A History of the Fourth Union County Courthouses 1858–2009

by Darrel Dexter

The county courthouse is at the center of the political history of Union County. Here disputes between early settlers were settled, taxes paid, marriage licenses issued, estates settled, deeds recorded, and political conventions held. Thousands of couples have gone to the county clerk’s office for marriage licenses. Many thousands more have walked through the doors to pay their taxes. Nearly 2,000 county commissioners’ meetings have convened in the building and countless circuit court trials have been held there. In the early years when court was in session only in the spring and fall, the people flocked from their countryside farms and small villages to Jonesboro for trial day.
The over-150-year-old Union County courthouse is also important to the social history of the county. The courthouse was not only used to conduct court and provide offices for county officials, but has also been used for community meetings, concerts, political rallies, and other nongovernmental functions. Civil War soldiers were temporarily housed in the building in 1862. In December 1920, over 200 people attended a meeting of the Union County Cedar Tree Association, which was held at the courthouse. Other meetings have attracted even more people to the courthouse.

The connection the structure has to the people of Union County is what, makes the building so historically important. The courthouse provides a link from the earliest pioneers who walked through its doors to present citizens of the county. No other building in Union County provides such a strong connection to the past- for so many citizens. Although the size and condition of the structure may not sufficiently meet all the current needs of county government, its importance to the history of Union County is immense.

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The Official County Seal

From Perrin’s 1883 History of Alexander, Union and Pulaski Counties, Illinois. Page 286: The county seal when explained, tells how the county came to be named Union. The figures upon the seal represents two men standing up and shaking hands. One of them is dressed in the old-fashioned shad-bellied coat and vest, broad brimmed hat, and long hair. The other is in the conventional ministerial suit. It represents a meeting of a Baptist preacher named Jones, and George Wolf, a Dunkard preacher, as one of two men, first in this county.
Jones had been holding a remarkable series of meetings, and Wolf and he met, shook hands, and agreed to hold or continue the meeting, the two joining in the work, and calling it a Union meeting. This was held in what is now the southeast portion of the county. The seal illustrating this historic incident in the county was designed and adopted by the County Commissioners in 1850, and it was, it is said, the suggestion of Gov. Dougherty. The meeting of these pioneer preachers that thus became historical, probably occurred about 1816 or 1817.

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