History of Will County
Of all of the interesting little nooks in Will County, Twelve-Mile Grove is, without doubt, the most romantic. Not only on account of location has it this peculiar aspect, but associated with it, were it in our power to unearth it, is an ancient history of a sufficiently wild flavor for a poem like to that of Hiawatha. Almost entirely secluded as they were from the rest of their race, with surroundings at once so beautiful and so well adapted to their style of life, we cannot but conceive that the wild people who dwelt here must in many respects have been peculiar. The little grove is said to have been one of the finest tracts of timber in Northern Illinois, and was full of deer, wild turkeys and other game, at the time of the earliest settlement by the whites. The fine little stream, a branch of Forked Creek, dividing the township diagonally into two almost exactly equal parts, flows over a rocky bed, along which the grove, on either side, lies. On every side lies the open prairie, and in approaching the timber one is reminded of the little clumps of timber described by Eastern travelers as appearing on the Great Desert, toward which their anxious eyes and weary limbs ever turn for refreshing shelter and drink for themselves and thirsty animals. Formerly this feature was much more apparent than now, the adjacent prairie having long since been occupied and planted here and there by the early settlers, not only with fruit-trees, but also with those of the forest, so that at present the whole township presents the appearance of a succession of little groves. The land of Wilton Township is of varied quality and appearance, in some portions being very rich and productive, and in others quite the reverse; in some portions being very flat, and in others undulating. In some parts of the township stone of a good quality is found, which answers a good purpose for foundations for buildings, though it has been utilized to a limited extent for other purposes.
Wilton Township formerly embraced the township of Peotone, but was separated from it by order of the Board of Supervisors in 1858. The township, as now constituted, embraces all of Town 33 north, Range 11 east of the Third Principal Meridian, and is bounded on the north, east and west by the respective townships of Manhattan, Peotone and Florence, and on the south by Kankakee County.
As before intimated, the township, or rather that portion still known as Twelve-Mile Grove, was occupied by a small tribe of Indians. The grove was reserved, by act of Congress, ratifying a treaty with these people, for their sole use and benefit; but, though they were not concerned in any way in the Black Hawk disturbance, or any other unfriendly or hostile act toward the whites, they removed from here the same year that saw the exodus of the hostile tribes. They simply abandoned their lands here, not because of any encroachments by the whites, nor because of their inability to hold the title to the land, for the Government would doubtless have protected them in their rights, but, perhaps, because they did not like the idea of being separated so far from others of their race.
From the best information in our possession, Joseph Lawton, one of the owners of the land, was a half-breed; and, from him and others of the tribe of Ce-nag-e-wine, the land comprising the grove was bought, by James M. Kibbin, William T. Nelson and A. M. Wiley, ten or twelve years after the Indians had deserted it. A considerable portion of the land in the township was granted to the Illinois Central Railroad Company, and, from that Company, bought by such settlers as came in after 1853. Samuel Hocum, who is usually accredited with being the first settler at the Grove, really affiliated with the Indians, and, when they left here to reside at Council Bluffs, followed their fortunes thither. Hocum, whatever his character may have been, was, in one characteristic which distinguishes the civilized white from the uncivilized red man, of civilized proclivities, in that he lived in a house. It is said that he built the first cabin erected by white men in the township, and that it stood at the east end of the grove, on the farm now owned by Chauncey Clinton. The exodus of the Hocums, the Lawtons and the other Indians, took place about 1835, at which date Abram Huyck came to the township and settled on Section 36, since and still called Huyck's Grove. For two years, the Huyck family were the only inhabitants of the township, and Twelve-Mile Grove was deserted. Abram Huyck died about fifteen years ago, and the family removed to other parts.
When the whites first began to settle here, many traces of the former occupants of the grove were yet visible. Among the most interesting of these, as illustrating their methods of sepulture, were the tombs of three Indians, supposed, from the profusion of their decorations, to be chiefs. The sepulcher, or whatever it might be called, consisted of a little pen, built up of small sticks, laid one upon the other, to the height of about four feet, being from four to five feet square. The whole was covered with sticks, weighed down with heavy stones. And therein, on a kind of stool, sat the three "poor Loes," looking lonesome and ghastly enough. The cracks between thesticks composing the pens were sufficiently wide to admit of inspection, while being at the same time too small to allow of their being disturbed by wild animals. In this position, these ghastly remains sat in all of their feathers, beads and jewelry, with the flesh decaying from their bones, for a number of years, till at length a foolish lad, who lived in the neighborhood, upset their charnel-houses, scattering their bones about the surrounding country.
