On the extreme northeastern part of Randolph County, Illinois is the Precinct of Coulterville. It occupies the west arm of Grand Cote Prairie.
The earliest settler to locate in what is now known a Coulterville Precinct was David Cathcart. He was a native of Ireland and came here from South Carolina and entered a tract of land consisting of 160 acres. He was a weaver by trade. He moved his family here on what was considered a good farm.
Hugh McKelvey was the second pioneer of Coulterville and purchased land. His cabin was located about one mile from that of Mr. Cathcart.
John Dickey, James Munford, Smith and Alexander Dickey, all lived on farms in the vicinity. Alexander Dickey built a grist mill which was propelled by horse power.
William Jamison, John G. Miller and Samuel and James Woodside were also among the first settlers. James Wiley, whose family settled and originated the town of Eden, was also one of the first pioneers of the community. This is but a few of the early settlers for it would be impossible to mention them all.
James Coulter, the founder of Coulterville, arrived in the area in 1829, with his brother George. Official records show that James Coulter was the owner of 280 acres from 1829 to 1841. While several were sold before the village was established, all of the Coulter acres lie within the present limits of the village.
Under the direction of James Coulter, on November 19, 1850, the county surveyor laid off the first six blocks of the village. Four months later, the town of Grand Cote was surveyed and platted by special deputy. James named the village Grand Cote, and always insisted it was named for the prairie on which it stands.
The foundation of the town was the six blocks known as Church Square, or better known locally as Covenanter Block, located between Second and Third Streets, the two blocks directly north and the three blocks west of Third Street.
In Coulter’s next three additions were located the first two churches, the first school, the village park, the public school, the Village Hall and all of the early business district. Of the five Coulter additions, including the original town containing 25 full-sized blocks, neither the hill where his cabin stood, nor the block where the Rock House stands are in any of the Coulter additions.
James Coulter was anxious to have a church of his own faith located here. He donated a block of land (Church Square) and here he started building a church. Donations of time and labor were made by the future congregation.
Fifty-nine members joined the congregation which was the old school, synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Covenanter) and was organized by the Illinois Presbytery on July 17, 1854. In 1878 the old frame building was replaced by a brick building with large Gothic windows, ornamental pilasters, sandstone trimming and a tall steeple. James Milligan (nephew of the first pastor) presented the congregation with a large mellow toned bell to hang in the belfry. The congregation disbanded on January 17, 1923 and on October 23, 1923, the abandoned building caught fire and was destroyed.
In the following years, the village prospered and grew. In 1865, there were two churches, a one-room brick school, three general stores, a drug store, three physicians, a wagon shop, three blacksmiths, a merchants mill, a saw mill, a livery stable, a tin shop, a shoe shop, a saddlery, a post office and about 50 residences within what is now the present limits of the village.
In the early part of August, 1872, a Village Corporation was organized. The first post office was Coulter’sville. Prior to July 1, 1872, Illinois cities and villages were incorporated by special act of the General Assembly. At a meeting of the Village Board of Trustees, a resolution was adopted by unanimous vote that an election be held to name the town, Coulterville. A copy of this special meeting was forwarded to the Secretary of State and a charter was issued on August 18, 1874.
The first village election under the new charter was held on April 20, 1875. A.S. Dickey, W.W. Jamison, J.M. Elliot, J.M. Jones, Alex Milligan, and J>S> Milligan were named trustees. S.M. East was named clerk. W.W. Jamison was named the first Mayor.
The first ordinance passed under the new charger levied a tax of $1000.00 on all taxable property in the village.
Also passed was the first speed limit. It was made a misdemeanor to ride or drive any beast of burden or draft quicker than or beyond a moderate gait unless the case be on of urgent necessity. Also passed was the first record of martial law, which prohibited large dogs from lying on sidewalks or they would be killed by the Marshall of the village. A misdemeanor committed on the Sabbath would have a fine of $25.00 instead of the regular fine of $3.00.
In 1877 the first street lamps were installed. John Little, J.M. Jones and J.S. Milligan were appointed to the Lamp Committee. They bought four street lamps for $31.40. They paid D. Monroe $1.00 for four posts and Sam Miller $4.04 for dressing and setting the posts. Sam Williamson had a bill for $1.65 for lighting the lamps the first month. He was allowed $1.25. Edgar and East were awarded the contract to furnish oil for $0.35 per gallon. Owen and Byers each bid $0.30 but Edgar and East agreed to furnish the wicks free. Station agent J. R. DeMier offered to pay freight, furnish oil and light the lamp himself if the board would buy another lamp to put near the depot.
On July 12, 1861, Alexander S. Dickey received the first and only commission as Coulterville Postmaster ever received from President Abraham Lincoln.
The first telephone established was private in 1879; in fact there were several private lines in varying degrees of efficiency. The first commercial telephone was established in 1898.
In May of 1885, the town purchased their first road grader for $155.00, but received a 20% discount for paying cash; on condition they allow the agents to exhibit the grader to a neighboring town.
John Quincy Adam Nesbit opened the first bank in the spring of 1888. Although this bank was opened as a private bank, then was state and then a Federal bank, it has been continuous. This bank was sold to the First State Bank of Campbell Hill. It is now operated as the Coulterville Branch of this establishment.
The first newspaper, The Chronicle, was published in 1879, at $1.04 an issue. It was printed in what is now known as the Factory Building. The building was two stories and at one time, there was a skating rink located in the top floor and a pool hall in the basement.
This is just a small part of the history of Coulterville and like the surrounding areas as we delve into the past; we find a colorful and interesting story in the early days of the village. The pioneers of this precinct were of an intelligent and hardworking class who believed in the importance of church and school, as the first public buildings built were a church and a school. Nearly all who located here in the early days became permanent residents. Settlers and descendants of those families are among the citizens of today. We are thankful they chose the beauty of Grand Cote Prairie on which to settle and establish the Village of Coulterville.
(Thanks to Betty Gimber and the late Virginia Vancil for providing this story from their book, “Recipes and Remembrances”.)