Whiteside County Illinois
Established 1837

The city of Rock Falls, situated on the south side of the Rock River, in the northern part of Coloma Township, stands on a sandy plain, sufficiently elevated to be out of the reach of floods. The original plat covered the northwest fractional quarter of section 27 and the northeast fractional quarter of section 28, in township 21 north, range seven, east of the fourth Principal Meridian.

The great advantage of this site were noticed by the early settlers and a town called Rapids City was laid out. However, the financial state of business, the want of capital, and the difficulty of obtaining money with which to make improvements, rendered the progress of the locality slow and years passed by before another effort was made to call attention to the vast capabilities of this locality. The Rock River flowed as free and bridgeless as when the Indians were lords of its bands and the forests rang with the war-whoop of he savage Winnebagos. In 1857, the plat of Rapids City was entirely vacated and a town was almost unthought of. In 1854 the Sterling Hydraulic Co., built a dam and the water power became available. In 1867 A.P. Smith, a native of New York, a man of energy and sagacity, moved to this neighborhood from Sterling, bought a tract of land, and laid out a town, to which he gave the name of Rock Falls. Mr. Smith possessedthe capital necessary to improve the property and at once began the construction of a race, connecting with the dam of the Sterling Hydraulic Co. The work was completed at a cost of $12,000 and the work of building up a town began.

A.C. Hapgood moved a store from Como to Rock Falls and began business this year. Messrs. Galt and Tracy erected a machine shop, the nucleus of the Keystone Works and later International Harvester Co. Gideon Reynolds adn Mary Arey were married in December, the first wedding in the place. A daughter was born to J. Barker, the first birth. The first death was Byron C. Hunt in 1868. A postoffice was established and opened for business March 15, 1868, with Truman Culver as postmaster. On Jan. 26, at a public meeting, it was resolved to incorporate the town under the general law of the State. Fifteen votes awere polled, all in favor of the step. An electrion for Trustees was held Feb. 4 and 48 votes were cast. The town government was immediately organized. The first ordinance was entitled, "An ordinance to prohibit the sale of malt liquors in the town of Rock Falls in quantities of less than one gallon," and bears the date of Feb. 26, 1869. IT was resolved that no licenses for saloons should be granted and Rock Falls started out on her onward and upward career as a temperance town.

In 1870, the license party carried the day, 83 votes being cast at the leection. The license party again prevailed at the annual elections in 1871, at which only 60 votes were cast. During 1871, the Chicago and Rock River Railroad, extending from Shabbona on the Chicago and Iowa Railroad to Rock Falls, was built, passing through a rich agricultural district. Before its completion it passed into the hands of the CB&Q Railroad Co. In 1872 the license party again prevailed at the polls, 150 votes being cast. The Chicago and Rock River Railroad was formally opened for business on Jan. 4, 1872. The town of Rock Falls grew in population and wealth and was much benefitted by the increased facilities afforded for business by the railroad. In 1874,75,76 and 77, a no-license board was elected, the vote being polled as follows: 1874 155 votes; 1875 171 votes; 1876 230 votes; and 1877 171 votes.

Manufacturing establishments multiplied and the population increased from 471 in 1870 to 1200 in 1877. A survey in 1877 shows the following - One dry goods store, four groceries, two millinery, on tailor, two drug stores, one jeweler, two boot and shoe stores, one harness shop, two butchere shops, three hardward stores, three blacksmith's, one barber, one lumber yard, one elevator, two coal dealers, one iceman, one bank, one news depot, one real estate and surveyors office, one real estate office, one real estate & insurance office, four hotels, six physicians, two printing offices, oen restraurant, two livery stables, the Keystone Mfg. Co, Eureka Mfg, E.C. Palmer, H.F. Batcheller and Son, Phelps & Dyer, Utility Works, A.S. Todd, Union Mfg., Rock FallsMfg, a mitton factory, one merchant, flouring mill, one feed and meal mill. There were three churches, a lodge of IOOF, two lodges AOUW, and one hose company. The town had two school houses and a well managed grade school was maintained nine months out of the year. The railroad company had a depot building, roundhouse, water tank and turntable.

Rock Falls was connected with Sterling by a bridge and a small steamer the White Swan, ran between the two places above the dam. Measures were taken that year to erect a free bridge above the dam and it was scheduled to be completed during 1878 at a cost of $40,000. It would connect Mulberry Street in Sterling, with Bridge Street in Rock Falls, passing over the Chicago and Northwestern Railway track. The early history of ROck Falls would be incomplete without a sketch of Augustus P. Smith, the founder. He was a native of Cobleskill, Schohark County, New York and was born Feb. 2, 1831. In 1848 he went to New York City, where he resided two years and then became a resident of Cherry Valley, Otsego County, N ew York, where he also remained two years. From there he went to Gloversville, Fulton County, New York, and in 1855 came to Illinois, settling in Sterling in 1856, residing there until his move to Rock Falls, which became his home. Smith was married to Miss Elvira J. Champlin at Gloversville, N.Y., April 14, 1855. Their children were Florence May, born in 1859; Mabel E., 1861, Helen Marr 1863 and Gertrude in 1868. In 1867 he founded Rock Falls.

