Antislavery Activism on the Illinois Frontier: The Story of the English Prairie

In 1823, fourteen years before the murder of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy in Alton, a fierce wave of antislavery sentiment among pioneer farmers in the Wabash River Valley prevented Illinois from becoming a slave state. These early settlers of our state were instrumental in voting down a referendum for a constitutional convention that would have undoubtedly legalized slavery Illinois. 

These frontiersmen were followers of two English idealists, Morris Birkbeck and George Flower, who sought to establish utopian communities that were free from what they regarded as the economic and political tyranny of emerging industrialization. But Birkbeck and Flower soon came to realize they could not achieve their goal in an environment where slavery existed, and both men took steps to halt the advance of what historians now refer to as the ‘peculiar institution.’ 

Historian Caroline Kisiel will tell us about this largely forgotten but momentous episode in Illinois history in a presentation, “Antislavery Activism on the Illinois Frontier: The Story of the English Prairie,” at Farley Music Hall, 37 Mill Street, in Elsah, Thursday, November 14, at 7:30 pm. 

Caroline Kisiel is coming to Elsah courtesy of the Illinois Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, a program of the Illinois Humanities. Illinois Humanities is a non-profit organization that promotes public dialogue and examination of issues important to sustaining democracy. 

George’s presentation is one of this year’s Hosmer-Williams Lectures sponsored by Historic Elsah Foundation and underwritten by Liberty Bank: A United Community Bank.

The program is free and open to the public. Reservations are not required. Parking is available. Refreshments will be served following the lecture.

Attention media, print and otherwise, for additional information, contact George Provenzano, at gprovenzano@lc.edu.

The Semples in Elsah

In 1851 at age 53, General James Semple (his Illinois Militia rank from the Blackhawk War) moved his family from Vandalia to Jersey County, Illinois. In his words, Semple “settled in the woods, at Jersey Landing,” a village he later renamed, Elsah.

In this picturesque region of rolling hills and majestic bluffs, four miles from the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, Semple set about rebuilding his much depleted personal wealth. He purchased large tracts of land, built a family home called Trevue (Tree View), and for the remaining 15 years of his life, this prairie entrepreneur successfully engaged in businesses in land and transportation development, freight transfer and farming.

Just before moving to Elsah, Semple had abruptly abandoned a long career in public service. Four years in the U.S. Senate left him bitter and dissatisfied with the pettiness of party politics. He declined to run again for the Senate; he rebuffed being nominated to run for governor. In Semple’s mind, his achievements in public office had come at too high a price to his family and his fortune.

Local historian, George Provenzano will tell the story of “The Semples of Elsah,” at Farley Music Hall in Elsah, Thursday, October 17, at 7:30 pm.

He will present new insights into the lives of the General, his wife, and six children obtained from dozens of family letters written during the Civil War and Reconstruction. The letters relate how the lives of the Semple parents changed as their children married, left home and started families of their own. Be prepared to hear some surprises.

With this program, Historic Elsah Foundation will reopen Farley Music Hall for public events for the first time since May when the Great Flood of 2019 backed up into Elsah and seeped into Farley. The HEF Board has worked very hard to bring this antique building back to life. A new floor and wainscoting and exterior painting have put the venue back into its old, glorious form. Please come see for yourself.

George’s presentation is one of this year’s Hosmer-Williams Lectures sponsored by Historic Elsah Foundation and underwritten by Liberty Bank: A United Community Bank.

The program is free and open to the public. Reservations are not required. Parking is available. Refreshments will be served following the lecture.

Attention media, print and otherwise, for additional information, contact George Provenzano, at gprovenzano@lc.edu.

Elsah Announces Photography First-Place Purchase Prizes 2019

The Village of Elsah announces the winners of the annual Village of Elsah Museum Photography Exhibit. The purpose of the exhibit is to celebrate and foster an appreciation of the beauty and unique qualities of the Village. This year’s theme is “Joy and Discovery in Elsah.” The winner is Carolyn Schlueter of St. Charles, Missouri.  The opening reception for the exhibit is Saturday, April 6, 2019 from 1 to 4 pm at the Museum located in the Village Hall building, 26 LaSalle, Elsah, Illinois.

In order to encourage an appreciation of the beauty of the entire area within and in the immediate area of the corporate limits of the Village, there are usually two first-place purchase prizes based on location. However, there were no photographs submitted of the surrounding area in the regular exhibit and thus, this year, there was not a Greatriverroad.com Purchase Prize. This is the first year for a Youth Award for a photograph submitted by a person between the age of 12 and 18 years old. Green Tree Inn also recognizes the winner of the Village of Elsah purchase prize with an overnight stay at the Inn. 

