In 1827, James Faulkner, a Pennsylvania native, and his family built a small-framed structure named the "Little Red House" in the area now Jerseyville. The Little Red House served as the first stagecoach stop, first tavern, first school, and first bank in the immediate area.
The Hickory Grove settlement was near a timbered point on the Macoupin prairie, Greene County, twelve miles south of Carrollton and on the road to Alton, Illinois. Situated upon a broad, rolling prairie, rich in everything that tends to make a country desirable, it certainly merits the highest encomiums (praises someone or something highly) that can be lavished upon it. The townsite is such that drainage is easily obtained – by no means a small desideratum (something that is needed or wanted) – and is well protected by timber from the cold winds which usually sweep across the face of our prairies. About four miles to the west, there was an abundance of timber, chiefly oak, also oaks to the north and northeast.
By 1834, the small settlement that grew up around Faulkner's house in Hickory Grove was surveyed and platted by two immigrants from New Jersey, John Lott and Edward M. Daly.
Lott and Daly's involvement marked the beginning of a proportionally large number of merchants, businessmen, and settlers from New Jersey. That same year, a meeting was called at the Little Red House to vote for a town name, so a post office could be established. The name of Jerseyville was chosen to honor the native state of many of its inhabitants.
In 1839, Jersey County was formed out of Greene County, and Jerseyville was named its county seat. After the Civil War (1861-1865) ended and the Alton & Chicago Railroad construction was completed, Jerseyville saw a period of commercial, industrial and urban growth.
The Streets are broad and pleasant for the most part. Upon either side of the street are magnificent shade trees, which, during the summer season, gave the city almost the appearance of another Arcadia, Illinois. Many of the residences' yards are filled with choice and beautiful flowers, which added to the verdure (the fresh green color of vegetation) of the trees and shrubs, form a tout ensemble extremely gratifying to the eyes of the beholder.
The business portion of town, and, in fact, the entire town proper, is situated one half a mile from the railway – just far enough away to be freed from the smoke and noise of passing trains and yet near enough to meet all the requirements of businesses. Instead of being clustered around the courthouse, the business houses are chiefly upon two streets, one running north and south, the other east and west. This arrangement allows more extended space for the growth of business interests than when clustered upon the four sides of a square. Already the spirit of improvement is manifesting itself in various ways and, in a few short years, will make a most radical change in this respect.
|Villinger Building, Jerseyville, Ill., Circa 1900s.|
Jerseyville Business Directory, Jersey County Democrat, February 1, 1865.
The first significant period of growth in the city occurred from 1880 to 1916, and from that time to the present, Jerseyville's development has been steady and substantial. Most commercial structures in the Downtown Historic District and Courthouse Square were built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It was also during this time that the present Jersey County Courthouse was built. The two-story, 124-foot-tall Romanesque Revival building was completed in 1893 and is considered one of the most aesthetic courthouses in the area. Other nearby Victorian-style buildings in the city include Queen Anne, Edwardian, and Italianate architectural features, with several recently renovated buildings.
From 1912 to 1918, Jerseyville was the terminus of an interurban electric passenger railroad from Alton that was a project by the Alton, Jacksonville, and Peoria Railway for a line to Peoria.
In recent decades, Jerseyville has been a testing ground in agricultural biotechnology. Bayer (formerly Monsanto) owns and operates a facility located just south of the city. In 1987, was the site of the world's first biotechnology field trial – first with tomatoes and later that year with soybeans. The facility was also home to the first triple-stacked corn trial in 1998, which later became a part of one of Monsanto's top-selling products. The facility was further expanded in 2008 and now consists of sixteen greenhouses and almost 300 acres of land for field testing.
The Downtown Historic District is home to some antique stores, gift shops, clothing and shoe stores, a pharmacy, a public library, a post office, and several local restaurants and banks. Most of the growth that has occurred since the early 1990s has been in the southern and southwestern portions of the city, where new residential subdivisions and retail shopping centers have been built, and numerous land annexations have been made by the city.
Cheney Mansion is located in Jerseyville, IL. Dating back to 1827, the Cheney mansion, a 12-room house, has plenty of history. The center part of the Mansion was the first structure built in Jerseyville and was called the "Little Red House," it was a stagecoach stop that ran through this part of the country. The basement had a false cistern (an underground reservoir for rainwater) where Slaves were hidden. It served as a "station" for the Underground Railroad.
In 1839, Dr. Edward D'Arcy converted the Little Red House into a private house. He later gave the place to his daughter, Prentiss Dana Cheney, and her husband. They were the first of three generations of Cheneys to live here. Over the years, the family expanded and improved the house, which became the Cheney Mansion.
In 1998 the Cheney Mansion and grounds were donated to the Jersey County Historical Society, and it became our permanent location. Since then, the Society has added a museum, genealogy lab, and other buildings donated to the Society consisting of a one-room country school and an old country church. We also have three log cabins replicating the three cabins that made up Hickory Grove.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.