Early Settlers

Ossian RossOssian RossCrossing over this same territory, the first white settlers entered Fulton County by wagon or river. Whether they came from the East, the South, or even Europe, the well-worn paths were traveled by many hardy immigrants into this new land.

The first known permanent settler to Fulton County was John Eveland, who came with his family in the spring of 1820. The following year, Ossian Ross came to the area as the first War of 1812 veteran to claim his quarter section of Military Tract Land. Ross also founded Lewistown, named after his eldest son Lewis. In 1823 Lewistown became the county seat of the newly created Fulton County. The terms “upstate” and “downstate” began to be used when people from Chicago had to come to down to Lewistown to conduct business, attend court, vote, and obtain marriage licenses.

The present Lewistown courthouse is the fourth to serve the county. Third Fulton County CourthouseThird Fulton County CourthouseThe first courthouse, built of logs in 1823, was in use when much of northwestern Illinois was under jurisdiction of Fulton County. A wooden frame building replaced it in 1830. The third courthouse, built of brick in 1836, had four stone columns. Stephen A. Douglas served as a Circuit Court Judge in this courthouse. On August 17, 1858, Abraham Lincoln stood between its columns to deliver the much quoted speech, “Return to the Fountain.” On December 13, 1894, the courthouse was burned to the ground by an arsonist, an incident recounted in the poem, “Silas Dement,” in Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology. Two large columns from the courthouse survived the blaze and were erected in Lewistown’s Oak Hill Cemetery as part of the Civil War Monument.