Past and Present of Will County, Illinois
By W. W. Stevens
President of the Will County Pioneers Association
Assisted by an Advisory Board,
consisting of Hon. James G. Elwood, James H. Ferriss,
William Grinton, Mrs. Kate Henderson and A. C. Clement
Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Dedicated to the Pioneers of Will County
When the county was organized in 1836, what is now Crete and Monee were joined together as one voting precinct, and called Thorn Creek precinct. But in 1850, when the towns in the county were organized under the new state constitution, they were separated and the township of Crete was organized as a voting precinct, and Nicholas Brown was elected the first supervisor. The voting place was established in Crete village, that being the nearest the center of the township.
The township is situated in the extreme eastern part of the county, bordering on the Indiana state line. It is a large township, having forty-five sections, or nine more than an ordinary or congressional township. Washington township, lying south of Crete, is of the same size. It is described as town 34, range 14, east of the third p. m. The township originally was quite heavily timbered, having some ten or twelve sections of timber in it before the early settlers denuded it of its timber for building and fuel. It is said that the first settlers who built their cabins in the timber actually cleaned the land of trees in order to make farms rather than plow up the prairie. They came from the east, where it was all timber, and they took it for granted that none but timbered land would raise good crops.
The soil in a large proportion of the township is a stiff clay, entirely different from that of prairie soil generally. It makes excellent land for grazing and, being well watered with small creeks, is largely used for that purpose. Though fine crops are raised in some portions of the township, at an early day there was a large marsh in the southeastern part of the township, but that has been successfully drained and is now an excellent farming district.
There were three original settlements in the town. They were Thorn Creek, Beebe's Grove and Wood's Corners, afterward known as the Village of Crete. None of them ever became known except as settlements, except Wood's Corners, which has increased in wealth and population until now it is the largest village in the eastern part of the county. The first settlement in the town was that of David Haner, in Thorn Grove, which was in 1834. There are some who came there about that time, but they did not remain long, but Mr. Haner became a permanent resident and lived there many years. He died there about the year 1850. He was from New York and the first constable in that part of the county. James Rice came there the year following from Indiana and also William Brooks from the state of New York. The same year that Mr. Rice came there his son, James Rice, Jr., was born, and in a short time the father died, and those were the first recorded birth and death in the township. A. R. Starr and Erastus Cole both came from New York in 1835 and settled near the Grove. They died there many years ago.
Wood's Corners was located on the state road that had been laid out through that part of the county. Willard Wood was the man who located there in 1836, and for whom the place was named. In 1849 he platted and laid out the village and gave it the name Crete. He taught the first school in town in the winter of 1837-8, and in 1840 was appointed school treasurer. He was for many years one of the leading men of the town. He was elected a justice of the peace soon after coming there, and that office he held for more than forty years. He was supervisor of his town several times and always performed his official duties with the strictest integrity. He died at his home in Crete, November 24, 1899.
Luman Hewes came from Vermont with his family and settled in the town in 1837. The family was ever a prominent one in the town, and some of the sons are well and favorably known throughout the county.
Enoch Dodge came from New Hampshire in 1838 and settled a little west of Wood's Corners. He died there many years ago, but a son, John Dodge, still resides on the old homestead.
Asa Lyttle, also from Vermont, settled in the same neighborhood the same year. A Mr. Boardman and Benjamin Stafford were both settlers there about that time. Over in the eastern part of the township there was quite a settlement formed in 1834.
Minoris Beebe came there that year and was the first pioneer. There was quite a stretch of timber there, which afterwards went by the name of Beebe's Grove. He was a man of worth and intelligence, and for many years a justice of the peace. Soon after came Hardin Beebe, an uncle of Minoris, and father of Judge Beebe, formerly of Kankakee. Quartos Marsh, with his five sons, Edwin, Jonathan, Henry, Nelson and Frank, came the year following and settled at the Grove. The family was one of more than ordinary intelligence and highly respected. Major John Kyle came from Vermont to the Grove in 1836, but died shortly after reaching there. His son, Merrill Kyle, was a colonel in the Civil war. He is now a resident of Cook county.
Mr. J. E. Burritt and son, Elisha, and son-in-law, Henry Mulligan, and Norman Northrup, all came together from Connecticut. Mr. Mulligan shortly after removed with his family upon the bluff west of Lockport. Frank Shipmen and James L. Dean came there from New York. Mr. Frank was the first postmaster in the township, and when the postoffice at Endor, near the Grove, was established, he was commissioned to take charge of it. Mr. Dean was one of the first to leave for the gold diggings in California, but never lived to reach there, having died while on the way.
