HISTORY OF HOPKINS TOWNSHIP
[Source: Whiteside County, Illinois, From Its First Settlement To The Present Time; by Charles Bent; pub. 1877]
The present township of Hopkins first formed a part of Harrisburg and Crow Creek Precincts, and, in 1837 became attached to Elkhorn Precinct, by action of the County Commissioners Court of Ogle county, where it remained until June, 1839, when that part lying west of the east line of township 21, range 6 east, and Elkhorn creek, was placed in Round Grove Precinct, the part lying east of Elkhorn creek remaining in Elkhorn Precinct. When the townships were organized in 1852 under the township organization law by the Commissioners appointed by the County Commissioners Court, Hopkins was given all of Congressional township 21 north, range 6 east, with the exception of a small fraction of section 25 on the east, and four acres of section 34 on the south. Shortly after, when the township of Como was dropped, Hopkins gained parts of sections 2, 3 and 4 of township 20 north, range 6 east, north of Hock river, the balance north of that river going to Lyndon. The township is made up principally of rolling prairie and timber land, the large tract of timber kpown as Round Grove lying wholly within its limits. Besides this grove, considerable timber skirts the banks of Elkhorn creek and Rock river. The prairie land is exceedingly fertile, well cultivated, and produces abundantly. The township is watered by Elkhorn creek, which comes into it on section 13, and flows at first westerly until it reaches section 14, and thence in a direction a little west of south through sections 23, 26, and 35, until it reaches Rock river. A mill-race commencing on section 26, and running thropgh the village of Como, connects this creek also with Rock river. Spring creek, rising in Genesee township, runs through sections 3, 11, 13, and 14, and unites with the Elkhorn a short distance southwest of Empire. Elkhorn creek has also a tributary rising on section 9, which flows into it in a southeasterly direction. The west part of the township is watered by Deer Creek and its tributaries.
The first settlement made in the territory now comprising the township of Hopkins was made by Jason Hopkins and Isaac H. Brittell, where the village of Como now stands, in 1835. In the autumn of 1832, as the troops which had been engaged in the Blackhawk War were returning to their homes, Mr. Hopkins, with a party, came to Rock river, and in coasting along its banks came to the site of the present village of Como. Being impressed with the beauty of the place, he made a claim covering the whole tract, known in pioneer parlance as a" jack-knife claim," by cutting his name in the bark of trees. The claim was on the north bank of the river, bounded on the east and south by the river; on the west by Elkhorn creek, and on the north by a line from the river running due west to Elkhorn creek, about where the track of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad is now situated. It had a southern exposure, and was interspersed with groves of shell-bark hickories, without undergrowth, and covered with luxuriant prairie grass. Mr. Hopkins often spoke of the location as being as "beautiful as the Garden of Eden." He was then as rich in land as Alexander Selkirk, being monarch of all he could see, yet with only the shadow of a title. In 1835 he returned with his family and Mr. BritteIl, and surveyed the claim, establishing the boundaries by marking trees in the timber and running furrows through the prairie with an ox-team and prairie plow. He afterwards purchased the claim. It comprised sections 25, 26, 35, and 36, and as much adjoining as made 3,200 acres, a portion being on the south side of the river.
The first settlement at the timber land now known as Round Grove was made by William Pilgrim, Clement C. Nance, and Joseph Jones, in the summer of 1836. Their wives were sisters. All were from Indiana, and, to distinguish them from other settlers, they were caIled Hoosiers. Pilgrim and Jones, after a few years, went back to Indiana, and Nance moved to Genesee Grove. Being of the Campbellite or Christian persuasion, he occasionally preached the Gospel, and became a physician when past middle age, practicing his profession until his death, which occurred suddenly five or six years ago of heart disease. These families were not possessed of much of this world's goods. Moccasins were worn instead of boots and shoes, and the children were fortunate if they obtained any covering for their feet, even in the winter. Still they were tough and healthy. Many now living can attest the sanitary influence of pioneer life as being peculiarly adapted to physical development. William Beebe came in 1837, made a claim and remained a few years, and then departed for some other country. In 1838 the Thompson brothers came, but, like Mr. Beebe, left after a few years' residence, and did not return.
From the time the first settlements were made in the townships until the Government land sales took place, some six or seven years elapsed, thus giving the settlers sufficient time to make the money from the products of their acres with which to purchase their lands. As a measure of relief, also, the lands were not taxable until they had been entered' five years. The land sales took place in June, 1842.
