Will county extends from the Indiana state line on the east to Grundy and Kendall counties on the west, and from Kankakee county on the south to Cook on the north, and contains twenty-four townships, nineteen of which are full townships of thirty-six sections each; two townships, Crete and Washington, have more than that number of sections, as each contains forty-five sections, and three townships that have less sections in number. Reed has eighteen sections, Wesley twenty-six, and Custer twenty-eight sections. And as section is a square mile, there are seven hundred and fifty six square miles in the county, or 483,840 acres. The county was formerly a part of Cook county, but by an act of the Legislature of January 12, 1836, it was formed into the county of Will. It included at that time the present county of Kankakee, but that county was set off by itself in 1845. It was designated in the act that the county seat should be at Joliet, and that the county buildings should be erected on the public square, adjoining section 15, town 35, range 10 east, which act was fully complied with the year following, by erecting the buildings as required. The county commissioners awarded the contract for the stone work for a court house and jail to Charles W. Brandon and Andrew Borland and the woodwork to Thomas H. Blackburn, the whole work amounting to $2,700. This county was formerly a famous hunting ground of the Indians. The abundance of water and timber with natural pasturage and its proximity to the great lakes, was a splendid inducement to its occupation by them, and it was with the greatest reluctance that they turned their backs upon its broad prairies and fertile meadows, and started toward the setting sun.
The precise date when it was permanently settled is somewhat in doubt. Many have claimed to be the first settlers here, but there is but little to substantiate the claim, and we shall therefore only name those as first settlers who came here and remained permanently or at least for several years. We think that the first settlers who came here and made permanent homes were Charles Reed, Joseph and Eli Shoemaker, John Coons, and George and Henry Linebarger. They left Parke county, Indiana, in February, 1829, and came through to what is now the town of Jackson. Reed and the Shoemakers settled at what has since been known as “Reed’s Grove,” and Coons and the Linebargers came to the Grove on Jackson creek and there built their cabins. There is no question about their being permanent settlers, for they lived there for many years, and we think there is little doubt but they were the first, or at least among the very first, who came to the county and made it their permanent home. It is certain that Benjamin and David Maggard settled on the bluff a little west of the present city of Joliet in 1830, and that Jesse Walker and Reuben Flagg settled on the Dupage river, in what is now known as Walker’s Grove, early in the same year. They were certainly there in the spring of 1831, as Elder Beggs and Jedidiah Wooley came there then and found them with their cabins all built. Phillip Scott located his cabin in the edge of the Grove, two and a half miles southeast of Joliet, at what has since been known as Babylon, in May, 1830, and raised corn on ground near his cabin that year. Captain Robert Stevens settled on his farm in the northeast part of the city in 1831. William Gougar, Judge Davidson and Lewis Kercheval built their cabins on Hickory creek, while Cornelius C. Van Horne located his on the same creek, at what has since been known as Van Horne’s Point, all in the same year. And also it was the same year that Reason Zarley built his cabin two miles south of the city. There were also Horace Morse, William Gooding, and Armisted Runyon, who located in what is now Lockport, at about the same time. Those were all permanent settlers, and several of them were known here in the county for many years as worthy and honored citizens. We speak of these as early settlers in the different parts of the county because they were ever known as such. There were others who came at or about the same time or soon afterward, but those we reserve until we shall write of the different towns where they settled. There are, too, many incidents connected with the settlement of the several towns that we shall then relate. We will now tell the reader when and how the county received its name.
Hon. Conrad Will
Hon. Conrad Will, for whom the county was named, was born near Philadelphia, June 3, 1779. He was the sixth child of the ten children born to Daniel and Maria Will, who were of German descent, and that was the only language used in his fathers family. The father was a farmer and that was the employment of young Conrad until he grew up and tired of it. He attended the subscription schools of his day and acquired a very good education. He had aspirations for something better and more congenial in life than that of a common laborer, and therefore chose medicine for his profession. He attended a Philadelphia medical school, where he graduated and received his doctor’s degree. He then sought a location to practice his profession and settled in Somerset county, in the western part of his native state. There, in 1804, he married Miss Susanah Kimmel, who was also of German parentage. For nine years he traveled the country roads of that region, and practiced his chosen profession, and succeeded passably well as a practitioner, and by economy and frugality was able to accumulate some property. But the country was too slow for his progressive ideas and he resolved to change his location and find a larger field in which to exercise his skill. He cast about for the new field of labor and selected Illinois as the place for him. He resolved to see the country before venturing to remove from his present location. He went there and being very favorably impressed with the country, he returned home and in the spring of 1815 removed with his family to Kaskaskia. Dr. Will secured a temporary abode for his wife and children in the village and then, purchasing a horse, saddle and bridle, spent the summer in riding over the prairies and hills visiting the settlers in their clearings and examining the soil, timber, fruits and flowers, and thus gained a fund of valuable information that was of much value to him afterward. He finally selected a location on the Big Muddy river, in the southern part of Randolph county, and locating a quarter section of land near a saline spring, he entered it at the land office in Kaskaskia and built upon it as soon as possible a double room log cabin, with stone chimneys. He removed his family into the cabin in the fall of 1815, and commenced anew the practice of medicine, soon obtaining a professional practice for forty miles around him. Dr. Will, at the time he settled in Illinois, was thirty-six years old. He was in rugged health and with irrepressible energy. He was nearly six feet tall, compactly built, and weighed usually two hundred and twenty-five pounds. He was fond of sport and spent much of his time hunting. The shotgun or rifle were his constant companions when riding over the prairies in his visits to the sick. He was a most remarkable man in many respects. He was not an orator nor of very studious habits, and yet his quick intelligence and large store of general information, with the gift of expressing his thoughts in language forcible enough to be thoroughly understood by all. He was a man of ability, if success in life is any marked criterion to judge from. He was not a politician in the common acceptation of that term, and yet he was always in office from the time of his first entry into the state, in 1815, until his death, in 1835. But he did not seek the office—the office invariably sought the man. At the time that Dr. Will built his cabin on the Big Muddy a petition was being circulated to ask the next Legislature to form a new county to be named for the hero of New Orleans, General Jackson, who had fought and won the battle on the 8th of January of that year. The year following his settlement there he purchased a large number of kettles, and engaged in the manufacture of salt from the spring near his farm. But the enterprise proved a failure and he lost heavily in the venture. The Legislature at its session in 1816 formed the county of Jackson, and the spot where the doctor had built his cabin was selected as the county seat, naming it Brownsville. Dr. Will was appointed one of the county commissioners and he proved himself to be a most faithful and capable official. April 18, 1818, Illinois was admitted into the union and a convention was called to form a state constitution, and Dr. Will was one of the delegates to the convention, serving with ability. After the adoption of the constitution, Dr. Will was selected by his district for state senator, and at the end of his term was elected a representative from his district, and from that time until his death, June 12, 1835, he continued to be a member of the Legislature. His age at the time of his death was fifty-six years. The following December the Legislature met and on the first day of the session it was announced that Hon. Conrad Will had departed this life and the following resolution was unanimously adopted. “Resolved, That the members of the Senate in testimony of the respect which they entertain from his memory will wear crepe on the left arm for thirty days.” But another and more enduring testimonial of the respect entertained by the people of Illinois for the memory of Conrad Will, and their appreciation of his long and valuable services to the state, was enacted on the 12th of January, 1836, when, at the same session of the Legislature where the above resolution was adopted, formed from the lower part of Cook county a new county, to which was given the name of Will, in his honor. Thus Will county was formed and named. The name is not that of a great man, but of a pure and good one, who loved the state of his adoption and devoted a goodly portion of his life in promoting its welfare.
On the bluff, west of the river, a big fort was built in the spring of 1832, and given the name of “Fort Nonsense.” It was located on the site now occupied by Frank Marsh as a residence. It was intended as a protection against the Indians in the Black Hawk war and was occupied by a few families, but only for a short time, as it was found to be untenable, and of but little or no use in case of a protracted siege, as there was no provision for supplying it with water, fuel or provisions, and that was probably why it was so named, as it was but folly to attempt to hold a fort so situated.
Another small fort was built out at Walkers Grove, and named Fort Beggs, in honor of Father Beggs, the pioneer Methodist preacher. It was of logs, and probably a somewhat crude affair. We can not learn that it was ever occupied as a fort, as there was no necessity, there being no trouble with the Indians, or at least there was no warlike natives within the precincts of the county, they being all in the western part of the state.
Geology of Will County Illinois
The county originally was largely prairie. There were groves in different parts of it, and looked at a distance like islands rising out of the sea. In the early days of the settlement of the county the cabins were built almost entirely in or near them, they being necessary both for fuel and shelter from the prairie winds. In those days the names of the groves were the-only designation by which a settlement was known. No one then spoke of going to Jackson, Manhattan or Wilton: they went to Reed’s or Jackson’s Grove, Five Mile or Twelve Mile Grove, and even in going to the eastern part of the county they went to Coon or Thorn Groves. Plainfield was then Walker’s Grove, while out east it was up Hickory creek. Skunk’s Grove or Yankee Settlement. The trails across the prairie generally led directly to the groves and no where else.
Rivers and Streams
The county is well watered, especially in the western part of it. The main stream through the county is the Desplaines. It rises in Wisconsin and, flowing south through Lake and Cook counties, enters Will county on section twenty-four, in the town of Dupage. Passing through the towns of Lockport, Joliet, Troy and Channahon, it meets the Kankakee just over the line in Grundy county, and thus forms the Illinois. The Dupage rises up in Dupage county and enters the county in the town of Dupage, in two branches. They unite in that town and then this beautiful prairie stream flows on through the towns of Wheatland, Plainfield, Troy, to Channahon, where it unites its waters with those of the Desplaines. It is claimed that the name of the latter town means in the Pottawatomie language, “A meeting of the waters.” The Kankakee rises in northern Indiana and enters the state in Kankakee county. It enters this county and forms the dividing line between the towns of Custer and Wesley, passes through Wilmington, and unites with the Desplaines. There are numerous creeks and small streams throughout the county and these, being mostly fed by springs, seldom go dry in summer, but usually furnish an abundance of water for stock and farming purposes.
There are but two lakes in the county. The widening of the Desplaines river two miles below the city forms what is known as Joliet lake. It is five miles long and one-fourth of a mile wide. Eagle lake, in the town of Washington, in the eastern part of the county, is a small lake, or what would be called in a country of larger lakes a lakelet. In former years the larger streams contained an abundance of fish. Nearly every variety found in fresh water was to be found here, but Chicago sewage has killed or driven them away until but very few are to be found anywhere in the county.
As before stated, Will county was taken from the county of Cook, and a new county formed, to which the Legislature in 1836 gave the name of Will. Soon after the county was formed an election was ordered for the election of county officers and at that election Holder Sisson, Thomas Durham, and James Walker were elected county commissioners; Robert Stevens, sheriff; George H. Woodruff, recorder, and E. M. Daggett, coroner. Mr. Stevens refused to qualify and when court convened the following October Fenner Aldrich was appointed to fill the vacancy. The first meeting of the county commissioners was held March 14, 1836, in the old Juliet house. At that meeting Levi Jenks was appointed county clerk and school commissioner and Charles Clement treasurer. They divided the county into ten voting precincts and named the place for holding the election, and the judges for each precinct.
