Livingston County, Illinois
Owego, or Congressional Town 28 north. Range 6 east of the Third Principal Meridian, is the geographical center of Livingston County. The center of the township is in a direct line, twenty-five miles from the northwest corner of the county; twenty-two from the southwest ; twenty-three from the northeast, and twenty-five from the southeast. It is a full town and contains thirty-six full sections of land.
The township in the northern part is quite level, indeed, almost flat, but in the southern part is slightly undulating. With the exception of a little fringe of the Vermilion River, which flows through the southwest corner of Section 31, it is entirely devoid of natural timber. The only flowing stream of water is the river just named.
The Felky Slough, which extends through the eastern part of the town and opens into the Vermilion River, also furnishes stock water to the adjacent farms, except in the dryest seasons. In some parts of the township, water from wells is obtained with difficulty, but when found is of an excellent quality. The land is of a very rich and productive character, and well adapted to the cultivation of corn, rye, oats and vegetables.
Prior to 1858, Livingston County was divided into voting precincts, which were, from time to time, changed in location and number to suit the convenience of the inhabitants. They were all established along the Vermilion River, as this region was the first to settle. With the exception of this belt, varying in width from one to five miles, extending from the southeast to the northwest part of the county, it was but sparsely settled — indeed, we may say it was not occupied at all.
The earliest immigrants, being from thickly timbered localities, doubtless considered the prairie lands of but little value, except as herding places for their cattle, and so selected the timber and its immediate vicinity for their homes. The territory now embraced in Owego, being for the most part destitute of timber, was not considered of sufficient importance for, nor was the number of inhabitants adequate to, a separate precinct, but was included in what was known as the Center Precinct, which, at the first organization of the county, included an extent of about fifteen miles up and down the Vermilion River, with Pontiac near the middle. Latterly, or near the time of the adoption of the township organization act, the boundaries of the Center Precinct were more limited, but still embraced the territory now denominated Owego.
Even in 1857, when the county was divided into political townships, this contained barely enough qualified persons to hold all the offices, and these were established in the southwest corner. Perhaps there were not more than a score of voters in all.
The first permanent settlement was doubtless made by Daniel Rockwood. Mr. Rockwood was not only the first resident of the township, but was among the very first in the county. He settled on the place occupied by him until recently, about the year 1833. He was a man of much influence and popularity in the early days of the county. He was one of the first three County Commissioners, elected May 8, 1837, and was the only one who received a unanimous vote at the election, and one of the very few candidates that ever has received such a compliment. It was through his influence and that of James Weed, that the county seat came so near being removed from Pontiac in 1839.
Henry Weed's two partners had died, and the surviving partner becoming somewhat careless as to the fate of the county seat enterprise, his brother James, who lived near Rockwood's, conceived the idea of removing it to that vicinity, and, as stated in the history of Pontiac Township, almost succeeded in the scheme.
After the adoption of the act electing Supervisors from each township, instead of County Commissioners for the whole county, Rockwood was the first Supervisor, and was twice re-elected to the office. He became a man of considerable wealth, and continued to reside at the old homestead until a few years ago, when he died. The place of his nativity was Tioga County, New York.
Probably the next settlement made in what is now Owego Township, and certainly the next permanent one, was made by James L. Stinson, nearly six years after. Stinson entered his land November 12, 1839, and resided here until his death in 1847. This, as far as can be ascertained, was the first death in the township. The widow of Stinson, a year or so after, married John Foster, and thus came to pass, also, the first wedding.
With James Stinson, also, came two brothers — Alexander and Thomas. The former remained here a few years, and then removed to Lexington, McLean County. Thomas found the country too tame, even in those primitive times, and, after stopping a year or two, pushed on further west into Kansas.
This marks the advent of John Foster into this neighborhood. " Uncle Johnny '" had been in the county ten or a dozen years—latterly in Avoca Township— but, after his marriage with Mrs. Stinson, moved his effects to the Stinson place and became a permanent inhabitant of the township.
A few years after Stinson's arrival, James Demoss came from Ohio and located in the southeast part.
In 1852, a number of families came out from Ohio, several of whom took up their residence in this township.
David Millliam had, all his life, been a sailor, and can scarcely be said to have come from any country. He had, however, lived for a time in Licking County, Ohio, locating in this town in 1851. He died on the place to which he first came, a few years since.
