McCue documents Abraham Lincoln Eighth Judicial Circuit historical markers 

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[July 02, 2019] 

Chuck McCue stopped by the June monthly meeting of the Logan County Genealogical and Historical Society Monday to share an interesting story that spans the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Chuck likes to delve into the places, events, and people that make up the fascinating history of central Illinois, and spread the word. In this case, he brought the little known history of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) program from the 1920’s to mark the route of the Eighth Judicial Circuit with monuments. 

This story starts in 2007 and then travels back to the 1840’s. “I would never have known about this event if I had not met Guy Fraker,” said Chuck. Guy Fraker is a lawyer, historian, and author who lives in Bloomington. His focus has always been on Abraham Lincoln, and how Illinois shaped our most beloved President. 

Abraham Lincoln was a successful lawyer in Illinois, and as part of his practice traveled the Eighth Judicial Circuit bringing the law to areas that had no legal access.

The Eighth Circuit was a circuitous route that went to county seats from Springfield to the Peoria area then to Bloomington and Danville. The Eighth stopped at the Postville Courthouse in Lincoln when the town was the first county seat of Logan County. It then wended its way south to Taylorville and Shelbyville before returning to Springfield. 

The lawyers who traveled along with Mr. Lincoln formed a community who not only represented people needing legal representation, but also acted as prosecutors and judges. “The travelers on the Eighth spent up to four months and traveled four-hundred miles to cover what would otherwise have been a legal desert,” said Chuck McCue. 

Initially, the lawyers and Mr. Lincoln actually did ride horses around the circuit, but later on some county seats were accessible by train. 

It is no exaggeration that Mr. Lincoln’s time on the Eighth was instrumental to his successful career as a lawyer, and his later climb to the top of the political ladder. 

In 1923, the DAR decided on a plan to memorialize the Eighth with monuments that would be placed at every county courthouse where Mr. Lincoln practiced law, and every location where it crossed a county line. 

It was an ambitious project. Think about the logistics. Since Mr. Lincoln’s time on the circuit, county lines had changed, counties were added, county seats moved, and new roads were built and old roads were abandoned. All of this, and funding the project, but they got it done. The DAR talked the counties into funding the project within their jurisdiction, hired an artist who worked on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. to design the monuments, and even interviewed in 1919 the last surviving lawyer who rode the Eighth with Mr. Lincoln in the late 1850’s.

Where are these monuments today? Well, some of them still exist, mostly at the location of a county seat courthouse. Many courthouses have been torn down since the 1920’s, but some of the monuments still exist.

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A marker that still remains along the Eighth Judicial Circuit Route.

The monuments at county lines are more problematic. Roads have been abandoned, but some monuments still exist in the middle of nowhere, while some still stand on a road that sees little if any use. Many of the monuments that still exist are in poor condition, while some are missing altogether. “One may be at the bottom of Lake Shelbyville,” said Chuck McCue.

A few of the monuments still remain. They could be along a lonely country road that sees little traffic, or a busy highway.

A farm family saved the plaque from a damaged marker, and built one of their own design near the original location.

In the original plan, Logan County had five of the monuments.

There is a plan to repair as many of the monuments as possible. A concrete expert from Iowa has been engaged by the DAR to assist in restoration of a few of them.

Chuck has created a map with the location of the remaining monuments with their GPS coordinates. 

Today, there are wine trails, craft brewery trails, and bourbon trails, but from a time gone by, there was an Eighth Judicial Circuit Trail that recorded the movements of one of the greatest of Americans. Abraham Lincoln grew in stature as he traveled the Eighth, and then saved the ‘United’ States. 

The Logan County Genealogical and Historical Society meets on the third Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at their research facility on Chicago Street. They always have an interesting speaker and the public is invited. 

[Curtis Fox]

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