History of Marshall County, Illinois

Transcribed by Nancy Piper

Marshall County was named for John Marshall, chief justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1801 to 1835.  Most of Marshall County was originally part of Putnam County. The first settler in the future Marshall county was in 1824 Thomas Brooks who built a cabin at the east edge of Sandy timber. Brooks did not stay in Marshall county but moved elsewhere. In 1828 the first permanent settled came. John Strawn came from Ohio and built a cabin on Richland prairie near the future site of Lacon. John Wier, came to the area by keel boat and landed at the future site of Lacon. He bought land south and east of the town site and from time to time added to his holdings. Jesse and Livingston Roberts settled in Marshall county in what is now Roberts township.

The first grinding mill in Marshall county was set up in Hopewell township in 1830. It was an outdoor affair consisting of home-made millstones set on a stump. It did little more than crack the corn, but was better than stomping the grain by hand in a hollow stump. The first town site in the county was laid out in 1831 and named Columbia. It was changed to Lacon 5 years later when it was learned there was another Columbia in Illinois.

By 1834, there were a few families in Putnam County but there were no towns in the future Marshall County, except for Columbia. In 1839, the future Marshall county had about 1500 residents. Marshall County was created from Putnam County on January 19, 1839. Lacon was chosen as the county seat by a commission of three, William Ogle of Putnam, D.C. Salisbury of Bureau and Campbell Wakefield of McLand on April 6, 1839.

After its organization, the county held an election of county commissioners. Elisha Swan, William Maxwell and George H. Shaw were elected. County officials chosen were William Effner, probate judge, Charles F. Speyers, recorder; Silas Ramsey, sheriff; Anson L. Deming, treasurer; A.S. Fishburn, county clerk; George F. Coe, coroner; Jordan Sawyer, surveyor. The area was laid off in four districts, Sandy and Lacon east of the river, and Lafayette and Henry on the west. The commissioners appointed John Wier school commissioner.

The first session of circuit court in the new county was held in the Lacon Methodist church, April 23, 1839. After that a room was rented at $75 per year for use of all county officials. The 1840 census showed a county population of 1, 849. There were 993 males and 834 females. On March 1, 1843, two townships were taken from LaSalle County, forming Evans and Bennington Townships. Later Saratoga township was added giving  Marshall county, four full townships on each side of the river and four fractional townships. By 1850, the population had increased to 5,180 and the county was divided into townships, pursuant to a new law. Bennington and Saratoga did not immediately qualify due to a lack of settlers.

The first highway ordered surveyed was from Lacon to the Spoon River and was laid out on June 3, 1839. The same month the “State Road” was laid out through the eastern part of the county. The first court house was completed in December of 1840. In September 1841 lightning rods made by a local blacksmith were installed on the court house at a cost of $53.96. On January 5, 1853, fire caused by a supposedly defective flue, destroyed the building. All records and movable furniture were saved. A new courthouse was completed in November of 1853. An addition was added in 1882 which was attached at the east end of the building.

Lacon remained the only town in Marshall county until Henry and Crow Meadow were established in 1834. Pattonsburg was laid out in 1836. Wenona was established in 1853.  Sparland was laid out in 1855. LaRose and Varna were laid out in 1870. And Toluca, the youngest town was established in 1890.

Early Settlers of Marshall County










Other Early Settlers before 1835.

The Old Settlers Association of Marshall County

The Old Settlers association of Marshall county was organized in 1869 and the annual celebrations have been held since that date. The original picnics were always a success, people coming from long distances to shake hands with the old settlers and hear them recount their trials and hardships of the early days when this new beautiful county was a howling wilderness.

The first picnic was held at the court house in Lacon in June of the year 1869.  Following are the names of those who registered at the that meeting and who were residents of Marshall county prior to 1869.

