Winnebago County, Illinois
While Blake and Kent were prosecuting their campaign against the wilderness at Rockford, another emigrant with his train of covered wagons was winding his way from the east, scanning the prairies eagerly in search of a suitable place where he might found a home for himself and family. This was David Adams Holt, pioneer settler of Westfield Corners. When he came to the rich land now included in Section 34, Winnebago township, he felt that his quest was ended. The wagons came to rest under the trees, and the newcomers waked the echoes of the forest with the blows of their axes as they felled the trees which were to make their new home.
The Holts might well have sung with Alexander Selkirk: "I am monarch of all I survey.
My right there is none to dispute." unless you counted the wolves as disputants. They did their best, and howled about the cabin and peered into the windows with hungry eyes, in manner to make the stoutest heart quail. There were deer, too, and other four-footed neighbors. But beside these far as the eye could reach, there was no living creature to be seen. So the year passed,. That following season (1836) brought another of the Holts, William, and a third, Elijah, joined the community in 1837. Besides these were the John Russells, John and Alby Briggs, John Burch and the Hudsons. Duty Hudson was a nephew of the elder Briggs, and in 1936 he came overland from Ohio, where he operated a blast furnace. There were three children in the party, one of them a baby six month old, and another of the little ones had been so ill on the way that his life had been despaired of and he was still in a feeble condition. The family belongings were brought in three covered wagons and the trip which may now be made in a day, had consumed six weeks.
Pioneering in Winnebago
The older settlers fell to work with a will to build the regulation one-room cabin, with its huge fireplace, for the family. Then a supply of wood for burning was provided and shelter for the animals, and the simple pioneer home was an established fact. The Indians seemed to have left the place entirely, although now and then a party wold pass through from the north. One day when the older members of the Bhurch family were from home, and the two younger boys were busy at the wood piles, two braves trotted into the yard, looked about sadly and pointing to the smoke wreathes curling above the trees here and there, grunted out the complain here and there, grunted out the plaint, "Heap much Yankee! Heap much Yankee!" and turning their ponies about, trotted out again, without trying to lessen the number of Yankees by two, as the boys very naturally thought they might do. And still the wagon trains came rolling in. Time and again the older settlers put aside their own concerns to lend a hand to a newcomer in building his cabin, until the settlement included, beside those earlies comers already mentioned, the John Johns, the Bradshaws, Doctor Mandeville, the Smiths, Russells, Halls, Howells, and the Folsoms. Most of the land was bought from the government at $1.25 per acre. The work of breaking the sod of ages that covered the land went forward slowly but each year the cultivated spot on each farm was little larger than the year before. There was a special knack in "breaking" and many of the younger members of this community helped materially in paying for the family home, by breaking land for the neighbors.
Few Farming Machines
The farming was primitive. The machines were a plow, a hand cradle and a sycthe. Grain was threshed with a flail, or trodden out by oxen. The farm produce was taken to Chicago in wagons, and sold at the elevators. Great was the excitement, when Calvin Briggs came back from Chicago, where he had gone with his grain, drawing a McCormick reaper, the first ever seen in the settlement. The children always went up on a hill to watch for the return of the absentees and incidentally to ride back to the farm in the wagons. Their excitement at sight of the monster may be better imagined than described. And when it was set up in the field, and went swinging round, tossing off the cut grain, the crowd who came to see the wonder could scarcely credit their senses. The social condition in the community were as near ideal as it is possible for them to be. All the settlers were easteners and many of them were connected by ties of blood, so the intercourse was almost like that of one big family. I have heard one of the "mothers of the settlement" say that twenty turkeys were killed in her home, in one season, to provide nine o'clock dinners for the neighbors who dropped in, uninvited, to spend the long winter evenings. A Methodist class was established very early in the history of the settlement. They met from house to house. It was several years before the people thought seriously of building a church. After a time, preachers from Rockford and Mt. Morris began to stop at the Corners to preach. During Mr. Cartwright's pastorate, the brick church was built. The material was hauled from Rockford by the members of the society, and all who could, the minister among them, turned in and helped at the actual work of building. A number of men who have since made their mark in the world preached from that little old pulpit. There was Hooper Crews and Hainey, then young men just beginning their careers. The father of Robert Hitt, for so many years representative to congress from this district, was pastor at the Corners for some time.
First Minister Comes
I think it was while Mr. Howard and Mr. Stewart were in charge that the camp meetings were held. The news of the "appointment" was spread abroad for some time before the great event arrived. All the adults of the Corners attended, pitching their tents in the "camp grounds" on the Cyrenius Woods place. The last day before the preaching really began was a busy one. All day visitors from the neighboring churches came driving in, bringing tents, bedding and food for the alloted time. By afternoon the ministers on the circuit began to arrive. They came on horseback and were entertained by the local Methodists. At home, there was a great preparation of baking and packing and any number of last injunctions as to the work to be done during the absence of the elders. There is a story of one such day, when the visiting ministers gathered about the breakfast table at the Briggs home. Mr. Briggs, on hospitable care intent, said to the ministers, "There is no need for you to take your horses to the grounds. We are going down in the big wagon, and you may as well ride with us. The boys can look after your horses here." One of the ministers, who had arrived that day, riding a horse that was the admiration of all, responded with surprising alacrity, "O no, Brother Briggs!" he said "we all know boys. If we left those horses here, they would spend the whole day racing them. We would better take them along."
The statement of the case was so true, that the boys almost jumped from their seats. And though the races they had promised the other boys of the settlement are still among the things that might have been, they got something from the incident in the way of respect for the acumen of a preacher. A few years later, the Congregationalists of the community erected the old stone church that has played an important part in the history of this section. About this church the village cemetery grew up. Those of the little band who had passed on before this time, and had been laid to rest in the cemetery at Byron were tenderly carried back, and placed among their own under the sheltering walls of the new church. Both these churches are deserted now. Indeed, the stone church, I am told, has been condemned as unsafe and removed from the landscape.
Need Felt for School
By 1841, there were so many children in the neighborhood tha tit was considered high time to provide a school house for them. The men joined forces and built a log school house on the Duty Hudson farm. There was a huge fireplace that took more wood than the boys like to carry, but which made the room a cheerful place in which to spent the winter days. This was the first school in the county. The first teacher was a man named Drake, from Massachusetts. In those days the rural schools contained pupils from the tiny "baby pupils" sent to school to be taken care of while the busy mother attended to her household duties, to the student preparing for college, and the Westfield school was no exception to this rule. Among the names enrolled were those of the Burches, John, William and Levi, Curtis, Gleason and Mary Ann Briggs, John and Jim Russell and Katherine Hudson and her little sister. It meant something to go to school in the winter in those days. The boys were obliged to be up by daylight, and get a load of wood from the woodlot, get the "chores" out of the way and prepare a huge pile of wood for the day's burning before they could leave for school. In the afternoon the twilight was falling before they reached home. But there were more chores, and that deadful wood pile to restore to its original size, before the day's work was done. Of course the teacher "boarded 'round" in those days. Great was the rivalry as to which family should entertain the honored guest for the week. Among the teachers in this old school were Emily Bond, now Mrs. Dodd, Mahala Jenks, Mrs. Ransom, the mother of Doctors Will and Penn Ranson, Miss Montague, Starr Smith and James Kerr, Mr. Pettis, of South Rockford was also one of the early day teachers at the Corners. They say much today about the desirability of making the rural school the center of the life of the community. They had no trouble to accomplish this end in the old days. It all arranged itself of its own weight. For instance, there were the entertainments at the close of school. Everyone attended. There was singing and speaking galore and once during the reign of Starr Smith, they actually rose to the heights of a dramatic performance. The play was called "The Stage Struck Yankee," I think the teacher presented the leading part and among the ladies were the Riggans, and Theodosia and Millie Dote. The play was an immense success.
Spelling Matches a Feature
Then there were the spelling matches. Everyone repaired to the school house in the evening. The big fire and the candles furnished light. Two of the number were selected to "choose sides." Of course the best speller were picked first. Then the teacher pronounced the words and the spellers dropped out of the game as they failed. Toward the last the teacher searched the book for the hard words. Don't you remember how you were used practice ph-th-is-ic; pi-tur-esque; Con-stan-ti-no-ple; and so on. And often at the last, the stubborn one was sent to his seat on some tiny word so common that no one ever thought of the teacher pronouncing it. It was always some sort of an entertainment after the spelling match and then they all went home in the moonlight talking over the spellings of the evening and the teacher's rulings, which were not always satisfactory. There were singing schools, too. But they were held in the church. One of the most successful ones was taught by a man named Billings, fron New York. Mr. Billings prepared his own music books, and aftter the pupils had mastered the exercises and preliminary work, they were turned loose in the church hymn book, to the great improvement of the Sunday services. There was no choir; just a teacher and everyone followed to the best of his or her ability. There were many fine voices in the singing school, notably those of the Bixby family, Mr. Brester and Mr. Low. During war time, Professor Starweather taught, and how they did ring out on the popular war songs of the day! There were other diversions too. There was the big Harvest Home celebration that was held in '57 or '58. After the harvest was gathered, a day was set for the jollification. The children met by schools at the old stone church, and marched to the grove at the Corners. Duty Hudson, resplendent in Judge Miller's scarf of state rode at the head of the procession, and the children sang like larks as they followed to the grove the ladies served them, tableful after tableful. Then there was music and speaking, and children were entertained with games. It seems they never have such fine times in these days.
Better Homes Built
The one room cabins were soon enlarged or were torn down to give place to better homes. Mr. Hudson soon replaced his small home by a big rambling log structure that came to be known throughout the country as the "Buck Horn Tavern." There was a huge fire place in one side, and a built in oven that held I don't know how many loaves of bread at a time. Outside another oven was built, and in the kitchen was an iron stove, made by the Mine Host himself in the days when he owned a foundry in Ohio. Mrs. Hudson was known far and wide for her skill in cooking. There is a story extent that every fall she made one hundred mince pies which were baked in this oven and then to await their call to the table. With the coming of the stage days, the tavern became a station. It was a favorite pastime for the children to watch for the coming of the coach, which came dashing down the road in fine style, its four horses prancing as all drivers knew how to make them prance at the psychological moment, the bugle sounding such a note that all the settlement might know it was time to come and claim their mail. The coach stopped all night at the Buck Horn, and the passengers waited the arrival of the stage from the other direction in the morning, when they recontinued their journey on it, and the one that had brought them returned to its starting place. Those old time drivers were character. During the gold fever of '49, the tavern was crowded every night. Often forty men slept under its hospitable roof, while their covered wagons were grouped about the stable yards. Often a traveler would fish a mouth organ, an accordian or even a fiddle from the depth of his wagon, and then what a jolly evening they spent in the big kitchen, children sat upon the stairs listening to the music, and watching the visitors dance to the music of the impromtu orchestra. It was no unusual thing for dancers to be gathered in the house, for the tavern received parties from Elgin, Dixon and even as far as Savanna, but it was the character of the visitors that added to the novelty of the scene.
Exodus to California
Speaking of the Forty-niners, reminds me of the exodus from the Corners at that time. Among the latest of the pioneers was Alonzo Hall, who came to the region in '44 and bought tract after tract of land until he owned about 1500 acres. At the Dells, which were part of his holdings, the stream was dammed, and a saw mill built. The surrounding forest furnished the logs, which were sawed into lumber and shipped. Beside this and the regular farm work, a flock of 1500 sheep, attended by a Scotch shepherd with his dog, roamed about the hills and had to be washed in the stream in the spring, and shorn by hand afterwars. The Hall property in all, gave work to thirty men. Not content with all this magnificient activity, when the gold fever broke out, Mr. Hall determined to organize a part to try their luck at the diggings. A number of men from the Corners accompanied him, among whom were his son, Alfred, and the younger John Burch. The part started out with their well-equipped wagons and everyone in the village was there to see them off and wish them God speed. Mrs. Hall, brave woman that she was, was left in charge of the home pla(c)e. All went well until the party reached Omaha. There a member of the party named Case was attacked with smallpox. Mr. Burch caught the disease and both were left behind when the party resumed their journey. Case died, but Mr. Burch recovered, and after some time, rejoined the company in California. Mr. Hall did not find the fortune he dreamed was awaiting for him. About a year after his arrival, he sickened of mountain fever, and "slippet awa to oor lang hame" and was buried far from the home he had worked so hard to build, and the family who needed him sorely. The son returned to the Corners, traveling across continent by way of the isthmus. Mr. Hall--"Aunt Melinda" as she was generally known, was a remarkable woman, and the last of the older generation of pioneers to pass away. How one thread of narrative will drag in another. There is the Dutch John episode, too, that belongs to the period of '49. John kept a sort of nondescript institution at the Corners, as much saloon as anything else, I suppose. It was found that his whiskey was playing the miscief with the boys and young men of the neighborhood, and the mothers arose in their might, and declared that if the men couldn't stop the nuisance, they could. Accordingly, one night after the "store" was deserted, the women broke in, hammered in the head of every whiskey barrel they found, and emptied the contents on the ground. What John thought no one knows, but he kept his eyes open. One woman who had been a leader, was indiscreet enough to boast of her prowess. A little later his family decided to leave for the West. Every preparation was made, and the emigrant wagons were standing in the yard, ready for an early start next day, when someone visited the scene, and with a sharp knife, ripped the covers of the wagons into ribbons. There was nothing done about the affair, but everyone was satisfied that Dutch John had paid his debt. And the name of Hall brings up the memory of the village William Tell and his exploits. Joshua Hall was a notable marksman, and while discussing some famous feat with firearms with a companion for one day, declared that he could do just the same thing that William Tell had done at the bidding of the Austrian tyrant. His friend laughed him to scorn, and finally offered to bet that Hall could not make good his boast. I cannot for the life of me see why he should have done this, for the sequel looks as though he had some faith in Hall's skill as a marksman. The bet was taken, Hall took his position, his friend stood at attention a certain number of paces away with a small tin cup on his head, in place of the traditional apple. The rifle was raised slowly, Hall sighted across the barrel, and the ball sped, directly through the cup! If the bet was paid, I do not know whether it was in acknowledgement of Hall's skill, or as a thanks offering that the target escaped with his life.
