History of Williamson County

Pioneers were coming to their county as early as the 1820's, when they were still a part of Franklin County. In 1839, the area was divided and Williamson County came into being. Many settlers who ventured into the new Illinois county were from Kentucky and Tennessee and their families had originally come from Virginia and the Carolinas in the early 1800's.

Many descendants of these early settlers are still to be found residing in their county. Nannie Gray Parks' map, which is for sale in their Book Shop, has the names of the early pioneers. They came by wagon train (usually drawn by oxen) and crossed the Ohio River at one of the 3 old ferries:

1. Shawneetown, which was the principal town in Illinois then.
2. Ford's Ferry near Cave-in-Rock.
3. Lusk Ferry at Golconda.
The early trails and prairies are shown on the 1839 map sold in their book store.

WCHS Museum

The area where this building is located is of historical interest. Across the street (now the Salvation Army) was the home of William Benson, who donated land for the new Marion town, the county seat. It is said the first county court session was held at the Benson home. Not enough chairs were available so pumpkins were obtained from a passing wagon to sit on.

Ethel Ashby

Mrs. Ashby was concerned that much of the items of the county's history was being lost and it was her idea that the old court house could be made into a museum to display and preserve the county history. However, the majority wanted to raze the courthouse. Ethel never forgot and refused to give up the idea of a museum somewhere in Marion. She constantly reminded the county board and finally they offered the old jail building to the society with the provision that they, within a five year period, got such an entity organized and self-supporting. The county board, for a sum of $1.00, would give them a warranty deed to the jail on South Van Buren Street. Soon members were at the museum, cleaning, repairing, taking out a few walls in order to have a place for society meetings, painting walls and ceilings, restoring lighting and other necessities for future meetings. The museum was received June 29, 1972.

This large brick building, built in 1913, served as the county jail and the home of 16 sheriffs of Williamson County. Steel doors separated prisoners from the family as well as 13 inch poured concrete walls. In 1972 the Williamson County Historical Society accepted the building for a museum after the new courthouse was completed.


1. As you come into the Museum, observe the Victorian Hall Tree. There is one just like it in the Lincoln Home in Springfield.

2. Also notice the Iron Boot Scraper on the floor.

3. On the south wall is a unique Hat Rack donated by Dianne Stanley Arnold.


1. The Brass Door Plates on the sliding door to the library came from the old courthouse which was demolished in 1973.

2. Notice the beautiful Lead Glass in the front door and the Dark Woodwork.

3. The Flocked Wallpaper in the foyer and parlor were purchased at a flea market in Nashville, Tennessee.

4. The early Schoolmasters Desk was made by J. W. Turner, the founder of Crab Orchard Academy.

5. The Little Chair is a Pulpit Chair from Grassy Creek Baptist Church and was donated by Noel Taylor.

6. There is a Storage Bench beside the stairs.

7. A coat and hat rack.

8. The Picture over the desk is entitled "Heading Home" and was painted by David Gooden for the Williamson County Sesquicentennial -1839-1989. (150 yrs.)


1. To the north of the foyer is their Parlor, furnished in the Victorian Era.

2. As we enter, the Large Cupboard to the left and the Secretary on the northwest corner, belonged to Nannie Gray Parks.

3. Her Portrait is over the Red Velvet Settee on the north wall.

4. She was Librarian at Marion Carnegie Library for 33 years. When a young child would come to the library, she would ask all about their parents, grandparents, writing on scraps of paper, envelopes, anything she had. She would file these notes at the end of the day in used brown manila envelopes. They have these notes, which were the beginning of their Genealogy Department.

5. She painted the China in her cabinets, the Bird Pictures on the west wall "Yellow Roses" on the east wall above her Doll Collection. They also have some of her High-lace Shoes . She was an accomplished Horsewoman.

6. Pictures of her Mother and both Grandparents are on the mantle.

7. The Red Satin Lamp or "Gone With The Wind" Lamp has been made electric. This style lamp was used in many stage plays. The lamp, the love seat and the four Windsor Chairs were donated by Winifred Burkhart Burris. The chairs were from her uncle's Dentist Office.

8. The old Love seat originally had horsehair, but was restored in crimson velvet, circa 1850.

9. The pictures on the south wall are of Mr. & Mrs. Frank Morrison, owners of Coca Cola Bottling Plant for over 50 years.

10. The large picture over the fireplace is of LeRoy Goddard, who had the only private bank in Marion for 12 years. He went to Chicago and became a millionaire. He remembered Marion and wanted to do something for the city. So he sent money, workers and materials to have the Gothic Style Chapel built at Rose Hill Cemetery. It was completed in 1909. He wanted something beautiful that all could use as a final resting place for their loved ones. They have a Bible that was purchased for the Chapel, but had to be brought here because of vandalism and dampness.

11. It was the custom back in earlier years, when someone died they were in the parlor during the visitation period prior to burial.

12. Our numbered Mason Hamlin Organ was made in France in 1874. It was formerly used in the Carbondale Lutheran Church.

13. Atop the organ is a Banquet Lamp with hand painted shade from the 1850's.

14. The Glass Enclosed Case contains items donated by Joe Goddard.

15. Here is a lovely Candle Stand of the 1850 period. The beautiful Vase, on the Nannie Gray Parks cupboard, is 14" high, white and fuchsia, with roses, is very old.

16. The Queen Anne table is made of Cherry Wood and the Victorian Fireside Chair are about the 1850 era. The Bible is the one originally placed in the LeRoy Goddard Chapel in Rose Cemetery. It was brought here to preserve it.

17. There is a Black Horsehair Sofa that looks just like the one in the home of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield. They believe theirs to be of the same era, circa 1850.

18. The old Edison Phonograph with Morning Glory Horn was donated by Paul Gore. There are several cylinders which still play, though scratchy.

19. A large upholstered chair. (No historical significance).

20. Notice the Button Collection sewed on velvet organ scarves, common practice in by-gone days. Jars were too valuable to be used for buttons, and buttons were too valuable to be discarded.

21. On the ground floor, two Steel Doors separated the prisoners from the sheriff's family area. One of those doors is in this room. It opens into the Sheriff's office.

22. The Other Opening is from what was the Kitchen into the Jail Area.

23. There are no openings from the Jail Area into the Family Residence Area on any of the other floors in the building.


1. This was a Dining Room and Kitchen, divided by French Doors and Glass-doored Cabinets that could be reached from either side. The Sheriff's wife prepared meals for both her family and the prisoners here.

2. We removed the Cabinets and Doors to make a large Meeting Room. They formerly had church pews here for seating.

3. They have recently moved their Research Library here as they outgrew their other space.

Book Store

1. To the south of the library is their Book Store. This was originally a Side Porch with a large table where Marion Bakery would leave day-old bread and rolls. The Sheriff had to feed the prisoners out of his salary.

2. We enclosed this porch to make a Confectionery, then an Optometrist Office and now their Book Store.

This website is NOT owned by, is NOT sponsored by, and is NOT affiliated with the Williamson County Historical Museum/Society