History of Will County
The classical land of Homer—the site of the famous "Yankee Settlement," and peopled from the old and refined States of the Union, is one of the finest townships of Will County. About three-fourths of it is fine rolling prairie, as rich and productive as the sun shines on in his daily journey, while the remaining fourth is covered, or was at the time of its settlement, with excellent timber, mostly white oak. It is bounded on the north and east by Cook County, on the south by New Lenox Township and on the west by Lockport, with a population, in 1870, of 1,280 inhabitants. No railroads cross its borders, nor are any large villages or towns located within its limits, but it is a thoroughly farming district and still maintains its reputation of Yankee thrift and intelligence. It is described as Township 36 north, Range 11 east of the Third Principal Meridian.
The first settlements in Homer Township was before the Sac war, during which period some of the settlers fled with their families to the Wabash settlements and others to Fort Dearborn at Chicago, but returned to the settlements and joined Sisson's company in the blockhouse so often referred to in these pages. The following names were among those belonging to Capt. Sisson's company in the blockhouse during the Indian war: Benjamin Butterfield, Thomas Fitzsimons, James Glover, John McMahon, Joseph Johnson, James Ritchey, Edward Poor, Joseph and James Cox, John Helm, Salmon Goodenow, Joseph McCune, Selah Lanfear, Peter Polly, David and Alva Crandall. Of these, Joseph Johnson and his two sons are supposed to be the first settlers in Homer Township. They were from Ohio, and came in the Fall of 1830, and were in the town during the Winter of the deep snow, and suffered all the hardships of that dreary Winter. The elder Johnson died in the Summer of 1846. James Ritchey came from Ohio, and settled here in the Spring of 1831. He made a trip through the country in November of 1830 and selected his location, and moved out in the following Spring. During his first trip to the country, in the Fall of 1830, he says, as he wandered through dismal swamps, dark forests and lonely prairies, he for the first time in a long trip wished himself safe back at home. He made his claim on Section 9, where he has lived ever since, but has recently sold out to his son-in-law, with whom he at present lives. Mr. Ritchey is in good bodily health, but has been almost blind for a number of years. Edward Poor was a North Carolinian, but had lived for years in Tennessee, and came here from Indiana in the Spring of 1831, and is yet living in New Lenox Township. He served in the war of 1812, also in the Black Hawk war, and is now about 84 years of age. Joseph and James Cox came from Indiana in 1831, but whether that was their native State or not we are unable to say. John McMahon is the first who settled in what was termed Gooding's Grove. He made a claim there and sold it to Gooding, upon his arrival in 1832. McMahon came from Indiana, but was originally from Ohio, and was here during the Indian war. Salmon Goodenow was from Ohio, but had lived some time in Indiana before settling in this township in 1832. Joseph McCune was his brother-in-law, and after the war was over, returned to Indiana, where he remained for a time and then came back and settled in what was called Jackson's Grove. Goodenow moved down about Reed's Grove, where, it is said, he got tired of life and finally cut his own throat. John Helm came from Indiana and settled in Gooding's Grove in 1832. He went to Indiana during the war, and when it was over, came back to the Grove and found James Gooding on his claim, and sold it to him for $10, and shook the dust of Yankee Settlement from off his feet. Benjamin Butterfield, who lived on the place afterward occupied by Jireh Rowley, and which Rowley bought from him on his arrival in the country, was an Eastern man, but had been living some time in Indiana before removing to Homer. He is noticed in Lockport, also, and as removing to Iowa, where he was living when last heard from. Peter Polly and a younger wrother were in the fort, and came from Indiana in the Summer of 1832. Selah Lanfear was from New York, and came to the settlement in 1832. He is said to have first settled in Lockport Township. Yankee Settlement extended to the river in Lockport Township, and it is a rather difficult task sometimes to keep all on their respective sides of the fence. David and Alva Crandall were from New York, and came to the settlement in 1832. Both were in the fort and Alva was Orderly Sergeant of Capt. Sisson's company, while David was a private in the same command. John Blackstone, or Judge Blackstone, who settled at Hadley Post Office, was First Lieutenant of this military company, while John Ray, a brother-in-law of Blackstone's, was Second Lieutenant. They were