Village of Steward
Lee County IL




The village of Steward in Alto township was a late-comer on the Illinois scene. The founder, Wesley Steward, moved to Lee county in August, 1855, from his home in the Alleghany mountain country of Pennsylvania where he had been born on October 27, 1838. In 1881, Mr. Steward owned 2,100 acres of land in the vicinity and in addition, he managed the 1,300 acres owned by his brotherLewis at Plano.

In 1870 Mr. Steward gave the ground for the building of the railroad and the first depot and postoffice were named in his honor. He died at his home in Steward in October, 1911, at the age of 74 years. Two sons had died in infancy and one daughter Bertha died in 1932. In 1875, the Methodist church was built. Before the construction of the church, meetings and services were held in homes and the old school house. Mr. Steward and Mr. Currey, who were partners in the grain business, felt that there should be a church in the community and a meeting was held in the railroad station in April 1874 to make plans for the edifice.

The Home of Wesley Steward, founder of Steward Township

Prof. R.M. Raymond of Garrett Biblical Institute was secured as the preacher for the morning of the Dedication Day. In order to secure a big crowd, Mr. Steward, who was then superintendent of the new railroad, permitted free trains to run from Chicago and from the west beyond Mt. Morris. The ladies of the community served dinner free in the church basement. The event was advertised as widely as possible. Free transportation and a free dinner brought a large crowd, many of whom came just for the ride, to eat and see the country, but not to attend the church services. So rough lookin gwas the crowd that some of the residents of the community coming to attend church, returned to their homes for fear they would be burglarized, which actually happened in a few instances. Prof. Raymond preached as best he could and then took up the matter of finances. After all the pledges had been secured, Mr. Steward and Mr. Currey took care of what deficits remained and the church as formally dedicated.

Rev. F.F. Farmiloe of Shabbona was called to preach the evening service and he was so well liked he was asked to serve the community as pastor. He was appointed to serve with a salary of $1000 and a house to live in. Mr. Steward personally assured both, and built the house now owned by Osborne Arne. A parsonage was purchased in the fall of 1876 for $1200 and is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Maclin. The present parsonage was built in 1903 at a cost of $3,300. The old parsonage was sold for $1,225 and bought by Dr. Kimball. A bell was purchased for the church during the pastorate of Rev. J.M. Griswold during 1886 and 1888, The first school house was built in 1859 with Miss Carrie Whitcomb as the first teacher. In 1881, a new two-story building was erected at a cost of $7000. This building was destroyed by fire Feb. 17, 1903. School was held for the rest of the year in rooms over Mr. Foster's store. During the summer of 1903, a new school building was built and ready for use Nov. 1. Mrs. F.J. Beardsley was the primary teacher. This school was destroyed by fire Feb. 20, 1926 and the present school building was built that summer and ready for use after many difficulties in the first of the year. A new gymnasium was added later and there were now 12 grades taught in the school. The first postoffice was established in 1871 and Mrs. Merritt Miller was the first postmistress. The first home for the postoffice was in the railroad depot. The first residence built in Steward was the home of Pat Carey, the first railroad section foreman. The Albert Daum family owns the house now. The village was incorporated on April 13, 1903 and an election was held that spring at which teh following were elected. President, U.S. Shearer; trustees, J.M. Durin, J.P. Yetter, John Taylor, F.F. Barnett, L.E. Birdsell and Tom Kirby; clerk, Ed Corwin; Treasurer, Zeno Wise; police magistrate, S.P. Whetson, and marshall, Jay Stiles.

The first National bank was organized Jan. 3, 1903 by the Titus brothers in the building which is now the postoffice. The bank prospered until the depression after WW I and was forced to close. There were then three grain elevators which still stand are used by Steward Grain and Lumber company, and Lee County Grain company. Two railroads run through Steward, the C.B. & Q, and C.M. & St. Paul. Three general merchandise stores, one grocery, one restaurant and confectionery combined, one hardware store, one implement house, one meat market, one blacksmith shop, one harness shop, one barber shop, one pain store, three firms engaged in grain and coal, one lumber trade, one dealer in windmills and plumbing an two doctors were all located in 1903.

The population of Steward now (1951) is 250. Descendants from the first villagers living in Steward include L.D. Hemenway, MRs. Gertrude Cook, Mrs. Margaret Durin, Mrs. F.J. Beardsley and John Yetter. Thirty-six ministers have served the Steward church since it was first started. Rev. D. Gene Harrington came in the summer of 1949 and is still the pastor.

From the Dixon Telegraph May 1, 1951.. written by Correspondent Mrs. Gunderson


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