Story Telling Class
Right at the Corners was a blacksmith shop, kept by Joe Corl. In the absence of a store, this was the gathering place of the class, and here the boys could gather about the door in the dusk and listen to the most wonderful stories by the village story-tellers, especially Uncle Craig and Uncle Timothy Hoyt. Uncle Timothy was a Vermont man and the stories which he told about his early life there, as well as his pioneer adventures, were as interest as an Arabian Nights tale. Uncle Craig was a Scotchman, one of the later comers among the old settlers, and had been a fireman on the first train that ran west from Albany in the days when the engines were fed with billets of wood, instead of coal. His stories were intensely interesting, but their preamble was a long on to listen to if you were anxious to know which of the heroines the hero married. This is the way the introduction ran" "The fact o' the matter, is to be candid--at all events--"
I wouldn't have you think for a moment that the early Westfield people basked in the sunshine perpetually. There was the deep snow, in the early forties, before the settlers had become well enough started to cope well with untoward circumstances. The snow came so early that it caught the corn in the fields, and so deep that it was impossible to rescue it. It was found necessary to "snap" it unhusked, and of course much of it was lost. The roads were blocked so it was almost impossible to get about. The wild creatures in the woods starved because the snow covered all their food. The last of January, there came a thaw, followed by a sharp freeze. The snow was covered by a thick coating of ice, that would sustain the weight of a dog, but which broke under the blows of a deer's hoof. The deer came down from the north in droves, and sank through the crust of the snow near the creek, and were unable to extricate themselves. In this position, they were slaughtered by the dozens, though at that time the flesh was worthless as food. They were killed for the sheer love of killing. Spring came early that year, and it was never welcomed with greater cordiality than by the snow beleagured people of the Corners.
The news of the fall of Sumter made a great excitement. The school house was the scene of many a gathering. Speakers from Rockford came down and the young men thought a little else but going to fight for their country. The children of the brick church Sunday school, and the older members each made a flag, and it was planned to raise them above the churches, as the best possible place to show the spirit of the community. The pastor prepared an eloquent patriotic sermon, one of the ladies who lived near the church carried the flag to meeting wrapped in her apron or her shawl and everything seemed ready for a fine scenic exhibition of patriotism. But alas! There were some in the community who did not think as the majority of citizens thought and when the discourse grew warm, they left their places in the church and refused to return. I do not know that they ever did return. But the flag floated proudly to the breeze and Westfield sent a number of men to the field, some in the Eleventh and some in the Seventy-fourth. When the boys were in camp at Rockford there were many picnics from the Corners. One of the Westfield boys, William Hudson, son of that Duty Hudson whose name is still a happy remembrance among the older settlers at the Corners, was a member of the detachment of cavalry sent in pursuit of John Wilkes Booth after the tragedy in Ford's theater, and participated in his capture. [--Rockford Morning Star, April 10, 1910]
BEING A BOY IN OLD ROCKFORD
WHEN KISHWAUKEE WAS NEW
In reading the stirring tales of old times in Winnebago county, we come upon the names of several towns, stirring, active business centers at the time, which have dropped entirely out of existence and in some cases even their old time locality is a subject of dispute. There was the old town of Winnebago, Newburg, Buffalo Grove, Vanceburg, and Prairie Grove. But perhaps the largest and most important of the family and one that was at one time a formidable rival to its sister settlement at the ford, was the little settlement of Kishwaukee, which was situated where the river of that name empties into the Rock. The first Kishwaukee was settled in a very early day, when Dr. Catlin, the Footes, Hiram, Lucius and Horatius, Ira Barker, Lewis Sweasey, J. Morton, a Mr. Field and Silas Tyler came overland from the western reserve, in Ohio, bringing their families and their belongings in farm wagons, intent upon founding in the newly settled west another school as Oberlin college, which had revently been started by Finney, the revivalist in Ohio. They selected a beautiful location on the bluffs overlooking the Kishwaukee river for the college, and began to build their homes about it. Speculation was the order of the day and building lots were sold with surprising rapidity. Frames for seventy houses were erected, but there were few of these that ever reached maturity. Dr. Catlin, Mr. Tyler, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Field finished their homes, and lived in them for a time. Mark Beaubien, the celebrated fiddling tavern keeper kept a tavern here for a number of years, but as travel fell off, he deserted his two story tavern and returned to Chicago. But all this time the fame of the Rock river valley, and especially the mouth of the Kishwaukee, was spreading through the east. Mr. George Less, a gentlement of wealth and education, made the grand tour of the region on horseback, looking for a suitable location for a settlement. As he rode, he wrote of his experiences and the letters which he sent back were published in the New York Evening Star, the National Intelligence, the Richmond Whig, and the Army and Navy Chronicle. These articles were wonderfully well written, and tradition says that Captian Marryat, in speaking of them classed their author of them classed their author with Cooper and Washington Irving as a painter of pen pictures. The lovely spot at the mouth of the Kishwaukee captivated the heart of the traveller at once. Beside, at this time, when a town was supposed to rely greatly upon its water transportation for its prosperity, the harbor, ten feet deep, and the current so gentle that numberless craft might anchor saftely within its encircling arms, was considered a might asset; and here Mr. Lee determined to found his town. In the spring of 1840 the first house was erected in the new town, which was located upon the opposite side of the stream, and lower down. The postoffice was removed from the old town, and plans wet on foot for a year of building. Mr. Lee and his partner Mr. Rossiter who had been appointed postmaster, opened a real estate and law office at once; lots were given away to those who promised to erect homes upon them; farms were sold in the vicinity; and efforts were made at attract(ing) mechanics and artisans to the new town. Within six months the place assumed quite the appearance of a western frontier settlement of the better class. It was a lovely place. As the stage coach rolled along the locust shaded Kishwaukee road, the little village burst upon the sight. Just here the land swept back from the river in a eries of terraces; the first about ten feet in height, ran back about seventy reet; then the second, and the third, which overlooked the water from an elevation of about seventy-five feet. The entire slope was covered with beautiful oak, elm and maple trees quite to the waters edge, and under them the grass grew green and velvety. On this third terrance the village was settled. There was the cosy, comfortable tavern, with its hospitable landlord waiting at the door; the two stores, two blacksmith shops, the postoffice and real estate and law office of Lee and Rossiter; a tin-smith, a copper-smith, a watch maker and jeweller, several carpenter shops, and all about them the thrifty homes of the settlers. Above all loomed the huge bulk of the old college building upon the bluff, which Paoli Brooks had built, and to which many of the farmers had contributed, in the hope that it would be a blessing to the little ones of the family. But it had been found that no water could be obtained on the bluff; wells of astonishing depth had been sunk, without reaching water. So year after year the frame stood brooding, the cupola upon its summit a capital observatory from which the prospector might view the country o'er--until at length, when it seemed that it was a menace to the public safety, the frame was torn down, and the lumber carted away to the farms, as the frames from Old Kishwaukee had been. There was no school building: the children were taught in private schools, taught in the various farmhouses. Every Sunday the villagers gathered at the Rossiter house, where Brother Irwin, of the Methodist church dispensed the gospel to the little congregation, which gathered from all sides, where the thrifty farms stretched far and wide. There were the Shumways, the Fullers, the Brooks and the Wheelers, the Jewells, the Buells, the Ramsays, and the Merryfields, whose farms lay far back in the woods. There were several boys in the family and they owned one of the largest breaking plows ever seen in the countryside. It took from six to twelve oxen to draw the blade through the matted sod, and great was the interest of the small boy in the proceeding. Another amusement of the boy, when he had time for amusement, was the exploraton of the old Blackhawk camp on the bluff. For years and abandoned tepee stood upon upon the site, and might often find arrow heads, silver ornaments and strange implements of stone whose use was unknown. And then, too, there was the progress of the workmen busily putting together the boats for the new ferry, which was soon to be in operation; and now ans then a boat came steaming up the stream from the ports below, bringing sugar, molasses, and "store truck" to trade for flour, pork and potatooes.
Kishwaukee suffered severely from the depredations of the prairie bandits. Horses were constantly disappearing from the stables of the farmers, and always the best were selected. One night in October the store of H.L. Buel was entered and about $800 worth of goods were stolen. Only the finest of the goods were selected. All the common, cheap material was rejected. The burglary occurred on Monday night. It was in the gloaming of Tuesday when the news reached Rockford, seven miles away. The news spread like wildfire throughout the little town. There was a great excitement of preparation, and finally, about 8 o'clock, a posse of fifty men set out for the scene of the robbery. All who secure horses were mounted; those who could not plied into farm wagons which trailed along in the rear of the procession. Jason Marsh and his partner, Udel, headed the procession. Even now suspicion pointed in the direction of the Brodies and the Driscolls, and toward their homes the company took their way. But they accomplished nothing. You would scarcely suspect that they would, when two of the conspirators, Oliver and McDole, were mingling freely with the crowd, listening to their plans, and seemingly quite as anxious for the capture of the thieves as the most excited of them all. But little Kishwaukee was destined to play and important part in the apprehension of the gang, after all. One of the blacksmiths of the place, Jewell, was an exceedingly expert workman, and attracted trade from all the surrounding territory. His shop stood hard by the road, and there was always a number of teams hitched in the shade of the overhanging trees, while their owners visited and gossipped about the forge within. One day a man name Taggart stopped at the forge to have some slight task attended to, and engaged the farmers gathered about in conversation. He himself was very talkative, and something in his conversation challenged the suspicion of the bystanders. That night the finest span of horses in the country, belonging to a man named Wheeler, disappeared. Suspicion at once attached to the stranger, and a committee of the citizens visited him and taxed him with the crime. Naturally he denied all knowledge of the theft. He was sentenced, as was the code of the regulators, to receive ninety-nine lashes; fiftey-seven were delivered when the culprit broke down, confessed his guilt, and told of the members of the gang, and where the booty was secreted.
Mr. Lee was an able man and worked incessantly for the good of the colony he had fostered. He was one of those who had kept the lines working for the development of the Rock river waterway. When the N.P Hanks was built on the east side of the river and made her first trip down the stream, great was the rejoicing in the little town of Kishwaukee. Now there was a promise that the fine harbor might some day be developed and used. Mr. Lee also worked to bring the railroad here. But when that project was successfully carried through, it meant the downfall of the little settlement at the mouth of the Kishwauk. During the reign of the stage coach the town stood at the meeting of the roads. The stages to Dixon, Galena, Chicago, Altoona and Wisconsin all passed through her streets. The little tavern was always crowded; the blacksmiths and the stores were busy looking after the needs of the prospectores and the miners who traveled through by the roads. But the railroad gave her a wide berth, and, like Galena, she was obliged to see her greatness--which, after all, was merely a matter of faith--dwindle away, until today all that remains of the once thriving settlement is a name, and a memory, rapidly growing fainter and fainter as the years come and go. [--Rockford Morning Star, January 7, 1912]
BEING A BOY IN OLD ROCKFORD
A SECTION OF SOUTH CHURCH STREET
A newcomer in Rockford, walking along South Church street of today would find it difficult to believe that at one time this was one of the loveliest residence sections of the town--but there are many men and women who have never been classd with the old folks who can remember it in all its beauty and charm. There are many people who think that the street was named for Judge Selden M. Church, who was one of the pioneers busily engaged in making history for the embryo town where this street was laid out in 1836 by Don Alonzo Spaulding and Charles B. Farwell, of Chicago, for Germanicus Kent. There is no reason to believe that the streets were given any names at this time--they were simply roads and for years after were no spoken of by name. The Congregational church in Rockford was organized in May, 1837 and held services every Sabbath in various places, varying from the old "stage barn" built by Daniel Haight to the double log house of Kent, near the creek, or that of William Dunbar, his neighbor. In 1838 it was learned that Messrs. Kent and Brinkerhoff, with their usual generosity, were building a lot which they had given fort he purpose. This first churchin Rockford--and indeed, the first one, other than a log structure in the Rock River valley was completed and turned over to the church society in the autumn of 1838, and it stood among the oaks and the hickories on the southwest corner of Church and Green streets, where the Minzinger home now stands.
The Baptists built their first home in 1841, but this frame structure stood upon the corner of Main and Mulberry streets, where the American Insurance building now stands. It was eight years after this, in 1850, that the fine "stone meetin' house" was built on Church street, but before this the little old frame building on Main street had become too small, and the congregation, with the redoubtable Elder Knapp as leader, were worshipping in the new court house and the church was used as a school house by Hiram Waldo. In 1849, the Unitarians felt that they had become strong enough to own a church of their own, and purchased the building, turning Mr. Waldo and his school out without ceremony. The little building was moved to the lot which the Unitarians owned, on Church street, back of the old City hotel, and here they lived and worshipped for a time; but in 1853 it was decided to build a more commodious home, and the poor maimed building on the corner of Church and Chestnut streets was built and dedicated to the services of the Lord with proper ceremony in 1855. The Presbyterians had, in the meanwhile, banded together for worship, and were watching for the old church to become vacant. And as soon as the Unitarians left it, they purchased the building which became "the little brown church" of historic memory.
After the coming of Sampson George and his family, and Dr. Levi Moulthrop in 1835-36, followed by Johnathan Weldon, Chauncey Ray and John W. Taylor, in the following years, there had been a faithful band of Episcopalians in the county. They, too, worshipped for a time in that hospitable Baptist church building, but its sale to the Unitarians left them without this refuge, and in 1852, small and weak as their organization was, they determined to have a home of their own, and the long, low frame building which stood for so many years of the corner of Church and North streets--now Park avenue--just over the line, beyond the original city limits--came into being as a response to this need.
And when, in 1856, the Congregationalists built their fine stone church across the way to the north from the Unitarians, do you wonder that the street came to be known as Church street--or the street of churches? Every one of the old original denominations except the Methodists and the Lutherans have been represented on its borders at one time or another--the number has been reduced today to the Congregationalists, the Episcopalians and the Baptists, and the Baptists have their wings poised, all ready for the flight. But still the name remains, and must ever remain, as a reminder of the days that are gone. But would it not be interesting to good Pastor Joseph Emerson, who was breaking the bread of life to the Congregational people at the time of the dedication of the old-new church, could come back quite unexpectedly and wander about in that section of the town, how many of the old landmarks the poor gentleman would look for in vain?
Of course, his own church, the church that was the pride of the denomination in northern Illinois, would have disappeared, and I think even he would grieve at the condition of the home of the Unitarians across the way, although in his day and generation, there was not much liberality in church matters, and he would probably say that this was what he always foretold for those unorthodox brethren, and of course, he would know nothing of the big liberal church on the corner of Main and Mulberry which had taken its place. Of course, he would greet the old Peters home across the way as a very old friend indeed, for this house was built by Mrs. Peters' father, John Miller, who came to Rockford in 1837. There were three sons in the Miller family--Jacob, who was the second resident lawyer in the town, Thomas and George. The old house should be especially interesting because of its connection with the Millers, for they were prominent figures in the early day life of the town, especially "old Jake" who was an orator of note, and the bright and shining light of the political campaigns. He was a fine classical scholar, and addressed his hearers in the most polished English. But he was a mimic and his speeches seemed to gain in power if he clothed his ideas in the vernacular, and barbed his points with a clever caricature of the weaknesses and foibles of a leader or two on the other side. And if, at the very end, the orator who shone as a musician as well as an orator, produced his fiddle and broke ino a rollicking tune, like the Arkansaw Traveler, for instance, and set every foot in the audience to jigging away at a great rate, and the meeting resolved itself into a great, good natured dance.
