History of Will County
Wheatland is the northwest township of Will County, with Kendall and Du Page Counties on the west and north; Du Page Township on the east, and Plainfield Township on the south. It is described as Town 37 north, Range 9 east of the Third Principal Meridian, and at the last census contained 1,133 inhabitants. It is watered by the Du Page River and its branches; the former entering its territory at the northeast corner, flows through it a little west of south. It is wholly prairie, having but a few acres of timber, and, like the surrounding lands of Plainfield and Du Page, is the finest farming and grain section of the county. There are no villages or railroads cutting up and marring its-beautiful surface, and the snort of the iron horse is never heard, save as faint echoes of his voice float over the prairies from the distance.
Rev. Isaac G. Foster is supposed to have been the first permanent settler in Wheatland Township. He came from Watertown, N. Y., and settled here in 1837. It is scarcely known at the present day whether Mr. Foster was a minister or not, although the prefix of Rev. is used, and he was generally termed "Priest" Foster. There are none, however, who remember to have heard him preach. He now sleeps with his fathers. Chester Ingersoll, who first settled in Plainfield Township, settled in Wheatland about the year 1839. He laid off the village of Plainfield, as mentioned in that part of this work, and as his history is there given at some length, we deem it unnecessary to repeat it here. Joseph B. Wightman came from Rome, N. Y., and settled in Plainfield in 1838. In 1840, he removed to Wheatland Township, being the third family to settle in this town. Previous to his settlement in Plainfield, Mr. Wightman had lived in Kendall County, where he settled in 1834, upon his first arrival in the West. George Wightman, a son of his, settled also in Wheatland at the same time, where he resided until 1865, when he removed into Lockport Township, and located on the farm known as the Sisson Place, west of the village of Lockport. Mr. Wightman married the youngest daughter of that old pioneer, Holder Sisson, whose history is fully given in the history of Lockport. His father and mother are still living in Du Page Township, rather feeble and aged, and the former quite deaf. A man known as "Hoosier" Smith settled in Wheatland the next year after the Wightmans, on Spring Brook, and in a few years moved away; of him very little is remembered, as he remained but a short time; he was probably from Indiana, however, as he went by the name of "Hoosier" Smith. Another settler of 1841, was David Cheeny, from Massachusetts, and a man named Eddy. It is not known where Eddy came from, nor where he lives at present. Cheeny had settled in Plainfield before coming to this section, as did several other families, who became residents of Wheatland Township. L. G. Colgrove settled in this township in 1839, and, in 1840 and 1841, several other families were added to the scattered settlement of Wheatland; among them, Simeon B. Tyler and Anthony Freeland. In 1843 and 1844, they came in still more rapidly, including quite a colony from the "banks and braes" of "Auld Scotia" dear, among whom may be numbered the McMickens and Clows, who are more extensively noticed in the general history of the county. This year, there were also added the families of William and A. B. Cotton, James and John Robbins, and many others. In fact, they were coming in at this time in such numbers that it was not an easy matter to keep trace of them.
From the dates above given, it will be seen that Wheatland is recently settled, as compared to other portions of Will County. That it was not settled until so long after other sections, is due to the fact that it is all prairie. We were informed by Robert Clow that the entire township contained but about five acres of timbered land; and at the time of the first settlements made in this part of Illinois, there were no such things known in the West as board or wire fences, and as stock was allowed to run at large, people were forced to put rail fences around their cultivated lands. Thus it was that the timbered land was taken up before the prairie, and for years the latter was deemed unfit for anything but pasturage, while many were of the opinion that they would never be cultivated. The old Indian boundary or trail, mentioned in another page, passes through this township, and was visible long after settlements were made. Robert Clow says it passed through his father's farm, and showed plainly for years after they came to the country.
Perhaps no township in Will County has a more diversified population than Wheatland; very nearly half of it are Pennsylvania Dutch and their descendants, while the remainder rank as follows, viz.: Forty American families, forty Scotch families, twenty-four English families, with two or three families of Irish or French nationalities; and we may add, that many of the model farmers of the county are to be found in Wheatland Township. Their handsome residences, the neat and tasty manner in which their farms are kept, and the care and attention bestowed on fine stock, all denote first-class farmers. We were told that the finest farm lands in the county are embraced in ten miles square in this corner, including Wheatland, a part of Du Page and Plainfield Townships; and having been pretty well all over the county, we are quite willing to indorse the statement. There are no villages in Wheatland Township, as already stated, nor mills, and, in fact, the town contains very little of historic interest beyond its actual settlement, and the enterprise and energy of its "sturdy yeomanry."
The first birth in Wheatland is supposed to have been Levi B. Wightman. There are some, however, who are of opinion that it was a daughter of Mrs. Russell, formerly Mrs. Ingersoll. Just which is entitled to the preference, we are unable to say, but think it safe to say that both were first—that is to say, the first two. The first death was a child of E. T. Durant. It, at least, was the first burial in the public cemetery, located at the schoolhouse near East Wheatland Post Office. The death of an elderly lady of the name of Coburn is remembered by some of the citizens as taking place at quite an early day; but whether it was previous to that of the child mentioned, could not be determined, nor much information obtained in regard to her in any way. The first marriage was, probably, Rufus B. Olmstead to Juliet Foster, a daughter of "Priest" Foster, as the people called him. The date of the wedding is not remembered, neither is the name of him who united the happy couple.
