Winnebago County, Illinois
Stephen Mack was the first white man who made a permanent settlement in Winnebago county. The exact time is unknown. It was probably about 1829, although earlier dates have been given. He was born in Poultney, Vermont, and in early life his love of adventure drove him into the western wilderness. About 1835 he platted a village at the mouth of Pecatonica River, near Rockton, which he called Macktown. Mack married Ho-no-ne-gah, a daughter of a Pottawatomie chief. She was the mother of eleven children, and died in 1847.
Stephen Mack died in 1859, and was buried on his farm beside his Indian wife. Thirty years later, May 19, 1880, their remains were removed and buried in the Phillips cemetery, near Harrison.
Those who succeeded Mack were William Talcott and his son, Thomas B. Talcott, who made claims July 4, 1835. These gentlemen may be regarded as the first settlers of the village. Two other sons of William Talcott, Sylvester and Walter Henry, also settled there in 1835, and a fourth son, Wait Talcott, came in 1838.
The first store was opened by J. Ambrose and Timothy Wright in 1937. There is at Rockton more head and fall than at any other point on Rock River. A sawmill was erected in 1838, and a flouring mill in 1839, by Messrs. Talcott and Adams. The village was laid out by William Talcott in 1840, but the plat was not filed for record until May 30, 1844. The proprietors were Messrs. Talcott and Adams. The first bridge across Rock River about the mouth of the Pecatonica was built about 1845. Two bridges below the mouth of this steam were built a few years later. The first hotel was built by Jacob Hyatt, in 1839. It was a frame structure on the south side of Main Street. The next hotel was the New England house, completed in 1846. The third public house, a brick building, erected by Porter Vinton, was kept by Samuel Adams, and was called the Mansion House.
The early history of the Rockton Baptist Church is closely identified with that of the Roscoe Baptist Church. The Roscoe and Rockton Baptist Church was organized in June, 1851. In 1854 the services at Roscoe were discontinued for lack of suitable accommodations. June 28, 1856, the church voted to build a house of worship at Rockton, and January 13, 1858, the building was dedicated. Rev. James Veness supplied the church until 1857, when Rev. D.B. Purinton became pastor. The church enjoyed a rapid growth during this time, when ninety-three united in seven years. The following have been pastors since Rev. Purinton’s resignation: Rev. C.T. Roe, Rev. A.L. Wilkinson, Rev. W. Whitney, Rev. James Buchanan, Rev. W. M. Robinson, Rev. A. Whitman, Rev. W.G. Evans, Rev. J.E. Hamilton, Rev. J.J. Phelps, Rev. H.L. Steele, Rev. J.C. Hart, Rev. H. Topping, Rev. Stephen Crickett, Rev. T.C. Pederson, Rev. C. J. Eddy.
The First Congregational Church was organized in 1839 by Rev. Willam Adams. The first meeting for public worship were held at different residences until about 1840, when a small temporary structure was erected. A substantial stone building was built in 1848, at a cost of about five thousand dollars. The society as a bell which was the gift of William Talcott.
In 1855 Rev. Holland Richardson was sent to Rockton as a missionary, and organized a small band of Christian workers. In 1856 they were organized as a Methodist station under the pastorate of Rev. C.F. Wright. A church was erected in 1859. The pastor in September, 1905, was Rev. O.J. Simmons. The membership is 148.
The Racine & Mississippi Railroad reached Rockton October 29, 1856. E.L. Stiles was appointed agent and he held that position for many years. September 10, 1872, Rockton became an incorporated town. There have been three paper mill plants in Rockton. One of these, which was burned down, was never rebuilt. The two now in operation are owned by Bradner Smith & Co. and J.M. Coons. Three flour mills have also been destroyed by fire, and never rebuilt.
The occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the public school in Rockton was commemorated under the direction of the principal, W.W. Austin. At that time W.A. Talcott announced that he and his father would give a lot, building and furniture for a public library, as a memorial of the Talcott family, upon condition that the township would support it by a tax. This generous offer was accepted. Thomas B. Talcott gave the nucleus of books and there have been subsequent gifts. The library now contains about four thousand volumes. [---from Past and Present of City of Rockford and Winnebago County Illinois, Charles A Church and H.H. Waldo, 1905]
If there were a village in Northern Winnebago County known as Talcott or Talcottville, it would be understandable. The history of men named Talcott and the early history of men named Talcott and the early history of the village called Rockton are completely intertwined.
Stephen Mack had been operating his trading post for about six years in the woods of northern Winnebago County when William Talcott and his son, Thomas B., ventured from their home in Rome, N.Y., to the area that eventually would become Rockton. They arrived July 25, 1835, and spent the night in Mack’s home.
The elder Talcott was looking for a place where he could harness a river’s water power and create industry. He found it on the Rock River. He and his sons staked out claims and built a cabin between the Rock and Pecatonica Rivers. They were soon joined by other settlers, George Stevens, John F. Thayer, John Lovesee and a Mr. Robertson.
The bachelor life of these early settlers is described in Talcott’s diary:
“There were no ladies. We were a nice lot of bachelors and all keeping bachelor’s hall, doing our own cooking and housework of all description.”
Twelve men were living in the Rockton area when 1835 ended.
From the first, Rockton has been an active participant in governmental affairs. The first board of county commissioners, elected by 120 voters in 1836, included one Rockton man, Thomas B. Talcott.
The year 1836 provided another landmark for Rockton. It marked the beginning of a development eclipse that lasted until 1842, when Congress passed legislature clearing up land claims made by a group of displaced Poles.
The legal could hanging over this area slowed up development as some settlers moved away rather than make improvements they might lose if the Polish claim were approved. Congress set aside the Polish claim in 1842, opening the area for settlement by pre-emption.
The Talcotts in Rockton did not wait for a decision by Congress. Using all the manpower available, they dug their millrace, a simple inlet from the rushing river with no dam. By 1839 the Talcotts had a saw mill and a grist mill operating from the first water power developed on the Rock River.
Rockford, which was to become a major furniture manufacturing center in later years, trailed early Rockton in the field. In 1846, Rockford residents were traveling to Rockton to buy furniture made Samuel Adam’s factory on the Rock River.
The Talcott seemed to be everywhere in early Rockton. Sylvester Talcott, another son of William, was one of the first justices of the peace in the county. He officiated at the county’s first wedding, and was a township supervisor for several years.
Thomas Talcott, after being elected one of the first county commissioners, served four years in the state Senate and held various township positions.
Another brother, Wait Talcott, who followed his brothers and father in 1838, helped corm Beloit College and Rockford Female Seminary, represented Winnebago, Boone, Ogle and Carroll Counties in the state Senate for four years, and laid the groundwork for the first railroad to link Rockford and Rockton.
The fourth son to take part in the settling of Rockton was Henry Walter Talcott, who joined his father in 1835. He was one of the 14 organizers of Rockton’s Congregational Church.
The elder Talcott, in addition to setting the pace for the settling of Rockton and developing the water power, worked out the first plats for the future village in 1838. However, the plats were not filed until 1884 because of the confusion caused by the Polish claim.
Wait and Sylvester Talcott formed a partnership in 1854, when Ira Hersey, after visiting the area the year before, returned with what is known in history as the “Maine Colony,” a group of 30 settles from Maine. The group included a number of skilled tradesmen and merchants, who heavily influenced Rockton’s early development as a community.
One of the most inventive men in early Rockton history was L.B. Fisher, who arrived in Rockton in 1837 with Hiram Bellows to manufacture ox sleds and wooden peck and half-bushel measures.
Fisher built a dam from the island below Macktown to the south shore, hoping to develop enough water power to operate machinery to cut out barrel staves and turn wooded hollow ware. The power wasn’t sufficient, however, and the scheme was abandoned.