The first minister of the gospel to arrive in town was Rev. David Ripley, a Congregationalist, from Connecticut. He came there in the fall of 1838 and preached occasionally that winter. The following spring he organized a society and that was the first church organization in the township. Hiram Rowley and James Pease came in 1836 from New York. They were young men of good address and habits and soon became quite popular. Mr. Pease carried the first mail from Chicago to Iroquois county in the fall of 1836, at which time postoffices were established at Crete and Endor. Moses Cook and John Williamson came there in the fall of 1838, as also did Samuel, or as he was better known Deacon Gushing, from New York. He was a most bitter abolitionist and when the anti-slavery movement was started he was one of the very first to join in it. His hatred of slavery was the cause of getting him into much trouble, but he never shrank from fulfilling his duty as he understood it, on that account. When the underground railroad was established for bringing the slave from bondage to a free country, he was one of the first conductors on it, and he made his house one of the stations on it. He claimed to have helped eighty or ninety fugitives to freedom over his line. He would receive the slave from the other conductor farther to the south, conceal him in the loft of his cabin until dark, and then take him over into Crown Point and have him for the next agent of the line to see that he was forwarded on his road towards Canada.
In 1843 the Deacon was indicted for concealing and harboring slaves. It was in the Will County Circuit court. C. C. Van Horne was foreman of the grand jury and on the panel were many old and well known citizens of that day. Among them were John Runyon, J. S. Reynolds, Robert Strong, James Walker, Asher Holmes, George Woodruff, Horace Messenger and Reuben Willard. The Deacon was arrested, taken to Joliet for trial and was intending to plead guilty, but it was found that the prosecuting attorney was not ready for a trial. So immediate trial was demanded and a nolle pros was entered and he was allowed to return home and resume his former occupation of harboring and concealing slaves. At the same session of court the same grand jury indicted Col. Peter Stewart of Wilmington for a like offense and with the same result.
The younger reader may look upon the above as a somewhat strange in a court of justice, but in those days they were common proceedings all over the country. Thousands of the slaves of the south ran away from their masters and on reaching the free states there were those in every community who would aid them in obtaining their freedom.
In this connection we will relate an anecdote of a well known and intensely bitter anti-slavery man who would spend days to assist the slave to gain his freedom and give liberally of his substance to help him on his way, but would never allow one of them to ever come near his house. He had a wire attached to a bell, and then the wire was stretched along a fence to a corner some distance from the house. That was the station. The slave, or whoever was with him, would go to the corner and pull the wire, and an immediate response was the result from the man who could take his team, and a supply of provisions, and take the runaway to the next station on the line, and that was kept up year after year. But this man capped the climax after the war was over and the slave free, by opposing to him citizenship and the right to vote. He was most bitter in his objections to that amendment to the Constitution, and when finally it became a law, and the colored man became a voter, then the man refused to go to the polls to vote. He said it was all right to free them, but he would never be seen voting with them.
The first native of Germany and the forerunner of the large number that have since made Crete their home, was William Rinne. He settled out on a prairie, and for an abode had one of the most primitive of any seen there before or since. It was simply a square hole dug in the ground, over which long poles were laid, and upon those sods of prairie grass. In that hole he burrowed for several years, working in the meantime and saving until he got enough to not only pay for his land, but to build himself a comfortable dwelling. John O. Meier, another German, came to the town in 1844. He was a man of intelligence, and was elected as the supervisor of his town for several years. He died October 3rd, 1901.
John O. Piepenbrink was another of the better class of Germans to make Crete his home. He was was not only a man of integrity, but thrifty, and so managed his business as to become one of the wealthiest men in town. His son, Henry, was for at least one term, sheriff of the county, and is now one of the most prominent of the citizens of Joliet. Mr. Piepenbrink died January 24th, 1900.
John and Christopher Schweir, and Conrad Tatge, also from German land, settled there with Mr. Piepenbrink in 1849. The Schweirs prospered as farmers, while Mr. Tatge went into business in the village. Through his influence a large sash, door and blind factory was established there and did a prosperous business for many years. Mr. Tatge was circuit clerk of the county for eight years, and he made a good one. He was very instrumental in bringing his countrymen into town, and what was once a town settled almost entirely by people from New England and New York, became altogether German in settlement, and so continues to the present time. Among the first of the merchants of the village was Gustavus Brauns, who built a store in the village, and was quite successful as a merchant.
Dr. Joseph Perry came there in 1854, and commenced the practice of medicine, and continued it for many years. He died there many years ago. Among other Germans who came there at an early day, mostly before 1850, are John Wineheim, Conrad Weinhoffer, Henry Scheiwe, Henry Ohlendorf, Conrad Hecht and Christopher Butterman. April 11th, 1840, the township was divided into three school districts, and three school trustees were elected, Luman Hewes, M. H. Cook and Norman Northrup. Willard Wood was elected school treasurer. Beebe's Grove was district No. one, Thorn Grove No. two, and No. three took in all of the south half of the township.
With the first settlements made, religious societies were formed, and soon churches were erected.
The first Society formed was the Congregational at Beebe's Grove, by Rev. David Ripley in 1839, with the following as members: Nathaniel Frank and wife, Mrs. Beebe, James Dean and wife, Moses Cooke and wife, John Kyle and mother, and Samuel Cushing. Some six years later a church of the same denomination was formed at Thorn Grove, by the Rev. E. C. Brige. Eight years later the two churches united, and erected a very handsome church building in the village of Crete at the expense of some $2,000.
