Dekalb County, Illinois
South Grove Township History
This township, which was organized in 1850, was first called Vernon. It had previously been known as Driscoll's Grove ; but the name it now bears was, soon after its organization, agreed upon by the settlers.
It is considered one of the best farming towns in De Kalb County. The land is very pleasantly undulating; the subsoil seems peculiarly adapted for the drainage of the surface, and vegetation is early and rapid. There is scarcely an acre of waste land within its borders.
The highest point of land between Chicago and the Mississippi river is in the southern portion of this town.
A pleasant little stream of water, called Owen's Creek, following a meandering course, passes nearly through its whole length, rising in the southeast portion, and flowing towards the northwest, where, in the adjoining town of Franklin, it empties into the Kishwaukee river, In its course the stream widens several times, forming miniature lakes, which, in the warm season of the year, with their wide borderings of deep green, the many flocks of water-fowl, hovering high above them, or settling down into the clear waters where the pickerel and a variety of smaller fry abound, form pictures, not only very attractive to the lover of nature, but to the eye of the sportsman and angler.
Uniting the two groves, and running away over the prairie, on the one hand to Brodie's Grove, and the other to the Kishwaukee timber, the early settlers found the Indian trail over which, it is said, Big Thunder sometimes led his braves, more than once making the larger of the two groves a place of temporary encampment. But the deer had well-nigh disappeared before the bowstring of the dusky hunter had snapped for the last time in these regions, though the howl of the prairie wolf has, until within a few years, been almost nightly heard.
On the borders of the creek are two bodies of fine timber, one, called Orput's grove, containing about sixty acres, and the other, South Grove, formerly called Driscoll's grove, of three hundred, or more, acres.
The groves abound in a variety of wild fruits : the native plum, sometimes very sweet and rich, the wild crab and thorn apples, the mandrake, gooseberry, etc.. and nuts of various kinds.
In 1851 Ichabod Richmond's, an erratic, though enterprising genius, built a saw-mill and grist-mill on Owen's Creek, in section twenty-six ; but a quantity of water sufficient to operate it was never found, except in the time of a freshet. A similar experiment, and with like success, was made by Mr. Barney Hatch, farther down the stream.
The first settlements in this town were on the east side of the grove, and as late as in 1858, though portions of land, scattered wide apart, had been preempted and purchased of the government, the most of the inhabitants were still in the neighborhood of the grove, and it was a question whether these broad prairies, destitute of timber or surface water, would ever be converted into farms.
In 1853, when it became certain that a railroad would be built near, or through, the town, the land speculators became purchasers of nine-tenths of what remained in government hands, entering with land-warrants which were bought at eighty cents, or less, per acre, lands which are now worth, with the improvements made upon them, thirty or forty dollars per acre.
During the past five years nearly all of this land has been purchased of these speculators, and made into farms, leaving but very little unbroken prairie ; but no village has ever existed in this rich, long-settled, and flourishing town.
The population of South Grove is made up of several nationalities. The majority of the present inhabitants were originally from the State of New York; a few came from New England ; and the foreigners are Scotch, English, and Irish ; there are, also, a few families of German descent.
In 1838 came the first settler, William Driscoll, from Ohio, who built him a log cabin on the east side of the grove, near the spot where is now situated the pleasant residence of his estimable widow and her son. He was followed by his father and brothers. The subsequent career of these men, and their tragic fate, will be found, described at length, in a foregoing chapter.
The second arrival was also from Ohio, Mr. Solomon Wells, who purchased of Driscoll the south end of the grove a hundred acres or more for sixty dollars. He was entitled, of course, to all the adjacent prairie he chose to claim.
In 1840, or the year previous, came the Orput family, who settled near the smaller grove which has since been called by their name.
The Beeman and Hatch families arrived during the same year. A few members of the last named family still reside in the town.
In 1841, there were then six families of actual settlers came Mr. James Byers, Mr. Tindall, and Mr. Benjamin Worden; and in 1843, Mr. Jonathan Adee and Mr. Matthew Thompson, the four families, Byers, Worden, Adee, and Thompson, emigrating from the same neighborhood in "York State" ; and they and Mr. Tindall still remain on the same farms they first purchased. These early settlers, by their industry, enterprise, and good management, have given tone and character to the town. Their married sons and daughters have, with few exceptions, settled not far from the old homesteads.
