Genealogy and History
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Ridott Township is the largest township of Stephenson County. It is oblong in shape and contains an area of fifty-four square miles, just six more than Rock Run, which is second in size. Likewise the township contains more villages than any other in the county. Several of these are no longer post-offices, since the coming of the rural free delivery system, and one of them, Nevada, is practically deserted, with nothing except a group of houses to mark the place where a flourishing village once stood.
The first settlement in Ridott Township was made in the year 1836. Andrew Jackson and Jefferson Niles arrived in this county on the 4th of March of that year, and built a little shanty on the south bank of the Pecatonica, near the present site of the village of Ridott. Just previous to that time, either early in 1836 or in the latter part of 1835, Harvey P. Waters and Lyman Bennett had visited Stephenson County and pitched camp at the mouth of Yellow Creek in Silver Creek Township. The whole of the district, including Silver Creek and Ridott Township, was then known as Silver Creek Precinct, and so remained until the passage of the law providing for township organization, when the two were divided. Waters remained for several months in his first location, when he pulled up stakes and moved into Ridott, where he continued to live for many years. Before going to Ridott, however, he went to Kirk's Grove, where he put up a mill known as Waterman's Still. Then, about March, 1836, he came co Ridott. In the same spring, a large number of new settlers came, among them Sawyer Forbes; Daniel Wooten, who seeded about a mile east of the place where the village of Ridott stands today; Horace Colburn; a Mr. Wickham, who entered his claim where the village of Ridott rose later; John Reed and his brother, who took up claims on the south bank of the Pecatonica near the point where Farwell's Bridge spans the river; Benjamin and Josiah Ostrander, who "squatted" near the mouth of Yellow Creek; David Niles; Asa Nichols; and others. Nearly all of the pioneers chose to build their hues on or near the Pecatonica. As they subsequently found out, the site was not as healthy as could have been desired, but, after all, it was the logical place for a pioneer to take up his claim. The land was fertile, the water power was good, and a large part of the transportation was by water. The rolling prairies away to the southward about the present village of German Valley were just as fertile and desirable if they had only taken the time to find out. Later settlers did discover the gold mines which lay in the rich loam of the German Valley district, and the result was the flourishing colony of Germans who established themselves in that region.
In 1837 a very large number of pioneers came to take up claims in Ridott, apparently attracted more by the advantages which the place seemed to offer than repelled by the numerous disadvantages which faced them at the outset. A list of the newcomers of that year cannot be given with any attempt at completeness, for many names are lost or forgotten. Some of the new settlers were Caleb Tompkins, who settled in a tract of timbered land near the river; G. A. Seth ; Isaac Farwell ; Eldredge Farwell, the two last named settling about four miles east of the present Ridott, near the present Farwell's Bridge; Garrett Lloyd; Norman Trace; Levi Trace; Isaac Trace; Orsemus Brace; Harvey Webster; Jeremiah Webster; Sybil Ann Price, who settled about a mile west of the Farwell farm; Stewart Reynolds; Sanford Niles, and others.
In 1838, another delegation quite as large came to take up land in Ridott Township. Among the new men this year were Lewis Gitchell ; David Gitchell ; Philo Hammond; Ezekiel Forsythe; Jacob Forsythe; John Lloyd (a brother of Garrett Lloyd who came in 1837); Putnam Perley; Ezekiel Brown, who "squatted" on the river bank, near Holmes Mill ; John Brazee, who settled west of the present village; Christian Clay, and others.
In 1839 Charles Babcock came, and later George H. Watson, who drove before him a flock of a thousand sheep, Williams 3. Hawkins, Ross Babcock, Anson Babcock, John Karcher, Lewis Woodruff, and others.
After 1840 the immigration was continuous, and the township became seeded up. The northern part was seeded first, however, and it was not until perhaps ten years later, that the original German Valley-ites arrived bag and baggage in Stephenson County. In 1842, on the 28th of August, the famous colony of English agriculturists, whose descendants in many instances still reside in Stephenson County in the vicinity of Ridott, came west. They seeded in the timber lands in Ridott Township, near the river, having been directed to that portion of the county by their scouts who were sent out the year before and seeded the lands near the river as suitable place for settlements. For several years the Englishmen lived together in peace and harmony in the Ridott woods. Then a dissension arose for some unknown reason, and part of the colony departed for the western wild, and have never since been heard of, except indirectly. Among the prominent members of the colony were Thomas Hunt, with his wife and mother, Robert Knight, Charles Foulkes, Robert Lankford and wife, Thomas Clay, Henry Layland Knight and wife. Charlotte Hurst, John Wooton, George Barnes, Joseph Gibson, Joseph Lester, and W. R. Fairburn and wife.
