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Collinsville History

 

The Beginnings of Collinsville

From the Gazetteer of Madison County by James T. Hair, 1866

(Book in Public Domain)

 

         Among the early settlers in this vicinity were Benjamin Johnson, Daniel Berkey, John Blackburn, Philip Teter, Thomas Moore, John Williamson, Hugh Robertson, George Moffat, Stephen Johnson, William B. Penny, and John Anderson. The first grave in the cemetery in Collinsville was closed over the remains of Michael Squier. John Cook, a farmer, built and occupied the first cabin that stood on the site of the present town. In 1817, three brothers, Augustus, Anson and Michael Collins, emigrants from Litchfield, Connecticut, purchased the premises of Mr. Cook, who removed about four miles east on Ridge Prairie. These brothers were energetic businessmen, and they began the improvement of their new purchase. A living spring of water had determined them to choose this location, as it afforded good facilities for a distillery. Their first building for this purpose was built of logs, and supplied with two copper stills, one of thirty and the other of sixty gallons. With an old style horse mill for grinding corn, they began the making of whiskey, considered at that day a great achievement and of much benefit to the country, as it afforded the farmers a home market for their grain, and furnished at all times a supply of "spirits" deemed necessary to the enjoyment of good health. A saw mill was attached to the horse power with which lumber was made from logs obtained in the forest adjacent. A store house was the first frame building erected by the Collins brothers. They named their village "Unionville," characteristic of their sentiments toward each other. Their whisky was considered of first quality, and their flour commanded an extra price in the eastern markets. In addition to their mills and distillery, they had also cooper shops, blacksmith, wagon and carpenter shops, together with a large farm, all under their own supervision. They opened a storehouse there, and another in St. Louis.

 

          While engaging in driving their business, one of their first cares was the erection of a commodious house of worship for all denominations, which, with the aid of a few other settlers in the vicinity, they built in 1818. It was also used during the week for a school room, and for Sabbath School on Sunday.

 

          Five years after the three sons had first settled in the West, their father, Deacon William Collins, then upwards of sixty years of age, was induced to join them. In 1824, preparatory to the coming of their father with his family, the sons erected a large frame dwelling, which still stood in 1866 and was known as the homestead of Mrs. William B. Collins.

 

          The village was first known as "Unionville," but the Postmaster-General changed the name (there was another in the State by the name of Unionville) to Collinsville, due to the large number (ten) of the Collins family then residing there.

 

          During the years 1825-6, they erected a large stone distillery, and in connection with it an ox mill with a double deck inclined wheel, thirty-five feet in diameter, on one side of which thirteen oxen were placed for grinding corn and sawing lumber. This distillery was kept in operation until 1828. The making and vending of ardent spirits was considered in the West as creditable as any other possible vocation. The Deacon and his sons had invested several thousand dollars in their new building and apparatus. But, when they were in the height of their prosperity, the notes of the temperance reform were sounded in the East. Dr. Beecher's "six sermons of Temperance" aroused the whole Christian people of America. Becoming convinced that the business was wrong, the Collins family decided to quit it at once. Instead of selling the establishment, they totally demolished the building, destroyed the copper stills with the sledge hammer, and sold them for old metal. They disposed of the huge tanks for cisterns, and the large grain bins to the farmers for granaries. The very foundations were carried away, and upon their corner stones was reared a parsonage and a Church of the living God. A Temperance society was then organized, and the owners of real estate entered into a bond to sell no lots of land within the limits of the village without a clause in the deed which should work an entire forfeiture of the bargain, should "ardent spirits" in any form be made or sold upon the premises.

 

          The Collins partners separated. Augustus died February 15, 1828; Anson and Michael went into business at Naples; and Frederick in Jacksonville, Illinois. William B. remained alone at Collinsville, where he continued to carry on the business, minus the distillery, until his death in July 1835. By 1866, the deacon's family was all dead except the second daughter, Almira, the widow of Rev. Samuel Giddings, and the youngest son, Frederick, both residing in Quincy, Illinois. In a cemetery in Collinsville at the southern limits of the town, there stands a white marble monument with the name Collins engraved. The following are inscribed:  William Collins; died April 19, 1849 - aged 88 years.   Esther, His Wife, died January 3, 1834, aged 70 years.    Maria Collins, died December 1822, aged 22 years.   Augustus Collins, died February 15, 1828, aged 35 years.    Anson Collins, died May 15, 1835, aged 40 years.  A short distance from the main monument, a plain marble slab reads:  Sacred to the memory of William B. Collins, Son of Deacon William and Esther Collins, who died July 22, 1835, aged 35 years.

 

          Augustus Collins & Co. were the first merchants, and William B. Collins was the first miller. A mill for grinding had been erected on Canteen Creek, one miles and a half west from where Collinsville now is, by a Mr. Thompson. As early as 1822, this mill had disappeared, and only traces of the dam and mill race were to be seen in 1866. A Mr. Wilcox from New York State located in Collinsville about 1820. He started a tanyard, which he afterwards increased to forty-nine vats and worked successfully for some ten years. Horace Look was also one of the early settlers and afterwards a prominent citizen of Collinsville.  The first school was taught by Mr. Hopkins. The first physician was Dr. Gunn.

 

          The town proper, was laid off and recorded in 1837, and lots sold by E. W. Collins, widow of William B. Collins. Society was of a high order, with lyceum lectures, a large circulating library, social gatherings and prosperous churches.