In 1851, William Rollings arrived from Ohio and settled on what has since been known as the Benham farm. He was a peaceable and quiet citizen, but came to a tragical end, being murdered in cold blood April 1, 1872. The facts in the case seem to be about these : A man named John Soter claimed the land occupied by Rollings, and, although he was but a renter, he had made frequent threats on Rollings' life. On the evening of the 1st of April, in the year mentioned, Soter, who lived on a neighboring farm, invited a party of young folks to his house to spend the evening. Among the rest was Rollings' son, who was engaged to play the violin. Late in the evening, Rollings himself came to the house and relieved his son for a while in the furnishing of the music. Though Rollings had heard rumors of Soter's antipathy toward him, but, conscious of his having had nothing to do with dispossessing Soter, and having been on friendly terms with him, did not apprehend any danger, or even that he was unwelcome at his neighbor's house. However, while engaged as stated, the party were alarmed by the report of a gun, fired near the window, and William Rollings, at the same moment, fell to the floor in a dying condition. He had received a charge of shot in his breast, from the effects of which he died a few hours later. Soter was arrested and sent to jail until the next term of the Circuit Court, which convened in May. He was tried and convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to be hanged ; but the sentence was subsequently commuted to imprisonment in the penitentiary for life. Soter, at the time of the act, was already 60 years of age, and his penalty proved to be but a short term, as he died two or three years after his incarceration.
By the Spring of 1851, several other families had settled in the town, among whom were William Wilson, who still resides here; Rudolph Patty and Elijah Justis, brothers-in-law, the former of whom is dead, and the latter now lives in Texas; L. Mixer and Samuel Wentz.
John Whitman, Jacob Dragoo and Lewis Bright came from Ohio, about 1852.
Richard Evans settled in the town in the Spring of 1855. Mr. Evans was the first Assessor of the town and has since held various offices of trust, and has been closely identified with every movement in which the town has been interested. A few years since, he changed his residence to Pontiac, where he now lives.
The railroad employ brought many good citizens to this county, among whom was James Burns, who had been employed in its construction. After the completion of the road. Burns settled in this township, and was the first settler on the north third of the township, and continued to be the only one for some time.
The next year after the Chicago & Alton Railroad was completed, quite a number of settlements were made. Thomas Holman came in that year. He had left Pennsylvania several years before, and had been to Oregon and California, in search of gold, and having been quite successful in the hunt, brought it to this township and invested it in land. When the school section was sold, he bought it all. Mr. Holman removed to Pontiac several years ago, and still resides there. Robert Smith, James Alexander, William and Samuel Aljo, George Barr, William Harris and Ansel Hayes were here at the date last named, and still reside in the town.
After this, the additions to the settlement were so frequent that space forbids further mention of names ; suffice it to say, that within three years the population of the township was over 100.
In 1858, the township was organized. On the assembling of the voters, at the place designated in the call, at this, their first election, N. S. Grandy was elected Moderator. A motion was then made that voting for town officers then proceed ; but the Squire, being better posted in the law of elections, refused to entertain the motion, giving as the reason that he had not yet been sworn ; and there being no one present qualified to administer an oath, Grandy mounted his horse, rode to Pontiac, was sworn by the County Clerk, and received from him a ballot box and poll list, returned to the voting place and proceeded with the election.
The officers chosen at this first election were as follows : Daniel Rockwood, Supervisor; John Scott, Clerk; Robert Smith, Collector; Richard Evans, Assessor; N. S. Grandy and John Foster, Justices of the Peace; Hamilton Demoss and George Van Saun, Constables ; John Benham, Thomas Holman and William Wilson, Commissioners of Highways.
The township record does not contain a register of elections for the next four years ; but, as nearly as can now be ascertained, the principal officers have been as follows, to the present time:
DATE -- SUPERVISOR -- CLERK
1858 -- Daniel Rockwood -- John Scott
1859 -- Daniel Rockwood -- John Scott
1860 -- Daniel Rockwood -- John Scott
1861 -- N. S. Grandy -- John Scott
1862 -- N. S. Grandy -- John Scott
1863 -- John Benham -- John Scott
1864 -- R. Smith -- Geo. Van Saun
1865 -- R. Smith -- Geo. Van Saun
1866 -- R. Smith -- Geo. Ferris
1867 -- Orlin Converse -- Geo. Ferris
1868 -- Orlin Converse -- Geo. Ferris
1869 -- James Brown -- Wm. McKeighan
1870 -- William Colon -- Geo. Ferris
1871 -- William Colon -- Geo. Ferris
1872 -- Geo. Ferris -- Silas Hays
1873 -- Geo. Ferris -- Charles Swygert
1874 -- S. F. Slyder -- Charles Swygert
1875 -- S. F. Slyder -- Charles Swygert
1876 -- Charles Swygert -- J. G. Lewis
1877 -- Charles Swygert -- J. G. Lewis
1878 -- Charles Swygert -- J. G. Lewis
The balance of the officers for the present year are as follows : John Augustine, Assessor; A. Dann, Collector: B. J. Benedict, F. Fienhold and Silas Hayes, Road Commissioners; S. F. Slyder and G. B. Van Saun, Justices of the Peace, and James Cain and W. D. Irwin, Constables.
