As a Mount Vernon, Illinois attorney, I travel throughout the state practicing law and meeting with clients about topics ranging from bankruptcy to estate law, from divorce to litigation. In my travels, I enjoy seeing the courthouses in our county seats. Occasionally in my blog I will stop to describe these wonderful buildings and the towns and cities in which they set.
Richland County was established on February 24, 1841, out of portions of East part of Clay and West part of Lawrence counties. According to the 2010 census, it had a population of 16,233. It’s county seat, Olney, has a population of 8,631.
Settlement of the Richland County area began around 1815 when Thaddeus Morehouse, a native of Vermont, arrived by wagon and built a log cabin along a stagecoach route that ran from Vincennes, Indiana to St. Louis. This log cabin operated as a hotel and tavern.
Richland County was organized as a county in 1841, when it was formed by a partitioning of Clay and Lawrence Counties. There was some controversy regarding the location of the county seat; however, Olney was determined as the choice based on a donation of land and the central location. The name of the town Olney was suggested by Judge Aaron Shaw who desired to honor a friend, Nathan Olney. It was not until 1848 that Olney was incorporated as a village.
The Civil War brought a great deal of turmoil to the county as there were sympathies for both sides. President Lincoln and Stephen Douglas spoke at separate political rallies in Olney on September 20, 1856. While most citizens rallied around the Union it was necessary to have troops stationed in Olney to enforce the draft as union deserters found refuge among local citizens. Overall, the county was pro-Union and an estimated 1,700 Richland County citizens fought for the Union in the Civil war. Nearly 1,000 Olney residents served in World War I, and during World War II, Richland County may have been the only Illinois county outside of Cook that provided 4 generals for the war effort.
The first census of Richland County was in 1850 at which time 4,012 people resided in the county. One hundred years later the 1950 census found a spot north of Olney near Dundas to be the population center of the United States.
Olney is known for its population of white squirrels. There are two hypotheses about how there came to be white squirrels in Olney.
The first is that in 1902 William Stroup was out hunting and shot a gray female squirrel. The shot knocked the two babies out of a nest, and he brought them home to his children. They were later sold to Jasper Banks, who put them on display in front of his saloon.
The second is that George W. Ridgely and John Robinson captured a cream colored squirrel and then raised several litters of them before bringing a pair to Olney in 1902. Mr. Ridgely sold the pair to Jasper C. Banks for $5 each. Mr. Banks made a green box for his albinos and displayed them in his saloon window.
In 1910, the Illinois legislature passed a law prohibiting the confinement of wildlife, and they were released into the woods.
In 1925, the city passed a law that disallowed dogs from running at large. In 1943, the squirrel population reached its peak at 1000, but now the population holds steady at around 200.
In the mid-1970s, John Stencel, instructor at Olney Central College, received a small grant from the Illinois Academy of Science to study the white squirrels.
A squirrel count is held each fall. White, gray and fox squirrels are counted. The number of squirrels has dropped causing concern. When the white squirrels dip below 100, they are concerned about genetic drift, or changes in allele (gene) frequency, which may reduce genetic variation and therefore speed up the extinction of a small population.
In 1997, the Olney City Council amended its ordinance which disallowed dogs from running at large to include cats. The 1997 squirrel count realized a decrease in cats. They are hopeful this will have a positive effect on the white squirrel population.
White squirrels have the right-of-way on all public streets, sidewalks, and thoroughfares in Olney, and there is a $750 fine for running one over. The police department’s badge even has a picture of a white squirrel on it. The white squirrel has proved to be an enduring symbol of Olnean pride, and stands as Olney’s most defining feature.
The population of white squirrels makes Illinois the only state to have populations of white as well as black squirrels, the latter residing in the Quad Cities area.
The imposing courthouse was built in 1914 in the Neoclassical style. The lobby is huge, the courthouse is huge. It is an impressive and awesome place.
The town itself if lovely! But despite spending lunch at the park, I never saw a white squirrel. Not a real white squirrel …
… but a “regular” squirrel came very close to my picnic table. Perhaps it was his way of welcoming me to lovely Richland County.
About the blogger:
Michael Curry of Curry Law Office in Mount Vernon, Illinois (http://michaelcurrylawoffice.com/) has helped thousands of individuals, family and small businesses in southern Illinois find protection under the Bankruptcy Code for almost twenty-five years. He is also available to help individuals and families with their estate planning (wills, power-of-attorney) and real estate and other sales transactions.
He is also the author of books on finance and bankruptcy available on Kindle through Amazon!
Whether you live in Grayville, West Salem, Centralia or anywhere in Southern Illinois call Curry Law Office today at (618) 246-0993 and Finally Be Financially Free!
You can also access my website at http://www.mtvernonbankruptcylawyer.com