History of South Dixon Township

Lee County IL


At the February session, 1867, of the Board of Supervisors, the town of South Dixon was detached from the Town of Dixon, embracing all of Town 22, Range 9, except the north tier of sections. The town remained with these boundaries until the March session, 1877, when the territory lying north of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway was restored to the Town of Dixon. The earliest permanent settler in the township was Joseph Cartwright, who settled there in 1838 and died the following year. Prior to this, however, in 1836, a young man staked out a claim for himself close to the three mile branch on the Chicago road, near the northeast corner of Section 15. Abram Brown, who settled in the town in 1849 on that part of Section 13, where he continued to live until his death a few years ago, relates that Uncle Peter and Aunt Rhoda McKenney, through some misunderstanding, jumped the young man's claim and built a small shanty and set up housekeeping, by reason of which the "Claim Society" ousted them. The shanty was loaded on a wagon, thuch against their will, and moved off the premises.

The second permanent settler was Charles Edson, who located here in 1839. Mr. Edson and his wife did much to foster everything that was calculated to uplift and advance the interests of the community. The family afterwards occupied the farm across the road from the brick school house, which circumstance and their relations to the school gave it the name of the Edson school, by which it was known for many years. As soon as they moved into their first house, Mrs. Edson gave up her largest room for a school, and this was the first school to be taught in the vicinity. The teacher was a Miss Robinson, later a preceptress in Mt. Morris Seminary, where she married Judge Fuller of Ogle County, and after his death became the wife of Bowman Bacon, a nephew of Mrs. Joseph Crawford of Dixon. In the early '60s the Edson family moved to California.

The next family to locate in the town consisted of James Campbell, his wife and two daughters. Mr. Campbell did not live long, and on his death his widow married Isaac Boardman, of Dixon. The father of Reuben Trowbridge settled near Eldena very early, and reared a large family of boys. Hiram and Heman Meade joined the settlement soon after, and a man of a different stripe by the name of Hamill, who brought his wife from the poorhouse at Buffalo. New York, came to the township. His abuse of one of his children so excited the kind N. G. H. Morrill, the County Poormaster, and other large hearted people of Dixon, that they administered to the brute a thorough coat of tar and feathers in Dixon, in the vicinity of where the Western Hotel then stood.

Other early settlers were Christian Stevens, Henry B. True, Caldwell Bishop, Henry Page, Jacob McKenney, Jacob Groh, and son E. H., James Rogers, Matthew McKenney, William A. Judd, Nathan Hill, John Fritz, Sr., William J. Fritz, William Rink, John Anderson, Barnhard Wissman and others.

St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church was early organized and, in 1877, built a church edifice north of the Chicago road near the southeast corner of the northeast quarter of Section 14. Another church of the same denomination was built on the southwest corner of Section 20, known as Emanuel Church. In the village of Eldina the Methodist Episcopal Society built a church in 1870, which has also been used by other denominations.

Further mention should be made of the Edson school house, later known as "The Brick," on the northwest corner of the southwest guarter of Section 13, which was built at an early day, and was for many years the center of intellectual activity in that section. Mr. E. B. Edson was the first teacher in this building. At one time the attendance reached 120. In the days when Abram Brown, Ephraim Groh and others were at the height of their activity, this school house was the scene of periodical debates, which attracted a large attendance, it being a common thing for disputants from Dixon to take part. In 1858 the Edsonville Literary and Debating Society was formed, with Mr. Brown as its first President, and it was under the auspices of this organization that, for many years, the forensic contests went on during the winter months.

The only poor farm in the county is situated on Section 26, and cantains 100 acres.

July 10, 1863, the "Town of Eldina" was platted on land of the Illinois Central Railroad. The first store and house in the village was built by Reuben H. Cheney. The first grain house was built by Reuben Trowbridge, Reuben H. Cheney and Daniel Brown. To this was later added an elevator.

The population of South Dixon, according to tbe government census, was 841 in 1890, and 854 in 1900.

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.


In the treatment of the township of Dixon, manifestly, little can be said of the olden day because for most of its history, the township was included within the township of Dixon, and most of the old time history pertained to Dixon and has been told already. However, this chapter cannot be dismissed with any such explanation as that. Since its separation from the present township of Dixon, much has happened in South Dixon which deserves close attention from the historian.

If no more than the old red brick schoolhouse were to be treated, that historian would have his hands full for a considerable period of time. Nine-tenths of the boys and girls of Dixon who have amounted to anything in the world have taught school in the old red brick. The old debates there have attracted the very best there was in all the countryside and in Dixon to thresh out a decision. The flights of eloquence which have battered those sacred old walls would have annihilated any built less formidable.

