ILGW logo

will banner

USGW logo

History of Will County

Township Histories


"Frankfort-on-the-Main," otherwise Frankfort Township, comprises one of the stair-steps of Will County, forming a "jog" in the line, and is bounded on the north and east by Cook County, on the south by Greengarden Township, on the west by New Lenox, and had a population, in 1870, of about one thousand nine hundred and twenty inhabitants. The town is mostly fine, rolling prairie, with the exception of a few sections bordering Hickory Creek, the only water-course of any consequence. Frankfort Township is termed the summit of this portion of the State, and is said to be the highest point between Chicago and the Mississippi River. It is described as Town 35 north, Range 12 east of the Third Principal Meridian, and is as fine an agricultural region as Will County can boast.

Forty-eight years have come and gone since white men began to settle in the territory now embraced in Frankfort Township. William Rice is supposed to have been the first white man whose footsteps marked the virgin prairie in this portion of Will County. He made a kind of prospecting tour through here in 1828, but did not make a permanent settlement until in the Summer of 1831. During the Spring and Summer of that year, John McGovney, William Moore, William Rice and a man named Osborne settled near where the village of Mokena now stands. Not long, however, were they allowed to remain in peace and tranquillity. The notes of war were wafted to them upon the prairie winds, and the war-whoops of Black Hawk and his warriors warned them that this was no safe abiding-place. Early in the Spring of 1832, safety demanded a retreat to a more thickly-settled country, and they accordingly returned to the Wabash settlement, or to Lafayette, Ind. McGovney, Moore and Rice were from Ohio, and Osborne had come from Indiana, but whether that was his native place or not could not be learned. After the close of the Indian war, McGovney and Rice came back to their claims, in the Spring of 1834. Moore and Osborne, it appears, however, were fully satisfied with frontier life, and never returned — at least not to this settlement. Mr. McGovney pre-empted eighty acres of land, and succeeded in getting a "float" on another "eighty," a portion of which is embraced in the present village of Mokena. He is considered the first permanent settler of Frankfort Township. The land was not in market at the time he settled here, and settlers chose their locations and "squatted," provided there were no prior, claims Range 11 was sold in 1836, and Range 12 in 1838, at Chicago. Mr. McGovney died on his original place March 11, 1859. W. W. McGovney, a son, now lives in New Lenox Township; another son, Ozias, is a prosperous merchant in the village of Mokena; Thomas G., another son, lives in Joliet, and Elijah, the youngest, lives on the old homestead. The family consisted of eight children, and all lived until the youngest was 32 years old.

Matthew Van Horne settled here, it is said, in 1832, and remained during the Black Hawk war. He was from New York, and was good-naturedly termed by his neighbors a Mohawk Dutchman. He settled one mile west of the present village of Frankfort, in the Hickory Creek timber, where he lived and ndied, and where his widow still lives, in the same old house where they spent more than half their lives. Peter Clayes came from New Hampshire, and settled first in the vicinity of Lockport, but removed to Frankfort Township in the Spring of 1837. Orlando and Levi M. Clayes, his sons, came in the Fall of 1836; Charles, another son, came out and worked on their claim during the Winter, and in the Spring the remainder of the family came. They bought their claim from one Robert Smith, who was from Vermont, and settled here in 1835. The elder Clayes is dead, and Charles lives on the homestead place. E. Atkins and a brother, John Atkins, came from Vermont, and were among the first settlers in the township after the close of the Sac war, and about the same time came Weir and Duncan, from the Wabash settlements. Their first names are now forgotten. Foster Kane and Archibald Crowl were from the same section. It is said that Kane was in the settlement all through the Black Hawk war, and settled on the place afterward occupied by Matthew Van Horne; but this we are inclined to doubt somewhat. Crowl settled near the village of Mokena, in 1834 or 1835. He finally moved to Missouri; Kane moved South in a short time after the war was over, and afterward to Missouri, where he died many years ago. Daniel Wilson came from Ohio and settled in 1834 or 1835. Francis Owen was from Kentucky, and came in 1835. Phineas Holden and Trueman Smith were from Vermont, and settled also in 1835.