J.B. Martin, James Sowards, Nathan Owen, Peter Owen, Enoch Strawn, Rachel McLaughlin, Robert Barnes, J.D. Barnes, George O. Barnes, S.B. McLaughlin, Lemuel Russell, John Judd, Alfred Jedd, Thomas Judd, J.D. Bullman, John Wier, Catherine Wier, Mary Thompson, A. Pichereau, J. Evans, Nancy Dever, J.Q. Hall, C.C. Gapen, G.L. Fort, Henry B. Barnes, S.E. Thompson, Harriet Sherburne, F.B. Drake, Julia Cotton, Isaac Hull, D.M. Robertson, William Atwood, Asa Thompson, Hartley Malone, S.A. Malone, S. Ramsey, Albert Barney, Nieman Fenn, Ethan A. Drake, George F. Wightman, Lewis Lehman, R.A. Henthorn, A.N. Ford, Sabrina Ford, Samuel Haynes, Irena Hayes, William Maxwell, C. Broaddus, N.G. Henthorn, J.P. Shepherd, N.E. Shepherd

Roberts Township

Roberts Township is located between Hopewell township and Evans township in the east half of Marshall County.  Southwest of the township is level prairie and the north, cut through by Sandy Creek is rolling. The first settlers were Jesse and Livingston Roberts who came in 1828. George H. Shaw who settled at Shaw’s Point in 1831 and James Hoyt were the next settlers.  

During the Indian scares of 1832, several stockades were built. One surrounded the Jesse Roberts cabin and another protected the Beckwith cabin. Early township settlers included the Gaylords, Dents, Martins, Shaws, Redmonds, John Myers, Edwards, Statelers and Beckwiths. Early farmers hauled their grain to Chicago, the only market in the northern part of the state. Livingston Roberts hauled a load of oats to Chicago in 1830, which at that time consisted of two cabins, a store and barracks for a company of soldiers, making the trip in seven days with three yokes of oxen. He was unable to sell the oats in town, but did dispose of them to a settler in the area, taking a greyhound as part payment.

In 1833, a Mr. Lyons purchased 46 sections of land just west of present Varna and laid it out in city blocks and built a large hotel.  No one ever came to the hotel and the man moved elsewhere.

Taken From the Henry Republican
April 8, 1875

Varna - Roberts township held her caucus in Varna and nominated for supervisor, John Norton; town clerk, Orange Parrett,; assessor, Richard Roberts; collector, William Myers; justice of the peace, B. Warren; constable, Wm. Stephens.


Varna was laid out September 10, 1870. Its growth was spurred by railroad development of the western division of the Chicago & Alton & St. Louis, which ran a spur westward to Lacon. Varna was laid at the junction of this spur with another, running south and west through LaRose. J.R. Brotherhood built the first store and residence in the village.

In the late 1800's, Varna had two grocery and general store, two drug stores, one hardware store, one harness shop, two boot and shoe shops, two carpenters, two meat markets, a livery stable, four blacksmith shops, two grain merchants and stock buyers, two hotels, two wagon shops, two implement dealers, two milliners, a doctor and a tile factory.  One February 12, 1883, Samuel W. McCulloch opened the first bank.  It was incorporated as a state bank on January 13, 1912 with Ralph D. McCulloch as President.  

The Varna School District was organized in 1869.  Thomas Quaintance was the first teacher.  In 1905, a brick school house was built and a two-yar high school was organized.  In 1915, a four year high school was organized and in 1922 as addition was built for the growing number of students.

Richland Township

Richland Township consists of pleasant, rolling land and toward the west, steel hills - the east bluffs of the Illinois river valley. John Strawn was the first settler there in 1828.  Other early settlers were Robert Bird, Nathan OwenJohn Wier, James Dever, Robert Barnes, John And William Gray, Captain Abram Keedy and Joseph Martin. The first Methodist preaching was in the cabin of Mrs. Daniel Bland in 1831 by Rev. William Royal. The first Sabbath school was organized in 1832.  The first schoolhouse in Richland township was a cabin that was put up by James Dever in 1833.  The Old Salem Christian Church was organized in 1834 in a two-room log cabin of Mr. Owen near land owned by the Belsly family.   Phelps Chapel, built in 1853 was one of the earliest meeting houses.  Richland township has no village within its boundaries.

