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Early Fillmore Illinois History

In the autumn or 1816 a small group of white men from Kentucky, who had settled in what is now Bond County, traveled in a northerly direction on a hunting expedition. The country they discovered was heavily timbered with walnut, maple, oak, and hickory. The woods were infested with bears, wolves, and Indians. The land was abundant with game and plenty of clear spring water and creeks. Since the Indians here were easier to deal with than those to the south, John HILL decided to stay.

In the spring of 1817 Harris REAVIS, Henry HILL, Levi CASEY, Aaron CASEY, John LEE, Joseph WRIGHT, and HENRY PIATT returned. They built cabins around a large spring near what is now Vanburensburg. Some think it might have been in the vicinity of Old Hurricane Church.

Soon after Easton WHITTEN, Colbert BLAIR, Thomas BECK, Stephen WHITE, James CARD, T.J. TODD, John ALEXANDER, M. MASON, BOSTS, and Newton COFFEY came and settled nearby to the north.

Illinois was a part of the Northwest Territory at that time and was not divided into counties and townships. Thus, the first white settlement in what is now Montgomery County was made in Fillmore Township in 1817, South Fillmore Township today.

The original group broke up after a while and took up claims in other parts of the township and county. Among the more prominent pioneers of Fillmore Township was Newton COFFEY who later entered the tract of land where Hillsboro now stands and afterwards donated 20 acres to the county to be used for public purposes.

The first school ever taught in Fillmore Township, was in 1825 by a Mr. HATCHETT in a little log cabin. The first frame schoolhouse was built in 1845 near Vanburensburg. Reading, writing, spelling, and simple arithmetic were taught. School was only in session two or three months of the year.

The early families of Montgomery County made their own meal. The first mill was a hand-mill using a hollowed-out hickory stump. The first mill erected in Fillmore was by John BECK. This was a treadmill which the proprietor operated with a yoke of oxen. In 1838 a horse-mill was built at Vanburensburg and operated by James KIRK and Harris WRIGHT until 1846. Sawmills were built about this same time.

James KIRK was a big landowner in what is now South Fillmore Township. In more recent years part of his land and home was the Edward CRESS farm. Some of his children were Sally ALEXANDER, Betsy PRATER, Sissy HARRISON, Jane RODGERS, and Mary CRESS. He was the great-great-grandfather of many present area residents.

A burial ground, staked off in 1821, later proved to be an old battlefield. Many human bones, musket balls, spear heads, and knives were brought to the surface as graves were dug.

The first town was near the Montgomery-Bond County line. The towns fate was doomed in 1881 when the Cloverleaf Railroad was built passing six miles to the north. As Vanburensburg died, the town it passed through, Fillmore prospered.

Fillmore Township and Fillmore were named after Millard FILLMORE, the 13th president of the United States. Mr. FILLMORE was elected Whig vice-president in 1848. After the unexpected death of President Zachary TAYLOR in 1850, he succeeded to the office of president which he held until 1853.

The actual town history begins when J. BOWERS LANE came to Illinois from Marlboro, New Hampshire with his parents in 1838. On February 3, 1852, he marries Rachale BOST in a ceremony near Vanburensburg. In 1860 he built a home just west of the present town of Fillmore and started a one room country store and post office. The place can still be seen in the field. The mail was hauled from Hillsboro to Vandalia, and then circulated locally.

South of the last curve as one goes west out of Fillmore is an annual patch of tall weeds. There are around concrete that covers a well which is close to the location of the first store and post office.

In 1881 when the railroad was built, LANE moved his stock into a new building nearer the road. By 1883 when the first train was run, the town, now known as Fillmore, really began to grow and enjoyed a considerable boom. Its population jumped to more than 600 and soon shops and stores began to spring up.

Another pioneer who had much to do with the development of Fillmore was Gideon RICHMOND. He was born in Ohio in 1820, was reared there, and became a farmer in his home state. In 1845 he came to Montgomery County in Illinois and settled on the hill just east of what is now Fillmore. He was one of the early settlers of the area. Soon after his arrival he purchased property and transformed wild land into cultivated fields. He married Miss Harriet KNOWLES in 1848. In due time, through his efforts, he became an extensive farmer and livestock man. He possessed good business ability and sound judgment. At the time of his death, he had accumulated many acres of land in the Fillmore area.

The Gideon RICHMOND home was on the hill at the left just at the east edge of town.

The RICHMONDs and LANEs were extensive landowners in the vicinity. When the town of Fillmore was being planned and laid out, these families donated land for the center of town. The LANES gave an area one block wide and four blocks long (north and south) west of Main Street. The RICHMONDs gave one block wide and four blocks long on the east side. Later the RICHMONDs donated an area one block square in the third block east of Main Street just south of the Fillmore Road for a Town Park. If it ceases to be used as a Town Park, it reverts to the RICHMOND heirs.

The first school in the community was about two miles north of Fillmore, taught by Lyman ALLEN in 1862. This building is about where Gary KNODLE recently tore down the IVY farm. In 1870 another was needed and built at the south boundary of town. After 1881 a building one block north of the railroad was converted into building No. 2. In 1889 a third and larger schoolhouse was built. In 1890 a two-year high school course was added. The first graduating class of Fillmore High School with eleven graduates was in 1892. As time moved on other additions were made. A gymnasium was completed in 1935. In 1953 Fillmore became part of Nokomis Unit and high school students attended there.

The elementary school was constructed in 1960. Classes in the new building began January 27, 1961. In the spring of 1983, Fillmore School was closed, and elementary students were bused to Nokomis.

Lyman ALLEN built the first hardware in 1883. Joe COX had the first harness shop, run by A. J. WOLLERMAN who bought it in 1892 and ran it over 50 years. The first hotel was built in 1883 by George MILLER to accommodate the railroad workers. In 1887 the Wilson Hotel was built on Main Street and Durley BOST ran a boarding house just back of it. The firs bank was a branch of the Montgomery County Loan and Trust Company of Hillsboro and stood just south of Mr. WOLLERMANs shop.

The bank was opened at the time the railroad was being built so that money would be available for the workers. Later Lyman ALLEN started the first privately owned bank south of Allen’s Hardware. Ed DOUGLAS was the owner of the first drug store. The second hardware was started by WHITTEN and LUDWICK in 1906. Later the building was used for a store and restaurant until it burned in 1926. Isaac HILL started the first lumber yard. In 1903 Elmer WOLCOTT bought it, and then built his own in 1907 in the space now occupied by the Fillmore Fire Protection District.