History of Will County
It is claimed for this township, that it is the best, in many particulars, in the whole county. In soil and in society, in thrift and in intelligence, the inhabitants of Florence acknowledge their superiority. After a careful examination into the several items enumerated, we are not disposed to attempt to change public opinion, in regard to the good qualities of this locality, for certainly a finer place for the display of all that is desirable in a farming community would be hard to find. The land is exceedingly rich, and the soil deep and very productive. The surface is gently undulating—just sufficiently so to render drainage easy, and, at the same time, prevent the washing from heavy rains incident to rolling or broken ground. Thrift and prosperity are manifested on every hand, in the well-cultivated fields, fat and fine-bred stock, comfortable and, in some instances, elegant dwellings, and in the well-graded and well-kept highways. The queerest part of the story, perhaps, is that much of the best land in the township was not occupied until long after the little strips of timber along the streams—though of a greatly inferior character of soil— was occupied and improved. The reason for this becomes apparent, when it is considered that the first inhabitants of this country were all from the heavily-wooded States, that it was then apparent that the little bits of timber here and there must answer for both fuel and building purposes, until artificial forests could be grown, and that the prairie land was as dear as the timbered. In the minds of many Eastern people contemplating emigration, the timber question is yet an important one. Now, however, inhabitants of the prairie experience but little inconvenience from the lack of this former essential, the "depths" producing an unlimited amount of fuel, and the railroads supplying from other sections building material of a better character than ever was produced here. In early times, a saw-mill was one of the first institutions to appear in the new settlement. These have nearly all disappeared—not because the timber is completely exhausted—but rather that the lumber brought from the pineries of Michigan and Wisconsin is more easily worked and of a more suitable quality for building. The whole township is devoted to farming in connection with stock-raising and dairying. Immense crops of corn, oats and rye are produced; considerable pork is raised, and within the past few years, a good deal of attention has been devoted to butter and cheese making.
The township is a full Congressional town, containing thirty-six full sections, and is described in the survey as Town 33 north, and 10 east of the Third Principal Meridian. It is bounded on the north by Jackson Township, on the east by Wilton, on the south by Wesley, and on the west by Wilmington. It is watered by Prairie Creek flowing through the northwestern part, and by Forked Creek and its branches flowing through the southern portion. These furnish excellent stock water to the farms lying adjacent. Stone, adapted to foundations for houses and for making lime, is found in some parts, and quarries are worked for these purposes. Some dispute as to who was the first settler of this township has arisen in consequence of the nearness of some of the first settlements to the northwest corner, across the line from which other early settlements were made in adjoining townships. We have no doubt, from close investigation, that Lewis Linebarger is justly entitled to that honor. Several others of the Linebarger family came to Jackson Township in the year 1832, and, as we have seen in the history of that township, returned to Indiana on the appearance of the Indian troubles. The next Spring, Lewis moved out and settled at what has since been known as Starr's Grove, though the neighborhood was then really considered a part of Reed's Grove. Perhaps, from this circumstance, Linebarger has been incorrectly accredited to Jackson Township. Linebarger built a log cabin, which was the first, and made other improvements. He did not enter the land, bHt subsequently sold his claim to Arthur Potts, and removed to Oregon, where he still resides.
Arthur Potts, though not the next to make his appearance as a settler, was yet in the township of Wesley in 1834, and moved on the claim purchased of Linebarger a year or two later. Potts was a native of Indiana. He lived here until 1854, and then removed to Iowa, having sold his farm to Duncan McIntyre.
Another of the Linebargers also settled in here in 1834. He, too, has removed to Oregon. Henry Moore was here in 1834. He was a native of Indiana, a good farmer, and removed to Iowa a number of years ago.
