LOST TOWNS OF MACON COUNTY, ILLINOIS
A LOOK INTO THE PAST
Originally published in the The Daily Review, on 9 Jun 1907
Nearly all of us at one time or another have read Goldsmith's Deserted Village and sighed sentimentally over "Sweet Auburn! loveliest village of the plains," it's people gone, its streets grown up in weeds, and only the deserted houses and the graveyard on the hill to tell that "once there life has been." Yet here in Macon couty we have deserted villages - yes, more than that, we have lost villages, villages where people once lived and loved and had their little dreams, villages now decayed, and in one case, at least, so passed from the memory of man that no one today can point out its precise location.
MURPHEYSBORO THE OLDEST
Of the lost villages of Macon county, or towns as our American vernacular would have it, the oldest and least known is Murpheysboro in Friends Creek township, just south of the old town of Newburg on the farm known to old settlers as the Volgamot farm. Platted some time in the early 30's by a North Carolinian named Murphy, so tradition runs, the place at one time boated four or five houses, a dames' school, blacksmith shop and a store. For a while it flourished and bid fair to rival Decatur, then a struggling little town of a few log houses, a store or two, and a generally unkempt appearance. After a while, however, the place lost its prestige, and by and by was deserted. Today nothing remains of the town, "even its precise location is forgotten," and the corn grows rank, and the meadowlark and quail call from above the spot where Murpheysboro once stood and men and women loved and sorrowed and passed into long sleep, even as they do today.
About a mile northeast of where Murpheysboro is supposed to have been is the little village of West Danville, or Dantown, as it is better known. It was once a prosperous village indeed; there are many people now living who can remember when Dantown boasted a gristmill, sawmill, distillery, and fifteen or twenty houses. The old distillery is still in operation, one run of "corn-juice" being made every year, but of the gristmill and sawmill and the village now nothing remains but the old Ross homestead, now occupied by Charley Ross, who runs the distillery, while the quiet streets of the village once were, corn is growing, only a few olf cellar holes marking the site of once happy homes.
A TRADING POST
Before the coming of the first settlers, if we may believe tradition, Dantown was a trading post and the center of a little French settlement, being beautifully located and well supplied with water, no less than ten springs gushing out of the hills there and furnishing an abundance of clear, cold water, utlilized in more prosaic days for "cornjuice" making. In 1825, or thereabouts, when the Indians left the country, the trading post was deserted, and knew life no more until about 1848, when Colonel Dan Conklin came to this country from Ohio and started a little still on the east bank of Friends Creek, near the location of the old trading post.
CORN JUICE BUSINESS
The little town that grew up there was named West Danville, though in popular parlance it has always been Dantown. Conklin did a retail as well as a wholesale buisiness in corn-juice, and the place became popular with those who desired to metamorphose the dull verities of life with the enlivening "snake killer." For this reason Dantown was long known to the good people of the neighborhood as "Hell's Half Acre." In 1873, when the Decatur, Monticello & Champaign railroad was built through the country. Dantown and its sister town of Newburg were left stranded high and dry a mile to the eastward of the railroad. Many of the people in the town, wishing to be on the railroad, moved over there and formed the town now known as Argenta. Today Dantown has relapsed to the country and travelers passing there and seeing only the old distillery and the lone house, would never think that a prosperous town had once been there. Some of the old atlases still survive, however, to show us Dantown as it once was, with its four wide streets, Mill, Water, Long and North streets.
MADISON A MEMORY
Madison was a little town that was platted by John and Thomas Moffett in the eary 40's, where the Madison church and school house now stand in Blue Mound township, a mile and a half north and three miles west of the location of the present town of Boody. For a while it grew, four or five houses being put up and a store started; then it, too, was deserted. With the coming of the Illinois Central railroad through this country in 1854 and the surveying of a route via the "cut-off," six miles west of Decatur, there were again dreams of Madison as an important town, as the railroad would have passed nearby. But the people of Decatur finally prevailed upon the Illinois Central people to route their railroad via Decatur, and Madison forgot its halcyon days and relapsed into the country once more. All that remains of the town now is a memory and the survival of the name of the lost town in the name of the church and school now located on the spot where Madison was.
Another town that bids fair sooner or later to be deserted and to pass into the list of lost towns of Macon county, is Newburg, across the creek and about an eighth of a mile west of Dantown. Newburg, like th rest, was once prosperous; indeed, in the days when it was known as Dowling postoffice it was the metropolis of the northeastern part of the county. Like Dantown, it was killed by the passing of the railroad one mile west, and the growing up of the present town of Argenta on the railroad line, drawing away the better part of the population. Now all that is left of the town is the "big brick," as the most important house in the town is called, and one or two other dwellings. By and by the day will come when Newburg, too, will return to the country and then the number of lost towns in Macon county will be four, instead of three, as it is today.
Of the favored locations a small section of Friends Creek township, along the creek, bakc of the present town of Argenta seems to ahve been most favored by the early settlers. There at one time were located three growing towns, Murpheysboro, West Danville and Newburg, all except the last town now deserted. The site of those towns was one that seems on account of the springs and the beauty of the locality to have been favored since a very early day. If tradition may be believed, a French and later a Spanish trading post were once located in that vicinity and the Indians came there to barter furs for "fire-water" and trinkets. The same advantage in the locality that appealed to the traders seems to have appealed later to the early settlers. At any rate the first settlements in the county were in that locality, three towns growing up there within a half mile of one another. At one time they bid fair to grow together and become the metropolis of the county, but Decatur by and by forged ahead and there was nothing doing in the metropolis line for that section of the county. Then when the railroad came, and passing by the towns "knew them not," it was the quietus to those little towns up there and they are now deserted.
All materials contained on these pages are furnished for the free use of individuals engaged in researching their personal genealogy. Any commercial use or any use for which money is asked or paid for any reason is strictly prohibited.