from Ohio, and married in the Glover family. Thomas Fitzsimons was from New York, and came in 1832. He started to California during the gold excitement of 1849 and 1850, and died before reaching his destination. James Glover was from Ohio, and settled in the town in 1831 or 1832. He went to Iowa in 1854, and was alive at the last heard from him. Two others belonged to the military band were of the Homer settlers, viz., Ashing and McGahan, but of them little could be ascertained. This, so far as can now be ascertained, comprised the settlement of Homer Township, or, as it was then called, Yankee Settlement, at the time of the Black Hawk war, and the names above given were in the blockhouse in 1832, and were members of Capt. Sisson's company. Nearly all of them are gone to join that army of white-robed saints over on the other shore, where the pale-face and the savage do not war with each other, but sit down in peace together in the Father's kingdom. None are known to be alive now except James Ritchey and Edward Poor; the former is extremely sprightly, except his blindness, for a man of his years, and possesses a most wonderful memory. In fact, his recollections of the time spent in the fort are as vivid as though of recent occurrence. Mr. Poor, as stated, lives in New Lenox Township. Several of the others were alive when last heard from, but as they have-removed to other States there is no definite information concerning them. Their Captain, Holder Sisson, died but a few months ago, as noticed in the history of Lockport Township.
Luther C. Chamberlain came from New York in 1832, and purchased a claim to eighty acres of land in Homer Township, and a claim to eighty acres of Canal land, then returned to New York, and in January, 1833, came back, bringing his two sons with him.. His son, S. S. Chamberlain (now of Lockport), rode an Indian pony through from New York, which his father had purchased at Plainfield on his first trip; Through representations made by Mr. Chamberlain on his return home from his first trip to this section, when he came back in 1833, the following gentlemen came with him to look at the country: Ebenezer Griswold, Warren Hanks (a bachelor at the time), Capt. Rowley and his son J. B. Rowley (the latter still living in Homer), Oscar Hawley (oldest son of Lyman Hawley, and for a number of years clerk of Will County), Abram Snapp (father of Hon. Henry Snapp of Joliet), and Dr. Weeks (the father of Judge Weeks of Joliet). The most of these returned for their families, and came back and settled in this township, of whom were Dr. Weeks, Capt. Rowley and Mr. Snapp; here they lived, honored and respected citizens to the day of their death. Mr. Chamberlain settled where Rev. Mr. Cowell now lives, and planted the beautiful row of maple-trees that are now the admiration of all who pass that way, and are said to be the first trees planted in Homer Township. He died in May, 1878, at the age of 90 years. S. S. Chamberlain says he slept in Lockport for the first time on the night of February 27, 1833, and that there is not another man living, so far as his knowledge extends, that can with truth say the same. He remembers to have heard his father and Capt. Rowley remark that the prairies of Homer would never be settled in their life-time, and they would always have it for the range of their own stock, and in four years there was not an "eighty" left vacant. Deacon James Gooding, the father of William, Jasper A. and James Gooding, Jr., was from New York, and came to this township and settled in Gooding's Grove in 1832. He was 60 years of age when he came to the settlement, and lived at the Grove bearing his name until his death. His son, William Gooding, who is mentioned in the history of Lockport Township, planted a nursery and cultivated an extensive orchard here, perhaps the first effort at fruit-growing in the township, or even in Will County. Benjamin Weaver came from New York in the Fall of 1833, and died in 1870, at the advanced age of 90 years. John Lane was also from New York, and came to the settlement in 1833. He was the inventor of the first steel breaking-plow ever used in Northern Illinois or in the Western country. He has been dead many years. Frederick and Addison Collins were from New York State, and were brothers. Addison was a lawyer by profession, and had practiced for a time in Rochester before removing West. He went to the Legislature from this county, and it is said that it was through him that Gov. Matteson's little speculation in Canal scrip was discovered. But this is familiar to all our readers, and is withal an unpleasant theme, so we will pass it without further allusion. Addison Collins died in this town in March, 1864. Frederick Collins is still living within a mile or two of where he settled some forty-five years ago, and is still an active man for his time of life.