In December, 1838, H. H. Perkins and family, from New Hampshire, and Simeon Sampson and family, from Massachusetts, came to Como, followed in September, 1839, by H. B. and William Sampson and families, also from Massachusetts. W. S. Wilkinson, a native of New York State, came in October, 1839, from JacksonviIle, Illinois. S. P. Breed and family and J. N. Dow came in the spring of 1839 from Alton, Illinois. J.M. Burr came in the autumn of 1840, from Boston, and purchased Soule's share of the claim; and William Pollock and family arrived in the spring of 1841 from Beardstown, Illinois. Mrs. Susan Cushing and sons, of Providence, Rhode Island, belonged to the colony at Delevan, TazeweIl county, Illinois, but, desiring to change, joined thc Como colony early in the spring of 1839, and settled on the south side of the river. Their house had been framed and fitted in Rhode Island, shipped to Delevan, IIlinois, and put up, but was taken down and reshipped to Como, where it was again put up and occupied as a part of their dwelling as long as the family lived there, and is yet in use. Mrs. Cushing died at South Manchester, Connecticut. S. B. Cushing died in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1873. William and Henry B. Sampson were brothers. Capt. Simeon Sampson married William Sampson's daughter. They were natives of Duxbury, near Plymouth, Massachusetts. Capt. Sampson foIlowed the sea until he came east. He was every inch a commander; inflexible in discipline, yet, when caIled upon or prompted by duty to aIleviate the distress and sufferings of others, was as tender and sympathizing as the Good Samaritan. The sick and wounded of the 75th Illinois Volunteers, after the battle of PerryviIle, in Kentucky had ample proof of that noble trait in his character. He returned to his native State a few years ago, and is now living in East boston. Frank Adams came to Como in 1836, and assisted Jason Hopkins in holding his large claim. He was a genial, fun-loving, kind-hearted gentleman. His death occurred many years ago. Gersham H. Kirby settled in Como in 1839, and worked at his trade as a carpenter. He emigrated to California several years ago where he has since resided. Ira Silliman settled in Como at an early day and remained there until his death in the winter of 1872-'73. The Sells brothers emigrated from Ohio in 1836. Anthony settled west of the Elkhorn creek and afterwards sold his claim to Elijah Wallace for $1,500 cash. He then went further West and died. Benjamin sold his claim to John Galt, and then settled in Rock Island county, where he died a number of years ago. Jacob was offered $2,000 for his claim by the father of Elijah and Hugh Wallace but refused it, and, after building a frame house and making other improvements, sold the whole to Edward Vernon and Frank Adams for $600. He afterwards settled on Green river, in Bureau county, where he laid out a village called Tailholt, and still lives there keeping a country tavern.
Messrs. Brink and Cushman commenced building the saw-mill near Empire, known as Brink's mill, in 1837, and finished it in 1838. Cushman lived at Buffalo Grove, in Ogle county, and after the mill was built sold his interest to Brink. A sawmill was built by Elijah Wallace in the summer of 1838, on Spring creek, just west of the present village of Empire, and near where the school-house now stands. Messrs. Badger and son, of Lee county, were the millwrights, and kept bachelor's hall during the time of its erection in the Sells' cabin. The next saw-mill in the township was put up by Joel Harvey on Deer creek, in Round Grove, in 1839. Mr. Harvey built a high dam on the stream, and thereby received a supply of water sufficient to run the mill three or four months each spring and summer. The mill was afterwards run by Hiram Harmon, and still later by Whiting R. Van Orman.
The first school taught in the township was at Round Grove, in 1840, Miss Higley being the teacher. The first school-house was built at Como in 1842, the funds for the purpose being raised by subscription among the inhabitants. Now there are six good school-houses in the township, those at Como, Galt and Empire being large and commodious structures.
The first child born in the town was William Tell Hopkins, son of Jason Hopkins, the first settler, the birth occurring February 22, 1837. He died about 1862. It is claimed that he was the first male child born in the county.
The first parties around whom was slipped the matrimonial noose were Isaac H. Brittell and Jane Scott, the event occurring in 1840. The example so early and wisely set by Mr. and Mrs. Brittell was not lost upon some of the gay bachelors and rosy maidens of the township, and on November 10, 1841, Winfield S. Wilkinson and :Miss Frances E. Sampson, and Frank Cnshing and Miss Mary D. Breed, called in the Justice and were made happy. This double wedding was regarded as the great event of the time. Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson have long been respected residents of Morrison, and Mr. and Mrs. Cushing of Portland.
The earliest traveled road in the township was the Dixon and Rock Island stage route, running along the river near the line of the present road. A road was surveyed, laid out, and platted by Charles R. Rood, County Surveyor, in 1839, and viewed and reported by Joel Harvey and Elijah Wallace to the County Commissioners' Court on the 1st of November of that year. The road led from Wright Murphy's farm on Rock river, now owned by William H. Patterson, to Brink's mill, now Empire mills, on Elkhorn creek; thence west half a mile to the Wallace mill on Spring creek; thence west through Round Grove and past Harvey's mill on Deer creek; thence through Union Grove and across Rock creek, between Morrison and Unionville, to the Cattail slough under the bluffs, where it intersected the road from Como to Fulton. The first legally laid out road after the township organization was the one running along the river, formerly the old Dixon and Rock Island stage road.
