The town of Somonauk for ten years past has contained a larger population, and a larger amount of taxable wealth, than any other in the County. It occupies the southeastern portion of the County. Its surface is rather level; it has a good supply of timber, and is well watered by Somonauk Creek, a handsome stream, which turns two mills.
The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad runs diagonally through the southern portion of the town, and upon it, four miles apart, but within the township, are the thriving villages of Sandwich and Somonauk.
In this town the first white man's habitation built in the County was erected. It was a small log house, built in the spring of 1834, on the bank of Somonauk Creek, and was used as a station house on the mail route between Chicago and Galena, by way of John Dixon's ferry, which route was first started during this year. The house was abandoned in the autumn, was used during the winter by one Robinson, and next year was kept as a tavern by James Root. It was afterwards occupied by John Easterbrooks, and subsequently became the property of the Beveridge family.
In 1835, a number of families moved into the town, and claimed the fine timber land upon the borders of the stream. Among them were Dr. Arnold, Joseph Sly, Thomas Brookes, and Simon Price.
In 1839, there were about thirty houses in the township. Among them were two taverns, one kept by John and Henry Lane, the other by Mr. Hummell. Robert Sterrett had a mill erected this year; Mr. Easterbrooks kept the post-office upon the Beveridge place; and among the householders upon the east of the creek were: Burrage Hough, Frank Dale, Joseph Sly, Frederick Witherspoon, Hubbard, -Joseph, and Thomas Latham, Harvey Joles, George S. Pierson, Captain William Davis, Alvin Hyatt, David Merritt, and Francis Divine. On the west of the creek were: Mr. Burchim, Owen and Simon Price, Dr. Thomas Brooks, William Poplin, Con- way B. Rhodes, Amos Harmon, and Messrs. Frisby, Dobbins, Bliss, and Townsend.
The settlers were all poor. Their dwellings were nearly all of logs, covered with shakes, and floored with puncheons. Many of them were ill constructed, cold and comfortless. This was a sickly season, and in many of the little cabins the puncheon floor was at times covered with the beds of those suffering from various illnesses, leaving hardly enough of well persons to take proper care of the sick. The wealthiest among them hardly had a sufficiency of comfortable clothing. Every body was shaking with ague, and the new comers, most of whom were accustomed to the comforts and luxuries of life in their eastern homes, felt that the hardships of frontier life in the new settlements were severe indeed. Nothing that they produced was saleable, except winter wheat, and although they got fine crops of this cereal, it hardly paid the heavy expense of drawing it to the Chicago markets, over sixty miles of almost trackless prairie, and through the unbridged streams.
The land sale in 1843, when this section of country came in market, and when their farms must be paid for or lost, drained the township of nearly every dollar remaining, and left the people poor indeed. Many a fine claim of timbered land was given away to friends who were able to "enter" it, and most of the prairie land remained the property of the government till about the year 1850. But the settlers maintained the kindliest feelings among each other, and aided one another with a generosity that is now most gratefully remembered.
They met for worship at the school houses, and their spiritual necessities were ministered to by Father Abram Woolston, a Methodist preacher, a good surveyor, and a shrewd man of business, who boasted, as not the least of his many accomplishments, that he could kill and dress a four hundred pound hog in fifty-seven minutes.
Father Lumrey, an Episcopal Methodist, was another favorite preacher, and Joseph Sly's comfortable cabin was always hospitably open to as many preachers as could make it convenient to stop with him.
David Merritt, the post-master at Riceland Corner, came regularly to the meetings, bringing his mail in his hat; and much shrewd financiering was often required to raise the twenty-five cents in postage that was required to obtain the letter from his custody.
In 1851 the railroad, that great life-giving stimulant to the impoverished West, was built through the township, and with the thunder of the iron horse came the advantages of a market for produce at the doors of the producers, free access for the population of the world to its fertile acres, and the conversion of the rich waste into fertile and profitable farms.
In a few months, every acre of land in the township was taken up by settlers or speculators, and the population rapidly increased. A railroad station was at once established at Somonauk village, and for a year or more it was the only station in the town.
