History of Alto Township

On the northeast quarter of Section 21 grows "Plum Thicket," the only natural grove in the town. The propensity, universally followed by the pioneers, to gather in or around the Umber, prevailed in this instance, for the first settiers located at this grove. Here John Grimes, in 1847, built the first house, although he arrived in 1843. About two years later came Rev. J. Wood, of the Baptist faith, who remained two or three years and removed to Earlville, LaSalle County. Then followed Jedediala Loveridge in 1853, who, after some twenty years, emigrated to Nebraska. After these came James Holcomb and his father's family, and Hubbel Williams, Mason Herrick, the Mills family, James Tyler, C. R. Hall, the Kirbys, McDonnels, Stewards, Carpenters and others.

Alto was set off from Willow Creek by resolution of the Board of Supervisors, at its February meeting in 1860. At the first election in the town 47 votes were polled, resulting in the election of the following officers: Supervisor, C. H. Hall; Town Clerk and Assessor, James Tyler; Collector, Josiah Carpenter; Justices of the Peace, Daniel Carey and H. C. Holcomb; Constables, Josiah Carpenter and John Dorson.

The town voted to take $32,000 of the stock of the Chicago & Iowa Railroa.d when that road was about to be built through the township, and to issue bonds in payment therefor. This was in the early part of the winter of 1869. Grading was commenced early the next summer on this part of the road, and it was completed into Rochelle on the night of December 31, at 10:25 o'clock. A compromise was finally effected by which the town, instead of investing $32,000 in stock, donated the company $25,000 in bonds.

The Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church organized, June 25, 1870, and btzilt a church building three miles east of Steward, at a cost of about $2,300.

Steward.- The town of Steward was platted, November 22, 1872, by Mr. Wesley Steward, who owned the land and founded the town It was incorporated as a village, April 13, 1903, by proceedings in the County Court.

The first dwelling to be erected in the village was built by Patrick Casey on Lot 6, Block 1, and the first store was built by Henry A. Robinson on Lot 3 of same block. The first school house was built in 1882 at a cost of about $3,000, and was destroyed by fire February 8, 1903. A new building was erected on the same site at a cost of $7,000 ready for opening of the fall term of the school the same year.

The first elevator in the place was put up by Wesley Steward, who after two years took in G. F. Henning as partner, and the business, including dealing in lumber, coal, etc., was carried on by them, under the firm name of Steward & Co., for twenty-five years, the firm of Titus Brothers, the present owners, succeeding them. Another elevator was erected in 1880 and is now owned by Titus Bros. It is asserted that about one million bushels of grain are shipped from this point yearly, and that it ranks as the greatest grain-shipping station in Northern Illinois.

The First National Bank of Steward furnishes the banking facilities of the community. It was organized January 6, 1903. with a capital of $25,000. Its directors are: E. L. Titus, J. M. Durin, A. B. Titus, R. W. Hough, W. P. Graham, George E. Stocking, Wesley Steward, G. W. Durin and I. R. Titus. The officers are: E. L. Titus, President; J. M. Durin, Vice-President; I. R. Titus, Cashier. Its deposits, at close of business August 28, 1903, were $51,742.44.

Steward is a very prosperous village and is looked upon as one of the best of the smaller towns in the county. According to the census returns the township had a population of 923 in 1890, and 924 in 1900. The census of the village does not appear separately from that of the township.

Transcribed by Rays Place
From: Encyclopedia of Illinois and the History of Lee County
Edited by: Mr. A. C. Bardwell. Munsell Publishing Company Chicago 1904.


The origin of the name of Alto township does not seem to have been preserved. At all events the oldest settlers can furnish no information and previous histories have overlooked this important feature.

At a meeting of the citizens of Alto township, April 3, 1860, Hiram C. Holcomb was appointed chairman, Charles R. Hall was made moderator and James Tyler, clerk. Justice H.C. Holcomb administered the oath and the polls were declared opened at 9 o'clock.

At this meeting it was ordered that the township be divided into four road districts and that a tax levy of 40 cents on the hundred dollars be levied for road purposes. A motion was also carried to raise a tax of 2 mills on the dollar for town purposes. The long period of herding cattle had become so much of a nuisance to the increasing settlements that drastic measures were taken to compel cattle owners to fence their cattle. A motion was carried to the effect that all cattle should be kept up at night and if damage followed from leaving them at large, the owner was to pay for all damage done for the first offense and for the second offense the owner was to pay double the damage done. And to enforce the rule summarily, every man was made his own poundmaster.