In the early days Indians were plenty in Hopkins, as in other townships and like other Indians were given to stealing horses, food, and trinkets. The mothers of that day were very careful also of their children, as instances had been related of Indians stealing the tender lambs of the household. The mothers wonld not stir from their houses in the absence of the men folks without taking all of the little ones with them, even when going down to the river at Como for water.
Game, such as deer, wild turkey, prairie chickens, etc., was abundant at the time the first settlements were made. The prairie and the black wolf were also plenty, and very troublesome. These pests were very fond of young pork and when the settler was not present to defend the infant swine, the older and more muscular members of the fraternity would rally to their rescue. It is related that when Joel Harvey was, at one time in the early days, in search of a sow with pigs, he was attracted to a spot by an unusual disturbance, and upon arriving there found that a gang of wolves had attempted to get at the pigs. To his surprise a lot of hogs had come to the aid of their kindred, and formed a complete circle around the pigs, with their faces to the enemy. The wolves made repeated charges on the circular line, but were each time successfully repulsed. The first hogs introduced into Hopkins township was in 1838, by Joel Harvey and Thomas Matthews, each obtaining a small one from J. W. McLemore, who then lived two miles east of Sterling.
Of the old settlers of Hopkins township who came in 1835, we can name Jason Hopkins and Isaac H. Brittell; in 1836, Frank Adams, James Cleveland, James Brady, William Pilgrim, Clement C. Nance, Joseph Jones, Jacob Sells, Benjamin Sells, Anthony Sells; in 1837, James D. Bingham, Mrs. Margaret Adams and family, Thomas Mathew, William Beebe, Joel Harvey, W. F. Hopkins; in 1838, Horatio Wells, H. H. Perkins, Simeon Sampson, Thompson Brothers, Frederick Simonson, Elijah Wallace; in 1839, Henry Briggs Sampson, William Sampson, Winfield S. Wilkinson, Jesse Scott, Gershorn H. Kirby, N. A. Sturtevant, Geo. Sturtevant, E. C. Whitmore, A. C. Merrill; in 1840, S. P. Breed, J. M. Dow, J. M. Burr, Mrs. Susan Cushing.
The first regular meeting of the voters of Hopkins township was held April 6, 1852. The first officers chosen were Simeon Sampson, Supervisor; Henry B. Sampson, Town Clerk; Simeon Sampson, Assessor; Nelson R. Douglass, Collector; Grant Conklin, Overseer of the Poor; Henry B. Sampson and Walter Harmon, Justices of the Peace; Ira Silliman, Wm. Manahan and Fred. Simonson, Commissioners of Highways; Nelson R. Douglass and Porter J. Harmon, Constables; Poor Masters, Chas. Holmes, O. C. Stolp, Fred Simonson. Whole number of votes cast, 71. Jesse Scott, Joel Harvey, P. J. Harmon and Josiah S. Scott were appointed Overseers of Highways. It was voted that all cattle, horses, mules, asses, sheep and goats be "free commoners;" a lawful fence was defined as one" at least four feet high, the bottom space between the fence and mother earth to be not more than twelve inches, all other spaces not more than ten inches." To prevent "pound breaking," it was voted that anyone breaking a lock thereof should be fined not less than five dollars and pay all damages; also that all animals found within the lawful enclosure of anyone throughout the year shall be impounded, and all animals proved to be unruly shall be impounded at all times when found running at large. If it is proved that any enclosure intruded upon is not enclosed by a substantial fence, all damages and costs shall be paid by the owner or tenant. A tax of $200 was voted to defray township expenses. In 1853 "the cattle laws" were continued; $20 appropriated for the improvement of the sloughs between Round Grove and Como; $40 appropriated for a Pound in Como, and $24 each for Pounds in Round Grove and Empire; $100 was voted for township purposes, and a tax of 20 cents on each $100 of taxable property voted for road purposes. In 1855 $150 was voted for township purposes, and $150 for bridge repairs. In 1856 township expenses voted was $150, and $300 for bridge repairs. In 1857 it was decided by vote to issue $2,000 in script bearing 10 per cent interest, payable in one year, to rebuild the bridges at Como and Empire swept away by the floods. In 1858, by resolution, dogs were taxed. In 1865 it was voted to issue script not to exceed $5,000, payable out of the tax of 1865-'66, for bridge purposes at Como and Empire. In 1865 the citizens of the town subscribed $6,105 to pay bounties of volunteers. This was in addition to the large sums paid before by the township. Owing to the depredation of horse thieves, in 1866 the citizens of Hopkins authorized their Supervisor to use his best influence to induce the county to offer a reward of $500 for horse thieves. Hopkins is at more expense for bridges than any other township in the county, the bridges over the Elkhorn at Empire and Como being a yearly source of expense. The benefit that the township of Hopkins derives from these bridges is small in comparison with neighboring towns, yet under existing circumstances it is obliged to keep the bridges in repair. The township is out of debt, and is in a prosperous condition generally.