Ambrose Doty came from Ohio, in 1834, and settled on the line between Frankfort and New Lenox Townships. His land lay on both sides of the line, and his first cabin was built just over the line in New Lenox Township; but when, some years later, he built a new and more pretentious residence, he set it on the opposite side of the line, and thus became a resident of Frankfort Township. As stated, he came from Ohio, but was born in Norris County, N. J. He has been living for some years in Frankfort village. Isaac Francis also came from Ohio, but was a native of the "Ould Sod," and settled in the town in 1835. Allen and Lysander Denny, a Mr. Wood, and David Ketcbum came from New York in 1834 or 1835. Wood had two sons, Hiram and Sydney; one of them, a Methodist clergyman, moved to the Rock River country; the father and the other son moved away, also, but where, we could not learn. The Dennys settled in the Hickory Creek timber—Allen near Mokena, and Lysander on the Creek, where he built a saw-mill, and after a time sold out and moved to the village of Spencer, where he died. Allen finally returned to New York, where he died several years ago. William Knight, also a New Yorker, came in the Fall of 1834, and settled in the Grove, but sold out in a few years and returned to New York. This includes a number of the early settlers of Frankfort Township, and, perhaps, a majority of those who settled in the town prior to the land sale, are mentioned in this list. After the sale of these lands, the community rapidly filled up until not a section was left unoccupied. There are no better farming lands in the county, as shown by the following statistics from the Assessor's books for 1877.

---- - ACRES. - BUSHELS.

Corn - 5,721 - 188,900
Spring Wheat - 24 - 400
Oats - 4,822 - 175,170
Rye - 2 - 60
Buckwheat - 7 - 126
Irish Potatoes - 208 - 15,170
Apple Orchard - 262 - ......
Flaxseed - .... - 125

----------- POUNDS.

Grapes - .... - 1,500

---- - ACRES. - TONS.

Timothy Meadow - 2,395 - 3,050
Clover Meadow - 30 - 30
Prairie Meadow - 1,865 - 2,380
Pasture - 1,664 (not including woodland.)
Fat Sheep sold - 145-average weight, 90 lbs. per head.
Fat Cattle, " - 244-average weight, 1,000 lbs. per head.
Fat Hogs, " - 867-average weight, 250 lbs. per head.
No. of Hogs died of Cholera - 316-average weight, 100 lbs. per head.
No. of Cows kept - 835
Pounds of Butter sold - 25,780
Gallons of Milk sold - 185,150

John W. McGovney, a son of John McGovney, noticed as the first settler of this township, was the first white child born in the settlement. He was born in the Spring of 1832, just before the settler left the place for the Wabash settlements, at the beginning of the Sac war. As to the first death and marriage, the few survivors of the early days, are somewhat uncertain as to who they were, or when they occurred. The first physician who practiced the healing art in the neighborhood was Dr. Moses Porter, of Hadley; Dr. W. P. Holden was the first resident physician in the township, and practiced many years, but has at length retired and given the field to younger men. The first mill was built by Matthew Van Horne, about 1835-36, and was originally a saw-mill only, but a run of stones was afterward added, for grinding corn. A saw-mill was built prior to this by Denny, but it was a saw-mill only.

A store was opened, in 1836, by O. & L. M. Clayes, which was the first mercantile effort in the township. They continued in the business for eight or ten years, when they closed out, and one M. C. Farewell opened a store in the same house they had occupied. The latter did business under the firm name of Farewell & Case. Case lived in Chicago, and furnished the goods, and Farewell conducted the store. A post office was established in 1837, with L. M. Clayes as Postmaster one of the merchants mentioned above. The name of the office was Chelsea, and after the Clayes Brothers discontinued their store, the office was moved to Van Horne's, and he was made Postmaster, an office he held until some years after the post office had been moved to the new village of Frankfort, as noticed hereafter. When the office was first established, the mail was brought by "horse express fast line" from La Porte, Ind., to Joliet once a week. A village was laid out here in 1848-49 by Charles Clayes and M. C. Farewell, which was called Chelsea. The former owned the premises, and the place had some show of becoming quite a town; but upon the completion of the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad it was abandoned, and the last traces of it have now disappeared.

