The History of Earlville, LaSalle County, Illinois

Transcribed by Nancy Piper

Earlville (At first known as Earl), southeast of Mendota, and almost in a direct lien north of historic Utica, was incorporated on May 16, 1863, by a vote of the citizens of the town, and William R. Haight, Matthias H. Signor, David M. Vosburgh, James H. Breese and Samuel T. Stilson were elected trustees for one year and were sworn into office by Henry A. Chase, a justice of the peace. William R. Haight was elected president of the board and Hubert S. Wattles was appointed clerk. The first settler in the district was Charles H. Sutphen, who came from Boston, Massachusetts in 1834, in company with John B. Dow. In 1839 Sutphen purchased 1,000 acres and this tract he maintained as a stock farm for about twenty years. According to Baldwin, Mr. Sutphen was for years the leading man in the township, a justice of the peace for fifteen years, "Being the oldest justice in La Salle County when he resigned the office."

Notwithstanding its name, suggestive of rank, high station and long descent, the makers of Earlville were chiefly from Massachusetts and New York States, and qualified by descent and tradition to build houses and dwell in them to place gardens and eat of their fruit.

At a meeting of the trusteed held at the office of H. A. Chase, December 19, 1876, a petition of seventy-five voters (which was more than one-eighth of the legal voters of the town) was presented, praying that the question should be submitted to the voters whether the town should become submitted to the voters whether the town should become incorportated as a city under the general laws of the state. The prayer was answered and the election ordered to be held in Robinson Hall, February 5, 1877.

Thomas Perdieu was appointed to take the census of the town, and on February 2, 1877, he returned to the board his affidavit that the population was 1,090. The number being sufficient to comply with the law, judges and clerks of election were appointed and the election held February 5, with the result that 116 votes were cast for city organization and one vote against it. After canvassing the result of the election, the board of trustees declared that the town be organized under the general laws of the state as the City of Earlville.

The first city council was as follows: Mayor, Joseph J. Pool; aldermen first ward, Joseph S. Miller and Jacob A. Dupee; aldermen second ward, James S. Bradley and Dwight A. Brown; aldermen third ward, Samuel C. Wiley and Norman H. Powers; city clerk, Henry A. Chase; city attorney, Jacob W. Browne.

The city remained under aldermanic form until 1917, when it was voted to go under the new city commission form and continued thus for six years, when a year ago it was voted to again return to the aldermanic form. The present officers (1924) are: Mayor, Dr. Ezra T. Goble; aldermen first ward, W. W. Walker and E. W. Mallery; aldermen third ward, Alvin Kaminky and G. A. Haas; city clerk, H. A. Binder; city treasurer, G. H. Wiley.

The city now has a population of about 1,100 and is one of ht prettiest little cities of Northern Illinois. It has good business house, nearly every branch being represented; two of the finest baking rooms in Northern Illinois, housing financial institutions that are solid and well-managed; one of the best local newspapers in the state, the Earlville Leader. It has a fine high school building, a sewer system put in three years ago at a cost of approximately $100,000, concrete sidewalks, an auto fire truck recently purchased, it owns the city water plant, which is housed in a brick building, and has a two-story city hall, which also houses the fire apparatus.

As early as 1873 the people gave practical demonstration of the city's progress by petitioning the authorities to establish a free public library and reading room. The provisions of the law having been complied with, a tax of one mill on the dollar was voted, and a library board of six members was appointed, which in time became identified with the public library. "From the beginning the men and women who made the establishment and maintenance of our public library possible were broad-minded, intelligent people and all were anxious that our library should have a permanent home." On November 4, 1919, the school library became a township library and the increased revenue led to greater development in equipment and number of volumes. The librarian, Miss Fannie M. Burlingame, "has given her time and talent for many years, regardless of compensation, only desirous that the best literature be placed in the hands of our young people. We sometimes hear it said that on one is so important that his or her place could not be filled; but it would be hard indeed to find another one to fill her place." [Source:  History of La Salle County, Illinois. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1924.]


Between the years 1835 and 1840, several settlers located about Indian Creek timber, among whom were O. P. Johnson, C. H. Sutphen, S. T. Stilson, O. J. Wilson, Samuel Carter, Major D. Wallace, James Phillips, Frank Ransted, A. Foster, J. T. Cook, Russell Bliss, James Morse, Albert Dow, Warren Dow, Joseph Bliss, John Thomton and Allen and Andrew Brown. These early settlers were compelled to market in Chicago, and for milling went to Dayton, the only mill within a radius of one hundred and fifty miles. The nearest store, post-office or physician, was at Princeton, Bureau county, or at Ottawa. C. H. Sutphen owned the only grindstone in the settlement, which sharpened his neighbor's tools and those of the Indians, then plenty in this part of the county.

In 1844, Joseph Bliss opened the pioneer store of Earl township in a small log cabin on what is now the Dow Place. Here he continued till the commencement of business in the village, by Wm. Wade. This same year, 1844, the precinct school house was erected, and in it were held semi-monthly religious services, by Rev. Batchelor, now a resident of Harding, The Rev. George Bags had preached in this locality a few times before this, occupying a settler's cabin. He solemnized the first marriage in the township, being' the nuptials of O. P. Johnson and his present wife, who are now residents of 1talngian's Grove.

