Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The 1852 German Village that time forgot, Maeystown, Illinois.

St. John United Church of Christ, Franklin Street,  Maeystown, Illinois

The Village of Maeystown, Illinois, founded in 1852, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978. Before being named Maeystown, the land was known as McRoberts Meadow.
Six miles to the Mississippi.
Nestled in a small valley between the bluffs that make up the Illinois side of the old American Bottom, a vast expanse where the Mississippi River once flowed, is the little old-world village of Maeystown, located in the southwest portion of Illinois, about five miles from the Mississippi River.
Corner George Inn Bed & Breakfast and Sweet Shoppe
Old Krone Store, Main Street and Mill Street, Maeystown, Illinois. The Location of the "General Merchandise Store" Today.
The general area in which Maeystown rests has great historical significance. Captain James Moore, a Revolutionary War soldier serving under George Rogers Clark, founded the first permanent American settlement in the Illinois territory in this area. Moore fought with Clark at Kaskaskia when Clark captured the Illinois country for the Governor of Virginia. After seeing the advantages of this new territory, Moore returned to Illinois with his family and other pioneers in 1781 and eventually settled on the land called La Belle Fontaine on the Kaskaskia Trail. Founded in 1782, La Belle Fontaine (now in the town of Waterloo, Illinois) lies about nine miles north of the current site of Maeystown. Moore named the settlement after a nearby spring the French called La Belle Fontaine or beautiful spring. Soon, other adventurous pioneers journeyed to La Belle Fontaine to stake their claims in this new territory. James McRoberts was one of these adventurous pioneers.
The original German hand-cut limestone was used for building foundations and gutters on Streets.
James McRoberts was a Revolutionary War soldier born in Scotland in 1763. His family immigrated to the United States in 1772 and settled in Washington, Pennsylvania. In 1779, when McRoberts was barely sixteen years old, he joined the militia to fight in the American Revolution. After the war, he settled in Kentucky and explored many new territories around and west of the Mississippi River. During these explorations, he saw the advantages of living in the Illinois territory. During his first trip there in 1786, he bought and temporarily settled on one hundred acres of hilly land (Claim 316), where three streams descend the bluffs in what was to become Monroe County. He attempted to clear a hundred acres that were to become Maeystown to entitle him to the grant he soon acquired. In 1797, five years after his marriage, he and his wife moved to Illinois from Tennessee and settled on Claim 315, a mile north of Claim 316, on a militia grant from the government. 

Their permanent house was completed in 1798, and his family of ten children lived there for nearly fifty years, supported by working as farmers. As a farmer, McRoberts saw the value of the land in this part of Illinois and avidly encouraged the settlement of others in the area. After years of holding prominent political positions in the county, such as a Justice of the Peace, County Judge and County Commissioner, McRoberts passed away in 1844. McRoberts wanted Claim 316, then known as McRoberts Meadow, to be sold by the will's executors. The Meadow changed hands in rapid succession, and in 1848, it was sold to Jacob Maeys, the founder of Maeystown, for $200.00 ($5,400.00 in today's dollars). 

Entering Maeystown, one gets a rare glimpse into the past and feels like they are in another country. The landscape, houses, roads, stone bridge, and stone church combine beautifully, giving one a sense of the town's history and uniqueness.
The Main Entrance to St. John United Church of Christ, Franklin Street, Maeystown, Illinois.

The Stained Glass Window above the Main Entrance on Franklin Street to St. John United Church of Christ, Maeystown, Illinois.

St. John United Church of Christ in the village of Maeystown began as early as 1858. A few German immigrant families gathered at Wilhelm Feldmeier's home near Maeystown. In 1859, the congregation of Maeystown, which consisted of a few members, erected the first church, a small log building now known as the schoolhouse, which at some point was wood-sided, covering the logs from the outside. This building is still used for various purposes by the congregation.
St. John United Church of Christ, Franklin Street, Maeystown, Illinois. c.1910
The congregation extended an invitation to the Rev. Louis Haeberle on the Kaskaskia Trail at St. Joe, which he gladly accepted. On the first Sunday in Advent, 1860, the first Evangelical sermon was delivered in Maeystown by the Rev. Haeberle; the congregation was now officially organized as St. Johannes Evangelische Kirche (St. John Evangelical Church).