In 1837, three families from Canada came in and settled at the grove. These were Franklin Chamberlin, Oliver Chamberlin and James Adams. The Chamberlins were father and son. The Chamberlins built the first frame house. The timbers were "got out," hewed and prepared from the grove, and the boards were brought from Wilmington, where a saw-mill had recently been built. Adams occupied the Hocum cabin. The Chamberlins remained here until 1845, when they removed to Black Oak, near Chicago, where they still reside.
At the time of which we write, in addition to the wild animals desirable for food, there were also wolves in great numbers. Geese, chickens, sheep and pigs were their favorite repast; and it was almost impossible to protect them from the voracity of their natural enemy. An able and eloquent representative had risen in the Legislature and declared that, "When the denizen of the prairie is locked in the embrace of Morpheus, the shades of night have settled 'round his abode and all nature has settled to rest, then the noisome wolf rises from his lair, and, roaming up and down the land, seizes the inoffensive pig and. the innocent lamb, devouring them, to the great detriment of said denizens," and the law for the protection of domestic animals against the ravages of "said, wolf" had been passed, allowing to any one who would secure the scalp of one these "noisome" animals, a bounty of $1. The business of wolf-hunting at once became quite lucrative. For a number of years afterward, in the newly settled counties, nearly all of the State taxes were paid in this kind of currency. The younger Chamberlin was a skillful hunter of the wolf, killing from twenty to forty every Fall. For these, he received for the scalps $1 each, and for the pelts, 50 cents. In those times, the hardest that have ever been known in this State, this was counted a large amount of money. But, though the profit derived was comparatively great, the propagation of the wolf was neglected, and now, a wolf, should one be captured in the county, would be counted as a curiosity.
If intelligence were necessary to "keep school" in those days, the Adams family must have been in that respect more than ordinary, as the first two terms taught in the township, in 1841 and 1842, were taught respectively by Lydia and Sallie Adams, daughters of James Adams. At about the last date named, the Mormons at Nauvoo were in all their glory. Missionaries were being sent to all parts of the country to enlighten the people on the peculiar doctrines of Joseph Smith, as revealed in the Book of Mormon; and among the places visited in this part of the State was Twelve-Mile Grove. Their efforts here were not without success. The Adams family, having become fully established in the faith, sold out and removed to headquarters at Nauvoo. A few years later, when the conflict arose between the authorities of the State and the troops of Smith, which resulted in the death of that would-be prophet, and the succession of Brigham Young to the Prophet's position, most of the Mormons removed to Salt Lake. Among the faithful who followed the fortunes of Young to the new land of promise, were Adams and his family. In crossing the plains, among the hundreds of these people who perished was Lydia Adams. Sallie afterward became one of the wives of an influential and wealthy Mormon, and still resides in that country. Several other converts were made to Mormonism in this neighborhood, some of whom still reside here, but repudiate the doctrine of plural marriages, cleaving to the faith as expounded by Joseph Smith, Jr., now of Plano, Ill.