The New State Constitution
In 1848 the new state constitution was adopted by the people, abolishing the County Commissioners’ court, and substituted a county judge, and, if the Legislature saw proper, to add two associate justices in each county. The Legislature acted favorably on that clause, and the two associates were added. The last meeting of the County Commissioners’ court was held in March, 1849, when it went out of existence, and thereafter the County court took its place. On the 3d of December that year the first term of the County court was held, Judge Parks being on the bench as the first judge. The duties of the court were precisely the same as those of the County Commissioners’ court, with the addition to exercise judicial authority, having all the rights and powers of justices of the peace, and also full control of all probate matters. The judge and associates acted together for the transaction of all county business, but none other. Each had the equal vote and received the same salary, $2.00 a day when court was in session.
The County Officials
Gavion D. A. Parks was the first county judge, with Henry E. Whipple and Lyman Poster as associate justices. Oscar L. Hawley was county clerk and K. J. Hammond school commissioner. Those were the first officials elected under the new constitution, and as they proved to be very able and efficient the new mode of electing county officers proved to be very popular. At the election in 1853, Solomon Simmons was elected the county judge on the Abolition ticket, which we think is the only instance in the history of the county where an abolitionist was ever elected to a county office, as such. There is no doubt but that many have been elected officials who were abolitionists, but they did not happen to run on that ticket.
The County Poor
There was no provision in the county for taking care of the poor until 1883, when the county purchased a farm in Troy township for that purpose and improved it at a cost of $4,218. Since that date the farm has been greatly enlarged and improved with new buildings added, which has cost the county upwards of $50,000. Thousands of the poor and unfortunate of the county have since been provided for there, and will continue to be in the future.
Fourth Of July Celebration
The first celebration of the “Glorious Fourth” was in 1836. It was a somewhat informal affair, gotten up on short notice, but it passed off with just as much patriotism and enthusiasm as though the most elaborate preparations had been made for it. It was held on the open prairie near the old jail. Judge Barnett was president of the day. Dr. Bowen read the Declaration of Independence, George H. Woodruff was the orator of the day, and Major Robert G. Cook chief marshal. There was a good crowd in attendance and much enthusiasm was manifested for so important an occasion in the history of the county.
The Old Schools
The old schools, as they were started in the different townships of the county, were very much alike. The first school buildings were, almost invariably, built of logs. In some instances they were split open for the sides of the building, with the flat side in the room. Then more were split and laid down for the floor, and still more for the benches. These were made quite smooth, and with the soft side of the log up—for the child to sit on. A small window about two feet square was cut through the logs for light in the room. Then with a stone or stick chimney at one end and a good roof on and a small door, and the school room was ready for the scholars. The fireplace was usually large enough to take in sticks of wood and logs from four to six feet long, then with a good rousing fire the room would be quite comfortable, even on a severe cold day. The greatest necessity for the schools in those days was books. If there was a book for each scholar there was a plenty. But it was often the case that there was but one book for each two scholars, and then the two would study and read together. In one school there was but one reading book for a class of eight. The scholar at the head of the class could read from it, and then it would be passed down the line and each read it in turn. The only school books in those days, with very rare exceptions, were the Elementary Spelling Book and the old English reader. Occasionally a new scholar would come to school with a small book called The Young Reader. Then there would be a treat for the scholars, for it was a much more interesting book for the young than the English reader. But the spelling book was the great standard book for the beginner, for it not only contained the alphabet, but easy words for reading and spelling, until words of three or four syllables were reached. As the child progressed it would come at length to the three little reading lessons, and they were properly illustrated with rude wood cuts. The first was the story of the farmer and the lawyers. The farmer is pictured out holding his only cow by the horns, while two lawyers, one upon each side are milking her, and, of course, they take the milk for their trouble and advice. The second was the story of the country maid and her milk pail. She has filled her pail with milk and, placing it on her head, starts out for market with it. As she goes along she calls to mind the many pretty things she intends to buy with the proceeds of the milk, and then how she will decorate and adorn herself on next Sunday, to the great envy of her sister milkmaids, but to the great delight of the young men, who will all endeavor to select her for a companion. The story goes on to say that she is so de-lighted with the fine figure she will cut among her companions that she can not forbear acting with her head, when soon “Down comes the milk pail and all her imaginary happiness. The third story was about the “Old man and the rude boy,” and we will give it in full as we can do so easier than we can describe it. “An old man found a rude boy up in one of his trees stealing apples, and desired him to come down, but the young saucebox told him plainly he would not. ‘Won’t you?” said the old man: ‘then I will bring you down.’ So he pulled up some tufts of grass and threw at him, but this only made the youngster laugh to think that the old man should try to drive him out of the tree with grass only. ‘Well! well.” said the old man, ‘if neither words nor grass will do, I will try what virtue there is in stones.’ So he pelted him heartily with stones, which soon made the young chap hasten down from the tree and beg the old man’s pardon.'” But the old books, like the old school houses, have nearly all passed away and are forgotten. Soon, how soon, none can tell, the old scholars, what few are left, will be called upon to follow, and then that chapter in the history of the first schools of the county will be closed.
But few of our readers have any idea of the number of miles of railroads there are in the county, and so we will give them the exact figures, and the mileage of each road within the limits of the county: Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific 25 miles; Chicago & Alton 36 miles; Chicago & Alton, Coal City branch 18 miles; Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe 30 miles; Wabash 30 miles; Illinois Central 14 miles; Chicago & Eastern Illinois 12 miles; Michigan Central (cut-off) 15 miles; Elgin, Joliet & Eastern 33 miles; Illinois, Iowa & Minnesota 21 miles; Grand total 234 miles.
Early Journalism in Will County
A history of early journalism in Will county, if well written, would be most interesting, especially to the older of our citizens, for it would be a history of the times when they or their ancestors and friends were the living population of the county, and hence it would bring to mind, and he to them a history of many scenes and events most familiar with their lives. Newspapers, like the schools and churches, followed in the wake of early immigration into the county, and soon became one of the cherished household gods. They were ever welcome to the fireside of the pioneer, for they gave him the information he craved, not only of the doings and happenings in his own neighborhood and county, but also the doings of the great busy outside world, beyond his own kin and knowledge, and it was just the information he could not have obtained in any other way. There were no railroads or telegraphs in those days, and hence news traveled but slowly. The mails were carried upon horseback or by stage coach, and were several days going the distance that is now accomplished in as many hours. The first newspaper to be established in the county was the Juliet Courier, April 20, 1839. It was a joint stock concern and of strong democratic persuasion. There were thirteen of the original stockholders, the principal and leading ones being Charles Clement, Edmund Wilcox and Hugh Henderson, and they were called the publishers, while O. H. Balch was the editor-in-chief. The paper from the very first was well patronized, not only with subscribers, but advertisers, and hence it flourished and became a power not only in the county, but also all through northern Illinois. There were but two newspapers published in Chicago at the time, the Democrat and American, and they were both weeklies, though the American started a daily in the fall of that year. The Tribune, now the great metropolitan daily of that city, was started as a weekly in the summer of 1840. South and west of Chicago there was no paper but the Courier, until Peoria was reached, and there a small weekly was issued. In 1839, Juliet boasted of some 1,500 inhabitants, and although the subscription price of the paper was $3 a year, a pretty stiff price for a small county weekly, yet it went into almost every pioneer’s home, not only in the county, but far south and east, even out into Indiana and Ohio. It was a good, readable paper for the times, fully equal to either of the Chicago papers, and although it contained but little local matter of interest yet the general information in it was just the reading for the early pioneer. Then it took a week for the paper to get down to the Wabash, and quite as long for it to go out to Ohio. Yet it was a welcome visitor when it came and was eagerly read and re-read by all who could obtain it. The first copy of the paper is still in existence and is the property of A. C. Clement, Esq. His father stood by the press and when the first paper was printed took it and laid it in his safe and there it has ever since remained, except when taken out for examination as a curiosity. It was well filled with advertising matter, while its lengthy articles filled every available inch of space. Among the locals is one referring to the recently formed county of Will, taken from Cook county, and the editor was jubilant over the location of Juliet and its unequaled facilities for obtaining news, for they were in almost daily communication with Chicago, then a metropolis of 4,000 souls, either by horse or ox teams, with the east weekly, and Springfield and the south in the same time. While traders could go to Chicago in a day, and, if necessary, return the day following, while to Springfield it took three days or a week for the round trip, and then added, “We doubt whether any town in the western states is so well situated in this regard, and we do not hesitate to say that the middle and western parts of the state, and Iowa Territory, and southern and western part of the Wisconsin Territory are deeply interested in the distribution of the mails at this office.” As an item of news to old settlers there was quite a long article upon the Seminole war in Florida, giving a long list of the atrocities committed upon the white settlers there. Work had then commenced on the Illinois & Michigan canal and the lower basin was then being excavated. The commencement of the work on the canal was looked upon as being of great utility to the county, and it prophesied a great future to the village as soon as the work was completed. In a copy of the Courier of date April 23, 1840, there is a very interesting article describing, very minutely, the Joliet Mound, and how it looked in that day, before the hand of man had ruthlessly spoiled its fair outlines and beauty. The Courier was sold in 1842 to Editor Gregg, and in 1843 he sold it to William E. Little, who changed the name to The Signal. He was editor and proprietor of it for three years, when a third sale of the paper was made, and Calvin and Calneh Zarley became the purchasers and “C. & C. Zarley” were the proprietors as well as editors of the old Signal for nearly forty years thereafter. In 1847 a newspaper was started in the village by the late Alex. McIntosh and although it was decidedly “Whig” in all its principles and teachings, yet it was named The True Democrat, but whether the name was intended as a sarcasm upon the party or simply a joke on the editors of the Signal has never been made known. Mr. McIntosh was a good writer and made a very interesting paper of The True Democrat. The paper was sold and re-sold several times during the first few years of its existence, but in 1856 Mr. McIntosh was elected circuit clerk of the county and he then sold the paper to the late Joseph L. Braden, who a few years afterward changed its name to The Republic, and a year or two later to The Republic and Sun. Mr. Braden dying in 1869. James Goodspeed purchased it and changed the name to The Republican, and that has been its name since. In October, 1900, the old Dr. Davis residence, at the northwest corner of Van Buren and Ottawa streets, was being repaired and an old copy of the True Democrat was found between the plastering and weather boarding, bearing date November 25, 1852. It was in a fair state of preservation; the mice had gnawed it some and moisture and age had blackened its outside, but the inside of the paper was quite as fair and readable as when it came from the press. The building was erected by the late Dr. Davis in 1852 as a residence and office. Doubtless one of the workmen on the building had been reading it and threw it aside, where it was enclosed as found. Thus after a period of fifty years it is again brought to light to be re-read as a curiosity. What strange associations will be called to mind regarding the early history of the city by the perusal of this relic of long ago. Joliet was then, as a city, in its earliest infancy, having been organized as such in June of that year. Cornelius C. Van Horne was the mayor—the very first—and Silas Wheeler Stone the first city clerk. Mr. Van Horne lived on the southeast corner of Sherman street and Third avenue and the only other house in that vicinity, or in that part of the city, was the McGovney house, one block east, on Richards street. The balance of what is now the Seventh ward of the city was then open prairie. There was not a street graded, or a sidewalk in the whole ward. Eastern avenue was first graded in 1857, and the surplus material from the street was hauled into Jefferson street to fill that up, as it had never been used as a street east of the Alton track before that time, except in very dry weather, as the slough was impassible, even to people afoot, for at least three-fourths of the year. Joliet then was pretty much on the west side of the river. The most interesting part of the old paper was its advertisements. It was well patronized in that respect, but they were quite unique in some respects, for they then advertised many things that are not now to be found on the market. Joel A. Matteson, then the newly elected governor of the state, was a liberal patron of the papers. He was then actively engaged in trade and was also then running the old woolen mill that stood on the east bank of the river, below the Jefferson street bridge, but was torn down a few years ago. He had a long advertisement asking the farmers to bring their wool to his factory— “Will pay cash or in goods,” and “is responsible to the shipper for all goods sent.” He closes his ad with this somewhat curious notice: “N. B.— Persons coming from a distance with a quantity of wool to be carded, or manufactured, if obliged to stay over right, will be at no expense.” There are many of the advertisers whose memories are handed down to the citizens of today. The late George H. Woodruff sold drugs. H. N. Marsh was a life insurance agent. Charles E. Munger had just come here from his native Vermont and started a marble shop. W. C. Wood then sold groceries of all kinds. Edmund Wilcox had a “mammoth stock of fall and winter dry goods.” Doolittle & Stone sold “Codfish, molasses and a little of everything,”- while our venerable friend and only survivor of the long list of advertisers, Eugene Daly, sold furniture, etc. Some of the old lawyers had their cards in the paper. Parks & Elwood, E. C. Fellows, S. W. Bowen, Norton & McRoberts, Randall & Snapp, and Goodspeed & Haven. Truly most wonderful changes have taken place in Joliet since the old paper was printed, but more wonderful in the world at large. Whether there will be as great changes in the next fifty years is a problem no one can see or foretell. January 18, 1849, a paper was started in Lockport and called The Lockport Telegraph, of which the late Judge Parks was the editor. It was independent in politics, but reserved the right to take sides in all political controversies, whenever it was deemed to be for the best interests of the paper. While the paper was under the control of the judge it was an excellent, very readable paper, but he closed his connection with it at the end of the first year, as he had been elected county judge, and it was necessary that he should devote all his time to the duties of that office. The paper ceased to exist soon after he severed his connection with it.