The present church, pictured below, was built between 1865-1867. The stone for the church was quarried from the hills surrounding the village. The property on which the church was erected was donated by Jacob Maeys, founder of Maeystown. The log house, which had served as the place of worship, was vacated, and the congregation entered its new house of worship on October 23, 1867. Through the efforts of the Women's Fellowship, the church hall was constructed in 1921.
St. John United Church of Christ, Franklin Street, Maeystown, Illinois

The historical stone-arched bridge leads one into the community of quiet streets lined with nineteenth-century stone homes and structures, uninterrupted by modern buildings, such as fast-food restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores, and traffic lights that would take away from the town's historic character. Some small towns telegraph their history as one approach. Maeystown is that kind of community.
The One-Lane Stone bridge on Main Street into Maeystown is still used today.
The village does not hold a claim to any part of American history; nothing particularly noteworthy has happened here, but is noticeably different from other Midwestern towns. Maeystown is unique in that all its early settlers had something in common: they all came from German origins. 
Looking Down Mill Street from Main Street in Maeystown, Illinois. Circa 1910.
Main Street in Maeystown, Illinois.

As a result, walking the streets of Maeystown is the same as walking a street in Germany. That is how eerily similar the town is to the homeland of its founding citizens.
Corner George Inn Bed & Breakfast on Mill Street at Main Street in Maeystown. Imagine staying at the Corner George Inn, a restored 1884 hotel and saloon. The inn offers six charming antique-appointed guest rooms, including furnishings, whirlpool and loft suites, country-style and Victorian rooms, and a summer kitchen guest cottage. The Sweet Shoppe specializes in hand-dipped ice cream, beverages, and unique gift items.
Southern Illinois is known for its rugged, natural beauty. With its fertile land surrounded by wooded, hilly terrain and flowing springs and streams, one can see why immigrants wanted to settle in this beautiful setting. A landscape with these criteria was exactly what German immigrants were looking for to lay down new roots. However, many may not realize this type of landscape can be found throughout various areas of Germany. When German immigrants came to Illinois, they settled in areas such as Maeystown because this was a landscape they knew, where they were comfortable living. They wanted a landscape that would remind them of home in their new world. Also, readily available limestone was desirable for a new settlement area because of its building purposes. Due to the surrounding limestone bluffs and the previously mentioned advantages of the area, Maeystown must have been a dream come true for the early settlers. Once immigrants settled in Maeystown, they did not leave and moved farther west. For the most part, they stayed and enjoyed their new home.
Corner George Inns' Ghost Sign Reads "Hotel - Saloon" on the Main Street side of the building.
Jacob Maeys was born in 1828 in Oggersheim, New Bavaria, an area in today's German state Rhineland-Palatinate in western Germany. The Meess family, which at the time included Georg, Elizabeth, Jacob and his brother Heinrich (Meess was changed to Maeys after 1844 by Jacob), immigrated to the United States when Jacob was only four years old. The Maeys family moved around Pennsylvania for several years before the family of seven moved west to Illinois when Jacob was thirteen years old. After moving to a location in the northern portion of Monroe County, the family settled on the Lawson Farm in the American Bottom and the north portion of the county, where they rented land to farm. However, a dark time in their lives was about to begin: the Maeys lost their entire crop to the flood of 1844, which caused countless families untold hardships, and devastating sickness soon followed. Early the next year, the family moved to a farm about a mile northeast of the current village of Maeystown. Unfortunately, only six weeks after moving to this new farm, Jacob's father, George, passed away, leaving Jacob, the oldest child at sixteen, in charge. His family was now entirely dependent on Jacob for its support, marking a new chapter in Jacob Maeys' life.

Fortunately, Maeys succeeded in his new role as his family's leader. He continued to farm the land rented by his father, split rails, and earn money doing whatever he could. In 1846, Maeys rented the McRoberts farm, one mile north of today's Maeystown, and moved his family there. By 1848, Maeys had accumulated enough money to buy McRoberts Meadow (Survey 704, Claim 316), though he did not move there until 1852. 