The first schools taught in the township were on Sections 5 and 13, and there is some controversy as to which was taught first; but the preponderance of evidence, as the lawyers say, we believe is in favor of that on Section 6. However, they were taught very nearly at the same time, and in 1846 or 1847. There is another report of a school, believed by some to have been taught prior to these, by a Miss Elizabeth Hoag. She, it is said, taught a school in a private house belonging to Ira B. Thomas, on Section 26, before the building of schoolhouses. If so, it was probably the first taught in the town. At the present time, Wheatland will compare favorably with any part of the county as to the excellent character of its schools. At the close of the school year of 1872, the Superintendent of Schools reported ten schools and an equal number of houses, and 368 pupils enrolled. Twenty teachers were employed; five districts had libraries, containing a total of 156 volumes. The amount of special tax for the support of schools was $2,176.03; amount paid teachers, $2,257.80; total expenditure for the year, $3,573.12, leaving a balance in the treasury of $620.06. Thus it will be seen that the schools of the town are in a flourishing condition, well supported and well patronized.
The first Justices of the Peace in Wheatland Township were Robert Clow, the present efficient Circuit Clerk of Will County, and Edward Lilly, but as Mr. Lilly declined to qualify, Mr. Clow was really the first officiating Justice. The present Justices of the Peace are John McMicken and Augustus B. Cotton. Other township officers are, A. S. Brown, Town Clerk; Franklin Boardman, School Treasurer, and John McMicken, Supervisor. When the county adopted township organization, in 1850, D. W. Cropsey was elected first Supervisor, and served during the years 1850 and 1851. Since his time, the list of Supervisors and their terms of office have been as follows: S. Simmons, 1852-53; F. Boardman, 1854-56; Robert Clow, 1857; S. Simmons, 1858-60; Robert Clow, 1861-76 inclusive, when he was elected Circuit Clerk of the county, and John McMicken, the present incumbent succeeded him. Mr. Clow has served his township and county in various offices, in all of which he has acquitted himself with credit, and we should take this opportunity of giving him an extended notice, but know that his modesty and good sense shrink from such notoriety. Hence, we pass without further allusion.
The first regular preacher, unless we except "Priest" Foster, was the Rev. Mr. Oburn, who sometimes preached at the house of Mr. Finley, in the southwest part of the town, on Section 30, about the year 1846 or 1847, but what denomination he claimed, we do not know. The first church was built by the United Presbyterians, in 1855, and was erected on Section 19. It is a substantial frame building, and cost about $1,500. The Rev. James Buchanon is the present Pastor, and has a large and flourishing membership and Sunday school under his charge. In 1864, the German Lutherans built a church on Section 14, which is quite an elegant edifice, costing $3,100. It has a flourishing membership, and a large Sunday school for a country church. The first Directors, or Trustees, were Jacob Fry and John Leppert, Sr. The first meetings were held at their houses. The first clergyman to preach to them was Rev. Mr. Leisman. In 1863, land was deeded to the Church by Robert Clow, Jr., and wife, and the present building was erected. Their first Pastor was Rev. Ernest Buhre, who remained with them until his death, which occurred , in 1877. He was a man much beloved by his people. Rev. William Uffenback succeeded him in the pulpit. The present Directors are Jacob Fry, Richard Weinhold, John Smidt, Joseph Smidt and Frederick Stultz. The following story is told of an old German citizen and member of this Church. About the close of the war, when greenbacks were plenty, and fears manifested by some of those who always experience all their woes in anticipation, that greenbacks were of little value, this old German friend concluded to invest as many superfluous greenbacks in the church as possible. So, with this idea in view, he started out on a tour of collecting, or begging, to obtain money for the purpose of adding a steeple and bell to their church, and used for his strongest plea the instability of greenbacks, or the uncertainty of their long remaining of value. In 1868, the German Evangelical Association, or German Methodists, built a church on Section 17, at a cost of between $2,500 and $3,000. It is a handsome frame building, well finished, and presents a modern appearance. A flourishing Church and Sundav school are maintained, and ably supported by the German citizens of this part of the town. Wheatland has several pretty little cemeteries, which are kept in good order, and show much respect for the beloved dead. There are two on Section 14, one at the schoolhouse, one at the German Lutheran Church, and another on Section 8.
The first post office established in the township was called East Wheatland, but what year we were unable to learn. It is located on Section 13, and Tamarack Post Office was established some years later in the southwest corner of the town. There is a store at Tamarack Post Office, the only institution of the kind maintained in the entire township. In the early times, prior to township organization, Wheatland was known as Oregon Precinct. But in the process of naming the townships, as "made and provided" by law, this was called Wheatland by a man from the Empire State, whose native place was called Wheatland, and the name has been retained ever since.
Politically, Wheatland Township at the present day, is largely Republican, perhaps three-fourths of its voters supporting that ticket. Before the organization of the Republican party, however, it was probably Democratic; but as in many other sections of the country, it has changed its base, politically speaking, in the last decade or two of years. During the late war, Wheatland did its duty equally well with other portions of Will County. Its citizens waited no urging; that the old flag had been defied by rebels and traitors, was sufficient incentive to send them to the army by the score. But as the deeds of the Will County soldiery have already been written, we shall not repeat them here.
The recent settlements of Wheatland Township, and the absence of anything like towns or villages, leaves but little here to write about, or to make history. It is now pretty thickly settled, and that by an intelligent and energetic class of people, with excellent schools and churches. It has good roads and a number of substantial wooden bridges, but these are of such modern date, as to be hardly considered an interesting matter of history. Then, with these brief pages, we will leave it for some future historian to do it more ample justice.