Hancock County Courthouse History
Oquawka's Courthouse is one of the oldest and continued to be used courthouses in the state.

Other Sites to See in Henderson.

Norma Jean "The Visiting Circus Star"

Died 1972 - Oquawka, Illinois

Norma Jean was a 6,500-pound elephant and the star attraction of the Clark and Walters Circus.
That ended abruptly on the morning of July 17, 1972, when she was struck and killed by a bolt of lightning. Her trainer, "Possum Red," was knocked 30 feet by the blast. With no elephant, the Circus went out of business a year later. Norma Jean was buried where she fell -- which, conveniently, was in Oquawka's town square. Oquawka filled in the pit and walked away, apparently hoping that everyone would forget that Norma Jean had ever existed. Not so fast, said Wade Meloan, a local druggist. He raised enough money to commission a twelve-foot-tall limestone tombstone for Norma Jean, and he raised the consciousness of the town enough to let him erect it in the square. Today, signs pointing towards "Elephant Killed By Lightning" direct dumbstruck tourists to Norma Jean's grave from all points in Oquawka. A collection of Norma Jean memorabilia is displayed in a glass case, and a small concrete elephant is perched atop the tombstone. A plaque on it reads: "This memorial is dedicated in memory of an elephant named Norma Jean, who was killed by lightning at this location, and lies buried here." Explained Wade: "I just didn't think that ending seemed proper for someone who had been a circus star." Norma Jean is celebrated each August by a festival in Oquawka that includes an elephant walk, white elephant sale and a bake sale featuring "elephant ears."

The Phelps House

The Phelps House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the New England style of architecture. The two story frame house was erected in 1832-33 on a high point along the Mississippi River for Alexis Phelps in Oquawka. Alexis and his brother, Sumner, who came to be successful business men, were long standing friends of both Lincoln and Douglas. The Phelps House has been completely refurbished and is available for luncheons and receptions by appointment at (309) 768-2403 or (309) 627-2069. Alexis Phelps was born in Palmyra, New York in 1800. He cam to Illinois in 1820 settling first near present day Springfield and later at Lewistown. In 1827 he moved to the Galena Area where he became engaged in mining and smelting lead. He moved to Lower Yellowbanks (Oquawka) in 1830 where with his brother Stephen Sumner Phelps they formed the fir of "A & SS Phelps." They engaged in an extensive fur trade with the Sac and Fox Indians and were good friends of Chiefs Tama, Keokuk, and Blackhawk. Their brother William established trading stations on the Des Moines River where Farmington and Ottumwa Iowa not stand. William was the husband of Carolina Phelps who wrote a diary of her experiences in the wilderness. Alexis Phelps married Cornelia Day in 1833 and built this house for their home. It was the first frame house in this part of Illinois. The siding is made from black walnut as were the original shingles. In 1842 Alexis contracted to build the Henderson County Courthouse for $1219.00. This courthouse is presently the second oldest courthouse in Illinois still in use. Stephen A. Douglas presided at the first session of Henderson County Circuit Court in 1841, and returned many times thereafter. While holding court he was often a guest in this home and is reported to have slept in the south-east upstairs bedroom. Alexis Phelps died December 11, 1846 of a "Congestive Chill" following a trading trip to the Indians in Iowa. It has been reported that Abraham Lincoln sat with the family at his funeral. Alexis was a member of the Oquawka Presbyterian Church and that church's bell was rung for the first time at his funeral. The church and it's bell are still in use although it is now the Oquawka Methodist Church.