Plainfield lays claim to the honor of the first settlement in Will County. The first settlement made in Walker’s Grove, a body of timber just south of the present village of Plainfield, dates back half a century or more. Look at the figures, 1826-1878! Fifty-two years are between these milestones. Thirty years are the average of a generation’s life-time, and hence the earthly span of almost two generations has run out since the “pale face” missionary pitched his tent by the “side of the river of waters,” or to use more homely, language, since the old soldier of the cross, Rev. Jesse Walker, established an Indian mission on the banks of the Du Page. The years have rolled by, decades have faded into a half-century, since white people began to exercise dominion in this section — the very paradise of Will County. The Indians long ago, the lords of the domain, roaming at will through the lofty forests and over the flower-decked prairies, live now only in fireside legends, and this beautiful region, once their own undisputed hunting-grounds, has become the abode of the superior race — the white man. Cities, towns and villages have taken the place of the red man’s lodge and wigwam, and their hunting-grounds are productive farms.
It may be a matter of question as to whether an itinerant preacher of the Methodist Church can justly be termed a settler. Their home is where duty and the work of the Master calls them, and, like Him who said, “the foxes have holes, and the fowls of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head,” they often, and in those early days on the wild frontier, were forced to make a bed of the green earth, with the blue sky to serve as drapery for their couch. Father Walker was born in the Old Dominion, in 1766; a hundred and twelve years before the writing of these pages, and entered the ministry on probation in 1804. He made a trip to Illinois, a kind of tour of inspection, in 1806, in company with William McKendree (afterward Bishop McKendree) to look at the country. Illinois was then a part of Indiana, and being highly pleased with the section they visited, were, at the next meeting of Conference, transferred to circuits within its bounds. The following extract from “Forty Years Ago,” written by Hon. George H. Woodruff, of Joliet, is appropriate here, and is a well-deserved tribute to the good old preacher: “Walker returned from this Conference to his family, arriving about noon — commenced immediately to prepare for the journey, and by 10 o’clock the next day, he and his family were on the way. The journey had to be made on horseback, and four horses were required — one for himself, one for his wife and youngest daughter, and one for his oldest daughter, a girl of sixteen, while the fourth carried the stock of books, which was part of the outfit of a Methodist preacher, the sale of which aided in eking out their scanty salary.
Perhaps it will not be amiss to give the following extract from a work by Rev. S. R. Beggs, entitled “Pages from the Early History of the West and Northwest,” referring to Father Jesse Walker, before passing to the further settlement of Plainfield. In speaking of the first session of the Methodist Conference held at Plainfield, the author says:
“It was at this Conference that we resolved to remove the remains of Jesse Walker from their obscure resting-place, one mile south of our cemetery. I think it was in the Fall of 1834 that I performed the marriage ceremony which united him to his second wife. He had then served two years in the Chicago Mission station, after which he sustained a superannuated relation, and settled on a small farm about twelve miles west of Chicago, on the Des Planes River, and there he remained until he changed the cross for the crown, on the 5th of October, 1835. He was buried in Plainfield, and there rested until his sons in the Gospel resolved to remove his remains to their present resting-place. When the hour arrived for the interment, the Conference adjourned and marched in solemn procession to the grave. The remains of his first wife had been disinterred, and brought to be buried with him. In one large coffin the bones were placed, and laid as nearly in their natural order as possible. It was a season of great solemnity, both to our village and to the Conference. It had been arranged that there should be several speakers to bear testimony to the zeal of this untiring servant in the work of the Lord before the coffin was concealed from our sight. As I had known him personally longer than any one present, I was to lead in the remarks. After singing and prayer, I proceeded to give a concise history of his arrival in this State, as a missionary, in the Fall of 1806, his extensive and different fields of labor, and especially our labors in the Central and Rock River Conferences. Rev. J. Scarritt, who followed, was very happy in his remarks in portraying the untiring labors, great usefulness and happy death of this unexcelled missionary.”
This seems but a fitting tribute to the faithful old servant of the Lord, and who is generally termed the first white settler, not only of Plainfield Township, but of Will County.