Between 1840 and 1850 the lands in Ridott Township increased greatly in value, and as a result seeders began to feel that the land was desirable. In 1850 the famous colony of Germans, whose descendants conduct the business of the village of German Valley, arrived in these parts. Among their numbers were the familiar names of Uno Collman, Poppa Poppen, Wessel Wessels, Jurin Van Butkum, Christian Akermann, Folit Hayunga, Yelle Ruter, T. Jussen, John Heeren, Balscer Jelder, Fokke Rewerts, Michael Van Oscerloo, and others, who were joined later by reinforcing colonies from their particular districts of Germany.
The first birth in Ridott Township occurred in 1837, when Margaret Wooton, daughter of Daniel and Julia Wooton, was introduced to this plane of existence. In 1839 came the first marriage. The happy couple were A. J. Niles, and Nancy A. Farwell, daughter of Guscavus A. Farwell. The ceremony was performed by the Hon. Thomas J. Turner, one of the early settlers of the county, who, in his capacity of justice of the peace, was vested with the authority. The first deaths are in doubt. Some assert that the drowning of Milburn and Reed in the Pecatonica, not far from the mouth of Yellow Creek, was the first instance of a visit of the Grim Reaper. Others assert that the drowning occurred in Silver Creek Township, just across the town line, and there is very good reason to believe that such was the case. At any rate, the drowning's are on record as the first cases of death, and if they are not authentic, there is no story to the contrary which attempts to give the names of the unfortunates.
After 1850 the growth of Ridott Township was rapid and somewhat uninteresting. About the beginning of the decade the township suffered a relapse in the visit of the cholera plague which attacked Freeport and points along the Pecatonica and Yellow Creek. The blow struck hardest at Nevada, near Ridott, which never fully recovered. Unlike Mill Grove, in Loran Township, it was not erased from the map, but the number of deaths was appalling, and most dreadful to contemplate in so small a town.
In 1852, the Chicago and Galena Union Railroad, afterward a pat of the Chicago and Northwestern system, came through, and speculators and purchasers came to the township in large numbers. But not until about ten years ago did the Ridott farmers have their greatest impetus for development and improvement. This came in the shape of the Rockford and Freeport electric line of the Rockford and Interurban system, which touched the villages of Ridott and Nevada, running parallel with the Chicago and Northwestern tracks. This was especially a boon to the villagers of Ridott for it has enabled them to come to Freeport and do their shopping at any and every time of the day, affording quick, cheap, and comfortable transportation.
In addition to the Interurban, three steam railroads enter Ridott Township, making a total of four within the whole area. The Chicago and Northwestern cuts across the northern end of the township, running through Ridott village, and also Nevada, but not maintaining a station at the last named place. The Illinois Central runs through the central portion from northwest to southeast and through the stations at Everts and Legal. Lastly, the Chicago and Great Western cuts across the southwestern corner of Ridott Township, with its station at the village of German Valley. From German Valley it runs directly southeast to Ogle County, where its first station is located at Egan. From that point it runs to Chicago in an almost direct line.
The farms of Ridott are in good condition and have a well kept, prosperous look. That is not particularly true of the farms in the northern part of the township, near the river. The farms in this section of the county are very old, and probably more dilapidated and forsaken farm buildings can be found in the region surrounding the State Road than in any other section of the county roundabout. Of course, these farm houses are not occupied and it is only a matter of time when they will be torn down. The new and occupied buildings are of course well kept and neat in appearance. There are also a number of old stone buildings, very ancient, and interesting to the lover of the antique. Among the very old buildings of Ridott Township, and of the county for that matter is the old Hunt place, on the State Road, south of Ridott, formerly used as a Tavern for the Chicago-Galena stages. The place is still occupied by the descendants of the original keeper.
As a place for investments in farm lands both with a view to speculation, and permanent residence, Ridott Township is not surpassed. The lands about the Pecatonica River in the northern end of the section are well wooded, but aside from that the surface is most wide rolling prairie, containing lands which compare well in fertility with any part of the state.
