History of Will County
One of the most remarkable facts in connection with the history of the West is its rapid development. Eastern people compare the census of a quarter of a century ago with that of to-day, and remark, with astonishment, the wonderful increase in population and resources in this part of the country. It is true, the West has had some advantages over the East in its development. Improved machinery, a better system of communication and travel, and improved, means of transportation, doubtless, partially account for it; but is hard to conceive that all these results could have been brought about, without bringing to mind that the parties concerned in the opening-up of the country were men of more than ordinary pluck and intelligence. Twenty-five years have-scarcely passed since the first blow was struck, since the first shovelful of-earth was moved, since the first furrow was turned and since the first shanty was erected in the township of Will, now alive with population, and teeming frith herds of stock and dotted all over with the habitations of its owners. That "truth is stranger than fiction" is well illustrated in the growth of some of our Western towns and cities, which bud and blossom, as it were, in a single night. Irving's hero of Sleepy Hollow would not have been less surprised had he taken his twenty-years nap on the prairie of Will Township. His feelings upon awaking must, indeed, have been quite similar. Twenty years ago, where is now a succession of well-cultivated fields, with orchards and gardens, was nothing but an unbroken expanse of wild prairie; where were then less than a hundred inhabitants, are now almost a thousand.
Will Township was one of the last to settle, the wood and water question-being until a recent date the great desideratum.
In 1852, the first actual settler made his appearance in this locality. All of the adjoining townships had already received some population; and two years previous, the township organization act, which gave a corps of officers to-each six miles square containing enough inhabitants for organization, had been passed, while this section contained not a single inhabitant—white, black or red.
John McKenzie, who is generally accredited with being the first settler, was a Scotchman, but had lived in the country some time before removing to this locality. He lived here six or seven years and then removed to Missouri. He was in that State at the breaking-out of the war, and engaged in the service of the Government as a spy. On one occasion he was captured by the enemy and put in prison, to await trial by a court martial; and had his case ever come to trial, he would doubtless have suffered the penalty of death, as the evidence against him was sufficiently conclusive.
James M. Gridley had been living in Crete and other places in this part of the State, since 1840. He came to this township in 1853, and built the second house. He has been one of the prominent men of the township, and one of its most solid citizens. Gridley was a native of New York. Joseph Baldwin was a native of Massachusetts, but had been to California and brought back a few hundred dollars of the "yellow metal." He remained here but a few years, when he removed to Missouri with the aforementioned McKenzie. James Maxwell came out here in 1853, from New Jersey, and bought some land, but returned to his home in the East and lived until 1861. He says that when he came first, in 1853, there was but one little shanty in the whole township, and is not certain that it was occupied.
In 1853, Henry Lyon came from Chicago, or rather from the Michigan & Illinois Canal, where he had been working, and settled on the land now owned and occupied by F. P. Lilley, to whom he sold out a year later, and returned to the more congenial pursuit of working on the Canal.
The next year, 1854, brought several good and enterprising families to-this vicinity, among whom were H. N. Ingersoll, F. P. Lilley, Patrick McMahon and John B. Sollitt. The first of these, H. N. Ingersoll, had really been here the year before, and had purchased the land to which he moved in the Spring of 1854. Mr. Ingersoll was one of the substantial citizens of the township, and one of its most prominent men. He continued to reside here until about three years ago, when he sold out and removed to Iowa. F. P. Lilley is still a resident of the township, and has been one of its most reliable citizens. He had been, previous to his coming here from Chicago, his former home, a workman on the canal and railroad. McMahon is a native of Ireland; he still resides here. John B. Sollitt, now a resident of Peotone, was formerly a resident of Chicago, where he was engaged in butchering for the Chicago market.