The first sermon preached in the town was perhaps by Father Beggs, who, as noticed in other parts of this work, was one of the pioneer preachers of the county. The Rev. Mr. Blackwell, another of the early Methodist itinerants, formed a class at Mr. Doty's about 1836 or 1837, just over the line in New Lenox Township, but at that day was included in this settlement, or this was included in that, and all known as the Hickory Creek Settlement. Mr. Doty's residence was a regular preaching-place until the era of schoolhouses, as there was no church edifice built until after the village of Frankfort was laid out. There is but one church-building in the town outside of the villages—the German Lutheran Church—which is located about three miles northeast of Frankfort village. It was built in 1877; is a neat frame building, costing about $1,500, and has quite a flourishing membership. The church history will be again referred to in the history of the villages. The first schools taught in the town were by Mrs. Knight and Mrs. Hiram Wood, but to which belongs the honor of teaching the first, no one can now tell. They both taught in a little log schoolhouse, which stood on Section 19, built for school purposes, but afterward converted into a dwelling. The school facilities have somewhat increased since then, and will compare favorably with any town in the county. In 1872, we find there were ten districts and nine schoolhouses. There were 652 pupils enrolled, and fifteen teachers employed, with two graded schools in addition to the common schools. The amount paid teachers was $2,724.90, leaving balance in treasury of $2,818.14. Further notice of the schools will be made in connection with the history of the villages of Frankfort Township. The first Justices of the Peace were Thomas Lang and Matthew Van Horne. Lang had the precedence by a few years, and after his term Van Horne dealt out justice to the offenders of the law. The present township officers are John McDonald, Supervisor; J. S. Claus and George Morgan, Justices of the Peace; John Cappel, Town Clerk, and Moriz Weiss, School Treasurer.

In 1852, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad was built through the town. The first freight shipped over the road was consigned to Ambrose Doty and Isaac Francis, and consisted of a couple of car-loads of lumber. There were no stations, and when the railroad men asked where they should put it off, were told anywhere in the township, said they could leave it one place as well as another, and put it off near the present village of Mokena. In 1855, the "Cut-Off," or Joliet Division of the Michigan Central was completed through, and the town has since been blest with unbounded railroad facilities. These roads were built without aid from the township, and so were independent of the town, and the town of them. There has, we believe, been another road projected, and, perhaps, partly graded, but has been dropped or discontinued. But as the railroads of the county are extensively noticed in the general history, we will pass without further mention of them here.

The cheese-factory of Messrs. Baumgartner & Co. is an extensive establishment. It is owned by a stock company, consisting of John and Jacob Baumgartner, George Geuther, Francis Maue and E. Higgens. They have an excellent brick factory with stone basement, built at a cost of $6,000. It is about two miles north of Frankfort village, and was built in 1875. The manufacture of butter and cheese is carried on rather largely, but not to the full capacity of the factory, owing to the lack of material. About $10,000 is the amount of business annually, but much more could be done if a greater supply of milk could be obtained.

This township was named by Mr. Cappel, an old German citizen, for Frankfort-on-the-Main, his native place, a name it has always borne. The town is largely Republican, and has always been so. It is remembered by many that at one period of its history there were not half a dozen Democratic votes in the entire town. But the latter party has gained some strength in the last few years, and the National Greenback party at present bids fair to create a revolution in its political record. The war history, like all portions of Will County, is good, and many brave soldiers are accredited to this township.


Mokena is situated on the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad, about ten miles east of Joliet. The original village was laid out in 1852, before the Railroad was fully completed, by Allen Denny. An addition was made to it soon after, by John McGovney, which was surveyed by A. J. Matthewson, County Surveyor. Knapp & Smith put up the first building,-which was used for the double purpose of store and dwelling, and they were the first merchants in the place. The first hotel was built by Charles Gall, in 1853, and was the next next building erected after Knapp & Smith's store, which had been put up in the Winter of 1851-52, before the village was laid out and before the Railroad was completed. William McCoy built the first blacksmith-shop, in the Winter of 1853-54. Ozias McGovney was the first Justice of the Peace in the village, and was elected in 1850, an office he held for twenty-one years uninterruptedly. He is also a lawyer by profession, but has not practiced for a number of years, and at the present time is engaged in the mercantile business. A post office was established in the village in the Spring of 1853, and Warren Knapp was the first Postmaster, receiving his commission soon after the inauguration of President Pierce. Ozias McGovney is the present Postmaster, and has been for the past three years. McGovney bought out Smith, of the firm of Knapp & Smith, and the firm became Knapp & McGovney, and so continued for a number of years. They were the first grain buyers, and bought from wagons and loaded Linto the cars without the aid of elevators. Cross & Jones built a steam-mill in 1855, and about 1865, took out the machinery and shipped it to Kansas, when the mill building was changed into the Mokena Elevator, and is owned and operated by Charles Hirsch, the only grain dealer now in the village. Noble Jones speculates in grain and has an office here, but does business mostly on the Board of Trade, in Chicago.

