Bond County Historical Society

Preserving the history of Bond County, Illinois and its communities

History of the Bond County Historical Society

John Henry Nowlan: Bond County Historical Society Founder (1867 - 1959)

John H. Nowlan

The Bond County Historical Society was organized in 1955 as a result of the efforts of John H. Nowlan. For over half a century Mr. Nowlan, a teacher and surveyor, collected information on the history of the county and wrote letters tracking down former residents across the United States. In the 1940s and early 1950s he wrote regular articles for the Greenville Advocate and became known as an unofficial historian of the area. He also began informal meetings with a small group of people to discuss the county's history. Mr. Nowlan soon put out an appeal for the creation of a historical society, and interest quickly grew.

On October 11, 1955 the Bond County Historical Society was formed with 111 charter members and John Nowlan as President and Historian. Other officers elected at the first meeting included Mrs. Charles J. Dawdy, First Vice President; Ms. Evelyne McCracken, Second Vice President; Mrs. Cornelia Davis, Secretary; and C. Douglas Hoiles, Treasurer. A constitution and bylaws were adopted and regular meetings scheduled.

1950s era Membership Card

1950s era Membership Card

Because many artifacts were being donated to the society, a temporary museum was established in an upper room of the Bond County Courthouse in Greenville. Mr. and Mrs. Carl Gobberdiel were the first curators of this small museum. They also restored a rosewood piano donated by Greenville College that was once owned by Almira Blanchard Morse. This piano is known to have been shipped by boat from Boston to St. Louis in 1840 and is believed to be the first piano in Bond County.

Log Cabin from the 1830s rebuilt by the Historical Society

Log Cabin from the 1830s rebuilt by the Historical Society

The early 1960s saw the young society take on its first major project. During the demolishing of an old home in Greenville, a log structure was discovered within. Believing that the log home dated to the 1830s, the Historical Society took on the task of moving the original timbers and rebuilding them at the City Park. After a few years of members donating labor and materials, the historic log home was opened to the public in 1962. Unfortunately, by the 1970s years of weathering finally took their toll on the aged logs and the cabin became unusable and was later taken down.

By the 1970s the society had also outgrown its museum space at the courthouse. Through the efforts of Mrs. Susan Hoiles and Mrs. Pauline Watson, the society was loaned space in the basement of the Greenville Public Library. On March 11, 1973 a grand opening was held for the new museum in the room under the library's rotunda. For the next several years items in the collection were organized, labeled, and displayed in the room and opened free to the public on Sunday afternoons.

BCHS Museum in the Greenville Public Library between 1973-1992

The Bond County Historical Society Museum in the Greenville Public Library between 1973-1992

In 1979 the society published Bond County Illinois History, their first large book detailing the history of the county with pictures and submitted family histories. In 1981 some of the members of the Historical Society helped form the Bond County Genealogical Society in order to help restore the county's cemeteries and record family histories. The Historical and Genealogical Societies continue to work together on projects to this day, and both have many members in common.

In the fall of 1992 the Greenville Public Library board decided to expand their children's library into the space used for the museum. In January 1993 a public meeting was held to determine the fate of the society's collection. Charter members Douglas and Susan Hoiles, and Cornelia Davis pledged large donations to the society to purchase its own home.

In the summer of 1998, a museum committee began negotiating the purchase of a house at 318 West Winter St. in Greenville owned by the family of the late Byrl and Katherine Alexander. This historic home was originally built in the 1870 and owned by Isaac Norman. The Kingsbury Park District provided a small tax levy to support the operation of the facility, and the house was bought in August 1998. In December 1999 the new home of the Bond County Historical Society formally opened and was named the Hoiles-Davis Museum in honor of these two families' generous contributions.

Hoiles-Davis Museum

Hoiles-Davis Museum

Since the opening of the Hoiles-Davis Museum, the Bond County Historical Society has worked to obtain and preserve items important to the history of the county and its communities. The society also began sponsoring a Quilt Show as part of Bond County Heritage Day in Downtown Greenville in the Spring. A vintage "Events On The Square" promotional card from 1997 promised the 5th Annual Heritage Day would be filled with Trolley Car Tours, Historic Walking Tours, Fife & Drum Corps, Kettle Corn, Re-Enactment Groups, and Period Demonstrations. In 2006, Heritage Day could boast 12 different activities at 7 locations across town, including a quite popular Antique Appraisals & Flea Market. Though Heritage Days as a whole has discontinued, the Quilt Show has become and remains a major event and draws hundreds of people each year.

In 2003 the society published its popular book Images of America, Greenville and Bond County, containing hundreds of vintage pictures. In 2005 the short-lived newsletter Historically Yours was started and sent to members. In 2006 the society went online with its website, www.bondcountyhistorical.org, as a way to inform the public on the history of Bond County and the society's events. Since January 2013, Bond County Genealogical Society has been meeting jointly with the Bond County Historical Society for program meetings. And since January 2014, members of the Historical Society have shared online readership with Genealogical Society members to the re-launched Genealogical Society's semi-annual e-Newsletter (formerly the postal mailed 'News Quarterly' publication). These activities, and more, continue to be the mission of the Bond County Historical Society as it continues into its second 60 years.

Celebrating 60 years of Bond County Historical Society: 1955-2015

Celebrating 60 years of Bond County Historical Society: 1955-2015

Past Presidents of the
Bond County Historical Society
John H. Nowlan, 1955-1957;   Evelyne McCracken, 1957-1973;   Cornelia Davis, 1973-1985;
Tom Shea, 1986-1990;   Mary Jane Sandifer, 1990-1992;   Kevin J. Kaegy, 1993-2001;
John E. Goldsmith, 2001-2003 & 2004-2005;   Donna Thacker, 2003-2004;
Don Jordahl, 2004;   John S. Coleman, 2005-2008;   Sharon Grimes, 2008-2012;
Lester R. Harnetiaux, 2012-2015;   Kevin J. Kaegy, 2015-present