Owego Township was one of the first to give attention to means of instructing the youth. As early as 1840, a small school house or cabin was erected near the Rockwood place, and a school kept. The attendance was limited to only a dozen pupils. This school house was built and the school maintained by private subscription. No public schools are reported in the township until 1855.
In September of this year, the school lands were sold, and at once steps were taken to make the income arising from it available, to do which, it was necessary to establish schools and report the same. Accordingly, we find that in the Fall of this year, L. Mixer, who was the first Treasurer of the school fund for this township, makes report to the School Commissioner that:
" We have supported one school in the township during the past year, which was taught by a female teacher, at $9 per month. She has taught the school to good acceptance, both to Directors and parents. The whole number of scholars in attendance at the school has been fourteen, ten of which were males and four females. There are in the township, forty-seven persons under 21 years of age. We have just sold our school land for $3,994.91."
No public school houses bad yet been erected, nor were any built until 1857. Then three new houses were put up, the same year. Two of these were union school houses, on the line between this and Avoca Township, and the other near the Foster farm, and known to this time as the Foster School House.
There had been a very perceptible advance in school matters by this year. R. W. Babcock, who then resided in the town, and had been appointed custodian of the public funds and gatherer of school statistics, makes a very full and complete report for the year, from which a few items of interest are drawn, showing the progress for the past three years.
Number of schools taught in the township: 6
(two terms in each district)
Number of scholars in attendance: 81
Highest monthly wages paid to any teacher: $32.00
Whole amount paid to teachers: $233.81
Average number of months taught: 8-1/8
Eight years from this time, the number of schools had increased to six ; the number of pupils had doubled; but the average number of months had decreased a trifle, being only seven and a half for the year 1866. The whole amount paid as teachers’ wages during the year was $658. After a lapse of eleven more years, a very satisfactory increase in all these items is noticeable.
One item, however, which figures cannot indicate, deserves more particular mention. The advancement made in methods of instruction, in the government of the schools, and in the classification of the pupils, has been greater than that indicated by any statistics.
The following table shows at a glance other items of interest concerning the system at this time:
Number of schools: 8
Scholars enrolled: 249
Persons under 21: 327
Whole number of teachers: 12
Amount paid teachers for 1877: $2,113.00
Total expenditure for school purposes: $3,677.00
Special tax raised: $2,221.00
Principal of township fund: $7,273.00
Were we to judge the piety of the people of Owego by the number of church spires, we should form a very unjust opinion of them in this regard, as but one church building is to be found, and that belonging to a German society, the English speaking people having no house of worship in the township.
Though the inhabitants of the town lay no claim to excellence in this regard, it is nevertheless true that they not only avail themselves of church privileges, but contribute liberally to the support of the Gospel in other localities. Many of them attend service in the neighboring towns, where societies have been organized at convenient distances from the line of Owego. Unlike the public schools, which must be located at certain points within the limits, the church buildings have been erected outside, while some of their strongest pillars live inside the confines of the township.
The German Evangelical Society, in 1872, erected, at a cost of $2,000, a neat and substantial building, capable of seating about 200 persons. The house stands on a very fine elevation, embracing one acre of ground, in the eastern part of the township. The first minister to the congregation was the Rev. Adam Wagner. At present, the society is under the pastorate of Rev. Elfring, who resides at Weston, and conducts services here once in two weeks. The present membership is fifty-eight.
Owego did not remain an idle spectator during the great struggle of the Government for life, in 1861-65, but sent her young men to the field, and gave in abundance of her means for their support. Several who went out to fight their country's battles never returned, and some who did return died, either of wounds received in battle or of disease engendered by exposure and fatigue. Among those thus sacrificed that the Union might survive were John Evans, Nathan Hill, James Bastian and others whose names are unfortunately not credited to the town.
The politics of the town have varied with circumstances somewhat. During its first years, it was decidedly Democratic, but, after a few years, small Republican majorities were given, especially at State or national elections : but for the last six years politics have been somewhat ignored, and a strong "antimonopoly" sentiment has prevailed, so that it would not be safe to say that its politics were at present either Republican or Democratic, though probably on a purely political question the majority would be with the former.
As indicating the comparative value of property in the township, for 1877, the Assessor's book shows an assessed value of $363,891. This, though quite large, is of course but little more than one-third of the actual valuation. No doubt the full value of all property, both personal and real, is considerably in excess of a million of dollars.
In 1854, the total value could not have exceeded $30,000, showing an increase of more than 3,000 percent or a doubling of values every eight years.
[The History of Livingston County, Illinois - Wm. LeBaron, Jr. & Co. - 186 Dearborn Street, Chicago (1878)]