History of Carthage, IL
Carthage has a long and rich history, dating back to the early 1800s. Founded in 1837 as the seat of Hancock County, our city has always revolved around the historic Carthage Square.
About Carthage, IL
A rural city - the county seat of Hancock County - a business center - a microcosm of life in West-Central Illinois. True, Carthage is all of these, but this description does not begin to portray the charm of the city - its turn-of-the-century architecture, its beautiful old trees, its historical ambiance, and its friendly residents.
Settled in 1831, Carthage became the county seat in 1833, thus beginning its long history as a center for business, political activity, and the farming community.
As part of its history, a campaign speech by Abraham Lincoln is commemorated, but perhaps the most famous historical event to ever occur was the mob slaying of the Mormon founder, Joseph Smith, at the Old Carthage Jail in 1844. The Old Jail, now owned by the Mormon Church, has been restored and is open for tours year-round.
Hancock County Courthouse
Considered one of the most handsome in the State of Illinois, the Hancock County Courthouse in Carthage, dedicated in 1908, is definitely the centerpiece of the city. In its picturesque setting, surrounded by stately trees, the courthouse is the center of the town square. The courthouse and the buildings facing the square have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its beautiful interior includes six marble staircases with intricately carved, painted, and molded walls, striking stained diamond-leaded glass, and a large rotunda opening into a huge domed roof. In addition to its governmental use, the courthouse has been the stage for arts events and dramatic performances. The courthouse lawn has also become the focal point for community activities such as The Christmas Open House, Appreciation Days, and the Farmers' Market.
For an in-depth look at the history of our square, you can download a copy of the application used to put it on the National Registry of Historic Places. Be warned, this is a large (3MB) file in pdf format, but it contains sketches of the historic square, histories of all included buildings, and much more. Enjoy!
OR, if you would rather walk the square and know all about the buildings, download one or both walking tours. They are very similar in content, but were produced at different times, and MAY not be totally up-to-date and accurate. But, they give you a great sense of our rich history, right here in downtown Carthage! View/Download Tour 1 or Tour 2.
History of Hancock County
One of the oldest (dated 1880) written histories of Hancock County, including Carthage, is "Greggs History of Hancock County" and that entire, very large, book is now available by clicking on that title. Careful, the color pdf version is a 53MB download (over 1000 pages), but well worth the read! There's also a black-and-white version and other formats for Kindle and other readers. Have fun!