Who is there of half a century ago who does not remember the bursts of rhetoric supplied by Ephraim H. Groh? Who that ever has seen and heard him can forget Abram Brown, one of the most delightful gentleman that ever entered the borders of Lee County? To possess those two gentlemen and to honor them will lend to South Dixon a history worthwhile.

The old red brick stands today as modestly as it stood the day it was built; I wish I could fin out just when it was built. Modestly I say, yet valiantly, when Mr. Brown wrote his brief historical sketch of this township, he very modestly omitted the schoolhouse and its debating society. This debating society was oganized in the year 1858, under the title. The edsonville Literary and Debating Society. Its first meeting was in this old brick schoohouse, so that it was standing then. The "cornes" were called Edsonville. Mr. Brown who was a member of it from its birth until his death, was its first honored president.

Never was there a political campaign during the old days but the red brick was used week after week, and from the little rostrum, Elihu B. Washburne, Horatio C. Burehard, Tom Turner, James L. Camp, Col. John Dement, and Shelby M. Cullom have spoken. Today those same corners are called St. James and a church opposite the old red brick has been built, taking the name perhaps from the nae of the church. At one time the attendance at this school was 120, more than at any other school in the county outside the cities of Amboy and Dixon.

Joseph Cortright was the first permanent settler. In 1839 he died and after that, the widow and her son. Richard removed to Dixon to live. Before that date, however, a young man whose name has not been left behind, settled in 1836. He staked out a claim near the three mile branch on the Chicago road. Shortly afterwards Peter McKenney and his good wife, Aunty Rhoda came along and through some misunderstanding, they jumped the young man's claim. Uncle Peter was about as hard headed as most men and when his head was 'sot' as he termed it himself, he was as immovable as the rocks of Gibraltar. When told that he had jumped the young man's claim he refused to yield to the demands of the "Claim Jumper's Society," and that body proceeded at once to make him move. When a delegation reached the place Uncle Peter was smoking his pipe peacefully in the shade of his shack while Aunt Rhoda was getting dinner. Tow of the delegation took Uncle Peter by the arm and without much resistance, he was led over the boundary of the claim. But with implicit faith in his better half, he sent back the rallying cry "Keep possession, Rhody; keep possession. They can't get us out if you keep possession." But in spite of Uncle Peter's faith in Aunt Rhoda's ability to keep possession, Uncle Peter's cabin was loaded on a big wagon and wheeled away and the McKenneys tried no more to secure the claim.

The secon permanent settler was Charles Edson, who came with his family of wife and sons and daughters, in 1839, from Pennsylvania. That family increased to five sons and three daughters. These people were remarkably intelligent. They were just as benevolent and cheerful; just the people for pioneers and to this very day the Edsons are remembered for their many virtues. Mr. Brown tells a very amusing story about Mrs. Edson after she had her teeth drawn. Her chin, like Mother Hubbard's turned upward toward the nose and upon meeting her one day, Mr. Brown said jocularly, "Your nose and chin will have a meting some day." "Indeed." she answered quickly, " I'm not certain but they will; many words have passed between them already."

I feel it my duty to repeat Mr. Brown's words concerning this delightful family, not because they are relatives of my family's relatives, but because they so truly and so nobly represented the pioneer spirit. "Mrs. Edson was of that cheerful, mirthful disposition that attracted the grave as well as the gay, while her lovely character bound in the ties of a warm esteem, all who were thus attracted. Mrs. Edson was left a widow before her children were fully grown, but their training was begun right and it was her pride to say in her old age that not one of them ever caused her a moment's pain or shame by any wrong doing. They were all worthy men and women. To the day of her death they showed the tenderest solicitude for their mother and this slight tribute to her inestimable worth will find an echo in their hearts as well as in many others.

The oldest daughter, Harriet married Otis Eddy, but was soon berft of her husband and infant daughter. She became a very tower of strength to all the family thereafter, and is to this day an ideal woman. She went with her brothers across the plains to California when the gold fever broke out. Returning, after a few years, she again accompanied them to Pike's Peak on a summer trip, made in the same way. When a younger brother lay at the point of death in a southern hospital during the war, it was Harriet who went to him, cared for him and brought him home.

The family went to California and prospered. Their home lies at the foot of Mt. Shasta and Mrs. Eddy was the first woman who every ascended that beautiful peak. She made the assent about the year 1854 and ten years later she repeated the feat with her youngest sister Libbie. The other sister Lucy, is well remembered as a talented musician. Though a sufferer from a fracture of the hip joint which made a crutch necessary from childhood, she was as ready and cheerful as any, and no more delightful evenings ever were spent when they gathered at the Edsons. They built the house and barn now owned by the writer - one of the few of the original farm homes left on the prairies. They afterwards removed to the place near the Brick School House, which is often spoken by their name. Their house is still standing though no longer used as a dwelling.

