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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
If you find a mistake though,
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 35° and three chimneys. Along the front, or long side, of the house runs a wide porch supported by five tapering columns on square pedestals. The upper floor has five windows with wooden shutters. It is the George Power House in Cantrall, Illinois.]

George Power House, Cantrall, Built 1850's.

 p109  Fancy Creek Farmhouse

A few miles north of Springfield there stands, in a grove of maples, a spacious old house that has been a landmark of the region for almost a hundred years. In it lived a pioneer who played no small part in the development of Sangamon County and who was also associated with numerous historical figures of the state and nation, notably Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. Kept in good condition throughout its long life, this house is now occupied by the fourth generation of the same family.

Here lived, throughout the Civil War period and for many years afterward, George Power, or "Squire" Power, as he was affectionately known to his farmer neighbors and to the early citizens of Springfield. For almost twenty years he was a justice of the peace in the little settlement of Cantrall, just north of Springfield, and before him, according to tradition, Abraham Lincoln tried his first law case. The little white frame courthouse in which this case was heard now stands on the grounds of the Power home and is frequently visited by Lincoln students and devotees.

The story of Lincoln's appearance before Squire Power was told several years ago by V. Y. Dallman in his column in the Illinois State Register. "According to Clayton Barber [Sangamon County attorney] there is no definite record as to this first law suit," writes Dallman, but Mr. Barber believes it was the suit involving the killing of a dog in which Lincoln defended the man with the shotgun who killed the dog! The owner of the dog insisted that the man who shot the dog should have used 'the other end of the gun,' to which Mr. Lincoln replied, 'that would have been all right if the dog had come at him with the other end.' "

It was in 1836 that Squire Power heard this suit. The courthouse in which it was heard had been built in 1829 and was the first frame dwelling in the county erected north of the Sangamon River. We are told that Lincoln, then a gangling young law student, often visited Judge Power here on his travels between New Salem and Springfield. The little courthouse, built of clapboards, contains two rooms, both of which are finished with smooth black walnut. In one of the rooms, however, the walls are papered with newspapers, now old and frayed, and among these one can read Mexican War news in the columns of the Illinois State Register.

In an article on Squire Power, recently written by his great-granddaughter,  p110 Virginia Reilly Glore (actress and dramatic reader), we read that "Illinois had been a state just three years when young George Power came to Sangamon County. His people had been Virginians who stopped in Kentucky for a generation. George Power was born in Fayette County, Kentucky, on February 18, 1798. In the fall of 1821 he and his young wife and baby first saw the beautiful broad sweep of the Illinois prairie. They picked a hill beside a rushing creek, with a windbreak of timber to the north . . . black walnut trees and white oaks. Here George Power built a log cabin and thus Illinois became the home of the Power family."

An energetic young man, blond and six feet tall, George Power at this period tilled his land and dreamed of a time when he would build himself a spacious dwelling similar to those he had seen in Kentucky. He dreamed, too, of broad, cultivated acres, thoroughbred horses, blooded stock, and all the comforts of a Southern plantation. But as he dreamed, he worked. In time he prospered. Then came the Black Hawk War. He was commissioned second lieutenant of a company of mounted volunteers by Governor John Reynolds. After the war he returned to his farm on Fancy Creek and once more tilled the soil, raised cattle, and served as justice of the peace.

It was not long now until he realized his dream. Some time in the 1850's he built for himself and family a roomy, two‑story house of red  p111 brick, with spacious white porches. The bricks were made by hand. His two sons, William D. and James E., were now growing up. Always hospitable, Squire Power and his wife, Nancy, entertained many prominent people here in those years and among them was Stephen A. Douglas, who had stopped overnight in 1860 after making a speech in Springfield.

The story is told that during the lean years of the Civil War, Squire Power instructed the local flour mill to give the families of soldiers whatever flour they needed, and he would pay for it. The bill came to a total of $600 and he paid it. Another story about him is that at the age of seventy-nine he "was awarded a gold-headed cane at the annual fair for the most skillful feat of horseback riding by any person over sixty." Squire Power died in 1886 at the age of eighty-eight. He was buried in a mausoleum of native limestone he had built for himself and family on the grounds of his estate.

But before he died, Squire Power was to see his own son, William, rise to prominence as a county judge in Springfield. An interesting coincidence is that Abraham Lincoln filed his last case in Sangamon County, before becoming President of the United States, in the court of County Judge William Power — just as he filed his first case before William's father, Squire Power. After the death of Squire Power, the big house in the grove of maples above Fancy Creek was occupied by the second son, James, who became a successful stock raiser.

When James Power died in 1898, the house was taken over by his son, Charles. Under his supervision, Power Farms became one of the best-known tracts in central Illinois. He then gave up active farming, moved to Springfield, and entered the office of Secretary of State Edward J. Hughes. The next occupant of the old Power homestead was — and still is — Charles' sister, June Power Reilly. She and her daughter, Virginia (now a resident of Missoula, Montana), cherish the great number of family heirlooms which adorn the house. Among these are a three-cornered walnut cupboard, a cherry wood four-poster bed, and gold-plated chandeliers.

Visitors to the Power homestead will see acres and acres of cultivated farm land and grazing cattle, a well-preserved old residence of white-painted brick, wide bluegrass lawns shaded by ancient maples, and, not far from the homestead, the little frame courthouse and the family cemetery — a cemetery where lie the remains of Squire Power's slaves whom he freed in the 1830's but who chose to remain with the family the rest of their days.

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Page updated: 10 Dec 07