Rev. S. R. Beggs, another veteran Methodist preacher, is an early settler at Plainfield, and the oldest settler of the place now living. He settled here in the Summer of 1831, near where he still lives. Father Beggs was born in Bockingham County, Va., in 1801, and when 4 years old his father removed to Kentucky, where he remained two years, and then settled in Clarke County, Ind., on the Ohio River, seventeen miles above the falls. Here the family were subjected to all the privations incident to a new home in a great wilderness, that of chills and fever being included. As an illustration of the times, Mr. Beggs says he was 7 years old before he ever possessed the luxury of a pair of shoes. At an early age he entered the ministry, and became an itinerant Methodist preacher, laboring in Indiana, Missouri and Illinois, settling, as above stated, at Plainfield in 1831. To show the hardships those early preachers underwent to plant the Gospel in the wilderness, we again quote from Father Beggs’ book. Referring to his year’s labor, he says; “My quarterage this year was $23; my clothing, that I had brought from home, was by this time so nearly worn out that it was necessary to replace it with new. Some of the sisters spun wool and made me a coat of blue and white cotton, a pair of white cotton pants and one of mixed. One of the brothers gave me his old hat, which I got pressed, and then I was fitted out for Conference.” Think of this, ye high-salaried, stall-fed pastors, who proclaim the Word from marble desks, in gilded temples, resplendent in your broadcloth and white cravats! Think ye, will not these self-denying men of God, who braved danger, hunger and cold to spread the Gospel, receive the brighter crown when they arrive in the Kingdom? We are not writing a religious history of the country, but the long associations and administrations of Fathers Beggs and Walker in this particular portion of Will County, are so interwoven and connected with its history that to omit it would be to leave out the most important part of it. In 1836, Mr. Beggs was appointed to the Joliet Circuit, and commenced the work of building the first Methodist Church, also the first church edifice in Joliet, as noticed in the first part of our work. During the Sac war, his house, then considered the strongest building in the Plainfield settlement, was constructed into a fort. Two log pens which he had built for a barn and shed, were torn down and made into fortifications around his house, into which the settlers all crowded. But Indian outrages growing more alarming every day, it wras finally decided to risk trying to get to Chicago. The settlers were formed into a company, and James Walker elected Captain. Being only teams enough to carry the people, their effects were left behind, many of which wore taken or destroyed by the Indians before the whites were permitted to return. But the cloud of war rolled away before Scott’s legions, and the people could finally return in safety to their homes.
In 1829, a Frenchman of the name of Vetel Vermette settled at Plainfield. He did not remain very long in the settlement, however, but sold his claim to Jedediah Woolley, Sr., and left for some other land. Of him very little is known, as few are living who remember him. In the Summer of 1830, Reuben Flagg, from Vermont, came to Plainfield with his family. He was two months on the road, and arrived in the settlement on the 9th of July. Chicago at the time consisted of about a dozen houses, mostly the huts of Indian traders and half-breeds. From Detroit, Flagg was accompanied by Woolley, noticed as buying out the Frenchman Vermette. In a letter written by Mr. Flagg to H. N. Marsh, in 1851; he stated that when he settled at Plainfield, there were, besides Walker and Vermette, Timothy B. Clarke and Thomas Covel, and that he knew of no others then in the county, except three families on Hickory Creek, viz., a Mr. Rice, Mr. Brown and Mr. Kercheval, and the nearest white settler on the west was at Dixon’s Ferry. He is said to have hauled the lumber to Chicago to build the first frame house erected in that city, and which was sawed in James Walker’s saw-mill, on the Du Page, near Plainfield.
Timothy B. Clarke, from Trumbull County, Ohio, came to Plainfield in 1830. He emigrated to Illinois in 1820, and settled in Tazewell County when that part of the State was an almost unbroken wilderness. He remained there about eight years, when he removed to Fort Clarke (now Peoria), remaining there a year or two, and moved up and made a claim within seven miles of Ottawa. This claim he afterward sold to Green, who built a mill on it, so extensively patronized by the early settlers of Northern Illinois, many coming to it from a distance of from fifty to one hundred miles. From this place, Mr. Clarke removed to the Plainfield settlement, as already noted, in 1830. This was before the Sac war, and the Indians, who were quite plenty in the neighborhood, were friendly disposed, but exceedingly troublesome. They would go into the fields and help themselves gratuitously to corn, potatoes and anything else they wanted, without so much as “By your leave, sir.” He could not stay there in peace, and so, in 1834, moved up into Dupage Township, near Barber’s Corners. He had several sons, one of whom, B. B. Clarke, is a prosperous merchant in Lockport, where he has been since 1868. The elder Clarke was a carpenter and builder, and erected the first frame house in Chicago, then a little suburban village in this section of the country. In that house the Indians were paid off before leaving for their new hunting-grounds toward the setting sun. He removed to Missouri in 1835, and from there to Iowa in 1847, but returned to Dupage, and died at his son’s in 1848. B. B. Clarke was 16 years old when his father removed to Plainfield, in 1830, and remembers distinctly the Indian troubles of that rather stormy