History of Amboy

Lee County IL



A Frenchman by the name of Filamalee is believed to have been the first white settler in Palestine Grove, within the present limits of Amboy Township. His shanty is said to have been located about a mile below Rocky Ford. He was a roving character and soon disappeared.

The first permanent settler was John Dexter, who emigrated from Canada in the spring of 1835 and staked out a claim on the northwest quarter of Section 14, north of Palestine Grove. His nearest neighbors were at Inlet Grove. In 1836 James Doan and wife settled at Palestine Grove.

The district known as Palestine Grove was not confined to the timber, but extended to the site of the city of Amboy, and also eastward about two miles beyond the Lee Center town line.

In 1837 Dexter's brother-in-law, Andrew Bainter, located in the neighborhood. In October of the same year, Asa B. Searles arrived from New York, whence he had driven with a horseteam. He came by way of Peoria where Benjamin Wasson joined him. Mr. Searles staked off a claim in the south half of Section 14, on which he later laid out the Villagc of Binghamton. He was the first Postmaster in the settlement. Warren Badger succeeded him. His commission was dated May 28, 1840, and made him Postmaster at Winooski, the name by which Palestine Grove office was then designated. Nathan Meeks, who acquired a reputation of the banditti order, was living about four miles south and west of Rocky Ford the same year. His "Corn Cracker," situated on Green River, is claimed to have been the first mill for grinding grain in Lee County.

When Mr. Searles arrived he found a sawmill in operation at Rocky Ford, owned by Timothy Perkins and Hence Bowen. After passing through several hands, in 1848 it became the property of F. R. Dutcher. A log dam created the mill pond, and the mill was run by a "flutter-wheel."

The year 1838 seems to have been a notable one for the arrival of settlers; for in this year, James Blair and three sons, William, Winthrop and Edwin, arrived, and John S. Sawyer and four sons erected a cabin south of the ground now occupied by the Illinois Central shops. In 1841 Sawyer sold a part of his claim to Joseph Farrell and the remainder to Joseph Appleton. Alexander James likewise became a resident that year, and a year later sold his claim to Chester S. Badger, who, after working as millwright, in the year 1837 returned to his New York home in the fall. In 1838 Mr. Badger and his son Simon became permanent settlers. In 1839 Warren, another son, arrived bringing the mother and her two daughters, Sarah and Roena. In the autumn Warren went back to New York and remained until 1842, when he again came west and resided in Amboy Township until his death in 1861. In 1840 Chester Badger, a younger son, drove through from New York with a two horse team. He still tesides in Amboy and is the only surviving member of the family.

The Badger's located their homestead about a mile and a half east of Amboy. Henry Badger came in 1849 and lived in Binghamton up to the date of his death, a few years ago. The father, Chester S, brought hardwood lumber from Franklin Grove and built the first frame house in the settlement. John C. Church, William Church, Curtis Bridgman and two sons, and Wm. Hunt arrived in the summer and fall of 1838. Also came this same year, Martin Wright, Frederick Baldwin, Harvey Axtell, Ransom Barnes and Frederick Bainter. About this time Curtis Bridgman located about two miles southeast of the present site of Amboy. James Daley was an arrival of 1842, as was also William Rolf. John H. Gardner came in 1844. In this same year J. Henry Adams, then a child of eleven years, reached the neighborhood with his father, Orris, and mother. Cyrus Davis came in 1839. Space will not permit us to name the settlers of subsequent years.

Binghamton promised to be the town of the section. It was laid out in 1848 by Asa B. Searles. It had a store and a hotel. Robert G. Ingersoll, who lived to impress the country with his oratory aad agnosticism, then about fifteen, was a boy of all work about the inn for a year or so. In 1844 the first flouting mill in the county was built, and in 1858 passed into the hands of Chester and Henry Badger. Chester Badger made thirteen trips to Chicago, some of which were with ox team, hauling grain, going and bringing timber back for this mill. It was burned in 1872, and immediately rebuilt, but was finally destroyed by lightning in 1881. The place also had two plow factories at one time and a saw mill, blacksmith shop, shoe shop, wagon shop and carding machine. A dozen or more of the residences still remain in a good state of preservation. The removal of the Badger dam was necessary to give sufficient outlet to the ditches of Inlet Swamp Drainage District Proper proceedings to this end resulted in its entire removal in the summer of 1900.

Rocky Ford (also known as Shelburn) was likewise a place of activity in the early days. The Indian trail from Council Bluffs to Chicago crossed Green River or Inlet Creek, at this point It had a saw mill, a distillery and two stores. In 1856 the Shelburn Manufacturing Company erected an extensive distillery and fiouring mills combined, at a cost of $65,000. In 1859 the property was wrecked by an explosion, and ten years later, fire finished the work. This was practically the last of Shelburn.

A plat of "Palestine" was made May 10, 1854, and serves to mark the probable center of the Palestine Grove settlement. The plat was located about a quarter of a mile northwest of Rocky Ford, and consisted of three blocks of ground, two of which were on the Dixon and Peoria road. It was laid out for Rhoda E. Hook who, it is to be presumed, owned the ground. It was here on one of the Palestine lots that those of the Mormon faith laid the corner stone of a temple which never rose higher than this foundation stone.


Amboy is an offspring of the Illinois Central Railroad. The town was laid out in 1854. The first residences were those of L. W. Borden, B. S. Reynolds and Dr. David Bainter, erected that year. In 1855 the extensive shops of the company were built. By the spring of 1856 the population was estimated at 1,000. R. D. Peironett was the first merchant to start business in the town, and Samuel Goldman the second. Next came Josiah Little in 1854, his line consisting of drugs, hardware and groceries. In the same year Wilcox & Wooster built a store, the lumber for which, as well as that for Little's store, was hauled from Mendota, and the stone from Lee Center. In 1855 the business of the place greatly increased. The first bank was started that year by G. H. Ambrose and Francis Little. The "Lee County Times," the first newspaper to be published in the town, was started the same year. This paper under date July 31, 1856, speaks of the place thus: 'We have now between 2,000 and 3,000 inhabitants, two churches and another in process of construction, about thirty stores and groceries, a steam planing mill and sash factory, three hotels, two livery stables and, in fact, establishments of almost every variety."

