Genealogy and History
Part of the Genealogy Trails History Group
Harlem is one of the central townships of the county and one of the most important in every respect. It was settled fourth in point of date in the county, and has always been an important factor in the social and political life of Stephenson County.
As far as can be learned, the first settler who came into Harlem Township there to remain permanently was Miller Preston, who hailed from Gallipolis, Ohio. Mr. Miller first came to the county in 1833, en route from Dixon to Gallipolis, by a roundabout route prospecting. The land in Harlem Township looked promising, and he determined to settle down there. But it took some time to arrange his business affairs, at home in Gallipolis in such shape that he could make the move. He was engaged in the tanning business in the Ohio town, and he found it necessary to complete tanning a quantity of hides! for which he had made a contract before going on his prospecting tour. So long did it take him to thoroughly straighten out affairs before leaving for the west, that it was 1835, fully two years later, before he set out for his future home. At a point on the Galena stage road he built his cabin and set up his claim. The township where his land lay was then a part of Lancaster Township, and had, only a short time before, been part of the old Central Precinct. Soon the eastern section of the township was portioned off into Lancaster Township and the western half took its present name of Harlem.
Harlem Township has always been noted for the particular attractiveness of its natural scenery. At the time when Miller Preston built his log cabin, for which he was obliged to hew the heavy logs from the adjacent forests, the country is said to have been surpassingly beautiful. The region from the earliest times was noted for its picturesqueness, and it was this, perhaps, which drew to its confines a large band of Indians. As late as 1840 the Indians were in full sway in the region, and they held a large camp Winnebagoes and Pottawattomies at the confluence of Richland Creek and the Pecatonica River.
In the fall, after Miller Preston's arrival, came William Baker, who settled in the southeastern corner of the township, and the party with Benjamin Goddard, all of whom settled in the part of the township which afterward became Lancaster. In 1836 Elias Macomber arrived, but he, too, settled in the Lancaster portion. A year later, in 1837, a large number of immigrants came to Harlem Township: John Edwards, Rezin, Levi, and Thompson Wilcoxin, Levi and John Lewis, and others. Levi Wilcoxin soon after built a mill on the banks of Richland Creek on the site of the present Scioto Mills. John Lewis put in the water wheel of the new mill, and among the other newcomers who assisted in the labor of building were: John Edwards, George Cockrell, William Goddard, Alpheus Goddard, Peter Smith, Wesley Bradford, Homer Graves, and John Anscomb. In the month of August of the same year the mill was finished and commenced to run.
P. L. Wright was a newcomer of the year 1838. He settled on a claim purchased of William Robey, who had come a short time previous with E. H. D. Sanborn. Mr. Sanborn owned a farm a half mile in area which he subsequently sold to George Furst for $2,800. In the same year came William Preston, who located his claim on the banks of the Pecatonica, Mathew Bridenhall, and a number of others. Lewis Preston established his farm in Section 10, and had not been in Stephenson County very long when a little daughter was born to him, the first recorded birth in Harlem Township.
In 1839 Robert Young arrived in Harlem, near the mouth of Cedar Creek in the northeast portion of the township. In the same year Benjamin Bennett came. In February, 1839, occurred the death of Mrs. William Preston, who was buried on the farm of her husband, William Preston, in Section 15. This was the first death in Harlem Township.
In 1839 Thomas Cockrell came to Stephenson County, and settled on the east side of the Pecatonica in Harlem Township, near the present site of Scioto Mills, which was for a time known as Cockrell Post-office, from the fact that Thompson Cockrell and his relatives held extensive farms in the immediate neighborhood. Thompson Cockrell, or "Tom" Cockrell, as he was familiarly known to the people of the vicinity, died only recently, at the ripe age of eighty-six. He was a familiar character in Freeport, and could be seen almost any pleasant day sitting about the court-house clad in his red flannel shirt, for which he was famous. "Tom" Cockrell was proprietor for many years of the Scioto Flouring Mills at Scioto Mills Post-office.
From the settlement of "Tom" Cockrell in Harlem Township the immigrants began to be numerous, and the "modern history" of the township begins. After 1845 there is very little distinguishing about the history of Harlem Township. Soon the railroad came through, the old Chicago & Galena Union Railroad, afterward sold to and made a part of the Illinois Central Railroad, and immediately land prices in Harlem Township took an upward jump. Nor have they ever gone down. Land in Harlem continues to be most valuable, and in respect of prices cannot be matched anywhere else in the county, although Lancaster, Rock Grove and Buckeye contain farm lands which are the equal of Harlem in every respect.
Harlem Township is fairly covered with a network of streams, large and small. The Pecatonica River flows through the township diagonally from southeast to northwest. It is joined by a mutlitude of smaller streams, such as Richland Creek, which is probably the swiftest stream in the county, and has in the past afforded water power for turning numerous mills, Cedar Creek, which flows into Richland and thence to the Pecatonica, Preston's Creek, a small stream which makes its way into the river from the west, and a large number of smaller rills, which join the Pecatonica and its tributaries, mostly from the eastern side.
Only one railroad traverses Harlem Township, but that railroad possesses two branches. The main line of the Illinois Central runs through Harlem from east to west, and the northern branches, which run to Madison and Dodgeville, leave the main line at West Junction and thence run side by side for about four miles into Buckeye Township, where they divide at Red Oak and go their several ways.