In 1846 Mr. John S. Brown purchased the Beeman place, on the northwest side of the grove, and settled there with his family. He became a prominent actor in politics of the town and County, and in 1862 assisted in the raising of a company of soldiers for the Fifty-Second regiment. He was made Captain, but soon resigned his commission.
In 1845 came the Safford family, and settled in the east part of the town. Mr. Henry Safford, belonging to the dominant party in politics, has been twice elected sheriff' of the County; and a nephew, who, with a brother, came to the town several years later, both enlisting in the One Hundred and Fifth regiment, both afterwards created Captains, and both dangerously wounded in battle, was elected sheriff of the County in 1868.
A little later came Mr. DeBo and Mr. W. H. Stebbins. Their farms were two miles west of the grove.
After that the emigration was more rapid ; the Hickard and Becker families in the west part of the town ; the McLellan and Mason families in the north; E. Currier in the east; and in the south several families from New England.
The first school in South Grove was taught by Mr. James Byers, senior, who furnished a school house for his twenty-five pupils, the second room in his double log cabin, and boarded himself, for ten dollars per month. A dollar was a dollar in those days, for it would buy twenty pounds of coffee in Chicago; but Mr. Byers' salary was paid in potatoes "and such."
The young men and women about the grove will never forget that school, how the kind, genial voice of the teacher, softening down its rugged Scotch, cheered them over the frightful Alps of "a, b, ab," and "two times one are two," how the eyes were always blind to any fun, and the laugh was ever as long and loud as that of the merriest urchin. No wonder that those boys and girls, a portion of them, "played the mischief" with some of the teachers who succeeded this model one.
The first school house was erected in the grove. It was of logs, but nicely built, and considered quite a capacious one; though it was, after a time, pretty well filled with its sixty scholars. It was twenty by twenty-two feet, and well lighted, having a window five or six panes in width and two in height at each end of the building.
Mr. H. C. Beard and Mr. T. K. Waite, of Sycamore, were among the successful teachers in the log school house.
The second school house was built on a fine site donated to the district by Mr. James Byers, senior, in 1854, and in 1868 another, a very pleasant and commodious one, the former having been destroyed by fire, was erected in the same place.
There are now seven schools in the town, all furnished with comfortable school houses. The number of pupils in the districts in 1868 is 248 ; and the amount paid to teachers is $834.31. Total expenditures for school purposes for the year ending September 30, 1868, $1676.97.
During the time when a large portion of the land belonged to speculators, the people adopted a shrewd device for building their school houses with slight cost to the inhabitants. They attached the sections thus owned, successively, to every district which wished to build a school house, promising the few scattered inhabitants that the taxes levied on them should be refunded by contributions out of their own pockets. Then levying the highest possible taxes on the speculators' lands, they supplied themselves, cheaply, with school buildings, astonishing the said speculators, who could not understand how they were taxed, for several successive years, for the construction of those buildings, and yet have not one within miles of their lands.
Churches are yet to be built, the people, some of them at least, evidently thinking, with Horace Greeley, that it is best for a man to attend first to the business of the world he lives in.
There are now two religious bodies in town. The Methodist church was organized in 1855 by Rev. Mr. Jennings, a man of good abilities, and evidently a very sincere and devoted Christian. This church and Sabbath-school holds its religious services in No. 1 school house. The Advent church, with which is also connected a Sabbath-school, was organized in 1867. Their place of worship is school house No. 2.
In 1842 was organized a Freewill Baptist church, under the care of Rev. Mr. Norton. This church did not keep up its organization.
A great camp-meeting was held at the grove in 1860, at which leading ministers from abroad addressed vast audiences, and much religious interest was aroused. At a much earlier day there were occasional religious revivals, which were remarkable for the great earnestness exhibited by the converts among that primitive population ; and, it may be added, by extraordinary and exciting scenes in their meetings.
Among many anecdotes still related, with great gusto, is the following: A very worthy, but previously profane, convert, rising; to his feet to urge his hearers to greater zeal and earnestness in religious duty, fell, unconsciously, into his old mode of expression, and exclaimed:
''Brethren, I like to see a man, if he pretends to be a man, to be a h_ll of a man ; and if he pretends to be a Christian, to be a h_ll of a Christian !"
