This township is situated in the extreme southeastern part of the county, and is the most distant from the county seat of any township, being from its center, in a direct line from Joliet, twenty-seven miles, and by rail not less than thirty-five. Since the division of Reed Township, this is one of the two greatest in area in the county, including within its limits all of Congressional Town 33 north and 14 east, and about one-fourth of Range 15. The township presents more than an ordinary variety of soil and surface, being in some portions quite flat and in others rolling; in some portions a deep, rich soil, and in others lacking this character. It is watered by the small stream which drains Eagle Lake, which also furnishes stock water for the northeastern, central and southwestern arts. Eagle Lake, formerly much larger than at present, covers an area of a quarter of Section 7 and the swamp adjacent, nearly all of this and Section 8. Before the work of draining the lake was begun, hundreds of bushels of cranberries were annually produced and gathered here, but now this industry is destroyed. The other products of the township consist of corn, rye, oats, potatoes and hay. Stock-raising is carried on to some extent.
The Chicago, Danville & Vincennes Railroad passes through the western part, furnishing an outlet for its products and a means of communication with other parts of the country. Prior to the completion of this line, most of the marketing was hauled direct to Chicago, or shipped by the Illinois Central at Peotone or Monee. Most of the land in this township, being outside of the llinois Central limits, was sold to original settlers or to speculators for $1.25 er acre, and was occupied within a period ending about 1857.
The first settler in the township was a man of the name of Jesse Dutcher, but little is known as to whence he came or whither he went; but, in 1851, he was found here occupying some land a couple of miles north of Washington center. The line running through the Center, and continuing through Crete, and thence to Chicago, with its southern terminus at Vincennes, Ind., was the main traveled road between those two extremes, and was one of the most-used thoroughfares in the State. Marketing of all kinds was hauled from Vincennes and all intermediate points by way of this road to Chicago. As a consequence, little settlements sprang up all along the line, and, at short distances, houses for the accommodation of the traveler and teamster, and for the profit of the owners, were opened. These houses were scarcely deserving of the name of hotel or tavern, but were owned by parties who were opening farms, and having built cabins of more than ordinary size, established this species of lodging-house in connection with their farming operations. Such an establishment was Dutcher keeping at the time remembered by the earliest settler, in 1851, and for two or three years later. How long he had been there, we are unable to say; but those who saw him there at the date named, judging from the looks of his house and other improvements, credit him with a half-dozen years’ previous residence. Dutcher was also a preacher, and, as now remembered, was of the Methodist persuasion. Perhaps he was not a regularly-licensed minister, as his stay, in such case, could not have been so prolonged. However, like his ancient prototype, Melchizedek, the priest of Salem, he went as he came, unknown to any of his cotemporaries, and the balance of his history is lost to this part of the world.
Four miles south and a mile west of the Dutcher Tavern, hotel, caravansary, or whatever it might be called, was, at the same date, another stopping-place of a similar character, though, if report be true, of a little less respectability, as its proprietor was anything else than a preacher. At this place, which was near what is now known as the Sollitt Farm, James McBein “took the stranger in” and accommodated him for a compensation; and, with this Scriptural argument, he went before the Bar Supreme many years ago to plead admission to the “Heavenly Mansion.” The McBein family have all removed from the township.
By an examination of the map, it will be discovered that these two hotels or taverns were not on the same section line; but they were on the same road, which did not follow the section line in all cases, but meandered about, following sometimes the bank of a creek, and at others being confined to the highest ridges of land. Along this general highway other habitations sprung up in due time, and the “big-road” settlement was distinct for many miles up and down its course. Among these were John Rose, William Strain and Joseph Maxwell. John Rose was probably the third settler in the township, and is almost entitled to the credit of being the first, as the settlements previously named could scarcely be called permanent. Certain it is that the Rose family is now the oldest family in the bounds of Washington Township. Mr. Rose was a native of Ireland, and came to this part of the country in 1851. He settled on the west side of Section 3, which, it will be noticed, is near the line of the former “big road.” John Rose died in 1858. Heirs of the family still occupy the old homestead.
William Strain was also a native of Ireland. He came to this place in 1852, and still resides here, a few rods north of the “Center.”