Pea Ridge

Pea Ridge lies four miles south of Lacon. One of the earliest brick yards in the county was operated there by Joe Molone, who came to the region in 1842. Pea Ridge is very hilly and the acreages were very small in the early days. The settlers made a living by cutting logs for a sawmill and splitting barrel staves for a Lacon cooperage which made barrels for the flour mills and the distillery. The community drew its water from Deep springs.

Old Salem Cemetery

Old Salem Cemetery, located southeast of Lacon in Richland Township was started in 1834 when 18 year old Mary Conley, daughter of Preston Conley was buried in a plot on the land.  It had been given by Nathan Owen as burying ground. It is the 3rd oldest cemetery in Marshall County.  The first fence was built around the cemetery in 1890.  Until 1917, families took care of their own family grave plots. In 1917, the cemetery association was formed and a fund established to maintain the cemetery.

Home of Col. John Strawn

The home of John Strawn was located southeast of Lacon on a gentle knoll that was locally known as "Round Prairie".  The house was built by the first permanent settler of Marshall County, Col John Strawn.  The house was completed about 12 years after coming to Round Prairie.  It was a tall brick home with double chimneys at either end.  The bricks were fired right at the farm, but the window panes were imported from Philadelphia.  There were nine fireplace in the house and the flooring was wide planking that had been taken from the nearby timber. It was considered the finest house on the prairie for many years.

The big brick house stood for more than 100 years and housed three generations of the family.  In the 1950's it was sold out of the family and the house was vacant.  It was finally torn down in the early 1960's to make more room for corn.


The future site of Lacon was covered in a dense grove of course grass and to make surveys correctly, William Strawn was mounted on a strong horse attached to a log of wood, which he traversed the principle streets. This enabling the engineers to run their lines. The survey made, the streets named, the lots numbered and the place Christened, it was advertised in the few papers in the state and a public sale of lots on the 28th day of September of that year. The auctioneer was John Cox and Robert Berries acted as a clerk. Some fifteen persons attended the sale.

From the Record of Olden Times, 50 years on the Prairie
by Spencer Elsworth, Lacon, IL Home Journal Steam Printing Establishment
Copyright Date MDCCCLXXX (1880), Pg. 327

Columbia (Lacon) was laid out in 1831 in a dense hazelbrush thicket on the east shore of the Illinois River. On the first day of land sales in Springfield, July 18, 1831, 67.15 acres of the town site were bought by General Jonathan Babb and Major Henry Filler, both of Somerset, Ohio. Other sales were made to Robert Bird, who became one of the early settlers of Belle Plain Township and Jesse and John Morgan, who sold out a year later to Ira Fenn. A public sale of lots was held September 28, 1831. Fifteen persons attended the sale and 25 lots were sold at from five to ten dollars east. Purchasers were, Jesse Sawyer, Samuel Russell, Henry K. Cassel, Thaddeus Barney, William Haws, A.N. Denning, Elisha Swan, Jesse C. Smith and Joseph Johnson. No immediate improvements were made.  Cassell built a cabin the following spring but did not occupy it until 1834.

Elisha Swan, who had bought a lot in Columbia at the 1831 land sale, brought a stock of merchandise and opened a store at the foot of the hill 1 1/2 miles east of Columbia. In 1833, he moved his stock to the site of what now is Henry where he intended to open a store and found a town. However, the land was part of a school section and he was unable to secure a title. Swan then returned to Columbia in the fall of 1833, and became the first resident of Columbia.

In 1832, Elisha Swan had gotten a license for $5 from Putnam County for a ferry across the river at Columbia. In the fall of 1834, there were four cabins in Columbia. Dr. Condee came in 1834 and taught school one term. He then entered into partnership with Dr. Robert Boal.