The first schoolhouse was built in 1855, and was a small frame, costing $1,000. James Pierce taught the first school in it, soon after it was completed. The present elegant schoolhouse was built in 1872, is a substantial two-story frame, with stone basement, and cost, together with furniture, about $10,000, just ten times the amount of the first schoolhouse. Mrs. Sarah Baldwin is Principal of the school; Miss Swalm, assistant teacher, and Miss Clara Williams is teacher of the Primary Department. It is a flourishing school, ably-managed and well-attended.

The Mokena Advertiser, a spicy little newspaper, was established by Charles A. Jones, in 1874, and was published until May, 1877, when he died, and the paper was discontinued. His brother, however, carries on a job office in the old Advertiser office.

The village is not incorporated, though containing about six hundred inhabitants. Several efforts have been made to incorporate it, but have always been defeated, and so it still exists under township organization. The business of Mokena may be summarized as follows: Five general stores, two hardware stores, two drug stores, two blacksmith-shops, two wagon-shops, two harness-shops, three hotels, one furniture store, three millinery stores, two butcher-shops, and seven lager-beer saloons, grain buyers, etc. There are two physicians—Drs. Alexander and Joy. A large majority of the citizens are Germans; are honest, industrious and enterprising citizens, quietly moving on in their own easy way, without interfering in the business of others.

The Mokena Methodist Church was built in 1868, but the society was organized several years before, in the schoolhouse. The present Pastor is Rev. Richard Gillespie, and the membership of the Church is rather small. The building is occupied every alternate Sabbath by the Baptists, who have quite a prosperous society, with Rev. J. B. Dibell as Pastor. He has been in charge of the Baptist congregation since 1851, except two years. A large and flourishing Union Sunday School of these denominations is carried on under the superintendence of Deacon Rollin Marshall.

The German Lutheran Church was built in 1859, and is a substantial frame building, which cost about $1,500. It was built under the pastorate of Rev. Charles Myer. The present minister is Rev. Charles Schwaub, and the society numbers seventy-two members. The Church supports an interesting Sunday school, with E. Oswald as Superintendent.

St. Mary's German Catholic Church was built in 1864, under the ministerial labors of Father Fasbanter, and cost $1,400. About thirty families worship at its altar, under the spiritual guidance of Father Francis Sixen, present Pastor of the congregation. A good Sunday school is usually maintained, though it is having a kind of recess at present.

This embraces about all of the historical facts pertaining to the village of Mokena, which is a neat and tasty little town, though it does not present the appearance of a place that is improving and building up very rapidly.


The village of Frankfort was named for the township, and the township was named for Frankfort-on-the Main, as already noticed. Frankfort village is situated on the Joliet cut-off of the Michigan Central Railroad, about twelve miles from Joliet, and was laid out in 1855—the same year the cut-off railroad was built through the township. It was laid out by S. W. Bowen, who owned eighty acres of land embraced in the village. The first store was kept by a man named Higley, a very small affair (the store—not Higley), and did not continue long. The next store—and the first really deserving the name—was opened by N. A. Carpenter in the Spring of 1855, who also put up the first building designed for a storehouse. The first hotel was built by a man named Doud in the Summer of 1855, and still does duty as a hostelry under the supervision of J. R. Letts. The post office in the village was kept by Carpenter, as deputy under Van Horne, who was mentioned in the township history as accepting the Chelsea post office from L. M. Clayes. After its removal to this place, the name of the office was changed to Frankfort. Van Horne remained Postmaster for three years, but the duties of the office were performed by Mr. Carpenter, and after the expiration of the three years, William B. Cleveland became Postmaster. At present, Lewis Claus opens the mail-bags and distributes the contents to his patrons. Nicholas Fortmiller kept the first blacksmith-shop, in 1855, and is now a farmer in Greengarden Township.

