This is another of timberless townships, and hence very lately settled. At the time of the organization of the different townships in the county into voting precincts, in 1850, Peotone could not be so organized for the reason that there were but two actual voters in the township at the time, and therefore it had to be included with Wilton, and the two called one township. And it was not until 1858 that they could be separated into two townships, so as to have each constitute a voting precinct. That year the township had just twenty-five voters, and it was then formed into a separate organization.
In 1849 two men came into the township and made improvements. They were Daniel B. Booth and James Allen, natives of Massachusetts. They located on the prairie with the view of establishing large dairy farms for butter making. It was supposed or taken for granted that the prairies were excellent, for grazing, and therefore all they had to do was to turn the cows out, herd them, and they would take care of themselves with good results. But the scheme proved a failure, and Booth left there in 1855, having sold out to Samuel Goodspeed. Allen was also dissatisfied with the country, and he also went away and returned to his old home in the east.
In 1855 several families came into the township and made substantial improvements. They were Ralph Crawford, James H. and John C. Cowing, two brothers, and Samuel Goodspeed. The Cowings were natives of New Hampshire, but Crawford and Goodspeed were from Pennsylvania. These all proved to be good substantial citizens, and though long since gathered to their fathers, yet they left descendants that are among the very best citizens of the county. When the township was formed, in 1858, they were all honored by their fellow townsmen with offices of trust and responsibility, and they fulfilled their obligations to the very letter. John Noland and Daniel Gleason came there in 1855, but they soon removed from the township and went elsewhere to find homes.
Patrick Armstrong came with Mr. Goodspeed as a laborer and entered some land near by, but the year following removed to the village. In 1856 Arnold, Tobias and Cornelius Fahs, Moses Wright, Milton Smith, and James F. Johnson made their advent into the township and located claims for land. The Fahs were brothers from Maryland, Wright from New York, and Smith and Johnson from Michigan. The Fahs remained in the township for several years, and Cornelius Tobias died there, but Arnold went to Chicago, where he made a handsome fortune in the lumber trade. He died in that city in 1875.
When the township was formed, in 1858, Moses Wright was elected the first supervisor, and also the first assessor, but the year following he sold out and removed to Michigan, his old home. Mr. Smith was a most enterprising and worthy citizen. His death occurred at his home in the township, in 1870, and his family then sold out and removed to Iowa. Mr. Johnson continued to reside there until 1877, when he disposed of his farm and went to Kansas to live. In 1857 George Reynolds came to the township from New York, and William W. Kelly came from Boston. Both of them removed to Chicago some years later. In 1858 Smith Shaw, William P. Benn and Thomas Lackey came there and became permanent residents. From that date forward the township settled up rapidly. Nearly all the land that did not belong to the Illinois Central Railroad had been taken up and occupied by actual settlers, so that, the inhabitants of the township began to agitate the question of separating from Wilton and forming a new township. A petition was presented to the county board and that body issued an order for a town meeting to be held, and appointed April 6, 1858, as the time for the meeting. At that meeting the necessary twenty-five votes were cast, and with the following result: Moses Wright, supervisor and assessor; George Reynolds, town clerk; William W. Kelly, collector; James H. Cowing, overseer of the poor; John C. Cowing, Milton Smith and James F. Johnson, commissioners of highways; Cornelius Fahs and Ralph Crawford, justices of the peace, and James H. Cowing and James Fahs, constables.
One of the very first movements made in the township after it was organized was to establish schools throughout the township. As long as it was a part of Wilton township no effort had been made in that direction, and as a result the education of the children of that part of the township had been sadly neglected. The spring following a meeting was held at the house of J. F. Johnson and Samuel Goodspeed; Tobias and A. H. Fahs elected school trustees, and by them Ralph Crawford was elected treasurer, an office he held for fourteen consecutive years. At that meeting the trustees divided the township into four school districts, one of which was at the railroad station and another in the Goodspeed neighborhood. School buildings were soon erected in all the four districts and schools established. By 1866 the school districts had been increased to six, and all had good school houses. The township had filled up rapidly and as a consequence, many children were to be found there that needed to be educated. In the year last named a census of the inhabitants was taken and there were found to be children under twenty years of age, and of these 301 were of the proper school age, 248 of which attended the public schools the year previous. There are now ten school districts in the township, and each school district owns a good comfortable school building, while several of them are far above the ordinary for country districts. There are several very fine church buildings in different parts of the townships, and all are well patronized and sustained. The United Presbyterian church was organized in 1860 by Rev. R. W. French. The original membership was eighteen; James E. Shaw, Thomas Luther and David Gilkerson being of the number. In 1867 they erected a very handsome church at a cost of $3,600. The Wesley M. E. church, of West Peotone, was organized in 1868, and a place of worship erected in 1870, costing $3,000. Rev. R. Wright was the first pastor. The St. John’s German Evangelical church was organized in 1866 by Rev. F. Barber, and there were sixteen families that constituted the first members. The society owns a good church building, a parsonage, school house and some four acres of land. The congregation consists of upward of sixty families, and the church may be considered in a very flourishing condition.
Peotone derived its name from the village, and the Illinois Central Railroad Company gave that name to the village. It is purely an agricultural community, but a very flourishing and prosperous one. There is hardly an acre of poor land in the whole township, nor one that is not now occupied and in use. The farms are all thrifty and well to do. They have neat and comfortable farm buildings, and all parts of the township have the appearance of prosperity and abundance. There is but one stream of water in the township of any size, and that is a branch of Forked Creek, although several small streams meander through the farm lands, wending their way south towards the Kankakee river.
