Embracing an Account of the Settlement
and Early Progress - Compiled and Published by Mr. Henry A. Ford in
Transcribed by Nancy Piper
History of the Towns of Marshall
Lacon is the oldest town in Putnam , Marshall, Bureau, or Stark counties, and one of the oldest in Northern Illinois. The site was slected early in 1831, by Gen. Jonathan Babb and Maj. Henry Filer, of Somerset, Ohio, who left a sum of money with Col. Strawn, a farmer residing in the vicinity, to enter the fractional tract of land adjoining what is known as Strawns Landing, at the next Government land sales in Springfield. It was purchased in July, and a small town (130 lots) laid off upon it the 6th of August, 1831, to which the name Columbia was given. The town remained unoccupied, except when the rangers in the Black Hawk war met upon its site to be enlisted or afterwards to perform guard duty, until the autumn of the next year, when a small frame house was put up by Henry K. Cassell, but not made ready for occupancy.
In the spring of 1833 another building was erected by Elisha Swan, a young trader who had been selling goods for several months at the bluff back of the town. He removed to Columbia the same season, with his family, and opened a small store. They were the first white inhabitants of Lacon. The Indians had not yet altogether fled the country; and parties of them frequently came to trade with Mr. Swan. Thaddeus W. Barney, from Western New York, arrived the following year, and built a two-story log cabin on Main street, which was afterwards occupied for hotel purposes. His family becoming sick, he left for St. Louis in the fall of the same year taking passage, for lack of better facilities, in a large canoe. Mr. Cassell had meanwhile removed to his house in Columbia. George Snyder and family arrived from Ohio the same autumn; also Jesse C. Smith and Jos. H. Johnson, who obtained a donation of lots from Col. Strawn, and commenced the erection of a large steam flouring-mill.
In 1835, Gen. Babb, one of the proprietors of the town, with a number of others, settled in the place, which probably contained fifty persons by the opening of 1836. That was the principal year of colonization. A considerable colony, including Ira I. Fenn, Esq., (who had purchased an undivided half of the town side,) Wm. And Norman Fenn, Wm. Fisher, Saml Howe, Sr., Saml Howe, Jr., Chas. Barrows, Hartley Malone, Wm. C. and Dr. Robert Boal, D. W. Barney, and others, emigrated from Hamilton, Dayton, and Oxford, Ohio, to make their homes in Columbia.
An addition of nearly one hundred was made to the population this year. The construction of a steam saw-mill was set about, which was ready for operation the same season; and other public improvements were begun. A Temperance Society was formed July 28th, 1836, and a Presbyterian Church organized soon after. A post-office was alos established this year; but the existence of another town of the same name in the State occasioned much annoyance in the reception of mail matter; and an act of Legislature was obtained Jan. 19th, 1837, changing the name Columbia to Lacon.
At the same session, charters of incorporation were obtained for the Lacon Manufacturing Company and the Lacon Academy two projects which were never carried out. This year the town became incorporated under the general act, by a vote of 18 to 1; which gave place to an organization under a special charter granted Dec. 10th, 1839*. A school house was also built, which was sometimes known as the Academy; and work was vigorously prosecuted upon a causeway and steamboat landing in front of the town.
A press and some printing materials were brought on for the publication of a newspaper to be called The Lacon Agriculturist; but they were found unfit for the purpose; and negotiations were opened with Allen N. Ford, who was then publishing a paper in Harford, Conn. He was induced to link his fortunes with those of the rising place; and the first number of The Lacon Herald made its appearance under his auspices in December, 1837. Its title was afterwards changed to The Illinois Gazette; and it is still issued under that name by the same editor.
A large addition, much greater than the original site, was made to the town July 3d, 1837, by Jonathan Babb, Wm. Fenn, Wm. Fisher, Saml Howe, Jos. Woodruff, Wm. M. Halstead, Richard T. Haines, Elisha Swan, Norman Conde, and Ira I. Fenn.+
There was little increase in Lacon during 1838, which was a period of general depression in the West. An unusually interesting revival of religion was experienced during the winter of 1837-8, described by the pastor, a man of long experience in the ministry, as the most glorious he ever witnessed.
