1857 Illinois Travelogue
of the northern part of Illinois written by school teacher P. Atkinson,
who was traveling by train from Bloomington to LaSalle-Peru, Galesburg and other places, recording what he saw.
His articles were printed in the Weekly Pantagraph Newspaper of Bloomington, Ill. starting August 5, 1857.
Transcribed by Judy Edwards
Topics discussed and links to those sections are:
TOPICS DISCUSSED IN THIS TRAVELOGUE:
THE CROPS: VISIT TO PERU COAL MINES
NOTES OF TRAVEL: RAILROAD & OTTAWA SCHOOLS
NOTES OF TRAVEL: JOLIET - LOCKPORT - CHICAGO
NOTES OF TRAVEL: BRIMFIELD PRAIRIE .... ITS PRESENT CONDITION AND EARLY SETTLEMENT
NOTES OF TRAVEL: ACCOMMODATIONS, TRAINS & GALESBURG
NOTES OF TRAVEL: BURLINGTON - NAUVOO - KEOKUK
[Source: "Weekly Pantagraph" (Bloomington, Ill.) August 5, 1857 vol XI issue 35 no 555 p2 c3]
For the Pantagraph
NOTES OF TRAVEL - No 1
THE CROPS — VISIT TO PERU COAL MINES
Mr. Editor: — Having just returned from a trip to the northern part of the State, I have thought that a few items of news from that region might be interesting to your readers.
I set out on Tuesday, the 21st, ult. had beautiful weather for traveling, and enjoyed the ride to LaSalle highly. Who would not enjoy a ride over Grand Prairie! There is not, it is true, much variety of scenery, but that vast plain stretching in every direction as far as the eye can reach, bounded only by the horizon, is in itself noble, sublime. And its immense agricultural resources, which are now being rapidly developed by western energy and industry, make a citizen of Illinois feel proud of his State.
The crops everywhere look fine: corn is somewhat backward, but there is hope that the favorable summer will make amends for the backwardness of the spring, and bring it to perfection before frost comes.
Winter wheat has been a total failure, except in the extreme northern part of the State, but the abundant crop of spring wheat fully compensates the loss. Such a crop has never before been known in Illinois. Everywhere the country waves with the golden harvest. Farmers begin to think that spring wheat is the most profitable crop. True, it does not bring so high a price as the winter wheat, but it is thought that the risk of failure of the latter, much more than counterbalances the difference in price.
Fruit is abundant: cherries and currants were just in season. Peaches will however be scarce, the severe frosts winter before last having for the most part killed the trees. The few trees which were left are loaded with fruit.
LaSalle and Peru remain “in statu quo;” but little improvement of the last four years; the various railroads running through other towns near by, have deprived both these places of a large portion of the businesses and travel they formerly had when the canal, river, and Rock Island and Chicago Railroad, were the only means of communication between the northern and southwestern portions of the State. The large proportion of foreigners, speculators, and others called there by the public works, has had a bad influence also on the state of society. There has, however, of late years, been some improvement in this respect. Educational and religious privileges are much better than they were formerly: good public schools have lately been established and will be sustained. The increasing advantages in these respects, as well as the thickly populated farming district whose trade must come to those towns, also their facilities for storage and shipping will continue to make them important points.
Their extensive coal mines, also, are likely to become a source of wealth. It is only a year since these mines began to be worked extensively. The old plan of working them only where the “banks” were open has been abandoned, and several shafts have already been sunk by experienced miners, which reveal immense deposits of coal underlying all that region. Arrangements are no in progress to get these shafts into full operation as soon as possible.
I visited the one just below Peru, called the Kentucky shaft. This will be 310 feet deep when completed. At the depth of 97 feet it passes through a bed of coal of excellent quality; having an average thickness of three feet, four inches. Immediately underlying this is a stratum of “fire-clay,” four feet thick. Beneath this is sandstone and shale to the bottom of the shaft, where there is another bed of coal, supposed to be of the same thickness as the upper one, and of a superior quality. The shaft has already been completed to within sixty feet of this bed, the coal bed having been previously reached by boring, so that its entire depth now is 250 feet. It will be completed by October. The cost of opening this shaft will, it is thought, be about $40,000. What the expense of working will be, cannot yet be definitely ascertained. Price of coal at the mine varies from $2.00 to $2.50 per ton.