In the fall of 1852, William Fatten, Washington Walker, and Lindsay Carr, farmers in the neighborhood of the present thriving village of Sandwich, called a mass meeting of the citizens of Newark, then a lively village six miles south, upon which occasion a committee was chosen to petition the railroad company to establish a station for their accommodation. At this time, Mr. J. H. Furman made a census of the citizens who would probably use this station, and reported one hundred and fifty at the south and fifty at the north of the railroad. The company consented to stop trains when flagged. The neighbors contrived to have every one who could raise the necessary funds take a trip as frequently as possible; they ran a carriage to Newark daily; and, in a few months, they succeeded in inducing a belief that it was a good point for travel, and it was made a regular stopping place, with the name of Newark Station.
Mr. Almon Gage, the first proprietor of the land upon which the station was built, offered lots to all who would build upon them; and A. R. Patten, James Clark and Myrlin Carpenter availed themselves of the offer, and became the first inhabitants of the village. James Clark built the first house, a large, rambling one-story structure, known as the Donegana House.
Numerous additions to the village were made in the following year, and in 1855 a great impetus was given to the place by the establishment of a manufactory of agricultural machinery by Hon. Augustus Adams, Senator for this district. It has since grown more rapidly in trade and population than any other village in the County. In 1860 its population w T as 952, and it is now estimated at 1800. It has been several times ravaged by destructive conflagrations, but has speedily been rebuilt more substantially than before.
In 1865, 300,000 bushels of wheat were shipped from this station, and one grain dealer paid $450,000 for grain purchased. The manufacture of agricultural machinery has constantly increased, and in 1867 the original company was merged into a stock association, with a capital of $75,000, which has since been enlarged to $125,000. It employs eighty men, and has proved very remunerative to the stock- holders.
In 1856 a bank was established by Mr. M. B. Castle, which is still in existence; and from an exchange business of fifty dollars the first year, has now grown into a large and flourishing institution. Mr. J. II. Carr opened the first store in the place; Mr. G. W. Culver and Robert Patten the first lumber yard.
In 1857, William L. Dempster started a weekly newspaper, The People s Press, which was discontinued six months after. The Prairie Home, published in 1859, soon met the same fate. The Sandwich News was subsequently issued bi-monthly by James Higbee, and afterwards made a weekly, with J. H. Sedgwick as editor. He was succeeded by Mr. James II. Furman, one of the first settlers and most substantial farmers of that town; and, under the name of The Gazette, it is now the largest paper in the County.
The first church in the township was that of the United Presbyterians, or Seceders, which was organized in 1844, with nineteen members, and with Rev. 11. W. French as pastor. It now has two hundred and thirty-five communicants. Their place of worship is at Freeland Corners. The first church built at Sandwich was that of the Baptists, in 185-3; the second, the Methodist, in 1854; the third, the Presbyterian, in 1855; the fourth, the Congregationalists, in 1864, they had previously worshiped in a small chapel) ; the fifth and sixth, the German Lutheran and the German Methodist. There are now fourteen church edifices in the township, in all of which regular worship is maintained.
The first proprietor of the land on which Somonauk village is built was William Mitchell. He sold it in 1844 to Alvarus Gage, who may be called the father of the village It was the first railroad station established in the County, and, although there had previously been a small collection of houses there, the people flocked in so rapidly that many were obliged to live in tents for the first few months of their stay. Mr. Franklin Dale built the first store and the first grain warehouse in the place. Mr. Hess built the next one.
It is now one of the most flourishing villages in the County, and has had a rapid growth during the past few years. It has nine large brick stores, in which are four dry goods establishments, two groceries, one hardware store, one drug store, and one furniture warehouse. It also has a steam grist mill, a broom factory, a brewery, a livery stable, three grain warehouses, a large agricultural warehouse, a hay pressing establishment, and two lumber yards.
It has seven churches. The Protestant Methodists built the first church edifice, the Baptists the next; and to these have been added the churches of the Presbyterians, German Baptists, German Lutherans, the Catholics, and the Episcopal Methodists.
The education of the children of the village is conducted in a fine large edifice, divided into four departments, upon the "graded" system.
The village has twice suffered severely by fires, which destroyed a large part of its business buildings ; but the energy of its people triumphed over their misfortunes, and it was never in a finer or more flourishing condition than at present.
The township of Somonauk contributed 311 men to the war of the rebellion, and raised $27,843 by tax, to meet necessary expenses.
