History of Will County
Channahon is an Indian word, signifying the "meeting of the waters," and alludes to the confluence of the Des Planes and Du Page Rivers, which occurs near the center of the township, and was bestowed on the town by Judge Peck, one of the early settlers of the country. It is described as Township 34 north, Range 9 east, and is one of the best watered and best drained sections of the county. The surface is uneven and rolling, in some portions rising into bluffs, but upon the whole containing much fine farming land, though very little open prairie. At the time of the first settlements in Channahon, much of it was timbered, and what is termed in other States, "open barrens." It lies in the western tier of townships, adjoining Grundy County, and is south of Troy and north of Wilmington Township, with a population in 1870, of 1,164 inhabitants. The Illinois & Michigan Canal, and the Chicago, Pekin & Southwestern Railroad pass through the town, and afford excellent shipping facilities for the large amount of grain and stock annually produced by its enterprising citizens. Upon the whole, Channahon may be set down as one of the wealthy and prosperous townships of Will County.
Joseph Shoemaker is supposed to be the first white settler in Channahon Township. He came from Ohio, and made a claim here in 1831, and is still living in the corner of the town, but has traveled around considerably since his first settlement in this section; has made a trip to California, and to Nebraska, but finding no place better than Illinois has returned and settled in his old township. The Tryons and Knapps came from Vermont in 1833, and settled on Section 8, between the Des Planes and Du Page Rivers. The colony consisted of George and Russell Tryon, who were both single men at the time, and Dr. Ira O. Knapp, his wife and Miss Knapp, a single sister, now the wife of Lyman Foster of Plainfield. Dr. Knapp is a nephew of the Tryons, and his wife and sister comprised the only ladies of their party. He built a log house on his claim 18x20 feet in size, in which all lived for two or three years. Dr. Knapp says he at one time had eight boarders in this little house, as other early settlers would come in, and he would entertain them until they found locations and provided other accommodations. His description of this primitive residence shows what the early settlers had to put up with forty years ago, and were contented if even a shelter could be procured. As stated, the house was 18x20 feet, and three sides of it were of logs, while one end was left open for a fire-place, which was the usual mode then of cabins and fire-places, and the only sawed boards were what the door was made of, the floors and roof being of "shakes" or "clapboards," and puncheons or slabs split out of trees. Dr. Knapp and George Tryon still live upon their original claims; Russell Tryon died about three years after their settlement here. The party stopped first in Plainfield, or Walker's Grove, and finding the timbered land all claimed in that region started out on a prospecting tour, and came down through the present township of Troy into Channahon, west of the Du Page River, where they selected locations, and returned to Plainfield for the purpose of removing their effects to their claims. In coming back to the place selected, they met with a man named McGill, mentioned as an early settler in Troy Township, who volunteered to come with them and show them eligible points for settlement. Instead of allowing them to go to the west side of the river, where they had selected claims, he conducted them to their present places, and told them the land was far superior to that on the opposite side, a fact that subsequent developments have proved to be true.
