The “English settlement” in Edwards County, Illinois A Brief History.

In 1816, George Flower and Morris Birkbeck, both affluent Englishmen, became interested in emigrating from England to America and establishing a colony of their countrymen.

Morris Birkbeck, who came from a well-to-do Quaker family in Surrey, was a well-educated English gentleman farmer of a 1500 acre leased estate called Wanborough.  He resented his lack of political franchise in England, and his obligation to support the Anglican Church, of which he disapproved.

George Flower was the son of Richard Flower of Marden Hall, Hertfordshire, England.  Richard was a man of considerable influence in England where he became wealthy through the operation of an extensive brewery.  The Flower family also had a strong desire for independence, with liberal tendencies, a dislike about cities, and a deep sympathy for the working class, particularly farmers.  Richard Flower commissioned his eldest son, George, then in his late twenties, to investigate possibilities for emigrating from England.

In April 1816, George Flower left Liverpool for New York, a crossing that took 50 days.  He made a long, circuitous trip on horseback from New York to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington and Nashville, Culminating at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, where he spent the winter months.  During this trip he visited with many intellectual and influential men, evaluating settlements and studying America.

By spring he was convinced that the best place for the English settlement was not in the established East, or the South, but in the West, on the American prairies.  He was about to return to England when he learned that Mr. Birkbeck and his party had arrived in Richmond, Virginia where he hastened to join them.  The Birkbeck party consisted of Mr. Birkbeck, a widower aged 54, his two daughters aged 19 and 16, and two of his sons aged 16 and 14; Miss Eliza Julia Andrews, 25; Elias Pym Fordham, aged 29, nephew of Elizabeth (Fordham) Flower (George’s mother); and two servants.

Because Birkbeck had previously met Edward Coles, an American diplomat, and through him had become interested in the prairies of Illinois, Birkbeck and Flower were in agreement and decided to leave at once for the West.  After an arduous stagecoach ride to Pittsburgh, they traveled over land on horseback through Pennsylvania to Chillicothe and Cincinnati, Ohio and across Indiana, ending their travels at Vincennes on the Wabash River.

While at Vincennes, George Flower was married to Eliza Julia Andrews, a member of Birkbeck’s party.  Earlier in the journey, Miss Andrews had also been proposed to by Mr. Birkbeck.  Many historians believe this marriage began a rift between Birkbeck and Flower that would ultimately affect their proposed settlement. It should be noted that George Flower was already married at the time of his marriage to Eliza Julia.  He had been married in England to his cousin Jane Dawson.

The party settled temporarily in Princeton, Indiana, while Birkbeck and Flower continued to hunt for the prairies they sought.  They traveled to Harmonie in Posey County, Indiana, and to Shawneetown in Gallatin County Illinois garnering information, then back up the Illinois side of the river until they came to a series of prairies. They came upon Boultinghouse Prairie in Edwards County and chose it as the location for the proposed colony of Englishmen. Thereafter it was known as “English Prairie”.

It was agreed between Mr. Flower and Mr. Birkbeck that Mr. Flower should return to England to induce immigration to their chosen spot in Edwards County, and help with planning transportation for interested settlers, while Mr. Birkbeck was to attend to procuring the necessary lands and otherwise prepare for the reception of their countrymen.

Remaining on the Prairie, Birkbeck entered the necessary land grants of almost 10,000 acres at $2 per acre.  Birkbeck began at once to build cabins for his family, and temporary accommodations for those who would later join the settlement. At the same time, Elias Pym Fordham begins construction for the Flower homes.

In March 1818, the first party of 88 immigrants embarked from Bristol, England.  In this group were 44 farmers from Morris Birkbeck’s Surrey area of England, and the rest were tradesmen and mechanics from London and other parts of England. Capable bachelors, Charles Trimmer and James Lawrence, led them.  This party of immigrants is known as the “Lawrence and Trimmer party”.

A month later, in April 1818, a second load of more than 60 immigrants departed Liverpool England in a chartered ship. This group included the Richard Flower family; Maria Fordham, sister of Elias Pym Fordham, George Flower and his two sons; the John Woods family; and the Shepherd family of 4 whose family had served the Fordham-Flower family for 3 generations and who refused to be left behind.

The rift that had developed between Birkbeck and Flower, for whatever reason, divided the settlers into two factions.  As a result of the rift, two settlements were begun in 1818 about 2 miles apart. George Flower founded Albion (the poetic name for England), and Morris Birkbeck founded Wanborough (the name of his former estate in England) some 2 miles west of Albion.