Having some curiosity to visit the interior of the mine, I doffed a portion of my traveling dress, and donned a miner’s coat and hat; and, taking a miner’s lamp, descended. The sensation on being ushered from the glowing atmosphere above to the cool interior was delightful. This shaft is seven feet by fourteen, and is divided by a plank partition into two compartments, each seven feet square; one of these is at present devoted to the sinking of the shaft, the other to drawing up coal from the upper bed. Having descended ninety-seven feet, I reached the mine and, according to previous directions, entered the passage directly in front of me, which, I soon found, branched off in various directions. I advanced some distance, taking the most direct course, not however without some misgivings as to the possibility of finding my way back, when, most unexpectedly to me, my light went out, leaving me in utter darkness; for if a ray of light does by chance find its way down the shaft, it is quickly absorbed by the black element which it has had the audacity to visit. Well, here I was, alone, in a labyrinth of passage and windings: below me was a shaft 150 feet deep, of whose locality I had but little idea, and the thought of meeting the shaft and plunging headlong, did not produce the most pleasant sensations. I hallood [sic] but could not make myself heard. At length, after groping along some distance, a faint glimmer revealed the shaft. I called for a light which was immediately sent down, and a miner coming along at the same time, with his car load of coal, trimmed my lamp, and offered his services, which were most gladly accepted.
He took me all through the mine, which is not very extensive, having been worked two or three hundred feet each way format he shaft. The means of ventilation are yet very imperfect, so that the “black damp” (carbonic acid gas,) accumulates to some extent, rendering it difficult for an inexperienced explorer to keep his light burning. No appearance of “fire damp” (light carburetted hydrogen,) has yet been discovered, so that the safety-lamp is not in use. The coal is excavated by blasting, then worked up by the “pick,” and put into hand-cars, which are pushed along rail-ways on to the platform, at the shaft, and elevated by steam power. The passes or “h-entries,” as the miner, who was an Englishman, called them, are about four or five feet wide, and from three to four feet high. These lead into rooms the same height, the rooms we entered being about twenty feet square. It is designed to leave pillars ten feet square between the various rooms and passages, to support the roof of the mine. The miner said he could quarry from three to four tons of coal per day, for which he received one dollar per ton.
After making some further observations,a nd securing specimens of the coal and fire clay, I gave my guide a “quarter,” and ascended highly pleased with my subterranean visit.
Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) August 12, 1857 vol XI issue 36 no 556 p2 c3
NOTES OF TRAVEL — NO. 2.
RAILROAD — OTTAWA SCHOOLS
Mr. Editor: — Railroads, notwithstanding all their disadvantages, are undoubtedly the best means of traveling yet invented. It is well before stepping aboard the cars, however, to have your accounts all squared with this world and the next, then provide yourself with a good seat, and an interesting newspaper, and run your chance. The probabilities are, that you arrive safe at your journey’s end; the possibilities, broken limbs or a broken head.
After all, it remains to be proved that railroad traveling is any more dangerous than traveling with horse and carriage. The aggregate loss of life and limb is probably as great in the one case as in the other. The old iron horse, though blind, is sure and steady, and if you give him a clear track, and substantial cars, he will not fail to take you to your destination at the appointed hour. No balking, scaring, running away, or breaking down; though he puffs a little, he has good wind, and makes good use of it.
The Chicago and Rock Island Railroad has a smooth and well settled track: from La Salle to Chicago you scarcely feel a jolt. There is room, however, for improvement in other respects, especially in regard to the means of allaying thirst. On the St. Louis and Chicago road there is generally an abundance of ice-water at hand in the cars, but on this road, and on the Illinois Central, you must wait until you are choked with dust, and parched, before the boy comes round with his watering pot; and if perchance the water has had a lemon squeezed into it, which is most generally the case, you are required to pay five cents a glass. After a traveler has paid full fare, he feels entitled to proper accommodations, and does not much relish this extra charge.
This prairie country is noted for the monotony of its scenery, but the region through which you pass, from LaSalle to Joliet, presents pleasing to variety; the river, winding its course among the woods and bottom lands, the canal, with its boats moving sluggishly along, freighted with lumber or gain, and the rocky bluffs on either hand, all present a striking contrast to the dull monotonous prairie, where, to use the expressive language of a Hibernian, you see little but “sky and grass.” The bridge across the Illinois on the Central road, is a splendid work. The little tunnel above LaSalle where, for a moment, you are ushered from day-light into darkness, and then into light again, as the train shoots through, produces no little stir among the passengers, especially among the fair sex. Eight miles above LaSalle you pass Starved Rock, famous for its Indian legend, and eight miles more bring you to Ottawa, the county-seat of La Salle county, and one of the oldest and most flourishing towns in the State.
