The town of De Kalb, located near the centre of the County, is second to none other in the County in its natural advantages, and in its prospects for future growth and wealth.
The surface of the town, like the remainder of the County, is mostly occupied by handsome rolling prairie; hut, unlike some others, it is favored with a handsome stream, the head waters of one branch of the Kishwaukee, and is liberally supplied with timber from an extensive grove bordering this stream, formerly known far and wide as Huntley's Grove.
The first settlers of this township were John B. Collins and Norman C. Moore. Collins settled the farm now owned by Captain Burpee, and Moore made a claim a mile or two north of him. They came in the spring of 1 S: > ">, and during that summer all of the timbered land in the town was claimed. McClellan claimed the south end of the grove afterward held by Mr. Huntley. James Cox claimed a farm now owned by C. W. Marsh, and James Paisley the place on which some of his family now reside.
There was a large Indian village at Coltonville, on the northern border of this township, but during this fall they were removed beyond the Mississippi.
It was probably a, company of United States mounted troops, engaged in assembling these Indians at their rendezvous at PawPaw Grove, preparatory to removal, that passed along the east side of the grove during this fall, and camped for the night on the site of the present village of De Kalb.
While here, one of their number attempted to desert, and he paid McClellan a sum of money to secrete him; but being- threatened by the officer in command, McClellan gave him up again, and he was tied to the rear of the army wagon, and dragged on foot through the remainder of the route. The neighbors, indignant at McClellan's treachery, threatened to lynch him, and he was obliged to fly the country to secure his safety.
In the autumn of 1835, Messrs. Jenks & Co. claimed the land now occupied by Albert Schryver, damned the creek, built a mill, and projected a town in the vicinity. The streams were much larger then than now, and it was thought that the water-power would be of permanent value ; but a dry summer or two convinced them of their mistake, and they never completed their proposed village.
In February, 1837, Mr. Russell Huntley, representing a company of capitalists, who designed to build mills and carry on farming, moved to the south end of the grove, and bought the claim of James Root, who had succeeded McClellan. Wild-cat money was plenty then, and claims sold at higher prices than they would bring ten years after. Mr. Huntley bought all of the south part of the grove, paying $5300 to the several claimants. His purchase embraced about five hundred acres of woodland, and as much of the prairie as he chose to call his own. As it seemed desirable, however, that each should know where his line was, he made an agreement with the Brodics, of Brodic's Grove, about ten miles west of him, that the division line between them should be half way between the two groves: and he made a similar verbal arrangement with the inhabitants of Shabbona Grove on the south.
In the autumn of 183(3 was the first election held in the County. It was held in Captain Eli Barnes' house, in this town, and the voters came from all parts of the County. It was an election for Justice of the Peace. Mr. Samuel Miller, of Squaw Grove, relates that ten dollars was sent down to him by one of the candidates to pay him for bringing up ten voters, and that these ten voters carried this election. It was probably the first ten dollars spent to carry an election in this County, but not the last, by thousands.
After the first two years, settlers came in very rarely. Hard times came on, money became very scarce, the people grew poor; and in 184-3, when the land, for the claims to which they had paid such liberal prices, came in market, most of them found great difficulty in raising the money to enter it. As late as 1850, Mr. Huntley was offering half of the land upon which De Kalb village now stands to any man who would furnish $1.25 per acre to enter it.
For nearly twenty years he kept an excellent tavern at this place, and in the busy season it was constantly crowded by teamsters from the Avest, as far as the Mississippi river, who were on their way to Chicago with grain. The proceeds of the load, oftentimes, did not pay the expenses of drawing to market. For this reason, thousands of bushels of excellent wheat raised in this town were fed to cattle without threshing. This poverty among the people continued until the railroad was built through, in 1853.
In 1850 the township was organized, with the name of Orange, and Thomas M. Hopkins was chosen its first Supervisor. In that year the first store in the place was opened by J. M. Goodell, in one end of the dwelling now owned by Rufus Hopkins. In 1852, J. S. Waterman and Alvah Cartwright started another, and they, with Goodell and Ruby's store, Huntley's tavern, and a blacksmith's shop, constituted the village in 1853, when the railroad was built, revolutionizing the business affairs of the country. After this, a large and flourishing village was speedily built up at this place. Its progress was remarkable. Houses sprang up as by magic. The neighboring farmers who visited it one month would hardly recognize the place when they visited it the next. Mr. Huntley sold part of his land to three directors of the railroad company, Holland, Robinson, and Van Nortwick, and they together laid out the village, and speedily sold the lots at good prices. Stores, shops, warehouses, hotels, and dwellings, filled up the village plat, and the evidences of taste and refinement were to he seen in its streets and dwellings. For several years it went by the name of Buena Vista.