The schools of Rock Falls were an outgrowth of those of Coloma. The early settlers mostly men of some education who felt that knowledge is power and that to their children mental culture was almost as important as food. Schools were therefore early founded and the schoolhouse and the teacher were almost as necessary in the pioneer settlements as they are today. In 1845, Miss Anastatia Sturtevant, eldest daughter of Josiah Sturtevant, taught the first school in an old store building in Rapids City. The next year, 1846, a small building, 12 x 12 originally constructed for a cornhouse was bought from L.H. WOodworth for the sum of $20, to be paid in produce, the amount being raised by subscription. It was moved to where the brick schoolhouse in East Coloma later stood, and a Miss McLaughlin was installed as a teacher. The number of pupils increased and in 1854 the erection of a brick school house was begun, the old house being completed in 1856. In 1858 there were two school districts in Coloma, one in the east part, the other in the west part with the school house located on the east part of Section 31. In 1877 Distric No. 2 contained Rock Falls and all west of the township, with District No. 1 east of town, with a schoolhouse located in the southeast part of Section 26.

Sterling Daily Gazette July 25, 1967


The city of Rock Falls today is enhanced in the historic shadow of a prairie-land area once commanded by Indians who made dual use, as a provider of necessary foodstuffs and a methods of travel as well, of the swift flowing waters of the Rock River which forms the natural north boundry of the city.

As early as 1837, Isaac Merrill, the first permanent citizen of the area which was first called "Rapids City" settledhere to be followed that same year by Edward Atkins, A.B. Wheeler and Daniel Brooks. These men laid out a tract a square mile to be called Rapids City. It was on the bank of the Rock River at the east section of Rock Falls that pioneer-settler Edward Atkins built a home later to be known as "Arey House." The building occurred in 1837 and included walnut shingles, oak floor and siding of various timber and woods from the adjacent area. Another homestead in east Rock Falls was built by L.H. Woodworth in 1839. Woodworth was a surveyor for the canal to be built later at the east edge of Rock Falls.

The founder of the City of Rock Falls was A.P. Smith, an industrialist with a vision for this area. Smith came from New York, was originally a teacher of music. In 1867 Smith purchased the Sterling Hydraulic Company which controlled a dam built in 1854, one half interest in their water power and 40 acres of land on the south side of the river, as well as 25 acres from other parties, and laid out the town of Rock Falls. Smith went on to construct a race and offered inducements to capitalists to make inveestments and after area responses, numerous factories were in operation.

The village of Rock Falls was organized in 1869 under Illinois state law. The first town meeting was held on Jan. 26, 1869 and William L. Smith was elected president and H.P. Price, clerk. Five trustees to represent the town were elected at a town meeting on Fe. 4, 1869 and they were W.L. Smith, William H. Shephard, Eli Geiger, Henry P. Price and J.A. Bickford. Geiger was named treasurer; Charles H. Wellman, constable; J.A. Patterson, supervisor; John Arey, surveyor; William Smith, street commissioner and Eli Eckman, poundmaster. It was during 1869, the founder of Rock Falls, August Smith, built a mitten factory which employed some 80 girls and produced some $100,000 in good yearly. In later years the building was to serve as a school and the last occupant and owner was the Rock Falls Odd Fellows Order.

Also during the year of 1869, a class holding meetings in an unfinished store in Rock Falls organized and proceeded to build the very first church in the city. This group founded the present Rock Falls United Methodist Church and the the first church facility was built in 1870 and the cost was set at $4,189. The largest concern in the young city of Rock Falls in the year 1870 was through an organization of the Keystone Company by Galt and Tracy, formerly of Sterling. Galt and Tracy owned a factory in Sterling which was destroyed by fire in the summer of 1867 and almost immediately, they crossed he river to Rock Falls and laid the foundation for the new works which grew into the Keystone Company in 1871. They engaged in the manufacture of cornplanters and other farm machinery and their warehouses crowded the bank of the Rock River.

At the time (1870) the Keystone Company was organized the official populaton of Rock Falls was 471 residents. After the death of George Tracy, several changes were made and among them, the name "International Harvester Company". The extended International Harvester plant covered seven acres and the buildings proper, averaging three stories, occupied five of the seven acres. The yearly production was between 45,000 to 50,000 farm machines of various kinds. The foundry was making yearly some 1,500,000 casting using about eight million pounds of iron. In 1871 the railroad was completed giving Rock Falls a direct communication with Chicago. Eureka Manufacturing Company also organized in 1871 and was following by the Industrial Building at a cost of $50,000 and then, the Globe Mills.

