The township of Will was another of those townships without a tree in the whole thirty-six square miles of it, and hence it was until a late date before many settlers were attracted to its fertile acres. It was not until 1852 that the original pioneer entered the township and erected his little cabin, and he was a Scotchman.
John McKenzie was the first actual settler, although he could not be called a permanent one, for he remained but a few years, and then removed to Missouri. At the breaking out of the Rebellion he enlisted in the government service as a spy. He was taken prisoner by the rebels and put in prison, and had his case ever come before a court martial for trial he without doubt would have suffered death, but before they could get ready to try him the place, prison and all, were captured by the government troops, and then McKenzie was a free man again.
John M. Gridley came there from Crete and built the second cabin in the township in 1853. He came to the county in 1840 and had tried several places, but could find none to suit him until he found Will township, then he settled down for life, perfectly satisfied. He was a native of New York, a man of ability, and proved to be one of the most prominent men that the township ever had. When the township was organized, in 1859, he was elected one of the commissioners of highways, and from that time he was constantly called upon to fill some office. He died March 23, 1904.
Joseph Baldwin was a Massachusetts man. He had been to California, and, having been fortunate enough to obtain a few hundred dollars in gold, he returned and settled in the township, but a few years later went to Missouri with McKenzie.
James Maxwell came to the township from New Jersey in 1853 and bought some land in the northeast part of the township. Then he returned to his old home and there remained until 1861, when he returned to occupy his land, and built for himself and family a house. Maxwell said that when he went into the township in 1853 there was but one little shanty in it, and he was not certain that it was occupied. The same year Henry Lyon came there and settled in the northern part of the township, but the next year he sold out to F. P. Lilley and then went back to work on the canal, preferring that to farming.
The year 1854 brought several good men into the township. Among them were H. N. Ingersoll, F. P. lilley, Patrick McMahon and John Sollitt. Mr. Ingersoll was a very substantial citizen. He resided there until 1875, and then sold out and removed to Iowa. F. P. Lilley continued to reside in the township until his death. He was a most reliable citizen.
The year 1855 brought some more good men to the township, and among them were William Constable, James Pickard, Robert Patterson, from New York, and R. O. Hutchins, from Vermont. Mr. Constable was a man of tact and judgment, as well as of good management, and succeeded in accumulating a very handsome property. He died there February 25, 1897. Robert Patterson was a most substantial and worthy citizen, and represented his township on the county board for several terms. His death occurred January 15, 1900. Mr. Hutchins stayed there but a few years, when he returned again to his native state and worked again at his old trade, that of gunmaking. He was the first school treasurer for the township, having been appointed to the office the year following his arrival in the township. Samuel Storer came from New Hampshire in 1856, as also did Lorenzo Tobias, a native of New York. When the township was organized, in 1859, he was elected the first supervisor, and the year following he represented his district in the legislature. He removed to California in 1862. Mr. Tobias was elected one of the first justices of the peace when the township was organized in 1859. He died there in 1868, and his family removed elsewhere. George W. Smith also came in 1856. He proved to be a good citizen, and when the township was organized he was elected to two offices, justice of the peace and commissioner of highways.
As before stated, the townships of Will and Monee were embraced in one township up to 1859. At the January meeting of the board of supervisors for that year the township of Carey was divided by the board, and on the 5th of April, 1859, an election was held for the township officers, with the following result: Samuel Storer, supervisor; R. C. Hutchins, town clerk; H. P. Tobias, assessor; F. P. Lilley, collector; H. N. Ingersoll, poormaster; John P. Sollitt, James M. Gridley and George W. Smith, commissioners of highways; George W. Smith and James M. Gridley, justices of the peace, and H. P. Wright and Robert Patterson, constables. There were but nineteen votes cast at that election.
The township has from its first settlement been noted for its good schools, and the citizens have ever taken a just pride in them. Therefore, one of the first acts was to establish a school. There were not to exceed a half dozen families to maintain it, yet they went resolutely to work, and soon steps were taken to open the first school in the township. On the 18th of February, 1856, a meeting was called at the house of F. P. Lilley, where a school district was formed, and H. N. Ingersoll, James M. Gridley and John McKenzie were elected trustees, and they appointed R. O. Hutchins as treasurer and ex-officio clerk. A board of school directors was also appointed, and preparations were made for the erection of a school building and that was completed and ready for occupation by fall. Miss Sarah M. Wolcott taught the first school and received the following April $6.30 as her salary for the whole time taught. In 1859, the township was divided into three school districts, and in a few years it was dotted over with school houses, thus giving to every child the chance for an education.
The township, after 1860, filled up very rapidly, and soon there was but very little unoccupied land to be found anywhere. Churches have also been erected in different parts of the township, giving every inhabitant ample accommodations for attending divine worship. The first church organized was the Presbyterian, in 1865. Preaching had been had by the Methodists before that time, but there were so few of them that no attempt was made to organize a society till some years later. The original members of the Presbyterian society were D. J. Board, H. N. Ingersoll, George W. Smith, Thomas F. Clark, Henry Neal and James Maxwell and their families. A church building was erected at a cost of $7,500, which is a credit to the township, as well as to the society. The first pastor of the church was Rev. E. J. Hill.
Like all other towns in the county, Will furnished its full quota of recruits for the Civil war, and at one time there were more men in the army from there than there were legal voters in the township.
The township has no village in it, and although the Illinois Central railroad passes through the northwest part, yet no station was ever established, it being more convenient for the inhabitants to go to Peotone or Monee for railroad facilities. About one-half of the land in the township formerly belonged to the railroad company, and was sold to the settlers at from $2.50 to $5 per acre. As before stated, the township was entirely devoid of timber, but one of the first acts of the settler was to supply the deficiency, and now every part of the township has its beautiful groves, while alongside of many of the highways trees are planted, giving to the landscape a very picturesque as well as homelike appearance. The only stream of water is a small creek known as Walnut creek, but wells of water are very readily excavated, so that there is no lack of that for the stock and home use. The township took its name from the county, and in our history of the county we have given the reader where that was derived from. The population of the township in 1900 was 860, while the vote cast was 212; 150 republicans and 62 democrats.
The following is the standing of the schools in the township at the present time:
Number of pupils enrolled in 1906, 192 Number of school districts, 9 Number of teachers, 9 Number of ungraded schools, 9 Number of pupils enrolled in 1876, 208 Loss in thirty years, 16.
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.