The Little Giant's Stay in Jacksonville: Stephen Douglas and Heslep Tavern
Backstory and Context
Lying beneath a Gothic-style sandstone marker in Jacksonville East Cemetery is Thomas Heslep, who once lived with one of American history’s great statesmen.
The gravestone is significant because it is one of the last physical reminders of a family that played an important role in early Jacksonville history.
Thomas and Cassandra Nichols Heslep, along with their 10 children, arrived in Jacksonville in 1833, the same year a cholera outbreak killed 55 local residents and drove scores of people from the community.
Tradition has it that during the cholera epidemic, Heslep brewed a mixture of herbs to ward off the disease and compelled everyone in his house to drink it daily.
The Heslep family built a two-story, 10-room frame house on West State Street, three blocks west of the public square. The Heslep dwelling was quite large and sophisticated for Jacksonville at the time; most homes were one- or two-room log cabins. Builders of the Heslep home used the best materials available. Hand-hewn white oak was used for framing, with the exception of walnut attic sills, put together with oak pins. Carpenters also used six-inch-wide white pine boards for flooring.
But the most notable architectural feature of the house was the ornate cast-iron grillwork around the front and east-side porches. The intricate castings were produced at either the Heslep foundry in Pittsburgh, Pa., or at Aaron Hammond’s foundry, which was located on South Main Street where LaCrosse Lumber Co. once stood.
On the back of the Hesleps’ property, Thomas Heslep had his cabinet shop, where he supposedly made some of the family’s furniture.
“Shortly after coming here, the father (Thomas) was disabled by rheumatism,” wrote Fidelia Abbott in 1944. “Then Cassandra, a woman of strong character with the ability to make provident decisions, resolved on keeping a boarding house in order to care for her family.
This inn, which was the first good hotel in Jacksonville, came to be known as the Heslep Tavern.”
Also, Heslep family tradition claims that Martin Van Buren, U.S. president from 1837 to 1841, had tea at the tavern one June afternoon in 1842.
Thomas Heslep died in either 1834 or 1835. His widow, Cassandra, continued to operate the tavern for many years before selling the house. The property had many different owners between the late 1850s, when the Hesleps sold it, and 1908, when it was bought by Dr. Harry L. Griswold, a dentist, and Dr. Tully O. Hardesty, a physician. The two men maintained offices on the first floor of the building for several decades.
The old Heslep Tavern was torn down in the fall of 1961, about 18 months after Griswold drilled his last patient’s teeth there. Some relics from the old building, including most of the intricate ironwork, were purchased by descendants of the Heslep family. And during the building’s last few years, many of Douglas’ great-grandchildren visited the old Heslep Tavern to see where their illustrious ancestor had once lived.
Today, a parking lot is on the site of the old tavern, just west of the former Gillham-Buchanan Funeral Home.
Olson, Greg, This Way We Were story was first published Feb. 2, 2004.
East Cemetery, Jacksonville, Il
Mt. Vernon Register-News i Location: Mt Vernon, Illinois Issue Date: Monday, November 6, 1961 Page: Page 2
Map of Jacksonville, Morgan, Co. Ill 1854, Hart and Mapother, Civil Engineers, New York, (located at Jacksonville Public Library)) )
This Way We Were story was first published Feb. 2, 2004. Local inn catered to Stephen A. Douglas Last updated: November 10. 2014 7:30PM - 563 Views By Greg Olson - email@example.com