The Chamberlins and Adams sold out their possessions here to one Reuben Putnam, more generally known as "Old Put." Putnam had the reputation of being a horse-thief, a cattle, pig and sheep thief, and a robber of all kinds of goods on which he could lay hands. He was even credited with having in the grove an underground stable in which he concealed his ill-gotten gains, and in which he accommodated members of a then numerous gang of horse-thieves that infested the country; and it is not doubted that Putnam was one of the loaders. "Old Put's" favorite mark for his stock was to cut off both ears and tail, and in this way destroy all other marks that might previously have been made by rightful owners. Certain it is that he was the terror of this part of the country, and as such prevented for a time the rapid settling of the township. But finally his operations became so gigantic, and his attitude toward his neighbors became so unbearable, that forbearance ceased to be a virtue, and it was determined to bring him to grief. Suits numerous had been brought against him; indictments had been procured; and all legal measures had been tried te bring him to justice, but always to the defeat of those instituting such proceedings. So a few of the citizens of the neighborhood, to the number of seven, entered into a compact to rid the county of his presence. It is unnecessary to repeat the names of the seven who planned the scheme, or to give the minutise thereof. Suffice it to say that, one day in June, 1853, Old Put was plowing corn in his field, when suddenly, what to him appeared to be an Indian, grappled his arms from behind and held him fast; then another, who seemed to be a negro, appeared with a tar-bucket, and another Indian came up with a bag of feathers. Quicker than it takes to tell it, two or three more negroes stripped him of his clothing, and a pair of sheep shears applied to his scalp, divested him of his hair. In four minutes from the time of commencing the operations, Mr. Put presented a striking appearance. So much did he resemble the descriptions of that ancient one called Scratch, that the boys who took part in the work were really struck with fear. He had been covered from head to foot with the tar and feathers; and to add to the Satanic appearance as if having just issued from the ground, they had rolled him in the fresh-plowed dirt. After the work had been completed, he was asked if he understood the meaning of all these proceedings, and upon giving an affirmative answer, he was told that he would be allowed just ninety days to settle up his business and get out of the country, and was assured that if he were found in the neighborhood at the end of the period named, the seven had sworn a great oath never to rest day or night until he was quartered. At the end of the eighty-seventh day, it was noticed that Put still lingered, as if loath to leave the scene of the drama in which he had taken so prominent a part; but after that date he was a stranger to Twelve-Mile Grove, having suddenly vanished.
For a long time his countenance presented rather a sallow appearance, looking much as though he was undergoing an attack of the jaundice. He spent much time in trying to find out who had been his persecutors; but so well had they concealed their plans that for many years it was not known who had taken part in the work.
Four of the men employed in the matter are still residents of the county, and are among the best citizens. The thing proved so popular, and those concerned in it kept it so well, that others who had nothing to do with it hinted that they "knew more about it than they cared to tell." Hiram Harvey and sons came to the township from Canada in 1841, stayed three years and then removed to Five-Mile Grove, where they resided nearly four years, returning to Twelve-Mile in 1848. Jabez Harvey, one of the best-esteemed citizens of the township, went to California during the gold fever, and had returned by June, 1853, having in the mean time, seen somewhat of the manner of dealing with outlaws in that country, at that time governed neither by the principles of law nor morals. Mr. Hiram Harvey is now over 70 years of age, hale and hearty, and in the enjoyment of all of his youthful energy. He is the oldest resident of the township. From 1841 until 1845, Alanson Williams, J. Taft, Dr. A. B. Mead, Amos Van Valtonburg and Alfred Warner made their appearance in the neighborhood. They resided here but a short period—but four or five years—and then removed to other places. During the residence of Dr. Mead, the post office of Wallingford was established near the center of the township, with Mead as Postmaster and mail-carrier, between this point and Wilmington, and for his services he received the proceeds of the office. After his removal, the office was removed to the head of the grove, where it has since remained. By 1848, quite a number of Irish families had also settled in the neighborhood. At the date last named, the Illinois & Michigan Canal was completed, and a number of the laborers on the works, having saved a portion of their wages and being out of employment, concluded to engage in farming, and took up their residence here. Some of our best citizens are of Irish nativity, among whom are John Brown, Roger Waters and Thomas McCormick. In 1846, Kibben, Nelson & Co., the new proprietors of the reservation, came to the Grove with a view to making improvements and selling out the land. The land was surveyed and offered for sale; and, there being no other timber near, coal not yet having been discovered in the county, and the railroad not yet having been projected, the people were greatly excited over the prospect of having the only source of fuel and lumber disposed of without a chance to obtain a piece; and as a consequence, land, which can to-day be bought for $20 per acre, brought $100. The proprietors who had bought the reservation for a trifle became rich men in a short time.
The Nelson family, of whom W. T., mentioned above, was a member, consisted of the father, John Nelson, and sons W. T., S. G. and D. M. They came from Indiana to reside at the Grove in 1848. John Nelson had been, in the State of his former residence, one of the first,citizens of the county in which he lived, and was honored with many positions of trust, among which was that of member of the Assembly of the State. Mr. Nelson died two or three years after his removal to this place. W. T. Nelson now resides in an adjoining township, and the two other brothers still reside near the village of Wallingford.
