The History of
Crawford and Clark County
W. H. Perrin, O. L. Baskin & Co., 1883
DOUGLAS TOWNSHIP-GEOGRAPHICAL POSITION-SETTLEMENT BY THE WHITES-IMPROVEMENTS–DISTILLERIES,
MILLS AND ROADS–SCHOOLS, SCHOOL HOUSES, CHURCHES, ETC.—VILLAGE OF CASTLE FINN.
In writing the history of even so small a part of the earth's surface as is contained in a single township it becomes evident that nothing like absolute justice and impartiality can be attained. No history absolutely correct in all its details was ever written. To give just the right amount of importance and space to each individual and interest would manifestly be impossible. It might be a curiosity to see a book wherein each person was allowed to dictate or write up his own consequence, and that of his family; such a production would give a very incorrect idea of individuals and their affairs. Some would be swelled out of all proportion as to their real merit or standing in the community, while others, through innate modesty, would only occupy a few lines, if they allowed them selves to appear at all. It will be readily seen therefore, that the historian's task is one beset with many difficulties, but it is hoped that the following pages may contain a brief synopsis of history free from any serious error.
Douglas is known as town 12 north, range 12 west, and was formerly included within the limits of Marshall Township from which it was separated and organized into a distinct division. It is a fractional township com posed of eighteen square miles of territory lying in the northern part of the county, and is bounded on the east, south and west by the townships of Wabash, Marshall and Dolson respectively, and on the north by Edgar County. The greater part of the surface is rolling and broken, though quite an extensive tract in the southwest corner is comparatively level and was originally known as the “barrens.” This part at one time was wet and swampy and covered with a growth of willows, and small jack oak, and for many years was looked upon by the settlers as being totally unfit for agricultural purposes. A class of thrifty Germans, attracted by the fertile quality of the soil, settled in this part of the town ship in an early day, and after several years hard work ditching, and clearing away the thick scrubby growth, succeeded in bringing quite a large tract into cultivation. It is at the present time looked upon as the most valuable farm land in the township, and possesses a deep rich soil, well adapted to all the crops raised in this part of the country. The soil in the more broken portions, though largely clay, contains sufficient alluvium to insure remunerative crops of all kinds. In the depressed portions among the hills and along the water-courses, the earth is thoroughly mingled with decaying vegetable matter, a portion of which has been washed in by past inundations. This land is very easily tilled and produces abundant crops of wheat, corn, rye, oats, barley, grass etc., etc.
The township is watered and drained by Big Creek and its tributaries. Big Creek crosses the northern boundary in section 22, flows through sections 27 and 34, and leaves the township from section 35. The portion of country through which this stream passes is very broken and was originally covered with a heavy forest growth of oak, beech, maple, wa nut and a number of other varieties, and was known among the early settlers as the wet woods. Parris Branch flows in a southerly direction through the eastern part of the township and empties into Big Creek about a half mile south of the southern boundary. Rocks Branch, a small stream, meanders through the northwestern portion of the township, and furnishes ample drainage to that section. Douglas was not settled as early as some of the neighboring townships, at least by those who entered land. A number of squatter families located along Big Creek and the neighboring streams, but the exact date of their first appearance can not be ascertained with any degree of certainty. It is well known, however, that when the first permanent settlers came into the country as early as 1822, there were living in various parts of the township, a number of these transient residents, several of whom had made some improvements. It was not customary for these squatters to concern themselves very much about clearing or cultivating the soil. A small garden spot wherein their half-clad wives and children could raise a few potatoes and other vegetables was the extent of their farming. Wild meat furnished their chief means of subsistence, and was easily procured, as game of all kinds was at that time very plenty. They lived in the rudest of cabins, and in the most primitive fashion. They apparently copied the manners and customs of the Indians and many of them existed in about the same miserable plight. The names of these early hunters were not learned as they abandoned their cabins and moved further west soon after the first permanent settlers began improving the country.
