The land that constitutes current-day Jersey County was once inhabited by the Kickapoo, Menomini, Potawatomi and Illiniwek Confederation Native American tribes. The first Europeans – Father Marquette and Louis Jolliet – arrived in 1673, discovering fertile land, abundant rivers, rich vegetation and prime hunting ground. Settlers began relocating to the area following the War of 1812, and on February 28, 1839, Jersey County was formed, obtaining its name in honor of the state in which many of its early settlers had emigrated – New Jersey. Jerseyville was soon designated the county seat, with construction on the stately county courthouse (which still stands today) completed in 1894.
Throughout the 19th Century, southern Illinois, including the Jersey County area, served as a major stop along the Underground Railroad. The “free” state of Illinois bordered one of the main U.S. slavery auctioning blocks – St. Louis, MO – making this a prime destination for escaping slaves. The county and its closely surrounding area housed several Underground Railroad “stations,” including the Cheney Mansion, Josiah White’s Log Cabin, Hamilton Memorial School, Rocky Farm, Lewis & Clark Community College, the Lyman Trumbull House, the Old Rock House and several others.
The Jersey County Historical Society Museum and Research Center, located on the Cheney Mansion site, maintains the vibrant history of the area through a large collection of artifacts, clothing, photographs and documents. The museum was expanded in 2007, thanks to the extensive donation of antique and Indian artifacts from longtime member Les Flautt. In addition to the museum and the Cheney Mansion (also called the “Little Red House”), the historical society maintains the old log cabin and the one-room Lone Star School, and also hosts the annual Apple Festival in fall.