Three years after the opening of the pioneer store, a road from Earl to Ottawa, known as the "plank road," by way of Harding, was constructed. This gave a direct route to the county seat, and was a great aid to the farmers and those desiring to trade in that city. Some trouble was experienced by the early residents regarding claims. The process, often known as "jumping a claim," was practiced here, and in one instance led to tragic results-the shooting of a Mr. Morse. This put a stop to such proceedings, and lawful methods afterwards governed.

The country was overrun with desperadoes, engaged in horse stealing . After Earlville was laid out and the hotel erected, these marauders would stop with the proprietor, S. T. Stilson, and present themselves with the greatest impunity about the streets. The citizens were afraid of them. knowing them to be a desperate set; and not until they were fully aroused and had organized a Vigilance Committee, and lynched several of the more desperate characters, and shot the Driscolls, did the depredations cease.

The land comprising the village site was entered by a Mr. Taylor, at Galena, for C. II. Sutphen, who in the fall of 1839 sold to S.T. Stilson, who in turn, sold the northern portion to M. H Sigor. In what is now the lower part of town, Mr. Sutphen, in 1847, erected a cabin, and being appointed postmaster, kept the office in his dwelling. His nephew, who generally performed the duties of the office, was named Earl, and to please Mrs. Sutphen, the name Earlville was given the embryo town. Soon after Mr. Sutphen's settlement, Wm. B. Wade, already referred to, commenced business as a storekeeper, Harrison Bennett, blacksmithing, and S. T. Stilson opened a hotel. Mr. Wade subsequently sold to Wm. Rollinson, and built again on the opposite side of the street. About 1850, a Mr. Lam port erected a two story building, the lower story of which he occupied as a store.

These three stores continued business, with various changes, until the autumn of 1853, when they were all removed nearer the railroad, which was then completed and the cars running.

As soon as the station was established, building went rapidly forward, and by the time of the breaking out of the war, Earlville was quite a business centre, and enjoying an excellent trade. In 1858, a good deal of excitement arose over the manufacture and sale of liquor by Jonathan Reed. It was alleged that the whiskey made by him was poisonous, as several person s using-it, met with mysterious deaths, and others were peculiarly affected by its moderate use. Various attempts were made by the citizens to induce him to cease its manufacture, but without avail; when , becoming exasperated at his boldness, the people, en masse, entered his saloon and poured his vile compounds into the street. Reed arrested several of the principal ones, which led to his own indictment, and a fine of over $1,000. Those he arrested were acquitted, and in revenge, Reed, John King and T. C. Cook, forming a conspiracy, hired Ben. Lotz, who had gained an unenviable notoriety by blowing up Brock's Monument, and running the steamer Caroline over Niagara Falls, to destroy the school house, just completed, and a source of pride to the citizens. This he did on the night of September 13th. He was shot the same day that he was known to have performed the deed. The conspiracy was discovered, and the perpetrators brought to punishment. To the crime of destroying the school house, they had added that of arson, and had not precautionary measures been taken by the authorities in their capture, the citizens would have taken the law into their own hands.

During these years the growth of the town was healthy, and by, 1863, steps were taken to secure a town corporation. On May 16th, all election for town trustees was held, which resulted in the choice of the following gentlemen: W. R. Haight, M.H.. Signor, D. M. Vosurg, J. H. Breece and S. T. Stilson. The first named gentleman was chosen president of the body, and H. S. Wattles was elected clerk.

This form of government continued until the spring of 18i7, when a petition for city government being presented by the residents, it was granted, and the following gentlen1all chosen councilmen: J. S. Miller and J. A. Dupee, 1st Ward; J. S. Radley and D. A. Brown, 2d.Ward; S. C. Wiley and N. H. Powers, 3d Ward ; H. A. Chase, City Clerk, and J. W. Brown, City Attorney. The .Mayor is Hon. J. J. Pool.


Earlville has always been a good grain point. The honor of raising the first crop of wheat in the township, belongs to Mr. George Wallace. He was employed by S. T. Stilson, and with an ox team, three years before the commencement of the village, broke the prairie, on which was produced an excellent crop of wheat.

After the completion of the railroad, Messrs. Chase and Signor built a small grain office on the north Ride or the track, and commenced the purchase of grain. Timothy Goble, of Paw Paw Grove, brought the first load of wheat to Earlville market. The railroad company erected the first 'warehouse on the south side of the track. It is yet used. Mr. II. Signor continued ill the business some years. Messrs. Haight and Stilson erected the second warehouse soon after the completion of the one by the railroad company. In 1865, C. S. Munson built a third grain house, where he continued business several years. O. C.o Warren finally purchased and rented all these 'warehouses, and carried on the trade quite extensively until failure, when it was taken up by other firms and still carried on.

The manufacturing interests are very well sustained. A cheese factory, established a few years ago is now making about 63,000 pounds annually.