Jireh Rowley came from Monroe County, N. Y., in 1833, and settled on Section 19, where he lived about three years, when he sold out and entered land on Section 34, where he lived until his death, which occurred in December, 1844, on the place now occupied by his son, A. G. Rowley. Calvin Rowley, another son, came out in 1832, driving a peddler-wagon all the way through from New York. He made a claim, on which he erected a cabin, and in which the family moved upon their arrival. Calvin Rowley now lives in the city of Rockford. Hiram Rowley, another son, lives in Chicago, and J. B. and Phineas K. Rowley, two other sons, live in this township, and are prosperous farmers. The Rowleys bought their claim from Benjamin Butterfield, who had entered the land where 'Squire Rowley now lives. The elder Rowley had married a second wife before leaving New York—a Mrs. Gray, who had several children, and they came West with the Rowley family. There were three daughters and two sons; one of these sons, Charles M. Gray, is freight agent of the Michigan Southern Railroad, a position he has been in for the past twenty years. The other son, George M. Gray, is agent of the Palace Car Company of Chicago. One of the daughters married S. S. Chamberlain, of Lockport. They came round the lakes on their way here, in an old schooner, and landed at Chicago, when Chicago was not, but a swampy marsh called Chicago, since grown into the recognized metropolis of the Northwest. Their landing at Chicago, and their trip form there to Homer, is graphically described by 'Squire Rowley in an article written about two years ago for the Joliet Sun: "On or about the 17th of July, 1833, the sail-vessel Amaranth, anchored in Lake Michigan, nearly opposite Fort Dearborn (Chicago), after a voyage of three weeks out from Buffalo, N. Y., and having on board about seventy-five souls, and among them was the writer, then a boy about 10 years old. The vessel was relieved of her cargo by means of small boats, and the passengers after being taken on shore, were entertained as best they could be, 'in and around' the residence of Herman Bond, which was built of logs and sods, and was located near the foot of Monroe street. Chicago then consisted of the fort at the mouth of the river, the house of John Kinzie, and some French shanties on the North Side, the hotel kept by Ingersoll, at the forks, a store at Wolf Point, the intersection of Lake and South Water streets, the frame of what was afterward called the Mansion House, on the north side of Lake, between Dearborn and State streets, a few other shanties, and the 'palatial residence' of our host. After taking in Chicago the next day, three of the several families who had journeyed together thus far chartered some 'prairie schooners' and 'set sail' for their destination, in what is now the town of Homer, Will County. This colony was composed of the families of Capt. Jireh Rowley, John Lane and Charles M. Gray, the latter, now and for many years past, freight agent of the Michigan Southern Railroad at Chicago. We made our way as we could through the tall rosin weeds, with very little track, to Lawton's (now Riverside) and thence to Flagg Creek. Here we found the body of a log cabin, and the owner, Mr. E. Wentworth, whose place in after years became quite a noted stage stand. We fought the mosquitoes until morning, and after partaking of our frugal meal, we launched out upon the prairie, and at noon halted at the Big Spring near Lilly-Cache Grove, and upon what is now the farm of Thomas J. Sprague. After refreshments, we moved on, crossing the Des Planes River at what was known as Butterfield's Ford, opposite the present town of Lockport, and near nightfall arrived at our destination, all weary and sad. Calvin Rowley (now of Rockford) who came on prior to the Sac war, was here and had erected a log cabin in the timber, about a mile and a half east of the river. Here we stayed until other and better-places could be provided. On looking around we found already here, Selah Lanfear, Luther Chamberlain, Holder Sisson, Capt. Fuller, Armstead Runyon, Edward Poor, James Ritchey, John Blackstone, John Stitt and a few others settled in what was afterward called the Yankee Settlement." We offer no apology for this lengthy extract, but deem it very appropriate in these pages. It is but the reflex of hundreds of the early settlers and their early experiences, as many of our readers will be able to testify when they peruse this work.