The two villages and the area around them became known as the “English Settlement“.  Over the next several decades, English immigrants continued to arrive, many of them relatives of those who had come earlier, and wrote home with their success in America. One of the first immigrants, John Woods, published “2 years residence on the English Prairie” in 1820, intended as a guide for those who were immigrating.

Wanborough as a town, unfortunately, lost its heart with the death of Morris Birkbeck who drowned on June 4th, 1825 while crossing the Fox River returning from New Harmony, Indiana. He and his son Bradford had gone to New Harmony to deliver a packet of letters to Mr. Owen who was to take them to England. Today all that remains of Wanborough is a cemetery, the final resting place of many of the early pioneers of that settlement.

During the few short years that Birkbeck lived in the English settlement, he did much to promote its settlement to English immigrants by publishing two books in 1818, “Notes on a Journey in America, from the Coast of Virginia to the Territory of Illinois, with Proposals for the Establishment of a Colony of English”, and “letters from Illinois”.  Both of these books were widely read both in England and America.

 Birkbeck was also instrumental in the anti-slavery movement, writing essays under the pen name of Jonathan Freeman.  He is largely credited for Illinois remaining a free state in the general election of August 2nd 1824 when the citizens were asked whether to call a state convention in which Illinois might scrap her old Constitution, based on the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which declared that the Northwest Territory should be forever free from slavery.

As for the Flower family, they expended a considerable fortune in establishing and defending the settlement at Albion.  Their home, Park House, was located due south of the courthouse and 1 mile south of Albion.  At the time it was built, it was said to be the finest home west of the Allegheny Mountains. It was destroyed by fire in the 1860s.

In 1849, with most of the family fortune gone, George and Eliza Julia moved to New Harmony, Indiana and became innkeepers of “Flower House” in one of the former Rappite dormitories.  They continued operating the inn until 1855 or earlier 1856 when they moved to Mt. Vernon, Indiana.

By 1861 their health was fading quickly. At the home of their daughter, Rosamond Agniel, on January 15th 1862, both George and Eliza Julia died in Grayville, she in the morning and he towards evening.  They were laid to rest side by side at Oak Grove Cemetery at Grayville.  They had wanted to be buried in Albion, but the January weather, and poor road conditions made that impossible.

Albion Public Library

Corner of 4th and main

Built in 1842 by Dr. Frank Thompson as his residence, office, and hospital, the building has housed the Albion public library since 1922. Established in April 1819, the Albion Public Library is the oldest public library in the state of Illinois.

St. John’s Episcopal Church

East Cherry Street between 4th and 5th streets

Early mention is made of church services held in log cabins in Wanborough using the service of the Church of England. As early as 1822, mention is made of Church of England prayers being read in part of the Market House on the southwest corner of the public square in Albion.

After the Revolutionary War and Independence from England the Church of England became the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Built in 1842, this is the original building of St John’s Episcopal Church. It is the oldest Episcopal Church building in the Diocese of Springfield and was designed and constructed of handmade brick from the early brick yards of Albion. The bell tower contains the original bell that was hung there in 1844.

Edwards County Historical Society

212 West Main Street

The Edwards County Historical Society was organized on August 21st 1939. In 1941, the society purchased the birthplace of former Illinois governor Louis L. Emmerson (serving 1929 to 1933) and it became the Society’s permanent home. The front portion of this building is a log structure built in the mid-1850s.  The original building was “two over two” with porches on the front and back. The second floor was accessed by stairs from these porches, there being no interior stairs.

The Edwards County Historical Society is opened Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 9:30 and other times by appointment.

Edwards County Courthouse

Courthouse Square

The 1st Court House of Edwards County was completed in 1825 at a cost $3000. In 1852 a contract for $3600 was let to build a new courthouse and the old one was sold with the provision that it be moved within nine months. In 1887 an attempt to build a new courthouse failed. After much wrangling and a threat to move the county seat to Browns, it was agreed that the courthouse be remodeled. The building could be remodeled by the county commissioners without the approval of the voters. The 1852 courthouse was completely razed except for a portion of the old wall on the west and a small section on the South, thus qualifying as “remodeling”. The present Edwards County Courthouse was erected in 1888.

Old Edwards County Jail

Future home of the Edwards County Historical Society library Courthouse Square

The historic Edwards County Jail is currently being restored by the Edwards County Historical Society. Once completed, the building will house the Society’s historical and genealogical library. It was built in 1859 by Elias Weaver. Mr. Weaver had come to the English Settlement at Albion from Rapp’s German settlement at Harmonie, Posey County, Indiana.  In 1893 the North portion was added for the cell area and the original front part became the residence of the sheriff and his family. This standing-seam roof is original from the 1893 remodeling.