New York State furnished Channahon a number of its early settlers, and some of its most enterprising and worthy citizens. Among them we may mention Michael Morehouse, J. N. Fryer, Isaac Jessup, E. C. Fellows, Dr. Schermerhorn and his brother, Barant; Judge William B. Peck, Peter McCowan, Burke and Isaac Van Alstine, H. D. Risley, Jedediah, Gerry and Walter Fames, and a man named Baurlyte. Dr. Schermerhorn was a practicing physician, and settled in the town in 1834. Jacob B. Schermerhorn, a son of his, also came this year, but before the old gentleman, and made a claim on Section 8, where he died about fifteen years ago. Barant Schermerhorn, a brother to the Doctor, came the following year, and settled in the neighborhood, where he died many years ago. The Doctor, after practicing his profession, here several years, removed to Ottawa. He died some years ago, but his widow was still living there at the last known of her. Morehouse settled on Section 17, in 1834, where he died in 1875 at the age of fourscore. He was a married man when he came to the settlement, but boarded with Dr. Knapp until he made his claim and built a house. J. N. Fryer was a son of Mrs. Morehouse by a former marriage, and came here with them. He is living near the village of Channahon, and is one of the most prosperous farmers and citizens of the township, and withal one of the popular and public-spirited men of the day, as evidenced by the fact that he has held the office of Supervisor of the town since 1866 without interruption. Isaac Jessup and family settled in the town in 1834, in good time to raise a crop of corn that season. The first flour they used in their new home was procured from Thornberg's, who settled here the previous year. John S., a son of Isaac Jessup, and who was rather young when they came to the country, is now a merchant in Wilmington. Another son is an Episcopal clergyman in New Orleans. It is said that Butler, when in command at New Orleans during the war, arrested and imprisoned him at Fort Pickens because he would not pray for the President of the United States according to the Episcopal Creed. The other sons of William Jessup are dead, but several daughters are still living. He died in 1853. Judge William B. Peck settled in the town in 1835, a little north of the present village. He received his title of Judge while living in New York, and was what was termed a "Side Judge," corresponding, we presume, with the Associate Justices of other States in the olden time. E. C. Fellows and George Tryon married daughters of Judge Peck. The wife of the former is still living, and two sons of the Judge are living, one in New York and the other in California; but the old gentleman died some twenty years or more ago. E. C. Fellows settled in the town in 1836, but soon removed to Joliet, where for some time he was a prominent lawyer, and where he is noticed as one of the first lawyers in that city. Burke and Isaac Van Alstine settled northeast of the village of Channahon in 1835. The former is still a resident of the township, while Isaac lives in the village. Peter McCowan settled in 1835 on Section 5, where he died about fifteen years ago. H. D. Risley settled in the town in 1834, and was a prominent man and served a term as Sheriff of the county. He died about 1856 or 1857. Jedediah, Gerry and Walter Eames, three brothers, settled in this section in 1834, and are all dead. Baurlyte settled here in 1834, but after a residence of a year or two, became disgusted with the wilderness of the West and returned to New York.
Robert Thornberg, Seymour Treat and a man named Greggs came from Indiana in 1833, and are numbered among the very first settlers of Channahon Township. Thornberg died several years ago, but his sons are still living in the neighborhood. Greggs moved to Iowa in 1836. Treat and his two sons, Isaiah and Stephen (one of them a doctor), settled in this township as above stated, and built a grist-mill at the foot of the island, which is called by their name. The Lewises came from the chalky cliffs of Old England, and first settled in Grundy County, just over the line. Joseph Lewis has long been one of the prominent business men and merchants of Channahon. He settled in Grundy County in 1834, and, in 1850, removed to the village of Channahon, where he astill lives. Henry Lewis and Dr. William Lewis, his brothers, came to the country in 1833, the year before Joseph came. Dr. Lewis was one of the early practitioners of this section of the country, and died in Grundy County, and Henry was drowned some years ago in the Kankakee River. Gibson Willard came here in 1834 and made a claim; but did not bring his family until the next year. Reuben G. Willard, a nephew, came with him, and, several years later, Reuben Willard, a brother to Gibson Willard, settled in the town. They are all gone now, either dead or moved away, except some grandchildren, who still live in the neighborhood. Hosea Buel settled on Section 5 in 1835, and died twenty or twenty-five years ago. Joseph McCune settled in this township, east of the Des Planes River, in 1832 or 1833, where he died a few years ago. John Troutman settled in the same neighborhood about the same time of McCune. John Ward settled in the town in 1834, but of him but little could be learned. In giving the list of settlers in Channahon Township, we should not omit the mention of a small part of the Fifteenth Amendment, whom many of our readers will remember as "Nigger Dick." This comprises the names of the early settlers so far as they can now be obtained. Any omissions of names entitled to mention as early settlers, result from the fact that the few pioneers left have forgotten them. Forty years is a broad expanse, over which the memory may not always travel with clearness, and that many should be forgotten is but characteristic of human nature.