The town became incorporated as a village under the general law in 1854-5. A. E. Wilcox was President of first Board of Trustees. It was incorporated as a city by act of the Legislature, March 2, 1857. John B. Wyman was its first Mayor. It was incorporated under the general law, May 8, 1888.

The shops of the Illinois Central Railroad, above referred to, frequently employed 400 men. In 1885 reduction of the force was commenced, so that in 1894 there were about 200 at work. In that year the machinery was removed, principally to Freeport and Clinton, and the extensive buildings were vacated. One is now occupied by the bridge building works of C. C. Jacobs, and the others are rapidly going to decay.

The loss of these shops was a severe blow to Amboy, from which, however, she has slowly recovered until she has at last reached a stage of prosperity probably equaling, if not surpassing, that of the factory days, when the shops dominated the town. She has water works, electric lights, long stretches of cement walks and shows evidence of general thrift and steady growth. Her water supply is drawn from a well 2,000 feet deep.

Fires.- Amboy has been visited by several disastrous fires. The first occurred December 10, 1863, from which there was a total loss of $35,000, with insurance amounting to $14,000. The next occurred in the same locality November 10, 1864, and destroyed five business houses; loss $45,000, with $38,000 insurance. Another fire did its destructive work, March 10, 1865, sweeping away seven business buildtags. Again, August 24, 1867, sixteen buildings were licked up by the flames - the estimated loss being $7,500, with insurance for about onehalf that amount. April 2, 1868, four business places were burned down. But by far the most calamitous fire was that of August 25, 1871. Twelve buildings were consumed, causing a loss of $175,000, on which there was an insurance of $103,000. The most deplorable feature of this holocaust was the burning to death of John Shannon, who was confined in the calaboose for the unlawful selling of mortgaged property. Besides these were numerous fires not general in their effect.

School Houses.- The first school building in Amboy was the two story brick now in use, erected in 1857. Next, in 1864 came the onestory frame building in Gilson's Addition. Following this, the old Methodist church was purchased and, in 1868, the two story brick on the west side was added to the number. About 1896 a modern building was erected for the use of three departments, at a cost, all complete and ready for school, of a trifle less than $15,000.

Churches.- Father Gorbus, a Methodist minister, was the first to hold service in the section covered by Amboy Township. Father Hetcher, a German Baptist, was probably the next. It is supposed that Rev. Curtis Lathrop was the third, and Father White the fourth both Methodists. In 1843, the "Congregational Church of Palestine Grove" was formed at the home of Amos Crombie, the first of that denomination in the county. The first pastor was John Morrel, who was followed by the father of the great agnostic, Robert G. Ingersoll. Following him came Joseph Gardner and Mr. Pierson. About 1849 the place of worship was moved to Lee Center, and the society name changed accordingly. From this the present Amboy church of that denomination has descended. In 1840 a Methodist class was organized in the vicinity of Binghamton where, in 1850, a house of worship was erected. When Amboy came into being the building was abanconed for the one early erected there.

One branch of the Mormon church secured a considerable foothold in the neighborhood of Rocky Ford, near which they were instrumental in having the town of Palestine laid out. At one time there were sixty members. The founder, Joseph Smith, visited friends at Palestine Grove, where he was arrested in 1843 on requistion of the Governor of the State, issued at the instance of the Governor of Missouri. In 1860 the annual conference of the branch referred to convened in Amboy.

A meeting for the organization of the Baptist church of Amboy was held March 24, 1855, resulting in the founding of the First Baptist church of Amboy. Messrs. Hill and Bryant were deacons and W. E. Ives clerk. Rev. P. Taylor was the first pastor, and services were held in a small church building, on Main Street west of the railroad tracks, which cost about $500. During Mr. Taylor's pastorate the present church building was erected at a cost of $4,500. The first public meeting held in the new church was addressed by Owen Lovejoy of Princeton, Ill., and J. V. Eustace of Dixon. Both were strong anti-slavery champions. At the end of the second year, Mr. Taylor resigned and was succeeded by T. H. Ball. The church was dedicated September 13, 1857, the sermon being preached by Rev. Silas Tucker, of Galesburg. Reverend Ball was succeeded in September, 1858, by J. C. Miller, who resigned to accept the Chaplaincy of the Thirteenth Illinois Regiment, Company "C" of which was composed of Amboy citizens, to each of whom a new testament was presented on their departure. This building had the only large audience room in the place, and was consequently the gathering place for war meetings which were incident to the period. Following Mr. Miller came W. R. Webb in May, 1861. During his pastorate the General Association of the State met here. Mr. Webb served as pastor four years and was followed in June, 1865, by Rev. J. H. Hazen, daring whose term the parsonage was built and the church building put in thorough repair. Following Mr. Hazen was Rev. James Buchanan, who, acting as pastor, was in reality a supply. About 1870, Rev. M. T. Lamb came to the pastorate. August 27, 1871, the records were destroyed by fire. New records were opened March 26th following. September 8, 1872, George Wesselius became pastor and resigned the last Sabbath in March, 1874. On the first Sabbath of the succeeding November, W. D. Clark was called. Succeeding Mr. Clark came N. A. Reed, who resigned June 8, 1881, to be succeeded by B. H. Humphrey on the 16 h of the next October. He remained until September 25, 1882. Then came Mr. Fuller, who served temporarily for about a year. D. W. C. Hervey came to the pastorate in November, 1884, and was followed in February, 1887, by W. L. Jones, who resigned February 1, 1889. J. T. Mason followed the .next April. His labors continued to the time of his death in 1896. T. B. Collins, the next pastor, served for two years, and was succeeded by E. W. Anable, who has now been serving the church for five years.

The second church to be built was by the Methodists in 1857. It was afterwards converted into a school house as already mentioned. A Rev. Mr. Thayer was the first pastor. The present church of this society was dedicated April 1, 1866.

The earliest religious society in the place came into being June 27, 1854, ante dating the sale of town lots. It named itself "Church of Jesus Christ."

A Congregational Church was established June 17, 1856. Its first regular pastor was David Wert, and its first house of worship was dedicated April 1, 1858. The present edifice was dedicated June 10, 1866.

The Episcopal Church was established in spring of 1859 by organization of St. Thomas parish. Mr. Brodnax was the first rector. A suitable church was built but the date of its erection is not at hand.

