History

Of

Ashton Twp.

Lee County IL


Photo from Pat France       

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What is now the Township of Ashton was set off from the town of Bradford, by resolution of Board of Supervisors, at its February meeting in 1861, to be known as the town of Ogle. The first settlers in the neighborhood were C. Royce, J. Clark and I. Rosecrans, in 1835. In 1838 Andrew Drummond and John Weatherington, with their families, settled on the west side of Lafayette Grove. Erastus Anderson was the first settler within the boundaries of the township. His year was 1848. In a few weeks his brother Timothy joined him, and in December, his father. At that tine there were only four houses within view, some of which are said to have been twenty miles distant. In 1849 a man by the name of Hubbard settled in the west part of the township. In 1852 Daniel Suter located near the present site of the German Baptist Church and Henry Sanders farther to the west. These comprise about all the settlers of what is now Ashton Township, up to the time the railroad was built in 1854.

The railroad company named the station “Ogle,” which in time was dropped for the present name. The site of the village is claimed to be the highest point of ground between Chicago and the Mississippi River. It was platted as the “Town of Ogle,” May 9, 1855, by Joseph Crawford, County Surveyor, for D. B. Stiles and Thomas D. Robertson. The first house was built in what was to be the village in 1854 by James L. Bates, and he kept the first store. The first warehouse was put up in the latter part of 1854. The next year S. M. Kifnes started the first blacksmith shop.

The first meeting house put up in Ashton was the Methodist Episcopal, in 1863. It was considered a temporary structure. The next year the Free Methodists erected a building, which is claimed to be the first one built by that denomination in the State. Indeed, the birthplace of the sect or society is said to have been just over the Ogle County line, where J. G. Terrol started it in 1860. The third church to be built was the Catholic, in 1866. The German Baptists erected their house the same year about a quarter of a mile south of the village. Next was the Christian church built in 1868. The Presbyterian church was erected in 1877. The denominations now maintaining service in the village, with present pastors, are the Methodist Episcopal, J. E. Honeywell pastor; Free Methodist (name of pastor not ascertained); Evangelical, C. Marth pastor; United Evangelical, W. Schuster pastor; Lutheran, H. Stauffenberg pastor; Presbyterian, W. J. Manifold pastor; Catholic, Thomas Finn pastor.

Fire has dealt cruelly with Ashton. In 1863 a grain elevator was burned, with etimated loss of $2,000. Flour mills were burned the same year; loss $60,000. In 1871 railroad property, consisting of the depot, two tanks and the coal house containing 1,200 tons of coal, besides a lumber yard and four dwelling houses, were consumed; estimated loss, $75,000. In 1874 a hay-press and elevator were burned; loss $30,000. In the summer of 1889 fire consumed twenty-eight business houses in three hours. The village was still without any protection against fire, but the Dixon and Rochelle Fire Companies were on the ground in time to check the progress of the destroyer. The estimated loss from the last fire was $65,000, with an insurance of $17,000. Within twenty four hours Mills & Petrie, bankers of the place, commenced preparations to erect new brick buildings, not only for themselves but to supply store-rooms for those who were not in position to build. In the summer of 1891, fire again did its work, consuming nearly ail the frame business buildings spared by the fire of 1889. The estimated loss was $20,000 without insurance. The village now has a fire company of seventy-six members, equipped with fine hand engine, hose and cart, hook and ladder truck and two tank wagons.

The village possesses fifty-seven business places and offices; has four doctors, five blacksmith shops and two meat markets. Four grain elevators handle the grain of the section with a capacity of 45,000 to 60,000 bushels. Three are owned and operated by A. L. Clark & Son and one by Zeller & Hutchinson. The latter also conduct extensive sheep-feeding sheds and yards, where as many as 15,000 head have been fed, at one time, in preparation for the Chicago market.

But probably the most important institution of all, in a business sense, is the Ashton Bank, because it is largely the mainstay of the business interests. S. F. Mills and N. A. Petrie, under the name of Mills & Petrie, commenced banking in Ashton in September, 1869, and sold out January 1, 1903, to the Ashton Bank, which was incorporated about that time under the State Banking Law, with $25,000 capital and $5,000 surplus, and organized with N. A. Petrie as President; Geo. H. Mix, Cashier; and M. D. Hathaway, Vice-President. Deposits are about $140,000. During the long experience of Mills & Petrie, covering a number of financial panics, their business stood on a conservative basis, commanding the confidence of the community, and every check rightly drawn on them was promptly honored. The banking facilities have been added to by the establishment, early In 1902, of the People's Bank of Ashton, a private institution, with Booth & Lyons as proprietors.