Joseph Maxwell came from Ohio with T. L. Miller, and still resides here. Philip Nolan was also one of the earliest settlers in this part of the township. Nolan had lived in Chicago a couple of years before removing to this vicinity in 1851. Joseph White was one of the prominent men of the early times in this neighborhood, though his residence here was but brief, extending from the year 1854 till about 1858. It was at his house, on the Dutcher farm, that the first township election was held, in 1856; and at this election he was chosen one of the first Justices of the Peace. After the exodus of Dutcher, White installed himself as landlord and farmer, and continued here until 1858, when he removed to Indiana.
While these settlements were being made, another, known at the time as “The Settlement,” was being made in the northeast corner of the township, in the vicinity of Eagle Lake. Among the first settlers in that neighborhood were Henry Bahlman, Peter Dohse, Andrew Carstensen, Pade Kruse, Charles Fuller and William Bliss, most of whom have since removed to other places.
The Bahlman family, of whom Henry Bahlman, Jr., is a member, still reside here. The modest-looking lake was, about twenty years ago, the scene of a horrible and most disgusting tragedy, with which, however, none of the citizens were in anywise connected. Parties, residents of other parts of the county, to conceal another crime, and for the small consideration of $50, committed a crime here that has justly cursed them for all time to come. The night was dark and gloomy, and well calculated to inspire the two monsters who committed the devilish deed with feelings which must be necessary to the accomplishment of such an inhuman act. Their victim was an infant, of which they had been put in charge for the purpose of procuring for it a home in some institution established for such unfortunates. But either the price received or the idea of a more effectual concealment of the original crime, impelled them to committing the little body to the depths of Eagle Lake. The details of the crime, though published in all of the papers at the time, are too disgusting for further mention, except to say that the perpetrators were discovered, arrested, tried and convicted, but by some means they escaped the just penalty of their dark deed.
By 1856, farms were also being opened in the southern and western parts of the township. The Germans, who are now more than half owners of the township, were beginning to arrive; and by the year last named, there were about twenty additional families, among whom are remembered: Rensellaer and Edwin C. Richards, W. and C. Lyon, Joseph Irish, Horace Morrison, William and M. Watkins, Richard Lightbown, Isaiah and Stephen Goodenow, Robert and David Dunbar, John B. Bowes, John Miers, Peter Dohse, H. Spanler, John Tatmire and Aaron and Miles Johnson. The township was yet a part of Crete, and voted and transacted all political business with that precinct. In the year mentioned, however, a move was made toward establishing this as a separate precinct. A petition was prepared and presented to the Board of Supervisors; and no good reason appearing to the contrary, an election for the purpose of organization and for selecting township officers was by them ordered to take place on the 1st Tuesday of April, 1856. As has been stated, the election was held at the house of Joseph White, and the record which is still extant indicates that there were thirty voters present. Rensellaer Richards was chosen Moderator and William Watkins, Clerk pro tem. They were sworn to perform the duties of their positions according to law, by William Hughes, a Justice of the Peace, and were about to proceed to business, when it was mentioned that as William Watkins had not resided in the town a year, he was consequently ineligible. M. Watkins was therefore chosen and qualified in his stead, and the election proceeded. Rensellaer Richards was elected Supervisor and Assessor; Edwin C. Richards, Clerk; William B. Conner, Collector; William A. Bliss, Overseer of the Poor; Joseph Irish, Joseph Maxwell and Henry Bahlman, Commissioners of Highways; Joseph White and William Watkins, Justices of the Peace; and Isaiah Goodenow and J. H. Irish, Constables. The Richards family must have been both a popular and competent one, as they monopolized the three most important offices.
The names of the present officers are: F. Wilke, Supervisor; Charles Holtz, Clerk; Henry Bahlman, Jr., Assessor; August Guritz, Collector; Henry Valtner, John Tegtmeir and Edmund Smith, Commissioners of Highways; Charles Holtz and Henry Lattz, Constables; Rudolph Pecht and Henry Bahlman, Justices of the Peace; and Christopher Koelling, School Treasurer. The number of votes polled is about 200, though a full ballot has never been cast.