The first Evangelical Lutheran Church in Amboy was formed by Rev. William Angelberger, of Franklin Grove, January 30, 1870, who acted as first pastor. Rev. Anthest was the second. Following him in succession came: W. Framm, G. Hagemann, H. Schmidt, H. Linder, S. E. Hoffmeister, F. W. Kampmeier, S. Pritschel, M. Ren and L. Lentz. Rev. H. F. Schmidt, of Dixon, the present pastor, has been in charge since Nov. 20, 1897. In May, 1876, it was changed to German Evangelical, a different denomination. William Framm was the first pastor. They purchased the old Congregational church in 1870.

In 1854 the Catholics of Amboy began holding service at the residence of Michael Egan. Father Anthony was the first to celebrate mass. The first building for the use of the society was erected in 1857, but before completion it was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt and completed in the spring of 1859. The society owns a priest's residence on the same lot.

Under the management of Father Gallagher, the present incumbent, a commodious onestory brick building was erected in 1900 for the purpose of a hall to accommodate large gatherings.

The Free Methodists' Society was organized about 1864. Rev. Miller was the first regular preacher. The society was eventually merged into and replaced by the United Brethren. John Dobson and J. W. Lewis were the first pastors. In 1871 a meeting house was built.

The Advent Christian Church was organized at Binghamton in 1859, and later worshipped at Amboy. The society never built a meeting place.

Newspapers.- In February, 1855, the "Lee County Times" was launched with Augustus N. Dickens, brother of the noted author, Charles Dickens, as editor. It was fathered by the Amboy Printing Association, of which W. E. Ives, Alonzo Kinyon, Henry E. Badger, A. E. Wilcox and others were stockholders. By August 1st of that year it passed into the hands of H. B. Judkins, and Dickens ceased to be connected with the paper. When the paper passed out of the control of Mr. Judkins does not appear, but on February 6, 1856, H. C. Pratt was editor and proprietor. April 3, 1856, the name was changed to "The Amboy Times," with Cottrell & Pratt proprietors and H. G. Pratt editor. January 1.4, 1858, the name was changed to "Amboy Weekly Times" with Cottrell, Pratt & Miller owners, the first two being the editors. H. G. Pratt, Joseph Lewis and James F. Somes by the firm name of Horace G. Pratt & Company became owners November 18, 1858. April 19, 1860, it was changed to "Amboy Times," Pratt, Shaw & Company proprietors, the firm being composed of H. G Pratt, B. F. Shaw, of Dixon, and John Lewis Beginning in May, 1861, a daily edition was is sued, called the "Amboy Morning Daily Times," but survived only a few months. Mr. Pratt sold his interest to W. H. Gardner, July 31, 1862 and the new firm name was Gardner, Shaw & Company. Sometime between July, 1862, and March, 1863, the files for wthich period are incomplete, the firm of Pratt, Shaw & Company again appears, John Lewis being the "Co." Between June 30 and September 22, 1864, when the files are again incomplete, Lewis returned. August 10, 1865, A. J. Goff and B. F. Shacu assumed the proprietorship and, on the 17th of the following March, the name was changed to "Lee County Journal." Mr. Shaw had been elected Clerk of the Circuit Court in November, 1864. February 16, 1867, Burrington & Shaw became the publishers. December 12th of that year the paper was discontinued for "lack of support," but this difficulty seems to have been promptly removed, for the issue was resumed with the lapse of only two numbers. Mr. Shaw became sole proprietor January 16, 1868, and, on January 6, 1870, sold out to Stimpson & Corbus. March 24, of the same year, Stimpson stepped out, leaving Dr. J. R. Corbus sole proprietor. He sold out to Captain William Parker September 22, 1870, who, on the 20th of the next month, changed the name to "The Amboy Journal," by which the paper is still known. Capt. Parker sold to W. H. Haskell, September 7, 1872, who, in turn, sold to E. W. Faxon & Company, October 15, 1879, William J. Keho, manager of the office for twenty years and still at the same post, having an interest. October 2, 1881, Dr. Clark E. Loomis purchased it and remained sole proprietor and editor until January 1, 1889, when it passed into the hands of George A. Lyman, the present proprietor.

The" Amboy News" was first issued by W. M. Geddes, proprietor, at PawPaw, May 6, 1878, with Henry Adams local editor. With the issue of July 1, 1882, the proprietorship changed to the News Publishing Company, with Capt. William Parker as editor in chief and Henry Adams as local editor. From that date the paper has continued to be printed and published at Amboy. W. M. Geddes became proprietor and editor June 30, 1883. Henry Adams still continuing as local. July 12, 1884, J. H. Adams and J. H. Preston became owners under the firm name of Adams & Preston. October 18, 1884, J. H. Preston became sole owner. Mr. Preston having died from accidental injuries, his widow assumed the publication of the paper, February 19, 1897, with Chas. H. Eby, as editor and manager. March 3, 1899, Mr. Eby became editor and proprietor with C. F. Preston as assistant editor. January 5, 1900, E. E. Chase acquired an interest and the paper appeared under the firm name of Eby & Chase. It passed into the hands of Mr. Chase August 3, 1900, and in December 14 following Henry F. Gehant appeared as owner and editor. With the next issue Riley J. Whitney became manager. A. E. Dafoe succeeded to the ownership August 5, 1902, with B. L. Vaughan assistant editor, Riley J. Whitney continuing as manager until September 5, 1902, when R. G. Sherwood became editor and manager and was followed by K. O. Trickey November 28, 1902. G. L. Carpenter, the present editor and proprietor, purchased the paper and took charge July 3, 1903. The News issued a daily edition April 3, 1899, which was discontinued with number 22 of the same month.

Grand Army of the Republic.- The date of the organization of the first Post (No. 65) of the Grand Army of the Republic and particulars regarding it, are not accessible, as the records are supposed to have been lost or destroyed. Amboy Post, Na. 572, was mustered in May 10, 1886, with twenty four members. The first officers were: George Ryan, P. C.; C. E. Loomis, S. V.; W. H. Hyde, J. V.; A. P. Wenrick, Q. M.; George E. Young, O. D.; O. W. Grant, Surg.; C. W. Freeman, O. G.; C. D. Knowles, Adjt.; A. Ousey, S. Maj.; Fred Kreahl, Q. M. S. The present officers are: George Blocker, Com.; C. D. Knowles, S. V. C.; B. F. Berkley, J. V. C.; M. T. Spencer, Adjt.

