Hardin County came into being on March 2, 1839.
Before that time, residents within the modern county's boundaries lived in Pope and Gallatin Counties. The dividing line between the two counties started at Cave-in-Rock and ran northwesterly to a point two miles east of the modern northwest corner of the county.
Gallatin County had organized first in 1812 and included all of Hardin. When the territorial government organized Pope County out of Gallatin and Johnson Counties four years later they chose the great cavern on the Ohio as a reference point. They did so in part to keep the U.S. Saline Reservation all in one county. This tract of land 12 miles wide and 10 miles from north to south stretched between modern Eldorado and Ridgway, then south to the Eagle Mountains (now Wildcat Hills). A tail, anywhere from one to three miles wide stretched out from the southeast corner and followed the Saline River down to its mouth on the Ohio River. The reservation set aside the land within its boundaries for the use of the saltworks near Equality, the great commercial endpoint for the early roads. Shawneetown, the river port, developed where it did because it was the shortest point between the Ohio River and the saltworks.
When the legislature created Hardin in 1839, the reservation for the Gallatin Salines (as it was then called) still existed and apparently no one intended to split it between multiple counties. At that point, Saline County had not been formed and was still a part of Gallatin. The 1839 decision had not been the first movement toward establishing a new county on the river between Shawneetown and Golconda. Earlier residents of the area petitioned the state to create Ohio County using generally the same boundaries, but also including the southeasternmost township in what is now Saline and the southwesternmost township in what is now Gallatin.
At first, Grand Pierre Creek (sometimes spelled Granpier) served as the western boundary, but it was quickly changed to the straight north and south line now presently used. That took place on Jan. 8, 1840.
By 1846, out-of-state competition had all but ended the economic powerhouse of the Gallatin Salines. John Hart Crenshaw (of the Old Slave House fame) operated the saltworks. Due to poor health Crenshaw turned over his business to his son in late 1845. By 1846, the increased competition plus the drain on the local workforce with the start of the Mexican War, led to Crenshaw making a deal with the governor.
In the winter session of 1846-1847, the legislature made a deal with Crenshaw: Give up the three years remaining in your 10-year lease and we'll ignore the back payments you've not been able to make to the state. Both sides agreed and the legislature then put the rest of the reservation lands up for sale. Breakaway proponents throughout Gallatin County saw the move as their time to strike. Residents in the western half of the county petitioned for the new county of Saline. The Shawneetown business classes supported the move as well because it would strengthen their effort to return the county seat to Shawneetown. Residents in the southern portion saw their opportunity to join with the 8-year-old county of Hardin. In quick succession the legislature created Saline County (which led to a long-fought legal battle), and on Feb. 20, 1847, authorized the removal of the southern part to Hardin. This territory, long-called the "Curtail," then joined Hardin County.
Although formal platted settlements wouldn't come until decades later in some cases, even by 1809, the basis for the communities of Cave-in-Rock, Elizabethtown and Rosiclare could be seen in the formation of three militia companies. Lewis Barker captained one company and he ran the ferry at Cave-in-Rock. James McFarland ran the second and he had a ferry at Elizabethtown. James Ford, though later associated with Ford's Ferry, Ky., upstream from Cave-in-Rock, captained the third company organized around Rosiclare. Ford's father-in-law operated the first ferry there in 1799. The trail from it to Kaskaskia, was known as the Miles Trace and part of it served as the boundary between Gallatin and Johnson Counties at one time. Ford later took over the ferry and ran a tavern and served as overseer of the poor in the Rosiclare area prior to the War of 1812. The Sturdivant Fort located above the current Rosiclare water tower probably dates back to this period. When Gov. Edwards promoted Ford to major, James Steele became captain for this company.
It is at this earliest time, even dating back to the late 18th Century, that the foundations were laid for what Gov. Thomas Ford described as "an ancient colony of horse-thieves, counterfeiters and robbers." Ford and Steele were part of this colony. The outlaws of Cave-in-Rock are another part. The Flathead and Regulator War that took place downstream in Pope and Massac counties represented the aspect of the ancient colony that most troubled Ford during his administration. For more on this ancient colony, visit the Outlaws of Cave-in-Rock page at IllinoisHistory.com.
As far as towns go, Cave-in-Rock organized first as Rock and Cave post office on March 13, 1832. The post office changed to Cave-in-Rock on Oct. 24, 1849. The village itself didn't incorporate until Jan. 7, 1901.
Elizabethtown established its post office on May 8, 1840 and incorporated on Feb. 13, 1857. It is named for James McFarland's wife, Elizabeth.
Rosiclare didn't incorporate until April 19, 1932. Its post office history started with the removal of Twitchell's Mill post office to the village and its renaming to Rosiclare on March 13, 1844. It disbanded on May 7, 1852 and was re-established two years later on May 24, 1854. Fort Harrison shows up listed in a Shawneetown newspaper in 1840, by process of elimination it could be a reference to Rosiclare and what was then left of the Sturdivant Fort. The 1876 atlas shows Mineral City which is now a part of Rosiclare. The town's name supposedly is from the names of two daughters of an early settler, Rosa and Clare.
Further downriver from Rosiclare was Parkinson's Landing. A post office under that named operated from July 11, 1867 to May 14, 1883 when it dropped the landing and changed to simply Parkinson. Six months later on Nov. 7, 1883, it became Shetlerville and operated until Feb. 28, 1911. Peck described this area as simply the Irish Settlement in 1837. Capt. Steele, mentioned above, was one of the original settlers from Ireland.
Other small communities included Rock Creek, northwest of Cave-in-Rock. Home of Anna (Pearce) Hobbs Bisgby, a post office operated there from Oct. 11, 1887 to June 1, 1914. Elizabethtown, the county seat, was settled by James McFarland prior to the War of 1812 and named for his wife Elizabeth. It was organized as village in 1840.
Other settlements were Battery Rock, Cadiz, Chambers Creek, Eichorn, Ellisburg, Fairview Landing, Gross, Grosville, Hall Ridge, Hester, Hicks, Illinois Furnace, Karbers Ridge, Lamb, Lambtown, McFarlan, Martha Furnace, Monroe, Peters Creek, Robin's Ferry, Sellers, Sellers Landing, Sparks Hill, Twitchell's Mills and Wolrab Mills.
Written and contributed by Jon Musgrave
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