The township is well supplied with school facilities, there being, besides the seven public schools, four private schools supported by the different religious denominations. The first effort to provide school advantages for the children of the township was in 1855, when Sabina Graham was employed to teach a few children, in a room of the Dutcher-White Hotel. The next Spring, a little shanty was erected in that neighborhood. This first schoolhouse was a simple Summer concern, constructed of rough boards, and was but twelve feet long and as many wide. At first it was designed for only a single Summer, but was pressed into the service for several years. Miss Graham was an excellent teacher, and her praise as a kind and diligent instructor may still be heard from some of her early pupils, now grown to be middle-aged men and matrons. In 1857, a good schoolhouse, which is still mentioned in this vicinity as the “new schoolhouse,” was erected in this vicinity, and the following year the township was divided, into two districts, and a second house was erected.
A few items extracted from the School Commissioners’ report of that year, will prove interesting to our readers, as showing the satisfactory advance in this direction at the present date:
Schools – 2 Number of months in each year – 9 Average wages – $19 63 Number of scholars attending – 99 Number of persons under 21 – 171 Number of persons between 6 and 21 – 112 Amount paid to teachers – 402 74 Whole amount paid for school purposes – $1,992 14
lf the items in regard to attendance and number between 6 and 21 are both correct, it shows a remarkably high percentage of those entitled to school privileges taking advantage of the opportunity. Especially is this so, when the newness of the settlement is taken into account. In 1866, eight years later, we find 4 schools here, with 569 persons under 21; and still eight years later, in 1874, the number had increased to 6 schools, with 612 persons under 21. The present status of education may be determined from the following figures:
Number of persons under 21 – 881 Number of persons between 6 and 21 – 650 Number of scholars attending – 237 Number of schools – 7 Number of months taught – 46 1/2 Amount paid teachers – $1,959 00 Total expenditures for school purposes – 3,087 00
The present apparent meager attendance is accounted for by the fact that about four hundred children, between the ages of 5 and 14, are in attendance at the parish schools, of which there are four in the township.
The oldest organized church in the township is St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran, near Eagle Lake. This organization was accomplished in 1850; but, as has already been stated, there were not more than two families resident in Washington Township, and they, as has been intimated, being of other belief; in regard to religious matters, it will be surmised that the organization could not have been effected here. The church was at first established a mile north of its present location, in the township of Crete. A building for religious and educational purposes was erected there at the date named, and church and school were kept open there until 1864. Rev. Gustav Pollack was the organizer of the enterprise, and was Pastor for fifteen years. In 1864, it having been determined to build a new house of worship, a new location was selected for the same, though school has been kept open at the old site till the present time.
The new building at Eagle Lake is a very neat and commodious one, and cost the society $5,000. The old building, a mile north, was torn down a few years ago, and a new schoolhouse erected at a cost of $1,000. A dwelling for the use of the teacher was also built, at an expense of $900. At the Lake a parsonage, costing $2,200, was built in 1865; also a schoolhouse was erected which cost $1,200.
At the north establishment, in Crete Township, A. Albers is employed as teacher. In the school at the Lake, Friedrich Fathaur has been teacher ever since its organization. The congregation or society consists of 118 families, of whom Rev. J. F. Nuoffer is Pastor.
St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, located a mile northwest of Beecher, was organized in the Spring of 1865, by Rev. Gustav Pollack, who had been preaching in this vicinity. Herman Lossner was installed Pastor, in which position he is still engaged. The organization was first started with twenty families, which has increased to eighty-five, embracing a membership, as estimated by other denominations, of about three hundred and fifty persons. In 1865, a two-story building, for the use of Pastor, and as a church and schoolhouse, was erected, at a cost of $2,500. In 1867, a neat parsonage, costing $1,250, was built; and the other building has since been used for school and church purposes. It is proposed, next year, to build a church edifice 40×60 feet, at an expenditure of about $3,500, the plans of which are already procured and most of the money subscribed. At this establishment, as at all of the others of this denomination, school is kept open nearly all the year, and the common branches of German and religion are taught. At the age of 14, or confirmation, the children attend the public schools. Albert Dorn has been in charge of the school for the last three years.
St. John’s German United Evangelical Church, located two miles southeast of Beecher, was established and an organization effected in 1864. Rev. Peter Lehman had been preaching in the vicinity for a year before, and organized the society at the date named, with a membership of forty families. After the Church had been established, Rev. Philip Albert was installed as Pastor, and acted as such for two years. The present Pastor is Rev. Erail Keuchen, who 1 has been in charge as minister and teacher for the last six years. The society owns a plat of ten acres, on which was erected, in 1864, a church edifice 30×44 feet, at a cost of $1,960, and, in 1876, a parsonage for $1,150. The present membership is 350 members, or 85 families. Religious and secular instruction are given to the children of the parish, six months in the year.