Fisher’s next scheme was even less successful. He planned to build a boat to float down the river. The motion of the boat was to furnish enough power to run a lathe, on which Fisher hoped to turn out wooden butter bowls. It was his plan to float downriver, cut wood as he needed it, and arrive in St. Louis with a whole boatload of bowls. Friends persuaded him to abandon the project.
[--from Sinnissippi Saga, Nelson, C. Hal, 1968]
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MACKTOWN
Although the Illinois country played an important part in the early rivalry between the French and English in the Northwest Territory, the northern part of the state figured little if at all in this struggle. Most of the early history of Illinois was enacted along the banks of the Ohio, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers, which were the scenes of French explorations and the locations of the French forts and trading posts. Sugar maples felled more than fifty years ago in the vicinity of Rockford revealed scars made by chisels and gouges believed to have been used by French bushrangers to draw sap from the trees. The marks across the growth-rings of the trees enabled scientists to determine not only that they were made by European implements but also to fix the date as early in the eighteenth century.
The French, however, founded no permanent settlements in this area. Later, when the Northwest Territory became an American possession, the area surrounding the site of Rockford was overlooked by settlers for several decades although the region had good waterways and rich prairie land. At that time travel west to the settlements on the Mississippi River was made by water, along the Ohio or Illinois to the south and the Wisconsin River to the north. Few pioneers braved the encounters with hostile Indians which were probable if one journeyed across the prairies and through the forests which spread between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi.
In the late 1820’s there was some overland travel between Chicago and Galena, and glowing tales were carried back to New England of this rich new land in the West. The Prairies were described as great oceans of grass and wildflowers, dotted with islands of trees. There was an abundance of wild game and the streams teemed with fish. Despite these allurements it was probably not until 1829 (the exact date is obscure) that Stephen Mack became the first permanent settler in what is now Winnebago County.
Mack, born at Poultney, Vermont, and educated at Dartmouth College, brought eastern ways and education into the wilderness. In his youth he had served a mercantile apprenticeship in Boston, and in 1819 he went to Detroit, where is father was a merchant. He first appeared in this part of Illinois probably in 1822, as an agent for the American Fur Company. His stations were scattered over what are now the states of Michigan, Indian, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. Before coming to the vicinity of present-day Rockford he had spent a number of years in the Rock River Valley living among the Potawatomi Indians. His wife, Ho-no-ne-gah, was the daughter of a chieftain. Mack settled at the juncture of the Pecatonica and Rock Rivers, twelve miles north of the rock ford. Since both rivers were navigable for many miles above the point of their confluence, at a time when waterways provided the quickest and safest facilities for travel, Mack believed that this settlement would one day be an important city. A town was laid out and Mack priced the lot next toe his trading post at $1,000.
During the Black Hawk War, he guided the United States under Gen. Winfield Scott from Chicago to Rock River and thence to the Mississippi in pursuit of Black Hawk. He repeatedly explored the Rock River Valley.
By 1838 Mack had established a ferry service. Four years later he erected the first bridge across the Rock River in an effort to divert travel from the State Road which passed through Rockford. This effort to lure the tide of settlers to his village failed and Mack lived to see a city such as he had envisioned grow twelve miles father south on the river. Today the Macktown Forest Preserve commemorates Mack and his short-lived settlement
--(compiled by WORKERS OF THE WRITER'S PROGRAM of the WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION in the State of Illinois--1941)
ROCKTON PEOPLE ARE UNMINDFUL OF ITS ROMANTIC EARLY HISTORY
Villagers Busy in Affairs of Today--Industries Furnish a Living to One Thousand People
Rockton, July 31--Though Rockton is a village with a history, a history of as much or more importance than that of any other settlement, except Rockford, in the county, the residents go about their daily tasks without a thought of those early days when the founders lived among the Indians and dreamed and planned for the large city that should one day be the business center of northern Illinois, that city to be Rockton. When they walk along the banks of the beautiful Rock river, the villagers do not think of the campfires that once showed the presence of the peaceful tribe of Winnebagoes, or their hostile neighbors, the Pottawatomies...
