To The
History of May Twp.


Still sojourning within the confines comprehended in old Inlet precinct, we enter the township of May, whose history is preserved to us with considerable volume and accuracy. The first settlers of May were compelled to go to Inlet to vote at the house of Joseph Sawyer, which was the polling place. May did not become a separate polling place until the year 1843.

The first settler was a man named Joseph Bay, who settled on section 13. The next settler was Ira Axtel, who settled the same year on section 6. So far I have been unable to ascertain the exact dates of their settlement, but it was in the early thirties. The town was named May in honor of Captain May, an American officer, who fell in the battle of Palo Alto.

Of those who came in 1840 were William Dolan, who settled on section 14; Martin McGowan, J. Moran and John Darcy, who took up their claims on 14 and 23. In 1843 May was made a separate precinct, and in 1845 the land was surveyed by the Government and thrown into market.

The old Peoria road from Dixon’s Ferry went through this township, which joins Marion on the south, and along the same, at the residence of Mr. Morrison, a postoffice was established which was called May Hill. In seventeen years, 1860, she had 120 votes, yet May township furnished forty-seven men to aid in the suppression of the rebellion. Company F, of the Seventy-fifth Illinois Infantry, was recruited almost exclusively from this little township.

Patrick Riley, one of May’s best citizens. settled in that township in the year 1848, on section 23. He was a hard working, frugal man and in time he had accumulated a fortune. In 1860 his health began to fail, and, notwithstanding all his efforts to restore it. in 1868 he died. Ambitious to do good to less fortunate people, who might be assisted by educational advantages, he left 120 acres to be enjoyed by his wife during life, then Martin McGowan and Patrick McCann in trust for the purposes of constructing an academy in Maytown. These trustees sold the 120 acres left them and set work and executed their trust faithfully by beginning its construction on a piece of land belonging to the estate, on the old Peoria stage road, eight miles from Amboy. The main building was 30x48. The L was 16x18 feet and the entire structure was 20 feet in height. The school was divided into several compartments. On the first floor were the school rooms, music room, parlor, sitting room, dining room and kitchen. On the second floor was the chapel, beautifully finished with a vaulted roof. The rest of the upper floor was divided into sleeping rooms, occupied by pupils who boarded at the academy. The building was surmounted by an observatory, from which a splendid view of the surrounding country was had. Young ladies alone were received as boarders, but boys were received as day scholars. Six sisters of the Benedictine order taught the various grades in the common branches and in addition taught music, drawing, French and German.

In September 1880, the academy was dedicated and for a long while the school was crowded with pupils. But after about 10 years the attendance fell off until it was considered best to abandon it altogether. In 1895 the property was sold and the old academy was torn down.

The advantages to the township were immeasurable and May township as an educational center ranked very high. It seems to bad that so useful and institution should decline, but then in earthly affairs we must accept the inevitable. Like Lee Center, rivals attracted the children. As boys and girls read about he larger schools, like children the world over, they felt that the little school was not big enough for them and like the old Lee Center school it dropped out of existence peacefully and quietly, though leaving behind memories never to be effaced by the most vigorous workings of time. The teachers were of the very highest class. It does seem too bad that idealism cannot fight its way against the practical institutions of today.

The old state railroad, which was graded through May township, caught many a poor settler. James Deray was one of them. He worked on the grade in 1840, for which labor he was paid in worthless scrip, issued by a so-called banker of LaSalle, named A.H. Bangs. Yet in the face of his early adversities, Mr. Darcy accumulated a handsome fortune.

Through the machinations of interested parties, the stage road was changed and the May Hill postoffice was shifted to the residence of Daniel Beard. In 1850 William Dolan laid the matter before the Postmaster-General and three months afterwards the route was changed again and the postoffice restored to its former location. A Mr. Hubbard then was appointed postmaster, which position he held continuously until the railroad was continued into Sublette and the postoffice was removed to that place.