 

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"Early Days in Madison County, No. 22 -- The History of Unionville, or Collinsville"

by Rev. Thomas Lippincott

Written at the request of W. C. Flagg, for the Illinois Historical Society

Alton Telegraph January 13, 1865

 

          I think it was in the winter of 1820-31 that I went in company with Major William H. Hopkins (have I spoken of him before? I ought, for he and his family occupied an important position in Edwardsville), to the southern part of the county; and visited a place of business enterprise that even then had begun to attract attention. These were mills - saw mill and flour mill - driven by horses or oxen, a distillery, a store, a tanyard and a shoemaking shop, all carried on by five brothers, who had come from Litchfield, Connecticut and were united in the enterprise. I do not know if they had then laid out a village, which they called Unionville, but they did so then or afterwards. At the time of this visit I only saw one of the brothers, who was at work on a large frame house - large even now - which they were erecting preparatory to the coming of their venerable parents and sisters. The names of these brothers were Augustus, Anson, Michael, William B. and Frederick Collins. A noble band of brothers. While actively and energetically driving their business to the most economical and profitable way, and rapidly accumulating wealth, they were far from being unmindful of the higher interests, social and spiritual of themselves and those around them. One of their first cares was the erection of a commodious - for those days - and well arranged place of worship; which also served the purpose of a school house. Only one of the brothers, Augustus, was then married. In due time three others became so; William B. Collins married a daughter of Mr. Hertzog of St. Louis, then running a mill in the American Bottom; Michael, a daughter of Captain Blakeman; and Frederick, a daughter of Captain Allen; both of Marine Settlement and already introduced to the reader.

 

          I said they were growing wealthy. Each attended to a special department, and all worked in unison. It was their aim and boast to have the products of their labor of the best quality. Their whisky was considered first rate; and their inclined wheel ox mill flour commanded an extra price in eastern markets. Not only had they a store at their own establishment on the Canteen creek, but opened a depot at St. Louis for their commodities. They obtained a post office, but inasmuch as there was one by the name of Unionville in the State, the Postmaster General changed the name of this; which being accepted by them thenceforth was known as Collinsville. There they went on and prospered; but, although it will take me beyond, or rather bring me within, the date at which I propose to close my sketches, I must tell of a change that subsequently occurred; a change remarkable as not only involving the entire breaking up of the partnership and scattering the family, but as the result of an idea, a notion, or more properly, a principle.

 

          One of the chief sources of revenue to them, working in, as it did, with all the other branches, particularly the mill, was the distillery. It was planned with a view of making the greatest possible amount of good whisky with the least possible amount of labor; and I believe it was considered a superior establishment. At that time no scruples prevailed about it. It was regarded a legitimate business everywhere; except among the very scrupulous Quakers, who always deemed it wrong to do their neighbors wrong; even in the way of business. So it was carried on with great energy and profit. But in after years - later, as I said, than I intended to bring these articles - there came a doubt on the public mind as to the lawfulness (in a moral point of view) of making or vending that which had no other effect, and no other aim almost, than to injure and destroy domestic peace, public welfare, good morals and manhood; and produce poverty, crime and wretchedness. On this subject the Collins brothers - and their author too - agreed with the public; and saw no moral wrong in the business until their eyes were opened by investigation and reflection. It so happened, that the doubt was first thundered forth - it may have been whispered before - by the pastor whose teachings they had enjoyed in their Connecticut home, whom they had left with tears, and who was beginning even then to wake a continent by his eloquence and truth. "The six sermons on Temperance" of Lyman Beecher, which waked the whole Christian people of America, could not fail to elicit the attention of his former parishioners, and followed up by the argument and appeals of Christian friends were taken into serious consideration; which after much consultation among the partners, and I may add, prayer, resulted in the determination to close the business entirely and forever. I happened to know something of the workings of their mind - the reason which weighed for and against - and the thoroughness of the work of reform. Several thousand dollars had been recently invested in the buildings and apparatus. So much capital they argued to be lost, and so much of their ability to contribute to benevolent enterprise diminished. They were convinced at length that the business was wrong, was unchristian, and should cease; and instead of selling the machinery, as they might have done, for a round sum, they totally demolished the building, broke up the generators, took the huge tanks to their dwellings for cisterns, and sold the washtubs to farmers for granaries. I have seen these double bogsheads or tubs, at different farm houses, full of wheat or other small grain; while yet there were few or no barns in the country. The partners then separated; Augustus soon died, several went to the Illinois river and established mills &c., at Naples, and William B. Collins remained alone at Collinsville, carrying on the business -- minus the distillery, until his death. His widow and children (except the son in the army), still residing there. All are now gone, including the oldest son, Amos M. Collins, of Hartford, the well known philanthropist and Christian, but the youngest brother, Frederick, who resides in Quincy, and a sister, the widow of him who has been ever known among Presbyterians as the Apostle to the great West, the venerated Simon Giddings. I hardly know or can conceive a lot or memory more favored, more to be desired than that of the venerable William Collins, to leave such a name and such a progeny as he did to shed blessing on the generations following. And I have introduced the facts above told as a bright example of the power of religious principle applied to the conduct of life. What untold calamity and crime would have been spared to our country - themselves especially - if the holders of slaves could have been so convinced and induced so to act.

 

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