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Bill Thayer

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George French

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 most of a two‑story rectangular brick house, with a flat or very low-pitched roof — not visible. A hexagonal bow window projects from the right side; the front door is protected by a small wooden porch. It is the John Reynolds House in Belleville, Illinois.]

Governor John Reynolds House, Belleville, Built 1820.

 p20  "Old Ranger" Lived Here

Among prominent citizens of early Belleville, old Illinois city on the bluffs east of the American Bottom, the two best known were Ninian Edwards and John Reynolds — both served as governors of Illinois. Although the home in which Ninian Edwards lived has long since disappeared, Governor Reynolds' residence survives and is one of the principal historic shrines of the southern Illinois city.

In addition to being the fourth governor of the state, John Reynolds was one of the most colorful figures of pioneer Illinois, and his fame was known throughout the country and even in Europe. After his career as governor he served in Congress for many terms, headed a state junketing trip to Europe and wrote numerous books about pioneer Illinois life which are now highly prized as collectors' items. In his younger days he served in the War of 1812 and became known as "Old Ranger" because of his activities in running down Indian bands on the prairies.

From a biographical study of John Reynolds, written by Miss Maude Underwood, assistant librarian of the Belleville Public Library, we learn that he acquired his Belleville residence in 1843. The house, however, is said to have been built in 1820. Since there were clay deposits near Belleville, many of its earliest houses, including the Reynolds abode, were made of brick.

It was after the close of his congressional career in Washington that Governor Reynolds returned to Belleville and moved into the then imposing two‑story brick residence. He brought with him into this house his second wife, a former Maryland girl, whom he married in Washington. She was twenty years his junior. His first wife was Catherine Dubuque, whose father was honored in the naming of Dubuque, Iowa.

"In the corner of his residential lot," writes Miss Underwood, "Reynolds erected a small one‑story brick house of two or three rooms, ostensibly for a law office. But his practice of law was a secondary matter to him. His hobby was meeting and talking to people. He was content with having attained his goal and as the sunset of life approached, he began to live among his memories, which, happily for us, he recorded in printed form. Although his writings lack literary style, although there is no order or sequence of events or dates, his rambling narratives of people, places, and events fill a certain vitally important niche in Illinois history."

We are told that he purchased an old hand press and a lot of type, set them up in his law office and hired unemployed printers to produce  p21 his books, as well as pamphlets, two weekly papers, and handbills. His best-known book is The Pioneer History of Illinois, published in 1852. Others are Adventures of John Kelly, Sketches of the Country on the Northern Route from Belleville, Ill. To New York, and The Balm of Gilead.

Governor Reynolds died on May 8, 1865, at the age of seventy-seven. His house was subsequently occupied by a man named Netherling and afterward it was the home of Professor William Feigenbutz, leading resident of the German community of Belleville and onetime director of the locally famed Liederkranz, or singing society.

The house is still in sound condition. It contains eight rooms, in most of which the woodwork is of black walnut, plain and undistinguished. The original fireplaces remain in the main rooms. Aware of the historical significance of his dwelling, the owner, Walter D. Schmitt, correspondent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in Belleville, has placed a historical marker at the front entrance, which designates the house as the onetime home of Governor Reynolds.​a

Thayer's Note:

a The house may no longer stand; although a website maintained by the Belleville Chamber of Commerce once had a section for the Belleville Historic Preservation Commission — with the continued shrinkage of the Web the page has now disappeared — which mentioned the town's oldest houses as "German Folk houses built as early as the 1830's." If you have information to the contrary, I'd be glad to hear from you, of course.

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Page updated: 1 Dec 12