History of  Stark County

By G. A. Clifford

(published in the Stark County News May 30, 1862)

Transcribed and Contributed by Karen Seeman

    West Jersey--Whence its name--The First Settlers--Improvements--"Porcupine Quills"--A Distillery--Hard Times--The First Mill--Ball at Palmer's--"Nigger Point".

    West Jersey is in the south-west corner of the county, being known in the congressional surveys as Township 12 North Range 5 East.  Before the formation of the county it was a part of Knox.  The origin of its present name, as near as we can ascertain, is in the fact that a goodly share of its population came from New Jersey; though they were not of the first settlers, all of whom with scarcely an exception, came from Ohio.  The Jerseyite immigration did not set in until after the organization of the county in 1839.  They then swarmed into the central part of the township, where West Jersey proper now is.  We might properly say the villageof West Jersey; for in this county, a store, post office, and blacksmith shop, constitute a village, all of which places of business exist here, besides several churches, doctor's offices, &c.

    These immigrants brought with them sober, steady habits; and as a class they are a quiet, industrious, economical, and, consequently, a thrifty people; honest but close in their dealings and not wasteful in time or money.  As a general thing they are liberal patrons of literature and religion, a little "set" perhaps in their opinions and clannish in their associations, which is to a greater or lesser extent true wherever a large settlement is made up of those who came from any one neighborhood or section of a country, whether from New Jersey, Indiana, or any other state.  A Jerseyman is a sort of a compromise between a genuine Yankee and a Buckeye.

    The land of West Jersey is made up of a gentle undulating prairie, skirted with belts of timber.  Upon the west is Walnut Creek, upon the south Spoon River, and a little to the east is Indian Creek, from which directions what of native growth of timber is desired the people are supplied with.  The Walnut Creek bluffs abound in coal, as do those of Spoon River not far to the south of the township.  The soil is equally fertile with that of any part of this most fertile country; and the excellent husbandry of its farmers brings out an enormous yield of the various products of the earth cultivated in this latitude.  Nearly all the tillable land in the township is under fence, presenting a wide contrast to the appearance of the country as it was even twelve or fifteen years ago, when West Jersey was almost an unbroken prairie, from Washington Trickle's on the west to his brother Edward Trickle's on the east,.  The surface then was carpeted with a heavy and luxuriant growth of grass, sprinkled with variegated flowers, over which danced the playful zephyrs, presenting to man almost delightful spectacle of blushing, blooming and innocent Nature in its primeval purity.  Now its bosom is ragged, and torn by the merciless plough; and the tramp of civilization has crushed its flowers and herbage, until it is no longer recognized by its early admirers as the same beauty which but a short time ago captivated their eyes.  It is now turned over to feed greedy man and fatten unseemly swine.

    Mr. Jacob B. Smith  is entitled to the honor of being the first bona fide white settler in West Jersey township.  He came from that part of Richland, now known as Ashland County, Ohio, in 1835, and landed in Fulton County in this state, where he wintered, and moved here in the folowing spring, and erected and moved into the first civilized log tenement in that town, on the S.E. qr. of section24. George Eckley, Sr., (recently deceased,) with his family, consisting of his wife, and Levi Eckley, George Eckley, Daniel Eckley, John Eckley, and Margery Eckley, his children, came out from Seneca County, Ohio, in the fall of 1835, and also wintered in Fulton County, from whence he moved up in 12 N., 5E, (West Jersey,) the next season, 1836.  Mr. Eckley was up here, "on and off," from '35 'til he moved up in '36 with his family, during which time he was making improvmenets on his land, on section 36, which improvements were probably the first made in that township, as Mr. Jacob Smith  did not come on til the spring.  During the year 1836, Jacob Clayburg, Philip Keller, Michael Jones, John Brown, Washington Trickle, Ephraim Barnett, Stephen Trickle, and widow Dunn, settled in the neighborhood.  The next spring came John Pratz, Newton Matthews, Nehemiah Wykoff, and William Webster, (deceased.)  The Trickles were all from Ashland County, Ohio.  About the same time old man Riggen, father of William Riggen, settled in the timber near Stark County, just over the line in Peoria.

    When old man Eckley came up here with his family from Fulton County, they were compelled to "camp out" the first night in the timber, not far from where Levi Eckley now lives with but little other shelter but the broad canopy of heaven.  In the morning the old lady started out upon the prairie to see the farm which was to make their future home.  Now, at this time there was a prolific weed abounding among the herbage which clothed the ground known among the early settlers by the rather squirmish name of Porcupine quill, or Devil's Darn-needle, which had a particular affinity for woolen goods, to which it would attach its quills and "work through," points inwards.  Mrs. E. had not proceeded far in her morning walk before she was seen retreating to the wagon on "double quick."  Could a rattlesnake have bitten her?  a wolf snarled at her? or what was the occasion of her quick time and eccentric motions?  These quills or needles had fastened upon her flannel petticoat, "worked through," and their sharp points penetratintg the epidermis of her walking apparatus wonderfully stimulated her locomotion, until she could liberate herself from these "spurs to action" by removing the aforenamed artricle of feminine apparel.  Beriously, these quills or needles, once so abundant upon our prairies, were quite vexatious.

