By Leigh Morris
Our Place in History
Despite the privations of pioneer life, education was a priority among the early settlers of the Sangamon Bottom.
Since the concept of “free” schools was still in the future, Hickory Precinct education began with a subscription school established in 1834. It was housed in an unused log cabin situated on land owned by pioneer settler David Carr. The teacher was an individual by the name of B.F. Nelson. He has been described as a man of “prepossessing appearance, a scholar and a gentleman” – until, at least, the folks in Hickory got to know him a little bit better.
Once Nelson settled in, it was discovered this teacher was less than energetic and, to put it politely, somewhat intem perate. In other words, he didn’t much care for work and he liked his drink strong. Nonetheless, no other teacher was available, so Nelson was tolerated if not warmly embraced.
Both the school and Nelson’s career came to an abrupt end in the winter of 1835. Nelson apparently failed to properly bank the fire before departing the school one afternoon. After he left the cabin, the fire grew and eventually set the building ablaze. So much for school until the following autumn when a cabin was built specifically as a school. In time, a brick school building was erected by the people of Hickory.
Among those who taught school in Hickory was Logan Uriah Reavis. Born in Macon County, Reavis taught school from 1851 to 1855. For a period of time, he was the editor and part owner of the Central Illinoian newspaper in Beardstown.
Reavis’ rise to fame came after the Civil War. As publisher of the St. Louis Daily Press, he became St. Louis’ most ardent promoter, calling the city “the Babylon of the New World.” Though his newspaper folded, Reavis waged a campaign to move the nation’s capital from Washington, D.C. to St. Louis. The idea gained traction with support from no less a luminary than Chicago Tribune publisher Joseph Medill. Though a number of states did climb aboard the St. Louis bandwagon, in the end the idea fizzled out. Reavis, who died in 1889, also was a prominent lecturer and the author of several books.
While on the subject of notable individuals, tradition holds that Stephen A. Douglas made his first public speech in Hickory. So the story goes, the “Little Giant” delivered the address while standing under the protective branches of a walnut tree. After that venerable tree died sometime in the 1870s, one of Cass County’s leading citizens, Gen. Charles E. Lippincott of Chandlerville, purchased the tree. Lippincott, a Civil War hero and the husband of one of Dr. Charles Chandler’s daughters, had the wood made into furniture and numerous walking sticks, which he presented to friends all across the United States.
Hickory, along with the other “old” precincts, was done away with after Cass County voters approved an 1923 referendum to create township governments and abolish the county commissioners. Eleven townships were formed with the Hickory Precinct being split between Bluff Springs and Sangamon Valley Townships. Still, many residents have persisted (and insisted) in referring to the area as “Hickory.”