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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a very small and somewhere primitive-looking single‑story rectangular stone house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 30° and two chimneys; The front door, flanked by one window to the viewer's right and two to the viewer's left, is protected by a porch duted by four wooden pillars. It is the John Russell House near Eldred, Illinois.]

Lyle D. Stone

John Russell House, Near Eldred, Built 1828.

 p42  A Pioneer Editor's Home

A few years ago there appeared in the Carrollton Patriot, published at Carrollton, Illinois, an article which started a literary argument and which once more brought attention to a small, ancient stone house situated on the lower reaches of the Illinois River.

The controversy was over the question of whether or not Charles Dickens, on his first tour of America in 1842, visited that little stone house at the time he was stopping in St. Louis. Although the dispute has not yet been settled, the small house is still worthy of attention, for it was the home of a pioneer Illinois editor, author, and scholar whose writings were widely read in his time.

That editor was John Russell. He came to Greene County in 1828 and immediately began building his house with stone from the near-by limestone bluffs. When it was completed, he called it "Bluffdale." It was John Russell who was supposed to have been host to Charles Dickens here. The story of this visit was often told by Russell's son, Spencer G. Russell, a well-known Greene County lawyer. No mention of such a visit, however, is made by Dickens in his American Notes, although he did describe a side jaunt of about thirty miles from St. Louis through the Illinois prairie country.

The controversy began when the Jersey County Democrat, published at Jerseyville, just below Carrollton, printed an interview with the Rev. J. W. R. Smith, who announced for the first time that the famous English novelist had been a guest in the Russell home. He quoted the late Spencer Russell as his authority and said that Spencer Russell had possessed a number of letters written by Dickens to John Russell but that these had been accidentally destroyed in a fire.

"Tradition records and the story is well substantiated," read the Jersey County Democrat article, "that John Russell met Dickens at the landing. After mutual greetings, members of the group climbed into the family coach and were driven to the Russell homestead, three miles north of the present village of Eldred.

"Following the ride from the landing, Dickens was ushered into the Russell home and seated before the great stone fireplace in the living room. There he and Russell engaged in conversation relative to topics of many interest. The story of that evening was frequently related by a son of the writer, Spencer Russell. At the time of Dickens' visit, the latter was fourteen years of age."

In doubting that Dickens had visited the Russell home, the Carrollton  p43 Patriot says: "Ninety-two years after it is supposed to have occurred it is publicly disclosed for the first time that the eminent English novelist, Charles Dickens, visited Greene County in 1842 in order to meet Professor John Russell at his home in Bluffdale. . . . In all the articles relating to John Russell that have been printed in the Patriot it seems a bit odd that no one ever thought to tell about the visit of Charles Dickens."

The Carrollton Patriot continues: "The same article [in the Jersey County Democrat] says he [Russell] was editor of the Louisville [Kentucky] Advertiser in 1842, which was the year Charles Dickens visited the United States." Although discounting the Dickens visit, the Carrollton Patriot does on to pay high tribute to John Russell as an editor, scholar, educator, linguist, and author.

The house in which Russell lived is a plain, story-and-a‑half abode with a gabled roof and a small porch at its front. Plainly visible are the stone blocks used in its construction. Here John Russell was living when he was given the degree of Doctor of Laws in 1862 by the Old University of Chicago. And here he died on January 21, 1865.

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Page updated: 1 Dec 12