When the Gong Rings
A Fire History of Charleston, Illinois

Go to Page 19 to read specifics of the first fire department by CLICKING HERE




In 1831, The State Legislature appointed a committee to help the new county select a place to serve as a permanent seat of justice.  Charles Morton (Charleston’s namesake) and Benjamin Parker would donate 20 acres to form a town.       

In 1832 The first jail, constructed of logs, was built on Jackson St. (now 6th St.) near the Town Branch.  The first log courthouse for Coles County was across the street.

The 1830’s would see growth. The town limits actually expanded, with more and more families and homes being established in the town of Charleston.  Fire protection would be provided by “Bucket Brigades,” as were common in most frontier towns.  Interest in a real fire department, would not occur until the 1860’s.

In 1842 a brick jail would be constructed. 

Former President Van Buren would stay in a hotel in Charleston.  He was traveling to Sprinfield from Kentucky.

In 1847 Charles S. and Hannah Morton deeded land to Oliver and Lucy Salllee.  A month later they deeded a portion of land to the County Commissioners to be used by the town of Charleston as a burial ground.  This would become the “Old City Cemetery” now located on West Madison Avenue, across from the Fair Grounds.

In 1850, the population of Charleston was 847.

In 1851, Thomas Lincoln died.  He was the father of Abraham Lincoln.  He would be buried in Old Gordon Cemetery (now Shiloh) near his log cabin home at Goosenest Farm, now Lincoln Log Cabin State Historical site.

In 1855, Mattoon was formed west of Charleston.  It was first called Pegtown, then True Town, and named Mattoon on May 15, 1855.  It would become a major railroad town.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln delivered his acceptance speech as Republican candidate for Illinois U.S. Senator.  The speech is known as the “House Divided Speech.”  He would then enter a series of debates with his democrat opponent, Stephen Douglas.  One debate would be held at the Charleston Fair Grounds on Sept. 18, 1858.

Growth would occur for Charleston during the 1850’s.  Bucket Brigades would remain the chief fire fighting means for the bustling town.  The railroad would be well established. 

In 1863, Mound Cemetery was founded by John B. Hill. 

In 1864, a Charleston Courier article describes  “Support of the Charleston Hook & Ladder Company."
Washington's birthday was celebrated in Charleston, Monday, February 22, 1864 with a cotillion party given in the Mount & Hill hall, the party being given for the benefit of the Charleston Hook and Ladder Company, one of the volunteer fire fighting companies of the city. The tickets, which admitted one's self and lady, cost the sum of $1.00, and the supper served at the Union hotel under the management of W.H.K. Pile, cost an extra dollar or so. Music was furnished by Professor Capell, assisted by the Charleston String Band. The invitation, printed 60 years ago this coming February, was discovered by William Tripp, who was rummaging through some old papers the other day. Note: The hall in which the cotillion was held was destroyed by fire two years ago, February 4, 1923 (the Rardin Daily News/Armory fire), after passing through various managements and owners. 

Fire had long been a source of concern for Charleston citizens.  Prior to the 1870's, the bucket brigade method was the only way townspeople had of fighting fire.  The passing of buckets of water down a row of people from the water source--- usually a well or cistern---to the blaze did little to extinguish a fire once it had a good start.  At best, the most that could be hoped for was to keep the flames from spreading.

A large portion of the west side of the Square had been reduced to ashes by fire in the 1860's.  After this calamity, the town began to move slowly but surely in the direction of more effective fire-fighting methods.  An ordinance was passed which dealt with construction of buildings within what was designated as the "Fire Limits." 

Included within the limits were Blocks Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve in the Original Town of Charleston.  The ordinance made it unlawful for any new wooded buildings to be constructed within the nine block area.  Also banned was the repair of standing wooden buildings that had been damaged fifty percent by fire or decay.

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