History of Lee Center Twp.


Lee Center Academy mentioned below - Photo from Karen Holt

Inlet is located in Section 9 and was the first settlement of Lee Center township. It was located on the banks of Inlet Creek, now known as Green River. It was a gathering place for thieves, counterfeiters, fence men and even murderers. One of the particular thief's house was used as a hiding place for all stolen goods. These banditti were not only located in Illinois or Lee Center but also extended from ohio and Kentucky to Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin - but their favorite and main meeting place was Inlet. This part of the country was hilly and rugged with ravines and dense forests which made it possible for giving better protection and hiding places.

A group of settlers in Inlet Grove, namely, Sherman Shaw, Charles Ingalls, Rev. Hitchcock, Dr. R.F. Adams, Moses Crombies, Louis Clapp, Benjamin Whittaker, and a Mr. Starks and his sons, resolved to rid Inlet Grove of these "banditti." Through their heroic efforts, these men freed Inlet of the banditti. This group of settlers were known as the "Vigilance Committee." Because of the banditti, settlers moved further to the northwest and established in 1846 the village of Lee center on the Chicago Road. This caused a lot of rivalry and hard feelings between the two settlements. Lee Center is now the polling place for Lee center township. The name Lee Center was given to the settlement because of its location - approximately in the center of Lee County.

The abolition movement in Lee county had its origin in Inlet and Lee Center. The first abolitionist society was formed in 1846 in a log schoolhouse one mile west of Lee Center. This first movement was led by John Cross, a Congregational minister, who also kept an underground station helping get escaped Negroes into Canada. Owen Lovejoy made a rousing speech against slavery here. A Free Soil club with Russell Linn as president was also organized.

In 1834, Adolphus Bliss came to Inlet and was the first settler in Lee Center township. In 1836, he was followed by Joseph Sawyer, Daniel Miller Dewey and Charles West. Adolphus Bliss and Daniel Miller Dewey were mistakenly sent to prison for supposedly committing a robbery at Troy Grove that two men named Fox and Birch really committed. Bliss died in the penitentiary and Dewey never returned to Inlet. The man named Fox also committed a robbery at the Haskel residence in Inlet. During a severe thunderstorm, Fox crawled on the floor of the Haskel home until he reached the trunk under the bed where the Haskels were lying awake talking. With each clap of thunder, Fox moved the trunk out unheard.

Many hardships struck the settlers of Lee Center in those first fewyears of settlement. In 1844, along with the Haskel robbert, many others took place. Also during the reign of the "banditti" many murders took place. In 1860 a tornado struck the northern part of Lee Center township, taking everything in its path. Isaac Gage, a resident of Lee Center, lost two sons in the storm and his daughter was disabled as a result of the storm. The Lee Center churches were moved from their foundations by the tornado of 1860, but the destruction wasn't complete until 1862 when another more fierce tornado struck again. This tornado destroyed the Methodist Episcopal church.

The first school in Lee Center township was built in 1836 of logs at the edge of a timber near Bliss house. The first teacher was Otis Timothy. There was no bridge across Green river, so that the children on the opposite side had to take off their shoes and stockings and wade across.

Lee Center Union Academy was started in 1846 and Moses Crombie did all of the carpentry work on the building. The building was constructed of bricks of clay found around Lee Center. In 1853, a stone addition was built onto the old academy. Hiram McChesney was the first principal of the academy, and its affairs were directed by seven trustees and five special directors.

In September, 1913, Mrs. Abigail L. haskel, widow of George E. Haskel, attended a ceremony dedicating a building erected through her generous contribution. The odd Fellows used the upper part of this building for their lodge meetings and banquets. Thee was a kitchen in the basement. On the main floor there was a large store room which has now been converted into a grocery store and is operated by Earl McNinch at the present time.

A lime kiln located at the north end of the quarry east of Lee Center was owned by Conrad Ullrich and operated by his three sons, Chris, George and John. The kiln was used to burn lime and then was sold. These men used to sleep by the lime kiln all night to keep the fire going. At this time there was no water in the quarry and their machinery was in the large hole to collect the lime to burn. One night they went home and the next morning when they returned they found the quarry full of water and their machinery in it. Ever since there has been water in this quarry.

In 1837, the Methodist Episcopal congregation was organized at the residence of C.R. Dewey. The church building was erected in 1842, and services were carried on in this building until 1858, when it was necessary to build a larger one.

The Congregational society was organized at the residence of Moses Crombie, near Binghamton in 1843. It consisted of 11 members. The Rev. Joseph Gardner was the first pastor. The church building was built in 1856 at the cost of $1500.