The first entries of land in Douglas were made in the year 1822 by J. Blaze and S. Sharp, on section 36, though neither of them ever occupied their lands as residents. Joel Tucker made an entry in section 19 the latter part of the same year but it is not positively known whether he ever resided in the township or not. In 1823 James Cox entered land in the southwest corner of the township in section 36. Of him but little is known save that he improved a farm which he sold soon after and moved from the country. David Van Winkel who had been in Fort Lamotte in Crawford County, came to the town ship in the year 1824 and entered the west half of section 36, but did not improve the land. Adam Shrader, a resident of Edgar County, entered a portion of section 25 the same year but was never identified with the town ship in the capacity of a citizen. In the spring of 1828 Elisha Minn settled the west half of the southwest quarter of section 25, and in the same year a man by name of Solomon located on Big Creek near the southern limit of the township where he entered land in section 4. Solomon was a native of Eng land, and came to America in company with several other immigrant families all of whom located in different parts of the West. He was a man of considerable enterprise and ac quired a valuable tract of land during the period of his residence in the township. His death occurred a number of years ago. David Reynolds came to the county in the year 1828, and entered the west half of section 34, which he improved, and where he still lives, the oldest resident in the township, and one of its leading and most public spirited citizens. He came to Illinois from Tennessee, and during the period of his long residence in Douglas has been prominently identified with all movements calculated to advance its material prosperity. An early settler in the northern part of the township was Jacob Groves who made his appearance about the year 1828. He improved a farm near the northern boundary, on Big Creek, which he sold to Austin Griffin in 1833 and moved to the adjoining township of Wabash. In the year 1831 the following persons entered land in Douglas: Abner Cooper, section 35, Abraham Walters, section 25, Samuel McClure, section 25, and Jesse Every, section 35. McClure moved to this part of the State from Lawrence County, in company with his father, Andrew McClure, whose death occurred one year after their arrival Samuel McClure was a man of more than ordinary intelligence and enterprise, and at the first election held in the precinct of which Douglas at that time formed a part, was chosen justice of the peace. He was subsequently called to the offices of county com missioner, county treasurer and sheriff, in all of which he served the people in a very satisfactory manner. He resided in the township until about ten years ago, when he disposed of his possessions and moved to Iowa. In the latter State he became extensively engaged in baling and shipping hay, and it was while operating one of his presses that he met a violent death by being caught and drawn into the machinery.
During the year 1832 the following ac cessions were made to the population of the community: Robert Ashmore, William Forsythe, Greenwood Davis, Samuel Galbraith, Elisha Hurst, William Lycan, and a man by the name of Francis. Ashmore and Forsythe were Kentuckians. They settled in the eastern part of the township, the former on section 35, and the latter a short distance north on section 25. They made extensive improvements, and became prominent farmers, but did not always live on the most friendly terms, as the following will go to prove: Forsythe, it appears, lost a very valuable calf, which he accused Ashmore of stealing, whereupon the latter sued him for slander. This so enraged Forsythe, who was rival a very passionate man, that he declared he would kill Ashmore unless the suit was with drawn before court convened, and sent the latter word to that effect. To this threat Ashmore paid no attention, but, on the contrary, made every preparation to prosecute the case against his enemy. While in the act of saddling his horse, preparatory to starting to Robinson, the morning court was to meet, Ashmore was shot from behind with a heavy load of slugs and almost instantly killed. Forsythe was at once arrested for the crime, and his guilt clearly established in the trial that followed. The verdict of the jury was murder in the first degree and he was sentenced to be hanged. The sentence was afterward commuted by the Governor, to imprisonment for life. While in the penitentiary he became afflicted with a very loathsome cancer which ate away the greater part of his face, and his condition became so pitiable, that a petition was afterward circulated in his behalf. This had the desired effect, and the wretched man was released, after an incarceration of eight years, only to die the same year he obtained his liberty. The murder and