Ten days after the fall of Sumter, a company of Somonauk soldiers, under Captain L. II. Carr, was guarding the important strategic point of Cairo. It was the first company raised in the State, and probably the first in the Union, under the first call of the President. It was subsequently incorporated in the Tenth regiment. The gallant and honored Captain Carr met his death from the bullet of a sharp-shooter, while at the siege of Island No. Ten.
Frederick W. Partridge, a native of Vermont, a lawyer, and in 1860 post-master of the place, was chosen Captain of the next company raised in the town. It was made a part of the Thirteenth Infantry, and with it he fought most gallantly through its three years' term of service. He was an accomplished soldier, and a thorough disciplinarian. He was twice wounded, rose to the command of the regiment, and was brevetted Brigadier General; and upon his return, was elected to the office of Circuit Clerk and Recorder, the best office in the gift of the County.
Hon. William Patten, a native of New York, has been one of the leading men of Somonauk. He has served three terms as member of the State Legislature, and is now Senator of this district. He raised and commanded a company in the One Hundred and Fifty-Sixth Infantry, during the great war, and has ever been prominent in every good word and work. Hons. W. TV. Sedgwick, Augustus Adams, S. B. Stinson, W. L. Simmons, M. B. Castle, and the Culver brothers, should also be mentioned as prominent among those numerous high toned and honorable men whose intelligence and well-directed energies have contributed to the prosperity of the place, and of whom it may be said that the town has honored itself by placing them forward as its representative men.
Colonel Isaac and Captain Karl Rutishauser, of Somonauk, soldiers in their native Poland, did gallant service also in the war for the preservation of the Union.
One of the most respected families of Somonauk is that of Mr. George Beveridge, who moved to the place from Washington County, New York, in 1844. The family are of Scotch descent, sturdy Presbyterians in religious, and strongly anti-slavery in political faith.
In 1852, a gentlemanly stranger begged shelter for the night at this house. Something led the family to suspect that he was a detective, searching for evidence of their connection with the crime of aiding slaves to their freedom. Finally, seeking an opportunity of privacy, he asked directly of the venerable mother if she had not at times secreted fugitive Negroes. "Yes," said she; "and in spite of your oppressive laws, I will do it again whenever I have an opportunity." Instead of immediately arresting her, as she had expected, the stranger laughed. He was an eminent physician of Quincy, engaged in establishing stations on the under-ground railroad; and during many subsequent years, there was a frequent stoppage of trains at this station, and much time and money was spent in forwarding the flying Negroes on to the Stewards, at Piano, and to other places of refuge.
Three sons of the family have attained distinction. General John L. Beveridge, a lawyer of Sycamore, and subsequently of Chicago, served as Major of the Eighth Cavalry and Colonel of the Seventeenth, and as Brigadier General in command in Missouri. He is now sheriff of Cook County. Hon. James H. Beveridge, a merchant at Freeland, was elected in 1852 to the office of Circuit Clerk and Recorder, which he filled most acceptably for eight years; and in 1864 he was made State Treasurer. Andrew M. Beveridge has attained distinction as an eloquent divine.
The Supervisors of Somonauk have been:
For 1850-51 52-53, Lyman Bacon ;
1854-55, William Patten ;
1856-57, J. H. Furman;
1858, William Patten;
1850, Hubbard Latham ;
1860, William Patten ;
1861, C. Winne ;
1862, J. H. Furman;
1863, E. W. Lewis;
1864, William Patten;
1865, W. W. Sedgwick ;
1866-67-68, W. L. Simmons.
The village of Sandwich was incorporated in 1859, and as Presidents of the Board of Trustees the following men have represented its interests upon the Board of Supervisors:
In 1860, Washington Walker ;
1861, George W. Culver ;
1862, Washington Walker;
1863, Perley Stone;
1864, W. L. Simmons;.
1865, J. H. Carr;
1866, George W. Culver;
1867- 68 W. W. Sedgwick.
The village of Somonauk was incorporated in 1866. William Brown and William Heun have represented it upon the Board of Supervisors.
The assessed valuation of the property of the township is $604,588.
Source: History of DeKalb County, Illinois by Boies, Henry L. (Henry Lamson), 1830-1887
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