The Episcopal congregaiton was organized in 1855, and the building was erected in the same year at the cost of $2500.

The Masonic lodge, No 146 was organized July 28, 1854. It obtained its charter in October of the same year. This lodge was the second of its kind organized in Lee county.

The first post office was run by a Mr. Barker, where William Hart now lives on the Lee Center high school property. Mr. Barker had a Negro boy who carried the mail from either Galena or Dixon before Amboy was established. After this, a Mr. Chadwick ran the post office in the present place where Mrs. Ada Carlson resides.

Sabin Trowbridge ran a general office too. He ran both until his death. Then his wife sold the store to Sylvester Shaw, who in turn sold it to the Leavens and Gray company, which consisted of William Gray, Mr. Leavens, Charles Champlan and A. F. Jeanblanc. It was run for a number of years under the company's name. Then a Mr. Peterson bought the store and ran it for a few years.

After Mrs. Trowbridge sold the store to Mr. Shaw, Shaw's daughter took over the post office for a number of years. After she discontinued the post office, S.L. Fair ran it. At this time all mail was being brought from Amboy by horse and buggy. A.F. Jeanblanc carried the mail for four years. Then the mail was carried by a Mr. Dixon. After him Mrs. Mary Riley carried it for about four years. Then came free delivery from Amboy.

The old store building known as the Blake property, was rented as a school in 1909 and 1910. The board of directors consisted of S. L. Shaw, John Smith and B.F. Lane. the first principal in 1909-1910 was Mr. Moon. In 1910-1913, the principal was John Price, Miss Steinacker followed Mr. Price and started a two year high school. In 1913, a three year high school was started. Mr. Helbish became principal in 1920-23 and during his term a new addition was added and was known as "the little room." The gymnasium was the Odd Fellows hall. During 1831-34 Mr. Jones became principal. Duirng this time the bus system was started and the school building burned down. For a time then school was held in a large building known as the Carlson home.

An election to issue $30,000 worth of bonds to build a school large enough for both grade and high school was held on August 31, 1931. Even though this bill was defeated, a determined board of education went ahead with plans for building. With the addition of a gymnasium in 1935, the building was completed at an approximate cost of $51,000. In 1938 there were 50 pupils in grade school and 60 in high school. In 1951, there are now approximately 120 in grade school adn 80 in high school. Walter Wilson now serves as principal.

A railroad was built in 1910. It was a street car route from the main street of AMboy through Lee Center to Middleberry. The street car stopped operating in 1916. A steam engine then took its place and pulled cars from Amboy to Lee Center and on to Middleberry. This railroad was taken from Lee Center in 1942. Now the grain elevator uses the railroad to pull cars of grain and coal, etc. to Amboy and return.

Lee Center is surrounded by rich farming land. Land which was once a combination of swamp, prairie grass and forests has been turned into productive soil. In 1850 the population of Lee Center was 292. In 1860 it was 763; in 1870 it was 1028; and in 1880 it was 1229. At present, 1951, the population is a little over 250. The community has declined probably as a result of the C.B. & Q railroad not being put through Lee Center, and because it was not made the county seat.

The quaint little village of Lee Center today contains a general store, two garages, an elevator, a trucking business, a telephone office, a post office, one church and one school building. Part of the church is at the present time being used as a temporary addition to the school and houses the first and second grades. Because the town is not incorporated, Lee Center lacks many modern improvements, such as city water and street lights. Driving through Lee Center today may take you a step back into the past, for it is indeed a picturesque village with its old homes and buildings and the aura of old folk lore only adds to its charm.

Dixon Evening Telegraph 1951 by Mrs. Wayne Albers

Adolphus Bliss and wife were the first settlers within the territory later known as Lee Center, having located there in May, 1834. Mrs. Bliss was the first white woman to reside in the township, and the second in the county. It was a year before she had a neighbor nearer than Dixon. Mr. Bliss entered a claim on west half of southwest quarter of Section 4, and the north half of the northeast quarter of Section 9. The first to follow him was Corydon R. Dewey, who came in the following spring and entered a claim on the east half of the northwest quarter of Section 9, and later, but during the year, Cyrenus and Cyreno Sawyer joined them, and together took up a claim on the northeast quarter of Section 1. In the spring of 1836, Lewis Clapp settled on the northwest quarter of Section 8. In this year Charles F. Ingalls and his brother, George A., entered their claims in the southern part of Lee Center Township, on which a Pottawatomie Indian village then stood.