The first post-office was established in 1841, called the South Grove Post-office, the postmasters of which, have been, successively, Timothy Wells, James Byers, senior, H. Safford, E. Currier, Jonathan Hadee, and Mrs. E. A. Palmer.
The second one was established in 1858, called Deerfield Prairie Post-office ; postmaster, P. Waterman, succeeded by Mr. Wiltse ; and Dustin Post-office, established in 1868, Henry Crisman, postmaster.
Hotels are things of the past, but they Avere "institutions" in their day, when the St. Charles and Oregon State Road, running through South Grove nearly at its centre, was the great highway of the region, and traveled by teams heavily loaded with grain, even from so far west as the Mississippi river.
One of the hotels, that which stands on the farm of Mr. Masterson, and occupied by him as a dwelling house, was kept, for a while, by Mr. Beeman. It is still in a good state of preservation, especially the hall, which was dedicated to the goddess Terpsichore ; and many a resident of De Kalb County will remember, as long as he lives, the pleasant gatherings at Beeman's, when what was wanting in elegance was made up in merriment.
The other was kept by Mr. Adee, near the grove ; and it is not to be wondered at that that gentleman is now so well off in life, when it is remembered how exorbitant were his charges, forty or forty-five cents being required for only supper, lodging, breakfast, and hay for a span of horses or a yoke of oxen.
But while the hotels were so well patronized, it was a hard time for the farmers. Again and again the teamsters who had taken the loads of grain the product of the whole sea-son's hard toil over that long, weary way to Chicago, would not bring back money enough even to pay their trifling bills, a few groceries, a little bundle of cloth, perhaps a pair or two of cheap shoes, besides food for their families, being all the avails of a year's hard stragglings. But the men and women of this region put their shoulders to the wheel, and called upon the gods ; and by-and-by Hercules came, in the form of a railroad.
And then, very speedily, the prairie fires went out; for the lands which they had swept over, in the autumn of so many years, were being crossed here and there by '"highways and hedges"; and dwelling houses, not very imposing structures many of them, but vastly superior to the log cabin, and built with reference to the addition which would soon appear, in the shape of a handsome front, with stables, and young orchards, and a variety of fruit-bearing shrubs and shade-trees, were springing up in all directions.
The log cabins of the earlier settlers had then mostly dis- appeared, and the dwellings were being enlarged and improved; new stables were being built, the old "Virginia rail-fence" was fast disappearing, and the town was losing its uncomfortable look of newness.
At the present time South Grove has many well-enclosed and highly cultivated farms; commodious, pleasant dwelling houses, and large and convenient stables and granaries; fine, bearing orchards, and handsome shade-trees. In 1868 about one hundred miles of hedge were set in town, and hedging is just commenced.
In 1857 it was estimated that more than 100,000 bushels of wheat were raised in this town; and in the third year after, the yield was supposed to be still greater ; though it is not thought, by the best informed farmers, that wheat-raising is a remunerative business.
Since I860 other cereals, with grass seed and flax, have been more extensively grown, and stock-raising has considerably increased, the farmers every year improving their breeds by the introduction of fine, blooded animals.
There are in South Grove one carriage and two blacksmith shops, but no village.
The population of South Grove in 1855 was 400; in 1860, 662 ; in 1865, 789. It is credited upon the records of the State with 103 soldiers furnished for the great war. The town raised by taxation for war purposes $11,127.
Its first Supervisor was John S. Brown, who served in 1850. He was followed by W. M. Byers in 1851-52 ; by Jesse Tindall in 1853-54 ; John S. Brown in 1855-56 ; by James Byers, Jr., in 1857-58 ; by John S. Brown in 1859 ; by W. T. Adee in 1860-61 ; by W. M. Byers in 1862-63 ; by George A. Gillis in 1864-65 ; by James Byers, Jr., in 1866-67; and by A. C. Thompson in 1868.
Source: History of DeKalb County, Illinois by Boies, Henry L. (Henry Lamson), 1830-1887
Transcribed and Contributed to Genealogy Trails by Friends For Free Genealogy