Ottawa has all the elements essential to prosperity, industry, wealth, good society, good churches and good schools. In this last particular, she has set an example worthy of imitation of her sister towns throughout the state. Summer before last, two large brick buildings were erected at a cost of $12,500 apiece, each capable of accommodating 360 pupils, and furnished throughout in the best styles. Each of these schools has one principal,k and five female assistants. The principal receives a salary of $1000 a year, and the assistants from $300 to $325. This would make the amount for teachers’ salaries, about $2500, to which add $500 for janitor’s fees and fuel, and the annual expense of each school is about $3000. Now allowing 300 pupils, as the average attendance, it will be seen that the cost of educating a pupil is only ten dollars a year. And the instruction here given is equal if not superior, to that in our best seminaries.
I had the pleasure of attending the examinations in both schools, more particularly that of the school in the east district, under charge of Mr. J. Stone, as principal. I have been present at may examinations both in collect, academy, and private schools, yet I never before attended one which pleased me so well. The answers were not wrong from the pupils by leading questions, as is too often the case, but were entirely spontaneous. The teacher said but little; as each pupil was assigned his, or her topic, it was at once taken up, and a full, clear explanation of the principles involved given. The most perfect order prevailed; a look, a wave of the hand, a stroke of the bell, was all that was necessary to cause a class to come forward or retire or a pupil to change his seat. “Stillness and order” seemed to be the watch-word, both of teacher and pupil; each moved noiselessly through the room. Not even the whispering sound, so common from repeating the lesson with the lips, was heard. The pupils had not only to study, but how to study.
At such a time and place, it was natural to think of our own schools. I could have wished our City Council, our Board of Education, our citizens, all there: I am sure they would have been willing to raise not only a five mill, but a five cent tax, if necessary, in order to establish and sustain such schools.
I had not the same opportunity of observing the examination of the school in the west district, in charge of Mr. Clark, having been in only a few minutes, but learned form several sources that the school was equally as well conducted as the other.
The Board of Education intend to continue to establish similar schools, until there are a sufficient number to supply the town. I learned also, with no little pleasure, that the east school is to be furnished this autumn, with a good set of philosophical and chemical apparatus, so that the pupils may not only learn the theory of natural science, but also have the benefit of practical illustration.
It is to be hoped that schools in other places will follow the example.
Blooming, Ill., Aug. 5th, 1857.
Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) August 12, 1857 vol XI issue 36 no 556 p2 c4
NOTES OF TRAVEL — NO. 3
JOLIET — LOCKPORT — CHICAGO.
As you approach Joliet from the south, on the Chicago and Rock Island railroad, the first object of interest is a beautiful mound a short distance to the right, known as Mt. Joliet. It is about sixty rods long, eight or ten wide, and thirty or forty feet high; perfectly symmetrical in shape and appearance, and resembling at a distance, a frustum of a cone or pyramid. Such is its symmetry that it was for many years thought to be a work of art, the relic of a bygone race that once inhabited this Valley: and indeed outward appearances give strong ground for such an opinion, but the fact that its interior is composed to a considerable extent of stratified rock, similar in position to that found in the surrounding, region would seem to put the question at rest, and leave Dame Nature in possession of the glory of having raised this monument of her skill, ages prior to the introduction of man on the globe.
This mound was doubtless [sic] once a shoal or sand-bar, formed by the waters of the ancient ocean; then, as those water receded, it became an island, and finally, as our continent gradually rose from the ocean’s bed and the “dry land” appeared, it was left as we now behold. It was anxious to obtain something more than a passing glance, but time did not permit.
Joliet is a thriving town and bids fair to become a place of considerable importance. Its population is estimated at about seven thousand. It has local advantages superior to those of many of its sister towns in other portions of the State. Its healthy location, inexhaustible quarries of excellent building stone, and an abundant supply of pure spring and river water, are natural advantages rarely met with in combination on these western prairies. In addition to these, it has the canal, and the various railroads, crossing or terminating there, which make it a central point of business and travel. Its proximity to Chicago is such as to afford many advantages without seriously affecting its business or growth.
The great influx of foreign population during the construction of the canal and railroads, has not had the most favorable influence on the state of society, but as these public works are being completed, and the town grows older, there must be constant improvement in this respect.
The State Prison which has lately been located there, will not, it is thought, be of much benefit to the place, though for the time it will be of some pecuniary advantage to a few individuals interested in its construction. The grounds are situated about a mile north of the town, and include a fine stone quarry and a never failing spring of pure water, which flows from a seam in the rock, and has more the appearance of a subterranean stream, than of a mere spring.
A citizen of the place, foreseeing that the prison would be located at this spot, purchased the ground a short time previous had sold it to the State at a large profit, thus making a handsome speculation.
