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History of Viola Twp.

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At the February meeting, 1861, of the Board of Supervisors. Town 38, Range 1, was formed into a township by the name of Stockton, having theretofore been a part of Brooklyn Township. This name was selected in recognition of the large amount of stock then being raised in the town. The name was changed to Viola, some time during the following spring or early summer, because of the fact that there was already at least one town by the name of Stockton in the State.

The first officers of the town were chosen at the April town meeting, 1861. Fifty two ballots were cast, resulting in the election of Samuel L. Butler for Supervisor; Simeon Cole, Assessor; Samuel Vosburg, Town Clerk; John Melugin. Constable: Ford and Moses B. Van Campen. Highway Commissioners. The meeting and election were held at Van Campen's house.

Little Melugin Grove, in the southeast part of the town, was the focus of early settlement. William Guthrie, the first settler in the township. settled here in 1834 or 1836 and gave his name to the grove. It was also sometimes known as Lawton's Grove, from William Lawton, one of the early comers. Guthrie's buildings were placed at the extreme south end of the timber. Melugin Grove, lying southwest of Little Melugin, spreads itself into the two towns of Viola and Brooklyn. It took its name from Zachariah Melugin. who located in the grove but on the Brooklyn side of the timber. in 1834. Later came Evins Adrian. but prior to 1840. Walter Little came to the township about the year 1837.

It is claimed that the first marriage in the township was that of Evins Adrian to Manila Goodale, October, 1840: that Walter Little was the first adult to die in the township, and that the first birth was that of a child of 'William Lawton, who died in infancy.

The first school in the township was kept at the house of M. Van Campen for three terms. and the first school house was built at Little Melugin Grove.

The town being purely agricultural without a village center, little is to be gleaned of historical character regarding it. Its history is to be traced in the development and increasing value of its farm lands, which is difficult of reduction to details. Its land owners have been large participants in the drainage of Inlet Swamp, elsewhere noticed, and have received great benefits therefrom.

The population of the township was 598 in 1890. and 694 in 1900, as shown by the Government census.

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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One section of Viola at least may be classed as belonging to the first year of Chicago road history. I refer to that part clustering around Melugin's Grove and Guthrie's Grove. In that little corner or rather spot, in sections 32, 33 and 34, near Melugins' Grove and Sections 26, 35 and 36 in which Guthrie's Grove is situated; in the souther tier of sections, settlements were made very early; contemporaneously with those just over the border to the south, in Brooklyn township. In fact, most of the claims of the border settlers lapped over. The prairie portion of the township, like all other prairie townships, did not appeal to the settler, and Viola further ot the north did not settle until a much later period. When in 1851, Smith H. Johnson went up into the prairie country of Viola to settle, he was nicknamed "Prairie Johnson", for his temerity and ever afterwards the name clung to him. At first Mr. Johnson lived south of little Melugin's Grove, so that he was an old settler in Viola neighborhood and may be calssed as one fo the very oldest.

William Guthrie probably was the first settler of Viola township. He settled at the grove which afterwards bore his name, in 1934. Mr. Guthrie, like so many others who had been attracted to this county, had served in the Black Hawk war. In 1834 he made his claim and the next year he built his cabin. The grove was laid off into small lots of about one acre and sold as timber lots in the early days. Mr. Guthrie actually built the first house, a log affair, in this township. He cut the logs from his grove and lived nearby until his death. In later days his grove became known as Little Melugin's Grove. While John Gilmore actually lived just over the line in Brooklyn township, his original lands extended over into Viola, so that it would be unfair to class him as an old Viola settler.

In the year 1837 there came to Viola township one of the most remarkable men that ever lived in Lee county. He was a man under size, five foot six, or perhaps seven, weight not over 145 pounds when I used to know him; very quiet; deep set blue and very mild eyes, yet a man of tremendous forcefulness. He was born in Ireland, in the county of Antrim in 1815, Oct. 15. In the year 1835, after four years residence further east, he settled in Viola township and lived there until the day of his death.

Landing here without a dollar, he accumulated land so rapidly and so perseveringly that he held for half his lifetime the largest body of land owned by any man in Lee county. There were 1800 acres in his beautiful homestead in and around sections 25,26 and 35. He was a stock raiser. He put thoroughbred bulls at the head of his herd and very soon he owned the best grades in the county and Adrian steers in the markets needed no advertising. He was honored with every important office in his township. Though Viola was a long time settling, those people who took up their homes there achieved much and made great progress once they had a good start.