Supervisors:-1852-'54, Simeon Sampson; 1855-'56, Geo. Willson; 1857, Fred. Simonson; 1858-'63, Washington Loomis; 1864, W. M. Law; 1865-'71, Jas. Dinsmoor; 1872-'73, B. R. Watson; 1874-'75, Henry Keefer; 1876, John Buyers; 1877, S. J. Baird.
Town Clerks:-1852, Henry B. Sampson; 1853-'56, H. C. Donaldson; 1857, Chas. N. Russell; 1858, Joel Burdick; 1859, John Phinney; 1860, Chas. Patridge; 1861-'62, T. S. Barrett; 1863-'65, Jas. Fraser; 1866-'69, Daniel June; 1870-'72, Geo. T. Reed; 1873-'77, D. McIntyre.
ASSESSORS:-1852, Simeon Sampson; 1853-'54, W. S. Wilkinson; 1855, Wm. Pollock; 1856, J. C. Mickle; 1857, Wm. Pollock; 1858, Asa Scott; 1859'62, Wm. Platt; 1863, O. O. Stolp; 1864, Reuben King; 1865, C. D. Sandford; 1866-'69, O. E. Fanning; 1870, Wm. Pratt; 1871-'73, O. E. Fanning; 1874'77, R. A. Galt.
Collectors:-1852, N. R. Douglas; 1853-'56, T. M. Burr; 1857, Geo. C. Willson; 1858-'59, T. M. Burr; 1860, R. B. Stoddard; 1861-'63, J. B. Lindsley; 1864-'65, O. E. Fanning; 1866, S. C. Harvey; 1867, Ira Silliman; 1868'71, G. T. Reed; 1872, Ira Silliman; 1873, L. E. Tuttle; 1874, J. W. Lyttle; 1875, L. C. Lincoln; 1876, Chas. Tobey; 1877, G. T. Reed.
Justices of thc Peace:-1852-'55, Henry B. Sampson, Walter Harmon; 56-'59, Geo. C. Willson, Walter Harmon; 1860-'63, Geo. C. Willson, Walter Gannon; 1864-'67, Geo. C. Willson, R. C. Wharfield; 1868-'71, William Crum, C. Willson; 1872-'77, Wm. Crum, R. C. Wharfield.
Hopkins township contains 20,556 acres of improved land, and 817 acres of Unimproved. The Assessor's books show the number of horses in 1877 to be 747; cattle, 2,137; mules and asses, 28; sheep, 1,025; hogs, 3,353; carriages and wagons, 347; watches and clocks, 245; sewing and knitting machines, 113; pianofortes, 12; melodeons and organs, 22. Total assessed value of all property In 1877, $582,582. Value of railroad property, $44,702.
The population of Hopkins township in 1870, as shown by the Federal census was 1,436, which 1,130 were native born, and 30 foreign born. In 1860 the population was 1,113. The estimated population in 1877, is 1,600. [Source: Whiteside County, Illinois, From Its First Settlement To The Present Time; by Charles Bent; pub. 1877]
About 1837 the whole claim of Jason Hopkins was sold to Judge Bigelow and Peter Menard, of Peoria. Dr. Hardmg, a son-in-Iaw of Judge Bigelow came up and settled on it. Soon afterwards a colony was formed at Tremont, Tazewell county, in this State, and a committee consisting of S. B. Cushing, William Sampson, A. D. Jones, H. H. Perkins, and F. J. Williams, sent up to purchase the claim from Bigelow and Menard. This purchase was effected about six thousand dollars being paid for the claim, most of which belonged to Mr. Hopkins. In July, 1838, the whole claim was surveyed by this committee most of whom were surveyors, the village of Como platted, and the balance of the claim divided into farm and timber lots.
The village of Como was laid out at the southern end of the tract, on the river, and comprised nine blocks, making one hundred and forty-two lots. The first street running parallel with the river was called Front, and the two next Second and Third. At right angles with these, and commencing on the west side of the town, were Grove, State, Court, and Walnut streets. The ferry landing was at the foot of State street. Hopkins, Brittel, Dr. Harding and George C. Willson, who were then living on the claim, were each to have a share of the village, farm, and timber lots. The lots were put up, and the members bid for choice, which resulted as follows as to farm lots: Lot 1, Jason Hopkins; 2, A. D. Jones; 3, M. G. Atwood; 4, Geo. P. Plant; 5, C. Jones and N.S. Seaver; 6, H. H. Perkins; 7, S. P. Breed; 8, Jmm P. Pool; 9, W. S. Wilkinson; 10, F. J. Williams; 11, Richard Soule, Jr.; 12. H. B. Sampson; 13, W. Sampson; 14, Simeon Sampson. Lot 15 was afterwards bought by Jesse Scott. The following lots were on the south side of the river: 16, L. Bigelow; 17, Alfred Dow; 18, Dr. Harding; 19, B. H. Brittell; 20, G. W. C. Jenks; 21, S. B. Cushing; 22, Wm. Pollock; 23, Geo. C. Willson; 24, H. H. Perkins. The original agreement was that members were to forfeit the amount they paid in case they failed to settle or build a house on their respective lots. About this time speculation in western lands collapsed, and the ardor Of several of the Company cooling down, they returned East, either selling or forfeiting their claims. A. D. Jones, F. J. Williams, R. Soule, Jr., J. P. Pool, Geo. P. Plant, M. G. Atwood, C. Jones, and N. S. Seaver, never made a permanent settlement.
