Nilwood History, Macoupin County IL
� Gloria Frazier
compiled and contributed by Gloria Frazier
Carlinville Democrat, May 27, 1908, p7 c4
40 Years Ago (May 27, 1868)
"Nilwood by the special traveler: One year ago, 1867, Nilwood was incorporated. Her population at present is 700.
A new church is to built soon, and a new school house next season; the present school house is a poor apology for one. W. Corrington's new house is an ornament to the town. Ed Rogers is building himself a house. Drs. Cowan, Miller and 'Squire' McIver look/took natural Business houses: Corrington, Keyes and Co., dry goods, groceries and hardware; Richardson & Street, dry goods, ready made clothing, boots and shoes; S. T. Bowman, groceries; Carter, the postmaster, with Pittaford as partner in groceries; Murphy & Bro., groceries; T. B. Corey & Co., lumber-dealers; J. Rider & Co., millers: Jones & Corrington, butchers; Williams & Co., blacksmith; E. Dopheide, wagon-maker; R. E. McMillan, drugs."
In 1997, Nilwood, with a population of about 250 citizens and located about 10 miles northeast of Carlinville, on Route 4, is one hundred thirty years old.
(Much of the history of Nilwood researched at the Macoupin County Archives and also excerpted from "Nilwood Baptist Church 1865 - 1969" by Sam MOLEN with Janet HAYS, Vivian FELMET, and Eunice CRAWFORD. Also, the compiler was born in a house in Nilwood and was raised in the same house.)
Nilwood is located in Section 18 of Nilwood Township and a little of Nilwood is located in Section 13 of South Otter Township. The post office at Nilwood was established 3 Oct 1856.
The name Nilwood, supposedly named by train engineers running steam locomotives, meant "no wood". There weren't any trees at Nilwood, so when the steam engines approached Nilwood, they knew there would be no wood to take aboard for producing steam.
According to the History of Macoupin published in 1879, the first settler in Nilwood Township was John A HARRIS who settled in the northeast part of the township known as "Harris Point," in 1829. Following Harris were three brothers, John, Samuel, and Edley MCVEY, and David STEEL, settling at Sherill's Point which later became known as McVey. Judge John YOWELL and his son, James, came the same year from Shelby County, KY. William STREET came from Kentucky in 1831 and later operated a general merchandise store in Nilwood.
Most of the settlers were farmers and corn was their chief crop. Lewis PITMAN built a gristmill about 1838 on Macoupin Creek. The gristmill was run by four horses. Mr. Pitman also built a blacksmith shop. The first school was built in 1838.
The Chicago and Alton Railroad connecting Springfield and St Louis with Nilwood being one of its important stations was begun in 1849 and completed in 1852. Later, the railroad would become the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio (GM&O). Today Amtrak uses the GM&O tracks. The railroad owned land in the far southern part of Nilwood and provided a home there for the railroad section boss.
The first buildings were erected by John BENNYWORTH and Henry COOPER. Cooper, the first resident of Nilwood on 9 Jul 1852, came to the United States from England in 1849 when he was thirty years old. He came to Macoupin County in 1851. A son, Henry, was born to the Coopers on 10 Oct 1853. Henry Cooper, Sr. became a citizen on 15 Dec 1854.
The village was laid out by Samuel MAYO and Philander BRALEY and surveyed by E H CHAPMAN in 1855. The "boom" in Nilwood started in 1857. Five homes and two stores were built. John BENNYWORTH built a gristmill. In 1862, the Methodist Church was built, the Baptist Church in 1869 and between these two churches and in the same block as the Methodist church, the two room frame shoolhouse known as School #5 was located. A two story house built in 1868 which I was born and raised in located on the west side of the street and in the second block of south Henderson Street housed six families, one family in each room during coalmining days. At that time, each family had an entrance to their room. The house was demolished in 2006.
On 12 Feb 1873 (Macoupin County Chancery Book 41 - p341-dissolution of corporations in 1920), John BENNYWORTH opened, owned, and operated the Carbon Coal Mine. The shaft of the coal mine was located just south of the grain elevator, the elevator location in 1996. The coal mine brought skilled miners to Nilwood which, in turn, stimulated the growth of the village. In 1875, the population of Nilwood was 500.
In 1875, the post office was located where it is located in 1996 and a store was located across the street to the north, but in 1893, the post office was located straight across the street north at the store's location. In 1893, there were two general stores in Nilwood.