He bought the tract due to the large spring on the property and intended to create a sawmill for lumber. Maeys moved to his new property in 1852 when he built a one-room log cabin and a sawmill. At that time, there were no other settlers, and the thriving village was not found there during the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the following year, Maeys wed Barbara Fisher, who was also a German immigrant from Osthof in Hesse-Darmstadt, which is in the western central part of modern Germany.
The Old Post Office and Retail Space on Mill Street at Main Street, Maeystown, Illinois.
Due to the sluggishness of the stream, which was built over, the mill did not have enough water flow to operate. Maeys converted to steam power within a year, which made the mill successful for the next three years until Maeys sold his share to his partner of three years and became a farmer again. In 1858, Maeys partnered with Abraham Poston, who owned the general store in Maeysville (the town's original name). By this time, Maeysville, obviously a name dedicated to Jacob Maeys, had grown to include about two dozen houses. Due to its growth, Maeysville gained a post office in 1860, of which Maeys was postmaster. The new post office was located in the store, making it convenient for Maeys, who worked there. In 1867, Maeys bought out Poston's interest in the general store and took over the entire business, which he did while continuing his farming. 
The Tavern at Maeystown on Main & Mill Streets - is still in operation, serving lunch and dinner seven days a week and breakfast on the weekends.

The Tavern at Maeystown on Main & Mill Streets. Circa 1910.
Sometime during the Civil War, Maeys constructed a new brick house for his wife and five children. Barbara passed away in 1880; a year and a half later, Jacob married Christine Driemeyer, a native of Wersen, Prussia. Maeys fathered six more children during his marriage to Christine, though four of them died soon after they were born. 
A Maeystown House on Main Street.
Jacob Maeys was a self-motivated man and very well-respected in the area. He was a resident of Monroe County from 1841 until he died in 1913 caused by a fall down his cellar steps when he was eighty-four. He was considered one of the best citizens in the county. His story is truly a memorable one, with his trying early years, having to lead his family at an early age, and his success against all odds in becoming a prominent member of the county.

He led himself through adversity to become successful in life. He went from renting farmland with crops destroyed by a flood to owning about a thousand acres, mostly farmland, in the American Bottom by 1875. With his death, Maeystown lost its successful founder, and the community lost one of its best and most energetic citizens.
Maeystown Mill, Preservation Society Museum and Gift Shop. Home of the Preservation Society and Visitors Center. The Maeystown Preservation Society's mission is to preserve the history, culture, customs, architecture, and structures of the village of Maeystown, Illinois. The Rock Mill is situated on attractive, spacious grounds adjacent to Maeystown Creek.
This hand-painted sign is on the far right side of the Mill
"Beitinger's Mill, built 1859 by ~ John Coleman."
Officially, Maeysville became a town in 1852, and the name was changed to Maeystown in 1860 when the community gained a post office due to another town in Illinois with the name Maeysville. In late 1856, Maeys decided to have his property laid out in 66-by-120-foot lots to become the village of Maeysville. Maeys platted his land to sell to the numerous German immigrants in the area. German immigrants coming to St. Louis via New Orleans learned of the hilly Maeystown and bought land there. While most of the immigrants were from portions of Bavaria and Hessen, there were also quite a few with ancestral homes in other parts of Germany, such as Westphalia and Worsen in Prussia, Schaumburg-Lippe (in northwestern Germany), Duchy of Nassau (in western Germany) and Dukedom of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (in northeastern Germany). Within six years, more than two dozen lots had been sold.  
A Private Home on Main Street, Maeystown, Illinois.
Most Germans who settled in Maeystown were part of the Forty-Eight movement who left Germany for economic and political reasons. In deciding where to settle, German immigrants mainly chose distinctly German communities so they would be with people of their own nationality. As previously mentioned, they also chose land which reminded them of home. They wanted surroundings that made them feel comfortable in a new world. With its steep hills, wooded surroundings, and abundant streams, Maeystown is ideal for a new German community. Many Germans decided to settle there, and the village began to grow. 

Many of the original citizens of the village came directly to Maeystown or first settled in other areas of Monroe County and later moved to Maeystown. Many German immigrants who came to settle in Maeystown were not farmers but tradesmen and professionals with something to offer the community. The variety of trades, professionals, and farmers made the community almost self-sufficient. Besides Maeys, the first citizens of Maeystown included: Ludwig (Louis) Ahlheim, cooper; Peter Bickelhaupt, blacksmith; John Coleman, carpenter; Jacob Empt, vintner; Martin Fornbauer, stonemason; Jacob Hoffmann, tavern owner and brickyard operator; Sebastian Holzmeier, carpenter; Ludwig (Louis) Krone, shoemaker; Jacob Pilliard, sawmill operator; Abram (Abraham) Poston, mercantile owner; Peter Ray, horse trader and tavern owner; Adam Ruch, butcher and peddler; John Schaefer, hotelier; Carl Siebenmann, wagonmaker; Heinrich Quernheim, furniture maker and undertaker; Charles Wilhelmj, doctor; Heinrich Wippermann, tailor; and Anton Zeitinger, miller. Most men had their businesses in their homes, except for the mill and general store, which had a hall above.
The Old Maeystown Firehouse. Today, It's the Village Hall.