In 1835, the township received an addition to its population that proved to be an addition, not only as to numbers, but in worth, in energy, in industry, and in general benefit to the community. Henry Althouse is a native of Prussia. He came to this country in 1819, landing in Baltimore that year. All that he had in the world, when he stepped ashore, was the clothes on his back, plenty of energy and a thorough knowledge of the baking business. In the business of baking he engaged, working at the trade in Maryland, Virginia and Ohio. In 1821, he married the lady with whom he has now lived fifty-seven years. In 1835, he concluded to turn farmer, and, with that intent, came to this place and laid claim to a piece of land. To this he has, by the utmost energy and industry added, until, at one time, he has owned 1,500 acres. He would own it now, but having a view to the comfort and welfare of a large family, has divided it up and given to each of the nine surviving children a good farm and other property of value. He now resides at Wilmington, occupying the fine residence of the former banker, Daniels. He is 80 years of age; but, with the exception of his loss of sight, retains his faculties, and seems a quarter of century younger.
John Kahler was also one of the earliest citizens of this vicinity, having settled here in 1835.
James Martin came in 1836. He was a native of Ireland, and proved to be a first-class citizen of this community. When he first came to the neighborhood, he assisted in the building of Dr. Bowen's mill at Wilmington. The school records show him to have been one of the first School Trustees, in 1842. His son William still occupies the old homestead, though the father has lain in the cemetery seventeen years. James W. Martin, another son, has filled the office of County Treasurer to the satisfaction of all parties.
About this time came Walter and Thomas Monteith. They were from New York. They lived here about ten years, and then removed to Oregon. Since their removal to that State, report says they have become very wealthy. David Bell was one of the next to settle here. He is a native of New York, and came first to Wilmington, where he earned a little money working at the trade of carpenter, bought a little land in the southwest part of the township, and by constant industry and good management has become wealthy.
In 1837, Duncan McIntyre and Daniel Stewart came from New York. McIntyre took a claim on Section 28, the farm now belonging to Selah Morey, and built a cabin. Being unmarried at the time, he took to live with him Nelson Wright and family, who had emigrated from New York with him. Subsequently, Wright removed to Oregon, and McIntyre sought elsewhere for a housekeeper; and in this connection a little romance is related. Some years before, McIntyre and some friends, while on a tour of inspection in the neighboring township of Wesley, were suddenly surprised by seeing coming toward them a man leading a little girl, then a mere child. The man informed them that they were emigrants from Michigan, and had just arrived at the place; but their wagon, with the balance of the family, had been left a little way behind, and they were seeking a place to spend the night. The man was Joseph Hadsel, and the little girl was his daughter. All of the gentlemen were struck with the quiet and simple beauty of the little girl; but no one dreamed that this was to be the future Mrs. Duncan McIntyre. But when Mr. McIntyre's tenants, the Wrights, left his place, he then brought to mind the modest, intelligent face of Joseph Hadsel's daughter, who was then living with her father in the adjoining township. An opportunity was not long in presenting itself for Mclntyre to renew the acquaintance of the now young lady, and his stimation of her growing as their acquaintance increased, and her regard for him being of an equally high character, they were married in 1840. Three years later, McIntyre and his wife returned to New York, where they lived fourteen years, and then returned to Florence, where he died some years later. Mrs. McIntyre still resides at Starr's Grove, and with her lives her mother, the former Mrs. Hadsel, now verging on to her fourscore years, and one of the oldest residents of this part of the county.
Daniel Stewart, mentioned in Wilmington Township, was one of the stanchest and most honorable citizens of this neighborhood. In his line of business he was most successful, and accumulated a large amount of property. His death occurred about three years since.
Walter W. Monteith, cousin of the Monteith before mentioned, came about the year 1841, and worked for a time in Gov. Matteson's woolen-factory at Joliet. On coming to this township, he settled near the center. He was one of the most popular (and deservedly so) citizens. He was the first Supervisor of the township, and held numerous other positions of honor and responsibility, in all of which he discharged the duties of the same in a most satisfactory manner. He has been dead about eighteen years.