In 1855, William Constable, James Pickard, Robert Patterson and R. O. Hutchins came, the first three from New York and the last from Vermont. William Constable has been a most successful man in business. When he came to this place he was as poor as the poorest; but by industry, economy and good management he has made quite a fortune. His property is estimated at about $25,000. Robert Patterson, the present Supervisor, and one of our most substantial business men, also came poor and is now wealthy. R. O. Hutchins resided here but a few years. He had been a gunmaker, and on the breaking-out of the war, in 1861, he returned to his native State and engaged in his old trade of making fire-arms for the Government. Mr. Hutchins was the first School Treasurer of Will Township, having been appointed to the office in 1856. Samuel Storer and Lorenzo Tobias, the former from New Hampshire and the latter from New York, came in 1856. Storer was one of the most important citizens that ever lived in the township. He was son-in-law of Gov. Windsor, of New Hampshire, having married his daughter. He was elected first Supervisor of the township, in 1859, and, the year following, was sent, as Representative of this district, to the Legislature of the State. The township lost one of its most promising citizens when he removed to California, which he did in 1862. Lorenzo Tobias was one of the two first Justices of the Peace elected in 1859. He died here about ten years ago. None of the family now reside here, all having removed to other parts. George W. Smith also came in 1856. lie was one of the first Justices of the Peace, and also one of the first Highway Commissioners, being elected to both offices in 1859.
During the period of the three years ending 1857, there were a few others who settled in this township, but whose stay was so short that it is not thought worth while to consume space with their mention. The same may be said with respect to the following year. The years 1857 and 1858 were almost a repetition of the hard times experienced in 1837, and emigration to this vicinity received a check. From 1859, however, the rush of settlers to this part of the county was very rapid, and in a short time the whole township was fully occupied.
The townships of Will and Monee, previous to 1859, were embraced in a single precinct, which was called Carey. In the year last named, the two sections agreed to a separation, and petitions to that effect were accordingly presented to the Board of Supervisors, who ordered a division, with boundaries and names as indicated.
On the 5th of April, 1859, in accordance with the order of the Supervisors, the voters, inhabitants of the new township of Will, met at the schoolhouse in District No. 1, and organized by the election of township officers. H. N. Ingersoll was elected Moderator, and Robert Patterson was chosen Clerk pro tem. Nineteen votes were cast, of which a majority were polled for the following persons:
Samuel Storer, Supervisor; R. O. Hutchins, Clerk; H. P. Tobias, Assessor; F. P. Lilley, Collector; H. N. Ingersoll, Poormaster; John B. Sollitt, James M. Gridley and George W. Smith, Commissioners of Highways; L. D. Tobias arid George W. Smith, Justices of the Peace; and H. P. Wright and Robert Patterson, Constables.
The township has from its first settlement been noted for its good schools. The first settlers took a deep interest in whatever tended toward the education and enlightenment of the youth, and when there were only a half dozen families within its bounds, steps were taken to establish a school. In the Winter of 1855-56, it began to be talked over that a school was not only a possibility but a real necessity.
On the 18th of February, notice having been given, the legal voters met at the house of F. P. Lilley, and proceeded to organize Congressional Town 33, Range 13, into a school township by electing a Board of Trustees and a Treasurer. F. P. Lilley, James M. Gridley and H. N. Ingersoll were chosen Judges, and R. O. Hutchins, Clerk of the election. H. N. Ingersoll, James M. Gridley and John McKenzie were elected Trustees; and by them R. O. Hutchins was appointed Treasurer and ex-officio Clerk. A Board of School Directors was appointed, and forthwith preparations were made for the erection of a school building, which was completed and ready for occupation by Fall. The first school was taught by Sarah M. Wolcott, and the Treasurer's books, which are still in existence, show that she received in the following April $6.30 of her salary.
The whole township remained in one district till 1859, when it was divided into three. A few items taken from the Township Treasurer's report to the School Commissioner for the year 1858, will doubtless prove interesting as compared with similar statistics of the present year:
Whole number of schools - 1
Number of teachers employed during the year - 2
Average wages paid per month - $23
Number of male scholars - 9
Number of female scholars - 4
Number of persons under 21 - 41
Number of persons between 6 and 21 - 25
Principal of school fund - $100
In 1866, there were yet only 3 schools, but the number of scholars had increased to 99, and the number of persons under 21 had increased to 224, of whom 133 were between the ages of 6 and 21. The average monthly wages of male teachers was $50, and of female teachers $25.47.
The township school fund had been increased by the sale of the school section to $8,157, being at that time the fifth in amount in the county.