Hee Mr. Edson died, and here the sweet youngest daughter, Libbie was born. As soon as their first home was habitable, Mrs. Edson gave up her largest room for a school. This was the first in the vicinity. The teacher was Miss Robinson, later a preceptress in Mt. Morris Seminary. She married Judge Fuller of Ogle county and after his death, Bowman Bacon, a nephew of Mrs. Joseph Crawford. Among the scholars beside Mrs. Edson's children were Mary Augusta gardner, now Mrs. James A. Hawley; William W. DeWolf, the genial judge of later years; his brother Erastus; Wellington Davis and Hannah Casterline, later the wife of Mr. Davis. The superior schools in that district at a very early day were largely due to the influence of the Edson family, some of whom were its best teachers. Mr. Edson helped to build the first Methodist Church of Dixon - he also helped build the Brick schoolhouse and was its first teacher.

The next family which came to South Dixon was James Campbell with his wife, two daughters, Ophelia and Julia. The latter became one of the first teachers in the North Dixon primary schools and later married Eugene Pinckney. Reuben trowbridge settled near the present town of Eldena with his father and the family. Hiram and Heman Mead came soon after. Their brother Alonzo settled a little further to the east in China Township. Later, all three moved into Dixon and there died at advanced ages.

Just another story from the pen of Mr. Brown about another South Dixon settler which is most interesting; "Somewhat in contract to these, was a man by the name of Hammill who brought with his family from the poor-house of Buffalo N.Y. a little child. The child was so shamefully treated that N.G.H. Morrill, the county poor overseer or poormaster, took her to his home in Dixon. Her pitable condition excited the sympathy of the people at once. Her hair was dirty and matted, face unwashed and wht do think she was clothed in ? It was an old coffee sack, with the corners cut off for arm holes, and a hole in the center of the bottom for her head; no underclothing, shoes or stockings.

Hammill prosecuted Mr. Morrill for kidnapping the child. When the case was called, he was ready with his lawyer, whom many old settlers remember; Mackay by name. When they adjourned for dinner they went to the old Western Hotel. Juast as they were through dinner, some men stepped up to Hammill with a kettle of hot tar, which they poured over his head and shoulders, the stream running down over his whole body; another shook over him a bag of feathers, and then they rolled him in the sand of the street. I shall never forget how he looked, lying there with closed eyes. I thought he was dead. But in a moment he opened one eye, then the other, and seeing the men busy elsewhere, rolled over and springing to this feet, ran to some bushes nearby, then for home. He was a laughable sight. On the principle that the partaker is as bad as the thief, the men felt that his attorney deserved similar treatment and attempted to administer it, but the tar was too cold to run easily or to hold the feather. He showed fight and came near killing one of the boys. The muzzle of his gun was knocked upard by a bystander just in time. The diddnapping suit ended there, and so I think did the career of Mr. Mackay in Dixon. I may as well add that when the war brokeout, Mackay was a violent southern sympathizer and he made so many uncomplimentary remarks about the northern people and our soldiers, that a party waited upon him and ordered him to leave town or swing to a tree. He went South and never was heard of again except by rumors now and then.

Mr. Browns' account of the old prairie schooner freighters is interesting and it must be reproduced. In an early day, provisions, pork and flour, were mostly brought from St. Louis, Kentucky, Indiana and the southern part of the state in large wagons with broad tires, high wheels and very high, long boxes, often 20 or 22 ft. long. They made a track over a half wider than our common wagons. Drawn by three or four teams of orses, to eight yoke of oxen, and carrying from sixty or eighty hundred pounds, they well deserved the name of Prairie schooners. They went in gangs of 6 or 8 wagons, with several men on horseback to pilot them and help avoid the sloughs. They sold their bacon at from 25 to 35 cents per pound; flor from 25 to 35 dollars per barrel.

A few years later, while the men were working at the now abandoned track still discernible in places, of the Illinois Central railroad, some such traders would start from the southern part of the state, with large droves of hogs, carrying with them all the facilities for butchering - kettles for heating water, tubs for scalding, etc. When they came to a gang of men or to a village, they would sell, kill and prepare the meat for their customers. They carried their own corn, and gathered wood at the groves as they traveled; did their own cooking and were very independent. They l ived chiefly on fried pork, coffee and hoe cake, made of corn meal, wet with water and baked on a board before the fire. "It is said that when the prop for the board failed to do duty, they cast lots or played high, low, jack, to see who should lie on his back and prop the board with his feet."