The judge for the exhibit was Erica Popp, working artist and gallery owner. She formerly taught photography at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley. She has worked with us for several years and we appreciate her expertise and support for this project.

Village of Elsah purchase prize is awarded to Carolyn Schlueter for “Green Tree Inn.” This is a color photograph of the Green Tree Inn at dusk with a pale bluish light outside and the warm yellow light inside the building. The composition is strong with a good contrast of the light on the inside and outside of the Inn. Further interest is seen in the reflections of the trees from across the street on the upper windows of the building. The photograph was taken with an Olympus OMD EM-1, Mark II camera and Olympus Pro f/2.8 12-100 lens on February 16, 2019 around 6:45 in the evening. Camera was set on the Program Mode with an f/4.0 setting and basic editing was done using Photoshop and it was professionally printed by Diversified Labs on their Lustre Paper. 

The Youth Award is for Jonah Hosmer for “Elsah Creek Reflections.” This 8 X 10 color print shows a thin section of building reflected in the creek. The reflection is in the lower portion.  The composition is good, the print is good quality and in sharp focus and expresses the theme well.

There are four special recognition photographs: Rachel Baker for “Through the Keyhole” for the composition; Lyn Moore for “Enchanted Entry” for use of color; Joan Baker for “Read to Discover” for expression of theme; and, for the youth participant, Micha Worley for “Coming Home on the River Road” for unique use of the camera. All the special recognition photographers are awarded a 10% discount on framing of one object framed at Burton Art Services, Alton, Illinois.

The following photographers are represented in the exhibit: Joan Baker, Rachel Baker, Linda Davis Swink, Jonah Hosmer, Karen King, Marty McKay, Lynn Moore, Colleen Osborne, Carolyn Schlueter, Micha Worley.

The Museum exhibit will be open starting Saturday, April 6 and  every Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 pm until August 5, 2018.  Awards will be made around 2 pm on opening day. Visitors will find much to enjoy in the exhibit. All the photographs are for sale and all proceeds are retained by the photographer. Additional copies or sizes of the purchase prize winning photographs and other photographs in this and previous exhibits can generally be purchased from the photographer.

Thanks go to all who make this exhibit possible with their funding and time: The Village of Elsah Board of Trustees and Mayor Pitchford, Historic Elsah Foundation, Greatriverroad.com, Green Tree Inn, Burton Art Services, Office Depot of Alton, Illinois for their printing for the Youth Workshop, Karen King of Mount Olive and Mary McKay of Alton for their presentations and field coaching at the Youth Workshop, the Village of Elsah Museum Advisory Committee and Museum attendants, Mary Lu Peters and Donna DeWeese.

How a Chicago Music Store Helped Win the Civil War

Come listen to Civil War songs and learn “How a Chicago Music Store Helped Win the Civil War,” on Thursday, March 21, at 7:30 pm, at Farley Music Hall, Elsah, Illinois.

Lincoln Historian, Christian McWhirter, from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Edwardsville fiddler, Hannah Jellen, and banjo player, Ben Holbrook, will perform and explain how popular songs such as “The Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Marching through Georgia,” provided high-spirited entertainment for soldiers at the battlefront and folks on the home front during the Civil War.

These and many other popular songs about the Civil War were published by Root and Cady, a new but enormously successful music store and publishing company in Chicago. The firm’s founders, Ebenezer Towner Root and Chauncey Marvin Cady dominated Chicago’s music publishing industry until the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed the firm’s all paper (nothing was digitized on the cloud) inventory, leading to bankruptcy.

But the songs survived, Dr. McWhirter, has written about them in his book, Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War. His research has shown how the popular music of the war played in effectively endorsing emancipation for African Americans and in their being recruited into the Army.

Accomplished musicians Jellen and Holbrook, who are currently graduate students in musicology at the University of Illinois, will create the audio experience of listening to this lost but vital piece of Illinois’s Civil War history.

This program is the first of this year’s Hosmer-Williams Lectures sponsored by Historic Elsah Foundation and underwritten by Liberty Bank: A United Community Bank.

The program is free and open to the public. Reservations are not required. Parking is available. Refreshments will be served following the lecture.

Historic Elsah Foundation celebrates, educates, and preserves the buildings in Village of Elsah. You may join Historic Elsah Foundation as a member at any time.