In 1837 Mr. David Tripp and family, with his brother-in-law Orange Webster, settled at Inlet. My. Birdsell was an arrival of the following year. During that year Dr. R. F. Adams arrived and was the first physician in the neighborhood. Roswell Streator filed a claim in 1833, on the land on which Lee Center is situated, and the following year built a log house in the edge of Inlet Grove, which was near his claim. He gave a portion of the land towards the erection and maintenance of an academy, which will be hereafter referred to. George E. Haskell early settled at the Grove. Two of the Ingails brothers, Henry and Addison, first settled on the Illinois River near where Chandlerville now stands, and Abraham Lincoln surveyed the farm for one of them. Mr. Ralph Ford was also one of the early arrivals.

In the spring of 1836 the first sermon in the neighborhood was preached by Peter Cartwright in Mr. Dewey's house. In that year the first Methodist class was organized, with John Fosdick as leader. Mr. David Tripp was a Baptist, and services were now and then held in his house until he built a new barn, which was dedicated with protracted meeting. A Baptist society was organized with Mr. Webster as deacon and Mr. Tripp as clerk. Here meetings were held regularly until a school-house was built near the Dewey Mill. In 1835 Rev. Luke Hitchcock and Oscar F. Ayres came, and the former preached the first funeral sermon in the town. It was over the body of a young "circuit rider" by the name of Smith, who died at Tripp's homestead.

The first school-house was built in the edge of the timber on the Bliss land. George E. Haskell was teacher. It was a typical log structure. Moses Crombie settled in the village of Lee Center in 1840. Prior to the erection of this school house, Mrs. Crombie conducted a neighborhood school in her own house.

The first building occupied as a store stood on the ground where David Tripp's grout house stood. It was sold to George E. Haskell, who moved it nearer to Inlet Creek, where it stood a few years, when it was moved to the town of Lee Center and was occupied for some years by Joseph Cary.

The pioneer teacher was Ann Chamberlain, who in the summer occupied a room in Adolphus Bliss's house for her school. In the log school-house already referred to, Otis Timothy taught, and later settled at Franklin Grove where he died. His teaching was for three months in the winter of 1837-8. He had twenty to twenty-five pupils under his charge, and was paid at the rate of $15 per month. A log tavern kept by Benjamin Whittaker stood where Mr. Cephas Clapp lived in recent years. This was as early as 1839. The first wedding in the town was that of Albert Static and Elmira Carpenter, in 1836, Daniel M. Dewey, Justice of the Peace, performing use ceremony. Mr. James Brewer reached Inlet in 1843, having ridden on horseback from Montgomery, Ala., and later became principal of the academy.

There were other schools than those already mentioned. Mrs. Sallie P. Starks taught a class of five boys and five girls, ranging from one year old to near twenty-one; her teaching was for 12 hours a day all the year round.

Lee Center Academy.- The main part of the Academy building was constructed of brick and built in 1847, at a cost of $2,000. Mr. Moses Crombie was the contractor, and the school opened the same year and soon advanced to a leading rank among the educational institutions in that section. A certificate is found recorded in the Recorder's Office of the county, stating that Lewis Clapp, Luke Hitchcock, N. P. Swartwout, Martin Wright, Daniel Frost. Moses Combie and R. F. Adams were elected Trustees of the Academy, March 3, 1847. The first Principal was Hiram McChesney. a graduate of Rensselaer Institute, of Troy, N. Y. He served one year, when he was succeeded by H. E. Lenard, of Naperville. After two years Rev. James Brewer, a graduate of Jamestown College, Mass., took charge remaining one year. After him came Simeon Wright, during whose three years of service the Academy reached a degree of prosperity never exceeded either before or after. The average attendance of the school in this year was 150 pupils. Prof. Nash came after Mr. Wright and remained until 1859, in which year he died. By this time other schools of importance had sprung up at Paw Paw, Dixon, Amboy and elsewhere, and the Academy, remote from railroads, begaa to decline, so that, in the year 1859, it became a graded district school. In 1853 a stone addition to the schoolhouse was erected to acommodate the increasing needs of the institution.

In these days Lee Center was indeed a flourishing village, with an academy as its center of interest and activity. Lyceums, lectures and traveling entertainments were frequent in the chapel.

A Congregational Church was organized in 1843, at the home of Amos Crombie, near Binghamton in Amboy Township, with eleven members. The first pastor was Rev. Joseph Gardner. It was called the Congregational Church of Palestine Grove. Worship was conducted until 1849 in the Wasson school house, in Amboy Township, after which it was changed to Lee Center, when a building was erected in 1856 at a cost of $1,500. In another account of this society (see Amboy) John Worrell is mentioned as first pastor and Joseph Gardner as third. We are unable to determine which statement is correct.