I had an opportunity of seeing the front view of the design of the building; and if the interior equals in comfort and convenience what the exterior promises, the rogues and rascals of northern Illinois would do well to seek an asylum there, as they will find more comfortable quarters, probably, than they can provide for themselves.
Joliet has two fine school buildings, one for the high school, and one for the grammar school. The grammar school, situated on the west side, is a very neat two story stone building. The high school on the east side, is a large brick edifice, fifty feet by eight, two stories above basement, and contains three spacious school rooms, seven recitation rooms, besides entries, cloak rooms, &c. The furniture, heating apparatus, and ventilation, are all after the most approved style. The cost of the building was $20,000.
The school has one principal or “superintendent,” and nine assistant teachers. The principal receives a salary of $1,000 a year. There is also a janitor employed at a salary of $350 a year, to keep the house in proper order.
Five miles above Joliet, on the Canal, is the little town of Lockport, a place of some size and importance, though, at present, in a vary backward condition, being out of the line of travel. A railroad running from Joliet to Chicago, which is now being constructed, passes through, and will, when completed, be of some benefit to the place. It is designed to be a continuation of the St. Louis and Chicago road.
This town is making a noble effort in the cause of public education. A school house has been commended, which promises to be the finest in the State. It is to be a stone building, sixty feet by seventy-give, three stories above the basement, finished off and furnished in the best style, and will cost not less than $25,000. The walls are now finished to the second story, and the work is progressing rapidly, though it is not expected that it will be completed before next season.
Taking the evening train for Chicago, I found the dust almost intolerable, no rain having failed for some time previous. I thought I had a pretty good idea of dusty traveling, but this was beyond all endurance. Clouds of dust poured in a t every opening, choking, blinding, almost stifling us. Surely in this age of Yankee invitation, something might be done to prevent this. Dust, smoke, and cinders should be made to know their own place, and the man who succeeds in inventing some efficient means of car ventilation, furnishing pure air, free from these annoyances, will make a fortune for himself, and confer a lasting benefit on the traveling community.
I shall not attempt a description of the “Garden City:” her fame is already too wide to need any addition from my pen. Her unparalleled growth is the theme of every visitor. It is to be hoped however, than when she has reached maturity, if ever, she will take tim e to ripen, and will tear down those long rows of wooden buildings, which now disgrace some of her principal streets, and where the Dutch and Irish revel in filth, and replace them with substantial brick or stone edifices.
The extreme west part of the city is decidedly the most desirable place for a residence. It is entirely free from the din and bustle of business, and the filth and fume of nasty streets; and forms a pleasant retreat, ornamented with beautiful gardens and neat tasty dwellings. Lots can be had comparatively cheap and on easy terms. A friend showed me some good lots, worth from fifty to seventy-five dollars a foot; terms, — ten years’ time, eight per cent interest, no payment down, a house to be built within eighteen months from the time of purchase, worth at least $1,500.
I recollect Chicago, in 1834, — a little village with half a dozen stores, and two small taverns, now, the Queen City of the West! What a change in twenty-three years!
Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) September 2, 1857 vol XI issue 39 no 559 p2 c3 and c4
NOTES OF TRAVEL - NO. 4
BRIMFIELD PRAIRIE — ITS PRESENT CONDITION AND EARLY SETTLEMENT
The old homestead is always a place of the deepest interest to us all. We may find other spots more sunny, other places where the attractions of business, or pleasure are greater, but the OLD HOMESTEAD, the scene of our childhood’s joys and sorrows, the spot made sacred in our memory by the presence of father and mother, by the society of brothers and sisters, and all the fond endearments of home, is never forgotten. We may pass through vicissitudes of joy and sorrow, of prosperity and adversity, yet the home of our early years remains a great oasis in life’s desert, on which the eye loves to rest.
How delightful to revisit that home after years of absence; to receive the warm greeting of father, mother, brother, and sister; to visit the haunts of childhood and be a child again. But when the family circle is broken up,a nd those we loved are scattered through the wide world, or numbered with the dead, and their places are occupied by strangers, how melancholy to return. The cold look, the formal reception, as you appear, a stranger, at the place you once called home, ill accords with the warm gush of feeling, as memory calls up the scenes and associations of former years.
Such were my feelings, when a few days since, I visited my old home on brimfield Prairie, twenty miles west of Peoria. How changed everything appeared. My father’s cottage had given place to a handsome and more commodious dwelling. The grove in whose shade I had spent many a pleasant hour, had been cleared away to improve the surrounding farm, and the green knolls of the native prairie, the scene of many a ramble, were enclosed in fields and covered with waving grain. Old friends had gone to distant parts, or paid the debt of nature. Former play mates had grown out of my recollection: here and there I would meet one whom I once knew as the ruddy boy or girl, the smiling beau or belle, now consigned to a life of business and care!