A Peotone Tragedy
On Tuesday evening, May 26, 1880, Dr. Andrew Melville, of Peotone, shot and killed O. S. Mink, a respectable merchant of that village, the injured man dying within a few minutes afterwards. The tragedy was the result of a long existing quarrel between the parties over the license question. Dr. Melville was a strong advocate for temperance, and, of course, was opposed to the granting of dram shop licenses, while Mr. Mink was on the other side of the question. At the spring election previous, there was a hotly contested battle for license or no license, and the license party won out and that fact embittered the anti-license people, and especially Dr. Melville, who was somewhat of a leader in the anti-license ranks.
On the evening of the tragedy, the parties met on the street, and after a hot altercation of words, blows were indulged in, when Dr. Melville drew a revolver and shot his opponent through the heart. He was at once arrested, and placed in jail in Joliet, and the following Saturday he was indicted by the grand jury for murder. At the next January term of the circuit court, he was tried for the crime, but the jury acquitted him on the ground that he was acting in self defense.
History of the Village of Peotone
After the completion of the Illinois Central railroad in 1855, the land was bought of that company, and in 1856, a village laid out there by David Goodwillie, but for two or three years there was but little disposition to embark in business there. Wilton Center and Wallingford were then in the height of their prosperity, and all Peotone went there to trade. Gradually, however, the eastern portion of the township began to fill up with settlers, and then there was a demand for a village at the station. John F. Pickering erected a house there in 1858, and soon after put in a small stock of goods in one of the rooms. The next spring, however, he erected a store building, and greatly enlarged his stock of goods. That was considered a good start for a village, and the following year several families came to the village, bought lots and improved them with very neat dwellings. A postoffice was also established there that year, and the following winter the first school was taught by W. W. Clark. The first resident physician was Dr. Charles Stedman, who located there in 1860. A small warehouse was erected at the station soon after the village was laid out, but it was built on railroad land, and therefore not considered as a part of the village, but like the station, railroad property. Very little grain was bought at the warehouse until about the year 1868, when two other elevators were erected, and from that period the village began to put on a good, solid growth. Grain was brought there in abundance, stores were opened, new dwellings and shops erected, and for the next eight or ten years the new village enjoyed a degree of prosperity, hardly equalled in so small a village.
In 1869, the village was incorporated under the general law, and on the 6th day of June, of that year, the first village election was held and the following officers selected: C. A. Westgate, president; E. S. Smith, Emanuel Wirt, Joseph Imholz, and John F. Pickering, trustees, and John F. Pickering, clerk.
The old school building that had been erected in 1859, was found to be too small and too much out of date for a good school building. The old house was disposed of to be removed and a new school building erected at a cost of $7,000.00. The building was a fine one and answered its purpose well for many years.
There are several very fine church buildings in the village. That of the Methodist stands on the west side of the village. It was erected in 1867, at a cost of $3,000.00, and a parsonage was also built costing $1,000.00. The German Evangelical church is located in the southeastern portion of the village. In 1871 the Presbyterian Society was formed in the village with seventeen members. They purchased the old school house and refitted it for religious services, and it has answered their purpose very well.
The Masonic fraternity are well established in the village. A charter was obtained in 1869, and a lodge constituted as Peotone lodge, No. 636, A. F. & A. M. The charter members were: Samuel Jamison, Charles A. Westgate, John B. Sallitt, Charles Gates, Benjamin Sellers, Rufus K. Reynolds, August Herbert, Henry Pope, William F. Hutchinson, D. F. Mason, J. M. French, A. A. Manson, J. D. Dowling, J. L. Miller, John M. Tobias and F. Elder. The lodge has since grown in numbers and is now in a very nourishing condition. The regular communications are held on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month.
The following are the officers of the lodge for the present Masonic year: A. H. Cowing, W. M.; W. E. Imholz, S. W.; James Barbour, J. W.; Michael Collins, Treasurer; J. J. McMahon, Secretary; Rev. A. Perry, Chaplain; H. C. Leser, S. D.; W. B. Mather, J. D.; A. Fletcher, S. S.; J. C. Hoenk, J. S.; Jos. Imholz, Tyler.
The following are the present officers of the Order of the Eastern Star of Peotone Chapter: Mrs. S. Tobias, W. M.; J. J. McMahon, W. P.; Mrs. J. J. McMahon, A. M.; Mrs. Ida Kruger, Secretary; Mrs. John French, Treasurer; Mrs. Wm. Young, Con.; Mrs E. H. Fedele, Ass’t. Con.; Mrs. Ida Imholz, M.; Mrs. W. B. Mathers, Adah; Mrs. Agnes Amman, Ruth; Mrs. Lonida Hoenk, Esther; Mrs. Ida Sekoph, Martha; Mrs. A. H. Cowing, Electa; Mrs. H. D. Crawford, Warder; Thomas Collins, sentinel; Miss L. Smith, Chaplain; Mrs. Thomas Collins, Organist.
The population of the township at the last census was 1,810, and the vote 381, of which 234 was republican and 147 democratic.
Township and village schools:
Number of pupils enrolled in 1906, 445 Number of school districts, 9 Number of teachers, 15 Number of graded schools, 1 Number of ungraded schools, 8 Number of pupils enrolled in 1876, 369 Gain in thirty years, 76.
Source: 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 ILLUSTRATED Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company 1907.