The first Methodist Society was organized in Thorn Grove in 1836, and consisted of fifteen members. Rev. Stephen R. Beggs, the pioneer Methodist preacher, was the leader in the movement. It was simply a class for religious intercourse. But in 1852 a church was organized and a building erected in the village. The church since first formed has prospered, and is now one of the most flourishing religious organizations in Eastern Will county.
The German Lutheran denomination has been exceedingly prosperous. The first society was formed in 1849 by Rev. C. Weil, who preached there a year. He was succeeded by Rev. August Selle, who was with the church for eight years. Their present house of worship was erected in 1860. It stands a mile south of the village, and is a handsome building for the place. The society also owns two school houses, one of them southeast of the village, and the other southwest. Each of the school houses and the church have ten acres of land. By special agreement with the school authorities of the township, they have a school in the public school building in the village, where the German language is taught and some of the primary branches of the common schools. When the church was organized it had thirteen families, as members, while now there are nearly one hundred and fifty families connected with the church and contribute towards its support.
The Albright Evangelical church, which is located in the southwestern part of the township, was formed in 1856 by Rev. George Fetters, and with twelve families. The church membership is still a small one, as the German Lutherans are largely in the majority in that vicinity, and hence monopolizes to a great extent the religious faith of the people.
In 1850, the township of Crete was organized and embraced the two towns of Crete and Washington.
The first township election held April 2d, of that year, Moses H. Cook was elected moderator, and E. W. Beach, secretary of the meeting. And then there was a most singular proceeding for a town meeting, for the moderator and secretary were actually sworn into office by Marsh, a Justice of the Peace. At that election there were 109 votes cast, and the following were declared duly elected to the several offices. N. Brown, supervisor, Z. Henderson, town clerk, J. Luce, assessor, D. Wilkins, collector, Horace Adams, overseer of the poor: Alman Wilder, S. W. Chapman and William Hewes, commissioners of highways; H. E. Barrett and O. H. Barrett, constables and H. Sprague and J. Marsh, justices of the peace.
The town has greatly increased in population since its organization, it being at the time of taking the last census 2,240, while the vote cast at the last presidential election was 416, 320 of which were for the republican ticket, and 96 democratic.
The only market the town had prior to 1869, was Chicago, or over to Monee where the Illinois Central road passed, but in that year the Chicago & Eastern Illinois railroad was completed through the village, and a station located there, and also one in the southwest corner of the town, and named Goodenow, in honor of George W. Goodenow, a former well-known resident of that part of the town.
The township in the early days had many swamps or sloughs in it, but these have all been successfully drained, and those places are now the most productive of any land in the township. There is still considerable timber in the town, but it is all small or second growth, and will hardly compare with the magnificent oaks, hickories and walnuts of sixty or seventy years ago.
The village was laid out in 1849 by Willard Wood, it being a part of the farm he located when he went there in 1836. He built a hotel on the corner where the present hotel is located, which was known at the time as "Wood's Tavern." The building was a log structure, but served its purpose for many years, and often accommodated many guests. This was afterwards removed and a frame building erected in 1865. In 1873, the main portion of the present hotel was erected by the Hewes brothers, who occupied it for several years for the accommodation of the public.
The first merchant in the village was H. H. Huntley, who opened his store soon after the village was platted. Z. Henderson came there the year following, and opened a store, and as he was the year following elected the town clerk, it gave him quite a business, as almost everyone in those parts had more or less business with that official.
Dr. H. H. Hitchcock was the first physician in the village, coming there in 1848 or 1849. Several years later he removed to Chicago, and Dr. G. W. Minard took his place.
The postoffiee was established there in 1836, as before stated, and was named Crete. When the village was laid out by Mr. Wood in 1849, it was named Crete Village, and then in 1850, when the township was organized, that was named the township of Crete. The village is one of the prettiest, as well as cleanest in the County. Its citizens are all well to do, are enterprising and take much pride in making it a model as well as a clean, healthy place.
MASONIC. The Masonic fraternity have a flourishing lodge there in the village. It was chartered October 4th, as Crete Lodge, No. 763, A. F. & A. M. The following are the present officers of the lodge: William C. Trowbridge, W. M.; Jesse E. Peck, S. W.; Ora M. Shreve, J. W.; Samuel Rose, treasurer; Anton S. Rasing, secretary; W. R. Trowbridge, S. D.; Claude M. Nixon, J. D.; Chas. L. Pease, Tyler.
THE SCHOOLS IN TOWNSHIP AND VILLAGE.
Number of pupils enrolled in 1906, 187
Number of school districts, 7
Number of teachers, 10
Number of graded schools, 1
Number of ungraded, 6
Number of pupils enrolled in 1876, 280
Loss in thirty years, 93