Even when the young people--and their elders, who should know more about the pioneer days--walk down from the pretty village to the more beautiful outing park on the banks of the Rock, they do not think of the faithful Indian woman, Ho-no-ne-gah, for whom the grove is named. And as for Stephen Mack, her husband, and the first white settler in the vicinity, few people there today would know who was meant if his name were mentioned.
The children of the village, and their fathers, would find some very profitable reading in Edson I. Carr's history of Rockton, reading as interesting and thrilling as mose of the tales of fiction that are classed under the neading, "Light summer reading". And in the public library of the village will be found the volume.
Talcott Free Library
The public library is in itself a memorial of those early days for it is the gift of the Talcott family, among the earliest settlers in the village. It is called the Talcott Free Library and is housed in a substantial and comfortable little building on the main street. Miss Mary Forward is the librarian and can furnish not only Carr's history but a number of other books to those who wish to read up on the early days of Rockton. The library contains about 4,800 volumes.
It is not of those days that we wish to speak but of the village as it is now and of its inhabitants non of whom was at the founding. William and John Talcott have long been dead and their descendants have mostly moved to Rockford. Of the family in Rockton, there are now but two representatives, Mrs. L.W. Smith, daughte rof Samuel Talcott, and Miss Lulu Talcott, both of whom were born in the village.
Two of the oldest settlers are Mr. and Mrs. J.N. Douglas, who are approaching the four-score mark in years and have spent most of them in the village. Mrs. Douglas, whose maiden name was Charlotte Veness, came to the hamlet in 1842. She was then a girl of 12 years and her family moved there that the children might get the schooling. Her future husband did not arrive until 1853 and two years later they were married in the village. They celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary during the present year.
Many Old Settlers
Mrs. Douglas' brother, E.J. Veness, is another of the older settlers though he is considerably younger than his sister. Cassius-Clay is an old-timer. Mrs. Edward Martin came to the village in 1852. Mrs. and Mrs. William Thompson have long been residents of the town. Mr. Thompson being one of the pioneer grocers. Two other pioneers are Mr. and Mrs. Frank Packard, both of whom are almost 80 years old.
There have been changes in the town since those early days, not so many as in the one time rival, Rockford, but yet a steady growth. Now there are about a thousand inhabitants, and the population is permanent for there are enough industries to support an even larger number of people.
The Milwaukee railroad which has a junction in Rockton, one branch going westward through Durand and the other swinging around to the southward, furnishes employment for a considerable number of men. In the gravel pit, which is said to contain the finest gravel in the country, men are continually busy loading cars that are shipped in either direction on the Milwaukee road.
Waterpower is furnished by the big dam across the Rock river and this serves to run a number of factories. Two paper mills, not the largest in the country, nor the smallest, but in good condition and turning out a large quanitity of paper every day, furnish employment for another quota of men.
Two Large Paper Mills
Bradner Smith & Co., of Chicago, own one of the mills and the other is owned and operated by Fred. M. Coons. Mr. Coons, who has continuously been a resident of the village until the past week, when he moved to Beloit, has a number of other irons in the fire, and each of them is hot. For some years the Keeler Lumber company of Rockford and Beloit was the only company providing coal for the residents of Rockton. Naturally it controlled the market and the price was suited to its convenience. Last year Mr. Coons went into the business and by cutting the price forced his competitors also to sell cheaper and last winter the people of Rockton were getting their coal at a lower price than was paid by the citizens of Rockford.
Fred Coons is one of the most popular men in town. He is a great practical joker and relishes a joke on himself as well as one of which he is the perpetrator. It is not unnatural that fot the competition and consequent reduction in the price of coal, he has achieved an even greater popularity.
Another large industry is that of Moore & Gayton, who own a flour and grist mill run by water power. As a side venture they have put in an electric light plant by which the houses of the village are supplied with almost as good lighting facilities as those of Rockford. Many people have installed the electric lights in their houses, using them in the place of the old kerosene lamps. There is no gas works and therefore Moore & Gayton have a monopoly on the lighting privileges.