Joliet, Plainfield and Aurora Railroad
The Connecting Link in the Interurban Triangle
On October 21, 1904, the Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora railroad began operating passenger cars on regular schedule between the cities mentioned in its name. For several years prior to this date Joliet had enjoyed the benefits of a first-class electric railroad connecting it with Chicago, and the same situation prevails between Aurora and Chicago and the completion of the Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora line made it possible to journey from Joliet to Aurora, Chicago and return to Joliet entirely on electric railroads. Prior to the advent of the Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora railroad, the only transportation facilities between these three cities was by means of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern railroad, which is a freight road, acting as a belt line around Chicago, and the passenger service afforded was very poor, with the result that travelers between Joliet and Aurora were obliged to go by way of Chicago in most instances. The dawn of a new era opened for Plainfield on October 21, 1904, and from a quiet, modest little village, Plainfield has been transformed into a thriving suburban town and is known all over northern Illinois as a summer resort, due to the location of Electric park, which belongs to the electric line. The Fisher Construction company of Joliet, a corporation organized for the purpose of building the line between Joliet and Aurora, is composed of F. E. Fisher, president; F. E. Stoddard, secretary, and Lee D. Fisher, chief engineer. The Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora railroad has recently been absorbed by the Joliet & Southern Traction company, whose officers are: H. A. Fisher, president; J. M. Raymond, vice-president; J. K. Newhall, secretary, and Lee D. Fisher, treasurer. This new company has recently secured a franchise in the city of Joliet covering seven and one-half miles of city streets, on which will be built ten miles of tracks. These lines are so located that they will radiate from central portion of the city in five different directions and each line is located with a view to affording an entrance to Joliet for an interurban electric railroad from the various directions that these lines are being projected. This company, in addition to providing an entrance for the lines from Aurora, Blue Island, Peotone, Manhattan and Morris, also contemplates the building of a line southwest from Joliet through Elwood, Wilmington and Braidwood, in Will county, to Coal City, Gardner and South Wilmington, in Grundy county, to Dwight, in Livingston county, and work upon these extensions will be well under way before the close of 1907. The Joliet & Southern Traction company is now engaged in building its tracks within the city of Joliet and expects to have the Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora cars enter the city over these tracks not later than June 1st of this year. While Joliet has enjoyed splendid street car service as provided by the Chicago & Joliet Electric Railway company, there are a number of sections of the city that have not been well served by this company, and the Joliet & Southern Traction company has so located their lines that these districts will now receive street car benefits which they have so long needed. The city of Joliet will receive from the Joliet & Southern Traction company two new bridges which they have agreed to build across the drainage canal, one at Ruby street, in the northern part of the city, and one at McDonough street, in the southern part of the city. It is claimed by the Fisher Construction company, which has built the Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora line, and is now building the lines for the Joliet & Southern Traction company, that the character of construction and equipment throughout is not only strictly first class in every respect, but is superior to the average electric railroad, and equal to the best that has yet been produced, and we take pleasure in showing herewith a view of the track construction of the Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora railroad between Joliet and Plainfield to bear out their claims.
Electric Park, which has been developed by the Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora Railroad company, at Plainfield, through the Fisher Construction company, is acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful parks for its size in this state. It is located on both sides of the beautiful Dupage river and has been laid out with extreme care by one of the best landscape gardeners that could be procured. The park comprises about twenty acres and at the southern boundary a dam across the Dupage river has produced a boating course 150 feet wide and nearly one mile in length. The park is provided with a steel auditorium that will seat five thousand people, furnished with a stage on which is located a large pipe organ for the use of the Will County Chautauqua, which holds a ten days’ session each year in the latter part of July and the first of August. Other buildings are dancing pavilion, bowling alley, bath house, boat house, restaurant, dining hall, ball park and athletic grounds with grand stand, riding gallery, band stands and other attractions that go to make a park of this kind attractive. One of the unique features of this park is a camp ground where the railroad company last season erected forty canvas cottages as an experiment, and it has proved so successful that the number of cottages will be doubled this year. This camp ground is provided with sewerage, city water, streets are lighted by electric lights and has gas provided for cooking in the cottages. The cottages themselves are a novelty, being constructed with a wooden frame and a permanent board floor, the roof boarded over solid and covered with a composition roofing, sides boarded up fifteen inches all around and canvas to inclose the frame. Doors and windows are provided with screens, thus giving all the comforts and modern conveniences of a permanent building and still enjoy all the benefits of camping out. We are pleased to present a few views of Electric Park. The building of the Joliet, Plainfield & Aurora railroad has resulted in an increase of business to all the merchants of Joliet and Plainfield and the citizens of Will county as a whole wish the best of success to the future of this line and also to the officers of the Fisher Construction company and their new enterprise, the Joliet & Southern Traction company.
Politicians and Politics of Will County Illinois
The politicians of the country are a part of it, and, like the doctors and lawyers and many other things, we are compelled by circumstances to put up with a necessary evil. They stir up things sometimes fearfully during a heated campaign, and one would think to hear them that the California earthquake was but a circumstance to what the whole country will be if the opposition gains the day. But politicians are a sort of animal in our life that do some good. They agitate and thus clear the political atmosphere, prophesy dire calamities to the coming generation. The voter hears it all, then goes to the polls and votes just as he pleases, and after election is over everything moves along calm and serene, the atmosphere of politics is cleared and purified, and there is nothing now in sight to molest one or make or make him afraid, and will not be until next election. In the early history of the country there were no politics or politicians. Washington was elected the first president, and no mention was made as to whether he was a whig, democrat, free soiler, or even a republican. It was the man they wanted and he was elected almost by an unanimous vote. And it was the same at the second election, but in 1796, when the election was held, there was some show of politics. John Adams was a federalist, while his opponents styled themselves republicans. Adams won, but four years later, in 1800, the republicans came in power and held it for twenty-four years, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe each holding the office eight years, and all as republicans. In 1824, when Andrew Johnson was a candidate for the presidency in opposition to John Quincy Adams, the parties were still federalists and republicans, although Jackson called himself a democrat. He was defeated by Mr. Adams, but in 1828, when he was successful, he was still a democrat, and in 1830 the name “republican” was dropped, and henceforth the party was known as the democratic party. The federalists about that time had become tired of their name, as a party, and adopted the name of “whig,” and by that name it was known until the disastrous defeat of Gen. Scott, in 1852, when it ceased to exist as a party and on its ruins, four years later, the great republican party was founded. The first national convention ever held in the country to nominate a candidate for the presidency was in 1831, when the Anti-Masons met at Baltimore and nominated William Wirt of Maryland, as their choice for president and Amos Ellmaker of Pennsylvania for vice-president. Previous to that time candidates were named for those offices by caucuses of the members of Congress. In December of the same year the first whig convention was held and Henry Clay of Kentucky was the nominee for president and John Sergeant of Pennsylvania for vice-president. On May 31, 1832, the first democratic convention was held to select candidates for president and vice-president. It met in Baltimore and was largely attended by delegates from all parts of the Union. It was at that convention that the celebrated two-thirds rule was adopted, and which has since been re-adopted by every national democratic convention. At that convention Gen. Jackson was re-nominated for the presidency and Martin Van Buren for vice-president. It was a strong ticket and was triumphantly elected. The whigs were defeated in 1836 and it was in that campaign that Will county first took a part as a county. The vote was small, but it was the beginning, and has steadily increased at every general election since that time. In the “log cabin—hard cider” campaign of 1840 it was 1,285, an increase over that of 1836 of 962 votes. We have not the vote of the county in 1844, but in 1846 there were 1,704 votes cast for congressman, and it was in that campaign there was an abolition ticket in the field for the first time. The county was strongly democratic, John Wentworth receiving 922 votes to 782 for the other two candidates. But in 1848 the vote in the county had increased, there being 1,250 votes cast for presidential electors. In that campaign the political feeling between the parties ran high, much more so than in 1840. The democrats in the campaign were not designated by that name, but they were hunkers, barnburners and loco focos. It was in that campaign, also, the first abolition ticket was in the field for the presidency, although it was given the name of “free soil.” In 1852 the democrats, with their nominee, Franklin Pierce, swept the country. The vote in the county had largely increased, but the gain was largely in favor of the opponents of the democratic party, the vote being 1,450 democratic, 1,251 whig, and 320 abolition, or free soil.
