Genealogy and History
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Rock Run Township
Rock Run township, next to Ridott, is the largest township of the county, having an area of forty-eight square miles, while the latter has fifty-four. It is one of the wealthiest townships of the county, and is composed of good and fertile farming land, interspersed with occasional stretches of forest.
Rock Run has a most interesting history. It is probably the most cosmopolitan township of the county, and has numbered among its early settlers a most peculiar and unusual combination of Yankees, Germans, Dutch, Irish and Norwegians. Strangely enough, they lived side by side peaceably, and their descendants have intermarried so that the original races and their characteristics are no longer discernable.
The first permanent settlement in Rock Run, of which there is any record, was that of a Mrs. Swanson, who came to these regions with her family and took up a large claim in section 10 or near the site of the future village of Davis. Mrs. Swanson was a widow, with a large family of children, who aided her in the care of the farm. This was in 1835. In the same year, a number of settlers, who has previously visited the township, en route to the lead mines at Galena, returned from the west, and settled permanently on lands adjoining the "Widow" Swanson's habitation. These pioneers who presently returned to take up claims included S. E. M. Carnefix, Alexander McKinn, Arthur Dawson and one or two others. Presently a new delegation arrived, in 1836, including Thomas Flynn, E. Mullarkey, Henry Hulse, M. Welsh, William Lee, Leonard Lee, Nathan Blackamore and Aaron Baker. The Irish section of the new immigrants settled in the eastern part of the township, about four miles south of the present village of Davis, and there founded a settlement which later became known as Irish Grove.
Once the precedent was established, the number of arrivals grew. In the next year, 1837, a large migration occurred. Among the newcomers of 1837 were Dr. F. S. Payne, Nathan Salsbury, D. W. C. Mallory, John Hoag, S. Seeley, T. Seeley, Peter Rowe and others.
After this the new arrivals were continuous, and the township became quickly crowded with settlers. The Irish Grove settlement continued to grow, and the Hibernian "squatters" there were joined by a new delegation, including Pat Giblin, Miles O'Brien, a Mr. Corcoran, who afterward moved to Rockford, Thomas Foley, and some relatives of the Mullarkeys. In 1838 occurred the first birth in the township, also the first marriage. A son was born to Albert Flower, who managed the saw mill on Rock Run, and "Pony" Fletcher and Narcisse Swanson were united in holy bonds of matrimony, the latter event happening in the fall of 1838, the former earlier in the year.
The streams of Rock Run township are very swift, and have in the past afforded water power for turning the wheels of a large number of mills. Only one of these is now standing, a substantial stone structure at Epleyanna, which still continues in operation. In 1837, a saw mill was built on Rock Run in section 27, and the same year Thomas J. Turner put up a grist mill in section 34, and sold it to Nelson Salsbury, who, in turn, sold it to James Epley. In 1838, H. G. Davis came to the township with his family and purchased the Rock Run saw mill, which had been put up the year previous by Stackhouse, Carrier and Flower. Here the first post-office ever located in the township was soon established, with H. G. Davis as postmaster. In the early part of 1839, the present Epleyanna mills were built by Josiah Blackamore and Leonard Lee, who later disposed of their holding to Conrad Epley. A number of smaller mills were built farther south along Rock Run and its tributaries, but no trace is to be found of many of them. There was one, for instance, on the Carnefix farm, south of Davis, in section 28, the ruins of which are still to be seen.
In 1839 a large number of arrivals were registered. Among them were Conrad Epley, who purchased the Epleyanna mills, and from whom the village of Epleyanna takes its name, Edward Pratt, who afterward moved to Freeport, M. Flower, Edward Smith, who settled in section 13, Uriah Boyden, who took up a claim in section 30, Thomas Fox, who went to Wisconsin within a short time, and a large number of settlers who came to live at Irish Grove, among them Thomas Bree, Martin Mullen, Patrick Flynn, Michael Flynn, Patrick Flynn, Jr., Thomas Hawley and William Marlowe, as well as a number of others whose names have not been preserved in the traditions of the Celtic settlement.