period. He served in the Black Hawk war, first in Walker’s company, which soon disbanded, however, and afterward enlisted in Capt. Sisson’s company. During the most perilous times, he went from Plainfield to Ottawa with a team after provisions, with a guard of only four men. They made the trip in safety, though several hats were found along the trail pierced by bullets, whose wearers had been murdered by the Indians. Mr. Clarke says that when his father first removed to Plainfield, the nearest mill was in the vicinity of Peoria, distant 130 miles. His father went there once to mill — bought grain there to save hauling it both ways — and the “rainy season” setting in, the waters arose (there were no bridges) and as a consequence, he was gone six weeks. His family, in the meantime, had to live on potatoes, and by pounding corn in a kind of mortar, which was sifted and the finest of it was made into bread, and the coarse into hominy. The elder Clarke was a soldier in the war of 1812, and had a soldier’s claim to land in the Military District lying between the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, and had bought the claims of other soldiers to lands there. He sold a quarter-section of land in this military territory for $75, and took pay in augers, which, next to the ax, was the principal implement used by the pioneer. He also had a claim to canal lands in Dupage Township, a part of which is now owned by his son, B. B. Clarke. The latter went to California in 1850, overland with teams, and was five months on the way. He remained about two years in the Golden State, and then returned to the old home. A brother, Hiram Clarke, went out in 1849, when the gold fever first broke out, and William, another brother, went with his brother B. B., in 1850. At this latter period, so many had crossed the plains with teams that the grass had been devoured by their stock for a space of two miles on both sides of the trail, and they would take their teams in the evening to the grazing and remain by them during the night to prevent their being stolen. William and Hiram Clarke still live in California. Mr. Clarke tells the following incident of the early times: He and one of his brothers took a lot of ponies to Chicago, for the purpose of selling them to the Indians when they received their stipendiary remuneration, as Wilkins Micawber would put it, and stable accommodations being more meager then than now in the Garden City, could find no barn in which to put their stock, were forced to turn them loose in a lot. Hearing a racket among them during the night, his brother went out to learn the cause, when he found an Indian trying to get them out. Without a word, he fell upon the savage with his big horse-whip, and the faster he ran the faster he rained the blows upon him, the Indian indulging in the guttural Ugh! Ugh! every jump. Arriving at the fence, he made no effort to climb it in the ordinary way, but scrambled to the top and fell, over on the opposite side. This caused them some alarm, lest he should return with assistance, but the night passed without further molestation.
Another of the very first in this settlement was Thomas Covel. He came from Ohio in 1830, made a claim near Plainfield village where he remained for a time, then sold out and moved up on Salt Creek, where, some years later, he died. Though one among the very first settlers, beyond this no information of him could be obtained. John Cooper, a brother-in-law of Clarke’s, came from Ohio in 1830. After remaining in this place a few years, removed to Iowa, and from Iowa to California in 1852, and resided there until his death, in 1872. James Gilson was another of the early ones who settled here in 1830. He came from Tennessee, and lived near the village, and kept a shop on his farm and did quite a business in repairing guns. He was a pioneer by nature, and when the country began to settle up around him, he “moved on” to Iowa in search of a location more congenial to his tastes, and there died. From New York, the settlement of Plainfield received John and Benjamin Shutliff and Jedediah Woolley, Sr. John Shutliff and Woolley came in 1832, and the former, after a few years, sold out and moved away, but where we could not learn. Woolley bought out Vermette the Frenchman, then sold the claim to Rev. Beggs and improved another farm on the east side of the grove, on which he lived several years, sold it and removed into Troy Township about eight miles from Plainfield. Benjamin Richardson was from the East but what State could not learn. He settled here in 1834, and in a year or two moved to Joliet, where he is noticed further. Benjamin Shutliff settled in this town in 1834, and was a brother of John Shutliff. In a few years, he moved “West to grow up with the country.” Jonathan Hagar was born in the city of Quebec, C. E., and, when 10 years of age, removed with his parents to Vermont, where he resided until 1829, when he came West and settled in Michigan, and five years later removed to Ohio. In 1835, he came to Plainfield, making the journey from Cleveland to Detroit by steamer, and from thence to Chicago by stage. The village had been laid out the year before (1834) by Chester Ingersoll, as elsewhere stated, and contained, on Mr. Hagar’s arrival, a blacksmith-shop, tailor-shop, a wagon-shop, two taverns, and perhaps one or two other houses, of which a man named Royce owned a shop, in which he manufactured fanning-mills. James Gilson had a shop on his farm, and being quite a genius, did an extensive business in repairing guns. Robert Chapman lived near the village, and now lives in Elwood. Mr. Hagar was one of the first merchants of Plainfield, and has always been one of its active and enterprising business men. He remembers when he could stand in his store door of mornings and see the wolves scampering across the open common of the village. Jason Flanders came from New Hampshire