History

Of

Ashton

Lee County IL


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Not among the earliest of pioneer settlements in this vicinity, Ashton nevertheless can trace its origin back over 100 years to the coming of Erastus Anderson in the year 1848. He was the first to settle here and was followed a few weeks later by his brother, Timothy and in December by their father.

The absence of earlier settlers is attributed to the lack of timber, for pioneers demanded fule. They feared the prairies over which the winds whistled. Then too, there was no great road or trail through this section and naturally settlers did not seek the open country so long as claims nearer the trail were to be had.

Other early settlers were Daniel Suter who came in 1852 and James Quick in 1854; the latter was a stone mason and plasterer who built many of the first stone buildings in Ashton. The first store building, built in 1855 wsa located at the east end of the present Main street and housed David Elmores's store. Quick and his wife occupied the second floor as a residence.

The coming of the Galena and Chicago Union railroad in 1854 gave this region its first impetus. When the whistle of the construction train was heard, the few pioneers would sprint down to the track, mothers carrying infants in their arms. Soon a small building was erected by the railroad company for a station.

The celebrated locomotive "Pioneer" was the construction engine. Dennis Decoursey, later a resident of Ashton, was the fireman on the Pioneer. James Bates was the first station agent, followed in order by Mr. Earl , O.F. Wilbur, WIlliam Vaughan, Phineas McMillan, William Fee and william T. Jenkins, the present agent. The first telegraph operator was Mrs. J.C. Smith. Samuel Bennett was the first section foreman.

Among the early residents of Ashton were many Irish immigrants who upon completion of the railroad as far as Ashton, quit the construction company and settled here, sending to Ireland for their families and friends. North of Ashton was settled by American pioneers, south by some English and a small French settlement; but later the farm community was taken up by a thrifty German population.

By 1857 this little hamlet boasted two 2-story stone buildings, a stone barn and a small stone school. One of the first houses was the home of Mrs. Margaret Cartwirght Griswold, and it was in this house that the first child was born in Ashton, Joseph Gooch. Another of the first houses was the stone house owned by the late Adam Feldkirchner, built in 1854 or 55 by James Bates, a relative of Eri Bates.

The quarrying of building stone was an important industry in Ashton in the early days. The first quarry was opened in 1855 on what is now the Roy Ventler ffarm. The first one opened in the corporate limits was in 1864 by James Quick in the location which is now Griffith park. Others were opened later, but cement as a building material supplanted stone to such an extent that the quarries were no longer worked.

Many carloads of stone were shipped to Chicago in the 70's to be used in rebuilding that great city after the disastrous fire of 1871. Ashton stone was used in the construction of the Ogle county courthouse, the Dixon Episcopal church and public library, and many other public buildings and foundations throughout northern Illinois.

The first church erected in Ashton was the Methodist in 1863. It was later remodeled to include a steeple and entrance way. A second church as built in 1864, the Free Methodist. The third church was built in 1866 by the Catholic people. It had a membership of 50. The Christian church was built in 1868, the German Baptist just outside of the village to the south in 1866 and in 1867 the Presbyterians erected their church. The Evangelical church had its beginning in Bradfort Twp. in 1849, the first church built five miles southwest of Ashton in 1859. A church was built in Reynolds twp. in 1872. The place of worship in Ashton was a chapel purchased from the Christian church, and a new edifice was erected in 1893. The Lutherans joined the Presbyterians in building their first church, worshipping one Sunday in the morning and the next in the afternoon. This arrangement, however, soon became inadequate to the needs of the congregation, and in the year 1891 they erected their own church.

Ashton has not always been known by that name, for when the village was first incorporated on February 16, 1865 it was named Ogle Station. Charles Barbour was chosen president and Conrad M. Hicks clerk of the meeting called for incorporating the village. The oath was administered to them by Joseph B. Williams, a notary public, whereupon the polls were declared open, 26 votes being cast for incorporating and 13 against. The first officers of the newly incorporated village were David Stele, president; C.M. Hicks, clerk; J.P. Taylor, treasurer, and Reuben Randolph and Earl Bates, trustees. The first police officer was william Flynn, sworn in as constable May 11, 1865 and the first city jail was built in the ewst end of the C & NW railroad coal sheds in May 1866.

Two years after being incorporated as Ogle Station, the name of the town was changed to Ashton by a special act of the state legislature March 5, 1867. At that time J.B. Williams was president and W.H. Emmerson, clerk. The late James Quick, one of the trustees, related how on the evening the board met to select the new name, they balloted many times on the different names suggested ( a favorite being Prairieview, but they failed to decide on any. Finally as midnight approached, Mr. Emmerson sugested they call it Ashton, and go home. They took a ballot, and it carried unanimously. No one asked, nor knew, why that name was suggested.

Synonymous with Ashton's early history was the old town pump which supplied the people with fine water. Means were limited, so the pioneers united together and dug the first well at what is now Ashton's main business intersection. Drilling was unknown, so it was necessary to use pick and shovel and it took strong, brawny arms and muscle until the well was dug to a depth where a fine vein of water was found. The well was walled up with stone and served the public for many years.