Washington Painter House

South 5th Street

The Washington Painter home at 223 South 5th Street in Albion was built in 1871 by Washington and Margaret (Wilson) Painter.  That same year, Washington Painter became co-founder of the firm of Painter & Frankland in Albion, with his brother-in-law George Frankland. Painter and Frankland manufactured the Eureka Stump Plow, which was invented and patented by Washington Painter.  The firm also manufactured the “Albion Wagon” in volume for the then flourishing wagon market.  An original “Albion Wagon” is also on display at the residence. In later years, Painter & Frankland became predominately a hardware store.

Washington Painter, being a blacksmith, made the antique wrought iron fence, and gates, which border the front of the property. He also made a tin bathtub which remains in use in the house today.

Downtown Business Block

North 5th Street

Across the street from the pagoda are 5 business buildings that were erected in 1908. A disastrous fire in January of that year had destroyed all the buildings that had been located on these sites. The double brick wall of the Painter & Frankland hardware store building prevented the fire from spreading farther up the block. The Painter & Frankland (now Deja’Vu) building has an ornate Mesker stamped metal facade.

The original business is located in these five buildings for many years were: W. A. Schock men’s clothing store, Spillers clothing store, Curdling’s shoe store, B.F. Michel’s pharmacy, and Stewart & Emmerson Co., Bankers (later First National Bank).  The bank vault was saved and rebuilt around. It is still in place today.

Congregational Church – Southern Collegiate Institute

129 East Main Street

First Methodist Church

This building has housed the Methodist Church since 1917, although the Methodist Church in Albion began with visits of circuit-riding preachers in 1821. The building was erected in the years 1896 to 1898 by the Congregational Church, which was organized in 1891 as the result of the Congregational Church establishing a college, the Southern Collegiate Institute, in Albion.  This building was also used as the music department for the college (SCI).  They operated the College in Albion for 25 years, from 1891 until financial difficulties forced them to close the college with the graduating class of 1916. The interior of the church was gutted by fire in November 1905 and rebuilt. The Methodist Church has maintained the facility with most of the original details intact.

First Presbyterian Church

Corner of 6th and Elm Street

According to the Edwards County History Book published in 1980, First Presbyterian Church Cumberland was formed in 1843, meeting in the Union Church House on the east side of the public square. The building of a frame church was followed by a brick structure before the current church home was constructed in 1910. Total building costs were less than $10,000. Notable Albion community leaders J.F. Stewart, Washington Painter, B.F. Michaels, George O. Green and George Bower made up the building committee. The church remains an active presence in the Albion Community.

Charles S. Stewart House

Corner of 6th and Elm Streets

Charles S. Stewart and Arabella J. Weed were married and moved into their newly built residence in the fall of 1865. Constructed by Elias Weaver, a well-known local builder, Mr. Weaver’s family came to America with the Rapp Society (Harmonie, Posey County, Indiana).  Mr. Weaver later relocated to Albion and married Christina Stewart, an aunt of Charles S. Stewart.

The Stewart House exhibits many features of the Greek revival style, which was dominant in America from about 1820 to 1860. Its popularity led it to being called the National style. It borrows many of its features from ancient Greek temples.

The Stewart house is presently being restored and at least a portion of it is expected to be open for the 2011 Heritage Day Tour. The house is being nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.


Courthouse Square

The southwest corner of the public square has a long history as a community gathering spot in Albion. The first structure located there was built in 1890 to give shelter to one of four wells commissioned in 1889 to provide drinking water to Passerby and horses. After completion, the wells soon gained notoriety for their health-giving mineral water and were visited by persons from places far and wide. They valued its properties as a cure for “rheumatism, kidney and urinary troubles, and derangements of the stomach and bowels and many other afflictions”.

The first pagoda was followed by a more substantial model in 1906. It also served as a bandstand and housed the town’s fire bell. The above photo was taken soon after, before the fire in 1908.

The current Pagoda, third on this site, is unusual in its octagonal shape, architectural flavor, and solid construction. It was constructed in 1914 with funds raised by the Albion Women’s Beautifying Club. The mineral well is no longer active but the upper floor serves as a stage for many community gatherings. Note that the fire bell was moved from the pagoda to the courthouse lawn.