George and David Dancer, brothers, from the northern part of the State, came in 1848. The former still resides here, but the latter has removed to Iowa.
Samuel C. Baker and brother Caleb settled here in 1849. Caleb is one of our most wealthy and respected citizens. Samuel C. now resides in Colorado, and is engaged in the cattle trade.
Joseph Cook was the first blacksmith. His shop at first consisted of a bellows, anvil and a few hammers, and the broad branches of a tree were his only shelter. Of him it could with propriety be said:
"Beneath a spreading chestnut-tree,
The village smithy stands,
The smith a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands."
All except the tree, which was an oak instead of a chestnut.
A horse-power saw-mill was erected by Henry Stone, now of California, in 1850, but it run but a short time, as the completion of the railroad brought lumber of a more desirable character to within a short distance. The first; goods were sold in 1856 by J. Hopkins, at Wallingford. Hopkins did not continue in the business long, but sold out to S. G. Nelson. A store was started in Wilton Center in 1857, by Barret & Hersperger, and by them it was run for about three months, when they sold to Jabez Harvey, who has continued the business without intermission or suspension for twenty years.
There were at one time three post offices in the township. The first established was the one at Ingham's Hill, near the center of the township, and then removed to Wallingford. About 1856, a post office called Pierce, was authorized at Huyck's Grove, and another at Wilton Center. Pierce Post Office existed but a short time. The one at Wilton Center was somewhat irregular, until a few years ago when it became a permanent fixture.
In 1850, there were in the township, as then organized—embracing, also, Peotone—about twenty-five voters. The precinct, with the Grove as center for an indefinite area surrounding, was called Dallas. In the year named, however, the Commissioners of the county changed the name, giving the precinct a definite boundary, with Supervisor and other township officers.
The first election was held April 2, 1850. Of this meeting, Henry Stone was elected Moderator, and William T. Nelson, Clerk pro tem. Twenty-six votes were cast, of which the following persons for the respective offices received majorities: William Dancer, Supervisor; Horace Kelsey, Clerk; James M. Kibbin, Assessor; Joel O. Norton, Collector; Hugh Kennedy, Overseer of the Poor; George Dancer, Samuel Hall and Alfred Warner, Commissioners of Highways; Samuel Wilson and Patrick Boyland, Justices of the Peace, and Edward Graham and John McGowan, Constables.
In 1858, the eastern half of the precinct, now constituting Peotone township, was, by order of the Board of Supervisors, set off as a separate township, and Wilton left with boundaries co-extensive with what we now find them.
The present officers are: S. G. Nelson, Supervisor; G. Boynton, Clerk; A. J. Mills, Assessor; D. M. Nelson, Collector; George Mackender, John White and James Cavency, Highway Commissioners; S. G. Nelson and Jabez Harvey, Justices of the Peace; George Rose and B. F. Dunham, Constables, and Jabez Harvey, School Treasurer. The present voting population is 240. One of the most important public acts of the township was the voting of $35,000 to aid the Decatur & State Line Railroad, which was to cross the township and locate a station at Wilton. The road has not yet been completed, and, as one of the provisions of the call for an election was that the bonds were to be issued only when the first train of cars were run through the township, they have not yet been called for.
The township took more than ordinary interest in the great war for the preservation of the Union, in 1861-65. No draft was ever enforced, the quota of each call being filled by volunteers, or by substitutes, paid by subscriptions or tax. Nearly all who enlisted from this township were in the One Hundredth Illinois Infantry. Many of the brave boys who left us never returned. Of this number are remembered Alva Hoyt, Richard L. Barr, William Bruce, Ira Temple, Amos and James Gauthrop, Simon Conchlin, Ahaz Young, Giles L. Greenman, Joseph Robinson, Frank Patchett, Robert Stevens, Don A. Robinson, Henry Doncaster and James T. Ladieu. The last named died a double death in Andersonville Prison. Isaac Jenks, though he received such wounds as would have killed a common man—his head being literally shot to pieces—still lives. Jerry Kennison was promoted to the office of Captain, and S. G. Nelson was honored with the title and office of Major.