The political history of the county is not only interesting, but it is among the most interesting of the many things that go to make up its history. In our history of the state we have alluded to political matters in general and of politics, as well as of politicians. We now come to what pertains to Will county more particularly, and to matters and things that have taken place in the county. During the early years after the county was formed party rules and regulations had but little to do with electing men to office. The man and his fitness for the position cut much more of a figure in elections than mere party politics. There was a whig and a democratic party, but even those were divided into factions. The democrats were split into what was called the Jackson and anti-Jackson parties. The former were the opponents of the United States bank, while the latter were its avowed friends. The whig party was even then more or less divided on the slavery question. There were pro-slavery whigs and anti-slavery whigs. The pro-slavery party was not very numerous in Will county, but in other parts of the state, and especially the southern part, it was very strong, and when that was the issue would carry things pretty much as they liked. Then these was the anti-Masonic party, which included men from both parties. But they were never very strong in the county, and hence did not cut much of a figure in elections. Still, if a man was up for an office, who was known to be a member of the order, he was most bitterly opposed by the antis, and it sometimes caused his defeat. The democrats were called by their opponents “loco focos,” and the name was said to have originated in New York City in 1830. A democratic meeting was being held in Tammany hall and as was usual with such meetings, before it broke up they got into a free fight. The hall was lighted with candles and one party blew them out, but the other, party had probably expected something of the kind, and so had provided themselves with a new fangled contrivance, called a loco foco match. With those they re-lighted the candles and then went to work and cleaned out their opponents, driving them from the hall. The next morning the papers in giving an account of the meeting dubbed the victorious party as loco focos, and that name stuck to the party for many years. It was not until 1840 that the political lines were drawn in the county, and then they were confined to the higher offices of state and nation. It was not a common thing to hold conventions and nominate candidates for local offices. Anybody run for an office that wished to do so, and as there were no printed ballots, it was a simple matter for the voter to designate to the judges of election his preferences for certain offices, or whom he wished to vote for, and they would so record the vote. As a specimen of how they voted in 1840 for the local offices, we will give the following. There were 1,285 votes cast in the whole county at that election, and of these John Pearson, the democratic candidate for state senator received 1,284, but when it came to sheriff, there were five candidates, four democrats and one whig. The vote was pretty nearly equally divided among them, and Hamilton D. Risley, the whig, got the office by 67 votes. For coroner the contest was between two whigs, Joel George and Amos Fellows, George winning the prize.
The First Election
When the county was first organized in 1836, an election was called for the first Tuesday in March to elect county officers, and the highest vote cast in the whole county, as it was then constituted, which included the present county of Kankakee, was 323; of these Robert Stevens got 225, and Charles Clement, 98, both democrats. George H. Woodruff was elected recorder, Charles Clement, treasurer; Ephraim M. Daggett, coroner, and Thomas Durham, James Walker and Holder Sisson, county commissioners. Previous to that election, the commissioners were appointed by the legislature to organize the county, and call the first election, and they had divided the whole county into ten voting precincts. Those precincts, as then named, were Dupage, Plainfield, Canal (Lockport and Homer) Joliet, Hickory Creek (New Lenox and Frankfort) Jackson, Forked Creek (Reed, Wilmington, Florence, Wesley and Custer) Rock Village (Manhattan, Green Garden, Wilton and Peotone and two townships in Kankakee county) Thorn Creek (Monee and Crete), Kankakee (Will and Washington and balance of what is now Kankakee county). Judges of election were named in each precinct, and the place designated where the election would be held. The first time we notice any abolition ticket in the field was in the election in 1846, when 285 votes were cast for that ticket out of 1,704 cast in the county, and those were for Owen Lovejoy, for Congress. John Wentworth ran against him, and was elected by 922 votes. In 1848, the names by which the democrats were known to their opponents, had greatly multiplied, and Barnburners and Hunkers were added to that of Loco focos. Why they were called barnburners, we have been unable to learn, but the name hunker was applied to them because it was said that they were opposed to all progress, and never adopted any new ideas or principles. In that election, the national parties were whig, democrat and free soil, each having a candidate in the field for the presidency. In the campaign of 1852, the parties were whig, democrat and abolition, but the overwhelming defeat of General Scott for the presidency that year, was the death knell of the old whig party, and that was its last campaign. In the next year, the short lived know nothing party was born and christened, and at the election in August, 1853, one Dr. Cutler appeared in the field as the know nothing candidate for county clerk, and got 74 votes, and at the election the year following there were but two tickets in the field, and those were the democratic and anti-Nebraska.
The Republican Party
The year 1856 witnessed the birth of the great republican party, a party that has since the year 1860, controlled the destinies of the nation, excepting the eight years Mr. Cleveland was president, and those of the state, except the four years Mr. Altgeld was governor. The nomination of John C. Fremont for the presidency in 1856, united the anti-slavery and the anti-Nebraska, the know nothing, and in fact all the opponents of the old democratic party, and the result was one of the most spirited national campaigns that had ever been seen in the country. In Will county a large vote was polled, and the result was an overwhelming defeat for the democrats.
The Douglas-Lincoln Campaign of 1858
The great political contest of 1858 was decidedly the most strongly contested election ever held in the state. Mr. Douglas was the United States senator from Illinois, his term of office expiring in March, 1859. He received the nomination of his party for re-election, and Mr. Lincoln was the nominee of the republicans for the same office. A spirited contest was predicted, as both of the contestants were able debaters and men of great ability, as statesmen. Some preliminary speeches were made by each of the contestants, and they were masterpieces of eloquence and logic. These speeches indicated to the people what the contest was to be, and aroused them to the highest pitch of expectation and surmise as to what would be the result of the battle between the two “political giants” for supremacy in the state. During the campaign, Douglas was a frequent visitor in Joliet. He had the greatest confidence in the editor of the Signal, as a political manager, and besides they were on excellent terms of friendship. Mr. Zarley was postmaster, and the post-office was then located in a small frame building next west of Walsh’s grocery store. It was a common thing during the campaign to see Mr. Douglas and the postmaster in the little back room of the post-office confidentially talking over the chances for victory, and laying their plans for fresh assaults on the enemy.
Mr. Lincoln challenged Mr. Douglas for joint debates in the different parts of the state. Mr. Douglas accepted, and named the towns where the meetings were to be held, and the dates of each. It was agreed that there should be one debate in each congressional district, excepting in two where each had already spoken. Mr. Douglas tried hard to have the debate for this congressional district held in Joliet, but was overruled by the democratic-state central committee, who appointed it at Ottawa. The meeting was named for Saturday, August 21, 1858, and was the first of the great debates. When the meeting came off, Joliet was pretty much emptied of its politicians of both parties, and all headed for Ottawa to hear the great debate. The most of them went by train, but a large party, some three hundred, chartered a canal boat, and went down the canal, starting the evening before the meeting. They were to be landed at their destination early next morning in time for breakfast, but there were numerous delays all along the line, and it was “high twelve” ere they came in sight of the town. They had made but little, if any, arrangement for so long a journey, and there being but few “groceries” along the route, they all suffered extremely for the necessaries of life. But they were not caught napping on the return trip, for the boat, as well as the passengers came home well loaded. Mr. Lincoln did not speak in Joliet in that campaign, but Judge Douglas did. The meeting was held on the 31st of August, in front of the old court house. Hon. Uri Osgood was president of the day, and Albert Amsden, the then democratic candidate for sheriff, was chief marshal. The meeting was well attended, and the Judge’s speech gave the democrats the best of satisfaction. Later in that campaign, another democratic mass meeting was held on the old fair grounds, near the Robert Stevens place, east of the city. A big procession was formed which marched through the principal streets to the grounds south of the prison, where the steel works are now located, and there a big dinner was served. The Hon. Samuel K. Casey, being the chief caterer. The new prison was then in process of erection, and Mr. Casey was the warden, and he had all the baking of the meats and bread, making the coffee, etc., done in that institution. The dinner was gotten up on a large scale, and although there was a crowd that pretty well covered the “flat,” as that part of the town was then known, we think there was plenty to eat for all and to spare. The republicans held a meeting on the same grounds a little later, which was addressed by Hon. Owen Lovejoy, the nominee for congress on the republican ticket, and if we remember rightly the procession was much larger than that of the democrats. Premiums were offered to the town that would send in the largest delegation from its town, and there was much competition, there being large delegations from all of the surrounding towns, but we think that New Lenox won the premium. In the campaign of 1860, the chief interest in Illinois, was the fact that both of the candidates of the two great political parties of the country, were from this state. In the county, there was little opposition to Mr. Douglas among the democrats. Mr. Breckenridge, the candidate for the southern wing of the party, receiving but twelve votes in the whole county. One year later when the civil war broke out, and Mr. Douglas came forward and denounced in the strongest terms the conduct of the South in seceding from the Union, and then advised all true democrats to stand by the nation, and support the administration of Mr. Lincoln, we doubt whether even that small number could be found in the county. One of the noted incidents of that campaign, was a bet of $1,000 made by one B. U. Sharpe, a private banker and money lender, with J. L. Braden, then editor of the True Democrat, that Stephen A. Douglas would be the next president of the United States. It was a large bet for those days, and there was much commiseration for poor Braden, fearing he would lose the bet. But Braden didn’t lose, though he never saw Sharpe’s “Stump Tail Currency,” for no sooner was it known that Sharpe had lost, than he notified the stakeholder not to pay over the money. Braden afterwards sued for it, but of course lost his suit.
Incidents of the Campaign
Another quite provoking incident happened in the same campaign to a couple of young Joliet attorneys. It was quite late in the campaign, when the republicans of Naperville, through their committeeman, asked for a couple of good speakers to be sent there to address a republican mass meeting, giving the date of the meeting. The two speakers were selected and they were very much elated for the honor of being called to a “foreign” county to make political speeches. When the day arrived, they hired a team and started on their journey of twenty-two miles over the well soaked prairie roads, reaching Naperville with just time enough to partake of a hasty lunch, and then hurried to the hall where they expected to speak. But what was their chagrin upon reaching the place to find the hall dark with no sign of a meeting. They looked up the committeeman who had written for them to come, and upon finding him learned that the meeting had been held the evening previous with no speakers. Upon referring to the letter, it was learned that the meeting had been called for one evening, and the astute committeeman had written for the speakers to be there the next evening. The speakers stayed there over night, paid their own bills, and returned home next morning, sadder—if not wiser men. Another quite laughable incident of that campaign happened to a couple of then well known Joliet attorneys. They had been advertised to speak at a Democratic meeting out in Monee. It was an evening meeting and the orators of the occasion started early across the country intending to have a rousing good time of it before they returned. The twenty-four miles of almost open prairie between Joliet and Monee were all good long miles, and as there were no “groceries” on the route, they got pretty thirsty before they reached their destination. True there was plenty of water along the road in the sloughs, but those attorneys did not use the article as a beverage, and so it was of no use to them. They took no risks on any new drinks, but bided their time when they should reach Adam Sachs’ well known hostelry in Monee. It seems that Adam was expecting them, and so had laid in an extra quantity of beer for the occasion. He was very busy for a while after the arrival of the orators, but he was an old hand at the business, and soon had them full, clear up. Mrs. Sachs had provided the travelers with a bountiful supper, but there was no room for that. They ascertained from Adam where the meeting was to be held, and then they locked arms and started for the place. The meeting was in the school house and the people had gathered from far and near, filling it to overflowing. A chairman was selected, and then they waited for the speakers. They did not come and so a committee was appointed to go and look them up, as it was well known that they had reached the village. Sachs reported to the committee that the speakers had started an hour before, and ought to have reached the house by that time, certainly, but beyond the fact of their having started, no trace of them could be found. A report was made to the meeting, and the whole audience then turned out as searchers for the late orators. The entire village was ransacked for them, and then the outskirts, even out on the prairie. Finally about midnight they were found asleep safely locked in each other’s arms some distance from the place of meeting in a vacant lot that had overgrown with weeds. They had wandered into it and becoming very tired, had stopped to rest, and fallen asleep there, utterly oblivious of the great anxiety of their friends, for their safety. They were taken back to the hotel and put to bed, and the next morning they returned home where they reported the glorious meeting they had at Monee. The campaigns during the Civil war were altogether one-sided affairs. It was almost solid republican everywhere. Here, in Will county, but a very small democratic vote was polled. The democrats claimed that the democratic voters were all in the army, fighting the battles for their country, while the republicans contended they had all gone south to help the rebels. At any rate if they were still in the county, they were too discouraged to turn out and vote, and the democratic candidates were overwhelmingly defeated at every election. After the close of the war, and the democratic voters got back home again, things were evened up a little in the county. The first break in the solid phalanx in the republican office holders, except one or two scattering triumphs by accident of a candidate, was in 1872 to 1873, when George Arnold was elected sheriff, and Judge Olin, county judge. They made a breech in the opposition ranks that was kept open for several years, but the party soon strayed after false gods, or in other words, called in outsiders to run it, and as a result, defeat awaited it, and it has had nothing since but defeats, nor is there the slightest prospect that the near future will bring in anything else. The average republican majority is now from 3,000 to 4,000 votes, and unless there is some upheaval in the opposition ranks, it will be a long time before it will meet with much of a defeat.
