Reprinted from Friends of the Cache Jan/Feb 2016 Newsletter. To find out more about the Friends, visit www.friendsofthecache.org
Belknap, in southern Johnson County, was originally called Morgan’s Mill. Laid out along the route of the Vincennes and Cairo Railroad in 1873, the town may have been named after William Belknap, Secretary of War under President Ulysses S. Grant. But, a more colorful legend involves sawmill owner George Morgan, who often sold logs to James Bell, floating them down the Cache River to the Bell Lumber Company near Ullin. Whenever the waters of the Cache were too low to float logs, Morgan would start up his mill and do sawing of his own. These slack periods for the Ullin mill became known as “Bell’s naps.”
By 1900, Belknap had become one of the county’s busiest industrial centers, with a population of 800. Farmers from miles around brought their grain to the flour mill built in 1877. The town’s heyday ended when the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad bypassed Belknap and was routed through nearby Forman in 1910.
Today, Belknap is the home to the headquarters of the Cache River State Natural Area. The little town is bordered on its north by the Cache’s crown jewel, the Heron Pond Nature Preserve. It is also a key stop along the Tunnel Hill State Trail, which stretches for 45 miles from Harrisburg to Karnak.