The village of Ridott was founded in 1860. Nevada, a short distance west of the village site, and now known to the inhabitants of Ridott as the "old town," was the fore-runner of Ridott. When the Chicago and Galena Union Railroad was completed through the township, a station was established at Nevada and a town surveyed and platted. This remained in existence for three years, at the end of which time J. S. Cochran and brother of Freeport purchased sixty acres of land, upon a part of which the present village of Ridott stands. Through some previous transaction, the details of which were always shrouded in mystery, the Cochran Brothers had concluded a contract with the railroad company, agreeing to grade the side tracks, plat, and lay out the town, providing the railroad station was transferred from Nevada to the new place. On the 10th day of July, 1860, the station was moved to "Cochranville" as the place was then christened, and soon after G. W. Loveland, the Nevada postmaster, in obedience to instructions from the department, moved the postoffice to Cochranville, and built the postoffice, the first building erected in the village. The firsts store was soon after built by the Cochran brothers, and named the "Farmer's Store." About the same time, Oscar H. Osborn built a house near the track which he adapted to residence and saloon purposes. Ridott has never been a "dry town" since that date. In 1861, Samuel Irvin built his shoe shop on Adams street, James Clark his residence, on the same street, W. E. Moorhouse a house on Jefferson street, and these constituted the village until the close of the Civil war. A few buildings were erected in the vicinity, but the period was not distinguished by phenomenal growth or enterprise.
In the fall of 1861, the name of the village was changed to "Ridott" through the agency of a petition prepared by the residents and addressed to the Department at Washington. The name was taken from the township, and that, in turn, is said to have been named after a clerk in the postoffice department at Washington.
After the close of the war, the growth of Ridott was renewed, and the building of the village resumed. Ross Babcock erected a brick building which still stands on Adams Street, and contains "Ridott Hall," a spacious audience room, office rooms, and two stores. Isaac S. Shirey built a residence on Washington street, J. A. Kerr soon built a house near to his, and later Josiah Deimer, Mrs. Lewis Getthell, Reuben Clark, and Hezekiah Poffenberger erected mansions on the same street. Henry Gibler built himself a home on Adams street about the same time, and Dr. M. W. Walcon moved a building into the village, reconstructed it, and used it for dwelling purposes. In 1867, the O. B. church was erected, the only one in the village for many years, in 1869 the new brick schoolhouse was built, and in 1875 the town was incorporated as a village. F. D. Coolidge was the first president of the village board, and the first members were H. P. Waters, Samuel Moyer, O. M. Doty, W. A. Kerr, and J. L. Robinson. W. A. Kerr acted as village clerk, and Samuel Moyer as village treasurer. Among the archives of the village have been preserved the records of the first birth, the first marriage, and the first death. The first birth was a son Oscar and Mary Osborn. The first death was that of Elizabeth Leech, and the first marriage was contracted between Brock Mullen and Mrs. Mary Hill. For many years the village pursued the even tenor of ice course, quiet like the ordinary country village. But about ten years ago a change was effected, when the Rockford and Freeport line came through Ridott and erected ice station there. The increased facilities for transportation have been taken advantage of by the people of Ridott to such an extent that they do practically all their shopping at Freeport, and now consider themselves as suburban dwellers of the county seat. The village has grown a great deal since the advent of the electric line, and numbers a population of about four hundred inhabitants.
United Brethren Church. The largest and most influential church of Ridott is that belonging to the United Brethren, Association. The congregation was organized about 1859, before the village of Ridott was laid out, and was composed principally of the residences of Nevada. Services were held first in the schoolhouse on the Moyer farm, later in the schoolhouse on the Waters farm. In 1867, the present church, a frame edifice 28 x 48, valued at about $2,500, was built on a lot on Adams Street. Recently the whole building was rebuilt and remodeled. A parsonage valued at about $1,500 has also been built, next to the church building. The congregation numbers fifty-eight, with a Sunday school of one hundred and six. There have been a large number of pastors connected with the Ridott church since the coming of the first pastor, Rev. James Johnson. All of them have also performed the pastoral duties at the Winneshiek church in Lancaster township. The minister at present in charge is the Rev. J. E. Fry.
The Free Methodist church was organized in 1875, and numbers a congregation of about forty. For some years services were held in the schoolhouse, in Ridott Hall, and in various other locations. Then the present church edifice, a small and unpretentious structure on Adams Street, was erected. Rev. Mr. Ferns was the minister under whose direction the charge was organized. The pastor at present officiating is the Rev. J. G. Plantz.
Ridott is not a great lodge town. Unlike the villages of the northern part of the county, which are very active in this direction and support a large number of secret societies, Ridott supports very few. The two now in existence are the camp of the Modern Woodmen of America, which was established about fifteen years ago, and the lodge of the Stars of Equity, which is a comparatively recent organization.
The Ridott Band was organized in June, 1910, by Professor L. M. Hiatt, of the University of Indiana, who came to the village at that time to reside with his relatives, the McCrackens. The band consists of twenty-six brass instruments, and furnishes music on all occasions where an organization of the kind is called upon to officiate.
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