A. E. Mottinger, county clerk; August Erhardt, treasurer; George J. Cowing, county judge; William H. Zarley, surveyor; E. T. Gust, recorder; Calvin Z. Noel, treasurer; William H. Nevins, superintendent of schools; Henry J. Schluntz, circuit clerk; William D. Heise, states’ attorney; John B. Fithian, probate judge; John C. Lang, probate clerk; Henry O. Williams, sheriff. The Judges of the circuit court are: Hon. Darranee Dibell and Hon. A. O. Marshall of Will county, and Hon. Frank Hooper, of Iroquois county.
The Will County Pioneer Association
On the 3d of July, 1880, eleven of the old pioneers of the county met on the old fair grounds east of the city for the purpose of organizing a pioneer association. They were Curtis Morse, Dr. J. F. Daggett, George H. Woodruff, Horace Weeks, Dr. B. F. Allen, George Wightman, J. N. Fryer, Willard Wood, M. N. N. Stewart, O. D. Cagwin and A. R. Starr. This small number formed the beginning of what has since grown to be the Will County Pioneer Association. At that meeting Dr. Daggett was elected chairman and George Wightman, secretary. At the meeting, Drs. Daggett and Allen, Wood, Stewart, Woodruff and Wightman were appointed a committee to prepare a plan of organization, and fix a time and place for a meeting of the old settlers. The committee met and arranged for a meeting, and issued a general call for all old settlers who came to the county prior to the year 1845, to meet at the fair grounds September 9th, following, for the purposes of organizing a permanent Old Settlers and Pioneer Association. The meeting was a large one for the first one, and organized by electing George H. Woodruff, as president, and George Wightman, as secretary. Dr. Daggett stated the object of the meeting, and what had been done by the committee appointed at the July meeting, and then called upon Dr. Allen, chairman of the committee on constitution and by-laws, to report to the meeting the draft made by the committee of that settlement. That he did, and the instrument was adopted as read. It provided that the name of the association should be “The Will County Pioneer Association,” and that its object should be the holding of meetings of its members and invited friends annually to promote and encourage sociability, the enjoyment of reunions, and keep in remembrance the hardships, privations and inconveniences suffered by the pioneers in the early settlement of the county to preserve historical facts which may be of interest to our descendants, and to express gratitude and thankfulness to the Great Giver of all good, for our happy deliverance from such difficulties. The constitution provided for the election of a president, secretary, treasurer, executive committee, and a vice-president in each township in the county. George H. Woodruff was elected president, E. B. Mason, secretary; B. F. Allen, treasurer; Rev. S. R. Beggs, chaplain, and H. N. Marsh, Horace Weeks, and Dr. J. F. Daggett, executive committee. The constitution, as first adopted, only admitted as members those who came to the county previous to 1850, but at a meeting held at the Masonic Temple, in Joliet, September 4, 1895, it was voted unanimously to change the constitution so as to allow all who came to the county previous to 1870 to be admitted as members. Mr. Woodruff was president of the association until 1887, when he was elected necrologist, and Dr. B. F. Allen was his successor as president. Those who had presided over the association since that time are Dr. J. F. Daggett, R. E. Barber, Amos Savage, Harlow N. Higinbotham, Jabez Harvey, George H. Munroe, John Van Horn, and the present incumbent, W. W. Stevens. The association has been very successful from the very first meeting. There is always a good attendance at its annual re-unions, and much interest is taken in them by all. At the last re-union held September 1, 1906, nearly seven hundred of the old pioneers of the county were in attendance, and a very interesting meeting was had. There is certainly an increasing interest felt in these re-unions, not only by the members, but by others, each recurring year. They come from far and near, not so much to hear what is said or listen to the exercises, but to meet old acquaintances, their friends of long ago, when they were boys and girls together. These annual reunions are a good thing, and should receive every encouragement.
The Old Canal
The idea of a canal to connect the waters of Lake Michigan with the Illinois river was the first of all the grand schemes of internal improvement in the state, and for years was the great project of the people, especially of those in the northern and central portions of the state. As early as 1812, six years before Illinois became a state, and during the war with Great Britain, it was advocated as advisable, but no action was taken to further the enterprise, until three years after the admission of the state into the Union, when Congress, by Act of March, 1821, $10,000.00 was appropriated to make a survey of the proposed canal, and also to establish the boundary line of the twenty-mile strip of land, previously obtained of the Indians, and the boundary line then surveyed was the well-known boundary line that now runs diagonally across sections and townships through the county. Governor Bond, in his message to the legislature that same year, urged very strongly the construction of such a canal, showing the great advantages to be derived from such a work. On March 30, 1822, Congress authorized a survey of the canal to be made, and definitely marked and appropriated a strip of land ninety feet wide upon each side of the canal for the exclusive use of said canal, and for no other purpose, and prohibited the sale of the strip so long as it was used for canal purposes. At the meeting of the legislature in December. 1825, an act was passed to incorporate the canal, and have it constructed by private contract, but the next legislature repealed that act on the ground that the work should be done by the state and not by individuals. On March 2d, 1827, Congress donated to the state to aid in opening a canal on the line that had been surveyed, every alternate section of land upon each side of the same. There were 300,000 acres of land in that one gift, and if it had been properly managed and controlled, it would have been ample to have constructed the canal upon the line proposed. But speculation, extravagant contracts, and political pulls squandered this magnificent domain of the rich lands of the state, and hindered and delayed the much-needed improvement for many years. The legislature in 1829 passed an act creating a board of canal commissioners, and authorized the board to sell the land, but made no provision for commencing the work. The board sold or gave away the land by preemption, but that was all it accomplished. The legislature of 1834 repealed the law of 1829, and passed a new act creating a new canal board, authorized it to commence work on the canal, and to issue bonds in payment, the state pledging its credit for their redemption. A special session of the legislature was held in 1835, and the governor was authorized to negotiate the bonds to the best possible advantage, and he performed the duty with much credit for himself, as well as for the state.
The Opposition to the Canal
The canal met with much opposition in many parts of southern Illinois, the main grounds for which was that it was a Yankee enterprise. The people from the East, and especially from New England, were altogether a different class of people from those who settled the southern part of the state. Northern Illinois was settled almost exclusively by eastern people, many of them being well-to-do when they came to the state. They were enterprising farmers, merchants, millers and manufacturers, and as a result, they made farms, built mills, school houses, churches, villages and cities; they made roads and bridges, and were soon far in advance of southern Illinois, that had been settled forty or fifty years before. This of itself was cause enough of a jealousy and discord between the two parts of the state, and therefore a bitter opposition was entertained against any enterprise that was thought would benefit the North. The southern people had never seen a genuine Yankee. There had been Yankee peddlers down there with tinware, wooden clocks and merchandise for sale, and the people there took it for granted that the whole race of Yankees were like those specimens. The northern people were not behind the South in their opinions of the southern neighbors. They were considered a long lank, ill-visaged, ignorant sort of an animal, with a large family of dirty ignorant children, but little in advance of the brute creation. But both parties were wrong. The northern people were shrewd, enterprising and educated, while in the South they were hospitable and lived honest respectable lives, and as a rule were fairly well educated. This misconception of character between the two ends of the state was the cause of a great deal of misunderstanding. The South opposed the canal on the ground that it was feared the digging of it would flood the state with Yankees. Even as popular a man as Lieutenant Governor Kinney opposed the canal in a speech delivered in the senate on that ground. In that speech he said, “The Yankees spread everywhere. I am looking daily for them to over-run this state. They can be found in every country on the globe, and one strong proof to him that John Cleves Symmes was wrong in his theory of the earth, was, that if there was a big opening at the North pole, as that theory suggested, or supposed really existed, the Yankees would have had a big wagon road to it long before its discovery by Mr. Symmes.” Hence this opposition on the part of the people in the southern part of the state greatly retarded the work of the canal, and at times stopped it altogether. Politics often interfered in its progress, but that was an obstacle that could be compromised in some way, and therefore not so serious an opposition as that of the South.
