While it might not be just right to pronounce Belle Plain township the best in the county, one thing is certain, no other township surpasses it in the fertility of its soil or in the quality and quantity of its production. It is probably, taken as a whole, the most beautiful and pleasing to the eye, having neither the flat, plane-like surface of the pure prairie nor the bold hills of the river bluffs, but a surface composed of gentle undulations, full of small brooks and groves, though the latter are fast being eradicated to improve the pasturage.---Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties by John Spencer Burt and W.E. Hawthorne, Chicago, The Pioneer Publishing Company 1907
Bell Plain Township is six miles square and lies between Bennington Township on the east and Richland Township on the west. Belle Plain Township derives its name from Colonel Belle, an early settler, who built at the crossing Crow Creek. It contains diversified prairies and timbers, that are broken by hills and ravines and watered by Crow Creek, Martins branch and other smaller streams. At one time, a fine body of timber bordered Crow Creek, and you could find other small groves elsewhere, like Hollenbacks Grove, Benningtons Grove, Four Mile Grove and others. The Santa Fe Railroad follows the Crow Creek Valley diagonally through the township. and before its demise, the western division of the Chicago and Alton railroad passed through its western limits. Belle Plain's industry has always been mainly agricultural.
The pioneer settler in this section was James Martin, who visited Hollenbacks Grove in August of 1829 on a prospecting tour.. He he built a cabin in a grove two miles east of the site of Pattonsburg, at the head of Crow Creek which for years was known as Martin's Grove. The next year Martin returned with his family to his claim, only to find it had been jumped during his absence and had to be bought again from the occupant at a good price. Martin first settled on the Hollenback place, but sold his claim to James Bird, and Bird sold it to Henry Miller.
The "jumping" of claims was know as Squatters Law from which there was little chance of success in an appeal. A man named Hawkins became especially notorious as a claim jumper, earning enviable fame and remained until the exasperated citizens signified that "his health would suffer by longer tarrying."
The first settlers of the township of Belle Plain located at Martin's Grove at the head of Crow Creek. The pioneers who settled there were: James Martin, August 1829, Samuel Hawkins in 1830; Thomas Bennington in 1831; Jerry Black, Pierce Perry, Joseph and Robert Bennington, 1832; Daniel Hollenback, 1833; Nathan Patton, 1834; John Wilson, 1835; Forsythe Hatton and James Clemens in 1836; David Hester and William Hendricks, 1838; Levi Wilcox and William Hester, 1844: John Skelton made a claim in 1835 and lived on it several years but left for Iowa in 1845.
In 1831, Thomas Bennington bought his claim from Hawkins, who had built one of his peculiar cabins on it. He later sold part of the claim to Nathan Patton. Nathan Patton entered his own claim for the rest of his land in 1834. Nathan Pattons sons were John, who died in 1875, and James who died when 21years old. His daughters were Mrs. Porch, Mrs. William Hester, Mrs. McCann, Mrs. James Shankland and two unmarried daughters.
Forsythe Hatton settled there with six sons, three of whom, William, John F. and Andrew, soon made claims for the their father on Section 30. John F. then located near the town of Pattonsburg on section 36. John F. Hatton was an expert hunter and bore a scar scar on his right arm, the result of an encounter with a wounded buck. Mark Hatton, a brother of Forsythe Hatton, settled here in 1840. He was a soldier of the war of 1812, serving under Gen. Jackson at New Orleans.
Perrys farm was first owned and partly improved by a man named Bland who lived here in early times. He sold it to Perry and returned to Kentucky. Robert Bird, Sr. made a claim in 1831, after which he sold to Nathan Patton. In 1836, John Winter, who lived on the Rueben Bell place, moved to the western border of the grove and began the improvement of his farm on section 35. Daniel Hollenback came in 1838 and settled in the border of the grove which was named after him.. His sons, George, Jacob and Daniel, Jr also made claims in the vicinity as soon as they were old enough.
The First School
Before the building of the first school house, school was taught in the neighborhood by a Mr. Baxter. The first school house was a log cabin that was built in the grove of timber at the head of Crow Creek. It was built in the fall of 1836 and school was taught that fall and winter by George Van Buskirk. Miss Marry Jane Hallam managed the school the following summer, and among the early teachers were John Burns, James Clemens, Samuel Ogle and Mr. Wilcox.