In 1880, Nilwood had two churches and a brick high school school house located where the brick elementary school was built in 1924. The elementary school would be divided into four departments. There were three physicians in Nilwood; H T JONES, J M HUNT, and A MILLER; two grain dealers, Henry COOPER and J READER and Company. COOPER owned the coalmine having purchased it in 1879 from John BENNYWORTH. Wheelright shops were owned by Charles CLYSE and John WORLEY; a shoe shop by August SCHLICHT. Martin MURPHY was the railroad agent.There were six grocery and dry goods stores. One of the grocerymen, Robert STEVENSON, also served as postmaster from the post office in his store. Other store owners were Joseph BALLINGER, John ODELL, Patrick KING, Sidney HALL and W. S STREET.
The Nilwood State Bank was incorporated 1908. A resolution was signed 4 Mar 1933 by Directors of the Nilwood State Bank, R. C. ADAMS, Chas. KLAUS and F. R. SHANNER to close the bank. Macoupin County IL Chancery Book 52, pp 241-245.
In the early part of the twentieth century, Nilwood had the coal mine, bank, post office, 3 or 4 general/grocery stores, tavern, grain elevator, blacksmith shop (maybe two blacksmith shops), a high school and grade school, and, when gasoline cars came along, Nilwood boasted more than five filling (gasoline) stations. Remember when gasoline was hand pumped up into a glass jar for measure then "drained" into the car's gas tank? There have been restaurants in Nilwood during different periods of its history.
At one time, the town extended at least a block farther on the north side of town than it does today. Nilwood had a Town Hall by 1893. It wasn't located where it is located in 1996. The location of the Town Hall in 1893 was east of all the railroad tracks and behind the old Chicago and Alton (GM&O) depot.
The Illinois Traction System (ITS) tracks ran north and south just east of where the post office is located in 2015. The ITS train didn't operate until the early part of the twentieth century and was known as a "street car." It ran on a electrical system known as a trolley. The ITS railroad ceased to exist in 1982 and the tracks have been torn out.
The coal mine closed in 1908 and reopened then closed permanently in 1920. On 9 Jul 1920, The Nilwood Coal Mining Company (opened as the Carbon Coal Mine) closed (Macoupin County Chancery Book 41 - p341-dissolution of corporations on 9 Jul 1920). The shaft was sealed but the steeple, engine house and boiler room remained for many years until it was finally abandoned in 1927 by the Union Fuel Company which owned it at the time. The name of the mine at the time of abandonment was Union Fuel Company Coal Mine #1. The bank closed during the depression and Nilwood began to dwindle in population.
--Girard Gazette, Jan 29, 1931 "The four cabins that were being built at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Liles of Nilwood are completed. They are up to date in every respect and will be of great benefit to the tourists." The George Liles place was on the east side of Nilwood and on the east side of the old Rt 4 what I would call north of Roy Mayfield's house during the 1950's.
When telephones came to Nilwood, not many residents had one. Jenkin DAVIS who ran a grocery store had a telephone. Many of the residents used his telephone and put down as a reference that they could be reached at Jenkin Davis' store.
The coal mine closing marked the end of an era for Nilwood. From a population of over 500 during the peak in mining in Nilwood, the population would dwindle to a low of 250. In 1997, there are no stores and no schools. One gas station and post office remain. For income, many of the residents commute to larger towns to work.
Some other early names in and around Nilwood:
Andrew Adams and wife, Miss Elmona Adams, Mrs Ella Adams, R B Baker, and Wife, Thomas C Baker, Achilles Ballinger, Mary Ballinger, Amanda Blaney, Miss Almura Blaney, Americus Blaney, Wilbur and Harriet Brown, Flora Collins, T K Corey, Jennie Davidson, Charles Dix, Helen Dix, Mrs Drake, Mrs. Earsley, Hannah Erwin, Edward Etter, Mr and Mrs John W Etter, Alice Fletcher, John H Fletcher, Nancipa Graham, Carolyn Greenwald, James Hall, Mrs Martha Hancock, Eliza E Hart, Susan Hart, Hester Hartness, Cornelius Hawk, Clara Hays, O G Hays, Mrs Amanda Hughes, T Polk Hughes, Elizabeth Hulitt, Samuel B Jones, Bettie Liles, Mrs Anna Lyle, S B McAdams, Emma McGhee, Mary Malone, Nancy, Mrs Rebecca Mallory, Manerva Marshall, Betty Michael, H H Milligan, Miss C. Moore, Milton Moore, Mrs Ellen Morris, John Morris, Mrs E Mullen, Martha Murphy, Joseph Mussick, Sarah Fletcher Rhodes, Julia Rhodes, Henry Robley, Miss Ellen Robley, George Rick, Julia M Rider, Lydia Ann Snow, Loretta Teeples, Viana Teeples, Emma Tennis, Mrs Anna Turner, Lewis Turner, Sarah Waberton, Catherine, Mary Worley, and Stribling Wyatt and wife, Amanda.
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