A Methodist congregation had been collected at an early day, and had enjoyed regular preaching for several years. A frame building was dedicated in 1838 for their use as a house of worship. The leading citizens of Lacon took at active part in the movements which lead to the formation of Marshall county; and, after its establishment, secured the location of the county seat at that point. In 1839 building was carried on to some extent, and receded from Main and Water streets to those farther east. A number of substantial houses were erected, the population of the town having increased in proportion. Some attention was paid to literature, and a Library Association was organized in February, which collected a considerable number of volumes, and flourished for a time.
The annals of Lacon from 1840 to 1850 present little that is interesting. The town made progress gradually, and a heavy trade was conducted with the surrounding country. Several public buildings were erected the Court-house in 1840, a county jail in 1844, a spacious Presbyterian church in 1849, and a new school house. On the 17th of June, 1842, Ex-President Van Buren paid a brief visit to the place, while on his Western tour.
Since 1850 Lacon has attained its greatest growth. In 1852, projects were mooted for plank roads to the Central Railroad, and to Toulon, via Wyoming. A charter was obtained for the latter, and books opened for subscription; but neither road was ever constructed.
A much greater enterprise was set on foot soon after, chiefly by citizens of Lacon, having for its object the building of a railroad from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Council Bluffs, Iowa, crossing the Illinois river at Lacon. A charter for the Western Airline Railroad Company was procured at the next session of the Legislature; numerous meetings were held, and public opinion thoroughly aroused upon the subject; a proposition to subscribe $100,000 in county bonds to its capital stock was carried in April, 1853, by a large majority; and in December, 1855, the citizens of Lacon voted to subscribe $50,000 in city bonds. The work went forward, and a large amount of grading has been done at various places along the line; but no part of it is yet in operation. Lacon was also names as a point in the charter for the Illinois River Railroad, before noticed.
In January, 1853, the Court-house was burned down, which was quickly replaced by a new and superior structure. In 1854, the town received a city charter, and organized under it, electing William Fisher Mayor, M. M. Sloan, L. V. Blackmon, Wm. F. Palmer, and Jacob C. Garrigus, Aldermen, and Henry Miller City Marshal. A large brick school house has since been erected for a graded school, and other public improvements made. At present Lacon numbers nearly 2,000 inhabitants, and with the prospective completion of her railroad will become a considerable city.
*An error occurred in an act passed 1841, defining the limits of Lacon corporation, which located the town near the Mississippi river in range three west of the Fourth principal meridian, partial of the third, which is the proper number.
+The following additions, besides that noticed, have been made to the town of Lacon: By W. H. Efner and Wm. C. Boal, June 30th, 1837; Lemuel H. Ball, Sept. 1st, 1849; Levi Wilcox, May 3d, 1850; Jesse C. Smith, June 12th 1850; C. S. Edwards and Lemuel Russell, for the estate of James H. Long, October, 1850; John F. Devore and N. G. Henthorn, July 17th, 1852; heirs of L. Wilcox, Aug. 7th, 1856; Silas Ramsey, July or Aug. 1856; S. L. Fleming, Jan. 7th, 1858; Wm. Fenn, Jan. 11th, 1858.
The site of Henry was claimed in 1831, by Erastus Wright and Wm. Porter, of Springfield, who procured a license for a ferry across the river at this point. In the spring of 1833, a conflicting claim was made by Elisha Swan and A. N. Deming. Maj. Elias Thompson had just settled in the vicinity, and built a house a little distance above the present town, where a few remnants of the foundation may still be seen. The opposing claimants compromised their difficulties by agreeing to lay off a town site, and own it jointly. As soon, however, as the surveyor commenced operations, it was ascertained that the tract claimed was on the sixteenth section, which could be appropriated only to school purposes; and the promising speculation was crushed in the bud. Mr. Swan had prepared the frame of a store building, and brought it to the site; but, upon learning that the proposed project was impracticable, he removed it down the river to Columbia.
