Visitor's Guide to Calhoun County, Illinois


Visitors Guide to
Calhoun County, Illinois

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Calhoun County, like Jo Daviess County in northwest Illinois, is unique in the state in that glaciers didn’t touch it and therefore has a more rugged terrain that is dissected by valleys than the generally flat terrain associated with the rest of Illinois. Calhoun County is also located at the tip of the peninsula formed by the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and is almost completely surrounded by water. Often referred to as the ‘Kingdom’, Calhoun County is sparsely populated with only 5 incorporated towns.

Human habitation of Calhoun County dates back as far as the Early Archaic era (6400 – 3900 B.C.E.) and many have termed the area the "Nile of North America." Kampsville is centered in the heart of this remarkable archeological region and the archeologists and students of the Center for American Archeology spend their summers conducting digs and fieldwork. There are also many mounds dating from the Middle Woodland era (800 – 1200 A.D.) that have been located in different parts of the county. When the French explorers Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette passed by Calhoun County in 1673 the Illini Confederation occupied the territory. The Illini were a woodland people who alternated between farming and hunting depending on the season and located their villages in river valleys to take advantage of the soil conditions. The power of the Illini was on the wane in the late 17th century due to pressure from surrounding tribes particularly by the Iroquois from the east. There are historical accounts of a massacre near the present day site of the Brussels Free Ferry in 1680 and over the last 75 years farmers plowing their fields in this area have found skulls, skeletons, and weapons.

The first permanent European settler was a French trapper named O’Neal who settled in Point Precinct (the southern tip of Calhoun County) in 1801 and lived in a cave until his death in 1842. O’Neal was followed by other French trappers who started a colony above the Brussels Free Ferry but were driven out by floods in 1815. After the war of 1812 the government set aside the lands between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers for veterans and a rush of settlers began around 1823. However most of the land settled in Calhoun County was not by veterans, most of who sold their land to speculators, but by settlers who learned about the region. In 1821 Pike County was organized and included all the territory between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers up to the Wisconsin border and east to Lake Michigan. In 1825 the southern part of Pike County was cut off and made into a separate county. The new county was named after John C. Calhoun, a lawyer, politician, and statesman, from South Carolina and Gilead was selected as the county seat. In 1847 the county seat was moved to Child’s Landing, now known as Hardin.

Calhoun County’s earliest industry was lumbering and it remained its primary industry for the first 50 years of the county’s existence. It was said that nearly everyone in the county was involved in the trade in one form or another, either buying, selling, cutting, or boating staves or cordwood, or getting out and rafting logs. Even farmers would make staves or cut cordwood during the winter to sell in the summer. Because money was scarce at the time merchants would accept cordwood, poles, or staves in exchange for goods and supplies and a common sign for a store was “Cordwood on the Bank a Legal Tender.” Farms and orchards were the other important means of income at the time. By 1875 orchards had grown to become a very important part of the financial community. The hills, bluffs, and the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers help to moderate the climate in southern Illinois, creating microclimates that protect orchards from drastic temperature fluctuations. A third of Illinois’ substantial peach crop is grown in Calhoun County alone!

As it was with all communities along the Mississippi River steamboats were essential to Calhoun County in its early years. The first record of a steamboat visiting Calhoun County is when the “Utility” stopped at Twichell’s Landing in 1831. Steamboat traffic was at its height around the Civil War with dozens of steamers passing each day. Unlike other communities who began to rely primarily on the railroad Calhoun County would rely on steamboats until the mid 1920s when the Chicago and Alton Railroad completed a branch line to East Hardin in Jersey County and the first hard roads were connecting Hardin and the outside world. In 1931 the Joe Page Bridge in Hardin was completed, it being the only bridge in Calhoun County crossing either the Mississippi or Illinois Rivers. Currently the bridge and four ferries are used to get to and from Calhoun County.

Calhoun is a favorite destination for people looking for a day trip and get away from the hustle and bustle of urban environments. The lack of easy transportation into Calhoun County has meant that the county has always been sparsely populated allowing it to retain the feeling of a small but active agricultural community of the late 19th and early 20th century and has allowed four ferries to prosper.

Explore these Great River Road Communities
in Calhoun County, Illinois
Batchtown Brussels Golden Eagle
Hardin   Kampsville
Heritage Project
Two Rivers
Wildlife Refuge
River Ferries
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