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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.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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[image ALT: A photograph of part of brick house, seen from the side. It is not a very good photograph, and does not give a sense of the house as a whole; but two sturdy double chimneys can be made out, and a wooden porch. It is the John Marshall House in Old Shawneetown, Illinois.]

Historic American Buildings Survey

John Marshall House, Shawneetown, Built 1808.

 p13  On the Ohio

Beside the levee on the Illinois side of the Ohio River, in historic old Shawneetown, there stands a small brick dwelling that has become a landmark of the state. Originally built as a private home, this ancient abode is of general interest as the place which housed Illinois' first bank. Locally it is known as the first brick house in Shawneetown and as the third brick house in the upper Mississippi Valley.

When the occupant of this house set up the state's first bank here in 1816, the town in which he lived had become an important commercial center and gateway to the Illinois territory and the West. Down the Ohio River, in flatboats, came immigrants to Illinois from Virginia and other eastern states and most of them entered the new country through Shawneetown. Here the government established a land office and here business houses flourished.

A legend is current in Shawneetown that once, in the early days, a group of Chicago businessmen rode three hundred miles on horseback to negotiate a loan from the bank in the brick house overlooking the Ohio. They described Chicago, then a village, in glowing terms. But the loan was not granted. The local bank refused it on the ground that the village of Chicago was so far from Shawneetown that it could never amount to anything.

The man who established the bank in the little, two‑story brick house was John Marshall, merchant, leading citizen of pioneer Shawneetown, and scion of an old English family. About 1800 his father, Samuel, who was then living in Ireland, bought property in America — specifically in Shawneetown. But he never came to America to claim it. His three sons, however, came to this country in 1804 and settled in Shawneetown. One of these was Samuel K. Marshall, who became a lawyer, soldier, statesman, and friend of Lincoln.

It was in 1808 that John Marshall built the brick house that was to become the state's first bank. "It was a remarkable structure for its time and contrasted sharply with the log cabins and crude frame buildings of the Shawneetown of that day," writes Otis Winn for the Historic American Buildings Survey.​a

The house, continues Winn, "was a proper setting for the prosperous merchant and banker and his devout and gracious wife, who prevailed upon her husband to promote the building of a badly needed church for Shawneetown. Their home soon became the center of social, business and political activities. It was in this building that Marshall had his  p14 store, and in which, in 1816, he opened the first bank in Illinois. This bank was authorized by the Illinois territorial legislature at Kaskaskia, but because the territory did not back it, the bank issued its own certificates."

Winn says that after the panic of 1837 the bank could not meet the demands of its creditors and a few years later was forced to close. Since that time, the house has been occupied successively by numerous families and has been, at intervals, partly under water during Ohio River floods. Its interior is plain but roomy and has been little altered since the days of John Marshall. A second-floor porch, leading out to the high levee, was added since the great flood of 1937.

Thayer's Note:

a Estwick Evans, however, who in 1818 walked from New Hampshire to Michigan, yet by such a circuitous route as to make it 4000 miles and bring him to Southern Illinois and Shawneetown, reports with equal emphasis that a recently founded bank he saw — and how many could there have been? — was built of logs; Evans's Pedestrious Tour as edited by Reuben Thwaites, quoted in a description of Shawneetown in Buck, Illinois in 1818, pp74‑75.

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Page updated: 3 Dec 07