Native Americans were the first to live in the area later known as Piatt County. At the time of European contact the Illiniwek were the tribe that lived in this part of North America. As the Europeans settled the Eastern United States many tribes were displaced. Two of the primary tribes or nations to temporarily live in this area were the Kickapoo and Potawatomi.
Early European Settlers
In 1822, George Hayworth, a Quaker from Tennessee, arrived and built the first house in the area. James Martin was next to build a home and then more settlers arrived. Surnames of some of the other early settlers include Carver, Cordell, Daggott, Fry, Furnace, Hanline, Holliday, Piatt, Varner and York. James A. Piatt, whom the county was eventually named after, his wife Jemima and their six children arrived from Indiana in 1829. Settlement in the area increased in the 1830s and 1840s and several towns began to be established.
Piatt County was formed January 27, 1841 from Macon and DeWitt Counties. The county is approximately 439.1 square miles or 281,056 acres. Monticello, which had been laid out and named in 1837, became the county seat. The first courthouse was built in 1843 and the second was built in 1856. The present courthouse was completed in 1904.
President Abraham Lincoln has ties to Piatt County. Before Lincoln became President of the United States he practiced law in the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court of Illinois. Piatt County was part of that circuit and several local families established ties with Lincoln either through providing him a place to stay on his travels or having him as their lawyer in court. And, in July of 1858 actions taken by Lincoln in Piatt County played a significant role in the planning of what became known as the Lincoln – Douglas debates.
During the late 1800’s several railroads made their way across Piatt County. The introduction of railways to the county put an end to the existing stage coach lines and forever changed business, immigration, land value, travel and much more.
Pepsin Syrup Company
In 1875, Dr. W. B. Caldwell came to practice medicine in Cisco Illinois. Ten years later he moved his practice to Monticello Illinois. While in Monticello he developed Caldwell’s Syrup of Pepsin, which became Monticello’s leading industry for many years.
Allerton Park and Retreat Center
Allerton Park, designated as a National Landmark and recently named one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois, has its own place in Piatt County history. The farmland was purchased in the late 1800’s by Samuel Allerton, a man of wealth from Chicago. In 1900, the Allerton Mansion was built and the estate eventually became the private retreat of Samuel’s son, Robert Henry Allerton. The estate was donated to the University of Illinois in 1946 when Robert moved to Kauai. The mansion and a majority of the estate are open to the public as a park and retreat center.
Piatt County has many historic homes, farmsteads and barns. A concentration of some very lavish historic homes along State Street in Monticello became known as “Millionaires Row” and is now a Historic District in Monticello.
Come and Learn More…
These interesting facts are just the tip of the iceberg for the history of Piatt County. You can discover more at the Society’s library and research center. Stop by soon or contact us to find out more about the history of your family, home or business.