Henry B. Cobb is another instance of what one man can do who possesses push and energy. I would class him as one of Lee County's biggest men. exactly like Mr. Adrian, he farmed intelligently and accumulated large bodies of land. In the year 1852 he bought a land warrant of Elias B. Stiles and located it on the piece of land on which he lived for some time afterward. He had so much faith in Lee county land that he did not look at it before he laid his land warrant on it. It proved to be one of the rarest pieces of land upon which the sun ever shone.

Mr. Cobb did not settle upon this land at once. When later he did, John Hagardine, a brother-in-law, settled nearby and so did one or two other friends and relatives from Connecticut, Mr. Cobb's native state. Those relatives, however, did not like the country very well and so after wintering and summering it for a short while, they left. But with New England pertinacity and pluck, Mr. Cobb stuck and he probably owned more land, than any two or three men in Lee county combined. He had always been a feeder. But unlike Mr. Adrian, he bought feeders and fed them the product of his rich lands.

The old house, modest, like the houses of all the old pioneers were, stood for years a little to the east of his beautiful homestead. In that little home he and Mrs. Cobb built up a splenedid fortune. When Mr. Cobb entered this land in section 13, he did not have the means to till it and so he went down into Bureau county, near Lamoille, and did team work; also worked for a Mr. Edwards in a nursery until he felt he had accumulated enough to carry him over the period of waiting for a crop. His wages under Edwards were $12 a month and board.

By reason of the large area of swamp land in the central and western parts of Viola, large herds of cattle frequented that section in the earlier days.

Among the other old time settlers and farmers were Richard Phillips, R.F. Johnson, William Tripp, Henry Bennett, a man named Winters, another named Baker and another named Buchols.

Originally Viola was a part of Brooklyn township. On the second day of April, 1861, the voters of this township met at the house of Moses Van Campen, and nominated Simeon Cole moderator and Abram Van Campen, clerk. With their election, the business of organizing the township of Viola began. On a vote being taken, it was found that 57 votes had been cast, the great majority being for Samuel L. Butler for supervisor; Simeon Cole, assessor; Samuel Vosburgh for town clerk; constable and collector, John Melugin; justice of the peace, Henry Marsh; commissioners of highways, WIlliam Holdren, Ralph E. Ford and Moses Van Campen; poor master, Evins Adrian; pound master, John Melugin.

By the very reason of the herding of vast numbers of cattle by Robert M. Peile, this township had gone by the name of Stockton; but when it came to giving it a legal name under the organization proceedings, Butler, Eldorado and Elba were proposed. At this meeting no name was given, however, and so the officers gave their bonds to the township of Stockton.

On May 11, 1861, the highway commissioners of Brooklyn and Stockton met for the purpose of making the road along the common township line. The name for the township must have been discussed at that meeting because very soon thereafter the name Viola was given to it.

Willow Creek is the only natural stream flowing in the township and it empties into Inlet swamp country in section 16.

The greatest enterprise ever carried on in this township, of course, has been the drainage proceedings which should be read carefully. The Panama Canal is regarded properly as the engineering feature of history. But behind that enterprise, a great nation with inexhaustible resources was furnishing the necessary funds. This great enterprise was carried on by a small portion of a small county and yet the section of the county which paid for it, per capita, paid for beyond the tax per capita paid for the canal.

Evins Adrian's wedding was the first to be performed in Viola township. He married a widow lady, Smith, by name, whose maiden name was Marilla Goodale. The marriage of William Hopp and a Miss Smith was the next wedding and tat of truman Johnson and Mary Melugin was third.

Walter LIttle was the first adult person to die in this township. The first child born in the township was William Lawtons, which died in infancy.

Inasmuch as Melugins Grove furnished the churches and the schoolhouse of the early days for Viola, it is unnecessary to allude to the latter at least, except through the report on schools made by Prof. L.W. Miller. There was a little school, however, at Guthrie's Grove and the first teacher there was Moses Van Campen.

Written by Mr. Elbert L. Fulmer of the Evening Telegraph staff. 29 January 1949

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