A Methodist Church was organized in 1837, at the residence of Corydon R, Dewey. at Inlet Grove. Their first church building was erected in 1342, in which services were held until 1858, when a larger and more commodious one was built. For many years Luke Hitchcock was pastor. Philo Judson. afterwards an eminent toreign missionary, preached here, and "Father Penfield" often filled the pulpit. The building was badly racked by the tornado of June 3, 1860. and was finally demolished by a storm on October 30, 1882. Its place was supplied by a fine new structure erected in 1883-4.

It appears by a certificate, recorded in the Recorder's Office, that I. G. Dimick. C. R. Dewey. Daniel Frost, D. H. Birdsall and G. R. Lynn were elected Trustees of the "Methodist Episcopal Church at Inlet," December 12, 1840. On June 4. 1848, Daniel Frost. Solomon Matteson, A. W. Crombie, C. S. Frost, M. S. Curtis and Hezekiah McCune, were elected trustees of the "Methodist Episcopal Church of Lee Center." In 1849, trustees of a parsonage were elected, but we have been unable to learn when the building was constructed.

An Episcopal Church was organized in 1855, and a building erected in 1857, costing $2,500. The windows of the cnurch were presented to the congregation by Bishop Whitehouse. The title was vested in the Bishop by instrument dated May 4, 1857. Dr. Charles Gardner and Garrett M. La Forge were the principal supporters, and after they left the town the services here declined until the building was abandoned and sold for other uses a very few years ago.

The country was greatly disturbed in the period from 1843 to 1850, by a succession of crimes indicating a thorough organization among the lawless class. The principals in the nefarious business are known in the annals of this and adjoining counties as the "Banditti of the Prairies." The vicinity of Inlet furnished one of their bases of operation. Counterfeiting, robbery and murder were included among their offenses. Two leading citizens of Inlet Grove one of them a magistrate were implicated in a robbery, and sent to the penitentiary where both died. Other citizens were found to be involved in like transactions. One turned state's evidence, which resulted in more arrests and the recovery of considerable stolen property. As a means of better contending with the law-breaking element, an "Association for Furthering the cause of Justice" was formed. The preamble of the constitution recited that, "appearances have plainly shown that Inlet Grove has been a resting place and depot for the numerous rogues that infest the country." A vigilance committee was appointed to hunt out and run down the rascals, by which effective work was done for the protection of the people and punishment of criminals.

The lands on which the pioneers settled were not open to purchase until 1844, when the first land sale occurred at Dixon. Hence the early settlers were known as "squatters," having no assurance that the lands they occupied would ever become their own. To protect themselves against the cupidity of interlopers who might seek to enter the lands of the first corners secretly, and also as a means of adjusting any differences which might arise between them touching their respective claims, the settlers of this neighborhood formed a "Squatters' Association," with a formal constitution containing rigia provisions for the mutual protection, of its members. Similar movements were resorted to in other sections, and became known as "Grove Associations." The constitution of the one in the vicinity of Amboy was preserved by Ira Brewer, and bore date, "Inlet, Ogle County, Illinois, July 10th, 1837," and was subscribed by sixty-six members. The field of the association extended from Inlet half way to Knox, Dixon, Malugin, Palestine and Franklin Grove. George E. Haskell was the first president and Martin Wright the first clerk. The scheme called for a bond to be signed by each member, obligating him to convey to the adjoining claimant any land occupied by the latter which might, inadvertently or otherwise, be purchased by the formen Difficulties were apt to arise owing to the fact that the Government survey had not then been made. In a committee report of choice diction and marked seriousness, having much of the tone of a plea addressed to the membership, it is said: "The claims of all have been respected and a just regard had to the growth and prosperity of the neighborhood, in the accommodations afforded to all that wished to unite themselves to this community in nearness of settlement. But a change in our circumstances is about to take place. The rightful owner of the soil upon which we are located is to call upon us for his dues, and that too at a period not far distant. Some, and it is hoped all the members of this association, will be able to answer the call and obtain a title to the land which they now claim. In paying for land, whether at general land sales or under the preemption law, the individual so paying receives his title to the same, which no right of the claimant can ever reach."

The situation was manifestly one of grave peril to these frontiersmen who were in danger of losing the property, the home, which they had braved so much and forsaken so much to secure. As a rule, however, the community, by the intimidating force of a law of its own making, was able to protect the bona-fide settler against the barbarous greed of the "claim jumper." The early settlers brought with them much of the spirit of colonial days, and vigorously used all that was needed to meet the emergency.