The same year the few inhabitants of that region set the plan of a town again on foot, attention having been called to it by the enterprise of the previous claimants. By stretching the limits of the township somewhat, the necessary number of signatures was obtained to a petition which went to the School Commissioner of Putnam county on the 7th of December, requesting him to sell the school section. The petition was accompanied by a certificate setting forth (page 112) that the number of white male inhabitants in the township was above fifty, and that the voters did not exceed fifteen in number. The whole section was laid off into town lots and out-lots April 22d, 1834, by Chas. Nock, Elias Thompson, and Reuben Converse, Trustees of school lands for the township. In their report of the transaction they say:
Lots from No. thirty to two hundred and ninety-one, inclusive, with the streets and alleys within and thereto appertaining, and the public grounds on said map designated, we propose as a town, by the name of Henry, in memory of the late General James D. Henry, deceased, who gallantly led the Illinois volunteers to victory over the hostile Sac and Fox Indians, in the year eighteen hundred and thirty-two, and who lately died of disease caused by that ardurous service.* (*Done at the suggestion of Hooper Warren, Esq.)
A public sale of lots was held a week after the survey, in Hennepin, and was conducted by Nathaniel Chamberlin, School Commissioner of the county. They were mostly bought up by settlers in the neighborhood of Henry and other citizens of Putnam, there being little competition from speculators; and were sold at very low prices, the out-lots going at Government price, $1.25 per acre, and the in-lots generally at $1 each. When the mania for real estate speculation appeared, this property became a lively article, and was dealt in largely by speculators.
Very many of the lots were bought by Eastern (page 113) capitalists through their agents, which retarded not a little the growth of the place. When the bubble burst, however, they paid no further attention to them, and a large part of them were sold for taxes.*
*Additions have been made to Henry as follows: Jordans on the north-east, Nov. 12th, 1850; Lombards first, on the northwest, Nov. 7th, 1850; Lombards second, on the south-west, 24th June, 1852; Hoyt brothers, south of Jordans, Sept. 16th, 1853; Davis, north of Lombards first, April 28th, 1854; Toziers, May 2d, 1854; Heacocks north of Hoyt brothers, May 10th, 1854; Greens, May 18th, 1854; Warrens, may 29th, 1854; E. Hoyts, Jan. 16th, 1855; Lombards Railroad Addition, Feb. 10th, 1855; Covells, Jan. 24th, 1856; Holmes, July 1st, 1856.
A small cabin had been built on the town site before 1832, by one Hart, which was soon after deserted, and was not standing when Henry was laid off. At that time there were two log houses in the town, and Maj. Thompson was residing above. There was no further improvement until 1837, when the old Henry House was put up by Thompson. In the fall of 1839, the first store (in a small way) was opened by Joseph Bradley, alias Burr, who built a warehouse on the river bank, and was the first Post-master. Two years subsequent, Mr. Hooper Warren moved upon the site, when only three families were residing there. A blacksmiths shop had been set in operation. Thos. Gallaher, Jr., succeeded Bradley in the same line of trade soon after; and in 1844 he was bought out by Benj. Lombard, who brought in a large stock of goods, as also Messrs. Cheever & Herndon, who arrived about the same time.
From this period dates the substantial progress of (page 114) the place. In 1846, it contained about 30 inhabitants; in the summer of 1848, it had a population of 71 (twenty-four families); in 1850, 401; fall of 1851, 789; Jan. 1st, 1853, 1,009; same date, 1854, 1,301; Jan., 1855, 1,591; Dec., 1855, 1,523; June 1, 1857, 1,693. Its present population is about 1,800 (1860).
The citizens of Henry have always been characterized by public spirit and a high regard for local interests. The first school house was put up in 1846, and the present edifice in 1854, under the first city administration. The first church (Protestant Methodist) was built in 1848; a number of others have been erected at various intervals since. A female seminary was established in the immediate vicinity during 1849, by Rev. H. G. Pendleton, which was destroyed by fire Feb. 16th, 1855, and re-constructed soon after, of brick, on an enlarged scale. In 1854, the North Illinois University was instituted in Henry, under the auspices of the Methodist Protestant denomination, for which a charter was obtained the next winter, and a handsome building erected. The Marshall County Courier (now Henry Courier) began its publication Dec. 23d, 1852.
During the following season, an active warfare was waged through its columns, and otherwise by the people of Henry, upon the proposition to subscribe $100,000 of country bonds to the stock of the Western Airline Railroad; and the township voted with perfect unanimity in (page 115) opposition to it. The Peoria and Bureau Valley Railroad, built in 1854, which passes through the city; met with an equally active support the same year; and a large individual subscription was mad to its stock. An extensive fire occurred in Henry March 31st, 1853, which destroyed six buildings on one of the most valuable business blocks, causing a loss of $12,000 to $15,000. They were soon rebuilt.