Speaking of the old Illinois Central of the thirities, just as one enteres South Dixon township, the old grade shows as plainly today as it did sixty years ago. The fill never has been plowed and the cut never has been plowed and in that cut there grows an immense cottonwood tree. It is Lee county's best monument to the follies of the wild cat days of internal improvements. Jacob Groh came to this township in 1848. AMong the other old settlers who moved in to South Dixon township in the thirties and forties, were Uncle Jacob and Aunt Polly McKenney; Christon Stevens; Henry B. True; Caldwell Bishop; Henry Page; James Rogers; Matthew McKenney; W.A. Judd; Nathan Hill; possibly some of these men did not get here until the early fifties, but most of them came before that decade. The Illinois Central Railroad runs through this township and the village of Eldena is located on section 36.

The Lee County Home for the Poor is located on the southeast quarter of section 26, about half a mile from Eldena. Clyde Wieber at present is the superintendent of the home and Mrs. Wieber is matron. When some years ago, 1906, the Northwestern railroad company desired to construct a line or road or cut-off to avoid the steep grades of the main line through the city of Dixon, it was built from Nachusa to Nelson, and passes through South Dixon with a considerable curve, and in a southwesterly direction entering section 12 and leaving the township through section 19.

South Dixon is settled by the very best of farmers. In this township Mr. I.B. (Isaac Byron) Countryman's Oak Dale farm is located. Mr. Countryman is a wealthy retired merchant. He had been active so many years he could not be idle. He deeply loved a farm and so he purchased a farm in this township in the southeast quarter of section 8. When purchased, it was said to be the poorest farm in the township. For years it had been stripped. Nothing had been returned to the soil and Mr. Countryman's many friends enjoyed much amusement at his expense for engagint in agriculture with characteristic city propensities of the agriculturist instead of the farmer. Mr. Countryman enjoyed all this badinage and proceeded with his program. He built very handsome buildings on the place and purchased some pure-bred Holstein cattle. Then he began building up the soil. Now he is reaping handsome benefits and profits from his investment. During the season just past he took from a field of alfalfa of nine and a half acres, $100 per acre. Next year the field will contain 20 acres and the proceed sfrom it will be raised to $2,000. A 12 acre field of clover yielded forty tons of hay and five and a half bushels of clover seed. The hay at $10 per ton made $400 and the seed at $10 per bushel made $55.

From his herd of Holsteins he sold 10 bulls for $1,250. Last season his cows averaged him $160 per head in cream. In all his efforts to raise the standard of productivity in farm lands, Mr. Countryman has kept accurate account of every cent which has gone into the place and all that has been taken from it and he finds that for every dollar of feed he put into his cows, he realized $2.63. His butter fat cost him $12.40 per 100 lbs. and his milk cost .6643 to produce. Every day his cattle are groomed. The miling is done by machine into air tight receptacles. Then the milk is placed in the milk house and cooled in the quickest possible time. After each milking, all tools are sterilized. Dirt is impossible. After each churning, a jet of steam is turned into each machine which sterilizes it.

Recently a representative from the State Univ. from Champaign made a test of Mr. Countryman's cows. Four tests were made per day and samples were taken, one of them being at midnight. With the 28 milking the product was sealed and sent to the state laboratory. The cow especially tested was a three year-old, after delivering her second calf. This female ran 64 pounds in one day of milk and in seven days she ran 452 pounds. Very recently Mr. Countryman added butter ot his Oak Dale product. He puts his butter in beautiful receptacles made from spruce pulp, holding one, two or five pounds. These are shipped to a special line of customers at figures far above the regular price of butter. Soil culture has been studied carefully by him. His land has been fertilized and charged with properties required to bring about the best results in grains and grasses and having reaped handsomely from his intelligent efforts, Mr. Countryman claims that land at $1,000 per acre can be made to pay a profitable divident.

Lee county may well feel proud of two enterprising citizens who more than almost any others have demonstrated what the farmer, the backbone of the country, may do if he will try putting intelligence into the ground along with fertilizers. These two are Mr. Countryman and Mr. Abram Ackert, now of DIxon but for many years an honored resident of Marion Twp. Mr. Ackert is president of the Lee County Farmer's Instute. By his untiring efforts he has aroused a concerted effort all over the ocunty for soil mending and soil medicines. Mt. Ackert is the pioneer in Lee County. Although retired now, and enjoying the blessings of plenty, like Mr. Countryman, he is constantly and unselfishly devoting all his time and all his efforts to better the conditions of his old time friend the farmer. Latterly too in this same township of South Dixon, Mr. C.B. Swartz, has bought a farm. He has stocked it with Holstein cattle and Duroe Jersey Red Swine and by the most systematic and painstaking efforts, he is building up a farm which is doing wonderful work for him. Like Mr. Countryman, he weighs each ration for his cattle and at the end of each day and each week Mr. Swartz can tell how any one of his animals stands ganged by the standard of profit and loss.

History of Lee County 1914