In 1855 its population was 557. It was confidently expected that, owing to its central location and its being upon a railroad, it would soon be made the seat of justice for the County.
The financial crash of 1857 impeded the progress of the thriving little village. Money scarce, trade dull, credit gone, prices low. Like all new towns, it was settled by a population full of enterprise, but of small capital, and the destruction of confidence and depression of trade was a serious injury to ts progress. But its people were full of enterprise, courage and enthusiasm for the prosperity of their town. They taxed themselves heavily for all needed improvements, and worked with a will for the good of their town.
In 1860, a County Society for the promotion of agriculture and the mechanical arts was established, beautiful grounds selected and handsomely furnished, and flourishing annual fairs have ever since been held.
In 1361, the elegant brick building was erected for a Graded School, for many years the finest common-school building in any town of its size in the State. It was designed to cost $8000, but its total expense has been over $25,000.
The first school house in the town was a small structure built of bass-wood logs, and roofed with shakes, which stood near the grove, and near the line of the railroad, and for many years served both as school house and church.
In 1854, churches were built by both the Baptist and Methodist societies; in 1860 the Catholics constructed a spacious church, and in 1864 the Sweedish population, a large number of whom had gathered around this place, built a small church, in which worship is conducted in the Swedish form and language. A number of the most reputable citizens have embraced the Mormon faith, and the services of that sect have frequently been held in the place.
In 1858 a newspaper, under the name of the Western World and De Kalb Review, was published in De Kalb by Mr. Andrews. This was succeeded in 1860 by the De Kalb Leader, edited by E. B. Gilbert; and this, in 1861, by the De Kalb Times, edited by G. D. Boyd. In 1867 the De Kalb County News was started, and now publishes a superior country journal.
The first lawyer in the place was Marcus White, who commenced practice in 1855. The first resident physician was Dr. Hyslop. In 1859, Dr. Rufus Hopkins, of Sycamore, who had always had a considerable practice in that town, removed to the place, and as a physician, banker, and active man of business, has been a prominent actor in the affairs of the town. The first bank was established here in 1859, by J. R. Hamlin and E. T. Hunt.
The four brothers Glidden, who first settled here in 1841, have been among its most worthy and active citizens. E. B. Grilbert, Esq., who came to Sycamore in 1847, and to De Kalb in 1852, was elected Justice in 1853, and by successive reelections has ever since held that office. Harvey Thompson, J. M. Glidden, and Jabez L. Cheesbrough, have long been among the most popular and reliable grain dealers in the County. The brothers Isaac L. and Hiram Ellwood have been among its most active business men. B. K. Chandler has long been a merchant in whom all have confidence. It is such enterprising men as these, with the Vaughans, Smulls, Roberts, Millers, and others that might be mentioned, that have given tone and character to the town.
The Supervisors of De Kalb have been :
For 1850, Thomas M. Hopkins :
1851, Joseph F. Glidden ;
1852, Thomas M. Hopkins;
1853, Alonzo Converse;
1854, Luman Huntley;
1855, Alonzo Converse;
1856, Marcus White;
1857, E. B. Young;
1858-59, Hiram Ellwood;
1860, Silas Tappan ;
1861-62, J. F. Glidden;
1863, Harvey Thompson;
1864-65, Thomas M. Hopkins ;
1866, J. F. Glidden ;
1867, Harvey Thompson ;
1868, W. C. Tappan.
The village was incorporated under a general act in 1856, and in 1860 by a special charter, which made the President of the Board of Trustees a member of the Board of Supervisors. This position has been filled by W.H. Allen in 1861-62; Silas Tappan in 1863; Leonard Morse in 1864; S. O. Vaughan in 1865; E. B. Gilbert in 1866; and W. H. Allen in 1867-68.
De Kalb furnished 220 men for the war for the preservation of our nation from the armed rebellion. The story of their toils, their losses, their sufferings, and their triumphs, will be found in the record of the part that De Kalb County took in the war of the great rebellion.
The population of De Kalb in 1855 was 1588 ; in 1860, 1900: and in 1865, 1976.
Source: History of DeKalb County, Illinois by Boies, Henry L. (Henry Lamson), 1830-1887
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