Two of the first businessmn of Ashton were Samuel F. Mills and Nathan A. Petrie who were to play such a great part in Ashton's development. In 1854 Mills came here and engaged in the grain and lumber trade, and in 1857 Petrie, his cousin, joined him. In 1861 they gave up their grain busienss for general merchandising, and in 1867 they entered the banking business, founding the Ashton bank in 1869l Petrie, in his memoirs, recalled that when he came to Ashton there was but one store, a drug store at the east end of presentday Main street operated by James Cantello, and about 25 houses. Andrew Drummond was the first postmaster anduntil 1860 the postoffice was located in one of the two early 2-story stone buildings on east Main street. It was then moved to a frame building on the site of the present Commercial block and kept by Daniel Sanford.

Ashton's first newspaper was the Ashton Herald started early in 1873 by Peter R. Bailey, but published for only four months. The second paper was the Ashton News started by Elbridge I. Otis May 20, 1873 with D.A. Glenn, editor. The third was the Ashton Sentinel started by P.O. Sproul in October 1873 and published about 10 years. The Ashton Press followed in January 1889, edited by Thad Smith. The name was changed to the Ashton News in October and files are complete until the last of December of that year. The news, like most of its predecessors, was printed out of town.

Ashton was without a paper until Feb. 28, 1895 when Charles A. bancroft started the Ashton Gazette, later purchased by Ralph J. Dean on June 24, 1904, who continued as its publisher for 42 years until his death in 1946. His son Robert R. Dean, succeeded as owner and publisher. Still another paper was started in Ashton, the Ashton Times, published in Rochelle by Charles and Fred Lux from February 1901 to October 1902.

Beginning with 1863, Ashton has been visited several times with ver disastrous fires. That year the grain elevator and flour mills burned; in 1871 the railroad property consisting of two tanks, the depot, coal sheds and four houses burned; in 1874 the hay press and the elevator burned. But the most disastrous was the fire in 1889 which swept Ashton's Main street on March 28, destroying 28 business buildings. Still another conflagration, one year laer, in the spring of 1890, consumed 1/3 of the remaining business firms that survived the fire that previous year.

As early as 1859 a school election was held in the village and James Brecunier, Daniel Suter and George Glenn were elected as directors. Ezekiel Conklin taught the first school in a tar-roofed shanty just east of the first stone buildings in the 50's. A one story school building succeeded the first school and a Mr. Long was the teacher. The third school was a small stone building on the southeast corner of the present school property built in the year 1863. Miles Teneych was the teacher. J.e> Andrus, David A. Glenn, Miss Margaret Cartwright and George Brewer were among the early school teachers. A new school building was soon needed and two sites were under consideration, one the site of the present school building and the other on top of the hill where the Catholic church later stood. The former location where the little stone school stood was chosen and made larger by purchasing the lot north which made the present school grounds.

The material for the building was obtained in the quarry on the north edge of the village. James Quick superintended the work. The building was completed in the fall of 1869 at a cost of $23,000. The first graduating class in 1874 consisted of Lyman Booth, Mrs. Westana, Glenn Rosecrans and Mrs. Maggie Brown Byers. The school continued to serve the community until 1914 when it was razed and replaced by the present modern school at a cost of $35,000. Ashton grew and prospered as the years sped by and became widely known as a model "city" of village size.

A complete water works system was installe din 1914; sewer in 1917; 50 blocks of paving laid in 1920-21 made it the best paved town in Illinois; a boulevard lighting system further citified the village; a beautiful plot of ground was donated to the school district by the late Mr. and Mrs. Hartman M. Kersten for an athletic field in 1923 and was later lighted for night softball, still later adapted also to accomodate a football field.

In 1936 the beautiful Memorial library and gymnasium was constructed, a gift of Mills & Petrie, and dedicated in their memory. The $115,000 structure serves as a community center for countless activities. Here the business of village government is conducted and numerous organization, civic and service clubs meet.

It is the home of the Ashton Aces basketball team; men and women's volleyball teams play here throughout the winter; the school's physical education activities are held here. The office of Community unit school district 271 is located in the building. A very adequate library, luxurious lunge and commodious kitchen in addition to the large auditorium complete the facilities.

Ashton has a large, beautiful city park, the gift of J.C. Griffith and named in his honor. It is the site of one of Ashton's earliest stone quarries and is unique in its natural beauty. Fireplaces, genches and a shelter house offer picnicers and ideal pleasure spot. Latest of Ashton's accomplishments is the beautiful new theatre building, a project carried out the past year by the people of the community who subscribed stock to build the $40,000 theatre. Opened January 26 of this year, the theatre is marvelously furnsihed and equipped and is doing a very fine business under the management of Clyde Sheppard, a newcomer to the community.

Source: Dixon Evening Telegraph Centennial Edition 1951
Wirtten by Robert R. Dean

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