In October, 1839, occurred an event which is most memorable in the annals of Rock Run township. A delegation of Norwegians arrived at the settlement at Rock Run mills, and there formed what is said to have been the first Norwegian settlement in the United States. Whether or not this was the case, it was at least the first Norwegian settlement in this part of the country. The descendants of the early settlers are some of them living in Rock Run township to-day. Others have vanished from the pages of the Rock Run annals. Among the Norwegians who settled at Rock Run Mills were C. Stabeck, whose descendants afterward became identified with the history of the village of Davis, Ole Anderson, whose descendants are also farming in Rock Run township to-day, Canute Canuteson, who opened the first blacksmith shop in the township, Civert Oleson and Ole Civertson, who opened the first wagon-shop in the vicinity. They were thrifty and hard working citizens and became a credit to the community in which they had chosen to settle.
In 1840, D. A. Baldwin arrived and took up a claim in section 40. In the year following, 1841, Captain Knese settled in section 13. Fresh arrivals were numerous at the various settlements, especially at the Norwegian colony at Rock Run Mills and at Irish Grove. In 1841, the first post-office in the township, Rock Run Mills P. O., was established at H. G. Davis' mill on Rock Run, with Mr. Davis himself as postmaster. It remained at the mills until 1848, when it was removed to Jamestown, or Grab-all, near the present site of Rock City. When the Western Union Railroad came through, and Rock City became a point of importance, the post-office was again moved, and the Jamestown settlement went out of existence. In the fall of 1840, a son of John R. Webb died, the first recorded death in Rock Run township.
From 1840 on the township developed rapidly. In the summer of 1838, the Catholic Church at Irish Grove had been erected. In 1855, the First Presbyterian Church, known as the Rock Run Presbyterian Church, was organized, and services conducted by the Rev. Joseph Dickey. This church was subsequently removed to the village of Dakota, in Dakota township.
In 1857, the Western Union Railroad, now the C., M & St. P. R. R. came through the township, and the village of Davis and Rock City became the points of importance in the township. Rock Run Mills and Jamestown, or Grab-all, were fairly abandoned, and the only outlying settlement of the old days was Irish Grove.
Rock Run is to-day one of the pleasantest places both for farming and residence in these regions, and it is hard to realize what the pioneers who took up their claims in 1835 must have gone through before they could transform the wilds of the prairie into a place of habitation. Times were hard financially, to add to the burden. The early settlers were able to make their living very satisfactorily, for there was an abundance of game, and vegetables and fruits such as the region afforded, they were easily able to grow themselves. But there were other menaces. The Indians had not left the district, nor did they for many months after the fields of Rock Run began to assume the appearance of highly cultivated lands. Another enemy, even more subtle than the Indian, was the snake. At one period in the history of Rock Run township, the whole district is said to have been fairly overrun with snakes. And they were snakes such as are never seen in these parts to-day not the harmless garter snake, although that species flourished also, but rattlesnakes, and the deadly massasauga, whose bite nearly resulted in the death of more than one venturesome pioneer.
Rock Run township is well provided with streams. Rock Run, a small but swift current, flows down from Rock Grove township at the north, and is joined, near Epleyanna Mills, by Rock Creek, a stream of equal size, which flows down from the northwest. Rock Run pursues a southward course, receiving the waters of a number of smaller streams, flows into a small lake near the new mill on the Hunt property, east of Ridott, and thence into the Pecatonica River, which it joins just above Farwell's Bridge. Brown's Creek, a small swift creek, rises in the northwestern part of the township, and flows southeast into Rock Run, tarrying for a while in a tiny lake, near its mouth.
There is only one railroad, the C., M. & St. P., which crosses the township from east to west, touching the villages of Rock City and Davis, and running in the vicinity of Epleyanna.
The township is well wooded. There are a number of large groves and timber lands left, but the majority of them are disappearing under the blows of the axe, and the larger part of the land is under cultivation. [History of Stephenson County by Addison L. Fulwider 1910]
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