As far as the facts could be obtained, we give corresponding statistics from the reports of School Directors for 1878:
Total number of persons under 21 - 374
Total number of persons between 6 and 21 - 306
Average number of months school sustained - 7
Value of school property - $4,140
Highest monthly wages paid any teacher - $50
Total expenditures for support of schools - $2,800
Number of children attending school - 270
Number of schools in the township - 9
While there is nothing of wonderful nature in the above comparisons, the increase being simply the natural effect of the rapid settlement of the township, there is sufficient to indicate that the growth of the public-school system has been equal to the other interests of the township, and the condition of the schools is in a high degree satisfactory.
While the township is not "dotted all over" with church edifices as it is with schoolhouses, we are led to believe, from our short intercourse with its people, that the moral and religious natures have not been left uncultivated. It is true, there is but one church-building or church organization in its whole bounds but, being adjacent to towns on all sides where these accommodations abound, the township seems to need only the one already erected and standing near the center. The Presbyterian Church of Will Township was organized and the building erected about the same time, 1865. There had been some preaching by both Presbyterians and Methodists, and both denominations had some claims on the field; but it was agreed on all hands that more than one church could scarcely live, and that a union of forces was the better plan. Neither party was very tenacious; but when a party, who was not a member of either denomination, came forward and proposed that if the society to be formed should be Presbyterian, he would donate ten acres of land and $1,000 toward the erection of a church edifice, it was decided to organize a Presbyterian Church. George W. Smith was the liberal donor, and not only did he fulfill his obligation, but added to it $500 more. The original members of the society were D. J. Board, H. N. Ingersoll, George W. Smith, Thomas F. Clark, Henry Neal and James Maxwell, with their families. Most of these afterward became members of the Church. The building was erected at a cost of $7,500, and is a credit to the society, the Church and the township. The first Pastor of the Church was Rev. E. J. Hill; the present Pastor is Rev. George Dunlap. The present membership of the Church is forty-seven, and of the Sunday school, about eighty members.
This township took a most lively interest in the late war, nearly all the able-bodied men enlisting and entering the service. At one time, there more of the citizens of this township in the army than there were legal voters. Of course, the township was not drafted, nearly all of its able-bodied men having volunteered. Several who thus left their homes friends and firesides to battle for the country which our fathers had done so much to establish, gave up their lives in its protection. Among such are remembered Benjamin F. Gridley, James H. Ingersoll, William Pickard and J. S. Cotton, the last of whom died in Andersonville prison, where so many of our brave boys suffered a double death, that of starvation.
The present officers of the township are: Robert Patterson, Superivsor; O. P. Lilley, Clerk; Robert Bayne, Assessor; John Shultz, Collector; Charles O'Neil and F. H. Steinberge, Commissioners of Highways; James Maxwell and Robert Patterson, Justices of the Peace; William Chamberlain, F. H. Steinberge and I. Dubridge, School Trustees, and O. P. Lilley, School Treasurer. The present voting population of the township is about one hundred.
Will Township is in the southeastern part of the county, and is bounded as follows: on the north, by Monee; on the east, by Washington; on the south, by Kankakee County, and on the west, by Peotone Township. It is a full Congressional town, containing thirty-six whole sections, and is described in the survey as Town 33 north, Range 13 east of the Third Principal Meridian. The land is somewhat rolling, though not what is usually termed broken. The soil is rich and productive, and, in most parts, deep and is well adapted to the production of corn, oats, rye and hay, large quantities of which are raised. About one-half of the land formerly belonged to the Illinois Central Railroad, and was bought of that Company for §2.50 to §5.00 per acre. The Illinois Central Railroad passes through the northwest corner of the township, cutting off about one and a half sections, though no station has ever been established in its limits. Black Walnut Creek furnishes stock-water to the farms lying adjacent, in the northwestern portion. Along this little stream the first settlements were made.
The township is entirely devoid of natural timber, though numerous little groves and thrifty orchards give it the appearance of one of the older settled Eastern places, where the absence of timber is due to the industry of the early wood-chopper and lumberman.
For some years, it was thought that the climate of Northern Illinois was too severe for apples and other fruits, but later years have proved that this section is well adapted for such purpose; and at this writing the ground, in the orchards of this and adjacent townships, is literally covered with the product.