Harris Law School, Just a Dream - Macoupin County IL


written by Lucille Carney, Macoupin Historian, prior to her death 8 Feb 1980

contributed by Cindy LeMons

In the chasms of history there lies a beautiful dream for Carlinville which might have come true if the intentions of a dreamer a century ago had been carried out. The dream hovered over Carlinville for forty years and then

The dream was revealed in a will probated in 1871 at the time our million dollar Macoupin County Courthouse was an infant.

The dream was a "distinguished law school" slated for the county seat of Macoupin County. The law school was to be named "Harris Law School" to honor and perpetuate the family name of Harris.

The testator of the will, A.J. Harris, desired to establish a law school at his home in Carlinville by having his property invested in a manner at 10 percent per annum and yearly interest be invested until he needed money was raised to operate the school.

The Harris name in Macoupin County dates back to 1826 when John A. Harris, a man "honorably" connected with the history and development of the county and the state of Illinois, settled on lake Fork, an affluent area of Macoupin Creed in Nilwood Township. (Macoupin County derived its name from the creek which traverses it). Harris was the first settler as a landowner in Nilwood Township, according to history.

John A. Harris held many offices of trust and profit. "He rode gallantly at the head of a company in the Black Hawk War, and was a brigadier-general of militia. He was the first sheriff of Macoupin County, having been appointed in 1829 when the county was created and served until 1834. His name was given to Harris Point, timbered ground located in the northeast part of Nilwood Township.

Harris was looked upon as "being a man endowed with more common sense, and possessing better education than the majority of the people." He was one of the commissioners appointed for the purpose of fixing the permanent seat of justice of Macoupin County. He continued as benefactor to the county, his name being indelibly fixed in its records. When there was a need for leadership, Harris was one of the first to rise to the occasion.

In the spring of 1832, there were startled rumors that the Indians north and west of the community were threatening to raid into the southern counties of the state. As the Indians had formerly roamed and hunted over the prairies of Macoupin County and had dug and melted lead on the Macoupin, John A. Harris organized the first company to respond tot he stirring appeal of the Governor. Many of the best and prominent men of the county enlisted to protect the frontier and preserve the honor of the state and did signal service in the memorable events of the Black Hawk War. Captain Harris returned a brigadier-general of militia.

The first birth in Nilwood Township, according to history, was James Harris, a son of General Harris, who, at the age of 12 was accidentally drowned.

The first death was John L. Harris, a nephew of General Harris. He was accidentally killed while assisting in the raising of a log-house. While a log was being raised to the second story it became unmanageable, and in falling, would have killed two men, who were standing immediately under it, had not young Harris caught it and sacrificed his own life. He was one of the Samuel Harris family numbering 26 children.

General Harris was the father of three other children, Mary, Andrew Jacks and Adaline. He owned, and for many years operated a water mill on the former Sunny Home Stock Farm, 1 ½ miles east of Carlinville. Up until he time he built the greatly needed mill in 1830, grain was being pounded into meal in Indian mortars.

Macoupin County is a portion known in an early day as the "Black Hawk Hunting-ground." Excerpts from history record that a private, John Reynolds, afterwards governor of the state, told the following story: In September of 1812, 'we left Camp Russell' (near Edwardsville in Madison County, 'marched up the northwest side of Cahokia Creek, nearly to it source, thence across the prairie to Macoupin Creek, not far above the present Carlinville, and at the Lake fork we stopped to noon. At this point some wild boys dug open an Indian grave, and found in it, with the Indian, a gun, brooches, and other articles.'

It was recorded that it is probable that the soldiers and rangers on their return from these expeditions to the settlements in Madison and St. Clair, brought glowing descriptions of the beauty and fertility of the country lying to the north. The first settlers of Macoupin came from Madison and St. Clair, which fact gives color to the above supposition, according to the account.

In a book entitled "My Own Times," by ex-Gov. John Reynolds of Belleville, he holds the following language: "Mr. Coop and family, in the Spring of 1815, broke through the old Indian frontier of Madison County, and settled in the limits of the present county of Macoupin.