The first Rock Falls bank was organized in October of 1874 along with the Keystone Burial Case Company and the White Swan Ferry business between Sterling and Rock Falls. In 1876 W.E. Lukens platted a nursery and began selling lots. The first new store was built in 1867 by T. Culver. The first free bridge over the Rock River connecting the twin cities was built in 1878. In 1879 the Northwestern Barbed Wire Company was organized. In 1880 the first high school class had six graduates and the Rock Falls population was 894 persons. In 1881, A.C. Stanley purchased the grocery business owned by John Newton. The Rock Falls News was established in 1882 by Captain William Parker and first located in rooms over the Rock Falls post office.

Highlights of the year 1883 in Rock Falls included the construction of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Bridge across the Rock River and the purchase of the IOOF Cemetery at the east edge of Rock Falls. On April 18, 1883 the trustees from the Rock Falls Independent Order of Add Fellows were authorized to purchase a 10 acre land tract east of Rock Falls for the purpose of establishing a cemetery. The land was purchased from B.F. LeFever and A.C. Stanley was the the first treasurer of the cemetery. Records indicate the third lot in the cemetery was sold to T.Stevenson for the sum of $10.

There is little in the historical record to be found about the first cemetery in Coloma Township or Rock Falls. An earlier record did indicate a small cemetery plot located at the corner of Dixon Avenue and First Avenue but no records have been found to substantiate the number of graves or when they wre apparently moved to what is now the IOOF Cemetery. In 1885 George W. Packer purchased the E.F. Brook Company whic manufactured Yankee hand sleds, butter tub machinery and blacksmith punches. The Merrill School was built in 1888 and still in 1889, an old schoolhouse was purchased for the Rock Falls City Hall. The population of Rock Falls had grown to 1,950 in the 1890 census. In 1892, the population was 2,535 and at the end of 1897, the population was estimated at 3,500.

In 1891 the paper mill exploded killing four men and destroying the building. Also during 1891 A.C. Stanley, a prominent merchant, built a three story brick building in the 100 block on West Second Street called "The Stanley House". Stanley house featured a hotel in the upper stories and restaurant in the lower level. City officier in 1893 included Ward Lincoln, Mayor; E.C. Winters, city clerk; H.L. Shelton, city attorney; Phil H. David, treasurer; T.S. Welch, marshal and John Rae, superintendent of streets. BlF. Kadel was chief of the Rock Falls Fire Department; W.C. Holbrook, city engineer;; Dr. E.L. Dow, health commissioner; Charles M. Fox, city electrician and E.C. Winters, city collector.

The board of aldermen included R.E. Wetzell and H.N. Shaffer, first ward; John Dickson, R.H. Woods, second ward; A.S. Goodell and e.A. Macomber, third ward. Progressing rapidly, the City of Rock Falls telephone line was extended to Tampico in 1894 and in 1895, the first electric light plant was established. The first Christian Church of Rock Falls was establishedin 1897 and area sons were enlisting in the Spanish-American War during 1898. Street names were changed in Rock Falls during 1899 and the Frank Building was built.

At the turn of the century, Rock Falls boasted fine business houses which represented every l ine of trade enhanced by a busy "Main Street" district. A.J. McNeil was the leading hardware dealer along with E.U. Taylor. The A.C. Stanley grocery store was listed as the biggest business in town. E.R. Hopkins ran a jewelry store and F.H. Geyer operated the largest furniture store. J.M. Bickford operated the leading drug store and rolla H. Woods ran the Billiard Hall. Kline & Son ran a drug store also in the Geyer block.

At thistime, among the factories and establishments were large lines of agricultural iimplements, barrel carts, butter tubs, lumber, building material, cabinet furniture, carpet weavers, carriages, wagons, chairs, dairy good, garden implements, hardware specialties, hrness and saddelry good, ladder trucks, machine shops, paint shops, stock waterers and windmills. Among the retair stores there were three dealers in agricultural and farm implements; two bakeries; three barber shops; six blacksmiths and horse shoers; three boot and shoemaker stores; two lumber, wood, coal, brick and building dealers and three carpenters, building and contractors.

Others were, three dry goods and carpet firms; two dentists, three dressmakers; two dealers in harness andhorse furnishings, installment house, livery, feed and sale stables, three livestock dealers; five market gardeners, and three quarry building stone, masons and contractors. Others included three meat markets, three music teachers; four physicians and surgeons; five real estate dealers; two variety stores; six boarding houses; three book printers includind books and stationery; five insurance agencies, four clothing stores; four restaurants and a number of fruit and vegetable growers on the edge of the city.

In addition to the manufacturing climate in Rock Falls at the turn of the century, the city provided a water system, electric light plant, a sewer stystm that was under construction, improved streets many with brick and cement walks, schools of the highest standard and many churches. Surrounded by one of the finer agricultural regions in the state, Rock Falls was further enhanced at the turn of the century by many beautiful homes lending assurance to the fact it was at that time a "rapidly growing city" offering many desirable advantages.

Sterling Daily Gazette July 2, 1976



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