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The Early History of Godfrey

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser

 

Scarritt’s Prairie
The earliest settlements in the future site of Godfrey were made in the year 1826. Nathan Scarritt broke the first ground for cultivation in the prairie, but the first cabin was built and occupied by Joseph Reynolds. Nathan Scarritt was a native of New Hampshire. He was a man of marked piety, who left a religious impression on the community which existed for many years after his death. With his wife and four children, he immigrated from Lyman, New Hampshire, reaching Edwardsville in November 1820. On his arrival, he had difficulty in finding a house for his family, but finally found a log house with a stick chimney and hearth. There were no chairs to sit on, and pure water was hard to find. During the winter of 1820-21, he built a house of clapboards. The family moved into the home in March 1821. After five years, Mr. Scarritt made his home in Godfrey Township, settling on the prairie near the present village of Godfrey. The prairie soon took the name of Scarritt’s Prairie, and his farm was the first improvement there. Scarritt’s Prairie encompassed all the territory east of Godfrey Road, and north to the Madison County line. The first religious services in Godfrey Township were held in his home, and the first school was taught in his barn, which stood a short distance north of his residence. His daughter taught at the school, with about sixteen pupils. The first Sunday School in the township was also taught in his barn. Mr. Scarritt made brick, and built the first brick house in Godfrey Township. He died in 1848.

Joseph Reynolds built the first cabin in Godfrey Township, and sold the cabin to Samuel Delaplain. Other early settlers of Scarritt’s Prairie included Henry P. Rundle Simon Peter, James Dodsen, Hail Mason, Joel Finch, Zebedee Chapman, Ezra Gilman, and Rowland and Oscar Ingham. Later came John Peter, George Smith, John Mason, Zebedee Brown, James Meldrum, Richard Blackburn, Henry Waggoner, Samuel Waggoner, David Rood, and Joseph Whyers – all settling on the east side of the prairie.

Hail Mason became a resident of Madison County as early as December 1817, living in Edwardsville with his brothers, James and Paris Mason. From Edwardsville, Hail Mason moved to Clifton for a year or two, then made his home on Scarritt’s Prairie. His house was a short distance northeast of the future town of Godfrey. He served as Justice of the Peace. His brother, John Mason, settled on a farm a short distance northeast of Godfrey. His two sons, Aaron P. and John Mason, were residents of Godfrey for many years. John Mason died in 1880.
The Riley - Godfrey Mansion
The Riley – Godfrey Mansion
The first improvement on the property that became the residence of Captain Benjamin Godfrey was made by Calvin Riley, who accompanied Judge Webb to Illinois from the State of New York. He was the brother of the Captain Riley who endured a captivity in Africa, and published a book known as “Riley’s Narrative.” Calvin Riley built a stone house, which was purchased by Captain Benjamin Godfrey, and with additions made by Godfrey, became the beautiful resident in which he raised his family. Captain Riley engaged in the mercantile business in Alton, and then moved to Edwardsville for one year. He returned to Godfrey Township to farm. He met his death in Michigan while on a fishing excursion. The first house south of the Godfrey home was built by Captain Riley, and in it George T. M. Davis lived for a time. It was afterward occupied by James Hamilton, who kept it as a hotel. Hamilton was one of the workmen who came from the East to help build the Seminary.

