Lee County Biographies

Contributed by Greg Nickels

Col. Nathan opened a farm near Allison, N.Y., and another at Elba, N.Y. He visited Lee county, Ill., in 1835, and later in 1836 and 1837, his family following in 1838. He was one of the commissioners to organize the county of Lee, and since then held the office of county commissioner. His nursery was the first north of the Illinois river. From De Witt Clinton, Governor of New York, he has three military commissions, those of captain, lieutenant-colonel and colonel.

At the time of his death he was the oldest Mason in the Northwest. During the Morgan excitement he was among the "faithless faithful found." Colonel Nathan Whitney was tendered a reception in Jan., 1891, by his Masonic bothers at his home in Franklin Grove, it being the one hundredth anniversary of his birth, and prominent Masons from Chicago, Dixon, Ashton, Creston, Amboy, De Kalb and Sterling were present. A.B. Fich, in behalf of Nathan Whitney Chapter, No. 129, Royal Arch Masons, named in honor of Father Whitney, presented him with a solid silver platter suitably inscribed. Letters and telegrams of ongratulation poured in upon Father Whitney all day.

Over two hundred guests and four generations sat down to a bounteous repast. He served in the war of 1812 and was mentioned for brave service in the battle at Fort Erie. He was one of the oldest Masons in the state at the time of his death, having received his first degree in 1817. He d. June 11, 1891; res. Albion, N.Y., and Franklin Grove, Ill.


Contributed by Larry Myers

Franklin Grove Illinois
In Association With The Whitney Family,
Pioneer Pathfinders Franklin Grove

In 1835 when the Franklin Grove area was "new" country to the white man, Nathan Whitney was captivated on his first visit. He came to this region directly from Unionville, Ohio, then regarded as the western boundary of civilization. Col. Whitney and his family previously had lived in western New York state, during which time he served in the War of 1812. His heroic wife Sarah Gray Whitney had braved the frontier hardships of western New York's wilderness, and the rugged life in Ohio, much of the time alone except for the help of her young children.

Thought to be the first settler in this area, Nathan made claim to a Franklin Grove tract of land in 1836. The Whitney's new land contained 28 acres of timber. From this timber their first house was built and became a familiar Lee County landmark, dubbed "The Red Vinegar" house. On this land the first nursery in Northern Illinois was established. An enormous nursery-orchard of fruit and shade trees. Ultimately it contained 300 acres with 135 arces of orchard. Col. Whitney was an early proponent of advertising and exported seedlings to most of Europe. He also enjoyed a thriving domestic business throughout this country. In one season his 20,000 fruit-bearing trees yielded 16,000 bushels of apples. Conspicious among the fruits, was the Whitney Apple, a large, juicy eating apple known as the Siberian Crab, Number 20, developed by Nathan and his son Alexis in the 1850's.

The harvest also included apples, pears, cherries, grapes, black walnuts, hickory nuts and more. Also realized were 800 barrels of cider, vinegar and many fine wines.

Evergreens, fir, pine, spruce and hemlock were the Nursery's shade trees, which numbered 800,000. The Whitney nursery was heralded as one of the best equipped nurseries in the United States.

Franklin Grove today distingushes itself on many levels, including its fine churches and excellent schools. It remains one of the most beautiful towns in the state, with its uncommonly lush shade trees and fine homes. Out of the spirit and pride of Franklin Grove area people, come the esquisitly beautiful Franklin Grove State Park.

The park "movement" begain in 1970 with the donation by Winnifred Knox of 191 acres for this purpose. By 1978 other parcels had been added to make up the 506 acres along Franklin Creek. Donations came from numerous individuals and area businesses in the form of donations of cash, manpower and material and equipment. Opened and dedicated in August of 1982, the State Park provides and outstanding recreational area and preserves a wealth of natural beauty.

The efforts of Ellen Baker, Chairperson of the Historical Society and Marjorie Cruse, Franklin Grove's libarian help to maintain knowledge of the area's history and sense of pride. The Whitney Fund, managed by chairperson Baker, supports the Franklin Grove Summer Harvest Festival. The Society continues to offer for sale, as part of their "Living History", two year old Whitney Crabapple trees.

Sauk Valley Community College shares a well-deserved pride in this great community. The College administrators applaud the energy and citizenship of Franklin Grove residents and the enterprising Nathan Whitney.


Col. Nathan Whitney

Source: Portraits and Biographical of Lee County Pg. 430

At the great age of one hundred years, four months and twenty days, this venerable gentleman passed away, June 11, 1891, at the home of his son A.R. Whitney. Amid sceneswhich held the associations of years of toil and hardships, his declining days were passed in the comforts of a happy home and tenderly cared for by those who held him dear.

Father Whitney, as he wsa familiarly known was born in Conway, Mass. January 22, 1791 and was the third in a family of five brothers, all of whom attained to advanced years. In his early manhood he ws married to Miss Sarah Gray, and twice opened farms in Western New York before he removed ot the new State of Illinois. The year 1835 marked his arrival here and two years afterward he made a final settlement. He and his wife became the parents of seven children, six daughters and one son, five of whom survived him. namely: Mrs. Polly SMith; Mrs. Abram Brown; Mrs. Hannah McKenney of Dixon; Mrs. D.B. McKenney of Chicago and A.R. Whitney of Franklin Grove.

June 23, 1817, Father Whitney wsa initiated into the mysteries of Free Masonry, with which order he ever afterward maintained his connection, being at the time of his death undoubtedly the oldest Mason in the world. He was a charter member of Friendship Lodge No. 7 of Dixon, established in 1840, and was among the first to receive the red cross order of a Sir Knight in Dixon Commandery. The Nathan Whiteny Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, of which he was a member at the time of death was amed in his honor.

As his grandfather bore arms to defense of his country during the Revolutionary War, so our subject was a valiant soldier in the War of 1812 and received mention for bravery at the battle of Ft. Erie. There are still in possession of his descendants his commission as Lieutenant, Captain and Colonel, bearing the signature of DeWitt Clinton Governor of New York. Son after Mr. Whitney moved to this vicinity he was elected one of the commissioners who organized the county of Lee and who for years took an active part in its improvements.

The funeral of Father Whitney took place on June 14, 1891. After brief services at the home conducted by Rev. A.H. Scoonmaker, the remains were conveyed to Dixon, where they were placed in state under a guard of eight Sir Knights at the court house and were viewed by many hundreds of people. Later a procession was formed in which one hundred Sir Knights and one hundred and three Blue Lodge Masons were in line, the largest Masonic funeral ever held in the county. Besides the Dixon and Franklin lodges, large detachments of Knights and Masons were in attendance from Sterling, Sycamore, DeKalb and other places, and the impressive burial services was concluded at the grave.


Col. Nathan Whitney

Messrs. T. O. Wolfe, T. P. Ruth, J. Q. Russell and G. W. Dicus, were in Dixon Sunday last to attend the funeral of Nathan Whitney which occurred there. The deceased was the oldest Mason in the United States.
Contributed by Karen Fyock -- Buried June 14, 1891 handwritten on Scrapbook Clipping

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