Ashton village is underlaid with a superior quality of building stone, which has been on the market, in a snail way, for a number of years. It admits of high polish and stands the action of acids better than most Illinois stone. Experts give it the credit also of resisting a higher pressure than any other building stone in the State, with but one exception.

The village has a large two story public school building built of this stone. The school is graded and employs six teachers.

The cemetery is controlled by the "Ashton Cemetery Association," which was incorporated August 14, 1902.

The village put in a gas plant in the summer of 1903, which supplies satisfactory gas for street lighting and other purposes.

The population of the township, including the village, was 1,031 in 1890, and 1,125 in 1900; that of the village alone, in 1890, being 680 and, in 1900, 756. The village was first incorporated March 5, 1867, and again under the general law, July 23, 1872.

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.

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This town is located in the north tier of townships. It is one-half the size of a congressional township, being six miles from east to west and three miles from north to south. It originally formed a part of Bradford township. The surface is for the most part undulating. Stone suitable for building purposes abounds in considerable quantities. The finest quarry is just north of the village of Ashton, which is said to be equal in quality to any in northern Illinois for building.

The first person to locate in the township was Erastus Anderson, in 1848. He was followed in a few weeks after by his brother Timothy, their father coming in December of the same year. At that time there were only four houses to be seen, and part of these were twenty miles distant. In 1849 a man by the name of Hubbard settled in the west part of the township. In 1852 Daniel Suter located near the site of the German Baptist church, and Henry Saunders, farther to the west. These comprise most of the settlers of what is now Ashton township prior to the location of the Northwestern railroad in 1854.

The first settlers of Ashton township say not a tree was to be seen nearer than the grove, at what is now Franklin; that game was plenty, that ducks, geese and sandhill cranes reared their young here in the swamps, and that chasing the prairie wolf was of frequent occurrence. Sheep had to be closely guarded. Prairie fires sometimes broke out, sweeping the grass, which was very abundant, and sometimes the buildings and crops of the pioneers, leaving behind a black and desolate waste.

The land of Ashton township was bought principally by speculators about the time the first settlers made their appearance. They rated it from $5 to $10 per acre. Those with small means settled farther from the railroads, where land could be had for less money. Ashton township is yet owned largely in large farms, and worked by tenants.

In 1854 emigrants began to come in from every quarter and located in Ashton township. In that year the first house was built by James L. Bates, where the village of Ashton now is. The town was laid out in 1855. J. L. Bates kept the first store here. The first warehouse was erected in the latter part of 1854, and in this was kept the first post-office. The first blacksmith shop was erected in 1855, by S. M. Kifnes.

The first church erected was the Methodist Episcopal, in 1863. A lot was offered, free of charge, to the church society which would erect the first building in the village. The Methodist Episcopal people, not feeling themselves able to build a durable church, erected a temporary structure to secure the lot till such time as they were able to build a durable church. The second church was erected by the Free Methodists in 1864. This is said to have been the first church of the kind in the state. The society was first organized in Ogle county, four miles north of Ashton, by J. G. Terrol, in 1860, but for convenience the society was divided and a church built in Ashton. Among the prominent members at the time of its organization were Charles Butolpk, Jonathan Dake, Sidney and Melville Beach, Sylvester Forbes, Isaac Martin, Samuel Walker, James Reed, William Martin, their wives and others. Rev. Terrol was followed by Rev. W. Underwood. The society at one time, shortly after its organization, numbered ninety active members. It now numbers twenty-five. It is in a flourishing condition. The society has kept in good running order a Sunday-school most of the time. It has now united its Sunday School with that of the Presbyterians. Its church principles are absolute freedom and strong opposition to all secret societies.

The third church erected here was by the Catholics, in 1866. Its members are for the most part Germans, and number about fifty active communicants.

The Christian church was built in 1868. The prime leaders were F. Nettleton J. P. Taylor, and Peter Plautz. It was organized with fifteen mernbers It first held its meetings in the school-house. The society flourished with the other societies of the town till within the past two years, when mistbrtunes beyond its control befell it, but it is flow in a fair way to revive and recover its former standing.

The German Baptists built their present church house one fourth of a mile south of town, in 1866. Its membership at the present is something more than forty, and is in a flourishing condition. The cemetery connected with this church is on a beautiful rising ground.

The Presbyterian church was erected in 1877. The building committee were Messrs. Mills, Petrie and Polluck. At the time of organization its membership was fourteen. The leading members were Griffith, Hutsen, and Brewer. The first minister was Rev. S. Vale; present pastor, Rev. Jordan. The present elders are S. F. Mills and J. Brewer. The society is in good condition.

