Ring Barn and the Kelly Brothers Circus by visiting the Video page.
Other Historical Areas in Menard County
Memorial to Benjamin F. Stevenson, Grand Army of the Republic
Rose Hill Cemetery, Petersburg, IL
Col. Stevenson founded the GAR following the Civil War to assist war veterans and their families with hardships brought about by the war. The GAR, America’s first veterans’ assistance organization, became the model upon which all subsequent veterans organizations were based. Today, the GAR remnant organization, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, holds a full-scale period reenactment of a memorial service for Col. Stevenson on the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s death.
This cemetery is located in Tallula. Buried here are two of the county’s most interesting characters. William Greene, known locally as “Slicky Bill” due to his shrewd business sense and Mary Neely “Granny” Spears. Spears was captured by Indians as a girl and lived with them for several years before being rescued. In later life, she practiced as a midwife using herbs as a primary cure-all.
In Oakland Cemetery you will find the remains of Lincoln’s special friend, Ann Rutledge in addition to other notable local figures including Edgar Lee Masters. More information will be provided soon about this and other area cemeteries which are a popular tourist attraction.
Old Concord Cemetery
Located in the middle of farm fields, this old cemetery is home to the remains of several notable characters during Lincoln’s time in the area, including Jack Armstrong and was the initial burial spot of Ann Rutledge until her remains were removed and transported to Petersburg in 1890. Again, more will be added to this story soon.