The Congregational Church, at the village of Beecher, was organized January, 1872, the house of worship having been erected the year before. The original members were eight in number; the present membership is about twenty. The building was erected at a cost of $1,250, and is 24×32 feet in size. The lumber was donated by dealersfriends of T. L. Miller, of Chicago; $175 was contributed by citizens of the village, and Mr. Miller paid the balance. Rev. J. F. Smith, now Pastor of the Congregational Church, at Crete, was the first Pastor. At present, T. C. Hunt, a student of the Theological Seminary, officiates as Pastor. Sunday school is sustained with S. S. Hunt as Superintendent.
In the great struggle to preserve the Union, in 1861-65, Washington Township was well represented, and did its part creditably. Among those who enlisted and never returned, having fallen a sacrifice on the field, were Peter Dohse, L. M. Lyon and D. T. Moore. There were, doubtless, others; but, from an unfortunate method of recording enlistments which prevailed at the beginning, they were accredited to other localities.
Doubtless, the most interesting industry, and at the same time one which lias given the little village of Beecher a reputation co-extensive with the whole country, is the breeding of fine stock, as carried on by T. L. Miller, Esq., of this place.
Mr. Miller came to this place in 1852, and located land, preparatory to embarking in the gigantic enterprise in which he is now engaged. He did not, however, begin operations until 1861, in the mean time engaging in other business in Chicago. In the year last named, he removed to this place, and from that time till 1870 engaged in the cattle business in a small way, and with no definite idea of future plans or prospects. During all this time, however, he carried on an extensive correspondence, and conducted a thorough course of investigation and experiment, so that, in 1870, his mind was fully made up, and his future plans fully mapped out. Then began the great work that has not only proved to be one of the most extensive in the United States, but which has also already led to a grand, success. After careful study and minute consideration, he decided, much against the then popular opinion of the leading cattle men of this country, to adopt the Hereford breed. The Durham cattle had for years been accorded, by breeders of this country and the landed gentry of England, the first place as beef-producing cattle. For nearly a century the short-horn breeds had held the prestige, though the Herefords were accredited with being good stock. A few feeble attempts had been made in this country, prior to the inauguration of Mr. Miller’s enterprise, to introduce the stock; but the great character of the competing herds already attained so overshadowed them that their efforts in this direction were almost lost sight of. When, therefore, Mr. Miller announced his intention of breeding the Hereford stock, he was not looked upon as a competitor, but was regarded with feelings akin to pity. Even his warmest friends could not but feel apprehensive of his ultimate failure; and, perhaps, no one but himself discerned the grand success with which his efforts have been crowned. After awhile, however, he began to be recognized as a competitor; and since that time, he has fought his way, foot by foot, until, if his cattle do not stand pre-eminent, they at least bear the reputation of equal merit with any herd or breed in the world. When it is considered that all of this change in sentiment, in the face of such gigantic opposition, during a time of such severe financial depression, has been wrought almost by one man, we come either to one or the other of two conclusions: that the character of stock which Mr. Miller handles must be of a superior quality, or that he is a man of much more than ordinary courage, good management and pluck. Perhaps it would not be incorrect to credit the enterprise with both of these advantages.
The farm devoted to the purpose indicated lies alongside the eastern part of the village of Beecher, and consists of 1,000 acres of the finest land in the township, divided into fields of convenient size for the purpose of pasturage and raising the crops necessary for feeding the stock. On the west side of the farm, a half-mile from the railroad station, are the barns, together with dwellings for the family and employes. The principal barn is an immense structure, capable of sheltering, on its first floor, 200 head of cattle, and of holding, on the second floor, 600 tons of hay and other feed, reserving space in the center of the floor for cutting and otherwise preparing feed. On the third floor, is the mill for grinding corn, oats and other grain for the use of the stock. Surmounting the building, is one of Nichol’s double-fanned wind-mills, of twenty horse-power, used for driving the feed-mills, cutting hay and drawing water. The whole structure is built in the most substantial, convenient and tasty manner, so that it is not only finely adapted to the purpose for which it was designed, but is an attractive object, and, from its high elevation, can be seen for many miles. Beside the great barn, there are also the hay-barns, the tool-house, barns for pigs, sheep arid colts, and all built in the same substantial and convenient manner.