The Government land sales took place in 1842, when W. S. Wilkinson, Geo. C. Willson, and William Pollock were selected to bid in the lands, the lot holders furnishing the money to buy the same at $1.25 per acre. After the sale these gentlemen conveyed to the owners their several farm and timber lots, as follows: Farm lot 1 and timber lot 1 to Jason Hopkins; farm lot 2 and timber lot 2, to A. D. Jones; farm lot 3 and timber lot 3, to James N. Dow; farm lot 4 and timber lot 4, to Wm. Pollock; farm lot 5 and timber lot 5, to James D. Bingham; farm lot 6 and timber lot 6, to H. H. Perkins; farm lot 7 and timber lot 7, to S. P. Breed; farm lot 8 and timber lot 8, to James N. Dow; farm lot 9 and timber lot 9, to W. S. Wilkinson; farm lot 10 and timber lot 10, to Judith Sampson; farm lot 11 and timber lot 11, to James M. Burr; farm lot 12 and timber lot 12, to Henry Briggs Sampson; farm lot 13 and timber lot 13, to Wm. Sampson; farm lot 14 and timber lot 14, to Simeon Sampson; farm lot 15 and timber lot 15, to Jesse Scott; timber lot 16 to Dr. J. J. Harding; part of timber lot 18 to James M. Burr; timber lot 19 to John Scott; timber lot 4 to J. H. Brittell; timber lot 22 to Wm. Pollock; part of timber lot 23 to Josiah Scott; part of timber lot 23 to Geo. C. Willson; timber lot 28 to Josiah B. Harding; house lot 22 to Judith Sampson; part of house lot 25 to Josiah B. Harding; part of house lot 25 to Geo. C. Willson; house lot 26 to J Jason Hopkins; house lot 27 to Elizabeth Harding. All the farm lots were very soon improved by their owners, and as early as the land sales Como was the leading settlement in Eastern Whiteside, stores, factories, and the largest grist mill being built and successfully run.
The Postoffice at Como was established in 1840, and Dr. L. Harding appointed. the first Postmaster. The present Postmaster is A. H. Atherton. The grist mill was erected in 1845-'46, by Messrs. Smiths & Weber, at a cost of $42,000, and was the first mill of the kind built in the township or county. For many years it did an extensive business. The Congregational Church building was erected in 1854, and was the first church edifice built in Hopkins.
Of the early settlers of Como, Mrs. B. S. Sampson was the eldest member of the colony. Mr. and Mrs. H. B. Sampson, Mrs. Breed, Mr. Wm. Pollock, Mr. and Mrs. Jason Hopkins, William Tell Hopkins, Dr. and Mrs. Harding, J. M. Burr, Mrs. Geo. C. Willson, Mrs. J. B. Harding, Mrs. Jesse Scott, Mrs. J. D. Bingham, and Mrs. Mason, the mother of Mrs. Pollock, all died at that place. R. H. Perkins was drowned at the falls of St. Croix, in Wisconsin. in the spring of 1850. Mrs. Perkins died at St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1873. S. P. Breed died in New Hampshire. William Sampson died in Chicago in 1851, where he had resided for some years; his wife, Caroline Sampson, died at her home in that city, September 28, 1877, aged 84 years.
The original proprietors of Como consisted of six civil engineers and surveyors, three ship captains, one clergyman, one editor, one printer and editor, one physician, one miller, one merchant, three shoe and leather dealers, and two farmers. The colonists were mostly natives of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and were well educated, moral and hospitable people.
A bridge was early built across the Elkhorn creek, near the cemetery in Como, on a State road which had been laid out from Peoria to Savanna; but as the road was never opened, except for a short part of its length, the bridge was moved to the place where it now is on the Lyndon road. A ferry was also established in the spring of 1840 across Rock river, which proved a great convemence, as there was none from Dixon to Prophetstown. Capt. Henry Sampson opened the first public house in Como, in 1839, and after the establishment of the mail route from Dixon to Rock Island in 1840,a postoffice was established at the place. Frink & Walker, the enterprising stage men, soon put a daily line of four horse coaches on this route, and as the horses were changed at Capt. Sampson's hotel, and meals taken there, it became quite a noted place on the road. Simeon Sampson went to California in 1850, was fortunate in his undertakings, and in 1854, came back and opened a store, in which he did an extensive business for several years when he retired on account of his health and is now living in Boston, Massachusetts, owning his large farm in Como, and valuable property in Sterling. Stephen P. Breed in 1841 established one of he best nurseries in the county, at Como, sowing his own seed, but upon the arrival of his wife in January, 1847, returned to New Hampshire, and after an active life died in that State in 1871. He was noted for his honesty, and great activity of mind and body. His love of flowers and door yard adornments contributed not a little to the taste Como displayed in this regard, at that time.