in 1834, and settled in Plainfield Township. He came overland in wagons to Troy, N. Y., thence by water to Detroit, and the remainder of the way by land, arriving at his destination in June. He had six children, one of whom is the present State’s Attorney of Will County, Hon. James R. Flanders, of Joliet. A few years after his settlement in Plainfield, Mr. Flanders built a house of hewn logs, “sided” it with walnut, finished it inside with walnut, upper story walls, floor and ceiling finished in walnut, neatly “planed,” and after it was all finished in fine style, had it immediately whitewashed, showing how much a fine walnut finish was appreciated in those days. He and his neighbors used to cut timber in the Plainfield woods, have it sawed into boards, and then haul them to Chicago to build some of the first frame houses put up in that city. He used to tell a story of a man that accompanied him on one of these trips, who had a fine Indian pony, and was bantered to trade by a stranger, who offered him forty acres of land in Chicago. Completing the trade and making out the papers, they started the next morning to look up the land. After proceeding a short distance, they had to take a boat and rowing out a little way, “There,” said the man, “your land is right about here, under this water.” The purchaser considered himself “sold,” but wisely determined to hold the land — probably because he could not sell it — and years afterward sold it for $80,000. Another man offered to trade Mr. Flanders a tract of land that was “in sight” for one of his horses, but he declined it. Had he made the trade, and held the land until the proper time, it would have made him a millionaire. He lived a highly respected citizen of Plainfield, and died a few years ago at a ripe old age.
The Green Mountain State furnished the settlement Lorin Burdick, S. S. Pratt, Oliver Goss, Thomas Rickey, Deacon Goodhue and Hardy Metcalf. Burdick was one of the early settlers of Plainfielda man of exalted charity and benevolence and an enterprising citizen. He was a soldier in the war of 1812, and one of the heroes of the battle of Plattsburg; had one son in the Mexican war, and three in the late war; and a brother, Timothy Burdick, also a soldier of 1812, died of sickness in the army in Mexico during that war. We extract the following from the Plainfield correspondence of the Commercial Advertiser. Speaking of Mr. Burdick, it says :
“He hauled the first lumber from Chicago used in building the Court House in Joliet; hewed the timber used in building the first bridge across the Du Page at Plainfield, and assisted in building the first saw-mill in this section of the country, located on the Du Page; also in erecting the first church, the first schoolhouse in Plainfield, and the first hotel in Lockport. He donated liberally in money toward purchasing the land for the first burying-ground, and assisted in laying it out, and is one of the early settlers to whom Plainfield owes her existence. His sudden illness, resulting in death August 3, 1878, was caused by taking Paris green through mistake for sulphur, which he was in the habit of using.”
Deacon Goodhue settled here in 1832. He entered land about a mile northeast of Plainfield village, on the Chicago road, and when he died in 1856, still lived on his original claim where he settled forty-six years ago. Goss came to the settlement in 1834, and made a claim just south of the village, where he died in 1842. Metcalf came in 1834 or 1835, made a claim, sold out and moved away many years ago — where, no one now remembers. Pratt settled in the township in 1835, where he still lives. Rickey settled here in 1834, and died more than thirty years ago.
William Bradford, Daniel, Chester and Enoch Smith, Chester Ingersoll, John Bill and J. E. Matthews came from the old Bay State — the home of Charles Francis Adams and Ben Butler. The Smiths settled in the town in 1832. David sold out and died soon after; Chester went to Wisconsin in 1833, and what became of Enoch no one now remembers. Chester Ingersoll was here during the Sac war, and has a son now living in Homer Township. He laid out the south part of the village of Plainfield, sold out his lots and entered other lands three miles northeast of the village; improved a large farm, sold it ultimately, and, in 1849, went to California, where he died some years later. Bradford settled here in 1834. He entered land below the village of Plainfield, on which he died the year following. John Bill was a wagon-maker by trade, the first mechanic of that “stripe” in the settlement, and located here in 1834. He entered land and made a claim about a quarter of a mile from the village, where he lived until about two years ago, when he removed to Maryland, and died soon after. Matthews came to the settlement in 1831, and made a claim on the river just above the present village of Plainfield. In 1835, he built a mill here which, with some additions and improvements, is still doing service in that line. B. B. Clarke says he helped to raise it, and very distinctly remembers of some rather heavy lifting at the green timbers. Matthews went to Oregon when people first began to emigrate to that magnificent country. Another early settler of Plainfield was John Fish, who came to the place as early as 1833. He was from Indiana, and in a short time moved up on Salt Creek, fourteen miles west of Chicago, where he died. Edmund Reed came from Kentucky in 1833-34, and finally moved up near Racine, and whether he is yet alive could not be learned. W. W. Wattles also settled here in 1833. He came here from Chicago, but his native place could not be ascertained. He bought out Timothy B. Clarke, finally sold out himself, and moved up north of Chicago. Robert Chapman, Scofield and a few other early settlers located about Plainfield and Walker’s Grove, concerning some of whom but little information could be obtained.