trial occurred about the year 1853. Samuel Galbraith was a native of Tennessee. He settled in the southeastern part of the township and was one of the substantial citizens of his community. Elisha Hurst immigrated to Illinois from Kentucky and settled in the southern part of Edgar County a couple of miles north of the Douglas line. From the latter place he moved to this township in the spring of 1832, and located in the eastern part, where he pur chased forty-eight acres of land at sheriff’s sale. He lived on this place for four years when he sold the farm and moved into Dolson Township where he died a number of years ago. Nicholas Hurst, son of the foregoing, came with his father to the township and entered land in section 13 a few years later. He was a resident of Douglas until 1856 when he moved to Auburn Township, in the formation of which he was the chief actor. He has been a prominent politician and has served the people of the county in several positions of trust. He is at present known by the high sounding title of “Emperor of Mount Auburn’ an honor he wears with be coming dignity. William Lycan immigrated from Kentucky and located near the central part of the township where he improved a farm and built a steam mill which he operated for a number of years. This mill was one of the earliest steam mills in the northern part of the county, and was extensively patronized during the time it was in operation. It burned down a number of years ago and has never been rebuilt. In the year 1833 Eli Kitchen entered land near the central part of the township. He was a local preacher of the Methodist church, and did much to introduce Christianity into the new community. He died about thirty years ago. The land on which he settled is at the present time owned and occupied by William Thompson. A brother-in-law of Kitchen by name of Gibbons came to the township the same year and settled in the same locality. After 1832 the settlers came in more rapidly, and by 1837 the township was quite well populated. Among those who came in between these two years, and obtained the patents of their land from the Government, were the following: Lyman Squires, J. H. Walters, James Elledge, Robert Craig, Stephen Lee, Merrick Porter, George Hamilton, Richard Grace, Joseph Burnett, Thomas Davis, Rich ard Wood, John Lycan, Joseph Clapp, Silas Dunham, George Clapp, Nicholas Hundly, John Travis, Samuel Handly, Richard Morris, Margaret Davis, Samuel Wheeler and Joseph Grisham. The names of many other early settlers have, unfortunately, been forgotten. From the year 1838 until 1845 the tide of immigration into the township was very great, the settlers during that period being largely Germans. These settlers located chiefly in the southwestern part of the township, and by their industry soon transformed the “barrens” of that section from a quagmire into one of the most fertile farming districts in that region of the country.
The rapid settlement of the township be tween the years mentioned led to the imme diate erection of mills and other mechanical industries. Samuel Hanna built a mill on Big Creek near the Edgar County line in the year 1831. It was a water mill, and rather a rude affair, but was the outgrowth of the home demand. Notwithstanding the presence of other mills in the neighboring townships, the demand for one in this vicinity resulted The mill produced a very fair article of flour and meal and was sufficiently well patronized to warrant its continuance for many years.
It passed into the hands of different parties, and was afterward improved and operated by Thomas Dixon and a man by name of Ramey who were the last owners. It fell into disuse a number of years ago and in time disappeared altogether. Another mill was erected on the Barn Fork of Big Creek a few years later by the Porter brothers. This was a combination mill, and received the power by which it was operated from the creek. It was extensively patronized, and for many years did a good business, both in sawing lum ber and grinding. It disappeared many years ago, and at the present time no vestige remains to mark the spot where it formerly stood. A man by name of Francis settled in the north eastern part of the township in the year 1832 and soon afterward commenced the erection of a still house on the East Fork of Big Creek. The building was frame, about twenty by thirty feet and a story and a half in height. This enterprise proved a great benefit to the settlers in the vicinity by bringing a market for their grain into their midst. As corn at that day was very cheap, many of the farmers exchanged their grain for whisky which could be sold at any time for eighteen and twenty-five cents per gallon.
John Lycan subsequently purchased the still and operated it successfully for a number of years. He afterward built a mill which he run in connection with the distillery until about the year 1847, at which time both enterprises were abandoned.
