Genealogy and History
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Florence Township forms one of the southern tier of the county. It has an area of exactly six square miles, and is bounded on the north by Harlem and Freeport, on the east by Silver Creek, on the west by Loran, and on the south by Ogle and Carroll Counties. The township is well wooded, but there is also a large acreage of fertile and valuable farm lands. The water supply is good, and the streams are numerous. Yellow Creek flows through the north central portion of the township from west to east, and is joined by one or two smaller creeks of greater or less importance, which flow down from the south. The rills and brooklets cover the township with a network of small water courses, and at certain seasons of the year become flooded with the heavy rains. Two railroads enter Florence Township. The Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul cuts across the southeastern corner of the township, and has a station at the village of Florence Station. The Chicago & Great Western cuts across the central part of the township in a straight line from east to west, with its only station at Bolton.
The lands about Yellow Creek are heavily timbered. Especially on the north side of the creek are there woods of considerable extent. Near the village of Bolton, formerly Van Brocklin, the County Woods, a stretch of almost virgin wilderness, are situated. Farther toward Freeport are Beebe's Woods, and, adjoining them, the forests and hollows of Krape Park, formerly Globe Park, where the Freeport Chautauqua is held each year. Oakland Cemetery, Freeport's new cemetery, a beautiful stretch of wooded land, is located in Florence Township, on the Pearl City road, about three miles west of Freeport.
The first claim taken up in Florence Township was entered upon by Conrad Van Brocklin, who settled on Section 17, near the site of the future village of Van Brocklin. He had come to this county from western New York in the fall of 1835, a d after a long, hard winter's journey he arrived at his new home in March, 1836. His first log cabin was built but a short distance from the farm house which he afterward built and which his descendants have continued to occupy for many years. For most of the first year he had no neighbors nearer than Thomas Craine, at Craine's Grove, and at Freeport. In August of the same year, Mason Dimmick, of Ohio, emigrated to Stephen son County, and took up his claim northeast of the cabin of Mr. Van Brocklin. Otis Love and his family soon followed, and these three conclude the list of settlers of 1836.
In 1837, Lorenzo Lee arrived, as did James Hart, who settled a mile and a half north of Van Brocklin's. A few more came in this year, whose names are now lost, but the influx of settlers was not very great as yet.
In 1838 the emigrants began to arrive in large numbers. A few of them settled at Liberty Mills on Yellow Creek. They were followed by one Mr. Wickham, William Smith, known to the farmers roundabout as "Saw-Log" Smith, a Mr. Strong, who came in 1839, Sheldon Scoville, Russell Scoville, and C. K. Ellis, who came the same year, and others. In 1839 Anson Babcock came to Florence Township, but the prospects were not encouraging enough, and he returned to New York state with his family. Strangely enough, many of the early comers to Florence did not remain and improve their claims. The Van Brocklins were permanent fixtures, as the lapse of time has proved, but the others came more or less as a matter of experiment, and many of them departed sooner or later for other parts. Mr. Strong, who had come in 1839, stayed several years, but at the end of a period of reasonable prosperity he departed for Lebanon, Ohio, where he became a member of the sect of Shakers. Several of the other early settlers are said to have become Mormons, and a few of them moved to Freeport.
After 1840, the number of settlers suddenly increased surprisingly, and the claims began to be improved. Eli Ellis, P. T. Ellis, Mr. Sheets, William Boyer, John Turreaure, and a few others came in 1840. Improvements began to be made everywhere, and the condition of the township was greatly bettered. Mills were built along Yellow Creek, some of which are still standing, such as Liberty mills and Hess' mills. All of them have long been silent.
The growth of Freeport offered an impetus to settlements in Florence Township. Formerly farmers had sought the more distant parts of the county, such as Rock Grove Township, and Winslow and West Point, owing to the fact that agricultural prospects in those portions of the country were brighter. Now they began to discover that Florence Township contained a goodly extent of tillable land, and the nearness of a base of supplies at the county seat quickly boosted the price of land. Also the proximity of Kirkpatrick's mills at Mill Grove, in Loran Township, and the comparative insignificance of the distance to the old Van Valzah mills at Cedarville.
By 1850 the claims were taken up, and the township was about filled up. In that year, and within the next four years, the country in the northern part of the township, along the banks of Yellow Creek, suffered greatly from the plague of Asiatic Cholera which fell upon Stephenson County at that time, and a large number of deaths were reported. Gradually the plague wasted itself, and, since 1854, it has never visited these regions.
By 1840 there was a demand for schools in Florence Township, and, in response, the first school was opened, in James Hart's log cabin, with Miss Flavilla Forbes as teacher. By 1850 the school census of the township showed such an increase that other schools were imperative necessities. In 1857 the first railroad, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul, then known as the Western Union Railroad, surveyed its line across the southeastern corner of Florence Township. In 1859 their line was built, and with the coming of the Iron Horse the pioneer history of Florence Township is past. Later the Great Western surveyed its line through the county, and immediately the village of Van Brocklin, at Liberty Mills, then rechristened Bolton, sprang into prominence as a settlement of importance.
The farm lands of Florence Township today present a neat and orderly appearance. It is a well known fact that when the Freeporters have friends 01 out-of-town guests to whom they wish to show the fine farming lands of the county, they invariably take them out on the Pearl City road, and down south through Florence Township. And this is not wholly on account of the accessibility of Florence, but because the region justly deserves its name of the most fertile and prosperous of the regions round about.
There are a number of Freeport enterprises, connected with the growth and development of Florence Township, which deserve mention in connection with the history here presented. [History of Stephenson County by Addison L. Fulwider 1910]
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