Channahon Township was, previous to its settlement by the whites, a favorite abode and hunting-ground of the Indians of the Pottawatomie tribe, and many of them were to found here after white men began to settle in the town. They had a village here at one time, traces of which long remained, and mounds, where they buried their dead. Judge Woodruff mentions the grave of one, in his "Forty Years Ago," near the residence of Mr. Treat, who was buried in a sitting posture, and supposed to be one of their prominent men, as they always took great pains to visit it in passing up and down the river. They made a visit to Chicago to receive their wampum, before leaving for the "Far West," and returned to Channahon for a farewell look at the homes of their youth. It is said that many shed tears on leaving forever the spot where their lives had been passed, and that all appeared downcast and sad. If this be true, it shows up a new phase of Indian character, and proclaims them, after all, tinged with a light touch of humanity, though there are many who are a little skeptical as to the feeling said to have been displayed by them on leaving this section, and say that most of them manifested the most childish enthusiasm at the "change of base." But on one point they generally agree, and that was, their loneliness after the departure of the Indians; for quite a sociability had sprung up between the two races, particularly between the female portion, and the squaws would frequently visit the whites and bring their papooses with them, and seemed to enjoy, with the most unbounded delight, the hospitality extended by their pale-face sisters. The chief, Bourbonnais, or, as called by the French and Indians, Bil-bo-nee, with the accent on the last syllable, had a great many ponies, and seems to have been quite a lover of horse-flesh. The Indians were great gamblers and horse-racers. "Bil-bo-nee" had a race-course near his village, where they used to race a great deal, and would sometimes bet high on the speed of their ponies. Their track was straight and very level, and did not circle, like those of their white and more refined friends. The chief was a great friend to the white people as long as he remained here, and parted with them with apparent regret. And, as stated above, a kind of lonely feeling settled over the community after the Indians had gone. For, with a feeling somewhat akin to that of the poet, who wrote within a gloomy prison:
"With spiders I have friendship made,
And watched them in their sullen trade;
Have seen the mice by moonlight play."
and for a lack of a sufficiency of copmanionship in this, their wilderness, a warm friendship had originated between the races; and when the Indians departed, it left quite an opening in the country, and some few there were who mourned their absence.
The first white child born in the township was George Knapp, a son of Dr. Knapp, and was born in July, 1834. This, at least, is the first that can now be recalled. Jedediah Eames was killed by lightning in April of 1835 or of 1836, which was probably the first death which occurred in the small settlement. Just who were the first parties to commit matrimony, cannot now be ascertained. Judge Peck's daughters were married very early in the history of the settlement; but whether George Tryon and Miss Peck were the first married in the town is not known, but they were among the first. Dr. Knapp was the first practicing physician, and Dr. Lewis was the next and very soon after Knapp, while Dr. Schermerhorn was also one of the early doctors of the town. Dr. Knapp retired from the practice of medicine more than twenty-five years ago. The first preacher "crying in the wilderness" of Channahon was the Rev. Mr. Perry, who proclaimed the Word here as early as 1836. He was a Congregational or Presbyterian minister, and was said to be the laziest man the township ever knew. Dr. Knapp went fifteen miles for him to come and preach in their neighborhood. Services were held in the house of Russell Tryon, who was unmarried and gave the use of his residence for a chapel and schoolhouse. The following story is told in illustration of Mr. Perry's "native indolence: "He cut his foot one day, very slightly, with an ax, a wound that an ordinary man would have paid no attention to. But he bundled up his foot with several pounds of rags, dismissed his school, and declined to preach the first Sunday after it occurred. The next Sunday, however, he appeared, with foot well bundled up, hobbling along with a cane, and when commencing to preach, put his foot on a chair, while he bore his entire weight on his well foot. During his sermon he became somewhat excited, forgot his wound, set his lame foot on the floor and the well one on the chair, which so amused the audience that the good effect of his sermon, if there was any, was lost. He also taught the first school in the township, which commenced simultaneously with his preaching, and was taught in Russell Tryon's house, which, as above stated, was used both as a church and as a temple of learning.
