Visitors Guide to
Pike County

"The perfect place to “get away from it all!”

Pike County is located between the Mississippi and Illinois rivers as they move towards convergence at Grafton, IL. Much of the land in Pike County is in one of three scenic portions of Illinois that wasn’t worn done by the glaciers that created the flat lands of the upper Midwest. Although there are bottomlands along the two rivers, Pike County is much more hilly and forested than the rest of the flat plains that characterize central Illinois. Native Americans had lived in Pike County long before the arrival of European settlers. Many archeologists have termed Pike County and Calhoun County to the south the “Nile of America.” There have been many mounds that have been discovered dating from the late Woodland era and Mississippian era Native American cultures throughout the county. When the French explorers Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette passed by Pike County on their way down the Mississippi River and then up the Illinois River in 1673 the Illini Confederation occupied the territory. By the time of the arrival of European settlers in the early 19th century the land was mostly inhabited by the Sauk and Fox tribes.

In May 1812, an act of Congress was passed which set aside bounty lands in three states including Illinois as payment to volunteer soldiers for the War against the British. The Illinois Military Tract, surveyed in 1815-1816, contained more than 5,000,000 acres of land in central western Illinois. The first notable permanent European settlers in what is now Pike County came in 1820 when the Ross brothers settled on land that one brother, Leonard, a captain in the War of 1812, had purchased as part of payment for his military service. Other settlers were attracted by the natural beauty of the area and Ross’s Settlement grew rapidly. Pike County was organized on January 31, 1821 and originally encompassed all of the state above the Illinois and Kankakee Rivers. The county was named after Zebulon Pike, leader of the Pike expedition in 1806 to map out the south and west portions of the Louisiana Purchase. Coles’ Grove, in what is now Calhoun County, was named the temporary county seat.

A rivalry grew between the followers of the Ross brothers who wanted to move the county seat to their town and followers of John Shaw, leader of a group who wanted the county seat to remain at Coles’ Grove. The Ross contingent prevailed and the county seat was moved to the new town of Atlas. However, the conflict wasn’t over and the rivalry didn’t end until three new counties were created from Pike County in 1825 including Calhoun County where Coles’ Grove was located. Atlas didn’t remain the county seat for long as residents wanted a county seat more in the center of the county. In 1833 the county seat was moved to the newly platted town of Pittsfield, named after the home town of the Rosses.

Although the Mormon experience is much more extensive in the counties to the north there is some history of Mormon activity in Pike County. When the Mormons were driven from Missouri during the winter of 1839-1840 they temporarily settled at a new town called Mormon Town, two miles east of Pittsfield. The town grew to have as many as 300 voters by 1845 but as the troubles grew at Nauvoo to the north Mormon Town was abandoned and no trace of it remains today. In 1843 a set of six small, bell-shaped pieces of brass with strange engravings were “discovered” in 1843 in an Indian mound near Kinderhook. According to Latter Day Saint belief, the Book of Mormon was originally translated from a record engraved on Golden Plates by the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. The plates, known as the Kinderhook Plates, were designed to appear ancient, but were in fact a forgery created by three local men. There is a large map illustrating Mormon history at the East Ward School, home of the Pike County Historical Society, in Pittsfield.

Abraham Lincoln was closely associated with Pike County and the people of Pittsfield influenced Abraham Lincoln's early legal and political career. Lincoln’s three personal secretaries while he was president, John Hay, John George Nicolay, and Charles Philbrick were all from Pike County. Lincoln gave legal counsel to friend William Grimshaw, a Pittsfield attorney whom he represented in a federal court case. Grimshaw and Lincoln also served together in local court cases. Pittsfield founder Colonel William Ross and his wife hosted Lincoln during his 1858 U.S. Senate campaign. Lincoln was a friend of John Greene Shastid and visited his home often and enjoyed Mrs. Shastid's home cooked meals. There are probably more houses associated with Lincoln in Pittsfield that any other city in the state. A car-radio audio tour has been developed and takes visitors to eight houses and three sites where you can hear the stories of the houses and the people that knew Lincoln.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861 Pike County was among the first to send volunteers to fight for the Union despite the fact that the majority of the population were Democrats who voted against Lincoln in the election of 1860. Attitudes towards the war differed considerably in the county. Republicans portrayed themselves as loyalists and the war party while the Democrats were split. War Democrats sided with the Republicans and a few Democrats opposed the war. Republicans referred to these Democrats as "Copperheads," after the poisonous snake, and felt that they were not loyal to the Union and were sympathetic to the Confederacy. Early in the war President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, allowing citizens to be thrown in jail and held there without being given a trial. It became commonplace for federal soldiers and law officers organize a posse and ride through Pike County arresting those whom they suspected of being disloyal. Bushwhackers, a lawless group made up mostly of Missourians committed numerous outrages from horse stealing to murder. Violence and crime was commonplace throughout the county and wasn’t confined to the Bushwhackers. Union soldiers murdered some Democrats for their beliefs and those that were taken to court usually went unpunished. In February of 1864 a mob nearly destroyed a Democratic newspaper office and its printing press and was planning harm to the editor. Only the courageous actions of the provost marshal of the area prevented this destruction. Despite the conflicts in the county the men who served in the Union army did so with distinction. Many Pike County men fell on the battlefield, particularly at Vicksburg. During an assault on May 22, 1863, against Confederate fortifications, as many as 102 men of the "Bloody Ninety-ninth" fell during the first ten minutes of the attack. A monument to the Civil War soldiers of Pike County can be found in Summer Hill.

Pike County is noted for its rolling hills and scenic vistas and its many rural communities that offer opportunities to see a part of Illinois as it existed in the days of the pioneers. Pike County is also an ideal place for the sportsperson and nature lover. The geography of the county, combined with a relative lack of heavy development, makes Pike County particularly suited to wildlife and attractive to game hunters. The area is reported to be the number one location in Illinois for game hunting of deer and wild turkey. Lake Pittsfield offers boating, camping, and fishing and its 200-acre lake is surrounded by 480 acres of recreational land with picnic facilities and hiking and biking trails. Every fall the county hosts a spectacular event - the Pike County Color Drive. This event is considered the premier countywide event in the state of Illinois and provides visitors with the opportunity to see the beauty of rural Pike County bathed in the splendor of autumn.  On this third weekend in October most of the county's communities participate in providing a unique roster of events, activities, vendors, crafts, food, and exhibits for the general public to take part in. In addition many communities hold annual festivals throughout the year that celebrate their heritage and the county hosts two annual agricultural fairs - the Pike County Fair in Pleasant Hill and the Western Illinois Fair in Griggsville. Besides Pittsfield's connection with Abraham Lincoln the county is home to a number of small museums that preserve the local history of the area. A visitors center is conveniently located in downtown Pittsfield with a 24-hour foyer when the main lobby isn't open during regular hours. This visitors center provides all the information that one needs to explore the beauty and history of Pike County.

Explore these Great River Road Communities
in Pike County, Illinois
Atlas Barry Griggsville
Kinderhook Nebo Pittsfield
Hull, Milton, New Canton, Perry & Pleasant Hill
The website for Pike County provided by the Pike County Chamber of Commerce. This web site has detailed information about the town, its history, the things to do, and local events
The official site if the Quincy Area Convention & Visitors Bureau which promotes Adams, Hancock, and Pike Counties as destinations for overnight visitors.

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