Afton is yet a stripling in our family of towns. Its brief existence has been so little chequered with incident that it can hardly be said to have a history. It is one of those towns that, being far removed from natural groves, and rich only in a soil of unsurpassed fertility, were considered by the early settlers undesirable for farming purposes, and consequently remained unsettled.
The emigrants from the heavily wooded Eastern States, accustomed to eight-rail Virginia fences, huge wood fires, and an abundance of timber for building, could not at first believe that farming could be carried on successfully without large tracts of woodland in the immediate vicinity of their cultivated fields; but they have discovered their mistake. No farms in the County are more profitable than those in Afton, and towns of like character, ten, fifteen, or twenty miles removed from woodland.
Afton is one unbroken prairie, very undulating in its surface, with an abundance of gravelly knolls, and with some ledges of stone, which, however, have not yet been worked. It has one handsome stream. The head waters of the Little Rock Creek, a fine stream of pure water, burst from the ground on Section Fourteen, and run southeastwardly through Squaw Grove.
This stream suggested the pleasing name adopted for the town. Mr. John A. Hayden, one of its first settlers, was a great admirer of the song, "Flow gently, sweet Afton," and while at work breaking up and preparing to cultivate his farm, he was continually singing it. He insisted upon calling the stream "Sweet Afton," and this suggested the musical name for the town.
Afton was organized in 18/34. Previous to that time the northern half had been attached to De Kalb, and the southern half to Clinton. Mr. W. R. Campbell was probably the first white resident of the place, and John A. Hayden the next. Other early settlers were Daniel Washburne, Timothy Pierson, John McGirr, Benjamin Muzzy, Charles Ward, Francis Bemis, and Alex Folger.
In the autumn of 1854, Mr. Ezekiel Noble, who, with Silas Tappan and Oscar Tyler, had just moved into the place, erected temporary shanties, and commenced breaking their land, canvassed the township with a petition for its organization as a town, and obtained the signatures of twenty-three male inhabitants. It was admitted by the Board of Supervisors at their next session.
At the election next spring, Mr. Noble was chosen Supervisor, and has ever since, by successive re-elections, held the same office. Timothy Pierson and Orson Pearl were elected Justices ; Sanford A. Tyler, Town Clerk ; Clark Glidden, Assessor and Collector.
In 1855 the first school was held, in a private house belonging to Mr. Goodell. It was kept by Mr. Lord. Next year the school section was sold, the town was divided into two school districts, and a good school house was built on the northeast corner of Section Twenty-Four, in District One, which comprised the east half of the town. In 1858 the town was divided into nine school districts, to which one has since been added.
A spacious and beautiful church was built in 1807, by the sect called Second Adventists, the only church in the place.
The first elections were held at Sanford A. Tyler's house, on Section Fourteen. They have since then been held at the Center School House.
Afton manfully did its part in the war of the rebellion. Eighty-one men went from that thinly populated town, to fill the ranks of the Union army. Its total population, by the census of 1860, was but 516. Fifty-nine men had volunteered, when, the necessities of the government calling for more men, a tax was levied upon the town, and seven more were procured. In the summer of 1864, an additional tax was voted upon the town, amounting in all to $14,000, and fifteen more recruits were enlisted.
Among those who gave their lives in the defence of their country were Charles Elliot, Dempster Wheeler, Alexander Campbell, Emerson T. Knight, and Lewis Olverson, who went out in the One Hundred and Fifth Regiment, and L. Deforest, of the Eighth Cavalry.
Among the leading citizens of Afton are Mr. Ezekiel Noble, a shrewd, intelligent New Yorker, who has always been active in its public affairs, and may be said to be the father of the town, and Mr. C. W. Broughton, one of the wealthiest and most extensive farmers of the County.
Source: History of DeKalb County, Illinois by Boies, Henry L. (Henry Lamson), 1830-1887
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