Como was in the zenith of its prosperity in 1845, Charles Holmes and done Lorenzo Hapgood had opened a store in 1844, and a very large business was done by them, and at the mill store of Smiths & Weber, which extended over one half of the county, including Sterling itself. There were also one or two other stores. The village maintained its ascendency as a trading point until about 1856, when the railroad, now known as the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, was completed. It then began to decline rapidly, and is now without a store, and its once splendid mill rotting down. The first store in the place was opened by Alfred and James Dow, in 1840. In 1841 William Pollock opened a store, and was followed by William Merritt. The first schools in Como were taught by Miss Maria Sampson, now Mrs. A. E. Merrill, of Sterling and Miss Mary D. Breed, now Mrs. Frank Cushing, of Portland, scholars attending from a long distance around.
In 1845 Aaron W. Pitts opened a blacksmith shop, and soon commenced the manufacture of the improved plows. Previous to 1844 all the plows in use were of home make, and generally had rods of iron for mould boards. These plows rooted the ground after a fashion, but required constant use of the foot or a paddle to make them run at all. In 1844 the first plow that would scour was brought from near Springfield, and was called the diamond plow. It consisted of a piece of steel cut in the shape of a diamond, and then bent to form a mould board, and shear, and was polished by grinding. These were rapidly improved so that by 1846 they came into general use, and for all practical purposes did as good work as is done today by the best plows. They were manufactured extensively at Grand Detour, and Moline, and were left for sale at the country stores, and sold on time at a dollar an inch. Mr. Pitts manufactured quite largely in Como until about 1849, when he left and commenced manufacturing in Peru, Illinois.
In 1847 a new road was laid out from Como through the Sampson farm, crossing the river at the Cushing farm, and thence running easterly until it struck the Dixon and Prophetstown road at Coloma. This road shortened the distance to Dixon and Peoria, and a license for a ferry across the river was applied for, but as the point was only a mile from the Como ferry, it was strongly opposed, and the license not granted. A boat was then built by stockholders, and run practically free for a year and a half, when upon the election of two new County Oommissioners, in 1849, a license for the ferry was obtained. An appeal was at once taken from the order of the County Commissioners' Court to the Circuit Court, and Knox & Drury, then prominent lawyers of Rock Island, employed by the upper ferry interest, but the appeal failed. It created a good deal of feeling at the time. The ferry ran until the opening of the railroad, when it was moved to Lyndon.
There is now nothing left to remind one of the olden times in Como, except the extreme beauty of its location, and the cordiality and intelligence of its inhabitants. The name of Como was derived from the expanse of the river just above the town, which is said to resemble Lake Como, in Italy. [Source: Whiteside County, Illinois, From Its First Settlement To The Present Time; by Charles Bent; pub. 1877]
The village of Empire was laid out and platted July 28, 1855, by Elijah Wallace, G. S. Fraser, O. C. Stolp and Wm. Sutton. It is located on the southwest quarter of section 13. Joel Harvey soon after erected, in addition to the sawmill built by Hezekiah Brink, a large grist mill, a factory for carding, spinning, and dressing wool, and weaving woolen cloth, and also a store in which he kept a large stock of goods; he also built several dwelling houses. The village now contains about fifteen dwelling houses, the wollen mill, grist mill, Lutheran church edifice, and a large two story school building. This school house was one of the first of the graded school buildings erected in the county, and for its construction the people of the district deserve great credit. [Source: Whiteside County, Illinois, From Its First Settlement To The Present Time; by Charles Bent; pub. 1877]
The community known as Emerson today was laid out and platted July 28, 1855 under the name of Empire and at that early date wsa considered "the prettiest inland spot in the County" of Whiteside. It is located a mile or so north and west of Galt and enhanced by the Elkhorn Creek which forms the natural eastern boundary along with Spring Creek at the western edge and surrounded by a refreshingon woodlands. Emerson was platted by Major Elijah Wallace, a pioneer in Hopkins Township, along with G.S. Fraser, O.C. Stolp and WIlliam M. Sutton. A dam had been built across Elkhorn Creek in the 1840's and by 1859 Emerson boasted a flour mill, saw mill, woolen mill and general store and the industry and the industry was attributed to the water power supplied by the dam. Joel Harvey erected the grist mill following the addition of the saw mill which was built by Hezekiah Brink, the founder of Sterling.