There is another old-time picutre that arises in the mind of the pioneer at the mention of the Millers and the Miller home. It is that of the famous deer hunt of 1837. Everyone was anxious to shoot a deer, but expert marksmen as many of the men and boys around town had become, they were invariably stricken with what they called "buck fever" when the opportunity to shoot a deer presented itself, to the great gain of the deer. So one day some on suggested a great deer hunt, hoping that the excitement of such an occasion might act as an antidote for this strange complaint. The entire town was divided into two great companies, with Henry Thurston captain of one and John Miller of the other--but both of these leaders, being considered too old to take the field in person, were represented by substitutes. The woods were scoured well, but the only animal captured was shot by Jake Kite, Henry Thurston's proxy.
The Millers moved from Rockford in the forties, and the home passed into the hands of the daughter, Miss Peters, mother of Mrs. S.W. Stanley, and has been known as the Peters home for so many years that there are many who consider themselves old residents, to whom the story of its connection with this historic old family will come as a surprise.
And then the old Dr. Clark home has disappeared. In the good old Dr. Emerson's day the home of Dr. Dexter Clark stood in the middle of the space below the Unitarian church, in a lovely garden overrun with all sorts of lovely shrubbery and charming old-fashioned flowers. The home was a cosy one-story structure with a frame wing stretched out on either side, eloquent witness of the real hospitality to be found within. The doctor, who was a brother of Dr. Lusiuc Clark, followed his brother to the city in 1848, and established his home before he joined the emigrants to California in 1850. It was here that he met Col. E.F.W. Ellis, who afterward came to Rockford to embark in the banking business with Mr. Spafford and Dr. Clark. The bank stood upon the corner of the alley in State street, between Church and Main, and was one of the first in the city.
The doctor was a noble Christian, and an ardent worker in the church. For years he was superintendent in the Sunday school of the old Kent and Brinkerhoff church, and many are the stories of his generosity to the widow and the orphan, although he was not fond of allowing his left hand to know what his right hand undertook to do.
The doctor died in 1861 and the place passed into the hands of a stranger, who built a number of houses on the land, which were sold when the owner removed to California.
In the little grout house nestled close to the church lived Dr. Blount, and with him his widowed sister, Mrs. Gillam, who was one of the first teachers in the west side high school, and her daughters, Mary and Aurora. In the Dr. Clark home beside it was a dear girl, the child of one of the doctor's pioneer friends, who died in the goldfields of California with his fortune all unmade, and left his children to the care of his friend, whose sterling worth he had learned to appreciate. With such a bevy of girls, and two such charming homes, you may be sure that this block came to be one of the jolliest places in town. And then there is the square cottage across the way, standing brave and independent upon its high stone foundations. This is a very old house indeed, and was for a time used as a Methodist parsonage. It was here that Mr. Gray, pastor of the Court street church in 1858-59 lived; but a little later it was purchased by Hiram Enoch, founder of the Journal, which in the course of time was transformed into The Rockford Morning Star, and you will hear it called the Enoch house to this very day. One frosty morning in the early sixties a strange procession of heavy wood sleighs drove slowly down the street, and paused before the old, abandoned church on the corner. The men fell to work with a will, tearing down the sturdy old structure, which they had purchased and meant to remove to Owen. Before nightfall the building was demolished, and moved away--the street was less the street of churches than it had been the day before. And not so very long after this, Phillip Monzinger, who owned the first ice cream parlor in the city, built his home upon the corner. It was late in the sixties that the home across the way was built by Thomas Derwent, pioneer miller; and next to it was the home of James Hough, a good blacksmith, and captain of our volunteer fire department. Here was the Horace Utter home, too; and to even things up a bit, and keep the balance of power, the other miller of the city, Thomas Chick, built his home on the opposite side of the street--as pretty and sociable and as desirable a neighborhood as it was possible to find in any part of the city. [--Rockford Morning Star, February 23, 1913]
BEING A BOY IN OLD ROCKFORD
A MAP STUDY
If one of the men who helped to set the machinery of Rockford in motion sixty or seventy years ago should be set down in our midst today, might find it difficult to recognize in the developed city, the ideal he has in mind as he looked into the future. But if you wanted to convince him of its identity, spread the city map before him, and watch the light of conviction dawn upon his face as he comes upon familiar names attached to the streets, parks and school buildings. There they are, the old friends he met every day. Kent, and Garrison, Blake, Cunningham, Montague, Hulin, Kilburn, Knowlton, Horsman, Morgan, Haskell and Fisher. There are Ellis, and Wight, Church, Hall, Marsh, Nelson and Brown. Every one of these would bring up visions of the past, and set a whole panorama in motion before his eyes. When the first settlers came to the region, there were, of course, no roads but the Indian trails. One of these was the route followed by General Scott and his men during the Black Hawk war, when the trader, Stephen Mack guided them through the region to the headwaters of the Rock. It followed the river to the first creek above the city, where it turned and skirted the creek, crossing it at the place where the first bridge was built later. Right here, under the protecting bluff, the Indians had established a permanent winter camp. The scars made by their fires and tepee poles were plainly visible for years after the coming of the white man. From this point, the trail crossed the prairie to the Scotch Settlement. Many of the men in their prime today can remember when the Indians passed through the settlement to and from their hunting grounds to the south every year, and how the prudent mothers hurried to feed them on the best the house afforded, fearing that a refusal to do this might precipitate an Indian massacre.
State is Oldest Street
State street is of course our oldest street, for it is part of the old state road. In 1836, when travel in the northern part of the state had become a factor in the life of the commonwealth, the legistlature appointed James Gifford, Daniel S. Haight and Josiah Goodhue special commissioners to survey and locate a road from Meachams Grove, in Cook county, to Galena in Jo Daviess county. This bill directed that Elgin, on Fox river, in Cook county; Belvidere, on Squaw Prairie in the county of La Salle, and Midway, at the ford of the Rock river, in Jo Daviess county, be made points on said road, and that the commissioners shall fix said road on the most advantageous ground, for a permanent road, having reference to said points." Don Alonza Spaulding was government surveyor at this time. The road was at once opened, and State street in Rockford and in Belvidere are portions of this highway, which stretched across the state from Chicago to Galena in a northwesterly direction, and from Chicago on the east, indefinitely. Down this road three times every week, the four horse coach came swinging, stopping at the post office on the east side of the river, then crossing on the ferry, then on up the street to the Washington house on the Ashton corner, and then on up the street with spectacular cracking of whip, and on toward Galena. A few years later another road to Chicago, through St. Charles, was laid out, and named St. Charles street. The prefix was gradually dropped and so our Charles street of today came into being.
Very soon after the legislature provided for the opening the state road Mr. Kent requested the surveyor to lay out two or three streets on the west side, parallel with the river, and in the late spring Mr. Haight asked him to do the same for the east side. On examining the ground, Mr. Spaulding found that it would be impossible for him to place the street next the river on suitable ground, and have the new streets correspond with those on the west side. The difficulty was explained to Mr. Kent, but for some reason he refused to allow any change to be made, and the result is that our city has never been blessed with a uniform system of streets.
Was Theater of War
But the portion of our city map that fairly bristles with local history is that part lying north of Guard street, and east of Harlem avenue. This entire section, you remember, was granted to Catherine Myott, a half-breed squaw by the treaty with the Winnebago Indians, and was by her transferred to Nicholas Boivin who had been an Indian agent and trader at Chicago and other points in the northwest, until he had more than a local reputation for his influence with the Indians. The conveyance of this tract is the first one made in the county. Its record is to be found in a little old shabby volume in the recorder's office, which, in spite of its unattractive appearance contains many interesting stories of the changing land and establishing of homes in the early days. Because of all these facts, and the interesting associations connected with it, I shall give a copy of the deed.
"Know all men by these presents, that I, Catherine Mayotte, of the town of Chicago and state of Illinois, for and in consideration of the sum of eight hundred dollars to me in hand well and truly paid by my relative and friend, Nicholas Boilvin, his heirs, executors and assigns, the unlocated section of land which was granted to me by the fifth article of the treaty between the United States and the Winnebago Nation of Indians, made and concluded at Prairie de Chien on the first day of August in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred twenty-nine. The other section granted to me by the said treaty having been sold to Henry Gratiot. Together with all the right, title, interest, claim and control which I the said Catherine have, or may or can have by virtue of the treaty aforesaid. To Have and to Hold to him the said Nicholas Boilvin, his heirs, executors and assigns, to his and their sole use and and behoof forever. And furthermore I the said Catherine for myself, my heirs, executors, and assigns hereby covenant, promise and agree to and with the said Nicholas Boilvin, his heirs, executors and assigns, that all acts and doings in the premises which have hitherto been done or may yet be performed under the direction or authority of the said Boilvin or his lawful agent I will ratify and confirm. And I hereby bind myself, my heirs and executors to the fulfillment of the contract this day made between the said Boilvin and myself, hereby granting and selling unto the said Nicholas Boilvin all my right, title, and interest in and to the said premises aforesaid, in as full, perfect and absolute a manner as it.
CATHERIN MAYOTT (Seal)
Signed, sealed and delivered in presence of G.W. Dole, Thomas Hartzell, Isaac Harmon.
State of Illinois, Cook Co. This day came before me Catherine Mayott, to me personally known as the real person who executed the foregoing deed of conveyance and then before me after the same was read and the contents thereof being duly explained to her, acknowledged that she had executed same freely and voluntarily for the uses and purposes therein contained, and acknowledged herself satisfied with the consideration therein named and received therefor.
Given under my hand and seal this 25th day of August, A.D. 1835
Isaac Harmon, J.P. (Seal)
This deed was recorded in Cook county August 29th, 1836, and on the seventh of September of the same year, it was filed with Daniel H. White, Recorder of WInnebago county. This is all we know of Catherine Mayott, one time owner by direct inhertance from her red mother of over six hundred acres of the best lands of the county. But her name is preserved to us in the name, Myott Ave., which has been bestowed upon one of the newer streets of the city, in memory of the owner of the land in this section. Immediately below Myott Ave. we come upon Boilvin Ave., so called in memory of that kind friend and relative referred to in the deed.
Laid Out New Town
But Winnebago county has other cause to remember this Boilvin. It was he who, in company with Charles Reed of Joliet and Major Campbell platted all this district, which extended from Guard street on the south to Brown avenue on the north, and from the middle of Church street to the river, as Winnebago, and set on foot that long if bloodless strife over the location of the court house. After the settlement of this controversy, the town plat of WInnebago was vacated and the rest of the tract divided into lots. As the town grew it absorbed its one time rival, and the place thereof knew it no more until the southern portion once more became prominent as Camp Fuller of war time. This tract of land stretched from Guard street to Sheridan street and from Main street to the river and was known to the citizens as "Churchill's woods." This fact is recorded in the name of the street between Harlem avenue and Main street, south of Boilvin avenue--Churchill street. This region is crowded with beautiful homes today; in 1862 it was populous, too, and by far the most popular section of Winnebago county. But its homes were neither so large nor so commodius as those that have since arisen in their place. In the morning its dwellers were awakened by the revilee, and at night they were sung to sleep by the bugle song. National avenue was not National avenue then in name, but there were the white tents, and the red, white and blue of the nation floated to the breeze. Along the southern boundary, now known as Guard street, the sentry paced to and fro, rain or shine, night or day.
To the north lies Ellworth street, named in honor of the brave young soldier who fell before he had proven his armor, but whose connections with the Grays and whose camp on the old fair grounds have forever and indissolubly linked his name with the military and camp life in Rockford.
Above this, across the northern boundary of Camp Fuller is Sheridan street. To the majority of our citizens Sheridan stands for the man of great deeds, but he is nevertheless a hero seen from afar. This is not the case with the boys of the Seventy-fourth. He came into their lives during their first campaign. At Stone River he proved his metal, and they proved theirs. He was with them at Missionary Ridge. Not a man of the regiment but is fond of telling how the indomitable little general led their division in the attack upon the rigle pits at the foot of the ridge that day. How the men rushed to the charge, carried the pits, and then, fired by the words and the example of Sheridan pushed on up the hill in the face of a raking fire from the enemy's guns. General Grant, from his position on Orchard Knob saw the seething mass of humanity surging up the slope, as it seemed to him, to certain death, sent orders to recall them. When the officer delivered his message to Sheridan, the latter cooly remarked, "Very well; there the boys are, and they seem to be getting along; stop them if you can. I can't stop them until they get to the top."
You know how they did get to the top. And that the banner with which they started out that morning, bright and beautiful, fresh from home, was the first to float from the summit. But no longer fresh and bright. It was pierced by fourteen bullets, and stained with the blood of three of our Winnebago county men who fell in the endeavor to plant their flag at the top.
That was one of the grandest days in the history of our Union soldiers, and the enthusiasm of Sheridan had much to do with making it what it was. The memory and the influence of such a man can never wholly depart from a life with which it has come into daily touch. Well for us all if the name, as it clings to one of our city streets, could bring us a vision of such a life and its value to others. This marks the nrothern limit of old Camp Fuller. But its influence is in the atmosphere, as witness the succeeding streets: Sherman, Logan, Hancock and Douglas, all good men and true, and each leaving the impress of his personality on that period of our history.
Brigadier Is Honored
Across on the old drill ground, from Churchill street to the angle of Hancock, parallel with Camp avenue, is another short street. This has been christened Post avenue, and testifies to the honor in which the Winnebago county soldiers hold their old time brigade commander, Philip Sidney Post. It was to him that the Seventy-fourth regiment was entrusted, less than a month after entering the service, to be molded into shape for effective duty. If the influence of Sheridan's enthusiasm told at Stone River and Missionary Ridge, it was Post's training back of it that made the reflected enthusiasm effectual. Years after, in reviewing the first days of their association, General Post said: "No more patriotic, brave and high spirited men ever came to the front in any cause, or in any county; but to the requirements of camp life in an active campaign, most of them were strangers. I shall never forget the first night we marched out of Louisville. Few events of the war caused me greater anxiety, or made a more profound impression upon me. We had marched late at night, went into camp in the dark, and the men should have taken their supper and gone to sleep ready for a movement before daybreak. But everything was new, and it was long after midnight before the camp quieted down, many, I fear, going without supper. I went among the men and sent experienced soldiers to advise them, and worried a great deal more for then than they seemed to worry for themselves; but I knew that unfed and unrested soldiers meant soldiers unable to bear the fatigue of the next day's movement, meant the increase of sickness and the decrease of men present for duty--and within a month you knew it too. The Seventy-fourth learned to get to bed when we camped, and to get into line when called for as quick as any regiment of men ever did in any war; and the necessities of active war requires that things sometimes move lively."
The weeks that elapsed before the new men saw active service were spent in the following manner. At five in the morning reveille sounded; at seven, morning reports; ten, company drill; eleven, non-commissioned officer's drill; two to four, in the afternoon, battalion drill; five, dress parade; at seven, roll call, and at nine, taps sounded. In the evening the field officers gathered in General Post's tent for instructions in evolutions of the line. Drill, preparation and instruction were the order of the day. But it paid. This was the first time in the history of the army that brigade drill had been attempted, and the evolutions of Post's men attracted much attention while they were in camp, and elicited much praise from the officers in battle. This was especially true of difficult motion perfectly performed under great stress at Stone River and again at Chattanooga. A member of the brigade in speaking of what Gen. Post had done for his men once said: "Others we respect; him, we love."