The first schoolhouse was built in 1837-38, on Section 8, near Dr. Knapp's, and was a frame building, something uncommon for school edifices at that early day. In 1872, the school record was as follows: Nine school districts; 415 pupils enrolled; 13 teachers employed; 1 graded school; 5 schoolhouses; special tax for support of schools, $12,000; amount paid teachers, $3,357; total expenditures for the year, $5,375.95; balance in treasury, $310.80-which statistics have not materially changed since that report.
The first church edifice, and the only one in the town, was built in the village, where it is again referred to. The first mill was built on the Des Planes River, by Seymour Treat and his son, as already noticed. It was a log structure and ground wheat and corn. It was built in 1837-38, and has long since passed away; "But," says Dr. Knapp, "when we got that mill in operation in our settlement, we thought we had a big thing." The first post office was established in 1836, through the instrumentality of Judge Peck, who was the first Postmaster. The name of the office was Du Page, a name it bore until the laying out of the village of Channahon, when it was removed to the village and the name changed to Channahon. Judge Peck was also the first Justice of the Peace, and was appointed or elected to the office about 1837. At present, J. N. Fryer and Albert Randall are Justices of the Peace; J. N. Fryer, Supervisor; Dr. Joseph Fitch, School Treasurer, and Timothy Gorman, Town Clerk.
The first road laid out, passed through the southwest corner of the township to Joliet, and the first bridge was built across the Du Page River, on Section 18; and was built by the people, of logs, and a rather rough affair. The town is well supplied with bridges at the present time, over the Du Page, Des Planes and the Canal, though none of them are iron bridges. They are substantially built, however, with stone foundations, and answer all practical purposes. The first store is noticed in the history of the village. The first blacksmith was Julius Sackett, who kept a shop in the town as early as 1838 or 1839, though of him, little could be learned. The first Supervisor of Channahon, after township organization in 1850, was George Tryon, who served for 1850-51. Since then the following gentlemen have served in that capacity: H. Henderson, 1853; J. B. Schermerhorn, 1854-56; Charles C. Smith, 1857-61; E. H. Jessup, 1862; John T. Randall, 1863-65; J. N. Fryer from 1866 to 1878, inclusive, and is the present incumbent. His long service as Supervisor is the most satisfactory evidence as to his efficiency in the office he fills.
The sandstone quarries of Channahon furnish a very superior quality of building-stone, and were opened originally by Joseph Lewis, long one of the prominent business men of the village of Channahon. Another quarry of a similar character was opened and worked for a time by Patrick Conroy. None of these quarries are now in operation, a fact that seems strange, when we consider the excellent and cheap transportation of freights by way of the Illinois & Michigan Canal. With the apparently inexhaustible supply, the ease with which the stone is reached, it would be natural to suppose that this would be the leading business of the town. Quite an item of importance in the history of this township, is the cheese-factory and creamery. It is owned by Charles C. Smith, one of the wealthy and solid men of the place, and George Alexander. The factory was built in the Spring of 1877, and has since done a large and extensive business, which is increasing rapidly in volume. They manufacture both cheese and butter, purchasing a large quantity of the milk used, while some is made up for their patrons. A grain elevator was built some years ago by H. S. Carpenter, on the Canal, a short distance above the village of Channahon, which is now owned by a man named Knapp,* (* No relation to Dr. Knapp of this township.) but is at present standing idle. The business has, during the past Summer, been transferred to the Rock Island Railroad which passes within a few miles of the place. The building is an excellent one, provided with steam power, and it seems a pity that it should remain closed and tenantless.