A flouring mill was completed by Jesse C. Smith across from his store on the river shore.  Later grain elevators were built on that spot. Columbia’s name was changed to Lacon. It was named for a book called “Lacon”, a philosophical writing by Rec. C.C. Colton. The Marshall House open and was the first hotel in Lacon. The cemetery was laid out at the  southwest edge of town and the first burial was the daughter of Virgil Lancaster. The first steam saw mill was built by Barrows and Case in the south end of town. The Methodist congregation was established with the church being built the next year.

In 1839, Lacon had a population of 200 people. The first school was established in 1837 and Jane Kilgore taught the first classes in the spring of 1837. The first high school in Lacon was built in 1857. A post office was establish din Lacon in 1835 and Doctor Effner, the community’s second physician was named postmaster. Lacon was incorporated in 1837 and a board of trustees was elected with William Fenn, president and Ira I. Fenn, clerk. The trustees formed the local government until 1854 the government was changed to a mayor and council type.

William Fisher was elected the first mayor on April 3, 1854. In 1883, the first Hook and Ladder fire company was organized with S.N. Chapman, chief engineer. A fire bell was installed on the city hall roof. The bell served until 1916, when a fire whistle was installed on the roof of the telephone office.


Henry was named for General James D. Henry, a prominent leader in the Black Hawk War. Henry was originally located about two miles north of its present location at what was Webster's Landing.  The first settler at original Henry was a man named Stacy.  

The first settler of present Henry was a man named Hart.  He left in 1830.   On April 22, 1834, the area of Henry was surveyed for town tots. A public sale of lots was held in Hennepin and school land, on which the town site was located, sold for one dollar a lot. Four years later, the first school was built at the head of the ravine east of town in 1838.   There were no attendants because the people needed their children to work, so the school was turned into a smoke-house.

The first general store was opened by Joseph Burr in 1840. Burr was also the first postmaster. About 1840, Henry House, the first hotel was erected. The first frame house was built in 1844.   Brickyards were opened between 1845 and 1850 south and west of the town. By 1848, there were 24 familes in town.  There were 4 stores, 1 drug store, a lumber yard, 4 carpenters, 2 blacksmiths, 2 coopers, a shoemaker's shop, a gold and silversmith, and a wagon maker's shop was soon to be built.

In 1850, Henry had a population of 401. The Bowars Brothers built a flouring mill and cooper shop the same year. In 1851 the population was 708 residents.  By 1854 there were 1306 residents and Henry was incorporated as a city.  The first mayor was a man named McFadden.  

There were at least three wagon factories. Watercots had a boot and shoe shop. A paper mill was built in 1858 and operated until it burned in 1872. The first lock and dam on the Illinois River was built at Henry. It was started in 1869 and was completed in 1871 at a cost of a half million dollars. A bridge was built over the Illinois river in 1870.

The first church built was the Methodist church in 1840. The Presbyterians built in 1854.  The Christian church was built in 1838; Swedenborg church in 1857; Episcopal in the early 1860’s, Baptists in 1870, German Catholics in 1850 and Irish Catholics in 1870.

There was once a college and a university in Henry.  The college was built across from the fairgrounds.  The North Illinois university stood about two blocks west of Central Park.  It was built by the Rev. Fowler of the Methodist church at a cost of $28,000.  Later the number of attendants began to decrease because of hard times, and in 1857 the building was sold to the city of Henry for use as a high school. In 1891 the second hight school building was built.

The first newspaper, The Henry Courier, was founded by Rober H. Ruggles, December 23, 1852.  Later it was sold to Jonas Woodward.  Another paper, The Marshall County Democrat, was founded April 11, 1863 by Charles R. Frisk.  In 1864, it was sold to F.M. Mills. In 1865 the equipment for this paper was bought by Spencer S. Burdick, who then started the Marshall County Telegraph.  In the same year George Burt, Sr., purchased an interest in the paper.  In June 1886, the Henry Courier and the Marshall County Telegraph consolidated, and the name was changed to the Marshall County Republican.  In 1869, George Burt became sole owner of the paper.  Later it was given the name which it still bears, teh Henry News Republican.