Hale S. Mason, another of the pioneers of Homer who is still living, was originally from the old Bay State, and came to this settlement in 1834, where he lived for twelve years, when he moved into Lockport Township, and located about a mile northeast of the village, and where he still lives, an active old man. Two years ago he and his good lady celebrated their golden wedding, and to them it has been a golden life. Happy in each other's love and each other's society, they have gone hand in hand down life's pathway, sharing its joys and dividing its sorrows. They came through in wagons from Bristol, Ontario County, N. Y., where they had for some time resided, and which, we believe, was Mrs. Mason's native place, and were on the road four weeks, arriving here on the 6th day of June. Mrs. Mason kept a diary or journal of the trip, and no doubt it contained many items of interest—items that would be very entertaining to read at this distant period, if it could be fished up out of the rubbish of forgotten things." Mr. Mason's two sons, who were rather young then, enjoyed the trip for the first week, but after that became so tired of the monotony that they seemed almost as ready to die as to get into the wagon of a morning and start on the journey of the day. Jasper A. Gooding came out with the Masons, and a daughter of his soon grew so homesick that she said one lay she would be willing to go back in a wagon to the old home in New York if the road was all like the "Black Swamp," a piece of road, it seems, that was extremely bad, from trees that had been grubbed up, leaving holes on either side. But one of Mason's boys spoke up, and said he would not be willing to go back in a wagon over such a road as that, "'cause the wagon jounced too much." Mr. Mason went to California during the gold fever of 1849-50, and was rather successful while there; was in Sacramento City, he says, when they attempted to illuminate it in honor of the election of Gen. Pierce as President of the United States, and burned up nearly the entire place in their excitement. James Gooding, Jr., a brother of William and Jasper A. Gooding, came to Homer Township before the Sac war, and was one of those who ran away (!) in an ox-wagon from the Indians, and took refuge in the fort at Chicago.
In 1834, Deacon Asa Lanfear came to the neighborhood. He was from Cayuga County, N. Y., and settled on what was called "Hawley Hill," the first who located there. He remained on this his original claim until his death, which took place in 1871, and his widow, who is still living, occupies the old homestead. She has been blind for twelve years, but otherwise is quite healthy and active. The following new-comers from "York State" were added to the settlement in 1834, besides those already mentioned: Alanson Granger, Cyrus Cross, Levi Savage, Reuben Beach, Nathan Hopkins, Samuel Anderson and Horace Messenger; and John Ross from the Buckeye State. These are all dead except Horace Messenger and Levi Savage. In fact, but very few of the pioneers of Homer are left. Mr. Ritchey and Mr. Poor, who were in the stockade with Capt. Sisson, and Savage, Messenger, Frederick Collins, Mason, who came in a year or two after the war, are the only landmarks left of the early times. And erelong these, too, will be gone. Already are they on the shady side of life, descending the hill of existence in the shadow of age," and trembling on the line that divides two worlds. After this period, the town rapidly filled up, and, by 1840, it was almost entirely settled and fenced.
The first post office was established in Homer Township in 1836. This was the Yankee Settlement, bear in mind, and the Yankees were wide-awake, intelligent people, and would not be deprived of their mail and other reading matter. The office was called Hadley, for Hadley, Mass., from which some of the settlers came who were active in getting it, and Reuben Beach was appointed Postmaster. A store was opened by Pratt & Howard, and Hadley became quite a business place, with some chance of becoming a town. At one time it boasted two stores, a post office, blacksmith-shop, church, etc., but railroads and the canal changed the order of things, and the glory of Hadley waned. The post office and church are all that now remain of the once busy place. Charles Haley is at present the Postmaster of Hadley. Before the office was established here, the settlers of Homer went to the post office on Hickory Creek, at "Uncle Billy" Gougar's, for their mail matter, and right gladly forked over their quarters (which was then the postage on letters, payable at the office of delivery) for the long-wished-for letter from the old home in the Yankee States. When the post office was established at Hadley, the mail was carried on horse-back from Chicago, but a few years later, a mail-route was formed between Michigan City and Joliet, and then it was brought to Hadley over this route in a kind of open hack or stage.