There is but one village of importance in Harlem Township, Scioto Mills. Damascus, a settlement on the road from Cedarville to Lena is partly in Harlem, but the post-office, now discontinued, was in Waddams Township. Harlem is one of the most populous of the townships, as it is one of the most important. It contains an area of about thirty-four square miles, and a population of over two thousand inhabitants. [History of Stephenson County, by Addison L. Fulwider; pub. 1910]
First Harlem Township Picnic
The first annual Harlem township picnic, held Sunday in Meyers’ grove, Scioto Mills was attended by a large crowd, and at noon 491 were seated at the dinner tables This number was increased during the afternoon by an additional 350 persons, including visiting guests from Chicago, Milwaukee and Savanna. A raised platform within the circle of tables, which permitted the orchestra and participants in the program to use the loud speaker equipment, added to the enjoyment of the program. An excellent orchestra, organized under the direction of Weldon “Ted” Bennett and recruited from members of various organizations in Freeport and vicinity, furnished fine music throughout the day. In addition to the previously published program, Phyllis Sheetz recited a selection entitled “The Modern Way,” and one of the surprise features was the song given by members of the town board, which followed the group singing directed by Carl Davis. In the baseball game, played between the first and second precinct residents, the second precinct team, which was made up of residents of Scioto Mills, defeated its opponents by a score of 30 to 10 in 7 innings, the winners scoring 11 of their runs in the last inning. “Hap” Yde and Oscar Ohlendorf were umpires. Prize winners in the program of sports were:
Boys running race, under 12 - 1st, Jack Parriott; 2nd, Floyd Shick; 3rd, Bob Fluegel.
Girls’ running race, under 12 - 1st, Ruth Geiser; 2nd, Gayle Cramer; 3rd, Isadora Kraft.
Boys’ running race, 12 to 16 - 1st, Norman Phillips; 2nd, Bob Lubben; 3rd, Merle Meyers.
Girls’ running race, 12 to 16 - 1st, Betty Strohacker; 2nd, Ethel Laman; 3rd, Florence Voigt.
Fat men’s race - 1st, Hap Yde; 2nd, Ralph Solace; 3rd, Roy Koch.
Sack race - Boys under 13 - 1st, Milo Fredericks; 2nd, Dick Cramer; 3rd, Roger Jepson.
Sack race - Girls under - 12 - 1st, Gale Cramer; 2nd, Isadora Kraft; 3rd, Caroline Wagner.
Rolling-pin throwing contest - 1st, Mrs. Darda Lubben; 2nd, Mrs. Elmer Hansen; 3rd, Mrs. Arthur Ortmeier. Hog-calling contest - 1st, Merle Ortmeier, 2nd, Ernest Jepson; 3rd, warren Sheetz.
Husband-calling contest - 1st, Mrs. Ethel Mulnix; 2nd, Mrs. Mary Hansen; 3rd, Mrs. Carl Davis.
The idea of holding the township picnic originated with the town board, which is comprised of Judson H. Richards, township county supervisor, Oscar E. Heard, Jr., and Weaber Meyers; justices of the peace, and Joseph Raepelle, town clerk. It is believed it is the first organization of its kind in the state. The success of the undertaking has resulted in making this an annual event in future. Officers re-elected for the ensuing year were: Mrs. John Kachelhoeffer, president; Edwin C. Krape, vice president; Joseph Raepelle, secretary-treasurer. Brief addresses of welcome were given by Mrs. Kachelhoeffer and Mr. Heard. The program carried the following brief history of the settlement of Harlem township:
Harlem township, originally a part of the town of Lancaster, was the fourth township to be settled in Stephenson county. The natural beauty of its fields, its streams, and wooded acres had long attracted the Indians before the coming of the white man. It was in 1833 that Miller Preston, prospecting in various parts of Stephenson county, determined to make his home in Harlem, but it was two years before he was able to conclude his various business engagements at his former home in Ohio and begin the erection of a log cabin in Harlem township. He thus became our first permanent white settler, and it is said that his cabin was erected somewhere along the old stage road to Galena. Other members of Preston's family followed him. The first white child born in the township, in 1838, was a daughter to Lewis Preston, and the first death in 1839, was that of Mr. William Preston. During the ten years following Preston’s settlement, the population of the township grew rapidly, the first mill was built and cultivation of the fertile wilderness was begun. Today, many of the farms of Harlem are owned by the descendants of those pioneers whose vision and energy and toil made possible the community we now so happily enjoy. The following committees assisted in arrangements for the outing: Table - Mrs. Floyd Parriott, chairman; Mrs. John E. Vaupel, Mrs. Judson Richards, Mrs. Floyd Miller, Mrs. Amos Miller, Mrs. Carl Davis. Grounds and arrangements- Al Huber, chairman; Charles Ness, Floyd Parriott, Weaber Meyers, Hermann Zurbriggen. Games - Amos Miller, chairman; Albert Hummermeier, Orlo Brobst, Floyd Miller, Floyd Hart, John Sullivan. Prizes - Oscar E. Heard, Jr. , chairman; John E. Vaupel, Oscar Ohlendorf, Judson RIchards, Edwin Krape. Music - Weldon Bennett, chairman; Ferdinand Witte, Aubrey Gassman, Edwin Germain, W. Gushert. Program - Robert P. Eckert Jr., chairman; Fred H. Altemeier, David Burrell, William A. Hutchins, Oliver Miller. [unknown source, submitted by Karen Fyock]
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