Harvey's mill was built on the west bank of the Elkhorn at Emerson which is now a part of the Lester Deets farm. The Emerson dam was destroyed by the ice jam around 1880 and the local grist mill, woolen factory and saw mill all ceased operations before this event. During the 1850's the residents constructed a large two story school building and it was called "Oak Grove Academy."
The Lutheran Church of Empire/Emerson was organized on APirl 4, 1870 and a church building was erected that same year. The first pastor was the Rev. J.W. Richards. At the end of December, in the same year 1880, the church ceased to have a resident pastor and services were conducted by the Rev. E. Brown, Sterling, on SUnday afternoons.
Two very prominent residents of Emerson were Joel Harvey and Elijah Wallace. Harvey came from New York and built the mill and store, several dwellings and ownded large tracts of land nearby. His son Samuel was second sergeant in Company B, 13th IL Vol. Harvey bored and artesian well in Sterling and laid pipes long before the present water system. He moved to Sterling and died there in 1875. [unknown source, submitted by Christine Walters]
Village of GALT
The village of Galt was laid out and platted in January, 1855, by John Galt and others. It is on the southwest quarter of section 24, and consists of twenty blocks. There are now twenty-five dwellings, four business houses, a warehouse, cheese factory, elevator, blacksmith shop, and lumber yard, besides the depot and other buildings of the Ohicago & Northwestern Railroad Company, and the large school house, in the upper story of which is the Town Hall.
The Galt Cheese Manufacturing Company was organized October 22, 1873, with a capital stock of $3,100. The main building of the factory is 60 x 30 feet, with an addition 16 by 24 feet, and a house over the well 6 by 6 feet. The officers of the Company are, William Pratt, President, and Robert A. Galt, Treasurer and General Superintendent. About sixty thousand pounds of cheese are made annually.
The population of the village in 1877, is estimated at two hundred.
[Source: Whiteside County, Illinois, From Its First Settlement To The Present Time; by Charles Bent; pub. 1877]
Old Dam across Elkhorn Creek
Do you know what it would be like if you had lived in Emerson, Illinois, in the early 1800’s? For one thing, it wouldn’t be Emerson. At that time it was called Empire, and it was totally different from Emerson now. Today if you drive through Emerson, you’ll find houses and an old retired store. But back in the 1800’s it was more than just houses. It had many industries such as mills, and blacksmith and wagon repair, a slaughterhouse and fruit press, a general store and post office, and inn, and of course a church and a school. Either as Emerson or Empire it has an active past that very few people know about.
Elijah Wallace is credited for the platting of Empire on July 28, 1855. He came to what is now Emerson in 1838 and bought four hundred acres along the Spring and Elkhorn Creeks from Anthony Sell for $1500. He built a cabin on the banks of Spring Creek and had his wife come from Pennsylvania to join him there. Later in 1850 he built a mansion across from his cabin. The wood used for the mansion was all cut from timber in that area. The house is now owned by Ronald Koster who has remodeled it and is now living there and running what used to be the Wallace farm. The house is, as it was in Empire days, one of the most prominent and distinguished houses in this area.
There were several mills located around Empire by 1859. One mill was built by Hezekiah Brink, the founder of Sterling, and was located on the Elkhorn Creek. The other saw mill was built by Elijah Wallace not to far from his original cabin on the Spring Creek. Both saw mills provided the wood needed for the growing town. There was another grist mill in Empire, but it was built to grind the corn more coarsely for cattle and livestock. Emerson was a popular spot for many farmers, as it was a time saver to get grain milled for family use and at the same time get feed ground of their livestock. These tow mills were the only grist mills serving a large area with most of the business coming from the North West. The grist mill on the Elkhorn Creek was run by Joel Harvey as were the saw mill and the woolen mill. The woolen mill provided the town with woolen cloth for clothing and blankets. The mill took in raw wool.
These mills were powered by a dam built across Elkhorn Creek in the 1840’s and a smaller one on the Spring Creek for the mills along its banks. When the larger dam was built across Elkhorn Creek the creek was about three times it present size. Stone was brought down the creek from a small pit about where the Emerson Quarry is now. All the stone used was quarried with picks and sledgehammers. The men building the dam would load rock on a wooden barge and pole it down the creek to where it was needed. After the rock was build up on the creek bed, white oak timbers were laid about a foot apart all the way across, and long, hand made, steel spikes were driven down through the timbers into the rock bed underneath. Another layer of heavy timbers was laid on top of that and the process repeated until it got to the height they needed. The dam provided power for the mills and a lake for boating, swimming and fishing. The dam was destroyed by an ice jam sometime in the 1880’s after all the mills had already stopped operating.
Joel Harvey also started the general store in Empire about five years after Empire was founded. Then store changed hands and was run by A. P. Reed and Martin Ryerson. Around 1886 Reed took complete ownership until his retirement in 1936. In 1917, Reed hired Walter Heilener who became the owner September 15, 1936, when reed retired. Then Heilener and his wife ran the store for thirty-three years.