Henry had been incorporated as a town under the general incorporation act; and at the session of the Legislature for 1854, a special charter was granted, giving it the privileges of a city, which was accepted by a vote of 79 to 4. The first officers under the city organization were Saml J. McFadden, Mayor; James Wescott, Police Justice; Aldermen, 1st ward, John A. Warren, Geo. L. Hoyt; Aldermen, 2d ward, Wm. B. Smith, Alex. Kissinger.
In the spring of 1858, the place of permanent location of the Fair grounds of the Farmers and mechanics Institute of Marshall county was awarded to Henry, its citizens having subscribed $2,600, and those of Lacon, $2,100. An embankment is now being built across the river bottom opposite the town, at an expense of several thousand dollars, in order to facilitate travel thither; and a bridge is in contemplation, for which a company has been formed, and a charter obtained. A heavy trade is carried on in grain and other articles of barter.
Wenona was laid off on the 15th of May, 1855, by the Illinois Central Railroad Company, on one of the alternate sections granted by Congress of the construction of the Road. It lies on both sides of the railway track, 20 miles below La Salle, and about the same distance nearly due east of Lacon, near the county line. It is one of the most important stations between Bloomington and La Salle.
When the surveyors, in 1851-2, went over the great prairies with compass and chain, to mark the route of the Central Railroad, the region of Wenona was uninhabited for a number of miles in each direction. The first house, a mere shanty for the trackmen, was put up on the site in 1852; and with the completion of the road from La Salle to that point in the next year, the passenger station and freight house were erected, and a good-sized dwelling also built for G. W. Goodell, the Station Agent and first Post-master, the Post-office being established this year. In June, 1854, the Presbyterian Church was organized the first in Wenona. During the winter of that year, Wm. Brown brought a stock of goods to the place, and had a building opened for their sale. When the town was laid off, it contained nine dwellings and about fifty inhabitants, besides a floating population of at least thirty.
Its progress during the next few years was not marked; but since 1858 it has grown rapidly, and is now a thrifty village of several hundred inhabitants, with two hotels, a number of stores, and other branches of business in proportion. A great amount of grain is annually shipped at this point, and a considerable trade is carried on with the surrounding country, which has become thickly settled. The town was incorporated March 5th, 1859, by a vote of 28 to 3; and Solomon Wise, George Brockway, John B. Newburn, F. H. Bond, and Emanuel Weltz, were elected Trustees.
Movements were early made in Wenona toward the founding of a seminary, which were consummated in 1857, and a building erected soon after. The institution is a promising one, and is on a very liberal basis, its laws providing that it shall be forever free from sectarian control.
New Rutland is situated five miles below Wenona, the original town-site being wholly in La Salle county, but the addition of ten blocks, made by Wm. G. Burns, Oct. 20th, 1859, is chiefly in Marshall. This town is the offshoot of an emigration movement started by a number of farmers in the neighborhood of Rutland, Vermont, in February, 1855.
A company was formed in March, styled The Vermont Emigrant Association, organized for the purpose of settling a section of country in the West, where social, religious and civil privileges may be enjoyed. Dr. H. D. Allen was elected President of the Association; Wm. W. Ingraham, Vice President; Dr. O. Cook, Secretary; J. B. Kirkaldie, Treasurer; and a Board of thirteen Directors was chosen. In May a Locating Committee, who had been appointed to proceed to the West, to select a site for a village in the midst of Government lands, where each member may obtain a quarter section or more of land at the minimum price, came out and visited Iowa and other parts of the West named in their instructions.
They were unable to find a situation answering all the conditions of the company; but finally determined to report in favor of the present location on the line of the Illinois Central Railroad. This was agreed to by the Association in July; and the land was purchased accordingly, under their direction. Twenty-two thousand acres, lying in Marshall, La Salle, and Livingston counties, were bought of the Railroad Company and of speculators who had recently purchased it from the Government.
