The Rennels Cabin and the Sargent Brothers


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By the 1920s, the Hutton Township log cabin home of the Coles County pioneer settlers James (1807-1883) and Polly (1807-1885) Rennels, had been abandoned and had fallen into disrepair.  The then owner, Joel Jackson Rennels (1851-1936), who had been born in the home, agreed to donate the 1830’s structure to the Sally Lincoln Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.).  The cabin, located about two miles east of the Five Mile House on the Westfield Road, was to be dismantled and reconstructed in Charleston’s Chautauqua Park (Morton Park).  In 1926, Samuel Stephen Sargent (1892-1957), a neighbor to Rennels and an amateur historian of Hutton Township, led the project.  Prior to the undertaking, Sargent photographed the cabin (Fig 1.). 


A painting of the Rennels cabin by the well-known Coles County artist Paul Turner Sargent (1880-1946), a brother of Samuel Stephen Sargent, has come to light (Fig. 2.).  Though the painting is dated to 1928, by which time the cabin was standing in Charleston, it is of the cabin as it looked on its original site and in its pre-restoration state.  (Note that both the photograph and the painting share many common features, such as the damaged left front corner of the chimney and the loose siding boards below the gable window.)  It appears that the artist used one of his sibling’s photographs as the source for the scene. 


The reconstituted Rennels home stood at the northwest corner of 2nd Street and Lincoln Avenue for 36 years, serving as the local D.A.R. headquarters until the early 1950s (Fig. 3.).  Over the next decade, the venerable and vulnerable Coles County landmark fell into disrepair. Its fate was sealed for the want of an estimated $3,000 in refurbishing funds, and the wooden structure was demolished in 1962.  All that presently remains of the cabin at Morton Park are the cut stone double-fireplace and chimney, incongruously attached to a pole barn picnic pavilion (Fig. 4.). 


At-the-least, one can be thankful that the Sargent brothers have handed-down a visual record, in film and paint, of the Rennels log cabin that first graced the Coles County countryside and then the city of Charleston.



Please click the images to enlarge them.


painting, Sargent, James Rennels Home, c. 1836, photo in situ.jpg (101195 bytes)

Fig. 1.  The Rennels homestead as it stood on its original site in Hutton Township, Coles County, c. 1925.  Several such photographs of the cabin were taken by Samuel Stephen Sargent.



painting, Sargent, James Rennels Log Cabin, 1928.jpg (126340 bytes)

 Fig. 2.  Paul Turner Sargent painting, The Rennels Log Cabin, dated 1928.  Personal collection of the author. 



painting, Sargent, James Rennels Home, c. 1836, photo at Morton Park, 1927.jpg (204149 bytes)

Fig. 3.  The Rennels home restoration at Chautauqua Park (now Morton Park), Charleston, Illinois, c. 1926.  Photo by Samuel Stephen Sargent.



 painting, Sargent, James Rennels Home, c. 1836, fireplace, Sept 05.jpg (75179 bytes)

Fig. 4.  The Rennels cabin fireplace and chimney, Morton Park, September 2006.  Photo by the author.




David Kent Coy, the webmaster of the Rennels family website, has provided the primary resources used in the research of this article and the permission to reproduce the two  Samuel Stephen Sargent photographs.