General Harris was twice married, the second time to the widow of David Coop, Sr. He went to Iowa, where Coop had moved, and where he died, and brought his bride back with him. Thus two prominent families were united.

David Coop, Sr. and his wife were parents of four sons and several daughters. William G. Coop, a son, was the first treasurer of the county. It seems established that in the spring of 1815 the family of David Coop, Sr. selected their home on the banks of the small stream which was named after them, Coop's Creek, not far from the center of Hilyard Township. Here they lived for about ten years, and in 1825 or 1826 removed to the mound, thereafter to be known as Coop's Mound, which lies nearly six miles northeast of Carlinville. Here they remained for a few years, after which they again removed, this time to Iowa. (These are the words take from history.)

With this background, it is no wonder that the family of General John A. Harris revered their father after his death in 1852. Their father had improved them a fine farm on Lake Fork, had protected them from wolves which were quite numerous in the timbered portions of the county, was the first sheriff of the county, had come back a brigadier-general of militia from the Black Hawk War and gone on to political heights in the state of Illinois.

At his death, Harris was buried in the woods a short distance north of Sulphur Springs.

Last year the Nilwood Baptist Church celebrated the 100th anniversary of its church building. A history of the church and other events affecting its people was published in connection with the celebration. In preparing the history of events, a search was made for the grave of John A. Harris at the Sulphur Springs, where history books recorded he had been buried. "Only a rude stone marks the spot where the bones of John Harris repose," an 1879 history relates. The grave could not be located there. Further search of records then revealed the general, his wife, Elizabeth, and son, John A., were removed from the secluded graves and interred at Carlinville City Cemetery on a lot near the Cooper monument. The church book goes on to read "Ironically, parties representing the estate--the Harris heirs and Blackburn College--chose to erect a very large memorial to the son, who died in 1871, with a bronze plaque commemorating his founding the law chair at Blackburn; whereas the general and Mrs. Harris received only small markers with legend limited to dates of birth and death."

Now I come back to my story about the law school for Carlinville which also answers the questions contained in the church book relative to the small marker for General Harris and the large monument for his son in the Carlinville City Cemetery.

Back in 1895, a newspaper titled the Carlinville Republican (born Dec. 23, 1893 and died before the turn of the century), carried an item of interest to a curious reporter like myself who couldn't rest until the full story was known.

The 1895 item was headed "A Law School for Carlinville." The account continued: "In looking over the old records at the courthouse we find a will made by one A. J. Harris, who died in 1871, wherein the provision is made that all of his estate, amounting to about $25,000, shall, after fifteen years, be sold, and appropriated to build a law school at Carlinville. In this will he appointed five trustees with full power to sell said real estate after fifteen years and build such a school.

"These trustees or executors are John M. Palmer, John Mayo Palmer, S.T. Mayo, A. McKinsey DuBois and Nicklas DuBois. A. McKinsey DuBois has since died, and no one seems to be attending to the estate only Niklas DuBois, who has collected the rents and purchased a fine residence in Springfield. There was in all 320 acres of fine land in this and Montgomery County, and the land together with the rents would amount to at least $25,000. Ten years ago parties tried to have the will set aside, but the court ruled against them and instructed the trustees to sell the land, collect the rents and proceed to build the law school at Carlinville at once. The trustees paid no attention to the order of the court, and the matter stands as it was only benefitting one man.

"The bar of Macoupin County should meet and ask the court to appoint successors to the old trustees, who will act and carry out the provision of the will.

"This old board of trustees let part of the land sell for taxes one, but redeemed it. They either do not care what becomes of the estate or they have lost all interest in the matter. Carlinville should have the school and that at an early day. The legal lights throughout the county should see that the matter is attended to at one. We should think they would have been very anxious for the fifteen years to elapse, instead of waiting twenty-five years."