    For a few years the early settlers suffered from hard times.  What they had to sell commanded no remunerating price in market; and what they were obliged to buy was held at exhorbitant prices.  Peoria was the nearest, but it was a poor market.  The Eckleys have often hauled the best of winter wheat to Peoria and sold it for twenty-five cents per bushel and taken common calico in pay at thirty-eight cents per yard.  A bushel and a half of wheat for a single yard of calico!  and yet we are complaining now, loudly and bitterly, of "hard times" when a bushel of wheat will buy three or four times as much "store goods" at home.  Then a load of grain would not pay the tavern bill, and Eckley  was compelled to come out of Peoria upon the bluffs and sleep in his wagon because his load would not meet his bill.  A dollar was rarely to be met with, and he was indeed a fortunate man who could allow "airy a red."  Farmers had to go to Ellisville and Bernadette, in the lower part of Fulton County, to mill, and sometimes to Peoria, which was as much of an undertaking in those days as a journey to Boston now, and attended with more inconveniences and annoyances.  Many farmers had a "contrivance" of their own for breaking corn for eating, which was then the staff of life.  It consisted of a spring sweep, follower and mortar.  In 1836, Daniel Prince put up a mill, on Spoon River, at Slack Water.  It was a small, or as one of the settlers described it to the writer, "A little bit of a log mill" 14 x 16 feet.  It had two run of burrs, made of "hard heads."  Its capacity was about five bushels of corn per day, poor work at that, only (illegible) the kernals into not very small bits (illegible) had to take provisions (illegible) and await the slow and uncertain (illegible) the mill, which, when in operation, (illegible) slightly on the masticating and digesting capacities of its customers.  Afterward a new feature was added to this mill which probably rendered the waiting ones turn less tedious.  A small distillery was attached, from which some kind of liquid was produced that passed under the name of whiskey.  From reports, it must have been little better than the vilest of slops, of forty yard.  It was a raw, rough beverage, that affected a most disagreeable drunk, and (illegible) one up so badly that it was no agreeable job to get out of the "fix."  It was but a short lived concern, and only lasted about a year, when it was brought up standing by some fellows who came from the south side of Spoon River who "busted" in the copper with an ax and smashed all its appartenances.  Its capacities were not any where equal to the demand, and it was kicked in the head like some worthless cow for not "giving down" better.

    The mill upon Walnut Creek, now known as Rounds' Mill, was commenced in January, 1838.  Stephen Trickle, Michael Jones, Ephraim Barnett  and Harvey Barnett, were the original proprietors.  Harvey hewed out and superintended getting out all the timber for it.  Before it was finished in 1839, it passed into the hands of Stephen Trickle.  It was a grist mill having two runs of "raccoon" burrs.  It did very fair work.  In the fall of 1839 (1838?) Stanton's Mill on Spoon River at Rochester was put up, so that by 1840 the settlements were very well accommodated with mills.  Then people had to go to Victoria to election and to Wyoming for their mail matter.

    All the old settlers unite in stating that in those days there was more sociality among the people than at present; a more generous and free intercourse; greater hospitality and neighborly conduct than now exists.  That stiff, selfish, business-like way that characterize the people now was then unknown.  There used to be sociable gatherings, that were not all cold, formal meetings, but such reunions as brought out the generous impulses of whole-souled men and women.  They used to meet at one another's cabins for spelling and singing schools, debates and frolics, and all parties felt it "was good to be there."

    The first regular Ball in that settlement was at Joseph Palmer's in Walnut Creek, on the 4th of July, 1838.  Barnett  hired Palmer  to get up dinner for twenty-one couple for forty-two dollars, provided that many were present.  Caleb North  delivered a short oration in the day time.  Before dark the ball opened.  It was a brilliant success.  Twenty-three couple were present.  Mr. William Mason, now living near Toulon, did the fiddling, for which he received the handsome sum of Nine Dollars, the first money he ever took in for music.  The party danced beyond the "we sma' hours" into broad sunshine the next morning.  Most of the party were there twenty-four hours, enjoying themselves hugely all the while.

    The first school in the township was taught by Columbia Ann Dunn, a sister if we mistake not of Rev. R.C.Dunn, of Toulon.  The first school house was built in 1837 or 1838.

    The first Post Office in West Jersey was kept by Silas Richards, upon the farm now occupied by William Pratt.

    The first frame house erected was by Washington Trickle, in the summer of 1838.  It was built upon the site of his present house, and may now be seen across the way, a little to the south of Mr. Trickle's.

    The Carding Machine at the south west corner of the town, on Walnut Creek, was built about 1842 by Washington Trickle  and Charles Yocum, and for several years did a fair business, when there was water to run it.  People patronized it from very distant places.  It has not been in operation for the last twelve years.  It was considered a great institution in its day.

    The West Jersey Prairie was once known as Prairie De Fun; the origin of this classical name is involved in some obscurity.  Whether it is French, Chinese or Indian we are not philologist enough to determine.  We presume a free rendering of the language would make it in our vernacular a Prairie of Fun or a Funny Prairie.

    "Nigger Point" is the name of a neighborhood acquired from its once having been reputed to be a station on the underground railroad.  We believe several fugitive Ethiops have shared the hospitalities of this "point" in times past.  It is located not a thousand miles distant from the place formerly occupied by Nehemiah Wykoff.  In truth we might say it was "right along there."  Operations upon this line of road have been suspended we believe, as better routes have been opened of late years for the underground business.