Banks.- In 1868 Josiah Little established a private bank which continued until November 1, 1899, when it was organized as a National Bank, with $50,000 capital and $10,000 surplus, with Josiah Little as President; Lemuel Bourne, Vice-President; Fred N. Vaughan, Cashier, and H. H. Badger, Assistant Cashier. Mr. Vaughan has been connected with the bank continuously since 1864. The largest deposits were last year, when the sum reached $640,000. Normally they run from $500,000 to $600,000. Loans and discounts have averaged from $350,000 to $450,000. The bank occupies its own building with fixtures, and recently its safety devices have been greatly improved by the introduction of a system of electrical protection, and an additional vault lined with steel and made fireproof. In this respect it has no superior. Safety deposit boxes are being installed.

The "Amboy Bank" was organized in 1899, with Henry Kline as President and Cashier, and J. C. Preston as Assistant Cashier. It is a private institution with $100,000 personal responsibility. The deposits of January 1, 1903, were $100,000, and loans and discounts $150,000. Mr. Kline has been a resident of Amboy for the past forty five years.

Bonded Indebtedness.- In the summer of 1872 the Chicago & Rock River Railroad was built through Amboy Township. To secure the construction of this road the town, by vote of 517 for the proposition to 92 against it, issued $100,000 of bonds. A bitter contest was waged in the courts against the payment of these bonds, resulting in judgments in the United States Courts against the town. These judgments were in part compromised by two issues of refunding bonds, some at the rate of 40 cents on the dollar, and some at 50 cents. Seven or eight years were consumed in these transactions and, when there seemed to be no further chance of compromise, 6 per cent. bonds were issued to the amount of $130,000 to meet the balance of the unsettled judgments. On July 1, 1899, this last issue had been reduced by payments to $93,500. Four per cent bonds were issued to take up this outstanding balance. On this last issue $65,500 is still outstanding, the balance having been paid. The total amounts of judgments and costs, exclusive of interest for which the town thus became indebted, aggregated about $275,000. All the suits commenced by different bondholders were in the United States Courts and the litigation reached the Supreme Court of the United States. In all these contests the town was defeated.

Miscellaneous.- The Illinois Central brought to Amboy John B. Wyman as its Superintendent, of whom the town came to be proud as a General in the War of the Rebellion, where he laid down his life. He was the city's first Mayor.

August 5, 1856, a Fremont Club was organized in Amboy with John B. Wyman as President, Henry Badger as Secretary and W. E. Ives Corresponding Secretary. This recalls the visits of some of the men who afterwards became great. In the days of the Illinois Central building Geo. B. McClellan, in war times Commander of the Army of the Potomac, was the Civil. Engineer of the road with headquarters at Amboy. And he who became Lieutenant General of all the armies and one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of commanders of modern times, Grant, was frequently in town buying hides for his Galena tannery. Abraham Lincoln, whose name and fame pales all others of his time, spoke to the people there in his campaign against Douglas in 1858, from the window-balcony of the office of W. E. Ives, who vouches for the veracity of these statements as to both of these great men.

September 11, 1856, Owen Lovejoy, who had attended an abolition theeting ten years before at the log school house west of Lee Center village, spoke at the corner of Main Street and Adams Avenue, and in October following, addressed the first meeting in the incompleted Baptist church, as already mentioned.

Amboy once possessed a court, the like of which was nowhere else to be found in the county. Alonso Kinyon, one of the ambitious men of the period, was a member of the Legislature in 1869, and procured the passage of an act, approved, March 11th of that year, establishing "The Court of Common Pleas of the City of Amboy." It was an effort to duplicate the Circuit Court. The Judge and clerk were to be elected and receive the same salaries as the Judge and Clerk of the Circuit Court. The City Marshal was given the powers of a sheriff, and the court was empowered to appoint a Master in Chancery. The act, as approved, gave the court chancery jurisdiction, but another act was approved the same day taking away this power. Mr. Kinyon's plan was carried into effect by his own election as Judge, and the tribunal became known as "Kinyon's Court." It accomplished the purpose of its creation until the Constitution of 1870 went into effect and wiped it out. The records of the court were all destroyed in the fire of 1871.

In the fall of 1846 Rev. John Cross, of "Temperance Hill," now in China Township, called a meeting at a log school house about one mile west of Lee Center village, to form an abolition society. Owen Lovejoy, the great anti slavery orator and leader, addressed the meeting, and in the course of his speech said he had sworn over the dead body of his brother eternal hatred of slavery. At the close of the meeting a "Free Soil Club" was organized. Among those who became members were Martin Wright, Lewis clapp, Sylvester Frisbee, Ransom Barnes, Joseph Farwell, Benoni Harmon, Daniel Frost, Ira Brewer, Moses Crombie and John Cross. Lovejoy addressed another meeting there that fall. In this same log school house, which Ira Brewer helped to build, Robert G. Ingersoll, the great agnostic of later years, attended school, his father being minister of the Congregational church in that section.

The Wasson school house, which stood west of the road at the center of Section 14 in Amboy, was built about 1846, and was the first frame school building in the town. For many years it was the meeting center and rallying point of that section for miles around.

When the division of the county into towns under the township organization law was about to take place, it is said on good authority that a meeting was held at the Wasson school house to choose a name for the town. The choice was "Bath," but Lorenzo Wasson, who went to Dixon to meet the County Commissioners, took the responsibility of changing the name to "Amboy."

In the winter of 1854-5 the postoffices at Binghamton and Shelburn were discontinued, and one office was established at Amboy, with Orange D. Reed as Postmaster.

The Mayors of the city have been: J. B. Wyman, 1857; John R. Stevens, 1858; Jos. Rosebrugh, 1859; J. B. Wyman, 1860; W. E. Ives, 1861; C. M. Butler, 1864-5; C. D. Vaughan, 1866-7; Michael Egan, 1869-70; Isaac Edwards, 1871-3; Robt. Richards, 1874; Isaac Edwards, 1875-7; J. B. Felker, 1878 to March, 1883; Geo. Ryan, March, 1883, to March, 1884; J. B. Graves, March, 1884, to March, 1885; C. H. Wooster, two years, ending March, 1887; Michael Egan, March, 1887, to March, 1888; Geo. Ryan, March, 1888, to March, 1893; C. A. Wilcox, March, 1893, to March, 1895; E. E. Chase, March, 1895, to March, 1899; J. P. Johnson, March, 1899, present incumbent.