Heilener ran the store as conveniently as he could for his customers. The store was ope six days a week, and he stayed open at night for the benefit of the farmers who worked until the sun set. He also used credit and treaded fresh eggs for goods during the Depression when money was hard to come by. The Emerson Store closed in 1969 due to Walter Heilener’s retirement and ill health. Heilener also ran a port office in the back of the store, which he had moved into his home when the store closed. His wife ran the post office there for six months and then retired also. The Emerson Store was one of the last general stores operating in this area.
There also was a harness and a horse collar shop back in the old Emerson days. The man who made horse collars had his shop in the upstairs of the General Store. The horse collars were made in leather and stuffed with straw, and sold or shipped out by train at Galt along with other goods, livestock, and merchandise from Emerson. The harness shop consisted of a single room about twelve feet by twenty feet, in which harnesses and other leather goods were made. The harness shop sat behind the old in that once exited in Emerson. The inn was a two story building about a hounded feet long that sat towards the northwestern section of Emerson looking for a place to eat and sleep. The inn was torn down and more modern homes took its place.
Not far from where the old inn was located there was at one time a slaughterhouse run by Horace Rubright. The slaughterhouse provided a quick butcher service for those living in and around Emerson. It consisted of several wooden sheds and buildings where cattle and hogs were slaughtered, and it also provided a supply of lard which was a necessity back then.
Emerson had its very own blacksmith at one time. He was Bob Grahm and his shop stood on the west side of Emerson. Grahm supposedly started the blacksmith Shop with a wagon repair on the second floor. Later on Bill Zeigler became the blacksmith. Zeigler was known to be quite an entertainer at time when he played his violin, and stomped his foot to keep time, in the James M Deets home where he boarded. He also occasionally amused those socializing t the Emerson Store by spitting his tobacco juice on the hot pot belly stove.
On the second floor above the blacksmith shop J. M. Deets ran the wagon repair shop. Because his shop was on the second floor he had to run the wagons and buggies up an outside stairway to the second floor with the help of the blacksmith. If no one was around to help he would use a pulley system to raise and lower the wagon. Deets could get four or five wagons upstairs to paint or repair at the same time. In the summer when it was to hot to work upstairs under a tar paper roof he would repair the wagons outside.
In the eastern part of Emerson there was “Honey Bee” Bill Stewart’s honey and cider industry. The cider mill was a shed attached to a big open building with a wooden plank floor approximately four feet off the ground. The three presses sat in a row on the top of the wooden floor with the large round tube below. The leftover mass went into a low area behind the mill. Stewart would sometimes run the mill around the clock during apple season to keep up with the demand for his apple cider at ten cents a gallon.
Bill Stewart also kept honey bees, from which he obtained his nickname. The fact that there were many fruit orchards around Emerson was convenient for the bees. In the winter Stewart packed his bee hives in leaves and laid Brush over then for insulation. He kept his better strain of bees in the cellar of his house for more protection. Although “Honey Bee” Bill Stewart was an active member of the community, providing it with honey and cider, he was also well know for his death and unusual burial. Stewart died some time in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s. He was supposedly the last one buried in the old. Almost forgotten Como Cemetery. The unusual thing about his burial was the way he had it done. One of his friends once sad, “Some day they’ll plow over your grave, “Honey Bee”. So Stewart went out and picked his plot and poured a cement slab fifteen feet long, five feet wide and two feet thick. When he died he had a hole dug along side and under the cement and had his coffin slid underneath the slab. His cement grave is still there in the Como Cemetery unchallenged by any plow.
The Lutheran Church that once existed in Emerson was organized on April 4, 1870, and a church building was erected that same year where the Kunde home in Emerson is now. In 1880 Reverend J W Richards became pastor of the church. Later on, Reverend E Brown became pastor.
The Emerson school building was on of the first graded school buildings erected in the county. At one time the school carried the title of Oak Grove Academy. Eight grades were offered plus an advanced grade. There were two stoves used to heat the upstairs of the school and one in the lower room. The old cast iron stoves were a target for jokes as occasionally a few 22 caliber bullets “accidentally” got into the fire. On February 19, 1914, the Emerson School was a total loss by fire. The Emerson Lutheran Church served as a temporary school. The new school was built in approximately the same area as the old one. Over the years, until 1951, several smaller schools in the area were annexed to Emerson School. In 1964 plans were made to build a new Emerson school. The old school was sold on September 25, 1965, and the first day of school in the new building where it stands today, was October 25, 1965. The old school is now a home remodeled and owned by Richard Winstead.
There is not too much left in Emerson to show people what its past was like. Houses sit where shops once stood, and pastures line the creek banks where the mills once were. Today people laugh and say, “Emerson? There’s nothing but houses in Emerson!” Little do they know about the history of Emerson once called Empire. [Written by Lore Sulouff. Year and Date Unknown; Contributed by Margaret Mangers.]
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