As before intimated, the first school was taught in 1841. This was the school not only for the township, but for all the country adjacent. Pupils attended this school who lived ten miles away. The number of children living in the township at that time scarcely warranted the building of a house and the establishing of a school. The house was built by James Adams, Franklin Chamberlin and Hiram Harvey, and was a partnership concern. It was constructed of bass-wood logs, split in two parts, and laid up in the manner of a rail pen, with the flat surfaces inside. The puncheon floor, slab seats and desks and the huge fire-place, common to most of the pioneer schoolhouses such as-appear in our cut on page 89, were features of this school-building. In 1849, the school township was organized, with Horace Kelsey as Treasurer, and in 1850, the first public school-building was erected at Wilton Center, which building is still standing and doing the service as originally designed. It was, doubtless, considered a grand affair in its early days, though at present it looks somewhat antiquated—however, in a pretty good state of preservation. It is constructed of stone, which were taken from the quarry near by, the stones being raised and hauled by different parties, who gave their time and labor to the enterprise. The building is 20x30 feet, and in height is scarcely eight feet between joists. Above the door appears the following inscription, cut deep in the stone cap:
School Dist. No. 1
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.
In this building, Chauncey Steele taught the first term. The schoolhouse proved to be, in addition to its use as a temple of learning, a great convenience for numerous other purpose. In it have been held political meetings, debating societies, churches and Sunday schools, indignation meetings and ratification meetings and assemblies of all sorts and sizes, except large, sizes, which could not be accommodated within its modest inclosure, and were, therefore, held in the grove. Soon after the date of the building of the schoolhouse in District No. 1, a school was organized at the north end of the Grove and a building erected there; and, within eight years, three more had been built, making, in 1858, five organized districts, each with a school building of its own, and having a school population of over four hundred.
At present, there are seven whole districts and two union. The school population is 610 children under 21 years of age, of whom 408 are between the ages of 6 and 21.
The value of school property is estimated at $2,000. The whole amount paid for sustaining schools last year was nearly $2,500. Jabez Harvey, who succeeded Kelsey, the first Treasurer, in 1864, is present Treasurer and Clerk of the Board of Trustees.
VILLAGE OF WALLINGFORD.
As previously stated, Nelson, Kibbin and Wiley had purchased of the Indians the tract known as the "reservation." Afterward that portion which now constitutes the site of the village was sold to H. B. Goddard, by whom, in turn, it was conveyed to Charles W. Keith, who laid out the town and offered the lots for sale.
Doubtless, high anticipations were indulged in, regarding the destiny of Wallingford, as Keith advertised it extensively. Charts of the town were lithographed and sent to every corner of the East and West. Some of them still in existence show what a nice town may be built on paper, all with streets and alleys, public squares and fine parks. But, alas, for human expectations! The enterprise proved a failure, and Wallingford stands a monument of blasted hopes. It is now simply a little trading-point, with a score of houses, a store and a few shops. Keith, after having disposed of a few lots, sold the site and the adjoining farm to Noah Thayer, of Aurora, who still owns it.
VILLAGE OF WILTON CENTER.
Wilton Center was platted, originally, in 1860; but, subsequently, the plat was taken up and a new plat made in 1876. The plat consists of about forty acres, of which Jabez Harvey is principal proprietor. Its history is not greatly dissimilar, as to success, to its little rival at the other end of the grove. It contains two general stores, two wagon-shops, two churches, and dwellings and other buildings in proportion. The population is about one hundred and fifty.
The M. E. Church was erected in 1866, and cost about $6,000. From the report to the Conference, we learn that its membership is 162.
Rev. A. H. Needham is the present Pastor, and John Crawford is Superintendent of the Sunday school.
The Baptist Church was built in 1868. It is a neat frame building, capable of accommodating about two hundred persons. The membership of this Church is forty seven, with Rev. O. C. Dickinson as Pastor and Superintendent of the Sunday school.
Both of the above denominations had held services here for many years prior to the erection of their houses of worship, holding meetings in the school-house and in private dwellings.
Lodge No. 640, I. O. O. F. was established at this place, June 15, 1877, with seven members, most of whom had belonged to Wilmington Lodge. Of the number named, A. J. Mills was N. G.; J. G. Thompson, V. G.; Henry Storch, Secretary; and Jabez Harvey, Treasurer. The present membership is thirty-three, the officers of which, with the substitution of Lorenz Reitz as V. G., and Charles Weber as Secretary, remain as at first constituted. Meetings are held on Saturday of each week.