H.A. Weber owns a fanning mill factory which makes daily shipments to Milwaukee where the machines are sold. This is not an exceptionally large plant but furnishes employment to a number of men.
It may, therefore, be seen that Rockton, though in the center of a fertile farming country, is not dependent upon the crops but is a small manufacturing town. It will continue to grow as the factories increase in size.
Most towns which have any number of factories are more or less undesirable for residence. This can not be said of Rockton. The vilage is spread out over a considerable are, lying to the north of the Rock river and west of the railroad tracks. On the river are situated the factories and the smoke of the railroad trains is only notices in the extreme eastern part of the town.
The park may be said to be the center of the village. It is a square plot of ground with well-kept lawn, large trees, and in the center a band stand from which concerts are often given. Good sidewalks are laid through the park in various directions, iron settees are distributed along the walks and all in all the park is an attractive place well patronized by the townspeople.
At the southwest corner of the park is the Methodist church, a large frame building that is being refurbished at the present time. The Baptist church is on the same cross street. These, with the Congregational, which is the largest and best building, are the three churches of the village.
Many Pretty Homes
Many pretty houses are seen along the streets, two of the most modern being those of Mrs. L.W. Smith and her son, F.W. Rockwell, who is well known in Winnebago county as the supervisor from Rockton township. B.E Collins has a pretty residence of colonial architecture that has not been completed more than a year.
Of the stores, Phelps & Collins own the largest general store, containing most of the necessities of life, except groceries. L.E. Veness is also one of the successful merchants and O.T. Bartholomew has a large business.
The postmast is J.J. Crawford, familiarly known as "Jake," who was appointed in McKinley's administration and has continually held office. He has plenty to do in sorting the eight daily mails and starting the two rural carriers on their routes. Charles Crawford, brother of the postmaster, is the carrier on Route No. 1 and Charles Shufelt takes care of the other route leaving Rockton.
Rockton Has a Marshal
Unlike Winnebago, Rockton has a marshal, so that burglars who contemplate a raid will find it best to stay away from Rockton. The marshal, John Drewnoize, is not a very busy man, however, for the town has not been visited by more than an occasional robber who got little booty.
The officers of the village are all republicans, for no other party has a show in the community. C.C. Coons presides over the board of trustees, which body is composed of B.E. Collins, E.P. Shotliff, Frank Graves, William Trimmer, G.W. Martin and W.W. Liddle. William Forward is town clerk and E.J. Pollock has the key to the treasury.
Over the postoffice is the telephone exchange, presided over night and day by Mrs. Belle Glover Stites, who is a Rockton girl but spent two years in Rockford on the telephone exchange.
A great many of the farmers in the country round, as well and the villagers, have had phones installed and appreciate especially the free service to Rockford and to any other exchange in the county. There are not many idle minutes for the "hello girl."
If old Stephen Mack could arise: open his eyes long closed in death, and see the changes wrought since the days when he followed the Indian trail along the banks of the Rock, he would fall dead again of astonishment and wonder. Telephones, electric lights, interurban electric cars, factories and countless other improvements have changes the complexion of the village and the famous old trapper would not be able to find the way to his accustomed haunt long covered by the structures of his descendants. [--Rockford Morning Star, August 1, 1905]
EARLY DAYS IN THE TOWN OF ROCKTON
Names and places are frequently associated together. One cannot think of Plymouth Rock without recalling Miles Standish. The Astors and the Vanderbilts are intimately associated and interwoven in the history of New York city. It is so with the Talcott family in Rockton.
The name of Talcott is a household word to this day in Rockton. They can claim justly as being the first settlers in that locality. They were the promoters of business and of religion. They were attracted to Rockton by its splendid water power, which they saw was available. William Talcott and his son, Thomas B. made claims on land July 2, 1835. Two other sons, Sylvester and Walter Henry followed their father in the same year, and Wait, another son, came in 1838.