Captain Benjamin GodfreyCaptain Benjamin Godfrey
Captain Benjamin Godfrey was born at Chatham, Massachusetts on May 20, 1794. His early life was mostly spent on the sea. It is said he began the life of a sailor when only nine years old, however he acquired a good practical education and knowledge of navigation. He spent some months when a boy in Ireland, and was connected with mercantile service during the War of 1812. He afterward became Commander of a merchant vessel, and made voyages to Italy, Spain, and other parts of the old world. On his last voyage he was shipwrecked near Brazos Santiago, and lost nearly all his property and almost his life. This left him stranded in Mexico with little means, but his quick business tact enabled him to seize opportunities for trade, and he was soon the head of a mercantile house at Matamoras, Mexico, where he laid for foundation of his fortune. He moved to New Orleans and carried on a mercantile business in partnership with Winthrop S. Gilman. In 1832, the firm of Godfrey, Gilman & Co. began operations in Alton. Captain Godfrey became a resident in Godfrey Township in 1834. He purchased a stone residence built by Calvin Riley, a mile north of the present village of Godfrey, to which he subsequently added a wing on the north. With the exception of one or two years when he and his family lived at Alton, this was Captain Godfrey’s residence until his death on August 13, 1862. Captain Godfrey was a large owner of real estate, at one time owning ten thousand acres, mostly in Godfrey Township. He built, under great difficulties, the railroad from Alton to Springfield, which later became part of the Chicago and Alton Railroad. Monticello Female SeminaryHis name, however, will be chiefly remembered as the founder of the Monticello Female Seminary. The idea of the founding of the school first came to him in about 1833. With Mr. Gilman, he went to the home of Nathan Scarritt in 1834 in search of an appropriate site for its location. Mr. Scarritt accompanied them, and a place was first selected about three-quarters of a mile from where he later built. The erection of the original building began in 1836, with Captain Godfrey donating more than $125,000 for the construction of the Seminary. The Seminary opened in 1838, under Principal Rev. Theron Baldwin. The four-story stone building was 100 x 44 feet. The two upper stories contained 40 rooms – each designed to accommodate two young ladies. The second floor was used for classrooms, recitations and family rooms, and the lower floor was used for the kitchen, dining hall, and chapel. In 1888, the original Seminary was destroyed by fire. Due to the hard work and determination of Mrs. Haskell, the Seminary was rebuilt, and still stands today. It is now being used as the Lewis & Clark Community College.

The Village of Monticello (Godfrey)
The village of Monticello was laid out by Captain Benjamin Godfrey and Enoch Long. The town plat was recorded May 30, 1840. The name was changed to Godfrey when the post office was established in 1841.

Early Businesses in Godfrey
The first store in Godfrey was opened by Timothy Turner. Turner was the first postmaster, being appointed to that position in 1840. Turner resigned the office in 1860 due to old age, and Thomas P. Walworth, his former clerk, took over as postmaster. Walworth held the position for a short time, and was succeeded by Benjamin Webster, who was postmaster from 1861 to 1881, when he was succeeded by Edward A. Mason.

There were two grocery stores in Godfrey kept by Edward A. Mason and John F. Boyd. George Churchill operated a dry goods and grocery. John Roberts operated a restaurant, and a blacksmith and wagon making shop was carried on by Aaron C. Mason and T. Baldwin. Later, this was operated by Mark Robidou and the firm of Wirth & Weber. X. Maier and Carl Wenzel operated shoe shops. A flour mill was built in Monticello in 1857 by Henry and Uriah Howell, who sold it to Richard Blackburn. Blackburn died three years afterwards, and Sears & Dodgson took over the mill. This mill was later moved to Clifton, where for a time it was operated as a cement mill.
Godfrey Creamery
The Godfrey Creamery was located on the west side of Godfrey Road, near Pearl Street. In 1893, Frank J. Rue and Herman D. Bull owned the creamery, and sold it to Joseph Blonde. In 1915 brothers Roy R. and Mortan Pattison operated the creamery, and named it “Golden Rod.” The “Golden Rod” butter was their specialty, which was shipped to Alton, East Alton, Bethalto, Wood River, and beyond. By 1941 the creamery closed, and in 1944 the village of Godfrey purchased the property and converted the building into the town hall/fire department.

Early Schools in Godfrey
The first school in Godfrey Township was taught in the barn of Nathan Scarritt on the “Brighton Road” (Humbert Road). His daughter, Laura, served as its teacher, with sixteen students. A school was also taught in the years 1829 – 1831 at the residence of George Debaun, near what was later the South Branch School on Highway 67 (Godfrey Road). Abigail Scarritt and Elizabeth Peter were the teachers. In about 1832 or 1833, a school was established at the Bethany Church, near the intersection of Bethany and Humbert Road. For some years, this was the only school in the township. A West Point cadet by the name of Johnson taught this school in 1839. Elijah Frost took charge of the school in 1840 and taught there for three years. Pupils came to attend this school from Clifton and Jersey County, which bordered to the north. Subsequent teachers were Mrs. Russell Scarritt, Mary Jane Scarritt (the youngest daughter of Nathan Scarritt), and William Cunningham.