The first store in the township was kept by Norman Hawley, on Hawley Hill, in 1835. The goods were hauled from Chicago by ox-team express, then the usual mode of transportation. This spot once made some pretensions toward becoming a village; but, as Josh Billings said of the attempt of the two railroad trains to pass each other on a single track, "it was a shocking failure." Mr. Lanfear built the first house on the hill; the first school-house in the township was built there, then a blacksmith-shop and the store just mentioned. But the only trace of the village still remaining is the hill itself. Reuben Beach built a saw-mill on Spring Creek about 1838 or 1839, and several years later, Jaques & Morse built a steam saw-mill. These are the only efforts made in the mill business in this township. Before Beach put his mill in operation, the settlers used to haul what little lumber they were forced to use, from Col. Sayre's mill on Hickory Creek. With the lumber thus procured some of their first shanties were built, while others were built of logs, "chinked and daubed," and had chimneys made of sticks and mud.
The first school in Homer was taught by D. C. Baldwin, the veteran hardware merchant of Lockport, and was taught in the Winter of 1834-35, on Section 19, in a little log shanty with stick chimney which had been put up as a "claim hut" and abandoned. It is said by some that a Miss Sallie Warren taught a school before Baldwin, but from the most reliable facts now to be had, we are of the opinion that Baldwin preceded her. The next Summer after Baldwin's school, Miss Abigail Raymond taught a school in a building that had been put up for a cow stable, on the place of Deacon Lanfear. The first house for school purposes was built on Hawley Hill, by the neighbors, who donated the time, labor and material. An old settler—but young enough then to shoot paper wads in that primitive building—thus alludes to some of the comforts and conveniences pertaining to it: "Our seats and desks were made of split puncheons, and our 'persuaders' and 'reminders' were the young hickories growing around the schoolhouse." Among the scholars who attended this early temple of learning, were some of the brightest men of Will County, of whom we may mention Hon. Horace Anderson, Hon. Henry Snapp, Judge C. H. Weeks, N. L. Hawley, Esq., Judge E. S. Williams, of the Cook County Circuit Court, and others. Mrs. Fred Collins, then Miss White, taught a school in the settlement in a little log cabin, still standing on Mr. Collins' farm, in 1838. But the schools of Homer have increased since that day, as we find in 1872, there were in the township 8 districts and 9 schoolhouses. There were 412 pupils enrolled, 16 teachers employed, at a cost of $2,213.53. The total expenditures of the year were $2,683.30, leaving a balance in the treasury of $122.67.
The first church organized in Will County is said to have been the Presbyterian Church at Hadley, in this township, by Rev. Jeremiah Porter, the pioneer of the American Home Mission Society in the Northwest. The society was organized about 1833 or 1834, and Rev. Mr. Porter and Elder Freeman, both of Chicago then, preached alternately for some time at this place; and people of all religious beliefs within a radius of ten or fifteen miles would come together and worship God without the restraints resulting from closely-drawn sectarian lines, as at the present day. Mrs. Mason says they owned a yoke of oxen and Mr. Gooding a wagon. On Sunday they would hitch their oxen to his wagon, and both families jump in, and off they would go ten miles to "meeting." Churches there were none. Religious services were held in the groves—" God's first temples "—and at the cabins of the settlers. The first church was built at Hadley about 1838 or 1839, and was church and schoolhouse combined. The The people met in it, of all denominations, and were not selfish nor confined to one particular sect. But the church there has passed away and the society has drifted into the Congregational Church, near the center of the township. This edifice was erected in 1862; is a neat frame, and cost $1,500. Rev. George Slosser was the first preacher. The membership is rather small; has been decreased by death and removal, but is in a flourishing state. Rev. Mr. McKee is the present Pastor, and William Storm Superintendent of the large Sunday school. The Baptist Church at Hadley was originally organized by Elder A. B. Freeman, as already stated. He was the first Baptist preacher in Northern Illinois, and is said to have baptized the first person on the western shore of Lake Michigan, in April, 1834. The church was built there a year or two before the Congregational Church above mentioned. It has a large membership and a flourishing Sunday school, but no regular Pastor is in attendance at present.
