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Bill Thayer

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John Reynolds

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 small two‑story wood frame house with a gable roof pitched at about 20° and a chimney at either end. The front door is protected by a porch supporting a balcony, and is flanked by a tall window on either side. The upper story has three windows. A lean‑to or other single-story extension with a sloping roof can be dimly made out in the back of the house. It is the William B. Collins House in Collinsville, Illinois.]

William B. Collins House, Collinsville, Built 1821.

 p22  It Was Unionville Then

A few years after the four Collins brothers acquired land at a little southern Illinois settlement called Unionville — which is now a bustling city of ten thousand population known as Collinsville — they built a comfortable, two‑story frame dwelling in preparation for the arrival of their parents, sisters, and a younger brother, Frederick, from Litchfield, Connecticut. This was in 1821 and that house still stands on its original site. It is now revered as a landmark not only in Collinsville but throughout the southwestern part of the state.

The Collins brothers — Anson, William, Augustus, and Michael — first came to Madison County in 1817, buying the land holdings of Unionville's first settler, John Cook. The brothers were active and energetic businessmen and soon established industries at Unionville — a sawmill, a distillery, a flour mill, and a store. They also built a small frame meetinghouse for the infant community and are said to have taken turns reading the services. The name "Collinsville" was given to the settlement when it was learned that there was another village in Illinois called Unionville.

In telling of the Collins brothers, Illinois: A Descriptive and Historical Guide says:​a "The oldest brother, William, suffering a dearth of ideas for suitable sermons, wrote to the Rev. Lyman Beecher, his former pastor in Litchfield, asking for suggestions. The Rev. Mr. Beecher quickly forwarded six temperance tracts, the substance of which William passed on to his congregation.

"After one of these sermons on abstemiousness, so it is said, his wife asked: 'Doesn't it look peculiar to be preaching against strong drink on Sunday and then be making and selling whisky on Monday? William wrestled with his conscience and the following day wrecked the distillery."

It is recorded that William's brothers agreed with him in quitting the whisky business. They afterward separated, William alone remaining in Collinsville. The other four settled in other parts of the state, and in St. Louis, established business enterprises, founded families, and did their share in helping to build up the country.

However, it may even be said of William B. Collins that he was the "father" of Collinsville. It was he who donated to Collinsville the ground for a city hall, as well as sites for a public school and for the Presbyterian Church, and for a parsonage and cemetery. He died at Collinsville in 1835. His widow and three children survived him.

 p23  The old Collins home is described at some length in a printed volume, The Collins Family, written by William H. Collins and published at Quincy in 1897. At the time this book was published, the house was occupied by Elizabeth A. Collins Reed and her children. Five generations of the Collins family had lived in the house, the book discloses.

"The joists were made of oak trees hewn to a straight edge on one side to receive the floor," says the book. "The weatherboards were of black walnut. In the kitchen was a huge brick oven about four by six feet. . . . Grape vines festooned the two‑story porch in the front of the house. . . . Under the entire house was a huge cellar, and often here were stored from ten to twenty barrels of cider, and from ten to forty barrels of apples. . . . Locust and hard maple trees stood in the front yard, while walnut, chestnut, apple, and cherry formed a windbreak to the west and north."

A small porch has now replaced the two‑story veranda which originally spanned the front of the house.

Thayer's Note:

a p610 f.

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Page updated: 2 Feb 18