One of the earliest mills in the northern part of the county stood on the West Fork of Big Creek, and was erected by James Kid well, an early settler who came into the county in the summer of 1831. It was first started as a saw-mill and commenced operating in the year 1832. A set of buhrs was attached the latter part of the same year, which proved a successful venture. The mill did a very good business and was the source of considerable revenue to the proprietor during the time it was in operation. The mill was bought, about the year 1835, by Messrs. Rowley and Davidson, of Marshall, who run it for a short time, when they tore away the building and erected in its place an extensive distillery. This was a frame building two stories high and covered a space of ground about thirty by forty feet. The enterprise proved a success and was operated by Rowley and Davidson until the year 1848, when it fell into disuse, and was abandoned about one year later. A part of the old building is still standing and serves the purpose of a stable. A certain aspect of respectability was con ceded the distiller in early years. Whisky was a very common beverage, and was to be seen on every sideboard, and the custom of dram drinking was universal. The distilleries mentioned had a large custom trade, though it is not remembered whether their products were shipped away or not. The old settlers speak in high terms of this whisky, and say “it was no such stuff as we get now a days.” They also state that drunkenness was not so prevalent then as it is at the present day, although at log-rollings, raisings and other gatherings immense quantities of liquor were consumed. A man by name of Smith settled near the Davidson distillery about one year after its erection and built a blacksmith shop. This was the first shop in the township, and was operated for about eight years.
The early settlers of Douglass experienced great difficulties in traveling from place to place owing to the absence of roads. The first legally established highway was surveyed through the eastern part of the township some time prior to 1844 , and was known as the Marshall and Paris road. It passes through the township from north to south, and is still extensively traveled. The Chicago road passes through the township near the eastern boundary. It was laid out as early as 1845, and at the present time is the principal thoroughfare in the township. The Grandview road was established in an early day, and was at one time the leading highway in the northern part of the county. In the meantime the settlers cut roads in all directions to facilitate travel, and in the course of fifteen years the township was well supplied with highways. The roads of the township at the present time, while not so good as those in some other parts of the county, are well improved and kept in fair traveling condition during the greater part of the year.
The early educational history of Douglass is involved in considerable obscurity, and it is not definitely known when or by whom the first term was taught. It is believed by many that James Miller was the first pedagogue, and that he taught school in a little log house that stood on the Kitchen farm as early as the year 1836. This school was attended by about twenty pupils, several of whom only reached the school-house by a walk of over A second building for school purposes was erected a few years later and stood on the farm of Samuel McClure. It was known as the McClure school-house and was in use for many years. One of the first schools in the township was taught in a little log dwelling which belonged to David Reynolds. The name of the first teacher in this house and the date of the first term have un fortunately been forgotten. Among the early teachers were Lyman C. Squires and Samuel McClure, both of whom were considered efficient instructors at that time, but would hardly come up to the standard required of the profession at the present day. School-houses were erected in various parts of the township as the convenience of the growing population demanded, and at the present time the ad vantages of a liberal education are within the easy reach of all. The schools are well sup ported, and teachers receive fair salaries. During the school year of 1881 and 1882 there was paid for tuition in this township the sum of $1,035.
The religious history of Douglass dates from the year of the township's first settlement. Many of the pioneers had been active members of different churches in the States from whence they came and did not neglect their religious duties upon their arrival in the new country. Meetings were at first held at private houses and groves, and were generally conducted by traveling preachers of the Methodist church. Among these early pioneers three miles. of the cross was Rev. James McCord, a man widely known among the settlements through out the northern and eastern parts of the county. He was a great revivalist and, though a very illiterate man, did much for the cause of Christianity among the sparsely settled neighborhoods of Douglass. Eli Kitchen, to whom reference has already been made, was among the first preachers of the township, and conducted religious services at his residence for several years. At the present time there are two churches in the township, the Baptists near the village of Castle Finn and the Methodists in the northern part. Both organizations have good houses of worship and are well attended. A Union meeting house free for all denominations was erected a few years since north of Castle Finn. It is a frame building and represents a value of about $1,200.
The little hamlet of Castle Finn, the only village in the township is situated on the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of section 27. It was surveyed by James Lawrence, for Robert Wilson, proprietor, on the 17th and 18th days of May, 1848, when the lots were at once put upon the market. The name of the village was given it by the proprietor in honor of a small town in Ire land near the birth-place of Mr. Wilson. The absence of any inducements prevented business men from locating in the village and as a consequence its growth has been rather slow. At the present time it can boast of a store, shoe shop and a blacksmith shop.
Transcribed by Barbara Z.
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