Clayville History

John Broadwell and his wife Betsy arrived on the prairie near the site of today's Clayville in December of 1819. They began establishing a home as they waited for the remainder of the Broadwell Family to arrive. Moses Broadwell, the family patriarch, his wife Jane, daughter Sarah, and sons William, David, Thomas Jefferson, Charles, and Euclid arrived in the spring or summer of 1820. Moses Broadwell was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1764. He was fourth generation of Broadwells in America, as the Broadwell family was originally from England. Moses was orphaned at the age of ten. He served in the Revolutionary War in the Third New Jersey Infantry Regiment, he then married his second cousin Jane and moved to Ohio in 1800, near the present site of Cincinnati.

Moses gained substantial wealth while in Ohio as a land speculator. In 1819 the Broadwells began their trek westward, taking a keel boat from Cincinnati to St. Louis.

Keel Boat

When Moses and the remainder of the family followed John up the Illinois River, they traveled on the first steam boat to go up the Illinois River. The first four years that they resided along the Richland Creek in Illinois they were squatters. In 1824 the first land sales took place and Moses bought nearly 3,000 acres of land.

That same year, the Broadwell family began constructing two brick homes, one of which still stands today and is known as the Broadwell Inn. The other Moses built as his mansion house, that home apparently burned at some point unknown and was torn down completely by the B & O Railroad when they brought the railroad through the area.

Moses passed away in 1827 and was buried on the family property near today’s Broadwell Inn. His remains were moved to Oakridge Cemetery in 1862, where he is the only Revolutionary War veteran buried in that cemetery.

The Broadwell family was energetic and business minded. The Broadwell Inn, built in 1824, served as a stagecoach stop and public house until 1847 when John Broadwell sold the property. During those years, they catered to stagecoach passengers, freight caravans, freight carriers, cattle drovers, circuit riders of the legal profession, such as Abraham Lincoln, and many others. They also owned and operated a tannery, wood mills, and established the town of Sangamo Town.

Sangamo Town was designed by Moses Broadwell with the intent of making it the county seat of Sangamon County. He designed it with over 80 lots for residential, mechanical, and governmental sites. The story goes that the delegation sent by the governor of Illinois to Sangamon County to determine the location for the county seat was taken on a rather out of the way swampy ride to make it appear that Sangamo Town was nearly unapproachable. Consequently, Springfield won the county seat and Sangamo Town began a downward spiral to oblivion.

One interesting aside about Sangamo Town is that a very young Abraham Lincoln boarded with Charles Broadwell at Sangamo Town while building the raft that carried him first to New Salem then to New Orleans.

As the Broadwells were prominent members of the Whig political party, Clayville hosted a grand Fourth of July celebration in 1842 to mark the birthday of the Republic.  A grand day of speeches, music and general celebration saw many prominent local persons walking or riding from Springfield and surrounding towns, including a rising younf local Whg politician and lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. 

While there is no certain proof of other visits by the fuure President Lincoln to the Broadwell Inn, it seems almost certain that he would have visited often as he traveled the road to Virginia, Beardstown and beyond many times on the judicial circuit. Moreover he was John Broadwell’s attorney, representing him and other family members in at least four cases.

Sometime in the early 1930’s, a Dr. Fink acquired the property and shortly thereafter the Broadwell Inn was listed on The Historic American Buildings Registry.

About 1961 Dr. Emmett and Mary Pearson purchased the property from the family of Dr. Fink and began a restoration process. Two log cabins, two large barns, a blacksmith barn, and other outbuildings were acquired and moved to the site over the next few years. In 1972, the Pearsons donated the site to the Sangamon State University Foundation; the university operated the site until 1992 as the Clayville Rural Life Center.

In 1992 the site was sold into private ownership and over the next several years deteriorated to a point that in 2007 it was declared one of the ten most endangered historic sites in the State of Illinois.

In 2009, headed by Jim Verkuilen, The Pleasant Plains Historical Society was formed with the purpose of purchasing and saving The Clayville Historic Site, in May of 2010 the purchase of the site was finalized.

In 2012, Landmarks Illinois, the organization that in 2007 had declared the site to be one of the most ten endangered sites in Illinois, awarded The Pleasant Plains Historical Society it’s advocacy award for saving the site.