Brimfield Prairie is, without doubt, one of the richest and most beautiful sections of country in Illinois. I allude not merely to its natural beauty and the fertility of its soil, but to the actual wealth and beauty developed by an industrious and enterprising community. It embraces an area of about eight miles square, is bordered all around and dotted over with groves of valuable timber, and intersected by beautiful streams, which afford a never failing supply of pure water. — The land is high and rolling, and cannot be surpassed for fertility in the West.
It is settled chiefly by men from the Eastern and Middle States, and is all improved, and under fine cultivation. Within the last five years land has risen in value from ten to fifty dollars per acre. The Peoria and Oquawka Railroad passes through the southern part, and affords the farmers a home market for their produce, which they were formerly obliged to take to Peoria.
The village of Brimfield, situated on the old stage route from Peoria to Knoxville, is a thriving little place of 500 inhabitants, has six churches, an academy and a good district school. It was laid out in 1836 by some gentlemen from Peoria, and was one of the few villages which survived the general crash which followed the town and railroad speculations of 1836 and ‘37. The rage for town making was then as great as it is now, and much more unreasonable, since there were no railroads and but thinly scattered settlements to which these embryo towns could look for support. Hence most of them died when the wind and money of their founders failed, while a few in favorable locations have maintained a lingering existence up to the present time, when the course of a railroad has determined their fate for better or worse.
Several of these little towns started on Brimfield Prairie. One was laid out by a speculator named Tucker, on a little creek two miles south of Brimfield, which he called, “The Tiber,” and going East he got up flaming hand-bills advertising lots in the flourishing town of Cambridge on the beautiful, navigable river Tiber. Greenhorns who purchased lots came West to find the “beautiful river” navigated only by frogs.
Six miles southwest of Brimfield, is Elmwood, one of the principal stations on the Peoria and Oquawka railroad, a village which ha sprung up within the last four years, and has now a population of one thousand, with extensive business houses, neat respectable churches, and flourishing schools.
What a contrast this region now presents to what it was at the time of its first settlement in 1834; then there were only a few scattered cabins here and there in the edges of the groves, for the settlers did not dare to build on the open prairie, dreading the severity of the winter. The Indians had left the previous year, and gone West of the Mississippi; the remains of their camps were still be seen on the prairie, and the tracks of their tomahawks still fresh on the trees. — The wolves and deer roamed almost unmolested, venturing often up to our very doors. Peoria, twenty miles distant, then a little village, was our nearest market. The nearest mill was thirty miles distant. Roads and bridges were almost unthought of. Indian trails, “blazed trees,” lone trees, with an occasional wagon track, were our only way-markers in going from place to place: ox-teams and ox-wagons our modes of conveyance.
But though our dwellings were scattered and the roads bad, these circumstances formed no bar to friendly intercourse. Formality and fashion were laid aside, and the dangers, hardships and privations of pioneer life brought the settlers together in a closer bond of friendship. The few conveniences that each had were freely shared with his neighbor, though that neighbor lived many miles distant.
Your wagon, plow, ax, how, and saw, were the common property of the whole settlement. If one found a bee tree, all the neighbors shared the delicious treasure. If a hunter killed a deer, a steak of venison was sent to every house.
But those good old times are gone, and while some have removed, to live them over again in lands farther west, others who remained, now reap the fruits of their toil.
It is said that at the time of the general survey, previous to the settlement of this State, a considerable portion of Brimfield Prairie was reported as swamp land, unfit for cultivation; if such was the case, it is certain that the mistake was soon discovered, for at the land sales of 1835 and ‘37, every acre was bought, and what was then an uncultivated wilderness, now blooms like a garden.
Bloomington, Ill., Aug. 27, 1857,
For the Pantagraph
NOTES OF TRAVEL — NO. 5
ACCOMMODATION TRAINS — GALESBURG
How delightful it is to ride on an accommodation train. I never fully realized the pleasure of such a ride until I took the morning train from Bloomington to Peoria, a few days since. The regular fare I knew was $1.50 but by some management, or mismanagement I was made to pay $1.80; having learned at the Junction, however, that this was an accommodation train, I concluded that the extra charge must be some part of the accommodation arrangement, and taking my seat in the cars, waited patiently an hour and a half for them to start, during which time I had the pleasure of witnessing the very interesting operation of running the fright train back and forth on the switch. A dutchman who sat near me seemed very restless, and frequently expressed his fears that the switching would produce serious consequences.