Forty-seven votes were polled. C.R. Hall was elected the first supervisor, James Taylor the first town clerk, Josia Carpenter the first collector, James Tyler the first assessor, Daniel Carey and H.C. Holcomb the first justices of the peace, Josia Carpenter and John Dorson the first constables, Jebediah Loneridge the first overseere of the poor, and James A. Smith, Roan MCClure and M. Mills, the first highway commissioners.

The first settlers of Alto were Mr. and Mrs. John Grimes who came to Alto in 1843 and settled near Plum Thicket, the only grove in the township. The house of Mr. Grimes, the first one built in the township, was built, it is said, in 1847, four years after he settled. The second settler came in 1845 and his name was J. Wood, a Baptist preacher. He remained two or three years then moved to Earlville. About 1852, Jebediah Loneridge came. He remained about 20 years and removed to Nebraska. Following Loneridge, "the basket maker", came James Holcomb and his father, Hubbell Williams, Mason herrick, the Mills family, James Tyler, C.R. Hall, the Kirbys, the Sewards, the McDonalds (or McDonnells, as spelled sometimes), and the Carpenters. William Carpenter came to Alto in 1857.

Alto township is a prairie township and like other prairie townships, did not settle rapidly. In fact it may be said of Alto that its population was sparse until the late sixties. And it excited little attention until the railroad came through.

But since that date, Alto has given an excellent account of herself. It is a wonderfully rich township and until little Scarboro was created, Steward was the only village or city, for that matter, in northern Illinois to market over a million bushels of grain year after year. Even now, with Scarboro feeding on its own territory Steward has marketed 800,000 bushels of grain. In the year 1869 and 1870, when every community in northern Illinois was agitated by the prospects of having a railroad or tow, Alto experience those same thrills. It was said that Francis E. Hinckley desired to build a railroad from Forreston to Chicago, to run through Alto township.

The rumor created great excitement of course and wyhen it was proposed to bond the township for $32,000 payable when cars were running over the rails, the proposition provided the usual antagonism. Patriotism was appealed to one the one hand; the fellow who though he was paying taxes enough, opposed the venture. A meetin was had and a vote was taken when carried favorable to the bonds by a vote of 93 for, 50 against. Grading was commenced on Monday, Sept. 26, 1870, and on Dec. 31, 1870 the road was finished to Rochelle and trains moved regularly to that point. After that date trains ran rather irregularly until April, 1871, and only one per day until 1872. The Chicago fire and the financial distress prevailing over the coutnry interferred with the plans of the company considerably, but eventually the Chicgo & Iowa railroad came ot its own and enjoyed a prosperous business.

Naturally there was a fight over the question of the bonds, but this question was compromised by the issuance and and acceptance of a $25,000 issue, and at a less rate of interest. For a time the railroad offices and the warehouse or freight house were located in the Wesley Steward barn.

Now the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Co., controlling the road, runs some of the most beautiful trains in the country over this line of railway. All its northwestern business is carried via that route. This service included two beautiful trains each way each day. The freight traffic over it is enormous.

In 1904 the importance of Steward was recognized by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul co. That corporation enjoyed a joint occupancy of the strip of road running southerly out of Rockford, and when the latter company desired to reach further into the coalfield, Steward was selected as the ju8nctional point from which to bear off to the southwest. Immediately this new road established two new stations in Lee County, Scarboro in Willow Creek Townshp and Roxbury in Wyoming township. With the upbuilding of Steward, the township of Alto took on an unusual degree of activity. Projects of improvement in every direction were formulated, not the least of which was the extensive system of drainage more particularly mentioned in other parts of this work. But here in Alto they were agitated first and here in Alto they began to materialize under the dredge and the spade, and an Alto man, Wesley Steward, was made a member of the first drainage board of Lee County to begin those operations which since have been made stupendous.

The village of Steward stands upon the corners of four sections, 16, 17, 20, and 21, and Main and Dewey streets form the dividing lines. The town site was selected by Wesley Steward, on his lands, and he platted the village in 1870. William McMahan, the then county supervisor, made the survey of the plat, and S.O. Barnett of Steward assisted him in the performance of that job as chairman.