The township is pretty evenly divided on political issues, a small majority, however, Democratic. In the old times of Whigs and Democrats, it voted solid, almost, for Andrew Jackson, and many there are who still vote for the old hero of New Orleans, notwithstanding the great revolution of political questions. Its record during the late war was patriotic, as was every portion of Will County. But as their history and patriotism have been ably written, we shall not attempt to repeat it here.
VILLAGE OF CHANNAHON.
The village of Channahon is situated on the Illinois & Michigan Canal, and on the Du Page River, a little above its junction with the Des Planes, and has the double advantage of a most excellent water-power, and a cheap freight transportation. It was laid out by Myrvin Benjamin, in 1845, and was called Du Page, after the first post office established in the township. During the building of the Canal, it is said that the Canal Trustees had something to do with the village, in some way or other, and called it "Swifton," after one of their number; but this story is disputed by some of the old citizens of the place, who say that its name still stands upon the records as Du Page, although the name of the present post office is Channahon, and the village is usually called by the same name. The first house erected in the village was put up by Benjamin, about the time of the laying of it out, and was used as a hotel by Mrs. Story. It is now occupied as a residence by David Billsland. Chauncey Stickney opened the first store in the village in 1845, which was the first mercantile venture in the township as well as in the village. After the laying-out of the village, Du Page post office was removed into it and the name changed to Channahon, and at present Charles Fowler is Postmaster. The following is the business summary: Four stores, by C. & C. E. Fowler, J. Lewis, Dr. Joseph Fitch, Timothy Gorman; one grocery store; two blacksmith-shops; one wagon-shop and hardware store. For a small place like Channahon, there is quite an extensive business carried on, and a good trade maintained. They have the advantage of a daily mail, which is brought across the country from Minooka, a point on the Rock Island Railroad. The Channahon Mills were built by Joseph Lewis, and after passing through the hands of several parties, are now owned by a man named Sprague, and at present operated by a Mr. Eversoll. They are frame huildings, containing two runs of buhrs, for flour and feed, and run by the water power of the Canal.
The Methodist Episcopal Church, located in the village of Channahon, is the only church edifice in either township or village. It was built in 1852-53, and is a large and handsome frame building. Rev. R. K. Bibbins was the Pastor last year, but the session of Conference just closed sent to the charge Rev. Mr. Gillespie. There is a membership of between eighty and ninety, with a Sunday school equally strong, under the superintendence of Dr. J. Fitch. Although this is the only church-building in the township, religious services are frequently held in the schoolhouses, as well as Sunday schools. The first schoolhouse built in the village of Channahon was in 1839, before the village was laid out, and is now degraded by being used as a stable; the next one was built in 1864, and burned in 1868, when the present handsome edifice was erected and opened in 1869. It is an elegant and substantial two-story frame building, finished off in the most approved modern style. The school is graded, with a high-school department, and is in charge of Prof. Layburn, assisted by Misses Brown and Blount.
The Masonic Order is represented by Channahon Lodge, No. 262. It was chartered in 1857, and the present officers are as follows: Albert Randall, Worshipful Master; Nelson Bedford, Senior Warden; R. C. Miller, Junior Warden, and C. Fowler, Secretary, with forty-five names on the roll of membership.
This comprises the history of the pretty little village, nestled among the bluffs of the Du Page and Des Planes Rivers. It is a beautiful location for a town, but, owing to the railroads which pass within a few miles of it, there is but little probability of its ever growing to the size of Chicago.
Shermanville is a place only in name. A stone quarry was opened here a few years ago, and an effort made for a village; but for some cause the quarries were discontinued, and the prospects of a town became extinguished. There is not, we are told, a house or even a cabin to designate the spot laid down on the map as Shermanville. Gravel Bank Station is another place of like proportions, and consists chiefly of a side-track on the Chicago, Pekin & Southwestern Railroad, for shipping grain and stock.