History of Paw Paw

Lee County Illinois


Photo above - Main Street - Paw Paw around 1900    

Perbaps the first white man to stop at the site of the present village of Pawpaw was the famous army officer, Gen. Winfield S. Scott. During the Black Hawk war the general and his staff followed an old Indian trail that led from Chicago to Galena. In his autobiography, written many years later, Gen. Scott mentions a stop at Pawpaw Grove. After the Blackhawk War the Indians were moved to the reservations west of the Mississippi and settlers prepared to move into northern Illinois. Anticipating this flood of immigration the state instructed engineers to survey a road which was to follow approximately Scott's old army trail. This road was called the Chicago-Galena Road.

About 80 miles west of Chicago the road skirted a beautiful hardwood grove of some 2,000 acres. In this grove grew numerous oaks, maples and walnuts. There was also a small tree unknown to people in many parts of the country which bore a sweet fruit somewhat like a banana in shape and flavor. This was the pawpaw and from this tree the village of Pawpaw takes its name.

The first settlers located around the grove itself. Here could be found shelter, fuel and logs for building cabins. The grove lies on a divide between the Rock and the Illinois rivers and the settlers found it to be free from the ague of Pawpaws, the township in which the village was located was named Pawpaw, and the adjoining township in DeKalb county was also called Pawpaw. It seems that there were too many Pawpaws and eventually the Lee county township of Pawpaw was changed to Wyoming, after the Wyoming valley in Pennsylvania, from which many of the early settlers came.

The Frink and Walker stage line ran its coaches from Chicago to Galena as soon as the state road was laid out. The stages passed through the main street of Pawpaw. Frink and Walker had the government mail contract and for several months the drivers passed out the mail directly from he coach to the eager settles. Postage was paid by the recipient, and, as money was scarce, the driver sometimes accepted produce in lieu of money.

In 1837 a star route was established and William Rogers became the first postmaster. Before this time the closest post office was at Somonauk about 20 miles distance. In 1839 a road from Princeton intersected the Chicago road at the corner of Main and Peru streets and Willard Hastings., Pawpaw merchant, began to carry mail between Pawpaw and Princeton. The old Princeton road is known today as the Angling road.

The first stage house or tavern was located on the Chicago road about half way between East and West Pawpaw. It was conducted by Isaac Balding and the stage stopped here as long as it ran through Pawpaw.

At first the village grew slowly, and by 1847 there were probably less than 50 inhabitants. The only business establishments were a smithy and a shingle mill. The one store had burned and was not rebuilt for several years. During this period peddlers supplied the villages with a variety of merchandise.

By 1850, however, the village began to grow. Field and Robinson started a general store and they were followed by a wagon maker, a shoemaker, a harness maker, and soon a second store. Two hotels were built at the intersection of the Chicago and the Princeton roads. One of the hotels the Datemore House, erected in 1851, stood until recently.

The first schoolhouse in the township was a little pole school house built in 1836. Emily Giles from Fox River taught the school for $1.00 a week and boarded around. For a number of years vacated cabins and private homes were also used for school purposes. All early schools were supported by subscription. The first frame school house in Pawpaw was erected in 1846. In 1848 school districts were established and in 1860 the schools were graded.

Settlers in the vicinity of Pawpaw Grove had a genuine inerest in education and in 1855 a stock company was organized which built an academy at East Pawpaw which took the name of East Pawpaw Classical Seminary and Teachers Institute. Many students who later became lawyers, physicians, minister, and teachers were trained at this school. For many years the school published a paper called "The Student's Offering." The academy continued until high schools were established in the vicinity.

For many years Pawpaw maintained an accredited four year high school. The frame building standing on the west side of town burned in 1897 and a brick building was erected in the east end of the village. This building also burned and in 1926, the present building was completed. Three years ago Pawpaw joined with several other villages in organizing the East Lee County Community Unit, which is the largest school district in the sate in area.

Pawpaw has three churches, Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist. The Baptists organized in 1841 at South Pawpaw. In 1864 they dedicated a new church building. This building wsa moved to Pawpaw in 1873 and remodeled.

About 1870 the Presbyterians began holding meetings in the schoolhouse. The Rev. A.S. Peck of the Wyoming church at Cottage Hill preached to them every two weeks. By 1875, however, they had completed a building at Pawpaw. The Rev. Dr. Gibson of Chicago preached the dedicatory sermon.

In 1869 the Methodists also met in the schoolhouse, by 1875 they too had completed a building. Pawpaw, as a separate charge in the Rock River conference, was organized in 1879. Prior to the organization of churches, services were held with more or less regularity by all denomination in private homes. Several well known circuit riders visited, among them the famous Peter Cartwright.

During the period of intensive railroad building in northern Illinois in the 1850's, Pawpaw had the misfortune to be missed by two trunk lines. Burlington on the South and the Northwestern on the North. This caused a decline in the fortunes of the village. To partially remedy matters the township bonded in 1869 to help build the Rock River railroad from Rock Falls eastward. The line was finished to Pawpaw in 1872 and finally terminated at Shabbona. It was immediately leased by the Burlington and is still being run by that line.

D.C. Heath was the first physician to come to Pawpaw, but George S. Hunt was the first resident physician. Dr. George Ryan located here in 1850. He afterwards became a colonel in the Civil War. Later physicians were J.H. Braffett, Thomas Stetler and T.D. Palmer, names still remembered at Pawpaw. Still later Dr. Avery spent many years here and Dr. Fleming is the resident physician at the present time.

Pawpaw, for a time, had two newspapers. In 1877 R.H. Ruggles issued the first number of the Herald. In 1878 E.G. Cass and J.B. Gardner started the Lee County Times. These men also published the Lee Monitor and the Compton Record. During nearly a half of its existence the Lee County Times was published by Ed Guffin, who still maintains a home at Pawpaw. For a number of years, however, Robert H. Carter has published the paper.

Dixon Evening Telegraph 01 May 1951 Centennial Edition, written by H.C. Barton

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