Thursday, December 22, 2016

The First Courthouse in Pittsfield, Pike County, Illinois. (1834-1839)

The first term of court in the first courthouse in Pittsfield, Illinois, opened on Monday morning March 24, 1834 with the Honorable Samuel D Lockwood [3rd Illinois Attorney General (1821-22), Illinois Supreme Court Justice (1824-48)] of Jacksonville upon the bench.
The north side of the Pittsfield Public Square in 1870. The white frame building at the extreme right was the first courthouse to be erected in Pittsfield. At the time this photograph was taken it had become the bake shop and confectionery store of Joseph Heck. 
Alpheus Wheeler, eccentric preacher and lawyer, represented John Lyster at the first court term in a case involving a cow. Wheeler prided himself on his bursts of eloquence, his lofty flights of oratory in addresses to the jury being among Pike County's courts rarest classics. In 1838 and 1840 Alpheus Wheeler was elected to the Illinois State Legislature from Pike County Illinois.

The first courthouse in Pittsfield was built 1833-34. The courthouse was two stories and built largely of walnut. The edifice was built by Israel N. Burt to whom the contract was let June 4, 1833 and he built it for $1,095. The courthouse was razed in 1881 to make room for a new brick building George Heck built.

After the second courthouse in Pittsfield was occupied for court purposes in 1839 the previous courthouse served as a public hall; dances and frolics were held there. Its walls that once echoed to impassioned pleas of justice were now resounding with joy to tunes like "Money Musk" and "Old Rosin the Beau." 

For a time the old courthouse building also served as a post office for the town.

In 1855 Joseph Heck and his wife Regina of Hannibal occupied the first courthouse opening a bakeshop and the first lunch and ice cream parlor in town. The popular lunch in those 'olden days' comprised of gingerbread with cider, cheese and crackers, rusks (a sweet or plain bread baked, sliced, and baked again until dry and crisp; i.e. biscotti), dried herrings (called blind robins) and sausage links. 

Mr. Heck built another room at the rear of the old courthouse for a kitchen and dining room. The family lived upstairs where court had been held in early times. Across the front of the store was hoisted the sign "J. Heck, Baker". In 1937 George Heck had found the sign still legible in the basement of his store. The Heck’s who had been in business at the site for 82 years turned over their place to the Pittsfield Hardware company in 1937.

On October 1, 1858, Abraham Lincoln came to Pittsfield from Springfield joined by John Nicolay. Nicolay and Attorney Dick Gilmer  took Lincoln around the square introducing him to folks. The three entered the Heck bakery with Nicolay telling Lincoln "We are stopping here for a while for some of Mother Heck's gingerbread and Father Heck's sweet cider."

Across the alley to the west of the first courthouse is shown the early three story building that preceded the Shaw Building. At the time of the picture the three story building was occupied by Burt the druggist in the east part and Talcott & Hodgen general store in the west part. The building would later burn. 

Next west is shown a two story frame that was variously occupied until finally taken by John Field the jeweler. West from this shows a vacant lot with a board fence in front usually plastered with show bills. 

The next building west is where the Pittsfield Hotel would be built in 1871.The building shown in the picture was occupied by Chapman, Kellogg, & Hull who ran a general store. The first floor was high above the street level and steps led from the sidewalk up to the store. 

Across the street beginning on the corner is a row of little frame shops that stood on stilts or posts on the marsh. At the northwest corner of the square was then an expanse of low marsh land where water stood and which in winter was used as a skating pond. The little business houses shown in the picture stood high above the flood on posts with steps leading up to the shops. One of these was a marble shop. 

The church seen in the distance is the early Congregational Church built by Colonel Ross which was on the site of the Congregational Church built in 1881 and torn down in 2003. 

Across the street where the Pittsfield Public Library was is now a vacant lot.

by Lisa Ruble

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