Johnson County kicked off its Bicentennial weekend with the lowering of the current U.S. flag and the raising of a period piece 15-star flag at its courthouse in Vienna on Friday.
Before the flag was lowered, “John Bradshaw” read a statement from the governor of the Territory of Illinois proclaiming Johnson County.
The weekend’s events were held largely at Vienna City Park with reenactors setting up camp as members of the 17th Illinois Territorial Rangers. The camp offered visitors a glimpse of what life was like in the frontier during the period in which the Rangers took part in the War of 1812.
“When you’re out here and away from such things as cell phones and television, the world kind of narrows and history comes alive,” said Herrin High School history teacher Shawn Banks, who had a canvas tent set up with a cot, chair, mess kit and period piece odds-and-ends on display.
The reenactors camped in the park over the weekend and conducted inspections of troops, drills and provided presentations to visitors on the War of 1812. Open fire cooking of stew and deer ham simmered and smoked while rope and tool-making demonstrations gave visitors a chance to participate with the re-enactors.
“At the time Johnson County was not yet Johnson County, it was Randolph County,” said present-day Johnson County Circuit Clerk Neal Watkins who played the role of John Bradshaw, a landowner in 1812 appointed by the territory governor as the first justice of Johnson County.
Watkins and Johnson County Deputy Circuit Clerk Ryan O’Neal lowered the U.S. flag on Friday and replaced it with the 15-star period-piece flag presented to them by Ed Annable, Johnson County Genealogical and Historical Society president. Annable dressed in period-style clothing as did Watkins and O’Neal and played the role of a messenger presenting the Governor’s proclamation to “Bradshaw.”
Vienna Grade School fifth and sixth graders were at the courthouse on Friday to watch the flag ceremony and Annable said he hopes the children learn a little bit about Johnson County’s beginnings.
“I hope it stirred their imaginations and got them excited about the fact that we also have a rich, local history here,” said Annable. “There were pioneers that came into this part of the county not just on their way West, but to settle it.”
The students took note of the period-piece clothing, equipment and rifle Annable wore and had questions on each item for him. The 15-star flag remained flying for the weekend and was brought down in another small ceremony Sunday to round out the Bicentennial event.
“The weekend events will help bring attention to the county as we continue to celebrate our 200th-year anniversary,” said Watkins. “The very fact that Johnson County became a county in 1812, six years before Illinois became a state, gives us a little bit of bragging rights down here in the far south end of Illinois.”