Pattonsburg was named for Nathan Patton who came to the area in 1834. It was laid out on March 13, 1836. LaRose, first named Montose, was laid out September 18, 1870 by Moses Gulick and wife.
One of the stage coach stations of the Chicago to Springfield route was located at Bell Crossing. It was named after Colonel Robert Bell, one of the early arrivals to the Crow Creek area. The tender of the station was Edward S. Warren and the driver of the stage coach was a fellow known as "Blacksnake" Jackson. His guard was Bill "Shotgun" Thompson. Colonel Belle kept a noted house of entertainment.
At one time Bell Crossing had a grist mill and saw mill. There was also an early Inn and Tavern operated by John Iliff. With the coming of the railroad, the stage coach run was discontinued and the settlement is now only a grassy spot along Crow Creek.
Bell Plaine Cemetery
In the early 1800's, a free burying ground was opened on the stage coach route from Chicago on acreage owned by Robert F. Bell. He had deeded a piece of the ground to James B. Work, John C. Foster and Isaac Hull to be used as a free burying ground for one dollar. Since in didn't belong to any particular church, very little attention was given to its upkeep. In 1899, it was cleaned off, fenced in and re-organized and is known today as Bell Cemetery.
The village of LaRose was laid out September 1870 by Moses A. Gulick and wife. The town was first christened Montrose, then changed to Romance, and subsequently to LaRose. During its early history, it was the principal shipping point in the township for the Chicago and Alton railroad, and usually sent to market large quantities of grain, stock and produce. By 1907, it contained quite a number of residences and several stores, shops, etc., as well as a bank, mill, elevator, a school, a post office and churches. By 1941, LaRose no longer had a bank but a station house had been added. It also had a grade school and high school. The schools were eventually closed and the children divided between Washburn and Toluca school district.
The village has two churches. One was started by the Trinity Lutheran Society in 1867. At that time they had about 25 members. The church building was built in the village 1872, at a cost of $1,500, and the next year a parsonage costing $1,100 was built. The first preacher was Rev. Mr. Johannes, who delivered a discourse June 14, 1872, in the new church. In 1876 the Society built a neat school house.
During the early 1900's, across the highway near present LaRose, next to the cemtery, there was a Lutheran church, which had a large congregation drawn from the Swedish residents. The cemetery was attached to the church.
Situated on section 35 in the southeast corner of the township is a little village laid out on March 13, 1856 by "Father Patton" named Pattonsburg. It was named after Nathan Patton, who came to the region in 1836. Pattonsburg was originally laid out in a single short row of lots on the east side of the road (Broad street). In 1860, it contained a dozen houses, a store, post office, blacksmith shop and a school house and had a population of about 30 to 40 people. The school house served Pattonsburg for many years as a country school. It was located on a lane behind the Christian church.
Near Pattonsburg were also two churches, a Baptist church, built in 1858, about a half-mile west of the town and a Methodist church. Both churches no longer exist. As early as 1839 preachers of the Methodist persuasion began to hold meeting in and around Pattonsburg. At first the services were held in the school house in winter and in barns in the summer until 1859, when a small building was put up about a quarter of a mile north of the village. This was burned down in the winter of 1867. When the church was rebuilt it was erected in the village. There was a cemetery near the Methodist church.
Chasing a Horse Thief
From: Records of Olden Time; or, Fifty years on the Prairies, originally printed in 1880
One of the Reeves gang once bought a horse of a citizen of the township (Bell Plain), paying for it with counterfeit money. Its spurious character was soon discovered and John Myers, assisted by a man named Patterson, started in pursuit. At Hollenbacks they heard of their man, and Pierce Perry joined in pursuit. Not far from Mackinaw they overhauled the rascal, and to prevent escape he was chained to Myers and both put to bed together. Myers slept the sleep of the just, but awoke to see his comrade escaping through the window. Chase was given again and they came upon him once more, when his friends interfered and compelled them to wait and take out papers of arrest. This gave him another start, but ultimately he was caught and turned over to the authorities at Pekin, from where he again escaped and left the country.
(Courtesy Barb Darling)
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