Hoagland's Mill

Hoagland's Mill was a stone mill that dominated the Henry waterfront for many years.  "Granite Mill" stood on the river bank immediately west of the present municipal swimming pool on Front Street.  The mill was built in 1856 by John Riley for Alexander, John C. and CC. Hoagland.  It was used to grind grain that the brothers bought from the local farmers.  In 1883, Riley bought the mill, ovehauled the machinery and installed a new engine and fly wheel. He changed the name to the Henry Milling Company.  The mill was demolished in 1961.  The Henry Public Libray is now located on the site where the mill once stood.

LaPrairie township

 LaPrairie Township is located in the southwest corner of Marshall County and was orginally called Fairfield.  It was part of the Military Tract that was given to soldiers who fought in the war of 1812.  The Old Kellogg Trail of 1825 passed north and south through the western side of the township. In 1833 the Coach Road (Peoria-Galena Trail)  passed through the southeast part through Boyd's Grove which was the main route to Peoria, Illinois.

William Coulson was the first settler in LaPrairie township. He moved up from Peoria in 1832 and built along the Peoria-Galena Trail in Section 23. In 1838 he built a much larger cabin and kept a wayside inn. Among the first settlers were Elisha Stowell, who settled on the county line two miles east of the western boundary, the families of Solomon Brewer, James Kenyon, James Caldwells, Richard Scholes and Lucas Roots.

Lawn Ridge

The first settler in what became the village of Lawn Ridge was Charles Stone in 1845.  Other early settlers were Wilmots, Holmes, Dorans, Leighs, Davisons and Smiths. The United Presbyterian church was organized about 1845 and a church was built in 1856. In 1859 Methodists built a church for a Society organized in 1850. During the 1830’s and 1840’s, stage coaches passed through LaPrairie to and from Galena. In 1854 stagecoach travel ended with the coming of the railroad. In 1880, Lawn Ridge had a population of about 200. It had a post office, a store, blacksmith shop and two wagon shops.  Two railroads, the A.T. & S.F. and the C. & N.W. passed near Lawn Ridge.  With the closing of the old railroads, the businesses moved elsewhere and Lawn Ridge is now a residential settlement only.

LaPrairie Center

LaPrairie Center was a hamlet that drew its name from its location. It had a store and postal service in its early days.

Whitefield Township

Whitefield Township was names from John B. White, its first supervisor. The first settler was Warford Bonham, who settled their with his family in 1835. A man named Thenius, for whom the hollow north of Sparland was named, came to the hollow and built a cabin in 1837. Other early settlers were Bickermans, Danleys, Kelloggs, Combs and Culvers.

Saratoga Township

Saratoga Township is located in the northwest corner of Marshall County.  Saratoga Township was one of the last townships to become part of Marshall county and one of the last to be organized because it was so flat and level. . The first settler, J.A. Smith settled on a farm on the prairie in 1850.  Other early settlers were the Divilbisses, McVickers, Seelyes and Townsends. The township was organized in 1857.  

Because it was so level the land was also very wet because of lack of drainage. In the the west central part of the township was Goose Lake, which covered about 100 acres By 1860 all the land was taken. The land in the lake vicinity was drained in 1880 by digging a ditch which led the water into Hickory Creek.


Broadmore was named from the appearance of the country.  It was first called Bradford from the town in Pennsylvania.  It was a small settlement that now consists of a grain elevator and about a dozen houses.

Camp Grove

Camp Grove was named from its location on a favorite camping ground of emigrants on their journeys westward.  It has a post office and bank.

Post Offices of Marshall County

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