This is a corner of the city map, and the story its names tell to one who has followed her history. It is all there. The record of the turbulent days when this section was known as Winnebago, and did battle for the county buildings. The peaceful days when the children gathered hepaticas and sping beauties in Churchill's woods. Then the stirring days of the fife and drum, when it was known as Camp Fuller. I do not know of any section of the city that has entwined the record of its growth so legibly in its street names. But there are other places that desrve as well, and men who have carried their full share of the burdens, of whom no record has been kept to the great loss of out city, and posterity. [--Rockford Morning Star, March 13, 1910]
BEING A BOY IN OLD ROCKFORD
In no way did the early training of the eastern people who settled in Rockford show itself more plainly than in their demand for educational advantages for their children. Various private schools sprang up here and there with the rapidity of mushrooms, and many of them were excellent ones, too, as the cahracter of the men and women they sent out into the world can attest. Mrs. John Thurston compiled a list of these old schools for the directory of 1869, and found that they numbered fifty-four.
Amost before they had provided comfortable homes for their families, some of the earlier settlers began to talk about a school where their sons and daughters might receive a higher education than that offered by the elmentary schools of the day. In 1888 an attempt was made to found a college at Belvidere and even before this time Dr. A.M. Catlin, Hiram Foote and Silas Tyler has come this way from the Western reserve in Ohio, seeking a place where they might found another Oberlin college, and it now seemed that the dream of the Kents was about to be realized. Two others of the Foote brothers, Lucius and Horace, Ira Baker, James Morton, a Mr. Field, and the Rev. Lewis Sweasey, all joined the pioneers. A huge frame college building was erected near the mouth of the Kishwaukee, where the first comers had settled, and around it grew up a village of perhaps forty houses. But the college was never completed; one after another the citizens of "Kishwaukee" transferred their allegiance to the village at the ford, and the hopes of the faithful were once more dashed to the ground.
In 1844 the churches of the great northwest met in convention at Cleveland, O. From every part of the great new land delegates arrived, by stage, by boat, in wagons, or jogging over the unbroken roads on horseback. The subject of the education of the young people seemed to rest heavily upon their hearts, and they spent much time discussing the possibilities, and finally adopted the following resolutions, which were read at meetings at Beloit and at Rockford, after the return of the delegates: "That the exigencies of Wisconsin and northern Illinois require that those sections should unite in establishing a college and a female seminary of the highest order, one in Wisconsin, near to Illinois, and one in Illinois, near to Wisconsin."
It was finally decided to establish the college at Beloit, and after much discussion Rockford was selected as the site for the seminary. In 1845-1846 the citizens pledged $3,000 toward the sum called for by the Beloit trustees, but for some reason the pledges were never redeemed. While all this agitation was going on in the west, Miss Anna P. Sill was diligently teaching in the Cary collegiate institute in Oakfield, New York; but her heart was set upon a larger work, and when she heard the plan of the Western Reserve people to found a seminary in this vicinity, she corresponded with Hiram Foote in regard to the work. There seemed to be no opportunity at the time, and she had abandoned the project. But the westerners had kept her in mind, and now that there seemed to be a possibility that the plans might materialize, the Rev. Loss wrote to her, inviting her to come and view the field. In response to the invitation she arrived in Rockford in 1849 and in June of that year she opened a preparatory school in the old court house in North First street, which later developed into the Rockford Female Seminary. There were about seventy pupils that first term, and most of them were under ten years of age. The older pupils occupied the main building, and a wing was thrown out to the south for the primary pupils. There were two tiers of seats, facing a platform across the northern end, where once the judge stood, but now dignified by the presence of the lady principal; Miss Sill, and her assistants, Miss Hanna Richards, who taught mathematics, and Miss Melinda Richards, her cousin, who had charge of the beginners, and who taught all the music that was taught in the institution at that day. The door into the wing opened into the side aisle, and through this door the little tots filed every morning for devotional excercises, and again in the evening for the closing ceremonies. The day's work began with scripture reading and prayer by Miss Sill, followed by the singing of a hymm. "By Cool Siloam's Shay Rill." "Father, Whate'er of Earthly Bliss" and another one two lines of which were as follows, were especial favorites of the principal: "May we within thy courts be seen, Like a tall cedar, fresh and green."
The second hymm was usually sung at the close of the day, and passerby often paused to hear the sweet childish treble floating out on the quiet air, guided and sustained by Miss Sill's clear soprano, and the fuller, richer voice of Miss Melinda Richards: "Let the sweet hope that thou art mine. My life and death attend; Thy presence through the pathway shine. And crown my journeys end."
During these exercises it was customary for the girls to sit with their arms behind their backs, and during the prayer, while still holding their arms in this position, they were asked to lean forward until their forehead rested upon the desk in front. This attitude corresponded to the soldier's attention and was always assumed when Miss Sill addressed the school. From the chapter read in the morning, Miss Sill always selected a verse of scripture which the pupils were required to learn during the day, and recite in concert during the closing hour. On Monday morning at roll calll each girl was to rise in her place and tell whether she had attended church service the day before, and where, if she had not, it was expected that she would give a good and sufficient excuse for her neglect of duty. So great was the influence which this remarkable lady exercised over her pupils that nothing less than severe illness could keep them from attending church on Sunday morning. All but one, a girl who lived among us until, when she passed one few years ago, people spoke of her as an old lady. This independent young lady always replied to the usual Monday morning query with an sturdy "No" that made the cold chills run and down the spinal columns of the other girls. And when interrogated as to the reason for her delinquency she invariable responded that she though she would rather sleep. Now this might not seem so utterly bad in these twentieth century days, but in the fifties, and in church-going Rockford it was little less than heresy, and it argues well for the attractiveness of the young lady that she was not entirely ostracised by the other pupils of the school. Many of the girls attending school were day pupils. Miss Sill and her assistants lived in a little home across the way from the school, which was presided over by Mr. Richards, brother Miss Hannah, and his wife. Mr. Richards was also janitor of the school, attending to the wood pile, and feeding the ever hungry stoves during the winter months. His wife, besides being housekeeper, was sort of supply teacher, filling in any gap caused by sickness or overcrowded classes. The school piano was in the parlor of this home, and those of the students who studied music went across the street to practice.
The social life was the simplest. The names of the pupils were divided alphabetically into two division, and once a month each division was invited to spend an evening in the little home across the street. Each student was allowed to invite one friend, and the gay young fellows of the city were permitted to attend these functions. There were L.F. Warner, Catlin Spafford, G.A. and Albert Sanford and Louis Gregory, whom the sly young ladies accused, even then, of casting admiring glances in the direction of pretty Lucy Spafford. Then, of course, there were the ministers of the city and their wives, the Marshes, the Millers, the Churches, the Haskells and the Robertsons. Then the long suffering pupils who "took" music were expected to perform, and Miss Melinda was asked to "favor" the company with a song or two. The excitement of the Mexican war was still hovering over the land, and Miss Richards was often requested to sing "On the Fields of Monterey," the chorus of which ran something like this: "For the dead in death lie sleeping. On the field of Monterey."
After a time Mr. Silsby, who taught the "singin' school," in the new court house on the West Side, came to the school once a week and initiated the girls into the mysteries of singing by note, and then there were more accomplishments to display on social nights. Perhaps you might like to be introduced to some of Miss Sill's girls of '49--it may be tha tyou will recognize an acquaintance of two among them. The following is entirely from memory, and it is probable that many names are omitted. But among them were Misses Mary and Helen Nagie, of Janesville; Diana Coe, Miss Noble, Miss Cable and Miss Weldon; Olive Dunning, grandmother of Carl and Oscar Ross of this city, and her sister, Miranda; Louise, Harriett and Elizabeth Goodhue, daughters of the pioneer Dr. Goodhue; Cordelia Andrus (Van Armun); Adelaide Potter (Lathrop), Ellen Haskell (Kimball), Caroline Potter-Brazeo and her sister Sarah, Harriette Hathaway (Sheldon), Ann Clark (Utter), Janette Greenlee (Gregory), Sarah Brown (Crawford), Loraine Gorham (Weldon), Louise Farnham (Kent), Franc Marsh (Baker), Lucy Spafford (Gregory), Rebecca Burns (Ladd), and Nina Burns (Peterson), Matilda Hitchcock, who became Mrs. William Knowlton, and her sister Maria; the three Preston sisters, Sarah, Mary and Anna Juliette Wheat (Correll), Celestia Johnson (Jones), Marian Silsby (Walker), and Amanda Silsby (Moore), Lucy Harmon, Mary, Delie, Emma and Harriet Gregory, and the Misses Miller, Saylor, Coburn, Long, Horton, Nettleton and Elizabeth Prentice. There was a school club, too, for twelve of the young ladies were called the "Floral Band"; though what the nature of the work they planned to accomplish was, I do not know. It was while the school occupied the old court house that Mack's two Indian daughters attended its sessions. They were popular with the teachers and students, but the confinement proved irksome to their freedom loving natures and they soon withdrew from the school.
There was no class graduated before the new home was erected. It was customary to invite the public to attend the annual examinations, and in the evening an anniversary program was presented. The room was always crowded. On one of these occasions the young ladies sang an arrangment of Tennyson's Queen of the May, which was voted to be quite the sweetest thing ever heard in the city.
Miss Hill's advent seemed to revive the drooping plans for a seminary. The gentlemen of the city raised $5,000 to build the seminary, and the ladies held themselves responsible for the building site. The grouds were purchased from Buell G. Wheller. John Beattie, who had built the new court house, was called upon to erect the new seminary. His estimate called for &7,927.35, just $2,927.30 more than the sum pledged. C.H. Spafford, Eleazer Potter and Dr. Lucius Clark shouldered the debt, and in July 1852, the cornerstone was laid.
The ground were crowded with interesting spectators. The Rev. Savage made the opening prayer, followed by an address by the Rev. Dexter Clary. After our new band played a selection, Professor Chapin and the Rev. Aratus Kent and Mr. Beattie laid the corner stone. Under it were placed a circular and charter of the Rockford Female Seminary, the charter of the City of Rockford, current numbers of the Democrat and Forum, the Chicago Daily Journal and Tribune, a twelve cent, one cent and three cent piece, the Bible, a circular and the order of commencement exercises of the Beloit college, and the circular of the Illinois and Wisconsin Educational society. When all was ready a small boy in the crowd handed Mr. Kent a temperance medal, which was also added to the collection and the stone was placed.
The building progress slowly, and it was July of the following years before it was ready for occupancy. On the 14th of that month it was decided to hold the anniversary exercises in the chapel, and so dedicate the new home. The teachers, trustees, pupils and patrons of the seminary met at the First Congregational church and marched in a body to the new building where the exercises were held in the afternoon. In the evening a concert was given, which added $70 to the building fund.
This building is what is now known as "Middle College". It was four stories high, surmounted by an observatory, from which the visitor to the city could get a magnificent view of Rockford and the surrounding country. It contained the reception and dining rooms, the kitchen, recitation rooms, library and "cabinet of philosophical apparatus" beside the sleeping rooms. There was no gymnasium, and no domestic science, so-called. But every girl was held responsible for some part of the work of keeping the domestic machinery in running order; one swept, another dusted, another arranged the table, another gathered the dishes after the meal was over. There were no millionaires daughters in attendance, but if there were, they would have been called upon to perform their part of household service. The girls had no chafing dishes in their rooms, and spreads were not in order. In fact, Rockford seminary and Mr. Holyoke were the only two institutions of their kind in existence and were feeling their way, and the college girl of today would consider herself in prison if she were held by rules as stringent as those in force in the seminary in the days gone by.
During war times, indeed Miss Sill, who was an ardent patriot, relaxed the rigor of her discipline. She was secretary of the Soldiers Aid Society and when the first company was ordered to the front, the seminary girls, like the other women of the city, spent the last Sunday in preparing the uniforms: they were among the throng of friends at the depot, to give them Godspeed. During the four years that the war lasted they wrote letters to the soldiers, knit stockings and mittens to make them more comfortable, and made fancy work to sell at the various fairs to provide for other wants.
It was not customary for the young ladies to return to their homes for the Christmas holidays, and the vacation week was usually the happiest week in the year at the old seminary. There were the boxes from home, and within the walls everyone had prepared gifts for the teachers, and for her special friends among the girls. Then there was the great tree on Christmas eve. and the concert prepared by the pupils in the musical department. The first Christmas of the war all this was changed. There were no presents exchanged among the seminary family that year. The soldiers were at Rollo or at Bird's Point, and every one of them was remembered appropriately with gifts which were placed upon the tree and inspected by the girls and their guests before they were sent on their errand of cheer. And then what fun it was, reading the letters of thanks that came from the field, telling of the life of the soldiers, and of the reception given the gifts. And when at last news reached the city of Lee's surrender, the seminary girls were allowed to parade through the streets, singing their songs of thanksgiving.
The first class graduated in 1854. There were seven members, Anna Allen Douglas, Louis Farnham Kent, Abbie Palmer Buckbee, Adeline Potter Lathrop, Amanda Silsby Moore, Marion Silsby Moore, and Abby Spare Mead, all of whom, but Mrs. Douglas and Mrs. Lathrop are still living. The old time graduations were simpler than those of today. There was no class play, no burning of Old Trig, not even a Baccalaureate sermon. But the girls read their essay often in verse, sang their songs, and made their last bow to the public as a seminary girl.
Miss Sill remained at the head of the seminary for thirty-five years. In 1884 she retired to watched the workings of the institution from her upper window, and five years later fell gently asleep and was laid to rest in Forest Hill, among the people whom, by a life of service she had made her own. But her spirit--that spirit of loving service which has always been the keynote of the seminary life--still blossoms and bears fruit a thousandfold in the lives of Jane Addams and Mary Wright, as well as those of thousands of women in schools and homes throughout our land, who learned at the old school "to look beyond the pretty sins of omission and commission that sometimes conceal a sound, true character, and to know the real girl behind them, and to think of this life as a master's violin lent for a time, and to be returned some day, not cracked and harshened in tone, but rather made purer and deeper by use." [--Rockford Morning Star, September 18, 1910]
BEING A BOY IN OLD ROCKFORD
WEMPLETOWN IN BURRITT
In 1835, soon after the appearance of Kent and Blake upon the scene, Harvey Lowe and Nelson Salisbury came to the Rock river and located claims in what came to be the town of Howard. They returned to their eastern homes, but came again in the spring, bringing with them their families and all their worldly goods, intent on founding a new home in the wilderness. On reaching the point on the Pecatonica river where the Trask bridge now crosses the stream, they found the waters so swollen by the recent rains which, you remember, washed away Kent's first mill, that they were obliged to camp for a week, while the men of the party lent a hand in building the boat which crossed the ferry. On the 18th day of May the boat was launched, and the Lowe and Salisbury families were the first to cross the historic Trask ferry, which came to be an important link in the road which led to the lead diggings at Mineral Point. Here Elias and Alva Trask built their cabins, and here they served the public as ferrymen until the bridge, which still bears their name, was finished. Then came George Tullock, and the Peter Simpons, the Eddys and the Porters, the Fairgrieves and the Pattersons, the Keyes and the Milnes, the Merchant, the Haines, the Lillies and the Beatsons, the Hiltons, the Darringtons, the Dickinsons and the Knapps, the Benjamins and the Stillwells, the Andrews, the McDougals and the Durnos. Burritt was something of a Scotch settlement at this time, as you may see by picking out the Scotch names that occur in this list.