At last, to the evident gratification of all on board, we started, but our car being attached to the end of a long freight train, could move only as it moved, consequently we were obliged to have a renewal of the switching operation at every station, making our “railroad speed” about eight or ten miles per hour, so that it was nearly one o’clock when we reached Peoria, making the whole time from Bloomington nearly five hours. I consoled myself, however, with the reflection that four years ago it took me ten hours to go the same trip by stage coach.
After waiting for hours at Peoria for the evening train, I started for Galesburg, and was much accommodated by the information that this was no an accommodation train, so that we had good speed and reasonable fare and reached or destination just at dusk.
Galesburgh [sic] is, in many respects, a peculiar place, both as to the objects for which it was founded — the character of the people who first settled it, and the literary and religious advantages which it affords.
What Lawrence is to Kansas, Galesburg has been to Illinois. The activity and energy of its citizens, and their advocacy of right principles and free institutions, when those principles and institutions were unpopular, made it envied and hated of its neighbors, and gained for it the title of “Abolition Hole.”
Its literary institutions have for man years, made it a center of attraction for students from all parts of the county, and its railroad advantages have of late years accelerated its prosperity, so that it now seems destined to become one of the principal towns in the State.
It was first settled in 18336, by a colony from Western New York, with a few families from New England; nearly all the leading men of the colony, with their families, being connected with the Presbyterian and Congregational denominations.
The leading object of the colony was to establish and build up a town and college, which should diffuse the blessings of education and religion through all the surrounding region. For this purpose the location was chosen in the center of what is known as the Military Tract, or the region lying between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, the soil, climate, and other natural advantages of this section being unsurpassed if equaled in the West, and consequently affording the certain prospect of an immense population at no distant day.
The objects and expectations of the colonists have been fully realized, and the prosperity of the college, and rapid growth of the town and surrounding country have equaled their most sanguine hopes. Their efforts to afford those who should patronize their Institution, not only educational advantages of the first-class, but education combined with the highest moral influence, and to surround their college with a town and society, free from all those vicious associations, temptations, and allurements so fatal to the young, have been praiseworthy in the highest degree. Indeed it would be difficult to find a community where the restraints of religion and morality are greater, or where intemperance, profanity, and their kindred vices are less prevalent, or meet with a sharper rebuke. Public sentiment is opposed to every species of immorality, and “law and order” are strictly enforced. Liquor dealers and their confederates have to hide in cellars, and other places of obscurity, and even there, the officers of the law ferret them out, and justice unmingled with mercy is dealt out to them, and the public treasury enriched with fines instead of license fees.
The College with its preparatory department was chartered by the State Legislature at the session of 1836 & 6, under the title of Knox College, and has steadily increased in influence and prosperity up to the present time. The last catalogue shows that there have been during the past year, fifty-one students in the male department, sixty-six in the female, and three hundred and twenty-nine in the preparatory: making one hundred and seventeen in the College proper, and four hundred and forty-six in all.
The main College edifice has just been completed. It is a fine three story brick building, of Gothic architecture, one hundred and ten feet long, by seventy wide, and cost $45,000. It is very handsomely finished, contains a neat commodious chapel, spacious neat commodious building for the preparatory department.
The institution has now, in land, buildings, and money, a fund of 4300,000. It has also an able Board of Instruction; and the various railroads centering at this point, render it easy of access to students from all parts of the country; so that notwithstanding some internal dissensions, which are deeply regretted by its friends, it never was in a more prosperous condition. It is to be hoped that these discussions and difficulties will speedily be settled, and that the institution will continue to prosper, and be an honor and a blessing to the State.
Lombard University, also located here, is a new institution, under the patronage of the Universalist denomination. It was chartered in 1851, under the title of the “Illinois Liberal Institute.” The building erected at that time was burnt down in 1855, nearly on the same ground, strange to say, where the first building erected for Knox College was burnt twelve years previous. The present building, just completed, is a handsome, three story brick, and cost $30,000; Mr. Benjamin Lombard, after whom the institution was named, contribution $20,000. Its fund, including buildings, &c., amounts to about $140,000. It is said to be in a prosperous condition.
While Galesburg has been interested in building up colleges, her common schools have not been forgotten. The late Silas Willard, an old and worthy citizen of the place, has left a bequest of $20,000, for the purpose of establishing a Union Graded School, with the condition that the city shall raise $30,000 more.
