Past and Present of Will County, Illinois
By W. W. Stevens
President of the Will County Pioneers Association
Assisted by an Advisory Board,
consisting of Hon. James G. Elwood, James H. Ferriss,
William Grinton, Mrs. Kate Henderson and A. C. Clement
Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Dedicated to the Pioneers of Will County
Homer was one of the first settled of all the townships in the county, and yet for years after being settled it was not known as Homer, but simply "Yankee Settlement." In those days had a person inquired the way into Homer but few could have told him, but if he had asked the way to "Yankee Settlement" everyone would have known at once where he desired to go. It was early settled, not because the land was better, but because there was more timber in it, nearly one-half of the eastern part of the township having been originally heavily timbered. The people from the east went to the township and settled in the timber, cleared the land and made for themselves homes there. They cut down the trees, grubbed or burned out the stumps and by that means made very good farms. That part of the township is now the poorest part of it. The farms are there yet, but the buildings have gone very much into decay and the whole of that part of the township has very much the appearance of having seen its best days.
The only railroad in the township is the Wabash, which crosses the southeast corner of it, nor is there a village in it. There was the village of Hadley, in the extreme eastern part, that was something of a village fifty or sixty years ago. It had a church, several stores, a postoffice and a number of very neat, comfortable dwellings, but it has long since gone to decay and it would now puzzle an inhabitant of the township to tell where the village was located.
The township was settled before the Sac war and the early inhabitants availed themselves of the shelter of Fort Dearborn while that lasted. Several of the men, however, enlisted in Captain Sisson's company and occupied the block-house built by him on his farm west of Lockport.
One Joseph Johnson and his two sons are supposed to be the first settlers in the township. They came in the fall of 1830 and were there during that winter, the winter of the deep snow, and suffered seriously from the inclement weather. They came from Ohio. The elder Johnson died in 1846.
James Ritchey came there also from Ohio in the spring of 1831. He made his selection of his claim the fall previous, but did not bring his family to the township until the spring following. He settled on section 9, and that was his home until his death, October 15, 1888. Edward Poor came from North Carolina, but had lived several years in Tennessee. He served in the war of 1812 as well as in the Sac war. He died some twenty-five years ago. Joseph and James Cox came there from Indiana in 1831, and John McMahon about the same time. He was the first settler in what was afterwards known as Goodings Grove. He made a claim there and sold it to Gooding when he came there in 1832. Salmon Goodenow was a native of Ohio. He remained in the township but a short time, when he removed down into the town of Jackson, where he died, a suicide, some years later.
Selah Lanfear was from New York and came to the settlement in 1832. It is said that he first settled in Lockport by mistake, but that when he learned of his error he corrected it at once and removed out into the settlement. David and Alva Crandall came to the settlement in 1832. They were natives of New York and both joined Captain Sisson's company. Judge Blackstone was from Ohio and settled at the Hadley postoffice. The grove was afterward named in his honor and such it is known unto the present day. He had a brother-in-law, John Ray, who came with him. Thomas Fitzsimmons came to the settlement from New York in 1832. He started for California during the gold excitement of 1849, but never lived to reach there. Arthur C. Chamberlin was a native of New York and came to the settlement in 1832, bought some land and then returned to New York for his family and in January, 1833, came back. His son, the late S. S. Chamberlin, came with him and rode an Indian pony all the way. In 1833 Mr. Chamberlin induced several of his old friends and neighbors to come to the settlement, among them being Ebenezer Griswold, Warren Hanks, J. B. Rowley, Oscar L. Hawley, Abram Snapp and Dr. Weeks. Mr. Chamberlin settled in the place recently owned by Rev. Mr. Cowell and planted the beautiful row of maple trees that are now the admiration of all who pass that way and are said to be the first trees planted in the township. He died in May, 1878, at the age of ninety years. Deacon James Gooding was from New York and settled in Gooding's Grove in 1832. His son, William Gooding, was afterward the chief engineer of the canal construction. Benjamin Weaver, a native of New York, came to the settlement in the fall of 1833 and there was his home until his death in 1870. John Lane, also a New Yorker, settled there in 1833. He was a blacksmith by trade and was the inventor and maker of the first steel plow, as noticed elsewhere in this work. He died in 1857. Frederick and Addison Collins, also from New York, were brothers. Addison was a lawyer by profession and practiced it in his native state before coming west. He afterward represented this county in the State Legislature. He died in Homer in March, 1864.