In these early days land was plentiful and cheap, farms were large and all to be broken, and the sod with which they were covered was not easy to break, and many oxen were required for the task. Few farmers were blessed with sufficient cattle to do this work for themselves. They still were that when Mr. Haines came to this country. He owned a pair of stout little ponies. Ponies were in demand in those days to make the long and tedious journey to the "diggings" in California, and he traded his pair for two yoke of stout steers. These were used as "beamers" and "leaders," while whosoever had a pair of young cattle that they wanted broken, brought them to Mr. Haines and loaned them to him. Perhaps seven or eight pairs were harnessed up with these old chaperons, and after a few days' work in this manner they had learned the way of the world, and were ready to go their ways alone. Many and many an acre of many a Burritt farm was broken by the boys of the Haines family in this manner.
The girls their responsibilities as well. There is a story of a Burritt girl whose father worked a piece of land several miles from the home farm. Then threshing times came the mother was ill, and this 15-year-old girl baked bread and cake and pies at home, loaded them into a wagon and went to the field, where her father had built a fire and swung a crane above it, gypsy fashion. Here the meat and potatoes and the coffee was prepared, the tables of inverted wagon boxes spread, and a good, substantial meal prepared by this capable girl for fifteen hungry men--and this was before the day of domestic science.
And yet, hard as the life seems, there was an hour or two snatched now and then for pleasure, and the grandmothers and grandfathers of today who were the boys and girls of that time, look back to their days on the farm, and wonder how we manage to be happy in our way today. There were the spelling bees, for instance. Do you remember the days when Milton Gary "kept school" in the Haines district" Milton was a speller from 'way back, and he had a way of making spellers of the boys and girls entrusted to his care. They had a good school over in the Crane district, too, you remember, and what spelling matches there were that year. Fathers, mothers and even grandparents turned out, and so did the little tots that Gary stood upon the benches so we could see their heads. And the proud delight of that one occasion when the "commissioner," C.H. Huntington, was present, and joined in the contest, remarking that he who won might have the honor of spelling down the commissioner. And Howard Dobson, who passsed away recently, accomplished the feat.
Of course these contests brought the neighbors from miles about. There were not many young folk in any immediate neighborhood. Once, when stirring Mrs. Manchester gave a paring bee for the young girls she searched pretty closely, and then gathered together only six--the two Andrews girls, Cordelia Shields, Clarissa Lillie, Sarah Ann Hartley and Sarah Haines--and some of these walked several miles to the gathering. There were the donation parties, too. The life of a pioneer minister, like good Elder Stillwell, was not all sunshine, by any means.
The elder was supposed to receive a salary of two hundred dollars--but one hundred and fifty was as much as he ever collected. To be sure, he owned his fifteen acres of good land in the Manchester settlement, and the vegetables that he raised on this plat of ground and carried to Rockford in his little democrat wagon, for sale, was a wonder to the people. Then during berry season he and the children took to the woods in the early morning with several "patent" pails , and the berries they gathered in this way formed a part of the next day's load of produce--blackberries at that time were drug on the market at 5 cents a quart! But what the family could not either earn or collect was made up at the donation party, which everyone attended, and to which a whole family, perhaps ten in number, would come, and contribute one pie for the dinner, and their share on the minister's salary! Of course this was not the rule, for then the bins in the barn were filled with grain, and the cellar was stocked with vegetables and meat, and the flour and meal barrels were running over with the generous gifts of some of the flock who made up for the niggardliness of the few stingy members.
And how everyone enjoyed the revivals! They had them every year, of course, but there was that splendid one that we speak of as "the big revival" which lasted fourteen weeks, when conversions were made evey night, and every Sunday there were baptisms in the icy waters of the Pecatonica. Amongs these thus baptised were Mr. and Mrs. Edward Grover, Mrs. Beatson and her son, John. Sarah Haines, Henry Scott and wife. Mrs. Joseph Manchester--O, and so many more that their names have slipped away and are forgotten. The meetings were held alternately "across the river" in the Crane school house or the big barn of Squire Asher Beach, and the big log of the Manchesters, near the old ferry, and the steam saw mill owned by the Milnes. One week Elder Knapp preached, and the next good Elder Stillwell delivered the message to his hungering flock. And after the meetings were over, and the hearts of the people still warm and enthusiastic, what more natural than the building of a church to replace the tiny frame structure at the Manchester settlement. So, as in the days of old, every man gave of his best, and gave it freely. Logs were cut on the home farms, sawed at the Milne Mill, and delivered on the land given by Mr. Wemple as his free will offering. Stone was quarried on the Grimes farm, and the women gathered at the nearest farm houses on either side to prepare the meals to which the hungry men came at noon. The frame was raised, and then the Comptons, Samuel and Wirt, took hold of the task and finished the church. Meanwhile, as the hammers played their glad tattoo and the building grew, a band of young people under the direction of the Dysons, William and John, were making ready for the dedication services. Elder Roe of blessed memory came over from Belvidere to preach the dedicatory sermon, and a choir made up of the Dysons, Ashley and Elihu Knapp, Geo. Patterson, Matthias Haines, Caroline Wempie Veeder, Marie Jane Wemple, Elizabeth Wemple, Mrs. Beauchamp, Sarah and Roxcena Haines, Janet Beatson (Wemple), Ellen Patterson and O many, many more, made music with their hearts to the Lord, as once we were bidden to do. John Dyson had his little melodeon with him, the treasure which he carried about on his shoulder, and it was he who accomplanied the singers. By the way, did you ever hear about that melodeon before? It came to be the bone of contention in that little church which started out so harmoniously, for some of the Scotchmen believed such an instrument of the evil one. The little instrument set quite easily in the center aisle, and still left room for worshippers to pass. And one memorable morning a braw Scotchman in passing just "pit oot his fute" as you have seen the deed done in school, and tripped the instrument, bringing it with a clash to the floor. What followed is better imagined that told, even at this late day. But just to show how Time changed all hearts with his magic touch, let me tell you that the same idolized daughter of this same Scotchman is a musician world-wide fame today, and her performance on one of these "devils devices" has charmed the musically inclined of two continents.
There were singing schools, too. Lillibridge, father of our piano-turner of today, taught one, and a man named Burdis, the other. "Rounds" were the order of the day, and a favorite one was that old verse: "Scotland's burning. Scotland's burning. Lo-ok out Lo-ok out! Cast on more water:! Cast on more water!
It was in the fifties that the Wemples came to this section and selected the land where the village of Wempletown now is, the iste of the town he hoped to found. In Funday, New York, he had operated a flourishing agricultural implement factory, and he proposed to transplant it to the west. He brought with him William Beauchamp, his wagonmaker, and imported a first class blacksmith, Alfred Tessler, father of Mrs. Henry Hemmingway, of this city, and they were installed in shops built by their employer. There was a store, too, run by the Wemples, and a home, large and mposing for that day and generation, as it had need to be, for there were eleven children, beside the father and mother, in the family that came from the east. Let me see, there was Virginia (Van Horn), John Maria Jane (Dyson), Adam, Edward, Eugene, Elizabeth (Gillespie), Charlotte (Tredeau), Caroline (Veeder) and Lavinia (Perkins). Of them all, only one, Eugene, is with us to tell of those old days.
The fame of that wagon-maker and the blacksmith soon spread abroad, and farmers came from far and near to take advantage of their skill. And there was always entertainment for the man who happened along at meal time at the Wemple table. Madam Wemple was a notable housekeeper, as befitted a descendant of the ancient Knickerbockers of colonial fame, and had trained her daughters in the traditions of her rave. The larder fairly groaned with the abundance of good cheer prepared for an emergency. Thirty and forty mince pies, doughnuts and crullers and fruit cake always on hand; while the smoke house, which still stands, by the way, was stored with head cheese, and liverworst and sausages, prepared under her supervision, and sugar cured ham and bacon preserved after her ancestral receipt--there were the full glories of the days of Washington Irving and his Katrina.
In 1857 Mr. Wemple went to Chicago, and manufactured hundreds of mowers after a new invention of his own. But the sickles were defective, the machines were thrust back upon his hands, and the venture proved a failure. He returned to the little village of his founding, and here he ended his days in peace and quiet.
I wish I had the time to tell you of that select school taught by Mrs. Gordon, widowed daughter of the pastor, Mr. Kellogg; of the war time days, and the splendid loyalty of old Burritt, which was a shining example to the country, and many another interesting thing that happened in those old days when Wempletown and Burritt were features on the Winnebago county map that nobody passed lightly by. [--Rockford Morning Star, January 12, 1913]
BEING A BOY IN OLD ROCKFORD
One of the oldest public buildings now standing in the city, and certainly one that has figured as prominently as any in the making of her history, is the old Warner building, known to most of us as the Chris Henry block. It was erected in the early fifties by U.M. Warner, Rockford's third mayor, and while buildings in the surrounding lots have risen and fallen in the wake of progress this has stood its own. Across the street to the west the Washington house gave place to the Wallach block, and that in turn to the new Ashton building; to the south, Loomis' log tavern was replaced by the old National Bank building, which was torn down to make room for the Second National bank building in the seventies. This new structure came to us at about the time we were rejoicing over the waterworks and the new court house, and we thought that our cup of rejoicing was full to the brim; yet even this could not last, and early in the new century the Second National bank building was destroyed to make room for the Trust building. And all this time of building and tearing down and rebuilding, the old Warner building has held its own. Many tenants it has known, and many a business triumph, many a defeat, have its old walls stolidly witnessed.
Its very first tenants, when it was a new and shiny structure, was the firm of Maynard & Warner, Rockford's second and third mayors. But Hiram Maynard's health began to decline, and he wandered off to the wilderness of Texas in search of relief which never came; and he faded away and was laid to rest in our West Side cemetery. Then came the Smith dry goods store, which remained with us for a number of years. It must have been in the late fifties or the early sixties that W.W. Wood made his debut as a dry goods merchant in the city. We saw the aristocratic gentleman wandering about the streets prospecting, as it were, and when the word went abroad that he had decided to cast in his lot with the city, and give us his aid in building it up in a business way, great was the rejoicing.
And this was the beginning of a proud period in the history of the old house for the store which W.W. Wood & Co. brought to our city was a department store, mind you, in this long ago time when department stores were a new and fine institution. It occupied the building now used by the Henry and the Deming stores, and it absorbed several of the small local establishments, notably the "China Palace" of Gardner Allen, who was at a later day quartermaster of the Seventy-fourth regiment.
On the first floor were the dry goods and the groceries; on the second floor were the carpets and wall papers, and the third story, as always, was used as a concert hall, although its name was now changed, and it was Woods' hall instead of the time-honored Warner's. They had a delivery wagon, too, the first of its family ever seen in the city. Heretofore people went marketing with market baskets in the good old-fashioned way, and what they could not lug home in the basket was footed in a wheelbarrow, or brought home on one of the funny two-wheeled drays, of which Rockford had a number. But when the Woods sent out their shiny new delivery wagon, with Dan Hainey, who died a year or so age, old and full of the aches and pains that come with the years, but who was a jolly young fellow, fresh from "the ould sod" at that time, you may well believe that it made a profound impression.
Many of our veteran business men of today were just starting out in life at this time, and not a few of them received their training as clerks in this old-time store. There was A.H. Zoller, for instance, and D.P. Gray, who had but recently removed to this city from Pecatonica, and who brought much outside custom to the store. And there too, was "old man Parnell," who had charge of the grocery department, and whose long black curls many old-timers remember well, and his sons, Joe and Ed. Ed marched away with the soldier boys before the close of the war, like so many of the young men of the day, and left his place to be filled by a young woman, and this was the beginning of the right of the yong lady behind the counter in Rockford. Then there were Webb and Tracey, who founded a store of their own, after the Woods store crumbled and fell, and E.R. Wheeler, who was bookkeeper. Of course, they didn't have the regular department store system of serving, but one clerk began to take care of you in the grocery department and sold you sugar and spices and flour and molasses, the genuine New Orleans molasses, such as they sold in those days, they left inches and inches of fine brown sediment in the bottom and around the sides of the great hogsheads that they set out in the alley back of the store, where the children gathered like flies, and scooped and ate and ate and scooped and carried home to the old "childer" who could not come, then on into the crockery store, and from here into the dry goods store, where you paid two shillings the yard for Merrimac print that wore for years and retained its color to the last shred, and thence to the carpet and wallpaper department.
All stores were open evenings at this time time, and as Saturday was the buy day, Friday night was devoted to trying up packages of staples, such as a dollar's worth of sugar, pounds of tea and coffee ready for the morrow's trade. Much of the rural trade was on the exchange plan, and as no one had refrigerators in those far off days, the little store house on the alley was well stocked with butter that was simply oil which could never be utliized in any way--but then, butter never cost more that fifteen cents the pound and rarely that.
Almost before Wood had become well established in the business here, S.C. Withrow arrived from the east, and opened another dry goods store. Rockford was not entirely without dry goods stores before the event of these gentlemen, for there was "Neighbor" Burns and George M. Smith and Boyd & Baxter in the old marble front, and H.N. Starr in the old Holland house stand, and C.I. Horsman, all on the west side of the river. But all these merchants were Rockford men, each had his own customers well established and lived at peace with the world and with one another. But not so with the newcomers. The manner in which they flew at one another and the way in which they cut prices in threes an fours, and the bargain days they introduced into our simple lives was an education to our people.
There was the time, for instance, at the beginning of the war, when the prices on cotton and cotton goods were beginning to soar. Woods made a reduction in the price of all cotton goods; Withrow ducked slightly under; again Woods reduced, and Withrow followed, until the goods were sold for such a figure that many a wise house mother laid in a supply that lasted her almost to the time when prices again began to decline; and many a time did she thank her lucky stars that she did so when print was sold for 50 cents the yard, and cotton sheeting for 28c, and money worth something today, but perhaps nothing tomorrow. The rivalry between these firms worked good in other ways, too. For instance, after the battle of Shiloh when the calls for supplies for the sick and founded were pouring in and the shelves and the coffers of the Unio Aid Society were alike bare, when one of these merchants sent a liberal donation of goods to the rooms, the other quickly followed, and soon the sewing machines were humming merrily again, even before the private citizens began to pour in their donations for the good work.