Edwards County Memorial Arch

Southwest inside Corner of Courthouse Square

The original Honor Roll Memorial Veterans Arch was dedicated on July 4th, 1943, before a crowd estimated at 7,500 people. This was the largest attendance for any event in Albion to that date.  The current Veterans Memorial Arch was dedicated on May 26th, 1986.

Marker for Morris Birkbeck

East Side of Inner Square on Courthouse Square

On the square across from the Albion Public Library is a memorial to Morris Birkbeck, co-founder of the “English settlement” in Edwards County. This memorial was erected in 1929 by the Department of Illinois Women’s Relief Corps Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic “in respect and gratitude for the decided part he took against the introduction of slavery” in Illinois

Additional information about Morris Birkbeck can be found at the front of the publication.

Wanborough Cemetery

Approximately 1 1/2 Miles West Albion

West of Albion, Wanborough Cemetery stands as a reminder of the brave souls who weathered the tests of pioneers to begin the settlement of the new English Colony in America.   The cemetery is all that remains of the community called Wanborough.  It contains some interesting old headstones of the early residents. A historical marker was erected there in 2007.

Old Albion Cemetery

Between 4th and 5th Streets north of Pine Street

The old Albion cemetery north of downtown is an interesting visit into the early days of Albion. The old stone carvings and ornamental ironwork also provide many possibilities for photography.

Lincoln Oak Grove

West Main Street

A monument was erected in 1956 to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s speech in the presidential campaign of 1840. To an audience in General William Pickering’s Grove of oak trees, Lincoln was stumping southern Illinois as a Whig elector for the General William Henry Harrison in the “Tippecanoe & Tyler Too” campaign.

Lincoln made his second appearance in Albion in 1856, when he was campaigning for U.S. Representative and presidential elector. Again the meeting was held in the Pickering Grove with General Pickering acting as master of the ceremonies. Lincoln spent the night in Albion at the Bowman’s Tavern (hotel) which was located on what is now the northeast corner of the Borowiak’s IGA parking lot.

Brick Streets and the Brick Industry in Albion

The initial project of paving Albion’s streets with brick, dating to 1911, encompassed 21 blocks, “Paving District number 1”. The total cost of paving these 21 blocks was $83,432, and about 74 men, mostly local, provided the labor.  Exclusively Albion Vitrified Paving blocks, and sandstone curbing were used throughout.

The manufacture of bricks in Albion has a long history. Reports as long ago as 1819 mention a brick kiln being built and the manufacturing of brick being undertaken in Albion. By 1850, the Basset & Sons yard was producing 400,000 handmade bricks per year.

On August 9th, 1900, the Albion Shale Brick Company was incorporated with a capital stock of $20,000, later increased to $200,000. It was located just south of the former Albion Depot at the south edge of Albion. In 1926, the Albion shale brick company purchased the West Salem Hollow Tile and Brick Company which had been organized in 1911.

The Albion vitrified brick company was incorporated in 1902. It used the long push-on type kiln, later supplemented by the Bee-hive type kiln.  Very fine paving bricks were made there. They were made from a good quality of shale which was found nearby. Some of those bricks are to be found now in the streets of Albion as well as many other towns and cities across the country, including Mt. Carmel, Carmi, Mount Vernon, Carbondale, Centralia, East St. Louis, Chicago, Evansville, and New Albany, Indiana, St Louis Missouri, Memphis Tennessee and Louisville, Kentucky.  The Albion Vitrified Brick Company was officially invited to make an exhibit at the St Louis World’s Fair in 1904. An article in the December 2nd, 1909 issue of the Albion Register states that since April 1st of that year, over 5 million paving blocks had been shipped from Albion to the different towns and cities. The quality of Albion paving bricks was known throughout the Midwest.

The two Albion yards (Albion Shale Brick Company and Albion Vitrified Brick Company) voted to consolidate November 8th, 1929 (The Great Depression had begun).  Intermittently from then until 1975, when the last plant closed, the manufacture of brick furnished a living for many area families. The three whistles calling the workers to work, announcing noon hour, and closing time added an atmosphere to the town that is still missed today.

Albion citizens are rightfully proud of the brick streets. The century-old streets have withstood the test of time and have required virtually no maintenance. Realizing the historical value and pride the residents of Albion have for the brick streets the Albion City Council voted in July 2008 to begin their restoration. The specific restoration project that won the vote is for West Elm Street from 5th Street to 8th Street, including the intersection of 5th and Elm Streets.

Work will begin the spring of 2011 to restore Elm Street starting at the northeast corner of the 5th Street intersection.