The fine stock of the establishment consists of 250 thoroughbred heifers, of the Hereford species; 300 Cotswold Sheep, and 200 Berkshire hogs. The estimated value of lands and improvements is $25,000, and of stock, $100,000; the sales last year amounted to $30,000. Mr. Miller’s trade is largely with stock-raisers of the plains of Colorado, Wyoming and Texas, to which this breed of cattle is found to be peculiarly adapted. There are employed in the care of the farm and stock fifteen hands, some of whom have been brought from the county of Hereford, England, for the express purpose of taking care of the stock with which they had been familiar for many years.
Washington Center, prior to the location of the C. D. & V. R. R. was the central point, not only as regards location, but as to business. From about 1860 till 1870, a large amount of business was transacted here, and fortunes were made in merchandise and other trade. About 1860, Miles Johnson, who had previously been in the business at Monee, opened a store at this place. Lewis Jessen started a blacksmith-shop, and Charles Holtz opened a hotel. Johnson was appointed Postmaster, and carried the mail to and from Monee for $15 per year and the proceeds of the office. He continued in business several years, and then removed further south. Jessen, by hard hammering and blowing has accumulated a little fortune. He still resides here.
Charles Holtz has got rich keeping a hotel and dealing in stock. After Johnson retired from the business of selling goods, Messrs. Flint & Miller put in a stock of goods and carried on the business for two years, when they sold out to Lewis Metterhausen, who immediately moved the goods to the station, into a house which he had just built. In the meantime the Chicago & Eastern Illinois, or Danville & Vincennes Railroad, had been completed, a station established, and the town of
laid out. T. L. Miller had begun his fine stock enterprise, secured the location of a station here, and laid out and named the new town. Thenceforward the growth of the Center was checked, and the station became the point, from which improvements have widened until the village of Beecher has not only overshadowed the Center, but by building out toward it, has nearly enveloped it in itself. Beecher was laid out in 1870 by George Dolton, for T. L. Miller, and commenced at once to build up, and develop a trade which compares favorably, at this time, with towns three times as old. As we have seen, Metterhausen opened the first store in the village, in what proves to have been the second building erected, and which also proves to have been the first store-building. Metter-hausen had been a teacher in the Lutheran school. He sold goods here for a time and then went into the liquor trade, in which he is still engaged.
James Burns built the first housea dwellingand sold lumber for a few months and then removed to Michigan, from whence he had come.
Shortly after this, Henry Bielfeldt built and opened a hotel. Carl Melow moved his blacksmith-shop from the Corners in 1871, and Rudolph Pecht opened a furniture store. Fred Schmidt built a second hotel, and John R. Miller moved the old dancing hall from the Corners and put in a second stock of goods. William Struve, formerly of Monee, followed Burns in the lumber and coal business. By and by the post office was removed from the Corners to Metterhausen’s, and he was appointed Postmaster. Elliot Miller, son of T. L. Miller and now partner in the firm of L. Gould & Co., of Chicago, was appointed first station agent. About this time, T. L. Miller built the first warehouse, and Henry Block commenced buying grain, eventually buying the warehouse and continuing the business until the present. The period extending from 1870 to 1873, was a lively one for this vicinity. The sounds of the ax, hammer and saw were heard in all directions, new-comers were arriving almost daily, and, by the end of ithe period named, the village had grown in size and importance to proportions hardly expected by its most enthusiastic friends. Though its growth has not been rapid, within the last few years, it continues to show signs of animation and prosperity. There are now three warehouses, five general stores, and other stores, shops and dwellings in proportion.
A wind-mill, a short distance north of town, built by Henry Ditmers’ is worthy of mention. The mill is now owned and operated by Herman Ehlers. It is built on the Holland plan, runs two sets of buhrs and is used for grinding flour and feed, most of which is custom work.
Eagle Lake is a little village in the northeast part of the township, on the margin of the little body of water of the same name. It is not a regularly laid out town, but the lots have been sold by the description of “corners and bounds.” It contains about two dozen houses, a store, saloon and shops. It is simply an improved or concentrated settlement, whose establishing dates back to the location of its early settlers. Herman Lepien brought a stock of goods here about fifteen years ago, a post office was obtained, and gradually the place has assumed the style of a village. Its location is quite pleasant, and for a country place without railroad communications, does a brisk business.