There were three members of the firm of Woods & Co. The father, Alonso Wood, the son; William Wood and George Stratton. Young Wood and Stratton were sufficient unto themselves, and one another and seldom joined in the social life of the city perhaps, to speak with all charity, to the advantage of the city and her young people. But the business seemed to thrive, and they were looked upon as successful, efficient business men, especially when, in 1864, they founded the First National bank of Rockford, in the rooms on the second floor of the building they occupied as a store. Alonso Wood was president, E.H. Griggs, who was afterwards editor and proprietor of the "Register" was cashier, and it was known, as far and wide as Wood's bank. It was this bank that put into circulation the first currency issued under the new national banking laws, in August, 1864,
In a few years the elder Woods withdrew somewhat from business life and the managment of the bank and store devolved upon his son, William Wood. His bosom friend, Stratton, then became cashier of the bank in Grigg's place, and in a short time the splendid business fell with a crash. Young Wood and his confederates disappeared from the city, and their places knew them no more; the father retired to a small town in Illinois, and the building passed into the hand sof the Stern Brothers, Sam and Henry, who established a clothing store in the place of the old accustomed dry goods business in the corner store.
But the story of the old building would not be complete without a word for the old hall--Rockford's cocnert hall and theater for many a year. Why, it was here that the immortal Pat(?) made her debut in our city, so many years ago taht it would not be polite to mention the date, although she was a very little girl at the time. Her first appearance was on a Fourth of July night, and the audience was small, but appreciative, and predicted great things for the future of the young singer. Ole Bull played here, too, and many and many a lesser light in the artistic firmament, and a number of the fine lectures delivered in the city under the auspices of the Young Men's Association were delivered from the rostrum. In 1865 the Rockford Gas Light and Coke Co. was chartered by the Legislature, and work on the plant was commenced at once. On the twenty-fourth of December of the following year the city was lighted with gas for the first time, and the event was celebrated in fine style by a grand banquet and ball, in the two halls of the city--Warner's on the West, and the Metroplitan on the East side. Both were illuminated regardless of cost to demonstrate what the new corporation could do, and all Rockford's beauty and chivalry was there.
Brown's Hall was built during the last year of the war, and the lesser halls lost their prestige to a great extent. But after the organization of the Grand Army, the old hall was selected by them for a meeting place, and for years "Grand Army Hall" was as great an institution as in the days gone by Warner's and Wood's halls had been. It was here that the Rifles were cradled in the days of their infancy, here they were drilled by the late Colonel Lawler, it was from here that they started off on their trips to Braidwood and Atlanta. The G.A.R. supper, which were semi-occasional, and not a regular feature of the life of the organization, as they are to-day, were held here, and the first of the little home talent plays, which came to be an institution in our city life, were held in this room.
O many and many an interesting tale could those old walls tell, were they gifted with tongues to speak. Tales of the social, commercial, political and artistic life of our city, and of the men and women who have contributed toward making her what she is. [--Rockford Morning Star, July 9, 1911]
BEING A BOY IN OLD ROCKFORD
One of the prettiest of our city streets, as well as one of the most historical is Fisher avenue, which was named in honor of Rockford's pioneer ferryman. Mr. Fisher came to Rockford in the very early forties, and purchased a large tract of land in the northern part of the city. His home, a substantial brick structure, was only recently demolished in make room for the Dr. Harned home, just north of Fisher avenue on Church street. The street was celled by its present name as early as the date of the appearance of the first directory in 1857, but there was never a sidewalk to be seen in the vicinity and when Mr. Charles Sabin wandered up this way to look the country over, when he came to the city in '55 he climbed ove a rail fence which blocked the street north of the park, and wandered on over the soft springy sod and under the shade of the native forest trees. Mr. Fisher filled many positions of public trust in the county, the first of which was that of ferryman. The ferry, which crossed the river near State street, was established about 1837 by Germanicus Kent. James Taylor was the first ferryman, but he was soon succeeded by John Fisher and when Asher Miller came tramping over the prairies from Milwaukee with all his earthly possessions on his back, he was just in time to accept the position of assistant ferryman, and set up housekeeping with his chief in the little old ferry house which stood upon the river bank, on the site of the Register-Gazette building.
The ferry was a huge cable stretched across the stream and fastened to sturdy posts far up the bank. The boats, two skifs for passengers, and a heavy scow made of split logs for horses and wagons, were fastened to the ropes by pulleys. A pull of the rope and a push of a strong arm sent the boat out into the stream and the current bore it rapidly to the other side. A movable platform was lowered when the bank was reached and afforded a safe landing place. The candidate for transportation came to the river bank and called "over," "over" and no matter how stormy the night, nor how fiercy the current rolled, the ferryman must turn out and respond to the call. It was all right during the calm weather; but often when the ice was breaking up in the river, or when the waters were swollen by the June freshets, it was all the two ferrymen could do to guide the boats laden with mail across the river.
The rates of ferryage were established by law; three and one-fourth cents for each horse and wagon; foot passengers, six and one-fourth cents; families of not more than five persons, with team, were given a yearly rate of $3.50. But it was but a short time before the city made a contract with the ferry owners for free transportation, and then whosoever wished might cross the stream whether or not he had a copper in his pocket with which to pay his way. When the new cemetery was purchased in 1852, Mr. Fisher was made sexton. He was an ardent Baptist, a member of the ocngregation at "the old stone meetin' house," and another of his duties was the care of the church and the ringing of the bell--and well did he discharge them all. The first house built in this neighborhood after the erection of the Fisher home was the little frame building which stood upon the site now covered by the Rutledge home, and which was built by the redoubtable Elder Knapp, when he first came to the city. It is probable that it was from this home that he went to conduct those historic meetings, which filled the little old church so full that they were obliged to take refuge in the court house, which was crowded nightly.
On the corner to the south, where the Helm home now stands, was the city picnic grounds. It was the custom in those days for the children to form a procession at the church, on the occasion of Sunday school picnics, and march to the grounds, singing their devotional songs. The tables were spread on the green under the shade of the elms and maples and hickories. And in the afternoon there was a season of refreshment, such as debates, speaking and singing, and perhaps a few games. Many and many such gatherings did this old picnic ground sponsor, and great was its popularity.
In 1859 Mr. Sabin came to live in the neighborhood, and a sincere friendship sprang up between the two families. Mr. Fisher was at this time looking after the county poor, in addition to his other duties. One day he was called upon to take a poor woman and her child, a little boy, to the county farm. The weather was exceedlingly cold and raw, and the great heart of the poor-master ached for the sorrows of the poor creatures. He determined that they should have one comfortable, happy day to look back to, and took them to his own home for dinner. The boy was about the age of his own Chester, and the two lads had a merry time together. But alas, soon after his arrival at the county farm it was discovered that the little waif was even at the time suffering from the small pox. In a short time the little son of his benefactor was stricken with the dread disease. The father, himself, was his nurse, calling for him night and day with untiring devotion. And he had his reward. The child recovered, but the father, worn out with the nursing and anxiety, fell a victim of the disease. All that could be done was done. But the disease attacked him with terrible vigor and after suffering incredible, the life went out. The family was not allowed to minister to him at the last. Mr. Sabin collected a group of friends, among whom were Michael Burns and Mr. Sealy. The body was placed in a casket and taken away the dead of night. The family gathered at the windows of the Sabin home across the way and watched the tiny procession by tiny lantern light; heard the creaking of the sleigh on the frozen snow, and heard the thud of the horses' hoofs as they travelled the path to the cemetery.
They laid him to rest just within the middle gate--it was the upper gate at that time--for his friends had often heard him say that here, where he had stood to welcome the people of Rockford to their new home since the day the new home was prepared, was the placed where he wished to be laid to rest, that he might be there to welcome their children for all time. And though no member of his family stood beside that open grave, never a man was laid to rest with more reverend love and tenderness than this, our modern St. Christopher, who found the child seemingly grow very heavy indeed before the farther shore was reached.
There were four children in the Fisher family. Two sons, Henry and Chester, and two daughters, Libby and Sarah, beside a niece, Hannah, who made her home with the family. The older son, Henry, succeeded his father in the care of the cemetery. But the family has gradually faded away from out city, though not from out recollections. The younger daughter, Mrs. Archer, visited in the city a year ago, and was eagerly welcomed by her old friends and associates, who are glad to rejoice in each of her recurring triumphs.
Fisher avenue was a slow growing street. After Dr. Haskell sold his North Main street home to his brother-in-law, John Edwards, he built a solid stone house on the site of the Andrew Ashton home, and a little later moved still father to the north and erected the pretty little gabled house which now stands on the south side of Whitman street between Haskell avenue and Hovey court, upon the Dr. Green lot on the corner of Court street and Fisher avenue. This is the house that almost all the older settlers will tell you is the old Haskell home, for it was here that the doctor's capable wife, Eunice Haskell, lived after her husband's death.
There was no Haskell avenue in those days, no sidewalk and not much of a road. The Haskell and Kimball lots filled the entire block to Winnebago street. Close your eyes, you who remember the Rockford of the late sixties and seventies, and summon up the picture of that lovely square. The maple trees along the western border. The seried ranks of trim grape vines that filled the western half of the lot. Then row after row of flower beds, roses and pinks, and verbenas, and asters, and flowers that were unknown to the ordinary flower lover--and all in a tangle of bloom such as no one but Henry P. Kimball and his wife could manage to attain.
Across the street to the south, the Linden home, where Frank Linden, the talented artist, Ed and Albert and Jennie Linden Oberg spent their childhood days, stood detached and lonely--the only house on the block.
Where the E.E. Bartlett home now stands, George Haskell, Rockford's pioneer seedsman, built the new home which was considered a remarkably handsome one for its day, to welcome his bride. Here his sons, George and Mark, grew to manhood, and here they passed away, almost before they entered upon life's battle. And the parents, unable to endure life in the empty home, so haunted by memories, disposed of the old home and moving off the Haskell homestead from the corner across the way, built the house now occupied by Mrs. Dr. Green upon its site.
The home now owned by Alonzo Dickey was once the home of the Spaldings, and it was from its doors that A.G. Spalding sallied forth to perform prodigies of valor on the baseball field.
The Dr. Helm home, which stands on the old picnic grounds, was built by the widow of John Coleman, founder of Rockford's first bank, who found the handsome home her husband had erected had erected at the foot of Fisher avenue too great a care after his death.
The late Benjamin Blakeman played an important part in the building of this street. When first he came to North Main street, he built the house now occupied by A.C. Deming for a home. But he looked with longing eyes at the lot to the north of his home, stretching from Main to Church. This, however, belonged to Owen, the man for whom Owen Center was named, who hoped some day to make a home for himself upon it. But death overtook him before his plans were carried out and the land passed into the waiting hands of Mr. Blakeman. The first house which he built upon it was purchased almost as soon as completed by the late H.W. Taylor and has sheltered his family from that day to this. The Blakeman home was built at a later day and was considered one of the finest homes in the city at the time of its erection.
The Congregational parsonage, we all remember, was the home of the late C.M. Brazee, lawyer and soldier, and the Brumbaugh home was built by Peter Campbell, a contractor, soon after the war. It was about this time, too, that Mr. Sears, who had purchased the old Elder Knapp place, decided to get rid of the little old house and replace it by the handsome new one which we know today at the Rutledge home.
There is one little house in this neighborhood which must not be passed by without a word of appreciation. This is the Trahern home, which served its day and generation well as Miss Abbie Parker's select school in the southern part of town before it had a change of heart and became a home. Miss Parker's name will raise an echo in many a heart, for probably she assisted more lads and lassies of the old days along the flowery paths of knowledge (whether gently or urgently we will not say) than any other teacher of the old time. [--Rockford Morning Star, November 26, 1911]
BEING A BOY IN OLD ROCKFORD
Before the coming of the railroad new settlements were planted along the banks of the streams, not only because of of the water power they offered for manufacturing, but because they insured a means of communication with the base of supplies, and also of disposing of the products of the settlement, at a later day. Kent and Blake, Mack and John Dixon followed this law in making their claims in the Rock River valley, and many of the later settlers decided to cast in their fortunes with the little village at the ford of the Rock river because they reasoned that that river, reaching as it did far into the interior of Wisconsin, and joining the Mississippi at Rock Island, made a part of a splendid water highway that was sure to be developed in the near future.
Soon after Rockford was settled work was begun on the canal at Lockport, at it seemed that their expectations were about to be fulfilled. Waterway mettings were held in the vaious settlements of the valley, to talk over the work and its progress, and to spur the "powers that be" to greater zeal in the undertaking. One of the greatest of these meetings was hald in our own city in January, 1849. Among the prominent people present at this time were Germanicus Kent, Daniel Haight, Dr. Goodhue, George Lee, from the Kishwaukee settlement, Dr. Haskell, Jason Marsh, C.I. Horsman, George W. Brinkerhoff and John C. Kemble, Rockford's first lawyer. You may read wonderful accounts of this great meeting in the files of Chicago papers, yellow and brittle with time.
There were conventions held at Sterling, and at Chicago also. Her is an extract from an old letter, giving a graphic description of the start for the last named meeting.
"The regiments are now in motion for the great convention next Tuesday. All Rockford gathered at the Winnebago house to see them off. The Winnebago county representatives are D.S. Haight, Anson Miller, William Hulin, Spencer Post, Stephen Mack, John Platt, Dr. Goodhue, S.G. Armour, Alonzo Hall, C.H. Spafford, S.P Taylor, J.H. Herring, George Haskell, T.D. Robertson, Nathaniel Loomis, William, Randall, David Jewettt, Alfred Ames and L.W. Osgood. They went in wagons and carriages, many with arrangements for short lodgings and short fare. Dust and sweat will be profuse, but what of that when they are bound for watery works? Nothing! So now they are off!"
All Rockford escorted the procession out a short distance on the State road, and returned with great enthusiasm to their waiting in the settlement, certain that such a delegation of active, wide-awake men would succeed in accomplishing something, no matter what the timber of the covnention might be. And they must have accomplished something, for a short time after this Mr. Peter Johnson, of Rockford, was appinted commissioner from Winnebago county to confer with Deacon David Lewis, of Byron, representative frmo Ogle, one from Lee and one from Whiteside county, and Mr. Gooding, engineer, in locating the lock which was to be built at Rockford, and rapids into shape so that boats might travel along the Rock with ease and safety. Naturally while all this agitation as to the way was flurrying the air, people gave a though now and then to the boats which were to handle all this splendid traffic, and out merchants continued to gather together the produce of the land, waiting for boats to carry it to the southern ports. G.A. Spafford and tohers, did now and then send flat boats loaded with wheat, potatoes and such "truck" to St. Louis. The men, brought back a shipment of molasses, sugar and dry goods, but the trip was a long, tedious and perilous one.
The first boat which steamed up the Rock was the Gypsy, which brought Dr. Haskell and his little colony, with their tons of merchandise. This was in 1838. You remember the trip was made during the high water of spring, and the boat plowed her was among the topmost branches of submerged groves, unable to keep the channel. A number of the colony who left Alton with the doctor and family became frightened at the antics of the craft and certain that she would never make Rockford, left the boat at Savannah and made the trip my land, reaching Rockford sometime ahead of the steamer, so that everyone was on the alert, watching for her coming. At length a steam of smoke was seen ascending to the skies near Corey's Bluff. Then the Gypsy hove in sight, and all Rockford gathered along the bank to watch her progress and welcome the stranger that had come to demonstrate the practicablilty of their dreams. The boat behaved badly when she reached the rapids, but by the aid of a quantity of lard fed to the furnaces she was finally brought to land, just back of the spot where the Masonic temple now stands and the town went wild.