The Clerks have been: D. T. Wood, 1857; W. B. Andrus, 1858-9; R. H. Mellen, 1869-1; W. C. Sears, 1862-3; H. G. Pratt, 1864; N. H. Ryan, 1865-7; Lee Cronkrite, 1869; Everett E. Chase, 1870 to 1883; A. E. Merwine, 1883-4; Geo. E. Young, 1884-6; R. C. Bear, 1886-7; H. J. Masterman, 1887-9; M. J. Monahan, 1889-94; S. E. Appleton, 1894-5; H. Swisher, 1895-1901; F. A. Flach, April, 1901, present incumbent. The population of the city of Amboy, according to the census of 1900, was 1,826. Its population in 1890 was 2,257. The population of the city and township in 1900 was 2,726, while in 1890 it was 3,139.

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.


It is claimed for a Frenchman named Filmalee that he was the first settler of Amboy township and that he lived in Palestine Grove about a mile south of Rocky Ford. It has been said that in a burr oak stump, he placed mortar and therein pounded grain into meal and flour for bread. He left the country as settlers began reaching the country, and John Dexter in 1835 became the first settler. He came from Canada and made his claim on the northwest quarter of section 13. The cabin which he built immediately was 12 feet square. In the spring of 1836, Mr. and Mrs. James Doan came into what is now the township of Amboy. With them came John Doan the father and Jemima sister of James. In the spring of 1837, Andrew Bainter brother-in-law to James Doan came in and took a claim on the Sublette road. In October 1837, Asa B. Searls came up the Peoria road with a team of horses, bringing with him Benjamin Wasson from Peoria. Both were New York people.

Searls located on south half of section 14 and Wasson on section 14 and 15. Later Searls laid out Binghampton, a mile east of the present city of Amboy. Nathan Meek settled near Rocky Ford about 1837. Rocky Ford was so named from the ford over Green river to the southwest of Amboy where Frederick R. Dutcher afterwards established a store, a mill and distillery and where for a time a village of respectable proportions flourished. Meek was not reputed to be a desirable citizen during the days of the banditti. Three miles down stream he built his corn cracker mill and ground corn. He tried to make flour, but failed. A sawmill had been built in this township much earlier than in other sections of the county. When Mr. Searls first came here, Timothy Perkins and Horace Bowen operated one at Rocky Ford, but later in the year, it was transferred to a man named Lee. After a brief career, Lee sold to Mason. The latter died and John Von Arnam (or Van Norman) secured it. In 1848 Frederick R. Dutcher purchased it.

In 1837, James Blair and his sons, William Winthrop, Winthrop and Edwin came here and settled on Section 29. The same year John S. Sawyer and his four sons erected a cabin south of the Illinois Central shops. In 1841, Sawyer sold part of his claim to Joseph Farewell and the remainder to Joseph Appleton. Alexander Janes came in about 1837, but in a year or so, sold his claim to Chester S. Badger and moved to Bureau county. In 1838 Mr. Badger and his son Simon settled in this township, and in 1839 Warren another son, came out with the mother and her two daughters, Sarah and Rowena (or Reona), but returned and remained in the east until 1842 only, when he came bak to Illinois and settled permanently here. Henry Badger came in 1849. In the summer of 1838, John C. Church, Curtis Bridgeman, the latter's sons, Curtis and Urial, and William Hunt arrived. In 1841, Jacob Doan came out from Ohio and bought the claim made by Mr. Church, one mile south of Amboy. Martin Wright also came in 1838, from Massachusetts. John Fosdick the Lee Center or Inlet blacksmith moved his smithy over to Doan's place and that became the first in the township. Later Fosdick returned to Lee Center, and Doan and Frederick Bainter became proprietors and continued the business. Doan invented a scoring plow and many were made by the firm.

In 1839 Cyrus Davis and his son, Cyrus A. Davis came here from Massachusetts and claimed a home in the southeast quarter of section 15, later Wyman's addition to Amboy. John and William Hook, brothers, located at Rocky Ford in 1840. Aaron Hook came two years before. The Joseph Farwell claim on the northeast quarter was platted into the original town of Amboy. Jesse Hale came in 1841, and Samuel and Lyman Bixby in 1844. The first public land sales were held at the Dixon land office in the autumn of 1844. Prior to this time of course, every person was a squatter. But as noticed already, every community had its code under which lines were regulated, settlers were protected in the peaceable and enjoyment of their claims and in their right to buy the same from the government when offered for sale, unhampered by speculators. The Amboy association about 1837, centered around Inlet, of which Amboy was a part at that time.

Later, the settlers around Palestine Grove organized and held meetings at the homes of Sherman Hatch and William Dolan. In 1847 all need for this latter association having vanished, it was discontinued. While individual associations existed everywhere, they all were confederated together for any emergencies which may have arisen. On the 16th of Mach 1839, George E. Haskell, was chosen president of the claim association for Inlet and Martin Wright, clerk. The committee elected consisted of Rnasom Barnes, D.H. Birdsall, Orzo C. Wright, Daniel M. Dewey and Benjamin Whitaker. March 20, 1841, Haskell and Wright were re-elected and D.H. Birdsall, David Trip, Daniel M. Dewey, Charles Starks adn Sherman Shaw were made the committee.

In the spring of 1850, April 2nd, the first annual town meeting was held in Amboy. Joseph Farwell acted as moderator and Joseph B. Appleton as clerk. Miles Lewis suggested that the township be named Amboy and the name was adopted. David Searls was made supervisor; J.B. Appleton, town clerk; Martin Wright, assesor and A.H. Thompson, collector. The old road from Peru to Grand Detour, mentioned already was the first to run through Amboy township. The second ran from Inlet to Prophetstown taking in Binghampton and Rocky Ford. Main street today is that very road and the old cottonwoods along the edges to mark its course, were planted by Joseph Farwell.

