The History of Stark County, Illinois

Taken from the "Earliest Historical Facts of Marshall-Putnam Counties Also Bureau and Stark Counties", Embracing an Account of the Settlement and Early Progress, compiled and published by Mr. Henry A. Ford, 1860


In that portion of Putnam from which Stark county was constitued, there were very few settlers prior to 1835.  In 1834, a cluster of farms known as Essex's settlement, existed near the junction of the east and the west branches of Spoon river, which had a grist and saw mill in operation and a post office. (Peck's Gazeteer, 1st ed., p. 235).  In December of the next year, a young Vermonter took a claim about 12 miles north of Wyoming, and threw up a crude log house.  There was then no settler within five miles of him.  This was called the Osceola Grove settlement.  In less than a year, it contained five families, and by the close of 1838 over thirty families had made their homes there. Settlements were also extended along Spoon river, the Indian and Walnut Creeks, and about Fraker's Grove, by the time the county was formed.  The first settlers were for the most part Kentuckians.

Stark obtained its full share of towns during the speculating mania of 1836-7.  The first laid off was Wyoming in the Essex settlement, founded May 3rd, 1836, by Gen. Samuel Thomas.  The progress of this place was very slow.  Nearly two years after its survey the only building, (a store and post office) upon the site is spoken of as "a second-hand seven-by-nine log smoke house."  (Communication from Lacon Herald for April 11, 1838).  It was, nevertheless, a prominent candidate for the location of the county seat, and is now a village of some size.

Osceola was situated on a large piece of ground eleven miles north of Wyoming, with a fine "Washington Square" in the center.  It was surveyed July 7th, 1836, for Robert Moore, James C. Armstrong, Thos. J. Hurd, D. C. Emos, and Edward Dickinson, proprietors.  The town-plat was vacated by Legislative enactment Feb. 14th, 1855.

Moulton was laid off three miles west of Wyoming, "in the Military Bounty Tract," on the 29th of August 1836, by Robert Schuyler, Russell H. Nevins, Wm. Couch, Abijah Fisher and David Lee.

Massillion was situated seven miles nearly due south of the present site of Toulon, not far from the southern boundary of the county.  Its proprietor was Stephen Freckel, date of survey, April 13, 1837.

Lafayette, on the western border in that part of the county which was taken from Knox, was also laid off before Stark was formed.

The people of the Spoon river country had early felt the great inconvenience of attending courts and transacting their public business at Hennepin; and movements for a new county had been inaugurated before Bureau was erected.  At the same session of 1836-7, when the act creating the latter was passed, an act "for the formation of the county of Coffee" was approved.  The new county was to be eighteen miles square, and comprising nine full townships, - six taken from Putnam, two from Knox and one from Henry county.  Benj. Mitchell and Richard N. Cullom, of Tazewell, and Samuel Hackleton of Fulton, were the commissioners to select a site for the county seat, which if located on land not before laid out as a town, should be called Ripley.

Courts were to be held at the house of Elijah McClanahan, Sr., unless otherwise provided by the County Commissioners, or until public buildings should be erected.  The act was not to take effect unless a majority of the voters in Knox and Henry counties, at an election on the 16th of April, 1837, should sanction it. Putnam was allowed no voice in the proceeding.  The project failed on the vote, and Coffee county was no more.  (It appears, however, on several maps of that day.)

A fresh effort was made at the session of the Legislature the next winter, for the creation of a new county on Spoon river; but with no better success. A gentleman of Hennepin, Thomas Atwater, Esq., was then representing Putnam in the General Assembly; and it was believed that his action was shaped so as to defeat the wishes of his constituents in the western part of the county.

A more vigourous attempt was made in 1838, continuing through a great part of the year.  The question of a new county was made the leading issue in the canvass for another Representative.  As early as February, a meeting was held at the house of Mr. James Holgate, near Wyoming, where it was resolved by a majority to petition the next Legislature for a new county; to protest against the Illinois river as a boundary on the east, and which had been proposed by a portion of the people; and to nominate Wm H. Henderson for Representative in order to the success of their plans.

After adjournment, a meeting of the disaffected minority, some fifteen or twenty in number, was held, and resolutions passed to accept the river as a boundary, and to put Thos. S. Elston, Esq. of Bureau county, in nomination for the Legislature.  Mr. Elston, however, does not appear to have become a candidate.  Others were nominated in different parts of the Putnam and Bureau; but only the names of Col. Henderson, of the Wyoming neighborhood, Ammon Moon and B. M. Hayes of Hennepin and Andrew Burns of Magnolia, were conspicuous in the canvass.  

In an address to the electors of the district, published in the local papers, Col. Henderson stated that in relation to the division of Putnam county, he should lay down as a basis for his action two lines, to wit; the line dividing ranges eight and nine, east of the fourth principal meridian, and another which had reference to the formation of Marshall county.  He was elected by a plurality of nearly one hundred over his competitors, receiving the almost unanimous vote of Spoon River, Lafayette and Lacon precincts.

Notice for a petition for a new county was advertised according to law in October. On the 16th of January 1839, in the House of Representatives, Col. Henderson presented the petition of citizens of Putnam, Henry and Knox counties, praying for formation of a new county; which was referred to the proper Committee.  In due time a bill was reported for an act to establish the county of STARK; which was twice read, and referred to a select Committee, who returned it with several amendments, which were adopted by a close vote.  The bill was unsatisfactory to certain local interests, and was lost upon the final reading, as also the next day upon a reconsideration of the vote.

On the 20th of February, the Committee on Counties presented the same object in a different shape, under the title of "An act to dispose of the territory west of the Illinois river, in the county of Putnam, and for other purposes."  It passed the House with a little difficulty, and was amended in the Senate, the title being changed to "An act for the formation of the county of Stark, and for other purposes."  The amendments were concurred in by the House, and the Council of Revision approved the act March 2, 1839.

Stark county contained at this time about 1,000 inhabitants, 200 of whom were voters.  The boundaries of the county were designated as they now exist - six townships being taken from Putnam, and two from Knox county (provided, in the latter case, that a majority of voters in the two townships should give their consent, which they appear to have done.)  An election of county officers was ordered to be held on the first Monday in April following, at the house of Elijah McClannahan Sr.  The County Commissioners, when elected, were instructed to demand of the Treasurer of Putnam, a sixth part of $9,870, received by him under the Internal Improvement act.  The county seat, when located, should be called TOULON.  Provision was not made for the selection of its site, however, until the next year, when the Legislature passed an act to that effect, appointing Commissioners to make the present site, where not a house then stood.

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