Charles Starr, after whom the little grove on Prairie Creek was named, was native of Nova Scotia. He was the father of Judge C. R. Starr, of Kankakee. Mr. Starr came to this country and to this township in 1842. He died a few years ago at a very advanced age—nearly 100 years old. In the same year, William Van der Bogert arrived from New York. He was elected, the same year, a Trustee of schools in this township, being one of the first three.
Isaac Jackson also arrived in 1842. He was a native of Nova Scotia, and came with his family to Starr's Grove, having purchased 100 acres of land at that place. Mr. Jackson was a Quaker preacher, though in some points he differed from the orthodox Quakers. Before removing from Nova Scotia, he had built, at his own expense, a church, in which he preached his peculiar doctrines to all who desired to hear him, free of expense to his auditors. On leaving that country, he donated the house of worship to the congregation. After coming to this country, he frequently held religious services at schoolhouses throughout the county. Mr. Jackson was a most profound mechanical genius; and whether the circumstances called for the shoeing of a horse, the framing of a house, the building of a carriage in all of its parts, or the transforming of a piece of iron into the delicate hairspring of a chronometer, he was always found equal to the occasion. At his son Delancy's may be seen some of the instruments manufactured by him for his own use, which are pronounced by experts to be of the very finest character. He died here in 1875, at the advanced age of 90 years, his wife having preceded him in 1856. Enoch Jackson, a son of the above, served for eighteen consecutive years as Justice of the Peace in this township, during which time not a single one of his decisions was ever reversed by the higher courts.
By the year 1848, quite a number more permanent settlements had been made, so that the population had become nearly one hundred. Among the principal ones who arrived during the years 1842-48, are remembered John Jordan, Rufus Corbett, George A. Gray, Adam White, Edward Gurney, the Baskerville family, Selah and Leonard Morey, William Barret, Dr. E. H. Strong, Adam White and sons John and James, C. G. Jewell, R. H. Nott, Andrew Layton, Henry Hand and Hezekiah Warner.
The first move looking toward the organization of a means of educating the youth of this township originated with Henry Althouse, the next Winter after arriving here. The school consisted of only his own children and a child or two belonging to one of the neighbors. The school was taught in a room of Althouse's dwelling, by a young lady employed by him, and was more on the nursery style than conforming to the strict rules of the modern public school, the young lady being employed as much for the purpose of taking care of the children as for instructing them. In 1841, the first steps were taken to establish a school for general and public instruction. A petition was prepared, and at the meeting of the Board of Trustees of Wilmington Township, in the Spring of the next year, presented to that body praying to be admitted as a part of the Wilmington District. The petition was considered favorably, and a school was established within the bounds of Florence, during the Winter of 1842-43. The attendance was only six scholars, and the term lasted but thirty-five days. Sarah Fisher is entitled to the credit of being the pioneer educator of the public school system of this township; and for her services, as Principal of this Florence Academy, or Starr's Grove institute, or whatever it was called, she received $11.50.
In 1845, the number of scholars in the township, living near Starr's Grove, had increased to twenty-four, and Town 33, Range 10, was set off as a separate district. No schoolhouse had yet been erected, but schools were held in such rooms of private houses as could be spared. The first schoolhouse was erected in 1849, and was built by Selah Morey, for $250. The building, though not occupied at present for its original purpose, has been reconstructed, and is now in use as a dwelling. James Martin, John Kahler and William Van der Bogert were the first Trustees.
In 1865, the number of schools had increased to six; and at the present writing there are eight. In 1865, there were 482 persons in the township under 21 years of age, 342 of whom were between 6 and 21, and 284 of whom attended school during that year. The total amount expended that year for the support of schools was $1,174, of which $1,140 were paid as teachers' wages.