Provision had been made for the laying off of some central part of the tract secured into building lots, of which the holder of each share of stock was entitled to one, with the privilege of selecting 160 acres of farming land in the vicinity. The town was surveyed in November, 1855, and named from the New England home of the emigrants. Two houses were built during the winter of that year, and a large hotel commenced the following summer.
A considerable part of the colony arrived on the ground in 1856-7, and a large amount of building (page 119) was done. A school house was built in 1857; a Congregational Church founded Feb. 1858, with twenty-six members; and a Baptist Church organized Jan. 15th, 1859. A movement has been made for a Public Library, which will probably be successful. About half the colony (which originally numbered 120 persons, or thereabouts, most of them heads of families,) have arrived and settled; and a number of the remainder are expected to come, as soon as the depression of the times is removed. The community comprises an intelligent and industrious population, who will eventually build up an important town at New Rutland.
This town lies on the southern border of the county, twelve miles from Lacon, being in Woodford county, with the exception of two additions made by the original proprietor march 7th, 1856 and July 22d, 1857. It is in the Half Moon Prairie an old-settled region, where Robt Barnes, Esq., was the first to drive the stakes of civilization. He came in 1830, and was soon followed by others. The settlement, however, had not so increased as to make the founding of a town advisable, until the fall of 1853, when twenty acres were laid off into lots by Hiram Echols, with a reservation of half an acre for religious purposes, on which a Baptist church was built in 1854.
The place was at first named Uniontown; afterwards Mantua, by act of the Legislature during the session of 1856-7; and at the subsequent session the name was changed to Washburn, to correspond with that of a post-office removed thither from a neighboring farm-house.
The first house on the site was a small log cabin, owned by T. W. Smith, put there shortly after the town was laid off. A number of buildings, including the church, were erected in 1854; a commodious edifice for a graded school was built in 1857; and there has been some increase during every year. At present the town contains about two hundred inhabitants, and has two stores, one drug-store, several shops, and other branches of business.
This is the town laid down upon the published map of Marshall county as West Lacon, being the cluster of buildings about the Lacon station on the Peoria and Bureau Valley Railroad, one mile west of the county seat.
The first settler upon its site was Franklin W. Graves, from Indiana, a man of large intelligence and generous hospitality, who settled in 1830, and perished miserably sixteen years afterwards, amid the snows of the Sierra Nevada, while emigrating to California. His farm was occupied in 1846 by George Spar, from whom the town takes its name.
It was laid off June 13th, 1855, by the numerous heirs of Mr. Spar, and consists of two ranges of blocks under the bluff west of the railroad, running parallel with the track. The railway station was erected the same year, and a warehouse about that time; a school house was put up the next year, and a Methodist Church organized in 1857. Sparland has become a thriving little village, and a large trade is carried on at this point.
Pattonsburg receives its name from Nathan Patton, who came to the neighborhood in 1836. Several settlers, including Col. R. F. Bell, Jas. Martin, the Benningtons, and others, had previously located in that region, some arriving as early as 1832. The village is situated in Belle Plaine township, six miles east of Washburn, and is a single short row of lots on the east side of the road, which is here called Broad street. It was laid out march 13th, 1859, by Father Patton. It contains about a dozen houses, with a post-office, store, the usual shops of a country settlement, and a population of 30 to 40.
This, as also each place noticed below, is one of the defunct towns whose annals belong to the disastrous period of 1836-7. It occupied a fine position on the river bank nearly two miles above Henry, where there is a superior steamboat landing, accessible at all seasons of the year.
A fractional quarter section was laid off here on the 20th of June, 1837, by Robert Latta*, Alvin Dascomb, Walton Plato, and Major P. McAllaster, Webster being thus ushered into existence by the skillful hand of the County Surveyor and his co-workers.+ Many lots were sold at high prices, for that early day; and improvement went forward rapidly. By the early part of August a steam saw and grist-mill was in progress, with an engine already on the spot; several dwellings had been put up, and fifteen or twenty others were under contract. In the autumn it contained about thirty houses and a population of more than a hundred. The place had grown into a flourishing village while its sister town, Henry, had scarce a house upon its site. No branches of business were carried on, however, except by a blacksmith and Josiah E. Hayes, who kept a small grocery store.