General Harris died when his son, Andrew Jackson, was in his early childhood. In searching records it was confusing until it was found by abstractor Tom H. Ryan that due to the son's devotion to his father, he took his father's name of John A. Harris when he was about 22 years of age. The son was a student at law, and no doubt anticipated admission to the bar, but was for years in declining health and never married.

After the disclosure that Andrew Jackson Harris and John A. Harris were one and the same from the time of the general's death, records were more easily read.

The late Governor John M. Palmer was the original executor of the son's will.

A bill to construe the will was filed in Macoupin County Circuit Court in September 1899. The court was asked to determine if the will was altogether impracticable with the means provided in the will; and asked that all lands be sold and distributed between the heirs at law according to their rights.

In December 1900, several members of the Harris family asked the court to direct the sheriff to summon Nicholas DuBois and require him to make an accounting of his acts and doings as executor of Harris' estate. Eleven months later, the court ruled that DuBois submit a report which DuBois carried out on March 21, 1901.

Trustees requested in Sept. Term 1905 for order to sell lots in Springfield purchased with a portion of the income which was derived from the Harris estate and which had greatly increased in value.

An order had been entered in the Jan. Term 1905 in Circuit Court, appointing W.E.P. Anderson, Frank W. Burton, William F. Burgdorff, to the trustee vacancies created by the deaths of A. McKim DuBois, John McAuley Palmer and John Mayo Palmer. Nicholas DuBois and Samuel t. Mayo remained as trustees. Two months later, Mayo resigned and William H. Steward was named as trustee in his place. Steward became business manager and treasurer of the trustees.

Litigation went on until 1908.

In August 1908, Judge Robert B. Shirley, presiding judge in Macoupin County, found that the trustees had never at any time since the death of John A. Harris, taken any steps or made any progress whatever in establishing in any wise a law school at Carlinville in conformity with the expressed desire of the testator.

The court found that the value of the Harris estate in the hands of the trustees increased by rents and interest and profits upon investments of rents to the amount of $12,000 in addition to the increased value of the real estate and that the funds and property in the hands of the trustees were wholly inadequate to establish the law school as intended by the testator.

The court found that the Blackburn University, an institution conducted at Carlinville at that time for approximately 40 years, had ample and commodious grounds and equipment, an able corps of instructors, and everything that would be requisite or desirable as a site for a law school.

The court found that the purpose of the testator could be substantially accomplished by having such Harris Law School conducted at said Blackburn University in connection therewith or as a part thereof or by establishing a professorship therein.

Judge Shirley entered an order that it appeared to the court that the defendants Mary A. Clark, Adaline E. Crane, Anna Coop, Louellen , Edwin Coop, Leah Ridinger, Elizabeth Carter, Anna Bryan, Joseph Coop, Thomas Coop, Samuel Coop, George Coop and Charles Coop had expressly consented that a decree be entered awarding to the Blackburn University at Carlinville, the one-half portion of all the property, moneys and assets after the payment of costs, fees and expenses to be fixed by the court that may come to the hands of the trustees of the last will of John A. Harris, and that the remaining one-half part or portion may be distributed to the heirs at law of the said John A. Harris.

The court recorded that the defendants Addie Coop, Milton Coop and the unknown heirs of Nathan Coop, deceased, could not be found.

It was therefore ordered by the court that the real estate be sold at auction or private sale.

The court added that inasmuch as the said John A. Harris and his parents were buried in a private cemetery upon lands not owned by the testator or any of his family, and "said graves are now neglected and liable to become obliterated and lost, said trustees shall procure a suitable burying lot in the City Cemetery of Carlinville and shall remove the bodies of John A. Harris and his parents from their present resting place and reinter the same in such cemetery and shall erect a suitable stone to mark their last resting place in such new cemetery not exceeding in cost $500."

On Jan. 9, 1909, trustees filed in court their report in what manner they had executed the decree of the court and it was approved. As a result there was then in their hands an unexpended balance of $40,195.15 of the assets of the estate. At that time, the court found that the trustees had not yet procured a monument to be erected and that there were some notes and accounts of questionable value yet to be collected if they were collectible. The court decreed that the trustees retain the sum of $1,195.15 for the purpose of purchasing the monument and collecting outstanding notes and accounts.