This includes the early settlers of Walker’s Grove, as Plainfield was called, up to 1834 or 1835, or at least all of whom we have been able to learn anything definite. Since that date, the town has settled up and increased in population until, from the few names here given, it had at the last census, in 1870, about eighteen hundred inhabitants, with as handsome a little village as may be found in Will County. As a township, Plainfield is described as Town 36 north, Range 9 east, and lies in the western tier of towns, with Wheatland on the north, Lockport on the east, Troy on the south, and Kendall County on the west. The Du Page River flows through the town from north to south, thoroughly watering and draining the country along its course. A peculiarity of the stream in this section is displayed by the two Lilly-Caches, a couple of little brooks that have their source in the immediate vicinity of each other, one flowing very nearly south into the Du Page, the other due west into the Des Planes — one dull, dark and sluggish, the other clear, bright and pure as crystal drops. Plainfield is mostly high, rolling prairie, except the grove of timber that lined the Du Page River, and as farming lands, is not excelled in the county, nor perhaps in the State. No railroads pass through it, but it is devoted almost wholly to agriculture. The old Indian boundary, mentioned in the general history, crosses diagonally the northwest corner, and the plankroad from Joliet to Plainfield, one of the first regularly laid out roads in the county, is still a great thoroughfare of travel, though the “plank” does not make much show.
The first white child born in Plainfield Township, of whom there is any definite information to be had, was Samantha E. Flagg, a daughter of Reuben Flagg, and was born September 9, 1830. This is also supposed to have been the first birth among the whites in Will County. The first death was that of Albert Clarke, in 1831, a son of Timothy B. Clarke, mentioned among the first settlers of Walker’s Grove. The first marriage remembered was James Turner to a Miss Watkins, in 1831 or 1832, and were married by Rev. Mr. Beggs. The first physician who ever practiced medicine in this neighborhood was Dr. E. G. Wight. He came from Massachusetts and settled in Naperville in 1831, and the circle of his practice was bounded by Chicago, Mineral Point, Ottawa and Bourbonnais Grove, and was more than a hundred miles across either way. He built the first frame house in Naperville, and removed to Plainfield in 1847, but had been practicing here since 1831. He died in 1865. He became blind when scarcely past middle life, and for eight years his son, R. B. Wight, went with him on his professional visits and led his horse. He finally went to an oculist at Rochester, N. Y., who partially restored his sight, and for fifteen years before his death he could see to get about with comparative ease and safety. The experiences of this pioneer physician would fill a volume. Perhaps the first resident physician was Dr. Charles V. Dyer, who came to this settlement in the Fall of 1835, and practiced medicine during the Winter. But the settlement being small, the next Spring he concluded to risk his fortune in the then unpromising marshes of Chicago. The subsequent greatness of that city and the prominence of the Doctor there up to the time of his death, prove the wisdom of his decision, and illustrate the mutability of human conditions in the careers of both individuals and cities. The first blacksmith in the town was one of the Shutliffs, who opened a shop in 1833-34, and did the light work the settlement needed. The first bridge in the township was built across the Du Page at Plainfield, and was a rough wooden structure. The timbers were hewed by Lorin Burdick, as noticed in the sketch given of him elsewhere. The rude affair presented a striking contrast to the excellent stone and iron bridges at present spanning the Du Page and Lilly-Cache.
The first mill built in Plainfield Township, or Walker’s Grove, was by James Walker. It was a horse-power mill, which he brought with him from Ottawa, and at once set to work. But he built without delay both a saw and grist mill on the Du Page, which was swept away by a flood in 1838. At this mill was sawed the lumber of which a man named Peck built the first frame house erected in Chicago, and which stood on the corner of La Salle and South Water streets. Reuben Flagg, as elsewhere noted, hauled the lumber to Chicago, and with an ox-team at that. Matthews, as mentioned in another page, built a mill north of the village of Plainfield which, with some additions and improvements, is still in operation. It is owned by Noah Sunderland, but is run by M. H. Avery, who is doing quite a lively business with it. It has three runs of stones, with all the modern attachments. Quite an item in the history of Plainfield Township is Clarke & Co.’s cheese factory, erected last Spring, just outside of the limits of the village of Plainfield. It is a frame building with stone basement, and has a sufficient capacity to consume twenty thousand pounds of milk per day. Cheese is the principal product of the factory, and they turn out about sixty cheeses a week, of fifty-two pounds weight each, besides making a small quantity of butter.