The first house on the new townsite was built by Patrick Carey, from the first a section foreman for the Burlington company. This was in 1874; it was built on John street, where it stands today, and was used as Mr. Carey's residence.

The first place of business was erected in 1874, by William Guthrie who used it for a restaurant. The second business house was built by Henry A. Robinson in 1871, and he used it for a store of general merchandies. In 1857 P.A. Billion & Co. opened the first hardward store. They sold it to G.A. Ruckman.

In 1877 Edward O'Neill erected a building on Main street and opened therein a general store. Dr. Gardner opened the first drug store but finding that it would not pay, moved the stock upstairs and rented the store room to Yetter & Healy, who put in a stock of general merchandise.

In 1859 the first schoolhouse was built in Alto, and Miss Carrie Whitcomb was the first teacher, Miss Carrie Norton succeed her. The last named lady married Merritt Miller, who was a teacher, and afterwards Mr. Miller taught during the winter months and Mrs. Miller during the summer months. In the old schoolhouse, Misses Thurber, Holmes and others followed.

In 1881 at a cost of $7,000, a new school building was built on Feb. 8, 1903, this building was destroyed by fire and for the rest of the school year school was conducted in the rooms over a Mr. Foster's store. During the summer of 1903, the present beautiful building was erected and by Nov. 1, the schools were opened with Miss Ida Van Patten as principal, Miss Nona Floyd, techer and the intermediate department and Miss Valeria Whetston (Mrs. F.J. Beardsley) as primary teacher.

The postoffice was established in Steward in 1871 and Mrs. Merritt Miller became the first postmistress. Through the intrigue of cheap enmity to the founder of the town, the name of the postoffice was made "Heaton" professedly in honor of Judge WIlliam W. Heaton of Dixon. But this inconsistency and troublesome feature was shortlived. The department changed it to the name of the plat and the railway stateion, Steward just as it should have been called from the first. The first postoffice was in the old depot, the scene of other interesting beginnings. After about a year Mrs. Miller gave up the office and H.A. Robinson was appointed.

In view of the enormous quantities of grain produced at this point, Mr. Steward erected in 1872-73 an elevator to handle it and he engaged in the grain business. A coal and lumber business was connected with the grain business.

In 1880 C. Jorgens & Co. erected another elevator. These people sold out to Miller & Emmitt and they in turn in the year 1894, sold to Titus brothers. In 1904 this old elevator was torn down and rebuilt, much enlarged , on a new site furnished by the new C.M. & St. P. Ry. Co

The First National Bank was organized Jan. 1, 1903 with a capitol stock of $25,000.

The Neola Elevator Co. operates the old Wesley Steward elevator. Alto twp. contains one of the best herds of purebred Hereford cattle in the state of Illinois, owned by W.E. Hemenway. The annual dispersion sales from this farm are events in Lee County history. Mr. Hemenways farm is the old Plum Thicket and it has been named "The Grove Farm".

Concerning the churches of Alto, their early history is much the same as the history of Malugin's Grove in Brooklyn and Willow Creek. All were in the same circuit and the same circuit riders visited each, although circuit riders had been abandoned practically when Alto began its church history.

The year 1874 seems to mark the beginning of church life in Steward as a distinctive feature. Of course there were other church services in Alto township, but just where I have been unable to ascertain.

In April 1874, a meetin was held in the railroad depot for the purpose of maturing plans for the building of a Methodist church in Steward. By September it was finished and then the question arose as to who should be given control of it. It was voted to the Methodist. On Sept. 6, 1874, the church was dedicated by Prof. Miner Raymond of the Garrett Biblical Institute of Evanston.

Mr. Steward then was president of the railroad and to secure a large attendance he caused free trains to run into Steward from Chicago and Mt. Morris. The ladies furnished free dinners. At the meeting Messrs. Steward and Carey agreed to pay the deficit after all subscriptions had been made by the volunteers.

Before this period Willow Creek furnished about the only church services to be found in this vicinty.

North and South through Alto township the old Ottawa-Rockford trail ran. In 1856 a road was viewed and laid out from Paw Paw to Rochelle. The lands in Algo averagehigh in price and fertility.

The Plum Thicket Run is the only natural stream running through Alto township, and that is so unimportant that it is little known. Water is reached easily. Drive wheels reach an easy flow as a depth of 100 to 200 feet.

Dixon Evening Telegraph October 19, 1948