William Talcott was a native of Connecticut, having been born at Hebron, March 6, 1874. He was a patriot of the first water, and has the distinctioni of having served in the army of the United States in the war with Great Britian in 1812. No wonder that his descendants have been so loyal and patriotic when such loyal blood courses in their veins.
In the cemetery at Rockton, there is a handsome and substantial white marble monument erected to the memory of William Talcott, who died Sept. 2, 1864, and his wife, Dorothy Blish Talcott, who departed this life Nov. 24, 1879.
Soldiers of 1812
Besides William Talcott, who was in the war of 1812, there are four others of these heroes buried in the Rockton cemetery. They are Warren Raymond, Charles Reed, Major Nathaniel Rudd, and General W. Richardson. Very little is known of the history of Raymond and Rudd. Charles Reed died at Rockton on August 25, 1863, aged 79 years. He was a native of Virginia and during the war of 1812 he was taken prisoner at Detroit when Hull surrendered. After his release he volunteered again and was in the battle of the Thames where the big Indian chief, Tecumseh, was killed.
General William Richardson has a good substantial monument to perpetuate his memory. On the west of the die is this inscription:
In Memory of
Gen. W. Richardson
Born in Manchester, N.H.
May 7, 1782
Died Nov. 24, 1860
Aged 77 years, 6 mo. 12 days.
The son of the general was a soldier in the union army during the civil war and is buried by the side of his honored father. The name of this young volunteer is Osker K. Richardson. He died Oct. 22, 1862, only twenty years of age. The record of his birth and death is carved on the monument to his father and this sentence as purporting to be his own is engraved on the marble: "My county is worth fighting for."
A Polish Shadow
The government of the United States has always been generous in its attitude toward emigrants and the oppresed of European countries, who have come to this land of freedom. A number of exiles from Poland came to the United States as a place of refuge. The United States government gave these exiles a grant of land. One of their number was General Clopeski. These exiles sent him out to Illinois to locate this grant so they could occupy it and form a settlement or colony. General Clopeski, in conferring with the early settlers, promised most sacredly that he would not locate this grant on any townships already preempted by these settlers. But he broke his work of promise, and thereby placed in jeopardy the people of Rockton and vicinity. This Polish shadow placed a blemish on the title to their land. But this shadow was entirely removed in 1844. William Talcott and Mr. Adams, who had platted the village in 1840, could now enter it for record, which they did.
In 1838 the Talcotts built a saw mill. Such a mill was a prime necessity, as the settlers must needs have lumber with which to build themselves homes, and also places of shelter for their stock. The following years they built a grist mill. People needed flor with which to make bread, and they needed feed for their cattle. Necessity is not only the mother of invention, but it is a propelling force urging man to devise and construct such articles and machinery as he needs to better his condition. This grist mill at Rockton was the first of its kind in this section of Illinois. Farmers brought their grains to this mill from a distance of a hundred miles.
The first bridge across Rock river above the mouth of the Pecatonica was built about 1845. Up to that time it was either to ford the river or cross by ferry. It was impossible to ford the river, especially when the water was high. A bridge became a necessity. Another bridge was built a little later across from the Mack farm. This bridge was destroyed in later years. The present bridge is located at the foot of Bridge street and connects with the road that leads to Rockford on the west side of the river. Just across the river on a pretty rise of ground is the old family residence of the Hollisters.
A short distance from the main road to the west is a ridge, in which moulders' sand has been discovered. A syndicate from Freeport have possession and are taking out car loads every day and shipping the sand, even as far west as Seattle. There is more money in this sand bank than there is in hundreds of so called "gold mines."
There is but one paper mill in operation now in Rockton. That is the plant owned by Mr. Otto Glass. The present mill has been opened since last August. His first mill burned down. This building is constructed of reinforced concrete. Mr. Glass employs 35 hands in his mill. They manufacture about seventeen to twenty tons of carpet lining, deadening felt, and building paper per day.
--G.R. VANHORNE [--Rockford Register Gazette, November 7, 1910]
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