|Click for full size map.|
Before it came to be Maeystown, the land was known as McRoberts Meadow.
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 to be 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 own claims in this new territory. James McRoberts was one of these adventurous pioneers.
|Original German Hand Cut Limestone - Used for Building Foundations and Street Gutters.|
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 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 executors of the will. The Meadow changed hands in rapid succession, and in 1848, it was sold it to Jacob Maeys, the eventual 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 as if they are in another country. The landscape, houses, roads, stone bridge and stone church all come together beautifully and leave one with a sense of the town's history, of its uniqueness.
|St. John United Church of Christ, Maeystown, Illinois|
|Stone one-lane bridge into Maeystown.|
|Corner George Inn Bed & Breakfast in Maeystown.|
|Corner Georges' Ghost Sign Reads: Hotel - Saloon|
He bought the tract due to the large spring located on the property and intended to create a saw mill for lumber. Maeys moved to his new property in 1852, when he built a one-room log cabin and the sawmill. At that time, there were no other settlers and not the thriving village 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.
Due to the sluggishness of the stream that it was built over, the mill did not have enough of a 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 decided to partner with Abraham Poston, who owned the general store in Maeysville (the original name of the town). 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 himself, which he carried out along with continuing his farming.
|The Tavern at Maeystown - Still Operating and serving Breakfast on Saturday and Sunday.|
|A Maeystown House.|
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 energetic citizens.
|Maeystown Preservation Society|
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 of the German immigrants who came to settle in Maeystown were not farmers, but tradesmen and professionals who had something to offer the community. The variety of trades and professionals as well as 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, stone mason; 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.
As for the reason why so many Germans settled in Maeystown during this short span of years, today it can only be speculation. No one knows the true reason why this became an all-German community, what 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 word of Maeystown and wanted to settle there. Perhaps it was 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 plan of settlement.
The settlers of Maeystown and their descendants preserved their cultural heritage well throughout the years. The Germans carried on 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 today.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.