Leafing Thru History - Towns that once dotted Henry County
After the 2020 census was completed, the state of Illinois lost 44,000 people since the last census in 2010. The movement of people from one area of this country to another is nothing new. In Henry County, there are many towns that have come and then disappeared from the local landscape. For one reason or other towns like Richmond, Pink Prairie, Morristown, Fordtown, and Henryville are no longer found on the maps of Illinois.
Henry County was founded on January 13, 1825, its first elections were not held until 1837, twelve years after the county was established. The elections were conducted at Brandenburg Tavern near the present day Colona.
The towns of Richmond and Morristown were once the centers for Henry County’s government. After the 1837 elections it was established that Richmond would be the county seat or hold this honor until 1839 when the courthouse burned down, leaving behind just a horse stable. This fire happened one month after the new Henry County Courthouse was opened. The May 1838 edition of the Sangamon Journal had an advertisement reporting that there were lots for sale in Richmond. But today, all that is left of Richmond is a historical marker on Route 82 south of Geneseo near the Hillcrest nursing home. This marker sits near the location of where Richmond once dotted the local landscape.
Morristown would become the next county seat. The county government would operate from the town for about three years, from 1840 through 1843. Morristown became the county seat after Geneseo hosted the local government between the time it left Richmond until it moved to Morristown. The village of Morristown was located near the present day town of Osco, southwest of Geneseo. The county government would leave Morristown and move to Cambridge after many of the people from the eastern part of the country did not approve of the distance they had to travel to take care of county business. As for Morristown, all that is left today are a few buildings, homes, and the local cemetery.
Another town that has vanished from today’s maps is the town of Henryville. During the summer of 1835, just two miles east of Geneseo and located on the Green River, was laid out the plat for Henryville. The town was situated on a wooden area that was well drained of water and sat on a small hilltop. Henryville was also located on the south side of the Green River. That piece of land would become part of the Donald Bollen farm and was about a half mile east of their home.
Henryville was established by Stephen Dewey and Hiram Wentworth. Once the surveying was completed the information about the town was recorded in Knoxville, which was the county seat in the early 1830’s. These records state that the location of Henryville as “the north west quarter and the west half of the northeast quarter, section 13, township 17, north range 3 east of the fourth principal meridian in Henry County.” The town would have about 30 blocks with each block having 8 lots laid out on each one. The individual lots were surveyed to be a quarter of an acre in size. Dividing each block were streets with the east/west streets named First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Water streets. The north/south streets were named West, Green, Center, Broadway, High, and Chabonie.
On the north side of the Green River were large lots set aside for future businesses and industries. At one time it was reported that the town had at least 12 houses and a grist mill on one of the north side industrial lots. Henryville did make some money for Dewey and Wentworth as the land was purchased from the government for $1.25 per acre. It was reported that Joseph Smith from Alexandria, Virginia purchased 20 acres in Henryville for $1,000, which was about $55 per acre.
The forgotten city of Henryville has no record as to why it did not develop, but many believe that the town was in competition for settlers with Geneseo and lost out when the railroad went through the Maple City instead of Henryville. One report that showed the town had failed came in February 1845 from the Illinois House of Representatives when they took action and completed “an act to vacate the town plate of Henryville in Henry County.” thus removing all governmental support for the town.
There are many other mysterious cities that have vanished from Henry County leaving behind stories and historical markers that keep the meaning of these places and the people who lived there, alive today.