The first school in Plainfield Township was taught by a man, whose, name is now forgotten, in the Winter of 1833-34, and the first regular schoolhouse was built in 1833 of rough logs with a stick chimney, the exact type and counterpart of many others described in these pages. But the schools have kept pace with the other improvements, and, in 1872, we find there were eleven school districts, five hundred pupils enrolled, twenty-two teachers employed, two graded schools and a comfortable schoolhouse in each district. The amount paid teachers was $3,026.38; total expenditure for the year, $4,597.90, leaving a balance in the treasury of $1,381.05. The schools of Plainfield at the present time are in a flourishing condition, and will compare with those of any town in the county. The first Supervisor of Plainfield after township organization, was L. Hamlin for the year 1850. Since then, the following gentlemen have served in the Board of Supervisors for the years as given with their names: J. Ballard, 1851; A. Culver, 1852; L. Hamlin, 1853; Cyrus Ashley, 1854; W. Wright, 1855-56; A. Culver, 1857; D. Van Dersoll, 1858; A. Culver, 1859; W. Wright, 1860; W. C. Caton, 1861-68; A. McClaskey, 1869-76; H. Strattan, 1877-78. Other township officers are J. D. Foster and E. Corlin, Justices of the Peace; H. R. Frazer, Town Clerk, and George N. Chittenden, School Treasurer. The township is Republican in politics, giving from one to two hundred Republican majorities in all important elections. Having thus followed the history of Plainfield from the first settlement at Walker’s Grove to the present flourishing period of its existence, we will now take a brief glance at the
Village of Plainfield
Plainfield is beautifully located on the east bank of the Du Page River, about one mile north of the center of the township of Plainfield, and is nine miles northwest of Joliet. Chester Ingersoll is accredited with laying out the village proper, which is sometimes termed South Plainfield, while the north division was laid out by ‘Squire Arnold. He was a New Yorker, and came here in 1834; laid out the village that year, and was one of the first to keep a tavern in the place. Being a little at “loggerheads” with Ingersoll, as our informant expressed it, his addition was laid off a little “catering.” The meaning of the latter word was gathered while taking a stroll through the village, when we found the streets of the two sections coming together at an angle of about forty-five degrees. But even with this defect, it is a very pretty little village and claims from one thousand to twelve hundred inhabitants. James Walker put up the first dwelling within the present limits long before it was laid out as a village. It was a small log house, and was occupied by Walker some time as a residence. Ingersoll built the next house, which was soon after the one above-mentioned. Arnold put up the first house occupied purposely as a tavern, though Walker had kept a house of entertainment previously. “Uncle Fen” Aldrich also kept a tavern here. This was one of the stopping-places on the stage-route between Chicago and Ottawa, and the half-way point between the two places, hence, it was a good place for hotels. Jonathan Hagar and Samuel Sargent opened the first store in the upper story of John Bill’s wagon-shop. The next year, they put up a storehouse, which has since been converted into the Congregational parsonage. Mr. Hagar continued in business here until 1861, when he retired, aud is one-of the wealthy men of the place. He tells the following anecdote as an example of the pernicious effects of sowing “tares:” An old lady, one of the early settlers of the village, brought with her from the East a quantity of burdock-seed, declaring it to be “such an excellent yarb,” that she was bound to have a crop growing. She accordingly sowed it in every available spot. That the crop did grow, the citizens of the village can bear witness, notwithstanding their utmost efforts to the contrary.
The village was incorporated under special act of the Legislature February 23, 1861. This embraced North Plainfield only, we believe. In April, 1869, it was again incorporated by special act, including both the north and south divisions of the place, and June 30, 1877, it was incorporated under the general law of the State. The first Board of Village Trustees were as follows: J. McAllister, George N. Chittenden, Robert Webb, Jonathan Hagar and John D. Shreffler. The Board organized for business by making J. McAllister President, and George N. Chittenden, Clerk. The present “City Fathers” are: Alexander McClaskey, President; A. J. Perkins, C. E. Fraser, Joseph McCreery, George W. Flagg, P. Y. Dundore, and H. A. Tounshendeau, Clerk; Ira Vanolinda, Police Magistrate. The business of Plainfield presents the following outlook: Two general dry goods and grocery stores, two grocery and hardware stores, two drug stores, one book and stationery store, one furniture store, one hotel, one restaurant, two livery stables, five blacksmith-shops, three wagon-shops, four practicing physicians, two cider-mills; with barber-shops, meat-markets, harness-shops, tailor-shops, paint-shops, millinery-shops, etc.; but neither saloons nor lawyers. It has, however, a Red Ribbon Club of 382 members — John D. Shreffler, President, and H. A. Tounshendeau, Secretary.