In 1855, the Illinois Central Railroad, was finished through Amboy to Freeport, and on Febraury 1, it was thrown open for traffic. The first train to reach Amboy was in November 1854. During the session 1868-69 of the Illinois legislature, Alonzo Kinyon of Amboy was a member of the lower house. During this session, he procured a charter for the Chicago & Rock River railroad company to run from Rock Falls to Calumet. In 1869, Kinyon was elected president and on July 26, 1869, Amboy voted by 517 to 92 against, to issue township bonds in aid of the road to the extent of $100,000. January 4, 1872, the road between Rock Falls and Amboy was finished and June 19 it was finished to Paw Paw.

Under Kader, shops and all manner of good things for Amboy were promised but when the C.B. & Q Railway Co. obtained possession of the road and contracted it with Chicago & Iowa railroad at Shabbona, Amboy was doomed. The bonds were fought bitterly for years. All sorts of subterfuges were resorted to in the efforts made to escapeservice of process but to no purpose. Their payment had to come at sometime. A settlement was made at last, and every dollar was paid off. Many times the burden became intolerable but with a sublime courage the citizen stuck to it until every cent was paid. Amboy always has been fortunate with her school system. The same intelligence which pervaded Inlet, whil Amboy was a part of that precinct, has pervaded Amboy; teachers and ministers and physicians, all men of rare intelligence, came early to Amboy and saw to it that the Amboy schools were built on substantial foundations and presided over by good teachers.

Lucy Ann Church was the first teacher to teach in this township. The schoolhouse built of logs was located on the Sublette road, just south of the railroad crossing. Leonard Pratt, John Carey, Ira Hale, David Hale, and Charlotte Doan followed Miss Church. The second school in the township was the famour Wasson school, a frame building erected over towards Lee Center in 1845. At this school Misses Rowena Badger and Roxy Wasson taught for awhile. John Scott an able teacher, H.F. Badger and Lyman C. Wheat also taught there. Later the first school was moved further south and located near the Lewis place.

Private school never were attempted to any great extent. At Rocky Ford a few irregular terms were ventured but in the face of failure they were not continued. Church services were furnished first by Father G?? a Methodist who came from the Indian Creek country.

The next minister to appear so far as known was a German Baptist named Fther Hetchet. Rev. Curtis Lathrop came along third. Father White, a Methodist wa snext to appear. In 1831 the Rev. Donaldson assisted in organizing a Congregational society said to be the first in the county. This was done at the house of Moss Cromlee and the name adopted was "The Congregational Church of Palestine Grove'. Services were held for many years in the Wasson school house. Rev. John Morrel was the first regular pastor. He in turn was followed by Rev. Ingersoll, father of Robert G Ingersoll. Revs. Joseph Gardner and A Mr. Pierson followed Ingersoll. Later this church moved to Lee Center. Many ... are related to Rev. Ingersoll especially by Rev. Haney the Methodist circuit rider.

The Palestine Grove Baptist church as another .. 1817. Rev Charles .. was its pastor. The Mormon church attempted to secure a foothold in this townshp and what is .. was actually secured. The first teacher William Anderson held his services in John Hooks house. Both Joseph and H.. Smith came up here often from Nauvoo. Joseph the prophet married a Miss Emma Hale, sister of ALva Hale of Sublette and David Hale and Mrs. ??? of Amboy. Asa Searls was a boyhood acquaintance of Smith and had been a ... .... proceedings were entirely illegal and many followed Smith and his captors to Dixon. It was agreed however, that Smith was to return to Nauvoo. But upon the discovery of the Missouri agent's design to take the prisoner over into Missouri direct, a party of Mormons collected and rescued the prophet. Immediately he was brought triumphantly to Nauvoo. A writ of habeas corpus was issued and Smith was released by Judge Stephen A. Douglas.

Aaron Hook, who had gone to Nauvoo and who had been ordained an elder returned now to Rocky Ford. William Smith anothe brother of the prophet came over to Lee county from Nauvoo about this time and a very considerable Mormon following was obtained in Lee county. Among the members were the Hooks, Edwin Caldwell, Wentworth Blair, Stepehn Stone and David L. Doan.

It was a deplorable circumstance however that none of the Smiths could get along with his neighbors. This William Smith was no exception. He was arrested here for bigamy, released and then he left the country. In 1860, April 6th, the anniversary of the founding of the church, the annual conference was held in Amboy. Joseph Smith Jr. was installed prophet and high priest in the old Mechanics hall where the meeting was held.

Amboy township was ... early by enterprising people. So soon as the settlers got their bearings they proceeded at once to build their homes and schools and churches and then to establish villages for trading and manufacturing purposes. Binghampton was laid out by Asa B. Searls and named in honor of Binghampton, New York. The date was April 1848. Warren Badger laid off some lots contiguous. Here Mr. Searls opened and maintained the Binghampton House. He erected a store as well and took into partnership Edward Wates. Later Henry Potter bought the store and he in turn sold it to the Union Co. a co-operative company, conducted by James H. Preston. Robert INgersoll was Mr. Searl's hired man for a considerable period.

Binghampton became a flour mill center. John Dexter in 1844 built one on Green River and the Badger brothers, Warren and Painter built another. The latter was killed by a bank of earth falling on him and Chester Badger took his place in the partnership. In 1858 Chester and henry Badger took over the property and introduced steam power instead of water power. On Thursday night July 18, 1872 the bill wsa burned and a loss of $6,000 was sustained. The mill was rebuilt and H.F. Badger and son took it over and operated it until the evening of July 21, 1881 when it was struck by lightening and burned. Loss of $16,000. John Doan started a plow factory which he ran for a year then sold it to Frederick Bainter. In 1846 another was started by the Shaw and Churches.

There were two blacksmith shops, a shoe shop, a wagon shop, the Reed House and in 1850 it had secured from Shelburn the state headquarters and the postoffice. At this time Binghampton was one of the propserous places of the country. Binghampton is one mile east of Amboy. There the cemetery was established in the early day and in it, Patience, wife of A.B. Searls, was first to be buried. She died Dec. 19, 1846.

Rocky Ford was settled early and became the center of manufacturing interests without being platted. The old Indian trail from west to east crossed the river here. Timothy Perkins settled here first. He and Horace Brown erected a sawmill, which passed successively into the hands of Lee, Mason, Van Arnam and Ditcher. In 1849, Frederick R. Dutcher platted the property and named the plat, Shelburn. The river was the dividing line, Dutcher erected a distillery at once and in 1853, he added a store. Jacob Doan next year put in another store. The Shelburn Manufacturing company of which Dutcher was president, put up a large flouring mill in 1856. It was combined with the distillery and Shelburn attracted considerable trade and a large business was handled.

