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PENALTY SHOTS: The house on Hines Hill

  • Pictured is the Hines Hill farmhouse on State Route 149 west of Murphysboro.

    Pictured is the Hines Hill farmhouse on State Route 149 west of Murphysboro.
    Pete Spitler/Herald Tribune

By Pete Spitler
updated: 4/21/2017 4:48 PM

Those who have followed my social media postings lately know I've become fascinated with an old farmhouse perched at the top of a hill along State Route 149 about three miles west of Murphysboro.

It is in situations like these my oft-unused History minor from Southern Illinois University - Carbondale comes into play.

The house has certainly seen better days. Large sections of roof are exposed to the rafters and most of the windows and doors are missing.

But the ground around it is well-maintained and currently used for farming.

Perhaps it is that odd combination of a historical relic in a manicured pasture that has caught my fancy, but I find myself wanting to tell its story.

There is so much of our local history that can't be found in history books, online or in the archives of the county courthouse.

It is history locked in the memories of the older generation; the ones that tilled the soil, cut the timber, made the shoes and built our country into the great nation it is today.

In speaking with the house's owners, Jeff and Tamara Hines, it is located very close to Old Brownsville, the original county seat of Jackson County.

A 1928 article from the Ava Citizen newspaper states that Old Brownsville was founded in 1818, the same year Jackson County, named for Andrew Jackson, was organized.

In those days, citizens would meet at the courthouse on election day and hear someone read the Illinois Herald - which was published at Kaskaskia and is widely thought to be the state's first newspaper - prior to holding a free discussion of the pros and cons of the issues they voted.

Differences were usually settled out of court by agreement, arbitration or by "fighting it out." Lawsuits were also uncommon.

The end of Old Brownsville began in 1843. According to the Citizen, around midnight on January 10th of that year, the citizens of the town discovered their two-story frame courthouse was on fire.

All but a few records were destroyed. The Old Brownsville families then relocated further east, desiring the county seat to be located more in the center of the county.

Seven months later, in what was described by the newspaper as a "spirited election," it was decided to permanently relocate the county seat to a 20-acre tract donated by Dr. John Logan, father of the famous Gen. John A. Logan, eventually becoming Murphysboro.

The final record of Old Brownsville is a marriage license to George M. Brown and Ann Cross, issued four days after the fire.

I would have likely never have known the existence of Old Brownsville prior to my interest in the farmhouse.  Perhaps you may have never known about it if you hadn't read about it in this column.

For this reason, I remain fascinated by history and by the names and faces of the people who have come before.

Someday soon, I hope to arrange to explore the old farmhouse and learn about the lives of those who lived there. Those memories, encased in its walls, could help tell the story of us.