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Historic America

Coles County Ghost Towns: Hitesville, Farmington, and Curtisville

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

Hitesville

James Hite, who immigrated from Kentucky to Coles County in 1831, created this village in Ashmore Township and named it after himself in April 1835. He was appointed postmaster on August 24, 1835. A stone marker at the location, however, says that Hitesville was founded in 1837.

Whatever the year of its establishment, at its peak it contained several shops and houses. The History of Coles County (1879) stated that the village was “swallowed up” by new villages that appeared when the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railroad was built. Ashmore, which was plotted in 1855, was the most likely culprit.

James Hite and some of his neighbors also built a nearby Presbyterian church. A man by the name of Reverend John Steele presided over the congregation until the building was sold when James Hite moved out of the area. The parishioners, many of whom were from the St. Omer area, then attended a different church. Hitesville lasted long enough to appear on a county map alongside St. Omer and Ashmore, but shortly after, both Hitesville and St. Omer ceased to exist.

Hitesville was located about 3.5 miles southeast of Ashmore at the intersection of county roads 820N and 2780E, not far from Route 49 (GPS coordinates 39.5082, -87.96634). The old Hitesville Cemetery (no longer in use) was approximately one-half mile south along 2780E. The former Greenwood School, now a museum on the Eastern Illinois University campus, once stood west of Hitesville.

Farmington/Campbell

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The long-lost village of Farmington was, for a time, the only village in Pleasant Grove Township. Today, only a few structures remain of this once bustling community. It was laid out on April 25, 1852, at the request of John J. Adams, who owned the land. His wife, Caroline, named the village Farmington, after a town in Tennessee.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Post Office refused to change the name of the nearby post, because a Farmington already existed in Fulton County. It remained known as Campbell’s Post Office, and soon after the village’s official name became Campbell.

In 1853, residents erected a brick schoolhouse, which doubled as a school and Presbyterian church until 1857. According to The History of Coles County (1879) it was called Farmington Seminary and operated as a school until the building became too small to accommodate the growing village. It was then sold and repurposed as a general store.

Reuben Moore was a wealthy resident of the community. After his first wife died, he married Matilda Johnson Hall, Abraham Lincoln’s stepsister. The State of Illinois acquired their home in the 1920s and it has been restored several times, most recently in 1996.

By 1879, Farmington/Campbell was home to around one hundred people, who were served by four stores, a carriage shop, blacksmith shop, steam flour mill, school, and two churches. According to a historic marker outside the Reuben Moore Home, “The boom days, however, were short lived. When the railroad passed up Farmington in favor of Jamesville a few miles to the south, local residents moved elsewhere. Today, only a few houses and a church remind passersby of the village.”

The Moore Home is located at 400 Lincoln Highway Road, one mile north of Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site (GPS coordinates 39.39569, -88.21111).

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Curtisville

History of Coles County, 1876-1976 tells us that Morgan Township contained some of the first land to be settled in Coles County because of a prevalence of good forests and freshwater springs. The first schoolhouse was constructed in 1839, probably in an area known as “Greasy Point,” but its exact location has been lost to history. It was about a mile or so southwest of that point that settlers attempted to build Curtisville, the first village in the township.

Curtisville originally contained a store owned by a man named Cutler Mitchell, a blacksmith shop, as well as a few houses. The village was never officially platted, but it was featured on early maps and a post office opened there on July 11, 1867.

According to the History of Coles County, “the post office was simply an office for the convenience of the neighbors, and whoever went to town brought out the mail-bag. It was not a regular office, nor was the mail brought regularly, but as it suited the convenience of some one who had other business at town.”

Curtisville was located at the intersection of what is today N County Road 1820 E and E County Road 1700 N, approximately two miles north of Bushton and Rardin (GPS coordinates 39.62346, -88.13355). Aside from an old, crumbling barn, all traces of this village have disappeared or were plowed over a long time ago. Only windswept corn and soybean fields remain.


Sources

  • Charleston and Mattoon Bicentennial Commissions. History of Coles County, 1876-1976. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1976.
  • Coles County, Illinois Cemeteries Map. Coles County Genealogical Society, 2001.
  • Coles County Map & Tour Guide. Phelps Map Service, 2011.
  • “Discovering Coles County Driving Tours.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 22 June 1979.
  • Perrin, William Henry. The History of Coles County, Illinois. Chicago: W. Le Baron, 1879.

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