Few townships in this County of ours have more natural attractions than Genoa. The rolling prairie land which occupies the greater portion of the township is diversified by more than the average extent of natural groves, and is watered by several fine streams. The Kishwaukee flows through a portion of the town, giving a tolerable water-power,—not so powerful as at an earlier day, when, as everywhere, the streams were larger and their flow more constant,—but capable of being put to use, and contributing to the growth of the town and convenience of the people. Wood and water are the two great wants of this land of the prairies, and these Genoa possesses, if not in abundance, yet in much more liberal quantities than most parts of the County.
The first white inhabitant of the town was Thomas Madison, who came to the place in 1836, and built a spacious log cabin on the spot where, for thirty years after, a hotel was kept by H. N. Perkins and Luke Nichols. Mr. Perkins moved to the place in the autumn of 1837, and he, with Samuel Corey, Thomas Munnahan, and Henry Durham, bought the claim of Madison, who moved off to Texas. It was said to embrace two sections of land, and they paid $2800 for it.
In the spring of 1837 Mr. Henry Durham had moved into Madison's cabin, and opened a small stock of goods for sale to the few settlers who were now rapidly filling up the country, He was a sharp, shrewd, energetic citizen, lived in the place for nearly thirty years, and died there, having accumulated
a considerable fortune by trade, by hotel-keeping, and by well managed speculation in lands. He, with Samuel Corey, Henry Preston, and Daniel T. Whittemore, were among the first comers.
Whittemore had the reputation of being a leading member of the gang of horse-thieves, counterfeiters and burglars who infested the country at this early day. Genoa was always one of the headquarters of the gang.
In the spring of 1838, Mr. Perkins' house was entered by a party of them, who robbed him of $300. He had good evidence that it was taken by the Brodies, of Brodies' Grove, who were understood to be confederated with Whittemore and others at Genoa, but no prosecution was made, nor was any of the money recovered.
During the year 1838 many new settlers came in, and Genoa became quite a lively little village. Dr. H. F. Page commenced the practice of medicine there, James S. Waterman opened a stock of goods, and one E. P. Gleason, who afterwards figured extensively as a leader of the banditti, came in, and bought the claim of Whittemore and Corey. He had the reputation of being a man of wealth, and began to talk about building flouring mills, starting stores, and otherwise contributing to the growth and enlargement of the business of the place. During the spring of 1838 he set out that fine row of maples that now constitute a conspicuous ornament of the village.
On the 4th of July, 1838, a great celebration was held at Genoa, at which George H. Hill delivered an oration to an audience of over a thousand people, gathered from Rockford, Aurora, St. Charles, and all the country round. Genoa was then as large and as promising a town as any of these places. Belvidere contained only two houses, and was by no means so important a place.
Gleason, in his subsequent career, acquired an unenviable notoriety. Not long after his arrival, while he was boarding at Perkins' log tavern, a carpet-sack well filled with counterfeit money was found in his possession, and, the fact becoming notorious, his wealth was easily accounted for. He was a man of fine appearance, agreeable manners, fair in his dealing with his neighbors, and generally liked. He never passed bad money in his ordinary business transactions, but had it manufactured, and wholesaled it to his confederates. In 1839 one of his gang, a traveling pedlar, was arrested in Chicago, and during his confinement confessed his guilt, and implicated Gleason as one of the chiefs of his gang. Gleason was arrested, but, although the testimony of this witness had been promised, when the trial came on he could not be procured, and Gleason was set at liberty.
Not long after, a message was again sent from Chicago, saying that if our officers would again arrest Gleason, the evidence against him should be forthcoming. Three or four deputies were now duly commissioned to go to Genoa, and effect his arrest. They reached his place at midnight, and after watching till dawn, had the satisfaction of seeing him come to the door of his dwelling, when they approached and captured him. But Gleason hospitably insisted that his captors should stop and get breakfast before they started away, and they consented. Meantime, he took them out into his garden to show them his fine crop of corn, of which he was justly proud. In an instant he had disappeared in the tall corn, and for several years after was not seen in this country.
Some months after, when the evidence against him had again become unattainable, Gleason came back, and started business again. He had a store, and a saw-mill, and a fine farm, all in full operation. He had married a respectable young woman of the neighborhood.
A few years after, he became ill, and a traveling doctor, named Smitch, who had boarded in his family, and was reported to be attached to his wife, attended him. He grew worse without any evident cause. After eating one day of some porridge, prepared by his wife and the doctor, he complained that it did not taste quite right, but ate heartily, and soon after died in convulsions and delirium.
Not long after his burial, the doctor and Mrs. Gleason were arrested on a charge of murdering him by poison. The body was exhumed, and the contents of the stomach examined. A special term was held for their trial, but the evidence of guilt was insufficient, and they were discharged.
They were soon after married, and moved to La Salle County, where the doctor died, under circumstances that led to the suspicion that he too had been poisoned. His wife soon after died very suddenly.
Such was the miserable end of one who undoubtedly was a leader in much of the crime that disturbed the early settlers of this County. He escaped the punishment of his crimes against the law, only to meet a more terrible fate.
Genoa was established as a post-office in 1836. It was named by Madison, its first settler, who was also its first postmaster. He came from Genoa, in New York, and finding here, as there, a Geneva and Batavia, he concluded to carry out the parallel by giving it this name. For many years it was decidedly the most flourishing village in the County.
In 1848 its trade supported four large dry goods stores, each of them doing a larger trade than any other in the County. They were kept by E. A. Durham, Robert Waterman, W. H. Allen, John N. Maxfield and John Ball. There were two large, well-built taverns, kept by Henry Durham and H. N. Perkins, at which a line of stages from Elgin to Galena made a stopping place.
Elgin was then the market for this section of country, and to enable benighted travelers to keep that road on the broad, unbroken prairie, they annually plowed up a series of parallel furrows on each side of the track, and this was about all of the road work that was done.
The population of Genoa in 1855 was 895 ; in 1860, 985; in 1865, 1027.
Genoa furnished the Union army with 109 men, and at the time of the first enrollment for a draft had already sent out sixty-eight per cent, of her arms-bearing population. Of those who lost their lives in the war were:
J. H. Chase, who died at Kansas City, Mo., June 11,1865.
R. M. Gillett, Alexandria, Va., April 9, 1862.
Ellis Buck, Washington, D. C., April 28, 1864.
A. H. Burzell, who was lost off steamboat Olive, below St. Louis, on the Mississippi, June 28, 1865.
Augustus Martin, at Genoa, February 13, 1863.
Sergeant J. H. Depue, at March 21, 1864.
J. S. Bailey, at Chicago, Ill., October 1, 1862.
J. H. Burroughs, at New Albany, Ind., December 24,1862.
The Supervisors of the town have been :
For 1850, Henry Durham; 1851, G. F. King; 1852,I. W. Garvin; 1853-54, A. M. Hollenbeck ; 1855, I. W. Garvin ; 1856, Jesse Doud; 1857, Daniel Buck; 1858-59, John Heth; 1860, J. L. Brown; 1861-62, John Heth; 1863, J. L. Brown; 1864-65, Daniel Buck; 1866-67-68, Henry N. Perkins.
The water-power near the village has been employed in operating a flouring mill and a distillery, but neither are now in operation.
Source: History of DeKalb County, Illinois by Boies, Henry L. (Henry Lamson), 1830-1887
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