Work Commenced on the Canal
On July 4, 1836, work was commenced at the junction of the proposed canal with the south branch of the Chicago river, amid the booming of cannon and much rejoicing. The place was then but a slough, almost impassable, except with boats, with not a building in sight, except far away to the northwest, seven miles, where the then village of Chicago was located. Nor was there a building in sight of the proposed line until Lockport was reached, some thirty miles distant to the south. The work of excavating in that day was crude and simple, when compared with excavating as now done. It was simply the barrow, pick and shovel, and the unskilled labor of the foreigner who was attracted to the place for the purpose of obtaining employment. Although hundreds of men were put upon the work, yet the tough clay out for ten miles was difficult to remove, and therefore several years were occupied in getting the work well started. It was intended at first to make it a deep cut canal to Lockport, so that the canal would fill itself from the Chicago river, but want of funds compelled the commissioners to abandon that plan, and it was only excavated to a sufficient depth to float an ordinary loaded canal boat. The work of constructing the canal met with many obstacles, not only the opposition from the southern end of the state, but the financial condition of the state was even worse than the opposition. The state treasury was entirely empty, and the only way the work could go on was by issuing bonds or script in payment for the work. These were often much below par, and as a result the contracts for the work were let to meet this deficiency. Everything was high in those days, but whisky, the standard price for that being twenty-five cents per gallon. But wages of the laborer were twenty to thirty dollars per month and board. Pork was twenty to thirty dollars a barrel, and flour nine to twelve dollars. Contracts were let based upon these prices, and the state had to pay the bill. The supply of laborers came almost entirely from abroad, the greater number from Ireland, and the large number of old substantial residents of the county, who bought canal land and paid for it with the script they earned when laborers upon the canal, attests for the nationality of those who dug the canal. Many are the tales told of the progress of the work. Whiskey, as we have said, was cheap in those days, often cheaper and easier to get than good water. Saloons along the line were oftener to be met with than boarding houses, and all did a thriving business. Ague was then the most common of diseases, to which flesh was heir, and hence ague remedies were the most popular of all medicines. It was quite a common practice to take a barrel of whiskey and put into it fifty cents worth of quinine, and then deal it out to the ague stricken patient at fifty cents a pint. The line of the canal from Chicago to Peru, was one vast camp of laborers, and although the process was a slow one, yet whiskey mixed with their patience accomplished the task, and in twelve years from the time the first shovelful of mud was thrown out at the Chicago river, it was pronounced completed and thrown open to navigation. Another of the enterprises in connection with the construction of the canal, was the building of the “Archer Road,” from Chicago to Lockport. It was so named by the canal commissioners in honor of Wm. B. Archer, one of its members. It cost $40,000.00 and was well constructed, serving the purpose for which it was built admirably. It was the main thoroughfare from Chicago for bringing supplies to the canal office at Lockport. The laying out of towns along the line of the canal, was another enterprise. Some of these towns have grown to some importance, while others were only on paper. One of them was at the junction of the Des Plaines with the Kankakee river, and was called “Kankakee Town.” Sixty years ago it had some pretentions for a town, and boasted of several good dwellings. A large school house, a hotel, and a town hall. Another of these towns was laid out four miles above Lockport, and called “Romeo,” and another four miles below, and named “Juliet,” and that was the name of it until 1845, when the legislature changed the name to Joliet. The canal was finished in the spring of 1848, and on the fifteenth day of April, the canal boat “Gen. Fry” came down from Chicago to the lower basin, and all Joliet celebrated the event. Packets were at once put on to run from Joliet to Chicago, and the distance was covered in twelve hours, which was considered a remarkable speed for those days. In 1870, the canal was deepened to the original plan, so as to feed itself from the Chicago river, but it soon filled up. so that pumping had to be again resorted to and that has been kept up to the present time.
The Opening of the Canal
As to when the canal was actually opened for navigation there has been some dispute as to the exact date. It is conceded by all that it was opened in the spring of 1848, and in order to get the true dates of that then very important event, we have examined carefully the old files of the Signal for them. We are aware that there are who were accustomed to make a big allowance on everything found in the old Signal, but we are inclined to give it credit for all items of local interest, as being pretty near correct, but as to political matters, we have nothing to say. The Signal, under date of March 28th, 1848, has the following item: “First arrival. A canal boat arrived at this place from Channahon, yesterday. This is the first boat launched on this section of the canal. It was loaded with lumber by Messrs. Havens of this place for the northern portion of the work. The canal here is in navigable order.” On April 4th, was the following item: “Canal celebration. At a meeting at the Court House, Monday, April 3rd, a committee of nine was appointed to arrange for a proper celebration of the completion of the canal. John Curry was the president of the meeting, and James T. McDougal, secretary. The time fixed for the celebration was April 15th.” On April 11th, was the following: “The canal between this place and Chicago is now open for navigation. The boat Gen. Fry, left Lockport yesterday for Chicago with a large number of citizens on board. It expects to arrive at Bridgeport, near Chicago, by 4 o’clock the same day. The evening previous to its leaving Lockport, the boat was here in order to give those of our citizens who desired the privilege of getting on board.” On April 18th, we find the following: “The completion of this work which has been anxiously looked for during a large portion of the last quarter of a century, will take place in a few days. Navigation is now open between this place and Chicago. The boat, Gen. Fry, which left Lockport on the 10th instant, was locked through into the Chicago River at about 5 p. m. on the same day. On her arrival, addresses were made by Mayor Woodworth, G. D. A. Parks, of Lockport, and E. C. Fellows, of this place. Even demonstration of joy was manifested by the citizens of Chicago on the arrival of the boat, as it was the approach of an event long desired.” Our readers have from the above the correct dates of the real opening of what was then the most important improvement not only in the state of Illinois, but in the whole Northwest.
The Petrified Tree of Wills County, Illinois
There are probably but few people in the county who are aware that a large petrified tree exists in the bed of the Des Plaines, but a little ways east of the Grundy county line in Will county. Before the heavy flow of water from the drainage channel in 1900, the tree could easily be seen in low water and before the year 1870, when the canal was deepened to allow a larger flow of water from the Chicago river, in dry weather the tree would be entirely bare, and a person could walk along by the side of it – upon the stone bed upon which it rested. It was a natural curiosity, and yet a person going up or down the river would not, perhaps, notice that it was stone instead of wood, so natural did it appear to the eye. The bark was still upon the trunk, all perfect, and but very little worn off, and pieces of it could be easily broken off when desired, by the hunter of relics or curiosities. The subjoined extract is taken from Mr. Schoolcraft’s works, who saw the tree as first found in 1821.
“We consider this fossil among the more perfect and striking instances of vegetables, petrifactions imbedded in rock. Perhaps we have but few authentic accounts of similar discoveries on record; and it is therefore, to borrow an observation from Mr. Jefferson, ‘A valuable element towards the knowledge we wish to obtain of the crust of the globe we inhabit, and its crust alone is immediately interesting to us.’ While the rock which is deposited around and upon this mass remains hard and firm, the external figure of the tree is nearly as perfect as the living subject; its vegetable juices having been replaced by sperry, pyritous and other extraneous matter. But the change, though it has given it the hardness and solidity of stone, has not wholly destroyed the organic structure of the wood. We observe the whole outer figure of the tree and the exact lineaments of the bark, and the fibrous and fistular texture of the striae very well defined, where the rock has been lifted from it. and we also perceive vestiges of the ritrieula and tracheae, or air vessels, sufficiently distinct, though in a state of most complete petrifaction. An opinion upon the species of this gigantic fossil may be dubious, but it appeared to us to coincide in its character with the Juglaus Nigra (black walnut) of our forests. The part which is exposed, according to our measurements, is fifty-one feet and a few inches, and its diameter at the largest end three feet. But there is apparently a considerable portion of its original length concealed in the rock. We broke up from the bed of the river a number of large pieces. We were careful to choose them from a part, where the rock still rested upon them, and consequently no abrasion had taken place. This rock is a species of recent sandstone, not essentially different from that which pervades a considerable area near the sources of the Illinois. The depth of the water upon the rock was commonly but little more than twelve inches. This tree must not be confounded with those local or accidental petrifactions, which are frequently found in springs and small streams. It is entirely different in its character and its position, and the substances in contact with it claim for it antiquity at least coeval with the rocky bed of the river.”
Indian Boundary Line
The Indian boundary line drawn on official maps of Cook and Will counties has been a source of much curiosity to many. The official certificates as summarized by William Milburn of St. Louis, surveyor general, August 19, 1839, gives the following information. It was surveyed by James M. Duncan and T. C. Sullivan early in 1819, on the lines of tracts called by the treaty of St. Louis of August 24, 1816, viz.: From a point on Lake Michigan, ten miles south of Chicago creek, to a point on the Kankakee river, ten miles above its mouth. In the summer of 1834 D. A. Spaulding traced the line and placed mile posts thereon. It was to this line the surveys of the northwest were closed. There was another line which passes through Dupage, Wheatland and Plainfield townships, and which was surveyed at the same time. The line commenced on the lake shore, ten miles north of the mouth of the Chicago, and runs in a southwesterly direction, parallel to the first line, and just twenty miles distant. Surveys were made to this line the same as to the other.
This natural mound, located two miles southwest of the city, was formerly one of the wonders of the county. But the hand of man has ruined its fair proportions, and but little is now left of it but a pile of gravel. The early settlers and those who journeyed here from the east to see and examine it, believed it to be a work of art, but that has long since been exploded and it is now known to have been formed by water. The great rivers that once flowed through the valley from the great lakes formed not only the mound, but Mount Flathead, half a mile south, both elevations being of the same height, and their tops were a water level, thus showing conclusively that they were formed by the same agency, and under like conditions. Henry R. Schoolcraft, a very learned and prolific writer of the county, visited the mound in company with Gen. Lewis Cass, in 1821, has left a very interesting description of the mound, as it then appeared, although he labored under the same delusion or error that others have since that time, that the mound was a work of art, or at least had the appearance of being such a work. We herewith submit the following extract from Mr. Schoolcraft’s works, which we doubt not the reader will find quite interesting:
“Any prominent swell in the surface of the soil would appear interesting and remarkable in so flat a country, but this could be considered a very striking object of curiosity in a region of inequalities. It is, strictly speaking, neither a mountain nor a hill, but rather a mound, and the first impression made by its regular and well preserved outlines is that of a work of art. This alluvial structure is seated on the plains about six hundred yards west of the present channel of the river Desplaines, but immediately upon what appears to have been the former bank of this river. Its figure, as seen at a distance, is that of a cone, truncated by a plane parallel to the base, but we find on approaching its base describes an ellipsis. Its height we computed to be sixty feet; its length about four hundred and fifty yards, and its width seventy-five yards. The top is perfectly level. The sides have a gradual and regular slope, but the acclivity is so great that we found the ascent laborious. There are a few scrubby oak trees on the western side, but every other part, like the plain in which it stands, is covered with grass. The materials of this extraordinary mound are, to all appearance wholly alluvial and not to be distinguished from those of the contiguous country from which it would appear they have been scooped out. It is firmly seated on a horizontal stratum of secondary limestone. The view from this eminence is charming and diversified. The forests are sufficiently near to serve as a relief to the prairies. Clumps of oaks are scattered over the country. The Lake Joliet, fifteen miles long, and about a quarter of a mile wide, lies in front. There is not a more noble or picturesque spot for a private mansion in all America. Few persons will choose to pass it without devoting an hour to its examination, and few will perhaps leave it without feeling that it is a work of human hands. It is remarked by Dr. Beck that this is probably the largest mound in the United States.”
