Brothers Belus and Egbert Jones were among the first Europeans to move into this part of the county, arriving in 1821 when Many Native Americans still lived in the area. They built a log cabin about four miles southeast of where Pleasant Hill is today and opened the county’s first tavern. Getting that tavern licensed was the first agenda item for the first session of the Pike County Commissioners’ Court, which awarded it for a $3 fee.
Early taverns typically served two roles, as both a place to stay and a place to hang out. The hotel portion didn’t make much money, so the owners relied on booze as their primary way of making a profit (some things don’t change). Some taverns were quite small, little more than a log cabin, while others had multiple rooms for rent and a separate room for the bar. Crude signs often alerted travelers to their presence. One sign might read “entertainment for man and beast”, while another touted “whiskey and oats.”
Belus Jones was soon appointed county constable, the first person to occupy that role. It was apparently a job he could do on the side when he wasn’t serving drinks or turning down beds. Egbert Jones lived the rest of his life in Pike County, but Belus eventually moved to Hamburg in neighboring Calhoun County. James Galloway, an early farmer, lived near the Jones brothers. Galloway’s family moved to Pike County from Missouri in 1832. He was a pretty tough dude. In one book he was described as “…a very strong man. Even at the age of 60 years he could in a wrestle throw men of 24 years of age, and at the age of 72 he made a full hand in the harvest field.”
The village was platted in 1836 as Fairfield by Eli Hubbard, Charles Hubbard, and John McMullen, but the village had to come up with a new name ten years later when folks realized that Illinois already had a village called Fairfield (in Wayne County).
Baptists started the first church in Pleasant Hill in 1855. Among the Rules of Decorum adopted in 1857 were the following:
Rule 9 – No brother shall speak more than twice to any subject without permission from the Church.[from History of Pike County, Illinois; 1880; p. 726]
Rule 10 – There shall be no laughing, talking, or whispering in time of public service. Nor shall there be any ungenerous reflections on any brother that has spoken before.
Rule 15 – We consider it disorderly to attend frolics, plays, horse-racing, grog-[sh]ops, and charivaries.
Pleasant Hill had a station on the Chicago & Alton Railroad, on the line between Chicago and Kansas City. The first train rolled through town in 1871, just two years after Pleasant Hill incorporated as a village. The Chicago & Alton was among the first to put sleeping cars into service (beginning in 1859) and the first to put a dining car in regular service (in 1868); both were built by the George Pullman Company.
The village stayed pretty small through the 19th century, fewer than 400 residents, but started to grow in earnest after World War II. No doubt some of that growth was due to a new gas pipeline that came through the area. A number of people also found work in the industries across the river at Louisiana and Clarksville, Missouri. Pleasant Hill’s population peaked in 1980 with over 1,100 residents but has since fallen back under 1,000.
Exploring the Area
For a peek at the history of Pleasant Hill, check out the Harman House Museum (208 Harman St.; by appt.). The 19th century house has three floors of artifacts to explore, including a veteran’s memorial wall, cool vintage dresses, old photos and newspaper clippings, and antique medical equipment that will cure your longing for the past. If you wish to visit, call one of the people listed on the board next to the front door or try the Pike County Chamber of Commerce for the most current contacts (217.285.2971).
Pleasant Hill hosts the annual Pike County Fair (201 W. Clay St.; 217.754.2456) in July. Spectator events include a demolition derby, live music, and tractor pulls.
Pleasant Hill is one of the communities that participates in the Pike County Color Drive, a chance to enjoy fall color and small town charm as you drive around the countryside. Each community offers something a little different for visitors, like crafts, food, or maybe a town-wide yard sale (Oct).
Heading upriver? Check out Atlas.
Heading downriver? Check out Belleview.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2016