This township is located in the extreme southeastern part of the county and forms with Crete the two largest townships, each having about forty-five sections, or square miles. It is generally a good agricultural township, and that is all the settlers have aspired to. Some of the land is excellent and raises large crops of corn, oats, hay and potatoes. The land generally is rolling, but in places it is flat, with poor drainage. Eagle Lake, in the northeastern part of the township, was formerly much larger than now, its swamps and marshes furnishing to the inhabitants immense quantities of cranberries, but many years ago the lake was drained to a considerable extent and all that industry was destroyed. There is a small stream that issues from the southern part of the lake, which passes through the township, leaving it near the southwest corner. The Chicago & Eastern Illinois railroad passes through the western part of it, and furnishes a station named Beecher, in honor of the late Rev. Henry Ward Beeeher, who was greatly admired by the inhabitants. Before the railroad was built all traffic was of necessity by way of Peotone, over the Illinois Central, or by hauling to Chicago. The first settler in the township is said to have been one Jesse Dutcher. He was found living on the road from Vincennes to Chicago in 1851, but how long he had been there, or when he went away, no one seems to know. His cabin was some two miles north of the Center, and was a sort of stopping place for travelers and teamsters. He claimed to be a Methodist preacher, though the oldest inhabitant of that part of the county never heard him preach. There were Methodists in Crete many years previous, and they were often in want of a minister to preach the gospel to them, though Dutcher’s cabin was but four miles away. James McBien had a similar ranch four miles south, and a mile west. It is said of him that he took in the stranger whenever he appeared in the neighborhood, and that the stranger always left the ranch much poorer than when he entered it.
The highway did not follow section lines all the way, but meandered to get the best and easiest roadway. But it was a great highway in the early days of eastern Will county, and was the very first to be settled upon from the reason that it furnished a good highway to Chicago, and that was all the pioneer wanted. It was called the “Big Road Settlement.” Among the first of the settlers along the “big road” were John Rose, William Strain and Joseph Maxwell. Mr. Rose was doubtless the third settler in the township, and should be entitled to the first place, as those who preceded him were simply “squatters” in every sense of the word. He was a native of Ireland and settled on section 3, in the extreme northern part of the township, in 1851. He died in 1858, but some of his heirs still occupy the old homestead. William Strain was also a native of Ireland and settled a few rods north of the Center, on section 16. He came there in 1852 and that was his home for many years. Mr. Maxwell came from Ohio and settled a little east of the Center, with T. L. Miller. They engaged in the business of raising Hereford cattle, but bad management or bad speculations, or a little of both, swamped the business some twenty years ago. The cattle are still raised in the township in large numbers, and the traffic is said to be very profitable. Joseph White came there in 1854 and remained four years. He bought or occupied the Dutcher place, and it was at his house that the first township election was held, in 1856, and he was chosen one of the first justices of the peace of the township. In 1858 he removed to Indiana. While the Big road was being settled up a settlement had been started over near Eagle lake. The most of the settlers over there were natives of Germany, and all good, substantial citizens. They were Henry Bahlman, Peter Dose, Andrew Carstenson, Pade Kruse, Charles Faller and William Bliss. The descendants of the most of these still reside there.
In 1856 farmers were located in the southern and western part of the township, and, like those over at Eagle Lake, were nearly all Germans. Among these were Rensallaer and Edwin C. Richards, Joseph Irish, Horace Morrison, William and M. Watkins, W. and C. Lyons, Richard Lightbowen, Isaiah and Stephen Goodenow, Robert and David Dunbar, John B. Bowes, John Miers, H. Spanler, John Latmire, and Aaron and Miles Johnson. Up to that time the township was a part of Crete and voted and transacted political business with that precinct. That winter a petition was prepared and presented to the board of supervisors and that body ordered a separation of the precinct, and called an election to take place on the first Tuesday in April, 1856, at the house of Joseph White, and the record made of the votes shows that there were thirty votes cast. The following were the officers elected: Rensallear Richards, supervisor and assessor; Edwin C. Richards, town clerk: William B. Connor, collector; William A. Bliss, overseer of the poor; Henry Bahlman, Joseph Irish and Joseph Maxwell, commissioners of highways; Joseph White and William Watkins, justices; and Isaiah Goodenow and J. H. Irish, constables. The first effort to form a school district and provide a school in the township, was in 1855, when Sabina Graham was employed to teach a few children in the old Dutcher cabin. The next spring, however, a small shanty or summer school building was built in the neighborhood. It was made of rough boards, and about twelve feet square. It was intended for a single summer, but it answered the purpose so well that it was used for several summers. Miss Graham proved to be an excellent teacher, and her praise is still sounded from some of the older inhabitants. In 1858, the township was divided into two school districts, and very good school buildings erected in each. In 1866 there were four school districts in the township, and at the present time, we believe there are ten districts, and each is supplied with a good comfortable school house.
The St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Society erected a very neat church building at Eagle Lake, in 1864. Another church of the same denomination was erected one mile northwest of Beecher. Like the other churches, the members are all well off and therefore well sustained.
History of the Village of Beecher Illinois
This village was laid out by T. L. Miller, who was then and for several years afterwards a big man there, and did an immense business in raising stock. But he failed many years ago, and his property was sold to pay his debts.
The first dwelling in the village was erected by James Burns. He started a lumber yard there and sold lumber a few months, and then returned to Michigan, his old home. The first hotel was erected by Henry Bielfeldt. It was near the station on the west side of the track, and is still doing good service. Rudolph Pecht opened the first furniture store there in 1871, and was in the trade many years. He is now retired but is still living in the village, a highly respected citizen. William Struve bought Burns out, and carried on the lumber trade for many years. From 1870 to 1873, the village improved wonderfully. There were buildings going up all around, and prosperity seemed to have come to the village in earnest. During that time three warehouses were erected, five store buildings with shops and dwellings in proportion. During recent years there has been but little improvement in the village. It got its full growth some twenty-five years ago, and since then it has just fairly held its own. There are many good enterprising men in the village who are well to do in the world, and they make excellent citizens, but there is no improvement or enterprise that can be started there to any great advantage. The manufacturing towns north of Crete have altogether the advantage by way of transportation, having several lines of railroads and other facilities that Beecher cannot obtain.
Among the leading men of the village is August Erhardt, the present postmaster. He was a good soldier in the Civil war, and at the last election was honored by his republican friends by being elected treasurer of the county, an office he will fill for the next four years with much credit to himself, as well as to the county.
Over at Eagle Lake there is a small village, or at least was one, but it is in a decline, and will soon be among those that were. It is a pleasant location, but it is far from any railroad, and there is nothing there to sustain it. The farmers living in that vicinity prefer going a little farther,—to Beecher or Crete to trade, rather than patronize a small village nearer home. They have to go to those places to dispose of their produce, and hence there they do their trading.
Though Washington was one of the latest townships to be organized yet it has gained in population until it is one of the leading townships in the county. The population in the census of 1900, was 1,585, and the vote that year, 349: 285 of which were cast for the Republican ticket, and 64 for the democratic ticket.
The following is the present condition of the schools:
Number of pupils enrolled in 1906, 238 Number of school districts, 8 Number of teachers, 10 Number of graded schools, 1 Number of ungraded schools, 7 Number of pupils enrolled in 1876, 237 Gain in thirty years, 1.
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.