The people came in from the country to join in jollification. The boat was chartered for an excursion up the river, and as the captain had on board ten tons of merchandise for Beloit, the excursion scheme fitted will with his inclination. Andrew Lovejoy with his flute and an assistand with a fiddle furnished music, and the crowd danced the night through, reaching Rockton at daylight, pretty well tired--and if the truth must be told a little uncertain on their legs from fequent visits to the steward's cabin.
Then came the Lighter in 1844, and after this long wait the people were certainly entitled to another holiday trip. This bout made headway up the stream as far a Jefferson, Wisconsin. She stopped onher return trip at Rockton, where she lay at anchor while ton after ton of flour was brought aboard and loaded. Then she dropped down the stream for St. Louis. This was the inspiration. The captain of this craft reported that the Rock was a navigable stream, and reports of his statement were printed in the principal newspapers throughout the country. Rockford was to be the port of entry, although the little town of Kishwaukee contended that she had the finest harbor--indeed the only safe harbor--along the banks of the raging stream. Janesville, Beloit, Rockford, Byron, Sterling and Rock Island were the principal trade centers along the route.
Someone up in the Wisconsin woods decided that the time for action had at last arrived. A boat, which was to be the first of the Rock river fleet, was built and dropped down stream as far a Rockford, where she lay at anchor in the "ship yards" on the east bank of the river, just north of the girder bridge, for one whole season, while expert workmen added the finishing touches to the upper deck and the cabins. In the spring she was loaded with the produce of the region and sailed bravely away on her first trip into the great world, freighted with the high hopes and great expectations of the people of the valley. What her experiences were we cannot tell. She was destined for the local river trade, making the trips between Rockford and Dixon twice every week. But she never made the port of entry again--and Rockford was again without a river craft.
It was in 1857 after the completion of the railroad that Captain Pennock and C.P. Springsteen built the old Pioneer. We had by this time found that the railroad had not accomplished all that we had hoped in the way of transportation and a market for our produce, and we watched the development of this craft with beathless interest, for she grew into shape and beauty in our own river, where we had every opportunity to watch growth. Springsteen you remember was our local engineer, and a man of wight in the community. He was responsible for the engines, which were a marvel of the time. The boat was completed in the spring of 1857, and chartered by the Emerson-Talcott Co., for the first trip, which was to Beloit. The Sax Horn band was aboard and one hundred people, employes and friends of the company, were aboard.
At Roscoe, the boat stopped and ran ashore, and the people of the village came aboard, and spent a delightful hour with the excursionists. This was the first of our river flotilla. The next member was the old "City of Rockford," which came steaming into port in March of the following year. Captain Hill, father of Mrs. Ed Rhoades, of this city, was the skipper of this craft, which made her first trip on the twenty-eighth of March. This boat made the trip between Rockford and Oregon three times a week, the entire undertaking three hours--a most delightful trip, and one that many of our people availed themselves of. It was a splendid opportunity for picnic parties, and it seemed strange that the idea was abandoned as it was.
Since that day we have had many boats upon the Rock, but they have been pleasure crafts, pure and simple, with the exception of "the old stone boat" which made the trips between up the up-river quarry and the town. Gradually the route to the south was abandoned, and all along the banks of the stream to the north pleasure resorts sprang up. That is how the Ranson sanitarium came into being. We called it at first simply the Resort House. Then it developed into the dignity of "the water cure," because of the springs of delicious cold water that gushed from the bank at this place, and which were said to possess medicinal qualities. During the seventies all the picnics of the season were held here--all the Sunday schools, the Grand Army and the Burns club. Of course, the tables were spread on the lawn, but in case of rain we took refuge within the walls. Then came the rage for Brown's creek: then Harlem and Ho-no-ne-ga parks--these are our river towns of today.
The abandonment of the river transportation scheme has meant much to the settlements in the northern part of the state. The wharves at Kishwaukee have rotted away, and the town, once the rival of Rockford, has disappeared. Galena, the great river port, once a greater city than Chicago, has dwindled into obscurity before the advance of the iron horse. Byron, Oregon, Rockton--all these settlements whose hopes for future eminence were once so bright--were dwarfed and have retrograded into mere villages or minor towns. [--Rockford Morning Star, April 28, 1912]
BEING A BOY IN OLD ROCKFORD
Can you imagine a time when our city was without a German citizen? Just try to project your thoughts back through the dim vistas to the day when there was no Schmauss market, when Gus's bologna was unknown on the South Side, when there was no Minsinger confectionary store down on State street, yes, even before Bacharach sold clothing on the Main street corner, and see how well you will succeed. And yet, as a matter of fact, John Schmauss, who came to our city in 1865, was one of the first German settlers to arrive. He had left the Fatherland some time before this, but had remained for a time in Milwaukee. In the old country his father had conducted a successful meat market, and all the sons were well trained in the business; so quite naturally the young man drifted into the Thomas Kettlewell meat market on the East Side when he reached Rockford. After looking over the opportunities America offered he decided she was a pretty good country to tie to, and sent for his brothers, Leonard, Joseph and Wolfgang to join him here. They came one at a time; and the brothers founded the Schmauss meat market which has grown to such proportions that the name Schmauss is a familiar one all over this region.
In the fifties the late Philip Minsinger came, also. He launched out in the confectionary business on the East Side at first. But later, in partnership with one of the Leonards, he removed to the West Side. Who among the Rockford lads and lassies of the sixties and seventies cannot recall that corner window, with its huge cakes, covered with bonny icing and decorated with the most entrancing sugar effigies, and the gentle kindly face of the proprietor which always beamed so delightedly upon the small visitors who paused to feast their eyes upon the concentrated sweetness of his goods?
Then there were C.C. Kaufman and his son, August, early settlers, who established the first meat market in South Town at a time when South Main street was not entirely guiltless of stumps, when there were very few houses in the entire settlement. The Kaufmans home was near to the market, and in the rear, near the river bank, was a small brewery which the father looked after, while his son reigned supreme in the market.
The two Gronemans, Louis and Theodore were among the earliest comers, also. Theodore was an expert furniture maker and entered into partnership with the last A.C. Burpee, founding the furniture business which later developed into such a magnificient enterprise. It was Louis who for two years conducted the saloon on the corner of State and Court streets in the building now used by Crummer & Hart as a grocery store.
You have all heard of Orton and Olcott Circus that drifted into Rockford in the summer of 1860 and went to pieces here? It was an excellent organization, but for some reason had been playing in hard luck for the entire season, and here the proprietors determined to turn the entire equipment over to the employes in satisfaction of their salary clams, and abandoned the enterprise. The members of the troupe kept the circus going every night for a week or two and excellent houses they had. Then they sold the entire outfit. The monster leopard fell to the share of the late Wash. Reynolds in settlement of his claim, and for months was a center of attraction at his old livery and feed stable.
The employes d(i)vided the gate receipts and the sum realized from the sale of the property among them, and agreed to dissolve partnership. Several of their number among whome were August Dedrickson, Christian Henry, father of William Heinrich, Jack Larce, Rockford champion drummer, all of whom were members of the band and Louis Blake (?) agent for the C.M. & St. P. railroad, who was clown, elected to cast in their lot among us. Don't you remember the old Henry saloon, "The Last Chane"? It was situated on State street about where the Elliot store is now, across whose western face was the admonition "The Last Chance"--to get a drink before you crossed the bridge. And on the reverse side as you crossed the bridge from the east you faced the reminder "The First Chande," to refresh the inner man before continuing your journey up the street.
It was about this time that a perfect train of Prairie schooners began to file through our city, bound for the land of the new Golden West. Many of our young men fall into the procession and though there is not record of any of them gaining game or fortune in the new land they seemed to succeed pretty well as advertising agents for their home town, and as a result of their enthusiasm, a number of the returning emmigrants decided to make our city their home; and among them were the two Fischers, and the late George Wunder. Then there was George Schlenk, founder of the East side brewery. Isaac Bacharach, our old-time clothing merchant. Shicker, Schorn and Rodecke, who was the upholster for Burpee and Groneman.
And this is the way our German citizens came to us--not in groups or colonies, but gradually, one by one, and as fast as they came, each dropped into his appropriate place, and began to carve out a name and a career for himself in the home of his adoption.
In 1866, the sons of the Fatherland in our midst were in the habit of gathering at the Schlenck brewery on Sunday afternoons, singing the old home songs and renewing old-time associations over their glass of beer. One evening, as the cronies walked homeward in the dusk, each busy with the recollections started by the afternoon's associations, Theodore Groneman exclaimed "Boys, we ought to organize a Germany colony where we could get together now and then, regularly, and sing these old songs, so that we will not forget them, and keep them for the children to come."
The suggestion found an echo in every heart, and that very week the friends gathered in the wide hall on the third floor above the Schmauss market on the East Side and organized the Rockford Gesang Verein, whose purpose it was, in their own words, "To foster the arts, the spirit of freedom, encourage the ense of the beautiful and the good, and to preserve the fruits of German culture for the Germans."
And further, we read, that as a means to this noble end the society "Is to consider education in singing, in music, in drama, in athletics, in the arranging of debates and orations, and, if possible, in the maintaining and use of a library."
The charter members of the organization were F. Brockman, Isaac Bacharach, Peter Bohm, Theodore Groneman, Henry Groth, Christ Henry, S. Harburger, Peter Lutz, Philip Minsinger, G. Nauman, Anton Neumeister, Joseph Leonard and John Schmauss, Jack Sanders, Anton Schicker, George Schlenk, George Wunder and August Dedrickson. For years they continued to meet in that old room above the Schmass market, Dedrickson brought over his violin, and standing before them played the grand old-world airs, and together they sang- young men, just starting out on life's journey, men in their prime, and men upon whose bent heads Father Time was even then dropping his snows--but all strangers in a strange land. And as they sang, their hearts grew marvellously warm and tender toward these, their companions, and but all strangers in a strange land. And as they sang these songs of their childhood and youth, the songs that brought before them the images of all that make life beautiful and sacred, their hearts grew marvellously tender toward these their companions, and the bonds that were forged at the time, in that dingy upper room, grew stronger with every year that passed--a bond that nothing but death could break.
Theodore Groneman, to whose inspiration the society owes its existence, was the first president, and the first member to fall before the sickle of the Grim Reaper. But one after another they have passed away, until today, Charles Schorn, who joined the organization during that first winter of '66 is the oldest of its members.
In 1870 the original hall had grown too small to accommodate the society, and they decided to remove to the historic Metropolitan hall across the way. Here they continued for a number of years. In the later eighties they began to consider the advisability of building a home of their own. The lot on South Madison street was purchased, and the work of erecting the hall was begun. William Buske, who had joined the organization soon after his arrival in the city in 1868, and who has served as its president for several terms, was the contractor, and to him it was a labor of love. In 1890 the hall was completed, and dedicated with great rejoicing. Mayor Sheratt, who was our chief executive that year, was present at the gathering with his entire council. There were singers from Freeport and all the surrounding towns, and everyone sang, and danced, and made merry to his heart's content in the fullness of joy at the successful completion of this enterprise.
Every other year the society attends the monster Sangerfest of the Northwest association, to which they belong. This year they meet for the second time at St. Paul. It is a wonderful experience to participate in one of these great gatherings, and join your voice to the sixteen hundred or two thousand that rise in glorious unison, born upward on the bars of those songs which are the result of that German culture which it is the effort of this organization to preserve to posterity.
Our Germania society has appeared but seldom in public in our own city. One of these rare occasions was the memorial services for President Garfield, when they were called upon to voice the sorrow of our people for the untimely death of their great leader--and well did they fulfill their mission.
The society now possesses 350 members, not all of whom, however, are sons of Germany, for it has been decided to share the priviledges of their order with the men of other nationalities who appreciate the opportunities it offers for musical culture and social intercourse. The latter features of the club life are highly prized. During the past year four bowling alleys, tham which none better are found in the state, have been installed; once each year, on the last day of January, they hold their great annual reception and banquet--this year they celebrated the forty-fifth and their dances are too well known to require mention.
The presidents of the organization are as follows: Peter Lutz, Isaac Bacharach, Charles Meyer, William Wildt, William Buske, A. Gork, John Huffman, Charles Spengler, John Arnold, Robert Meyer and S.A. Ploeger, the present incumbent of the office, Fred Gork is its present vice-president, C.G. Reinert, secretary, and Anton Fosterling, treasurer. [--Rockford Morning Star, July 23, 1911]
BEING A BOY IN OLD ROCKFORD
WINNEBAGO COUNTY HEROES IN WAR OF 1812
When the Black Hawk war attracted the attention of the dwellers of the eastern states to the Rock River valley, the war of 1812 was only eighteen years behind us, and many of the men who had participated in its dangers were yet in the prime of life. The struggle for existence among the stony hills of the east was becoming a serious problem, and the tales told of excellent land in the west to be had almost for the asking had a remarkably agreeable sound to these men with families growing up about them and for whom they could see no future. The spirit of adventure was not yet dead in their breast, and so they came swinging over the prairies, bringing their worldly goods in heavy farm wagons, drawn by oxen that would play their part in the breaking of the prairie sod of the new home.
They came with all the bouyancy and hope of the American pioneer, and set to work to build up new fortunes on the wreck of the old and well they succeeded, in many cases. But in 1854 the tolls and the hardships incident to life in an underdeveloped country were beginning to make serious inroads upon their splendid constitutions, and the hand of age was pressing heavily upon more than one stalwart shoulder. The soldiers of the Revolution were drawing pensions from the government, but up to this time there had been no recognition of the service done by the men who fought in the later war, and all over the country they were beginnning to chafe at the injustice of their treatment.
Accordingly a meeting of all the soldiers of 1812 residing in the county was called, to convene at the old court house during May, 1854. Theodore Powell was called to the chair; and Ezra Sexton and John Allen were chosen secretaries. In the seats were Michael Mandeville, George Craine, Richard Pennock, Charles Reed, Seth Seavers, Elkhanah Sherman, Elias Martin, Bradford James, Asher Miller, Ezra Hurd, and Jason Juss, Silas Eastman and Ezra Sexton of Roscoe, John Allen and Daniel Andrus of Harlem, John Furman of Laona, Alfred Copeland of Seward and Abner Sherman and Nelson Shields of Burritt. The meeting was a lively one, and a complete success. It was decided to extend an invitation to all the 1812 men in the county to attend a mass meeting at Aurora, at which time they were to hear the report from the work of their friend, "Long" John Wentworth was doing in their behalf.