A three-room schoolhouse was constructed in about 1843 on the hillside on Godfrey Road, on the north side of the present Godfrey Cemetery. The Principal was James Squire, with Fannie A. Burgess as assistant. The basement of the school served as classrooms for the colored children. J. M. Anderson was in charge of that school. During the Civil War, the school was the meeting place of Northern sympathizers called the Union Leaguers. A group of Southern sympathizers, who had their headquarters on Piasa Creek to the north, threatened to show up and cause physical harm. The Union Leaguers were well prepared, but the Piasa Creek boys failed to make their appearance. In the Fall and Spring, students would sit on the steps between the schoolyard and the Godfrey Cemetery next door. Occasionally the students could hear through open windows the sound of gravediggers digging a fresh grave. The older boys and girls would frighten the younger ones by telling them the water which ran into a nearby well from which they drank ran over the dead bodies in the cemeteries. This school was in use until 1910, when it was destroyed by fire. A two-room temporary school was quickly erected in its place. After much discussion, Edward Wade, an Alton banker and trustee of Monticello Female Seminary, agreed to sell a corner of its property for a schoolhouse for $1500. The home on the property was sold and moved to Humbert Road. A new brick schoolhouse was completed in 1912 and was located just to the south of the cemetery. An addition was made in 1937.

Early Churches in Godfrey
Early religious services were held at the home of Nathan Scarritt, and there the first sermon was preached in the summer of 1828 by Rev. John Hogan, a Methodist minister. Mr. Hogan was then operating a mercantile business at Edwardsville, and subsequently became a resident of Alton, and afterwards St. Louis.

A Methodist class was organized at the time of settlement in Godfrey, but not regular church organization existed until 1842.

The Bethany Church
On December 26, 1842, the Bethany Church was organized. Among the original members were Hail Mason, Nathan Scarritt, Josiah Randle, Simon Peter, James Meldrum, John Mason Jr., Aaron P. Mason, Richard Blackburn, Elijah Frost, David Rood, and William Squire. Simon Peter donated the land on which the church was constructed. The Randles, Scarritts, and others were supporters of the Methodist Church, and it was customary for them on Wednesday nights to drive around the neighborhood in a big wagon, collecting a good number of people to go to Upper Alton and attend the weekly class. The Sunday School, formed in 1829, had a sporadic existence until 1841, when on May 6, a Sunday School was organized at the Bethany Church.

The Church of Christ
The Church of Christ in Godfrey was organized on November 2, 1839, with twenty-six members. At the first meeting, of which the Rev. Theron Baldwin (first principal of Monticello Female Seminary) was moderator, a constitution, confession of faith, and covenant were adopted. Timothy Turner and Benjamin I. Gilman were appointed elders. Rev. Theron Baldwin was installed pastor of the church on November 22, 1840. Abijah W. Corey was appointed elder in October 1841. Captain Benjamin Godfrey, who had united with the Alton Presbyterian Church in 1833, became a member of the church at Godfrey in 1844, and on October 5 of that year was appointed an elder. In the fall of 1842, a large addition was made to the church. Rev. Elisha Jenny was at that time taking the place of the pastor, who was absent in the East. In the spring of 1844, the Rev. Mr. Baldwin resigned as pastor, and Rev. George Pyle took over from that time until 1846. This church was built at the joint expense of the congregation and Monticello Seminary, on land belonging to the Seminary. The church was organized on an independent basis, and not connected with any denomination. Members were Presbyterian, Reformed Dutch, and Congregational. In 1854, the church became strictly Presbyterian, and united with the Presbytery of Alton. In 1867, the church withdrew from the Presbyterian connection and returned to its original independent basis.

The Baptist Church
The Baptist Church, on the south side of Godfrey, adjoining North Alton, was built in 1858. Rev. Mr. Bevins was pastor in 1882.

 

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