History of Fairfield, Illinois.

Our History

Founding: Fairfield was laid out as a town in 1819, on land donated by the Barnhill family. The actual plat was not recorded until 6 years later.  The original town essentially covered the blocks around the courthouse square with business activity extending to First Street.  According to some records, Fairfield’s first businessman was Samuel Leech; other information suggests a Carter began the first store.  Either way, the village remained quite small for its first thirty years.

Early Industries: The earliest industries produced castor oil, lumber, wagon wheel hubs, dried fruit, and barrel staves. Later clothing dominated largescale production. The Stanley Woolen Mill was built in the 1870s to make “jean” cloth. It changed hands several times becoming the Fairfield Woolen Mill, the A.H. Baker Mill, the Sexton Manufacturing Company, Campe or Feature Underwear. Poultry was a major economic force into the 1920s; at one time Wayne County’s poultry production was among the highest in the nation.  Chefford-Master arrived in 1935 and evolved into Airtex. A branch of the Johnnye and later the Kaufmann Dress Factory operated for several years.

Courthouse:  The first courthouse was built of logs in 1821. Receipts from 1822 for “building the jail in Fairfield” suggest the jail may have been a separate building.  This log courthouse was used for fifteen years before being replaced (and virtually forgotten).  In 1836 the so-called “first” courthouse was erected.  It was a large, two-story, square, brick building with Federal-style doorways and a central cupola on its roof.  Abraham Lincoln included this courthouse in his legal circuit while he was a Springfield attorney and, on at least one occasion, handled a legal case in it.  Though impressive, this building deteriorated fairly quickly until county officers began renting office space in downtown businesses.  At one point some courthouse space was rented for a barber shop.

As the 1836 courthouse aged, concern for the security of the county records rose.  The solution was to build a brick “fire proof” building on the southwest corner of the courthouse yard.  This two-story building was erected by the late 1860s or early 1870s and most county ledgers and documents were stored in it.  Unfortunately, in November, 1886, the “Fire Proof” burned, probably as the result of arson.  Many crucial records were lost, but local real estate men pooled their own copies of deeds and records to reconstitute much of the key land title information.  However, the bulk of county records were lost.

The current courthouse was built in 1891.  A new jail was erected during the same period. Shortly afterwards, the old hotel on the northwest corner of the square burned, damaging the new jail. Insurance allowed for quick rebuilding.  The imposing clock tower on the courthouse remained without a timepiece until 1912.  About 1923 the bandstand was added on the southeast corner.  In October, 1939, the Lincoln Monument was dedicated.  It honors the Republican Caucus of Wayne County in 1860 as the first in the nation to nominate Lincoln for the presidency.  On July 4, 1943, the Honor Roll Arch dedicated to honoring the men and women who served in World War II was completed.  Over the years plaques for military serving in subsequent wars have been added. 

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