The present population of Galesburg is about 6,000. Four years ago, its population was only 1,500. It has a greater amount of travel than any town of its size in the State, being the crossing place of the Chicago and Burlington, and Peoria and Oquawka railroads, and the terminus of the Northern Cross railroad. On the arrival of the trains, the large depot is crowded with passengers. The rush for the ticket office and hotels, the crowd arriving and leaving and the screaming of omnibus drivers, and apple and cake boys reminds one of similar scenes at the great Central depot at Chicago.
Taking into consideration all its advantages, educational and religious, advantages of business, good society and healthy location, and Galesburg is undoubtedly one of the most desirable places for a residence to be met with in the West.
Bloomington, Ill., Aug. 29, 1857
Weekly Pantagraph (Bloomington, Ill.) September 23, 1857 vol XI issue 42 no. 562 p2 c2
NOTES OF TRAVEL No. 6
BURLINGTON — NAUVOO — KEOKUK
After spending a day or two very pleasantly among old friends at Galesburg, I left for Burlington. There is a marked difference between traveling on the Peoria a& Oquawka Railroad, and on the Chicago & Burlington: on the former, the train moves along slowly and carefully; now creeping over a crazy bridge, now toppling over sideways at an angle of twenty degrees, on a washed embankment, then thumping and bumping for a mile on an unsettled track. But after you pass Galesburg, and come on to the Chicago & Burlington road you fly along at thirty miles an hour, with as much ease and security as if you were sitting in your parlor.
Times seemed dull in Burlington, owing doubtless to the low water at this season almost closing navigation on the Mississippi above the Rapids, and also to the fact that there is but one Railroad, the one from Chicago, completed to this point, and nearly all the travel on this road for St. Louis and the South is taken off by the Northern Cross Railroad at Galesburg, that being a much cheaper and a more expeditious route.
Burlington is however a place of some size and importance, has a population of 14,000, and is well built. The principal streets are paved, have good brick side-walks, and are furnished with street lamps and gas.
There are two respectable public school houses and a college under the patronage of the Baptists. The public schools, however, do not seem to be in a very flourishing condition, owing as it would seem, to want of efficiency in the school law of the State; and also to the fact that the public fund was squandered by the last State Superintendent. There seems also to be a want of permanency and efficiency in the municipal regulations with regard to schools. Low salaries and frequent change of teachers are not apt to have the most favorable effect. A teacher who is properly qualified, will not be anxious to take charge of a school, unless there is a fair prospect of a permanent situation and a sufficient salary. Educational talent, like every other commodity, commands a price according to the quality.
After waiting ten hours, I found a small boat going down the river, and was charged $2.50 to Keokuk, a distance of only forty-five miles. There was however to be a deduction of fifty cents in case the boat went only to the head of the Rapids, there being some uncertainty as to whether the water was high enough to go over. Having arrived at Montrose, twelve miles about Keokuk, the captain told us that if we would all pay an extra ‘quarter’ apiece, the boat could be got over the Rapids, but otherwise it would be impossible to proceed any farther. So, finding it our best policy, we submitted to this imposition, making our whole fare from Burlington, $2.75. Whether this “extra quarter” was intended as a sacrifice to propitiate the river deity, or whether by lessening the specific gravity of the passengers’ pockets, the boat was enabled to run in shallower water, was not entirely clear to my mind. Be that as it may, we found no trouble in passing the Rapids, and soon arrived safely at Keokuk.
To a traveler whose business is not pressing, a transfer from the cars to a boat is delightful. Floating down on the bosom of the broad Mississippi, with its gracefully undulating shores, sloping wooded banks, or bold projecting bluffs, while every bend of the river discloses new scenery, is a striking contrast to the dust and smoke of car traveling, and the dull monotony of these everlasting prairies, over which you are whirled along, giving you only a side view, and a hasty glance of the towns, villages and groves, which tend somewhat to enliven the scenery.
We passed Nauvoo, formerly the famed city of the Mormons. It is situated on a beautiful rolling prairie, at a bend in the river; and commands a splendid view for many miles below. I could not help regretting that such a fine site for a town should have shared such a fate.
The ruins of the temple, that monument of folly and superstition , are still be seen; a considerable portion of the lower part of the tower being a prominent object in the view from the river. This building it will be recollected, was burnt down shortly after the expulsion of the Mormons from this State; the Mormons themselves, it is supposed, being the incendiaries. Burning with revenge against their enemies, and maddened with the thought that that structure, which was once their glory and their pride, should fall into the hands of the unsanctified “Gentiles,” they preferred to see it laid in ruins.