The first schoolhouse was built in North Plainfield in 1837, and was rather, a small affair. It was burned in 1846 or 1847, and the present two-story frame building erected, at a cost of $1,500. Prof. Giden Bartholf is Principal, and Miss Amanda Dillman, teacher of the Primary Department. In 1851 the village was divided into two districts, and a good two-story frame house erected in the lower district, or South Plainfield, at a cost of $1,200. Prof. John H. Stepman is Principal, and Mrs. M. C. Dresser, teacher of the Primary Department. The first post office was established in Plainfield in 1833, and James Walker was the first Postmaster. This was one of the points on the stage route between Chicago and Ottawa, and, after coaches were put on the mail was brought to Plainfield over this route. The benighted citizens of Joliet used to come here for their mail, as opportunity occurred. This was in the good old times when Dr. Bowen was Postmaster there, and he would frequently carry the entire mail for Joliet in his hat. It would take several hats to contain the Joliet post office now, or even that of Plainfield. The present Postmaster of Plainfield is John Sennitt, who has been in the service of Uncle Sam in this department for the past ten years.
Plainfield is sometimes called the “Village of Churches,” and, for a place of its size, is well supplied with temples, of worship. This is one of the first spots in Will County where the sound of the Gospel was heard. Here, Father Walker established an Indian Mission, it is said, in 1826, and here, in 1829, he formed a class composed of the following members: Jesse Walker and wife, James Walker and wife, Mr. Fish and wife, Timothy B. Clarke and wife, and Mr. Weed and wife. Father Beggs, in his book, several times referred to in this work, and from which this information is taken, thinks that this was the first class formed within the bounds of the Rock River Conference, and states, further, that when the Mission The Des Planes Mission was abandoned the class was given up. In the Fall of 1832, Rev. Mr. Beggs succeeded to the charge here, with Father Walker as Presiding Elder. The first church edifice built at Plainfield was by the Methodists, and was erected in 1836. It was a rather small, plain affair, compared to the elegant stone church of the present time. In 1854, Lockport and Plainfield were united, and so remained for a number of years, until the strength of each church became sufficient to admit of their being formed into stations. The fine stone church of the Methodists was erected in 1868, and dedicated by Bishop Simpson. It is built of Plainfield stone, and cost about $22,000. The Church numbers upon her records more than three hundred members, with Rev. J. A. Phelps as Pastor, and John D. Shreffler, Superintendent of the Sunday school.
The Baptist society was organized October 16, 1834, on the principle of total abstinence, and Rev. J. E. Ambrose was the first Pastor. The original members were: Leonard Moore, Elizabeth Moore, Rebecca Carmon, Thomas Rickey, Jane Rickey and Alfred B. Hubbard, six in all. It was one of the four churches that entered into what was called the Northern Baptist Association. The Church at Plainfield is the only one of these that has not changed its place of meeting. In the Fall of 1836, the first church-house was built, at a cost of $2,500; was 26×36 feet, and is now used as a blacksmith-shop. In giving place to the following anecdote, in this connection, we intend no sacrillege or disrespect toward this venerable Church: Soon after the completion of their church-building, a Baptist minister of the name of Edwards made his appearance in the village and announced his purpose of holding revival meetings. The new church was accordingly placed at his disposal, and he entered upon his work. For an entire week did he labor with that “wicked and rebellious people.” Day after day, he went about among them praying and exhorting; night after night, he held up to them the joy of the redeemed, or portrayed in glowing words the anguish of the lost. But neither the gentle voice of persuasion nor the terrible thunders of Sinai had the desired effect, and on the last night of his labors, after an impassioned appeal, in which he vainly implored them to “flee from the wrath to come,” he declared that they had “sinned away the day of grace:” that “Ephraim was joined to his idols,” and that all that remained for him was to “shake off the dust from off his feet.” Taking his handkerchief from his pocket, he proceeded to literally carry out the Scripture injunction by wiping the dust from his feet in their presence, strode out of the house, and was seen no more in that neighborhood. The present church edifice was erected in 1857, and cost between $4,500 and $5,000; dedicated by Rev. Charles Button. Rev. A. D. Freeman was the first Pastor, now residing at Downer’s Grove. The present membership is 131, and Rev. H. C. First is Pastor, a position he has held for the past four years. Mrs. H. C. First is Superintendent of the Sunday school, which has an average attendance of seventy children. There have been 536 admissions to the Church, by baptism and otherwise, since its organization.