The mill was a stone building 60 x 60 feet, four stories high. The distillery was 40 x 140, two and a half stories high. The dam was built of solid masonry, the whole costing $65,000. Col. John B Wyman for a time was an influential member of the company. In 1859, by reason of an explosion, the south wall was partially thrown down and the boiler was buried 30 rods across the creek. The engineer, John Bailey was injured badly. Loss - $4,000. Ten years later the building was destroyed by fire. A small section of the wall stood for many to invite attention to former glories of Shellburn.

When the Illinois Central was built, Shellburn and Binghampton collapsed and became deserted villages. The first postal facilities were furnished by Dixon. Then Asa B. Searls became first postmaster and the office was maintained in his house. Warren Badger followed when Searls resigned. Dutcher was made postmaster at Shelburn, but when Binghampton secured its removal, Dutcher secured its re-establishment under the name of Equator.

Shelburn hd all the opportunity to lead. When the mail route was changed from Peoria to Peru, Shelburn became the stage headquartes. Two lines were run - one by Frank Walker and another by Dixon & Andruss. But the Binghamptonpeople outgenerated their rivals at every turn and finally secured the state lines. Midway between Binghampton and Shelburn stands Amboy, made by the entrance of the Illinois Central Railroad. In 1851, a corps of engineers under Roswell B. Mason, ran lines through this locality. T.B. Blackstone had charge of the men between Dixon and Bloomington. The town sites then were owned in many instances by individuals or companies, composed of stockholders of the Central. Very much after present day methods they pursued the tactics of the present day man. At first a farm two miles north of the present depot, was bought and the company sent out word that the machine shops for the new road were to be located there. Some stops was haulded and the place actually was named Ketatan. This was made for the sole purpose of securing another farm for the town. The scheme worked very well and Amboy stands today where the Central people desired on the "Farwell place.".

In June, 1853, Michael Egan came here to begin work on the station buildings. Plans for the machine shops were made and Mr. Egan pushed their construction with rapidity. The year 1854 became the birth year of Amboy. Town lots were sold rapidly. Farwell's and Wymans' additions and Gibson's addition were platted and residence lots went off rapidly. R.D. Peironet and Samuel Goldman opened the first stores, the first named had a stock of knick-knacks. Goldman sold clothing. In the spring of 1854 Josiah Little erected a store building which was opened in Ocober and in which a stock of drugs, hardware and grocerien were sold. WIlcox and Wooster followed with a dry goods and grocery store. Later, Mr. Wooster bought the interest of his partner. During these first formative years Amboy grew rapidly.

David Bainter was the first doctor to settle here. William E. Ives the first lawyer to settle here came in December 1854. Alfred Tooker and James H. Filch came the next year. Alonzo Kinyon, who read law here came about the same time. Desirous of securing facilities of a court, Kinyon secured the passage of an act by the legislature establishing "the court of common please of the city of Amboy." with jurisdiction concurrent with the Circuit court, cases of treason and murder excepted. In 1869, Kinyon was elected judge of this court and C.D. Vaughn was elected clerk. The court did not prosper and in 1874 the law was repealed. Armed with a letter of introduction to Stephen A. Douglas, Berhard H. Trusdell came to Amboy in 1858, to practice law. Douglas had advised Amboy. Edward Southwick moved here from Dixon but died about the time Mr. Trusdell came here. Norman H. Ryan came a little later. Both Trusdell and ryan became lawyers of renown.

Incorporation of the town followed soon. In the winter of 1854-55 the town was incorporated. Allen E. Wilcox became the first president of the board of trustees. H.R. Judkins became the second clerk. On Dec. 23, 1856, a citizens' meeting was held in Mechanics hall to consider the question of city organization. J.B. Wyman, William F. Ives, Alonzo Kinyon and Edward Southwick were appointed a committee to draft a charter. On the 30th at an adjourned meeting at the Orient House, the charter was reported, adopted section by section and then as a whole. On Feb. 16, 1857 an act was approved and March 2 was set for the election to adopt or ratify. On the 8th following, John Stedman, E.S. Reynolds, J.R. Stevens, F.B. Little, J.M. Davis and J.A. Jackson were elected alderman. A Total of 234 votes wer cast. Daniel T. Wood was made clerk; W.F. Ives, attorney; A.F. Wilcox, assessor; W.B. Andrus, collector; Edward Little, Treasurer and Arthur Pond, surveyor.

In 1854-55, the postoffices at Shelburna dn Binghampton were discontinued and Amboy secured the same. Orange D. Reed was made first postmaster. The first birth in the new village was that of Medora Bell, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bell, Aug. 29, 1854. The first birth in the township was that of Simon, son of Mr.a nd MRs. John Dexter in 1836; the second as that of William C. Doan, son of James Doan, Oct. 16, 1837. The first marriage in the village of Amboy was that of William C. Bartlett and Caroline Bartlett Oct. 18, 1854. The first death in the village was that of Almira Melissa, infant daughter of Mr.a nd Mrs. W.B. Stuart, Jan. 5, 1855.

Two tragedies occurred in Amboy, Owen O' Connor shot and killed Dennis Allen, a saloon-keeper, Oct. 11, 1872. On April 18, 1873, John McGrath stabbed and killed Edward Egan. A negro killed another negro in the passenger station by striking him with his fist. Amboy has made several fights to secure the county seat and always she has been vigilant to see that Dixon obtained no advantages. For that reason, until the erection of the present courthouse, Dixon always had been compelled to build and maintain the courthouse. In 1866, the first effort was made, with dr. George Ryan in the legislature it was conceded that her chances were better than the average. But the effort failed. When it became known that the present courthouse was probable for Lee county, Amboy made another desperate effort to secure the county seat; but this defeat was more decided than the first. The removal of the division offices and the shops from Amboy, had cut her population, while the territory naturally tributary to Dixon, as wella s Dixon herself had been enjoying a long period of prosperity and increase in population.

Amboy has been subjected to fearful fires. The first big fire on the morning of Dec. 10, 1863 originated under the brick city hall, three stories high. A 435,000 loss followed; insurance $14,000. In 1864 a $45,000 fire followed; insurance, $38,000. March 10, 1865 another big fire followed. OTher fires occurred April 2, 1868; April 25, 1871 and Aug. 25, 1871, the last one entailing a loss of $175,000; insurance $103,000. In the last fire John Shannon was burned to death. He had been incarcerated int he city jail and was forgotten until too late. Other fires of smaller degree have followed since,but noone of any magnitude.