In the year 1850 the township was organized by Joseph Crawford, Harvey Morgan and Lorenzo Wood, county commissioners. For a time May township people had many good reasons to expect the Illinois Central would run through the town. In fact, the old grade, made many years before, was made through May township, running southerly past the academy. The same grade, to be seen today just outside of Dixon was part of the same survey and fared as one which was made through May.

The Anti Claim Jumping Association was very strong. Its membership extended from May through Amboy over into Lee Center and the first call for action, almost, was made to its members to redress a wrong done in the township. A man named Hiram Anderson had made a claim. Anderson offended a neighbor, who, representing himself to be the owner, in turn went to Dixon and sold the claim to Bull, who dealt in claims once in awhile. Bull it seems, as I get the story from May, also drove stage down the old Peoria road.

When Anderson found that his claim had not only been sold out from under him, but that Bull actually had stepped over to the land office and entered it from the Government and received his receiver's receipt. Anderson notified the committee. A meeting of the "Palestine Grove Minutemen." as the association was called, met in he barn of Mr. Fessenden, over in Sublette, and passed the usual set of resolutions demanding its return.

The entire association nearly went to Dixon. Most of them waited in the timber south of town while Chester Badger and a Mr. Baird went to the Western tavern, where Bull was stopping, to demand the return of the claim. Bull was loaded in a wagon and started to jail; but explanations followed: Bull conveyed the claim to Anderson; the neighbor gave his note for what he got. Anderson secured the $1.25 per acre which Bull had paid, and thus a bad job was straightened out. If it had not been adjusted the angry members would have seized Bull and they would have secured satisfaction. There was a case, which if sent to the courts, never would have been adjusted properly. Besides much money in lawyers fees would have been spent. This committee settled it fairly, expeditiously and without expense. Border committees generally are needed.

Religious influences always have had a strong foothold in May. Not only was the academy dominated by the refining and enabling influences of religion, through the efforts of a noble company of Sisters of the Benedictine order, but the laity at large over the town actively supported the interest of the church.

The first schoolhouse in the township was erected on section 3 and for a time it was used by the Catholic church for its services. A short time after the war, the German Catholics built a church on the east side of the township, which was named St. Mary ‘s. At about the same time the Irish members of the Catholic church built a church on the west side of the township, which cost approximately nine thousand dollars. It surpassed any church building in that part of the county for many years. Subsequently, however, the building of the beautiful Catholic church at Sublette, by all odds the most beautiful and costly church in Lee county, drew to it most of the May Germans and the May church was permitted to remain unoccupied. The west side church has prospered almost phenomenally. A parish house for fairs and entertainments and a handsome parsonage have been added. As though to contribute its mite, Nature herself furnishes with almost no expense natural gas which is piped to the surface and into the buildings and there you will find the most beautiful illumination to be found in Lee county. Rev. Father Poreella enjoys the love of one of the very large parishes of the county.

The farmers of May generally are men of large means, devoted to the best methods of soil culture and to the raising of live stock, pure bred. In fact May leads the county in its numbers of fine stock raisers. Among those who have very choice herds are McLaughlin brothers, James and Charles, who own, perhaps the best herd of Poland China hogs in Lee county. At the fairs of last fall, they took nearly every blue ribbon offered by the managements. They also own a splendid herd of shorthorn cattle. Mr. Peter J. Streit, the noted Duroc Jersey hog raiser, by the exercise of careful selection and judicious mating and pruning, has assembled what is regarded as one of the choicest herds in the state. His annual sales are regarded now as famous events in Duroc annals. Mr. Streit also has the best stables of Morgan horses in Northern Illinois. Last fall nothing was able to stand before them at the fairs.

William J. Sharkey, James Buckley and Bernard Dorsey also have fine herds of the popular Duroc swine. Michael Leffelman owns a herd of Chester White hogs, which for a long while has attracted attention. Mr. Leffelman, at the fairs, has taken every one of the blue ribbons.