The Lutheran society holds its meetings the Presbyterian church.

The Masons and Odd-Fellows each have a societv here. The former was organized in 1862, and is prosperous. The latter was organized in 1867, and though not so numerous in members is enjoying a good degree of prosperity.

Temperance orders of various kinds have sprung up atvarious intervals, only to be lost sight of and suffered to die.

Ashton boasts of the finest school building in the county. It is a stone edifice erected at a cost of $28,OOO. The school employs six teachers.

THE ASHTON BANK

This bank was opened by Mills   &   Petrie in 1867. During its existence it has never closed its doors. During the month of June, 1881, it received checks amounting to over $8O,OOO, the greater part of which was for produce shipped from this point.

Ashton has several times been visited with very destructive fires for a town of its size. The first fire of note was in 1833. The grain elevator was burned, and the loss was estimated at $2,000. Next, the Ashton flouring mill burned in 1863; loss, $60,000. In 1871 the railroad property, which consisted of two tanks, the depot and a coal-house, in which were stored 1,200 tons of coal; in addition to the railroad property, a lumber yard and four dwelling houses were burned, the estimated loss being $75,000. This fire originated in the coal-house. In 1874 the hay-press and elevator were burned; a loss of $30,000. Besides these fires named there have been numerous smaller ones.

At the present time Ashton has three elevators, two hotels, and flouring mill, six churches and seven congregations, one bank, of which Mills & Petrie are the sole proprietors, and several very good stores for a country town. The Masons and Odd-Fellows are the only secret societies.

There has been but one tragedy in the township. The perpetrator of the heinous crime of wife-poisoning was a man by the name of McGee. He was a minister stationed at Ashton. It seems the villain had become enamored of another besides his wife, and not possessing moral courage sufficient to free himself from the matrimonial bonds in an honorable way, resorted to poison as a means of putting his wife out of the way. Strichnine was his agent; this he gave to his wife in minute quantities for some time. The doctor was summoned, but not suspecting the treacherous villainy that was being practiced, did not discover what had been done till a short time before she died. The fatal dose was administered by him just before he repaired to the church to preach. He was arrested and incarcerated in the county jail. He then thought to place his crime upon his fourteen-year old daughter by making her sign a paper stating that she had poisoned her mother. In this he failed. He was tried, convicted and sent to the state penitentiary for a term of fourteen years. His wifb was much loved and respected by the community, as are his children, and no one reflects on them the villainy over which they had no control, but all are filled with sympathy for their misfortune.

Source: History of Lee County Pg 620

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It isn't one of the oldest settlements but it has records of its origin in 1848. Erastus Anderson was the first to settle and was followed in a few weeks by his brother Timothy and in December by their father. The absence of settlers due to lack of timer or material to build their cabins or shelter for their animals and of course their fuel also. There were no main trails so naturally, the Pioneers settled near a main trail. I don't blame them one bit.

Daniel Suter came in 1852, James Quick came in 1854. This man was a stone mason and a plasterer, and soon had a good business worked up. He built first a store, the first store in 1855. Located near Main Street in the east end and, he also built a house and store for Dave Elmore. Quick and his wife occupied the second story for a home. The coming of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad in 1854, gave this conmmnity the impetur it needed. The whistle of the train was a music everyone loved to hear from near and far. The celebrated Pioneer, the first train engine, Dennis DeCoursey was the fireman, he later moved to Ashton. James Bates was the first station agent, followed by many other Pioneer men. The first telegrapher was a Pioneer gal, Mrs. J. C. Smith. Samuel Bennett was the first section foreman. One of the reasons of this wonderful communities great success and progressive people was that they were composed of most every color, race or creed known to civilization. Another reason, just why United States of America is the most wonderful nation on the face of the earth.

One of the first houses was the home of Margaret Cartwright Griswold. It was in this house the first child was born in Ashton, Joseph Gooch.

Ashton is known as one of the most popular, most up to date and the most friendly and neighborly in the county.

As Ashtons first newspaper in 1873 by Pete Bailey. This town had a number of newspapers, the last in 1904 until 1946.

Ashton also had its trials and tribulations, it was known as the city of fire. The town was badly burned twice but with the spirit of the pioneer and determination to succeed by all its citizens. Why, just look at Ashton today, Oh my, several rich, well to do citizens have left memorials to this wonderful city and town, that sprung from the ashes of the campfire of the Historian and the Pioneer of Lee County.

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

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