These items are given for the purpose of comparing with like figures at the present time, which, with additional items snowing the condition of schools at present, are given below:
Number of schools - 8
Number of persons under 21 - 439
Number attending school - 243
Number of teachers - 14
Number of days attendance - 24,647
Highest wages paid any teacher - $48 00
Whole amount paid teachers - 2,082 00
Total expense of supporting schools - 2,632 00
Estimated value of school property 3,852 00
It will be seen by the above, that in 1865, the township had just reached its maximum, as to school population, and that since then, though the number of children has really decreased, additional school facilities have been provided, and although wages, gold, interest, and every commodity has decreased to one-half, the amount expended for the sustenance of schools has been almost doubled. This would indicate almost 400 per cent increase in expenditures—taking into account the depreciated values of other items—which, if an indication of an equally increased efficiency in the system, should be a source of congratulation to all patrons of the system. We are reliably informed that the schools of this township rank among the highest in merit in the county.
The first year after the township organization act was in force, in this county, the township of Florence voted with Wesley and Wilmington, and John Frazier, of Wesley, was first Supervisor of the three. In 1851, however, the inhabitants of Florence determined to "set up a government of their own"; and, a petition to the Board of Supervisors having met with favorable consideration, an election was called to choose township officers, on April 1, 1851. W. W. Monteith was chosen Moderator of the meeting, and John Kahler, Clerk. There were 42 votes cast, of which the following persons received majorities for the respective offices, and were declared elected: W. W. Monteith, Supervisor; William Van der Bogert, Assessor; Leonard Morey, Clerk; C. G. Jewell, R. H. Nott and G. A. Gray, Highway Commissioners; Charles Starr and Hezekiah Warner, Justices of the Peace; Henry Hand and Andrew Layton, Constables; Rufus Corbett, Overseer of the Poor; and Henry Hand, Collector. The voting population of the township has increased to about two hundred. The present officers of the township are: Royal Corbin, Supervisor; W. P. Strong, Clerk; William Nelson, Assessor; Peter Ohlhues, Collector; Cornelius Murphy and Edward Gurney, Justices of the Peace; Wesley Cook and William G. Cutshaw, Constables; Patrick Naughton, David Forsythe and John Hayden, Commissioners of Highways; John M. White, William Kerr and David Forsythe, School Trustees, and W. P. Strong, School Treasurer.
Florence Township was no idle spectator to the struggle of the country during the years 1861-65, to maintain the Union, but gave many noble sacrifices, that the Government might live. The township was not drafted during the whole war, but furnished its full quota at every call. Among those who not only risked their lives in the service of their country during this momentous period, but of whom even that was demanded and freely given, are remembered: Walter Van der Bogert, killed by a shell; Charles Morey, died of disease contracted in the army; Henry Ohlhues, killed; Daniel Linebarger,* (*He was never seen after the battle and is supposed to have been killed.) killed at Chickamauga; Norman Kahler, died of wounds; Thomas Martin, died in the army; Charles Jackson, died of disease; Thomas Stewart, died of army disease; William and John Shoemaker, died of disease; Albert Wilkins, of disease; Almon Merrill, killed. A number of these names will be recognized as descendants of the old pioneer stock, named at the beginning of this article. Their fathers had braved dangers and suffered hardships to subdue the country, and make them homes, and now, when every fireside seemed to be in danger, they rose up with one accord to protect them.
The only church-building within the boundaries of the township is the one erected by the German Evangelical Association, in 1874. The house is located on the southwest corner of Section 10, and is a neat frame structure, 32 feet in width and 43 in length. It is completely finished and paid for, having cost the Association $2,965. These people have had preaching in the vicinity for the last fifteen years, in schoolhouses and at private residences. John Jacob Asherwas the first minister of this denomination who held religious services here. Nicholas Witcshie and wife, Henry and John Rockey and J. Taylor were the first members of the organization which was effected twelve years ago. When the house was completed, B. C. Wagner was the first minister employed to fill the pulpit. The present membership is about thirty, with Rev. Riemen Snyder, of Jackson Township, as Pastor. The northwestern and southwestern portions of the township, being adjacent to the towns of Elwood and Wilmington, are well provided with church privileges, though no houses of worship are to be found in those localities.