The first grain bought at this place was by N. A. Carpenter, who bought for J. L. Hurd & Co., of Detroit. They built the first grain elevator, in 1856, which was burnt in February, 1878. John McDonald was the next buyer, and is still in the business, a prosperous grain merchant. He bought, for a number of years, from wagons, and loaded in the cars. In 1878, he built his elevator, one of the best in the county, and which cost between $6,000 and $7,000. It has a capacity of about twenty-five thousand bushels, and is supplied with steam-power. McDonald has a large trade in grain, and ships altogether East, over the "cut-off" railroad. The Frankfort Elevator was built in December, 1875, by Carroll & Mayer, and at present is owned and operated by D. W. Hunter. It cost about $8,000, and has a capacity of 42,000 bushels; is supplied with steam-power—Chase's patent. There are from ten to twelve hundred car-loads of grain (corn and oats) handled by this elevator annually, all of which is shipped directly East. The business of Frankfort consists of four general stores, viz.: L. & J. S. Claus, B. Baumgartner, Jacob Mueller and B. Balchowsky; A. B. Barker, drug store; T. Herschbach, hardware and stoves; two hotels, Curtis Williams and J. R. Letts; Stevens Brothers, manufacturers of plows, wagons and agricultural implements, with butchers-shops, blacksmith and wagon shops, harness-shops, millinery-shops and several lager-beer saloons. Dr. Haas is the only practicing physician since the retirement of Dr. Holden.

The first schoolhouse in the village was built in 1856, and is now used as a dwelling-house. Josiah Carpenter taught the first school after its erection. The first school in the village, however, was taught by Miss Lizzie Kent before the building of the schoolhouse. The present handsome and well-designed schoolhouse was built in 1870; is a two-story frame, and cost about $5,000. The Principal of the school at present is Prof. O. P. Blatchly, with Miss Raver as assistant teacher, and an average attendance of about one hundred and fifty pupils. The Methodist Church was built in 1856, and was the first church edifice in both the village and the township. The society was originally organized in the "log schoolhouse," one mile east of the village, and grew out of the society formed at Doty's, as elsewhere mentioned. The building is a frame, cost about $2,000, and the present Pastor is Rev. George K. Hoover. A Sunday school is maintained, of which John Sinclair is Superintendent. The Baptist Church was built in 1863, a frame building, costing $1,600. Rev. David Letts was the first Pastor, and lives now in Iowa. Rev. Stephen Barterick is the present Pastor, and has a membership of thirty or forty. The society supports a flourishing Sunday school, of which the Pastor is Superintendent. The German Evangelical Lutheran (United) Church was built in 1868. It is a frame building 30x56 feet, cost $2,000, and has a membership of about forty. Rev. T. Walter is Pastor, who is also Superintendent of the Sunday school, which is attended by from forty to sixty children. Our Christian Neighbor is a small religious paper, published monthly in the village, and edited by the Rev. George K. Hoover.

The Frankfort Germania Saengerbund is a society devoted to musical culture, and controlled by a President, Vice President and Board of Directors. It was organized in June, 1875, and incorporated by act of the Legislature. The first Board of Directors were Martin Muff, Jacob Mueller, Charles F. Bauman and George Fink, and the present Board are M. Muff, C. Kuerschner, C. F. Bauman and Nettles. Martin Muff is President; Casper Kuerschner, Vice President, and Ludwig Roehler, Teacher. They have an excellent hall, which cost $1,200, and three acres of ground in the beautiful grove north of the village, which cost $265. The society numbers twenty-five members, is in a flourishing state, and the next annual meeting of the Will County Saengerbund will be held in their hall, in the village of Frankfort. The fee of membership is $2, and 50 cents a month, dues. It is a source of much interest to the German citizens, who comprise a large majority of the population of the place.

The oldest citizens of the village still surviving are: N. A. Carpenter, A. B. Barker and Mr. Ruggles. Henry Dressier is the oldest German citizen of the place.

Last Update: Sunday, 22-Mar-2015 20:05:54 EDT

ILGW logo   USGW logo

Will County Coordinator: Dennis Partridge
© 2007- ILGenWeb Project. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright of submitted items belongs to those responsible for their authorship or creation unless otherwise assigned.