On the Fourth of July following it was a sight to see the veterans appointed to represent their townships at the great meeting arrive at the depot, ready for the eventful trip. To many of them this was the first experience in railroad travel, and marked a distinct epoch in their lives. At Aurora they gathered in the old Congregational church and at the proper hour the line of march was formed, and headed by Captain John Swan, marshal of the day, and Major Fitch, assistant marshal, these veterans set out on their last march, which led to the grove just south of town, where the great meeting was to be held. There was an address of welcome, of course, made in honor of the day and also of the character of the company assembled. Dr. I.A. W. Buck read the Declaration of Independence. Then Mr. Warner of Naperville, grandfather of N.C. Warner of this city, and revolutionary patriot, told of his enlistment with the Stark's Green Mountain Boys in 1776 and his experience at Bennington and at Saratoga and all along the line, and his remarks were greeted with stirring cheers for the veteran of '76. Only a few of these soldiers gathered from all over the northern portion of llinois had ever met before, but they had common heroes among the commanders, and common experiences which drew them into close touch, and in more than one instance an old soldier met someone who was able to supply the missing link the evidence of his service which he had sought unsuccessfully for years. It was worth while to listen to the tales they told--Michael Mandeville recounted the story of that attack upon Fort Erie, when the vicious little brass cannon poured its burning ball upon the soldiers steadily pushing forward from the boats; how the men cheered the advance with plans of what they would do with the cannon when they captured the fort; and disappointment and chagrin when they found that the pretty toy had been spirited away out of the reach of harm. Then Reed told of that terrible day when Hull surrendered Detroit to the red men and again of the battle of the Thames, when he fought beside Harrison, and was with him when the Indian leader, Tecumseh, fell. There was one poor fellow who had been in that mad onrush up the hill to the fort at Erie who could not gace the galling fire from the guns; in a moment of excitement he had fallen from the ranks and hidden behind the bushes by the way, and at the end of the battle was reported as a deserter, thus sweeping away all the record he had previously made for bravery and patriotism. He went about industriously from comrade to comrade seeking help to establish his former reputation--but the stain could not be wiped out--the blot remained.
Before this last reunion of these soldiers came to a close in the early twilight, a memorial was prepared, thanking Mr. Wentworth for all that he had accomplished in their behalf, and asking his continued effort in pushing the hill which should grant them a pension and homestead rights. And their friend did not disapoint them. The bill went through; and then began a busy time for the old soldiers, and for William Hulin, through whose hands the credentials had to pass. Incredible as it may seem, many of these men had not only destroyed their discharge papers but had even forgotten the names of their commanders, and many of their commanders were not dead, all they could recall was the fact that they had enlisted, or had served with this or that young fellow from home; and if these witnesses were forthcoming, and had been more careful intheir preservation of the papers, all was well. Michael Mandeville was a Godsend to the careless ones. He had religiously treasured his discharge paper, a small document about the size of a modern bank note, bearing across its upper edge the inscription, "Honor to the Brave," which he had carried in his pocketbook until it was worn along the creases, and this was the means of establishing the claims of many of the men about the country who had served with him in the war.
The pensions were granted, and a portion of land, somewhere in the wilds of Iowa, was set aside for these survivors of the war of 1812, or their widows and children. Many of our veterans entered claims for homesteads, but much of the land was then considered to be worthless, and few of them emigrated to the new state.
One by one, these old soldiers dropped out of the line of march, and were laid to rest in the beautiful country they learned to love so well. One of the last to leave us was dear old Colonel Norman Curtis, another grandfather of Major Norman Curis Warner, who was a fine old gentleman of the old school, and who is still a pleasant memory to many of the men and women of our city. Every Memorial day their graves are reverently decked with spring's choicest blossoms, and a grateful people are planning to mark each resting place with a symbol that will proclaim to all the part they played in preserving this "land of the brave and home of the free," and passing it on for our enjoyment. The heroes of this war resting in the various cemeteries throughout the county are as follows:
Rockford--Peter Knight, Jonathan Hitcock, James Cunningham, B.H. Davis, Moses Colson, Thomas Goodsman, Peter Dorsett, William Woods, Isaac Andrus, Alfred Sears, Norman Curtis, John Early Sr., William Twogood, Thomas Butler, John Holdridge, James Cotton, Michael Mandeville, James Manny.
Cherry Valley--G.W. Crane
Duran--Scott Ross, John Herring, Herman Hoyt, J.R. Cannon, William Morris.
Roscoe--John Sammons, Thaddeus Warner, Daniel Andrus, John Wood, Horace Cole, Silas Eastman.
New Milford--Thornton DuBois.
Pecatonica--Joel Thompson, Reuben Wells, Chester Wells, Abraham Roberts.
Rockton--Charles Reed, Warren Raymond, William Richardson, Nathaniel Rudd, William Talcott, Silas Austin, Rufus Barker, John Browne.
Winnebago--Alexander Holcomb, William Mandeville, Joseph Folsom, Abram Folson, Samuel Russell.
[--Rockford Morning Star, August 27, 1911]
BEING A BOY IN OLD ROCKFORD
THE MEN WHO MADE OLD ROCKFORD FAMOUS
Of all the men who bore the brunt of the responsibility of founding and developing Rockford, none is better known nor more tenderly remembered than Judge Selden M. Church. He was the last of the original pioneers to leave us. Germanicus Kent departed from Rockford a broken and penniless man and ended his days at the home of his daughter in Virginia in 1862. George Brinkerhoff, his parter, dropped out of Rockford ken as finally as though he had never risen from that icy bath in the waters of the Rock on that far-away winter day when he crossed on the crackling ice. Haight ended his days in the south after (some say) serving well and bravely in the southern army during the civil war. Richard Montague passed away in 1878, and Blake two years later. But Judge Church remained with us for many a year after the last of his comrades had departed, and after bearing his part in the development of every great improvement that helped to make our city what it is, he crossed the borders into the other land in June, 1892.
In the old days of the Old Settlers' society, Judge Church was always chosen orator on great days, not only because he was one of the first men on the ground, but because his eye was keen, his understanding sound, his reasoning powers strong and unerring to reach the truth, and his heart was warm and sympathetic to give every man his just due. Besides all this, his fund of reminiscence was almost inexhaustible, for he had had his share in all the great movements of this day, and they took new meanings as he looked backward over them at the close of the day.
His life began in old Connecticut in 1804. But when he was a mere lad his father moved to Madison county, New York, and it was here that he obtained his education, working on the farm owned by is father during the summer and attending the district school a few months during the winter. In 1825, when he reached his majority, he left for the west to seek his fortune, and here his wonder stories began. He stopped for a long time in Cincinnati, then but a frontier town, and here he became principal of the first high school that city had ever known, and was wont to say that it would have been well for him had he remained there and borne his part in the development of our national school system. But there was a strong attraction back in the east, and after eighteen months he returned to New York, where he invested his savings in the dry goods business and where, a few months later, he married the young lady of his choice, and felt that he was now returned to the east to spend his days, as had his ancestors before him. But death broke up the home, and again in 1835 he set out for west, his goods in a wagon. He stopped first at Chicago, then at Geneva, and then he turned his face toward the Rock river valley, arriving here in the autumn of 1836, just before the closing in of the second winter Kent and his family spent in the pines along the bank of the creek.
Kent's sawmill was working overtime just then, getting out lumber for the homes of the settlers who were swarming into the valley, and he was glad indeed to secure the services of so capable a man as this newcomer. Judge Church could tell of the long, long days spent in the primeval forests, for his part of the work was the gathering in of the logs. He learned to know the friends in feathers and fur, and the red skinned human brothers who still lingered about their old camping grounds, and he learned to understand their language so that he was able to carry on conversations with them. He, like Brinkerhoff and Blake, was a member of the Kent household, and one of the coterie including the Dunbars, the Marshes, the Spaffords, the Thomases and the many travelers who passed that way, who gathered about the roaring fire on a winter's night and spent the time in pleasant converse. He could tell, too, of the reign of the "shakes" and ever, which the settlers attributed to the overflow of the mill pond and which they endeavored to cure by summarily wrecking the dam and putting an end to the usefulness of the mill. Of the long days, yes, and nights, too, when he had charge of the ferry across the river, and the thrilling experiences of getting passengers and mail across in the break-up days of spring, or when the river was swollen by the June freshet. Of the excitements of that bitterly contested Harrison campaign of 1840 and the day when the stalwarts of the party, seated in coacher draped with flags and winged with gay banners and floats and drawn by many pairs of horses, drew out before the Winnebago house to fall into line, as the procession from the adjoining counties passed through on the way to Dixon, where the grand final rally was to be held; of the suspense while they waited for the news of the election--it was Christmas before it came by special messenger. Then came that delicious moment of triumph when the parchment signed by President Harrison, commissioning him postmaster over the tiny grimy postoffice built by Daniel Haight in the 300 block of East State street, arrived. Of course, this position was not especially exciting, but it was as good as any the city afforded. But it did not last long, for two years later influential men on the other side secured Judge Church's removal and the appointment of Mr. Spafford to fill the place.
There were other stories of a more stirring nature. There was the long battle over the location of the county seat. Even after Rockford had triumphed over Winnebago there was still the battle royal over which side of the river should secure the buildings. Dunbar, Haight, Potter, Wheeler, Marsh and Dr. Searle were the east side leaders, and equally determined were the west side men--Church, Sanford, Holland, Robertson and Haskell. That was a day long to be remembered when these worthies snatched the victory from the hands of their opponents--when they had the materials unloaded upon the east side public square, heady for the building--to be sure, it had lain there for a long time--and built and presented court house and jail to the county without a dollar of strain on the public treasury! That was the way in which "graft" was handled in those days.
There was the day of repudiation, also. The period of terrible extravagance in political life had left the states two hundred million dollars in debt, and many of the states had repudiated their indebtedness. Illinois had fallen so low that her bonds sold for fourteen cents on the dollar, and there was talk of following the example of other states. But Winnebago County men had not so learned honesty. The Forum sounded no uncertain alarm, and the men of the county, headed by Church and S.D. Preston, George Haskell, Germanicus Kent, G.A. Sandford and Francis Burnap added their strength to the general revolt against the dishonest measure, and the day was saved.
Judge Church was one of the men too, who was chosen to represent this section of the state in the constitutional convention of 1847, and had a noble part in the formation of the laws, which governed the people for many a long year. Always an ardent abolitionist, the judge had tried to insert an anti-slavery plank into the fabric of the constitution, but the time was not yet ripe. But do not for a moment think that his labors on the cause of freedom ended here. Did you ever hears of that day, in the old county treasurer's office, just a little removed from the old 1492 court couse, when Judge Church, William Hulin, Wait Talcott, and H.R. Enoch, of the Journal, met with Mr. Phillips, who was visiting northern Illinois in the interests of Norman Judd, Candidate for governor of the state. After the gubernatorial question had been discussed, they turned to the presidental situation, and Mr. Phillips remarked that without doubt, Mr. Seward would be the nominee of the republican convention soon to meet at Chicago. Just here Judge Church said, in his quiet manner, "that he had a candidate, one whom he had known long and intimately, and whom he regarded as one of the greatest men of the nation. This man was Abraham Lincoln, and he felt that it was due to the nation to send to the convention a Lincoln delegation to the convention. The other gentlemen endorsed Judge Church's proposition, and aked that Mr. Phillips do some work for Lincoln while he was travelling about in the interests of Mr. Judd, and that he might be able to do this to better advantage, each haned that gentleman twenty-five dollars and pledged him to use it in furthering the proposed candidacy of Abraham Lincoln--a pledge in which as we know he redeemed in no uncertain manner.
When, in 1876 that old court house with its stone treasury house to the west was destroyed to make way for the new, Judge Church was one of the group of men who gathered in its gloomy court room, by the smoking wood stove, and touched with his magic wand the old memories which clustered about the place, and made them live again. He told of the men who had met and worked with him there. Loop, and Lathrop, and Brown and Taylor, who died in the performance of his duties, Elinn and Hulin, John A. Holland, Jason Marsh, and many more; of the heated days of the Kansas-Nebraska imbroglio, and the storms of Lincoln campaign; of the day when the news of Sumter came, and the men of the city gathered before the steps and made plans for the future; Judge Church was chairman of that board of supervisors who had voted money to care for the wives and families of those who offered their lives in defence of their country. Indeed, he continued to hold his office during the entire struggle. Then there was that bitter New Year's day when the stoves were kept at white heat to protect the miserable group of refugees from the southern plantations who had been sent to Winnebago county to be cared for; of the funeral of Ellis and Nevius--of trials many and exciting--they all passed again in review before his mind, and he made them live in the hearts of his hearers.
Judge Church was wont to say that the pleasantest duty he was ever called upon toe perform was that of locating the bridge across the Mississippi at Rock Island. This work held him for months at the nation's capital, and here he met many men whom he knew loved, and on the side, it is said that the gentlemen in charge of the work complimented the commission at the close of their labors, and said that this was the only instance on record of the work being completed, and still some of the original appropration remaining untouched in the treasury.
These are but a few of the duties that were entrusted to his care. He served his day and generation as county judge for eight years, as county clerk, as member of the Illinois general assembly, and as commissioner of charites. But it was as a friend that he was best loved and appreciated. He was easily approached, and he loved to help the worthy. He loved Taylor, the martyred sheriff of the county, but he was untiring in his efforts to save Coutnryman, whom he believed to be innocent, so far as intention went.
In 1845 he was married to Mrs. Mary Preston and from that time the home, either the comfortable one on the east side, or the handsome residence built on the Church farm, originally part of the Kent holdings, in the west end, was a center of hospitality for old and young alike. There is a story that at one time a company of boys fell into the habit of playing ball upon the private grounds about the Church residence on Sunday afternoon, and some of the neighbors scandalized by their levity, sent for the patrol wagon to carry them off. But the judge interfered, and declared that they were welcome to enjoy the freedom of his lawn every Sunday afternoon, just so long as their play was innocent play. He was an ardent supporter of the old seminary. When Miss Sill came to Rockford to build up, she came at once to the Church home, and from that day to the time of her death found a refuge and a supply of wisdom and courage within those hospitable walls whenever she had need. The same support was accorded the teachers of the high school at a later day. Although never a church member, this strong man lived the Gold Rule, and his influence was always for good. Not long before his passing, he contributed toward the building of the Grace church, and at the time remarked casually that he had given toward the building fund for every church, of whatever denomination, ever built in Rockford.
The strong ties which united him to the friend of his early manhood were most noticeable, and continued fast to the end. Especially dear to him was the late Hiram Waldo, and that old whist team, consisting of Judge Church, Judge Bailey, Waldo and Isaac Bacharach is remembered by many of the older people, and by some who are not so old, for he firmly believed in snatching all the pleasure possible as one passed along life's way, though, as one may plainly see, the aim of his life was far removed from pleasure, by the record of finished work which he has left behind him, a source of pride to his daughter, Mrs. Katherine Church Keeler, and to his grandchildren, Mrs. Jennie King and Mrs. Aubrey Barnes. [--Rockford Morning Star, January 26, 1913]
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