The first wedding in Homer Township or Yankee Settlement, of which we have any definite record, was Westley Brewer to the widow of Alva Johnson, and they were married about 1833 or 1834, by John Blackstone, the first Justice of the Peace in the township. The first birth and death are not remembered; but the fact that the population has increased from a half-dozen persons to twice as many hundreds is pretty good evidence that there have been births, but the first one cannot now be mentioned; neither can the first death be given with any degree of correctness. The first blacksmith was John Lane, and, as elsewhere stated, made the first steel plow ever used in the West. He procured an old, worn-out saw-blade at Col. Sayre's saw-mill, which he cut into strips about three inches wide, and, after making several trials, he succeeded in manufacturing a plow which was a great improvement on the wooden ones then in use. In after years he became a noted plowmaker, and his son, John Lane, Jr., of Chicago, sustains well the father's reputation as a plow manufacturer. C. M. Gray manufactured at an early day such articles as grain-cradles, fanning-mills, etc.; but the improved reapers and threshers have taken the place of these old-time implements.
As already stated, John Blackstone was the first Justice of the Peace in Homer, as well as one of the first in Will County. The first Supervisor after township organization, was Samuel Blount, in 1850, followed by Ira Austin, in 1851; A. Collins, 1852-53; Ira Austin, 1854-59; Alanson Granger, 1860; J. D. Frazer, 1861; S. Knapp, 1862; A. Granger, 1863; A. G. Rowley, 1864-65; Levi Hartwell, 1866; Amos Savage, 1867-72; J. H. Bandle, 1873-74; Amos Savage, 1875-76; J. D. Frazer, 1877-78. Other township officers at present are, A. G Rowley* (*Has held the office uninterruptedly since 1851.) and A. A. Ingersoll, Justices of the Peace; Amos Savage, School Treasurer, and also a member of the State Board of Equalization, and Philip J. Sharp, Town Clerk. Homer is Republican in politics, nearly two to one, but was Democratic in the time of the two great parties —Whigs and Democrats. However, the reversal and upheaval of political parties have changed the general order of things, and the Republicans carry the day with as much or more ease than did the Democrats of yore. Taking into consideration the fact that in Homer was embraced the very heart of the Yankee Settlement, filled up by people who came from the old settled States, and were scholars and people of enlightened views, it would be but natural to conclude that Homer was named for the famous poet—the author of the "Iliad" and "Odyssey." We dislike to spoil sucha pretty little romance, but the facts of history demand it. The name was bestowed on the township by Alanson Granger, who came from Homer, Cortland Co., N. Y., and gave it in honor of his native place. In the process of naming the townships, the County Commissioners asked him to find a name for this one; he consulted his neighbors and decided on Homer. Its war history is written in another volume, and also on many a hard-fought battle-field of the late rebellion, and we will not repeat it here. The Yankee Settlement has furnished the country with some able men, but as this part of the subject is mentioned in the general county history, we will pass on without further allusion.
As stated in the introduction to this chapter, Homer has neither railroads, large towns nor villages; but one or two small country stores, a blacksmith-shop or two, a post office at Hadley and at Gooding's Grove, and two neat and tasty little church edifices. Aside from this, the town is devoted wholly to agricultural pursuits, and as to the productiveness of the land, it is not surpassed in the county, and scarcely in the State. Referring again to the article in the Joliet Sun, already quoted from, the writer very truthfully says: "Standing, as we now do, at the close of the year 1876, and looking over the northern portion of the State, and thinking of the great change that has been wrought, we are led to wonder how so much could be accomplished in a few short years. Chicago grown to be one of the greatest commercial centers on this continent, our own city of Joliet numbering its 15,000 inhabitants, with its four railroads and canal giving great commercial advantages, besides being the seat of justice of one of the most important counties of the State."
When Homer was first settled, its prairies were considered the most beautiful that the enthusiastic Yankee had seen. They were just rolling enough to resemble the billows of the ocean after a storm had passed, and the thick grass, three or four feet high, overtopped with fragrant blossoms, might—without violence to the comparison—have been taken for the land of Beulah, which Bunyan "saw in his dream," lying on the borders of the Celestial City. Mrs. Mason says she used to take rides across the prairies, when the wild flowers were as high as the top of the wagon, and as the oxen tramped over and the wagon wheels crushed them, they yielded a sweeter perfume than "Price's Unique Extracts," or the distilled essence of the richest exotics.