Miss Martineau Visits the Mound
In 1836 Harriet Martineau, the great English writer, visited this country and the west and came down from the then village of Chicago to see this wonderful curiosity—wonderful then, because of the theory that it had been built by the natives ages before. We give the following extract from Miss Martineau’s works, sent to the Joliet News by Rev. William Bohler Walker, formerly the well known and popular rector of Christ’s Episcopal church in Joliet, but now a resident, of Macon, Ga. He says, “In reading Harriet Martineau’s ‘Society in America,'” published in 1837, by Sanders & Otley, London, I ran across the following, which interested me particularly, and why not you and my Joliet friends, I thought, so I copy from Volume I, page 356:
“‘We had first to cross the prairie, nine miles wide, on the lake edge of which Chicago stands; we were not sorry to reach the belt of trees which bounded the swamp we had passed. At a home here where we stopped to water our horses and eat doughnuts we saw a crowd of emigrants, which showed that one had not yet reached the bounds of civilization. A little further on we came to the River Lux Plaines, spelled on a sign board “Oplain.” The ferry here is a monopoly and the public suffers accordingly. There is only one small flatboat for the service of the concourse of people now passing into the prairies. As we proceeded the scenery became more and more like what, all travelers compare it to a boundless English park, but no park ever displayed anything equal to the grouping of the trees within the murings of the blue river Lux Plaines. We had met with so many delays that we felt doubt about reaching the place where we had intended to spend the night. At sunset we found ourselves still nine miles from Joliet. (I preserve the original name, which is that of the French missionary who visited these parts. The place is now commonly called Juliet, and a settlement near has actually been named Romeo, so that I fear there is little hope of a restoration of the honorable primitive name), but we were told that the road was good except a small “slew” or two, and there was half a moon shining behind a thin veil of cloud, so we pushed on. We seemed literally to be traveling on a terrace overlooking a wide Champaign, where a dark waving line might indicate the river. Our driver descended and went forward two or three times to make sure of our road, and at length we rattled down a steep descent and found ourselves among houses. This was not our resting place, however. The “Juliet” hotel lay on the other side of the river. We were directed to a foot bridge by which we were to pass, and a ford for the wagon. We strained our eyes in vain for the footbridge, and our gentlemen peeped and pried about for some time. All was still but the rippling river, and everybody asleep in the homes that were scattered about. “‘We were all presently summoned to put on our waterproof shoes and alight. A man showed himself who had risen from his bed to help us in our need. The footbridge consisted, for some way, of two planks with a hand rail on one side, but when we were about a third of the way over one-half of the planks and the hand rail had disappeared. We actually had to cross the rushing deep river on a line of single planks, by dim moonlight, at half past eleven o’clock at night. This guide would accept nothing but thanks. He “did not calculate to take any pay.” Then we waited some time for the wagon to come up from the ford. I suspected it had passed the spot where we stood, and proceeded to the village, where we saw a twinkling light, now disappearing, now reappearing. It was so, and the driver came back for us to tell us that the light we saw was a signal from the hotel keeper, whom we found standing on his doorstep and sheltering his candle with his hand. We sat down and drank milk in the bar, while he went to consult his wife what was to be done with us, as every bed in his house was occupied. “‘We meanwhile agreed that the time was now come for us to enjoy an adventure, which we had not often anticipated, sleeping in a barn. We had all declared ourselves anxious to sleep in a barn, if we could meet with one that was air-tight and well supplied with hay. Such a barn was actually on the premises. We were prevented, however, from all practicing it by the prompt hospitality of our hostess. Before we knew what she was about, she had risen and dressed herself, put clean sheets on her own bed, and made up two others on the floor of the same room, so that the ladies were luxuriously accommodated. Two sleepy persons crawled down stairs to offer their beds to our gentlemen. “‘The great object of our expedition, Mount Joliet, was two miles distant from this place. We had to visit and perform our journey back to Chicago, forty miles, before night. The mount is only sixty feet high, yet it commands a view that I shall not attempt to describe, either in its vastness or its soft beauty. The very spirit of tranquility resides in this paradise scene. The next painter who would worthily illustrate Milton’s Morning Hymn should come and paint what he sees from Mount Joliet on a dewy summer morning, when a few light clouds are sailing in the sky, and their shadows traversing the prairie. I thought I had never seen green levels till now, and only among mountains had I before known the beauty of wandering showers. “‘Mount Joliet has the appearance of being an artificial mound, its sides being so uniformly steep, and its form so regular. Its declivity was bristling with flowers, among which were conspicuous the scarlet lily, the white convolvulus, and the tall red clover of the Scabia form.'” The rector then adds: “This may be familiar to you, but I had to move away from Joliet to read it, though I had it in my library all the time I was in Joliet. Probably it is unknown to some of the members of our Improvement society, so read it at your next meeting, as my contribution to the good of the order, and let it be an appeal to those who have turned Mount Joliet into drain tiles, to turn back some of the resultant riches in contributions to the society. “I challenge you to find anywhere, in print, the record of a more disinterested hospitality than that Harriet Martineau found in the ‘Juliet Hotel,’ in 1836, and she had gone through, the east and south finding none to equal it.”
Death of Lovejoy
In 1837 occurred the tragedy at Alton, resulting in the death of “the first martyr to liberty,” Elijah P. Lovejoy. He was born in Albion, Kennebec county, Maine, November 9, 1802. At the age of twenty-one he entered Waterville College, and after graduating removed to St. Louis. A year or two later he became editor of the St. Louis Times, and advocated the election of Henry Clay to the presidency. In 1833 he issued the first number of the St. Louis Observer, a religious newspaper. In his new labors as editor, he incurred the ill-will of the Catholic Church, by some articles he wrote, opposing the laying of the corner stone of a Catholic Church on Sunday. From that expression of opinion, regarding what he termed the desecration of the Sabbath with “processions, firing of guns and unseemly displays,” came the persecutions that afterward followed the man, and finally terminated in his death. His opponents characterized him as an abolitionist, and charged that all his outspoken expressions regarding the Catholics, came from his bitter opposition to slavery. So bitter was the feeling against him in St. Louis that he was compelled to remove his paper and printing establishment to Alton, and it arrived there July 21, 1836. It was on Sunday when the press reached its destination, and Mr. Lovejoy proposed to leave it on the wharf until Monday. That night a mob went to the wharf, broke the press into pieces and threw it into the river. A new press was obtained, and for nearly a year he published his paper with varying fortunes, but a mob entered his office, destroyed the press and threw it, with the type, into the river. He had been frequently warned as to what course he should pursue in the publication of his paper, but he being a free-born citizen, contended “free speech” was his natural free-born right, and continued in his course without the least swerving from the course he had adopted. A new press was ordered, but when it arrived, it was broken up by the mob and consigned to the river with its predecessors. A fourth press was then ordered and the mob openly defied. The press arrived and was stored temporarily in a stone warehouse, and sixty of the citizens of the town volunteered to defend it. On November 7, 1837, a demand was made for the press and the demand denied. One of the mob attempted to climb a ladder with a torch to set the roof of the warehouse on fire, but was shot by one of the defenders. Soon after Lovejoy went out of the building to see that no more such attempts were made, and was shot by the mob, five bullets entering his body. The guard having lost their leader, then surrendered the press and it soon followed its three predecessors into the bed of the Mississippi river. Thus ended the first tragical fight against the institution of slavery, and the first victim to fall was Elijah P. Lovejoy, but he was not the last to fall in the cause by many thousands. An act for the construction of the canal from the lakes to the Illinois river, at La Salle, was passed, and $500,000 appropriated to commence work, but as we shall treat of that great work in a separate article, we will forbear writing of it at this time. An act was passed at the same session for a general system of internal improvements. This was such an extravagant measure that Governor Duncan refused to give it his approval, but the Legislature passed it over his head, and it became a law. $10,250,000 was appropriated, all of which ultimately proved a total loss to the state, as not one of the works was ever completed. Among the works projected were nine railroads, while nearly every river of any size in the state was included in the bill to be improved. Thomas Carlin was inaugurated governor of Illinois in 1838. His policy was to foster internal improvements in every way possible. Bonds to the amount of $12,000,000 had been issued by the state for the improvements voted at the last Legislature, but as no interest was paid on them, they were soon of little value, and the work ordered had been commended, but it was found impossible to carry it on and so it was abandoned. Mr. Edward Smith, a member of the House from Wabash was chairman of the committee on internal improvements, and he portrayed in glowing colors the great benefits that would accrue to the state to carry forward the grand system, of improvements as begun and contemplated, and such was the hold his report had upon the members that they were ready to vote for any amount required to carry forward every work asked for in the state. The Illinois and Michigan canal was not included in the mad schemes, and the work on that proceeded without delay. Mr. Smith died before the next meeting of the Legislature, and with him died all the grand improvements contemplated by him.
In the year 1839 a sect settled in Hancock county, on the east bank of the Mississippi river, and started a town, which they named Nauvoo. They called themselves Mormons or Latter-Day Saints. Their leader, Joseph Smith, claimed to have found some golden tablets or plates, with inscriptions upon them; that he was directed by an angel he called Maroni where to find the plates and how to translate the inscriptions. The Mormons first settled in Independence, Iowa, but their conduct there was such that they were driven out by the authorities, when they removed to and settled in Hancock county. Here they soon got into trouble with the Gentiles, as they called all outside of their sect, or church, which soon after culminated in what is known in history as the “Mormon war,” and the death of Joseph Smith and his brother Hiram. In 1840 the Legislature granted a charter to Nauvoo, with full powers to organize its militia into a Nauvoo legion, establish courts of justice, and elect all necessary officers. Under the charter, Joseph Smith was elected mayor in 1842. On December 8, 1842, Thomas Ford was duly inaugurated governor, and his first duties were to look after the Mormons. They had become exceedingly arrogant and offensive to the rest of the people in the county, so much so as to have the citizens call upon the governor to suppress them or drive them from the state. The city council in Nauvoo passed an ordinance that if any person should try to arrest any of its citizens on foreign writs, the offender should be imprisoned for life, and should not be pardoned by the governor, unless the mayor of Nauvoo consented. The act practically amounted to the setting up of a separate government within the limits of the state. Other acts equally as notorious and illegal were enacted by the council and mayor, and were attempted to be enforced. The governor visited the place, and finding that the affairs of the city were even worse than he had been informed of, he ordered arrests to be made, and Joseph Smith and his brother Hiram were arrested and lodged in jail in Carthage, the county seat. After Governor Ford had left, a mob was organized and broke into the jail, and Hiram Smith was killed at the first fire, and soon after, Joseph, the so-called prophet. Brigham Young was elected as successor to Joseph Smith, and hostilities between the Mormons and Gentiles continued as before. But the governor and the leader of the Mormons entered into an agreement in the winter of 1845, by which they agreed to leave there the spring following. During the winter they made the arrangements to leave, and about the middle of May following, sixteen thousand Mormons left Nauvoo for the west, and finally settled in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, where they have since remained.
The Mexican War
It was during Governor Ford’s administration that war was declared by the government against Mexico. The people of that little republic, after centuries of servitude and misrule under the Spanish yoke, in 1822, under the leadership of Santa Anna, threw off that yoke and declared their independence. The nation struggled along for the next two decades, with contested rulers, styled presidents, each one endeavoring to outdo the other in the role of dictator. Texas, which was a part of the Republic until 1836, declared its independence of the mother country, and in 1837 was recognized by this country as a Republic, and then by Belgium, France and England. Mexico attempted to regain Texas, but was defeated. In 1845 Texas was annexed to the United States. That Mexico resented, and the result was a war between the two countries. The claim of $6,000,000 which this country had against Mexico, and which that country had acknowledged and agreed to pay, but afterward refused, was in part, also a cause in the declaration of hostilities. In that war, one hundred thousand men volunteered for service, of which Illinois furnished in all, eight regiments. Mexico was badly punished for his delinquencies, for in the treaty of peace she relinquished all sovereignty over New Mexico, Arizona and upper California.
The Constitution of 1848
On December 9, 1846, Augustus C. French was inaugurated governor. A proposition had been submitted to the people for a call of a constitutional convention, and the vote was largely in favor of such a call. A special election of delegates was called for the third Monday in April, 1847, and these were to meet at Springfield on the first Monday of June following. The delegates met in convention at the time set by the call, and on August 31, of that year, finished its labors. The constitution, as made by the convention, was submitted to the people at an election held March 6, 1848, and was ratified by a large majority. Governor French was re-elected in 1848, and re-inaugurated January 8, 1849. The population of the state in 1850 was 851,470.
