It was on one mild day in October, 1835, that a party of emigrants, pushing rapidly northward from Ottawa, on the line of an Indian trail, and traveling after darkness had set in, suddenly, and to their surprise, found themselves in the midst of an Indian village, situated on what is now Section Three, in the town of Cortland. They halted for the night, and in the morning, pleased with the appearance of the country, proceeded to make claims, and ultimately to build houses, and surround themselves with some of the comforts of the pioneers' home.
The party consisted of George W. and Isaac Gandy, John and Perry Ellet, David Wood, and Henry Smith, with their families, who thus became the first settlers of this township. They lived for the winter in close and peaceful proximity to the Indians, a few of whom remained in the grove, and in the spring they were joined by a considerable number of new settlers. These were the Springs, Crossetts, Hale Perry, Norcutts, Alvin Dayton, Kites, Dowries, Osgoods, Ralph Wyman, John Champlin, Peter Young, and Elias Hartman. They all settled as near as possible to the borders of the Ohio Grove, which gained its name from the fact that most of the new comers were from Ohio, and which borders the eastern line of the township.
A small grove in the centre of the town, which had the appearance of having strayed away from the main body of timber, and which, for this reason, was named Lost Grove, was claimed at an early date by James and Joseph Roberts, two old bachelors, who for many years entertained travelers in their little log house, fourteen feet square; but most of the remainder of the town remained unsettled and the property of the government until about 1852, when a number of dwellings were built on the open prairie, and the population of the town was considerably increased. A Baptist church was built near the grove during this year.
About this time a little village of a half-dozen houses, with a tavern, a store, and the usual shops and dwellings, was commenced at Luce's Corners, a half-mile south of the present location of the village of Cortland; but most of the buildings were subsequently moved to the railroad station.
The railroad was built in 1853, and a smart little village soon grew up around the station. But its prospects seem to have been not considered brilliant, for in the following year the railroad company bought the farm of Marcenus Hall, upon which the eastern part of the village now stands, at ten dollars per acre, and laid out a village upon it; and when, in the terrible storm of the following winter, Mr. S. L. Porter, one of their engineers, had his leg crushed, while endeavoring to force his engine through a snow-bank in this vicinity the company made him a present of the village. The Hersha farm, upon which Artlipp's and Croft's additions were laid out, was sold about this time at twenty-five dollars per acre. In 1856 a very lively village had been built up, inhabited by a smart, enterprising population, among whom were a good many young men, full of enterprise and full of fun.
But the hard times of 1857 checked its prosperity, and the construction of the Sycamore and Cortland Railroad in 1858 cut off some of the grain trade from the north. Its increase has not been rapid since that time.
The population of the township in 1855 was 1182; in 1860, 1298; and in 1865, 1324. Only the three towns of Somonauk, De Kalb, and Sycamore, have a larger population, or a larger amount of taxable property.
The first name given the town was Richland. This was soon after changed to Pampas, a name suggested by J. R, Crossett, from the resemblance of its prairies to the pampas or plains of South America. In 1864 this name was changed by the Legislature to Cortland, the name of its village and postal station.
The first school house in the town was a log hut, built in Ohio Grove about 1838, and the first teacher was Rev. Castle Churchill, who was succeeded by Miss Mary Ann Hamlin.
In 1866 the spacious and elegant edifice, a view of which is here inserted, was built by the village of Cortland. Its cost was $7000. It is a conspicuous ornament to the town, and honors the enterprise and liberality of its people.
Cortland gave liberally, of the best blood of her township, to the country, in the defence of the flag, when traitors assailed it. One hundred and thirty-four of her sons enlisted in the Union army, and the names of sixteen who lost their lives in the service have been preserved. These are :
Ruthven and Alonzo Russell, Robert Close, W. Stark, and Charles Plopper, the date and place of whose death is not ascertained ;
Spaflord Deford, who died at Savannah, Georgia, January 20, 1865 ;
John Young, at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, March 5th, 1864 ;
Charles F. Bannister, at Alexandria, Virginia, April 11, 1863 ;
Charles V. Peck, at Ringgold, Georgia, March 27, 1864;
Oliver Wilson, at Shiloh, July 6, 1862:
Emery Marshall, at Beardstown, Kentucky, December 6, 1862 ;
George H. Gould, at Nashville, Tennessee, November 4, 1853;
T. D. Packard, at Shiloh, April 6, 1862;
W. H. Rose, at Kingston, Georgia, January 6, 1864 ;
and Morris R. Wilson, at Corinth, Tennessee, June 23, 1862.
The last mentioned was but a lad of fifteen, when a rebel bullet ended his career.
Among her townsmen who served most honorably, and suffered most severely, was Captain R. A. Smith. When an apprenticed lad in Chenango County, N. Y., he twice ran away to enlist in the Mexican war, but his regiment was not admitted to service. Removing to Cortland in 1856, he engaged in the grain trade, and worked as a mason, until, at the first breaking out of the war, he raised a number of recruits, and enlisted in Company F, of the Thirteenth Infantry. After two years of very hard service, during most of which time he commanded that company, the regiment was thrown into the terrible abyss of fire and death which met the first assault on Vicksburg; and there he lost his right arm, and was fearfully wounded in the thigh.
Returning home, he was elected County Treasurer, which office he has filled by three successive re-elections, till the present time.
The Supervisors of Cortland have been:
For 1850 - 51 - 52, David F. Finley ;
1853, Austin Hayden;
1854, David F. Finley;
1855-50-57-58, Horace S. Champlin;
1859-60-61, Alonzo L. Lovell;
1862, P. S. Coolidge;
1863-64-65, Jacob R. Crossett;
1866, Edwin Gilson;
1867-68, John Wright.
The village of Cortland was incorporated in 1866, and T. T. Peck in 1867, and John King in 1868, have, as President of its Board of Trustees, been members of the Board of Supervisors.
Cortland raised by taxation $12,103 for war purposes
Source: History of DeKalb County, Illinois by Boies, Henry L. (Henry Lamson), 1830-1887
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