One feature of Maytown has been made especially noticeable to the writer. For several years the children of James Buckley, especially William, and the children of William J. Sharkey have been correspondents for the Weekly Citizen, and in justice to those young people, children I might say. I must say their letters are things of infinite delight to me. Invariably they are filled with sparkling wit and humor. Maytown children are especially bright youngsters. The children of May have given good accounts of themselves wherever they have cast their lot. Daniel Shanahan of Chicago, Representative in the Legislature and the power in republican politics was born and raised in old May township. W.J. McGuire of Peoria is another worthy son. In politics he has won fame and in business he has won success. Two other young men, lawyers are rapidly going forward - James Dorsey and John M. Buckley, another son of my old friend James Buckley.

Normally May is democratic; but the voters never permit themselves to be influenced by party affiliation. Mr. Buckley is a republican, yet his democratic neighbors have elected him supervisor for years.

Nobody can call at the home of a man from May and leave before he takes a meal. May's earlier settlers: Joseph Bay; Ira Axtel: William Dolan one of the most prominent of May's citizens, 1840; Martin McGowan, J. Moran, and John Darey, 1840: Patrick McCann, who came with the IL Central grade into the county 1853; Andrew Kessler 1850; Joseph G. Hall 1857; George Ash 1857; Silas W. Avery 1857; Hugh Fitzpatrick 1857; Michael Harvey 1852.

This famous trial was brought once more into the public eye so late as the month of November 1913, when through Attorney John P. Devine the old Keane farm, was sold in order that it might be divided among the heirs who all these years had clung to the old home. Attorney Albert H. Hanneken, conducted the sale and the land was sold to Philip Keane, one of the heirs for $122 per acre.


At the meeting of the Board of Supervisors, September, 1854, the Town of May was set apart from the Town of Hamilton, to which it had theretofore belonged. By the resolution the change was to take effect the first Tuesday in April. 1855. The name is said to have been selected in honor of a military officer of the name who fell in the battle of Palo Alto. The first settler in the township was Joseph Bay, who located on Section 13, south of Palestine Grove. The next was Ira Axtel, who located the same year on Section 6. In 1840, William Dolan, who became prominent in the town, settled on Section 14. Martin McGowan, 3. Moran and John Darcy also came in 1840. In 1850 Andrew Kessler settled on Section 13. Joseph Hall came in 1857. In the latter year George Ash came and settled on Section 10. Also, in this year, Silas W. Avery arrived and settled on the northeast quarter of Section 7, while Hugh Fitzpatrick located on Section 19.

The township has always been strong in the number of its citizens belonging to the Catholic communion. In an early day the “Sandy Hill” church was built on the northeast corner of the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 14. A brick building was erected and a cemetery started adjacent thereto. On the southeast corner of the southwest quarter of Section 17, St. Patrick’s church was built at a later date. On the southwest corner of Section 25, St. Mary’s church was erected in more recent years. At a very early date an academy was erected on the northwest corner of the southwest quarter of Section 24, where a school was, for many years, successfully conducted. This institution was the result of a bequest of Patrick Riley, who settled on Section 23 in 1848 and died in 1868, leaving his property for the establishment of a school. Martin McCowen and Patrick McCann were the trustees. The building was dedicated early in September. 1880, and the school soon had six sisters of the order of Benedictine nuns for teachers. It was a boarding-school for young ladies, but boys were received as day pupils. The situation, however, proved unfavorable, and the school was finally discontinued.

Across the road from this academy building was also erected a parsonage. The “Sandy Hill” church has been abandoned, but the furniture has been moved to the academy where weekly services are held. Father Kilkiney has been priest in charge for a number of years. At St Mary’s church services are conducted in German on the fourth Sunday of every month, by some priest from a near by parish.

The township had a population, in 1890, according to the Government census, of 703 and in 1900 of 654.

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.