The Illinois Central Railroad
In 1851 the Illinois Central Railroad was incorporated. Congress had the year previous granted lands for the construction of a railroad from Chicago to Mobile, and the act of the Legislature authorized the construction of a road from the southern terminous of the canal at La Salle to a point at the city of Cairo, with branches. The act of Congress gave alternate sections of land for six miles in width, upon each side of the road, to aid in the building of it. A company was formed that agreed to build the road within the time limited, and agreed to give seven per cent of its gross earnings to the state for the benefit of common schools. The seven hundred miles of road was completed before the close of the year 1856, and thus two and one-half millions of wild lands became homes of thousands of actual settlers. Joel A. Matteson was inaugurated governor in January, 1853. It was during his administration that the great political changes took place, not only in the state, but in the country at large. The old Whig party ceased to exist at the defeat of General Scott in 1852, and in 1856 the great Republican party sprang into existence. It was defeated that year, but in 1860 it rallied in its strength and won the battle with a good majority. The history of the state under the administration of Governor Matteson was that of unexampled prosperity. The financial depressions that had for years hung over it and greatly hindered its development and progress were swept away, and the state came to the front as one of the most favored and prosperous of all the great states of the Union. William H. Bissell succeeded to the office of Governor, January 12, 1857. He was a veteran of the Mexican war and a man of integrity and ability. It was during his administration that a new penitentiary was ordered to be built in the northern part of the state. Three commissioners were appointed, one of them being the late Hon. Nelson D. Elwood, of Joliet. These were to select the place for the new prison and take charge of its erection. Joliet was the place selected. Governor Bissell died at Springfield, March 18, 1860, and John Wood, the lieutenant governor, filled out the unexpired term. The population of the state in 1860 was 1,711,951.
Douglas and Lincoln
In 1854 Stephen A. Douglas, then a United States Senator from Illinois, advocated and brought about the repeal of the Missouri compromise. This was an act passed by Congress in 1820, and was designed to reconcile the pro-slavery and the anti-slavery parties of that day. By this act it was determined that Missouri should be admitted into the Union as a slave-holding state, but that slavery should never be established in any state, to be formed in the future, lying north of latitude thirty degrees and thirty minutes. That was the act repealed in 1854, and that left the question open, whether Kansas, which is north of that degree of latitude, should be admitted as a free or slave state. The repeal of that act brought Mr. Lincoln into prominence in the political history of the state. He was an able debater, an ardent Republican, who was among the first in the organization of the party in its first campaign in 1856. Mr. Douglas’ term as Senator in Congress expired in 1858, and Mr. Lincoln entered the lists as the opponent of Mr. Douglas in his candidacy for re-election. Each had received the nomination of his party, and therefore they stood on equal grounds in their contest for the office. Mr. Lincoln challenged Mr. Douglas for a joint debate of the questions involved. Mr. Douglas accepted, and seven places were selected, one in each congressional district in the state, except in two district’s where speeches had already been made. In that debate, slavery was the main question to be debated. Douglas contending that every new state, whether north or south of the old compromise line, that applied for admission to the Union, should determine for itself whether it should be a slave or a free state, while Mr. Lincoln insisted that slavery should be put in a “course of ultimate extinction.” Mr. Douglas won the prize, and was the nominee of his party in the campaign of 1860 for the presidency, while Mr. Lincoln was the nominee for the Republicans. Mr. Douglas lost through the division of his party, the southern wing having put John C. Breckinridge in nomination against him. Mr. Lincoln was inaugurated President March 4, 1861. The South seceded, then came four years Civil war, the emancipation of the skives, and after a most desperate struggle, in which many thousands of lives were sacrificed, the South surrendered, and the Union was again restored. Richard Yates became governor in 1861. He was the war governor, as during his administration the Civil war was fought and won. He was a vigilant, active and patriotic governor, who did not shrink from performing his whole duty in aiding the general government in its life and death struggle in maintaining the Union from secession. 259,092 soldiers were raised in the state for military service in suppressing the rebellion. Richard J. Oglesby became governor January 16, 1865. The war had closed, but there were grave matters yet to be settled, and Illinois must perform its full share. In January. 1867, the fourteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States, conferring citizenship upon persons without regard to color, was ratified by Illinois. Another measure was passed by the same Legislature, which was of great interest to the agricultural community, the establishing of an agricultural or industrial college at Urbana, in Iroquois county. Congress had made donations to the several states for the purpose, of which Illinois received nearly half a million acres. A new state house was provided for to be built at Springfield, the cost of which was not to exceed $3,000,000. January 1, 1869, John M. Palmer was inaugurated governor. The people of the state had voted to call a constitutional convention to revise the constitution of the state, and the delegates met in convention at Springfield, December 13th of that year. The most important change was that making it a fundamental law prohibiting special legislation, that having been the principal business of the legislatures of the state previous to that time. The constitution was ratified by the people July 2, 1870. The population of the state that year was 2,539,891.
The Great Chicago Fire
It was late on Sunday-evening, October 8, 1871, that a fire was discovered burning in a small stable west of the south branch of the river, and about a mile southwest of the business portion of the city. A strong wind was blowing from that direction, and soon the fire was communicated to the surrounding buildings, and spread rapidly toward the very heart of the city. The fire continued to advance and spread until nearly all of the business portion of the city was destroyed, and one hundred thousand people rendered homeless. The loss by fire was two hundred million dollars, while a large number of citizens lost their lives in the holocaust. The world at large came at once to the aid of the stricken city in its terrible distress. It was a dire calamity to the young and growing city, but its enterprising citizens rallied to the work of restoring it, and soon it arose from its ashes a better and more substantial city than before. Mr. Oglesby was re-elected for a second term, and on January 13, 1873, was duly inaugurated as governor. The session of the Legislature that met that month elected him Ignited States Senator, and John L. Beveridge, the lieutenant governor, then became governor. But little was done during his administration of note. The state continued to grow in population, its agricultural and commercial resources were developed and expanded, and the people of the state contented and prosperous. Shelby M. Cullom was duly elected governor at the November election in 1876, and inaugurated January 8, 1877. It was at that session of the Legislature that Gen. John A. Logan became involved in a contest for re-election as United States Senator. His opponent was Judge David Davis. Logan was the regular Republican candidate, while Davis was a Democrat. There were enough independents in the Legislature to hold the balance of power, and it was not until the fortieth ballot that the long contest was decided in favor of Judge Davis, and he became General Logan’s successor. It was during Governor Cullom’s term of office that the great railroad strike occurred. It began in Pittsburg, Pa., where the center of the various railroad employes was located, with branches all over the country. Illinois, as a great railroad state and mining center, felt the disturbances which reached every part of the state, and especially Chicago, where many of the railroads terminated. Troops were called out, the rioting quelled, and in a few days order was restored, and business began to enter its usual channels. The population of the state in 1880 was 3,077,871. Mr. Cullom was re-elected in 1880, and duly installed into office January 10, 1881. In his message to the Legislature, he favored the cession of the canal to the general government, but the Legislature failed to act on his recommendation at the regular session, but a special session was called by the governor for that purpose, and among other things of re-apportioning the state into congressional and senatorial districts, and at that session an act was passed ceding it to the general government. The government, however, never accepted the gift, nor took any steps whatever toward controlling it, and so the ceding came to naught. January 16, 1883, the Legislature elected Governor Cullom United States Senator, and it was at that session of that body the so-called Harper high license law was enacted, making the license for dram shops not less than $500, and $150 for the sale of malt and vinous liquors only. Richard J. Oglesby was elected governor in November, 1884, for the third time, and was sworn into office January 13, 1885. The great riot at Haymarket Square, Chicago, occurred May 4, 1886. A meeting was being held there by the labor element to consider the eight-hour question, and much noise and confusion took place. The police were called to quell the disturbance, and a bomb was thrown among them. Seven of their number were killed instantly and many wounded. Eight of the rioters were arrested for the crime, tried, found guilty, and seven of them sentenced to be hung, while the eighth was sentenced to the penitentiary for fifteen years. One of the prisoners committed suicide while in jail, four were hung, and the sentence of the other two was commuted to imprisonment for life. On January 14, 1889, Joseph W. Fifer was inaugurated as governor, and it was at that session of the Legislature that the sanitary district of Chicago was created and the construction of the drainage canal ordered.
The great Columbian exposition was to be held at Chicago in 1893, and the Legislature was convened in the summer of 1890, to grant to the government the authority to hold it there, and also to grant such other aid as was deemed necessary to hold the celebration and enable it to be devoted to exposition purposes. The population of the state in 1890 was 3,826,351. John P. Altgeld was elected governor in 1892. He was the first foreign born governor of the state, having been born in Germany in 1848. He was the first democratic governor since the election of Governor Matteson in 1852. About his first acts after being installed into office was the pardoning of the Haymarket Square prisoners, then confined in the penitentiary. This act provoked a large amount of criticism from ail classes all over the state, and even in other states, and so bitter was the feeling for this act of clemency on the part of the governor that it hopelessly divided his party, and he was most overwhelmingly defeated for re-election. During his administration the World’s Columbian exposition, before alluded to, took place in Chicago. It was opened May 1 and closed at the end of October. The exposition was a great success in every particular and reflected much credit upon its managers. John R. Tanner was the next governor and was inaugurated in January, 1897. The Cuban war, so-called, occurred during his administration, which resulted in wresting that island from Spanish rule and giving it independence, and also the acquisition of Porto Rico and the Philippine islands to the American government.
The Cuban War
The destruction of the warship Maine while on a friendly visit in Havana harbor, and the great loss of American seamen, was the direct cause for the declaration of war with Spain. The news of the terrible tragedy, as they were flashed across the wires, aroused the nation to activity to avenge the insult to the nation’s flag, and steps were at once taken to investigate the cause of the destruction of the vessel and the blame was laid upon the Spanish authorities. A demand was made upon Spain for a redress of the wrong. She refused to admit any liability in the catastrophe, and the war was the result. Troops were at once called for by the president, and a noble response was made by every state in the union. Seven regiments was the quota assigned to Illinois and these were quickly raised and sent to the front, where they performed most excellent service for their country.
State Historical Society
On May 23, 1900, the Illinois State Historical society was incorporated with the following object: “To excite and stimulate a general interest in the history of Illinois; to encourage historical research and investigation, and secure its promulgation; to collect and preserve all forms of historical data in any way connected with Illinois and its people.” The population of the state in 1900 was 4,821,550. Richard Yates was inaugurated as governor of the state in January, 1901. He was the first native born governor, having been born in Jacksonville, Illinois, December 12, 1860. The legislature that met in January, 1901, re-apportioned the state into twenty-five congressional and fifty-one senatorial districts and appropriated $250,000 for the purpose of erecting a building and presenting exhibits of the state at the Louisiana Purchase exposition, to be held in St. Louis in 1904. Charles S. Deneen was elected governor in November, 1904, and was duly installed into office in January, 1905. He was the second native born governor and was born at Edwardsville, Illinois, May 4, 1863. He is a graduate of McKendree college and the Union College of Law, now the Northwestern Law School. Governor Deneen is the present incumbent of that office.
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.