By the start of the War Between the States, Marion was an extremely small town compared to what it is today.
The Illinois General Assembly provided Marion a town charter in 1851. Earlier, the legislature provided for a committee to plat out a county seat at the same time Williamson County was separated from Franklin County.
The only trouble was that there was no town then, so the settlement of Bainbridge was the first county seat.
Bainbridge was located on Phelps Prairie three and a half miles west of Marion at the intersection of some early trails. Until Marion would be platted, Bainbridge would act as the first county seat. Although it has that honor, no county business was ever conducted there.
The first three county commissioners met in William Benson’s log cabin instead. Benson’s home was at the center of the county and he was willing to donate 20 acres to the county for the town.
The first town charter covered an area one mile square with the public square as the center.
While that was considered plenty of room for the town to grow, the original survey or plat of Marion only covered the square. That area only covered one block north of the square, the one block east, one and a half blocks south, and a half block west. That was only 45 lots on 16 blocks.
By 1861, there were 17 more additions to Marion platted. Even still, the surveyed area of Marion was less than one-tenth of a square mile.
The area stretched from what’s now Holland Street on the west to Buchanan Street on the east. The present-day Crab Orchard and Egyptian Railroad line was the northernmost developed area while the platted development continued about a half a block past Marion Street on the south.
Outside that area wasn’t much but scattered farms. On the East Main Street, J.M. Cunningham lived on his farm where Washington Grade School now stands. The farmhouse was located where the jungle gym is today on the school’s west side.
Cunningham was John A. Logan’s father-in-law. Logan’s wife Mary would later own the home. It was later torn town to build Logan School. Today, only the gym remains attached to the west wing of Washington Grade School.
To the south of the platted area, Dr. Augustus N. Lodge lived in a brick home on South Market. At the time the home was part of a 35 acre farm. The house was built by Willis Allen, Lodge’s father-in-law, an early legislator and judge.
His brother-in-law William Allen was Logan’s former law partner and the former U.S. Attorney for Southern Illinois appointed by Franklin Pierce.
West of the platted area was West End Creek. Residents can see the creek today during heavy rains when it floods the intersection of Main and Court Streets which it flows under. Just east of the creek at the site of Blankenship’s today was the Edwards and Mann brick mill. Milton Mulkey built the first mill there in 1845. It was the first steam (frame) mill in the county. He sold it to Hopper and Phelps who rebuilt it in 1847 and 1848.
John M. Edwards purchased it nine years later in 1857. Afterward, his son, Charles M. Edwards and A. J. Mann rebuilt it in brick. The July 20th, 1860 edition of the weekly Marion Intelligencer announced that W.H. Crippen, formerly of Aikman & Pulley’s new mill has purchased an interest in the flour mill.
Opposite the mill A. Williams and Sherrod carded wool from the many sheep raised in the county.
The double cabin was typical of many early pioneer cabins. The original section was small with a fireplace at one end. Later a slightly larger addition was attached to the side with the fireplace.
Past the creek was the original Aikman farm. The original farmhouse stood near the northeast corner of Main and Russell where the current Aikman house still stands and was owned by Wayland Sims (now Jasones Bed and Breakfast). The original house was a two store frame house.
A few years earlier T.A. Aikman sold 10 acres on the south side of Main to a group for a county fairground. That land was bounded by Main, Bentley, Cherry, and Russell Streets. In 1861, the fairgrounds were a half-mile west of the city.
By the start of the war the public square had some impressive buildings for such a small town. The newest building was J.B. Bainbridge’s three story building started in 1860 and finished after the start of the new year. It was 50 feet by 85 feet and sat on the northwest corner of West Main and the square where the Citadel Building is today. Bainbridge operated a general merchandise store in the corner of the building.
Bainbridge also had a tobacco warehouse on the northwest corner of the square where Community Savings Bank was located.
On the north side of the square where the Bank of Marion abuts Market Street was the 60-foot long two-story Western Exchange Hotel. Allen Bainbridge had built the building in 1842. At the time it was only the third brick building in the county.
By the time of the war, George M. Calvert was the proprietor. Upstairs Drs. A. Smead and R.B. Smead had their offices. In the corner downstairs, Joseph Huffstutler operated a small store.
The Courthouse wasn’t located in the center of the square in 1861. Three years earlier a new courthouse which was the fourth for the county was built on the southeast side of the square. Today the site is the east half of Distinctive Interiors’ building (now the Salvation Army).
The two-story building was 70 feet long by 60 feet. There was a large hall in the middle with county offices and a jury room on the first floor. It also had a large community gathering room which was probably the courtroom upstairs. J.J. Allen advertised in 1860 that his office was located through the second door on the west side of the hall.
The first county building was built of logs on the square in 1839-40. The following year, John Paschal built a brick courthouse for $3,500. It was 40 by 40 and two stories tall. When it was torn down the brick was used for a farmhouse north of town.
The county jail was located a half a block east of the courthouse down the alley. Today, the lot is the city parking lot behind the Southern Illinois Gas Building (Chick’s Bar) and the V.F.W.
The jail at the time was built of logs in 1840. Squire Howell got the contract for $335.00. History records him as the county’s first incompetent contractor. When he got finished the Court docked him $25 for defective work.
Richard Cook was the first prisoner. He had been in the Frankfort jail from this end of the county on a charge of horse-stealing, before the division, and brought here. John G. Sparks was the first jailer. His pay was 37 and a half cents a day for dieting prisoners.
Dr. J. Bricker had an office upstairs in the building opposite the courthouse on the southeast side of the square.
Next to the courthouse between it and South Market Street was probably Benson & Yost’s store. Dr. Isaac Mulkey returned to Marion in 1860 and advertised his office as upstairs above the store.
Also on the south side of the square was the grocery store operated by Francis Marion Sparks and J.M. Washburn. This probably was on the block west of Market Street. John A. Hardy was a boot and shoemaker also advertised as located on the south side.
Goodall and Campbell operated a store in Sterling Hill’s old grocery. Hill was the first county judge and would hold court in the corner of his grocery. It should be noted that at that time a grocery is what we would now consider a tavern or saloon.
Hill’s store was on the south side of the square where the Bainbridge building is today. (The old 800 block was torn down in the 90’s to make way for the Civic Center). At the time, it was the second business house built in Marion in 1839 or 1840. Previously, Hill ran a store south of Marion on the old Kaskaskia Trail in the northwest corner of Creal Springs Township. F.M. Westbrook operated a general store in a frame house on a corner lot owned by Samuel Dunaway. Also, J.T. Goddard was operating a store at least as early as 1857.
Dr. Augustus N. Lodge had an office upstairs over a drug store in 1860, although it is not known which one. The Intelligencer building was somewhere downtown. Editor D. Bard Rock also was involved in real estate and worked as a collecting agent.
There were two banks in the county in 1860. Erwin records them as the Agriculture Bank and the Bank of Southern Illinois although it is not known where they were located. A third one, Bolton Bank, was chartered in 1861, in Bolton.
(Article written by Jon Musgrave and published in the 1995 History of Marion Edition of the Marion Daily Republican)