After the railroad debt had been saddled upon the community, the struggles of Amboy were hopeless, many times. No money could be secured for improvements. The railroad shops were taken away. The division offices were removed, yet she struggled forward bravely and beginning with the administration of Mayor John P. Harvey, splendidly paved streets made their appearnace. Boulevard lamps followed. His uncompromising efforts for order, beauty and development have been responsible very largely for the new Amboy of today.

Dixon Evening Telegraph 25-26 October 1948


The weekly newspaper, organized in 1854 before the city was organized, the second largest city in Lee County and located near the Geographical center of the county. It was incorporated Febuary 16, 1857 and sprang into prominence with the coming of the railroad. Some of the pioneers, and the wanderers, the travelers and those lonely settlers seeking a home, a wife, and family came, since 1837, in the communities of Shelburn, Binghampton, Rockyford, and finally Amboy. The first newspaper called "Amboy Times" was printed in PawPaw in 1854. The first edition was lost, it seemed, in the various moves and conditions of Amboy's newspapers. There are; in existence, bound files dating from 1856 - 1880 - to the present time. The first editors of the Amboy newspaper was Augustus Dickens, a brother of the poet Charles Dickens. He did many things, he was a yard goods peddler from house to house, a farmer and an editor. He didn't stay too long in Amboy. Little is known of his career or business since leaving Amboy. Reports say he is buried in Chicago in an unmarked grave.

Amboy' s newspaper changed hands from time to time. World Wars I and II and the progress of time, changes in farming with better methods and better agriculture equipment, bigger yields in crops thru fertilizing hybred seed, also bettor dairying, hogs, and beef cattle. All this contributed to the prosperity of Amboy. The name Amboy has quite a story behind it. On April 4, 1850, the story was told to me, a man met a little Indian boy and asked "What are you"? meaning what tribe he was from. The boy looked up into the mans face and with all the culture and knowledge he possessed and said "I am boy." In good English, that was one way Amboy got its name. Another is that Amboy is derived from an Indian word meaning between two hills. Stephen Lynch pointed out the word Amboy comes from the Delaware Indians meaning bowl or basin. The most logical origin of the name is that most of the early citizen's come from Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Just as Binghamton was named after the city in New York.

Stage coach lines from Peree to Grand Detour were the first in Amboy township. The second line ran from Inlet to Frophetstown stopping at Binghampton and Rockyford. The earlist religious groups to settle in Amboy, was the mormons in the late l830's and 1840's. They organized in the John Hooker home, now known as the Tim Arond farm. The Mormon cometery was on the road south of the Rockyford bridge.

Amboy was the mecca of religious churches. Joseph and Hyrum Smith ofter cane from Nauvoo to enhance a certain occassion. Joseph Smith as you all know, was the founder of the sect of Morman religion. He marriod Emma Hale, sister of Alva Hale of Sublette, and of David Hale and Mrs. Benjamin Wasson of Amboy. At one time the Morman's planned to build an elaborate temple north of Rockyford on a knoll on the Tim Arend farm. The cornerstone is still used as a step to enter the old house on that farm. What stopped the building was the requisition for the arrest of Joseph Smith for his polygamous doctrine. He was arrested and brought to Dixon but it seemed they had no written warrent and so Father Dixon ordered him released. Joseph Smith was brought to trial again later. The jail door was broken down by a mob and he finally left Amboy in the early 1860's. The first church in Amboy, I heard, was the Catholic church. Mass was first held in Mike Egans house in the fall of 1853. The priest was Father Mark Anthony. Then, the church was built, it was the third Catholic Church in Illinois. In the vicinty of Sandy Hill Father Bray built the church in 1856. It burned to the ground before the first Mass was said in it, but was rebuilt immediately. Father N.J. Clark was tho first resident priest.

On one occasion in 1858, Abraham Lincoln stopped in Amboy to make a speech. Before he made his speech he stopped across the street to the barber shop run by Philip Elder Flach. Mr. Flach finally came to his senses and realized he had shaved the future president. He still has the razor and mug he used to shave Lincoln with. The shave, by the way, was ten cents. Patrick Henry became the first Territorial Govornor the State of Illinois June 15, 1779 (known as the Northwest Territory.)

The first county in Illinois was St.Clair in 1790. The first three counties were St. Clair, first, Knox County, second, and Randolph, third. Ninian Edwards was the second governor of Illinois and Nathaniel Pope, Esquire was the Secretary of the Treasury, 1795 - 1812. Later, two more counties, Madison, Gallatin and Johnson making a total of six counties in the State of Illinois.

Amboy did prosper like all the other communities in Lee County. Carson Piere Scott and Company, one of the largest clothing establishments in the county started business in Amboy. In 1934 at the 80th anniversary, Carson Piere Scott gave a cut stone drinking fountain too the city. It was dedicated by Gov. Henry Horner. Church membership in Amboy is large with five churches serving the spiritual needs of its citizens. They are St. Patricks Cathalic, First Baptist, First Methodist, First Congregational, and the Immanual Lutheran chruches.

The schools ef Amboy are the very best. Amboy Community Unit School District number 272 was organized in l949. It includes most of the territery formerly in the Amboy Township High School District and operates a fully accredited four year high school as well as the Amboy Central Grade School Attendance Center. Also several other grade attendance centers including Sublette, Maytown, and Eldena, in addition to some of the original Rural District Schools. Additions are now being built to the High School and grade schools to modernize them and to aid in the development of a well rounded educational program. St. Patricks Catholic parish also operated an eight grade Porochial school in Amboy. J.E. Pankhurst, who died in 1930 gave the city its beautiful library "Pankhurst Memorial" which was built in 1928. They also have a beautiful Green River Park located at the east end of Main Street, a popular picnic spot and play ground for the kiddies. It is situated near Green River for which the park was named.

Dairying was another of Amboys great industrys where milk was processed and cheese and candy made at the factory. So, Amboy is another city in Lee County which we will say came a long way from the Indian trail of long, ago.

Source: Pioneers of Dixon, Lee County & Vicinity by Bill M. Tyne