Maeystown, Illinois - Sky View

As for why so many Germans settled in Maeystown during this short span of years, today, it can only be speculated. No one knows why this became an all-German community, which drew the immigrants to this little town in the bluffs of southern Illinois. Some speculation exists that Jacob Maeys spent time at the boat landings south of Maeystown and the not-too-distant St. Louis, Missouri, and spread the word of his building a traditional German community in the Illinois countryside. Perhaps, as the German immigrants traveled up the Mississippi River and the boats made their stops along the way to St. Louis, they heard the word of Maeystown and wanted to settle there. It may have been Maeys' sawmill that sparked settlement in Maeystown. Inevitably, sawmills were magnets for settlement due to readily available cut lumber. No one knows the true reason since there was no defined settlement plan. 
"Historic Maeystown"
Illinois Adventure #1601
The settlers of Maeystown and their descendants preserved their cultural heritage well throughout the years. The Germans continued their culture, traditions, and way of life while still adapting to life in America. German was the only language spoken in the town for decades, and this tradition was retained even longer in the homes. German celebrations were also retained in the community and are still celebrated.

The Maeys Family is buried at St. John Cemetery in Maeystown, Monroe County, Illinois:
Maeys, Barbara January 13, 1828 - January 9, 1879.
Maeys, Billy 1922 - 1925
Maeys, Charles C. 1886 - 1971 / Maeys, Leona J. 1890 - 1991
Maeys, George January 29, 1876 - November 24, 1958
Maeys, George 1867 - 1925 / Maeys, Maria 1864 - 1946
In loving memory of our beloved father, Jacob Maeys, founder of Maeystown, Illinois, 1852.

Maeys, Jacob October 4, 1828 - January 22, 1913
Maeys, Jacob September 1, 1878 - December 23, 1915
Maeys, William July 4, 1842 - May 20, 1923 
Maeys, Margaret August 24, 1847 - September 23, 1931

Maeystown Festivals and Yearly Events:
St. John's Church Fástnacht*: The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday each year. The church hall starts with a German-style dinner of pancakes, sausage, applesauce, and doughnuts. It is accompanied by live entertainers providing German music. *Tuesday and the two days preceding it, when it was formerly customary to attend confession.

Spring Art Show: Featuring the work of local artists in March each year, held in the ballroom of Corner George Inn at the Preservation Society Mill and Museum. Artists are hand-selected each year by the Historic Maeystown committee.

Fruehlingsfest or Springfest: Midwest antique dealers and local nurseries selling annuals, perennials and herbs. A focus on foods like Bratwurst, barbecue, kettle corn, and strawberry shortcake are just a few offerings.

Apple Butter Making: Instruction on how to make apple butter is provided in preparation for the annual Oktoberfest. 

Oktoberfest: The sounds and smells of autumn are on the second Sunday in October each year, featuring arts, crafts, antiques, and food at the stone mill and bridge. More than 60 artisans, crafters, dealers, and numerous food stands include turtle soup, potato pancakes, popcorn cooked in old-fashioned kettles, Bratwurst, apple butter, and freshly made pies are featured. Arts and crafts include rug weaving, felting, blacksmithing, photography, and woodworking. The village specialty shops, bed & breakfast, restaurants and museum will be open throughout the day.

An Old Fashioned German Christmas in Maeystown: A celebration of our German heritage. German Christmas caroling, enjoy the Christkindlmarkt. There is a quilt show, carriage rides, German paper star folding and Weihnachtshaustour (Christmas house tour). Enjoy hammered dulcimers, strolling musicians, and other entertainments.
Carol of the Bells on a Hammered Dulcimer

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.


  1. This is a GREAT article. I have family from here, Fults, Renault and Waterloo. Thank you for all the info.

  2. Replies
    1. Came upon this randomnly, interesting read, may visit this place, looks interesting.

  3. I have driven through here several times on business.
    It is a nice small town, I did not realize how historic it was.
    Very nice article!


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