Jireh Rowley, also a native of New York, settled there in 1833 on section 19, but some three years later he sold his claim and entered land on section 34, where he lived until his death, which, occurred in December, 1844. The Rowleys have been numerous in Homer ever since the elder of that family came there. They have been prominent in all matters connected with their township and often filled the offices with credit.
Hale S. Mason, a native of Massachusetts, was another of the pioneers of Homer settling there in 1834. He lived in the township twelve years and then removed into Lockport township. Deacon Asa Lanfear came to the settlement in 1834. He was also from New York and settled on what was known as "Hawley Hill." He remained on that original claim until his death in 1871.
The year 1834 was quite prolific in bringing new settlers into the township. Among those who came that year were Alanson Granger, Cyrus Cross, Levi Savage, Reuben Beach, Nathan Hopkins, Samuel Anderson and Horace Messenger, all from New York, and John Ross, from Ohio. From that year until 1840 the township filled up fast and by the autumn of that year all the land in the township was taken and nearly all occupied.
A postoffice was established in the settlement in 1836 and the name of Hadley given it, from Hadley, Massachusetts, some of the pioneers being from that town. Reuben Beach was appointed the postmaster, and from that time forward the village of Hadley grew to be quite a noted place. In 1840 it boasted of two good stores, a church, blacksmith shop and several dwellings, but ten years later it began to wane and now it would be difficult to find the location of it. Another village was started on Hawley Hill in 1835. A store was opened by Norman Hawley in that year. That really was the first store in the township. The goods were hauled from Chicago by ox team, the only conveyance at that time of heavy articles. The first school house was built on the hill the same year and Mr. Lanfear built a house there also and a blacksmith shop was also built soon after. That village has long since disappeared, but the hill still remains. Reuben Beach built a saw mill on Spring creek in 1838 or '39, and soon Col. Sayre built one on Hickory creek.
The first school in the township was taught by D. C. Baldwin, the veteran hardware merchant of Lockport. That was in the winter of 1834-5, in a little log shanty with a stick chimney, which had been put up as a claim hut and then abandoned. It is claimed that a Miss Sallie Warren taught the first school, but we are satisfied from what we can learn that she taught the summer following. That same summer Miss Abigail Raymond taught a school in a building that had been put on the Deacon Lanfear place for a cow stable. The schools of Homer have grown in number as well as in number of scholars since that day and they now make a very respectable showing in comparison with those in other townships in the county.
The first church organization in the county is thought to have been formed at Hadley in 1834 by Rev. Jeremiah Porter. There were then no churches and the religious services were held in the groves in pleasant weather and at other times in the cabins of some of the settlers. The first church was built in Hadley by the Congregationalists in 1838, but it was used by all denominations, as creeds were not so particular in those days as now as to where they worshiped. The old church has long since passed away and what were left of the members joined the new church that was erected near the center of the township in 1862.
The first wedding in the township was that of Westley Brewer and Mrs. Johnson, the widow of Alva Johnson, and the ceremony was performed by Judge Blackstone, the first justice of the peace in the township. That was in 1833 or '34. The first birth or death in the township is not recorded. Homer, we believe, has not a postoffice or a store of any kind within its borders. The rural route delivery has abolished the former, while the latter can be better kept in the surrounding towns and villages.
The population of the township at the last census was 1,050, while in 1870 it had 1,280. The last vote was 265.
Number of pupils enrolled in 1906, 204
Number of school districts, 9
Number of teachers, 10
Number of ungraded schools, 9
Number of pupils enrolled in 1876, 328
Loss in thirty years, 124