Shaw Station was platted as "Shaw" on land of Sherman Shaw October 24, 1878. The place has an elevator operated by Chas. Guffin, a Congregatlonal church, which was built five or six years ago. and a public school.

The population of the township in 1890 was 789. while in 1900 it was 876.

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.

Out of the rivalry and fear of bandits, Lee center was placed on the map right in the center of Lee County. Named because it was the "center" in 1846, Lee Center m ight never have been the quiet little community it is today if bandits, thieves and murderers had not forced people out of nearby Inlet in the early days of the village.

Actually bandits, thieves, counterfeiters and murderers were the first to settle in Lee Center Township, at a settlement called Inlet on the banks of Inlet Creek, now known as a branch of the Green River. A vigilance committee finally ousted badmen from the area and later moved northward to establish Lee center. Inlet, the village of thieves, was set on the hilly banks of the creek with the houses built and owned exclusively by thieves. One of these home was also designated as a hiding place for stolen goods and where machines used to make counterfeit bills were stored. The bandits were not just from Lee County and the surrounding area, but were from Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin. Inlet was the favorite place to meet because of the hilly and rugged land, dense forests and ravines. Most settlers agreed the terrain made it a great place for bandits to hide.

Sherman Shaw, the Rev. Mr. Hitchcock, Dr. R.F. Adams, Moses Crombie, Louis Clapp, Benjamin Whittaker and a man known as Stark formed the Vigilance Committee and their goal was to oust the thieves from the area. These and other settlers succeeded in running most of the bandits out of the area. It was after the badmen had been run out that the rivalry between Inlet and Lee center began. Early Inlet settlers moved to the northwest out of the bandit infested settlement and established Lee Center. For a long time the rivalry continued until the population of Inlet dwindled and the community of Lee Center grew. Starting in 1834 the Lee Center and Inlet area was terrorized by bandits. The first known settler of Lee Center Township, Adolphus Bliss, who arrived in 1834, was branded as a thief and sent to prison for a robbery he never committed. Bliss and a man named Daniel Miller Dewey, who came in 1836, were wrongfully accused of a robbery at Troy Grove. Bliss died while in prison and Dewey never returned to the area. A man known as "Fox," along with another man named "Birch," actually committed the robbery. "Fox" was one of the more daring robbers in the area and committed a notorious robbery at the Haskel home in Rural Lee center. "Fox" was alleged to have crawled on the floor of the Haskel home during a severe thunderstorm and with each clap of thunder, moved a trunk out from under the bed whee the Haskets laid awake talking.

Lee Center and Inlet have been acknowledged as sites where the county abolition movement originated. In 1846 an old log school house west of Lee Center was used for the forming of the first abolition society. The Rev. John Cross, a congregationlist, led the movement. The Rev. Mr. Cross maintained an underground station to help Negros flee into Canada. The robberies and the bandits were only part of the hardships the community had to survive. Murdes were committed, with the killers escaping convictions, and then, just when it seem the badmen were gone, a tornado struck the area. It was in 1860 when the tornado struck the northern part of the township. It took many homes and established buildings. The Isaac Gage family of Lee Center was the hardest hit. Gage lost two sons and his daughter was disabled as a result of the storm. The storm moved churches from their foundations, but they were not damaged beyond use. Two years later a second tornado swept through destroying more homes and demolishing the Methodist Episcopal Church. A school built of logs was all it was in 1836, with the first schoolmaster of Lee center being Otis Timothy. Since there was no bridge to cross the INlet Creek, children had to take off their shoes and wade across the river or skate across durng the winter to get to school. Residents of Lee Center did not wait long to establish a school at the academy level. The village laid out in the mid 1840's planned and built the school in 1847 with finishing touches coming in 1848.

Known as the Lee center Union Academy it was constructed of bricks and clay found around the Lee Center area. Moses Crombie did all the carpentry work. A stone addition was later build in 1853. The first principal of the academy was Hiram McChesney. The school was headed by seven trustees and five special directors. In the early days the school attained such an outstanding reputation that students from Mt. Morris and Rockford attended classes. The educational institution of Lee Center also drew students from out of state. The academy flourished during the 1850's and at one time employed four instructors for an enrollment of 200. Simeon Wright was the man given the most credit for raising the Lee Center Union Academy to such high standards. Wright later became the state superintendent of schools. As the village grew, new buildings popped up. First the new school and then in 1913 a building was dedicated thanks to contributions from Mrs. Abigail L. Haskel, widow of george E. Haskel. The upper level of the new building was used by the Old Fellows. The basement was a kitchen and the main floor was basically used as a storeroom which was later transformed to a grocery stoor.