The Congregational Church was organized in September, 1834, by Rev. N. C. Clarke, who had been preaching in the vicinity as early as 1832 and 1833. The original members were James Mathers and wife, Deacon Ezra Goodhue and wife, Andrew Carrier and wife, and Oliver Goss and wife. The first regular Pastor of the Church, was Rev. Alfred Greenwood, mentioned elsewhere as the first preacher in Lockport Township. He remained with the Church but a year or two. A resolution appears upon the Church records at an early date, requiring members “to abstain from drinking ardent spirits, manufacturing, trafficking in it, or otherwise using it, except for medicine.” The first case of discipline was that of a brother, reported as having sold whisky to the Indians. During the first two years the Church did little more than maintain its existence. It suffered much from trouble among its members, growing out of land claims. A council was finally called to aid in settling the difficulties. As the course most likely to bring peace and harmony, and agreeably to the advice of the council, the Church disbanded, and out of its elements a Presbyterian Church was formed in 1836, by Rev. Mr. Gould. This organization continued about seven years, when the form of government was changed, and it again became a Congregational Church, with Rev. E. W. Champlin, Pastor. The Rev. Daniel Chapman succeeded him, and through his energetic efforts the present church edifice was erected in 1850, at a cost of $2,200, exclusive of the foundation, and was dedicated in June, 1851. The present membership of the Church is near eighty, and since August, 1878, at which time the Rev. Mr. Ebbs closed his pastoral labors, it has been without a regular minister. The Sunday school was organized about 1843, with Jonathan Hagar as Superintendent. About sixty scholars are in attendance, and Mr. Hagar is still Superintendent.
The Universalist Church was built in 1868, at a cost of $6,000, and is one of the handsomest church-buildings in the village. It was dedicated by Rev. W. S. Balch, of Galesburg, and the first regular Pastor was Rev. Mr. Howland. The present membership of this Church is small, but flourishing for a small village like this. Rev. Mr. Tibbitts was their Pastor until within the past few months, when he resigned, since which time they have been without one. The Sunday school was organized in 1868, and has a large attendance.
The Evangelical Church was built in 1855, and cost about $3,000. It was dedicated by Rev. Mr. Tobias, Presiding Elder, and the first Pastor was Rev. John Kramer, now of Watertown, Iowa. The present Pastor is Rev. Henry Messner, with a membership of 113. The Sunday school was organized cotemporaneously with the Church, and the first Superintendent was David Shreffler. The average attendance is about ninety-seven, and P. Y. Dundore is the Superintendent. The Northwestern College was located here in 1851, under the auspices of this Church. The building was a stone basement, with a frame, two stories high, 46×66 feet in size, and cost $10,000. The founder and originator of the school was Bishop Esher, and its first President A. A. Smith, with a general average attendance of 180 students. The College was destroyed by fire in 1873. Until the year 1869, it was under the patronage of the Evangelical Church, as above stated. In that year it was removed to Naperville, and the building in Plainfield lay idle until 1871, when it was re-opened, and changed to the Fox River Union College, and was under the direction of the Congregational Church. In March, 1872, it passed into the hands of individuals, with Mrs. J. D. Field as Principal, under the name of Plainfield Academy, under which organization it remained until destroyed by fire.
The Plainfield Echo was established in 1876, by H. A. Tounshendeau, as a family newspaper, and was an excellent little paper during its brief existence. It was one of the half-dozen newspapers embraced in the Phoenix confederation, as noted in the history of Joliet. The former editor of the Echo is now the Plainfield correspondent of the Lockport Commercial Advertiser and has charge of the Plainfield department of that paper. Plainfield Lodge, No. 536, A., F. & A. M., is located in the village, but we have received no information in regard to its organization. The stone quarries of Plainfield are of considerable importance. While not comparing with those of Joliet, Lockport and Lemont, either in quality or quantity, yet they furnish a very fair building stone, which is being much used in the immediate neighborhood. But without facilities for shipping, there is no demand for it beyond home supply. A railroad would make Plainfield, in a little while, quite a business town, and a fine grain point. Why the Michigan Central does not extend her “cut-off” railroad through to Aurora, via Plainfield, is a conundrum, and we give it up. Such a movement would prove a paying enterprise beyond any shadow of doubt.
Plainfield Cemetery is a beautiful spot, and is eligibly located about half a mile southeast of the village. Much care has been exercised in laying out and beautifying the grounds. They are enclosed by a substantial fence, and many fine monuments and marble slabs, with flowers and shrubbery, testify the-affection of surviving friends for their beloved dead. It is a beautiful spot, and the care taken of it by the citizens, is an honor to them, and to their pretty little village.
Source: LeBaron, William, Jr. History of Will County, Illinois. Chicago: William LeBaron, Jr. & Co. 1878.
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