A good grist mill was started in 1866, but burned down on the 15th of May, 1870. The plow factory was established in July, 1873. A company representing a capital of $30,000 was formed, the right to manufacture the Curtis plow was purchased, and operations at once began, They also make other farm implements, and are commanding a good trade. Mr. S. C. Wiley is president of the company.

Earlville has suffered with one or two depressing fires. The first occurred all March 22, 1867, when a fire originating in the cellar of A. B. Conkling's grocery, swept away many fine buildings. Another, equally disastrous, occurred the following April. Again, on March 2d, 1875, a fire almost destroyed the entire business portion, completely consuming all frame business houses not burned in the former fires.

These have, however, been nearly all rebuilt in brick, and the town now presents solid, substantial business houses.

The first bank was opened by Stilson and Hallack, in 1857. After remaining in partnership a few months, Mr. Stilson sold to Mr. Hallack, who, a year or 80 after, absconded, to the great loss of many creditors, and all efforts to find him have been unavailing. In 1876, C. S. Munson opened the second bank, which is still in operation, being under the control of Mr. Wm. Wilson.


On June 16, 1840, a meeting of citizens was called, at which Allen Brown, Levi Carter, Major I). Wallace, Volney Beckwith and Russell Bliss, were elected trustees of township number 35, for the purpose of dividing it into districts or precincts for school purposes.

This board met on June 27th, and divided the township into five school districts. This division did not prove satisfactory. As the township became settled, in 1854 another petition was presented to Russell Bliss, A. C. Burlinghame and R. Richardson, trustees, to form a new district that would include Earlville. This was done, and numbered 10. In 1856, the entire township was re-divided and the present number of districts made. The first schoolhouse in the township was erected on the east side of the creek, near Samuel Carter's, and in this pioneer building, just in the edge of the timber, Mr. D. Smith taught for twO winters. This was the first public school, but as early as 1840, Miss Lucy Ballard had taught a private school, continuing it several years.

Until 1857, school was taught in Earlville in a small building occupying the site of the present Presbyterian church. That year a tax was levied in the thinly settled district and by the next year a neat two-story brick edifice (the first brick building in town.] was ready for occupancy. It cost about $1,000, and, as has been noticed, was blown to pieces on the night of Sept. 13th, 1858. A frame building of two rooms soon took its place, and to this two more rooms have been added, and the building so enlarged is still used.

The oldest church organization in town is the Presbyterian. This congregation was organized by the Rev. John F'leming, Feb. 22, 1852, with ten members. They worshipped in the school house until February, 1855, when they completed a, house of worship, which in 1863 was torn down, to give place to the present comfortable edifice. The Rev. John Ustick is the present pastor, his ministry extending over twenty-two years. There are now about sixty members. 'The Methodist Episcopal church was organized as a class as early as 1840. After various vicissitudes they were organized in the village (they had previously worshipped ill a school house out of town) in 1853, by Elijah Ransom , a lay minister. In 1856, a church building was begun and completed so it could he occupied the following year. The church was fully finished and is now used. The society is quite prosperous and owns a good parsonage in addition to the church. The present pastor is Rev, E. Brown.

The Congregational church was organized in Dupee's Hall, Oct. 28, 1867, with ten members, three of whom are still connected here. The organization was not consummated until the 19th of Nov., when the officers were chosen, and the first pastor, Rev. C. Harrison, commenced his labors. This house of worship was completed and dedicated Jan, 2d, 1870. At present there is no regular pastor; those succeeding Rev. Harrison were Rev, S. P. Goodenow, from 1872 to 1874, and Rev. J. R. Barnes, from 1874 to 1876.

The Baptist church was organized April 19, 1856, by Rev, J. Higby. They worshipped in the school house and in other churches until the fall of 1871, when, under the ministry of Rev. F. D. Ives, a comfortable house of worship was completed, so it could be used. They have now a good congregation under the pastorate of Rev. Mr. L. Libby.

The Universalist society held their earliest meeting here in Robinson's Hall, in the winter of 1866-7. The first pastor was Rev. W. S. Ralph, who remained from Jan. 1867 to Jan. 1870. During the year 1869, they built their house of worship, a commodious brick structure, costing nearly $1,500. During the summer of 1870, the pulpit was filled by Miss Mary H. Graves. In October, Rev. Alfred Rains was called, who remained four years, and was succeeded by the present pastor, Rev. A, H. Laing, who came in Nov., 1875. There are now about two hundred attendants at this church.


The Earlville Gazette was established by the present editor and proprietor, C. B. Signor, about twelve years ago.


Shabbona Lodge, No. 294, I. O. O. F.-Instituted March 19, 1861. Officers: William Radley, N. G.; E. T. Goble, V. G.; Wm. C. Perry, Sec'y.; Wm. B. Reynolds, Treas, Number of members 65. Meets at Earlville.

[Source: The Past and present of La Salle County, Illinois, Chicago: H.F. Kett & Co., Ottaway & Colbert, printers), 1877. Page 338-340]

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