The peculiarity of its structure, its beauty and magnificence, the objects for which it was erected, and the strange infatuated people to whom it belonged, and by whom it was used both as a stronghold in war, and a sanctuary in peace, tendered it for a time the wonder and admiration of the West. It was said, indeed, to be one of the finest buildings in the United States; though its ruins are but a mournful memento [sic] of its past grandeur.
Whatever may be the future of Nauvoo, it must ever remain a spot of the deepest interest to the traveler; connected as it is with the history of a religious sect whose doctrines and practice are the most absurd and fanatical, who have attempted to engraft Heathenism on Christianity, supplant the Word of God by a worthless romance, and under the cloak of religion, give free scope to lust, revenge, robbery and murder, with all the baser appetites and passions of depraved human nature. A sect whose founder was a mere scape-grace without character or education or talent, except of that base kind which qualifies a man for trickery and villainy. And which has, notwithstanding, steadily increased in numbers and influence, until now, only twenty five years from its firs appearance, it has gained possession of a vast territory, set up a government virtually its own, and hurls defiance in the face of one of the mightiest nations on the globe.
Such, briefly, is the history of Mormonism: of its practical working the people of Hancock county have had full experience, and are only now recovering from its effects; Mormon treachery and villainy having been endured by them until, finding neither life nor property safe, they were compelled to call up on the Chief Executive of the State to rid them of a set of banditti, that law had no power to restrain.
The assassination of Joseph Smith, the founder of the sec, which occurred a year or two previous to their expulsion from the State, forms a memorable event in the history of Mormonism in this region. I had an opportunity, a few years since, of visiting the spot where he fell, and learning the history of the event from an eye witness. He and his brother Hiram were confined in an upper room in the county jail at Carthage, in the part used for the jailer’s residence. They were attacked in open day by a body of men in disguise; part of whom broke into the jail while the others surrounded it. The Smiths being armed with revolvers, fought until Hiram was killed; and Joseph, overpowered by numbers, tried to effect his escape, by leaping from a window, but was shot in the attempt, and fell, pierced by fifteen balls. The room at the time I visited it, still showed signs of the conflict, in the bullet marks on the walls and door.
Nauvoo is now occupied by a French colony, and is a place of small importance.
Keokuk is one of the most thriving towns on the upper Mississippi. It has a population of 18,000, and, being situated at the foot of the rapids, and near the mouth of the Des Moines river, commands the principal part of the Iowa trade. Its situation with respect to the rapids has gained for it the title of “The Gate City.” The streets and stores presented a scene of busy activity; public and private enterprise seemed to combine their energies to build up and improve the place, the one leveling and grading the streets, cutting through hills and filling up ravins; the other lining them with handsome buildings. Several railroads, centering here, are in anticipation, one or two in process of construction but none completed.
The public schools seem to be in about the same condition as those of Burlington. Iowa, if we take these two principal towns as specimens, is far behind Illinois in educational matters. It is worthy of remark that a little place called Oakwood, a short distance from Keokuk on the Illinois side, a school tax of three cents on the dollar has been levied this year, by vote of the people. As a consequence, the place is improving rapidly and property brings a good price. If property holders in larger places understood their own interests as well, it would not be so difficult to levy school taxes and sustain schools.
The improvement of the rapids, under the direction of the United States government, is progressing slowly. It is said that the present plan of improvement is not likely to be very effectual; and that the public funds thus expended, are little better than wasted.
Reports of this kind must, however, be received with due allowance; as the improvement of navigation at this point is not likely to be very popular with the citizens of the “Gate city,” since it would have the effect of removing much of their trade; and would deprive their place of the advantage it now possesses over the towns above.
The appearance of the rapids is different from what might be anticipated. There s no perceptible descent, though there is said to be a fall of eighteen feet; and the surface of the water is remarkably smooth, though somewhat diversified by eddies, caused by the rocks beneath. The rate of the current is six miles an hour. The country on the Illinois side has been gradually improving since the expulsion of the Mormons; and the prospect of a railroad running through to Keokuk, seems to have the effect of quickening the energies of the people, and giving some life and animation to the villages on that proposed route.
These railroads seem to possess a magic power: wherever they go, enterprise and improvement mark their course; flourishing villages spring up from the naked prairie; and little towns, that have struggled along for years, vibrating between life and death, grow at once into young cities.
Every little place here in the West where there is a tavern, grocery, and blacksmith’s shop, expects to have a railroad running right through it before two years. I was much amused once, on asking a man how far it was to the nearest railroad station — “Seven miles,” said he. On inquiring further, what time the cars left for a certain place — “Oh,” said he, “the road is not built yet, but we expect it will be soon!”
Bloomington, Ill., Sept. 17, 1857
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