On the 22d of June, 1837, Webster was honored with a visit from its great namesake, the godlike Daniel, who, accompanied by his wife and daughter, was then passing up the river on the steamboat Frontier, escorted by the Wave. He stepped ashore at this landing, and conversed freely with a few inhabitants who had thus soon settled upon the site. Upon being asked his opinion of the rising town, he stated that he thought it a very handsome place for a farm, but was quite reserved in his commendations of it as a town. The steamers remained at this place an hour or two, during which time the distinguished statesman was the centre of attention.
Webster was a short-lived town. The summer and autumn of 1838 proved sickly; it wa alleged that the proprietors did not fulfil their engagements; and the inhabitants began to desert it rapidly. The last one left in 1842; the mill never got into operation; the houses were gradually removed or destroyed; and it ceased to be considered a town-site after 1843, when it was probably vacated.** A few scattered foundations, and some shallow cavities in the soil, are all that remain to mark where it stood.
*Col. Latta died in Webster Sept. 23d, 1837, much lamented by all who knew him, as his obituary states.
+Advertisement of the proprietors, in the Hennepin Journal.
** The readers of this work must not suppose that only those paper towns were vacated which are so mentioned. In 1841 a law was passed which enabled the proprietors of towns, parts of towns, or additions to vacate them without the intervention of the legislature. A number of town-sites noticed in the text may have been vacated in this manner, which fact has thus escaped the knowledge of the author.
Lyons was the name of a town laid out on a beautiful and commanding prairie site, ten miles east of Lacon, by a company of about eighty persons, formed in New York city, ostensibly for the purpose of colonization, but really, in the case of many of them, for speculation. It was named from Hezekiah Lyons, of New York, who came out in 1836, with Josiah L. James and John H. Harris, entered forty-six sections of land for the company, and had a quarter section surveyed and divided into building lots.
Each member of the company who owned a section of the companys property became entitled to sixteen lots in the town, and those who owned less were entitled to lots in proportion.
There was a division sale, for preference of location upon the site, among the company in New York city; but there was no public sale upon the premises. Mr. Harris also contracted for the erection of a building in the town, as a hotel for the accommodation of such of the colony as might arrive. It was put up, but remained almost unoccupied until 1838, when Wm. B. Green took up his residence in it, where he has since lived, the town site being now covered by his fields. A very few of the company came to the place, apparently with the intention of settling; but after the crash of 1837, little or no attention was paid by the owners to their town property; and Lyons died an easy death. The only house ever built upon it is that occupied by Mr. Green. Some of the company, however, have held their lands in the vicinity to this time, though the association is dissolved.
Dorchester was a paper town laid off July 25th, 1836, by Stephen F. Gale and Robert Kerr Richards, on a tract of ground surrounded by a slough, immediately below Henry. Richards resided in Chicago, and was an extensive dealer in towns, owning interests in a large number of sites in Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. He seems to have set a high value upon Dorchester, for half of it was transferred by him to Gale for $40,000. In this estimate he differed from the public, who never built upon the site; and the town proved of large promise, and very small performance.
Bristol consisted of two ranges of lots along the river bank a mile above Lacon, laid off by James Orr on the 6th of May, 1839. One lot in Bristol no doubt a first-rate business corner was sold in June 1838, for $18. The town was vacated Feb. 3d, 1840 by Legislative enactment.
Auburn, loveliest of the plain,* situated about half a mile north of the present village of Washburn, was called into being Sept. 12th, 1836 by William Maxwell. Histoyr is silent concerning its rise and decadence; but the fact that it was vacated by the Legislature Feb. 27th, 1841, is not without its significance. A certain highway running in that direction still honors it by the title Auburn road.
Centreville is the name of a bad speculation in the shape of a town, laid off in January, 1853, on a school section twelve miles west of Henry, near the centre of Saratoga Township, by Ira Torrey, Samuel Divilbiss and George Scholes. As yet it has few (if any) other than quadrupedal inhabitants.
Troy City, a good sized town-plat, was staked out Sept. 13th, 1836, by Sanford Klock. It was situated eight miles west of Lacon, and has existed only in name since its founding.
Chambersburg was located seven miles west of Lacon, and two miles north-east of Troy City. It was surveyed Aug. 15th, 1836, for John T. Shepherd, and has not been heard of since.
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