The remainder, 439,000 was then ordered to be paid in the following manner: $19,500 to Blackburn University; $4,875 each to Adaline Crane and Mary A. Clark; $2,166.66 to Ann Coop, widow of Samuel Coop; $1,354.17 each to Luella Coop, Jewell Daggett and Charles Edwin Coop: $1,625.04 to Leah Ridinger, widow of David Coop; $464.28 each to Elizabeth Carter, Anna Bryan, Thomas Coop, Samuel Coop, George Coop, Charles Coop and Joseph Coop.

The amount of the estate may not seem too large by today's standard but compare the costs of today with the following:

A trustee's report recorded Jan 9, 1909, showed that a house in Springfield on State St. rented for $10 per month; $45 was received for 6 ½ tons of hay; $40.05 for 94 1/3 bu. oats. Another report on the same day showed Nicholas DuBois, trustee, received $2 for railroad ticket and expenses while attending a meeting; four tickets to Girard cost $1; surrey $3; dinner for four, $1; round trip railroad ticket to Hillsboro $1.40; dinner $.50; supper $.25.

Cemetery lot, $60; tickets to Nilwood for William Biegert and W. H. Steward $.45; H. Riefenberg and son for casket box, $5; Barr Bros. Team and man for one day, $5; Mrs. August Zaepffel for spring wagon, $.50; two tickets to Springfield for two trustees, $2.50; dinner for one trustee, $.35.

William Riegert for opening three graves, etc., $5; lining, $1; digging grave, etc. $3; labor assistance, $1; for recording deed to cemetery lots, $.60.

Two tickets to Girard by two trustees, $.80; two dinners, $.70; buggy and horse at Girard for trip to farm $1.50.

One tenant on a farm received $7.50 for making 375 posts at $.02 each. Paid out $100 for perpetual care of cemetery lots.

The final report on the Harris litigation was made on July 8, 1911, 40 years after Harris' will decreed that his executors and trustees see that the Harris Law School "is conducted in the manner adopted and approved by the most distinguished law schools in the country."

When the bill to the will was filed in the Sept. Term 1899, the court entered an opinion which included the following terms of the will in part; "My desire to establish an institution of learning for the purpose of educating young men for the practice of the profession of the law, or in other words, I desire to establish a law school at my home in Carlinville which should be kept and called by the name of the Harris Law School."

I could find in the records I searched only in which Harris lived in Carlinville. The description was written in an 1895 account of "Reminiscences of the Early Days of Carlinville" by "one who has seen the changes made." The reminiscences were of the homes on East Second South Street starting from South Broad Street running east. East Second South Street was the "main" street of Carlinville in Ye Olden Time. It was on this street that John M. Palmer lived before becoming governor of the state of Illinois one hundred and one years ago. The home in part still stands at the corner of East Second South and South East Streets and is occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Morse. Part of the home was later moved down the hill east and occupied as a home to the present day. Palmer lived in what was known as the "English lord's house" on the hill. So called by Dr. Cook, an Englishman, who built it, (then a one story, but with such elaborate, star embellished stucco ceiling, as had never before been seen in these parts). This house was later moved by Governor Palmer and was afterwards long the home of Don Burke, and with still further additions the spacious home for many ears of "Auditor" Gore.

At this time, I cannot take the space to give a word picture of the many prominent and learned men who lived on East Second South Street one hundred years ago as recalled in 1895, but I will quote that written then about the house located at the northeast corner of Ellison and East Second South Street "Having passed the present home of Mr. S. Groves as too utterly modern for our present purposes, we cross diagonally the street from Uncle Peter Keplinger's to the house in which many years ago Grandma Dumville trained the three Harris children, Mary, John and Ada, in the way she wanted them to go, and this same John Harris left 300 acres good Macoupin land, the income of which is accumulating for a law school in Carlinville, by provisions of his will."


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