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
This township was set off from Wilmington in 1851. Previous to that time it was known only as Starrs Grove. In fact up to about that time there were few settlements in the township except in and around the little grove of a few acres in the northwest corner of the township. The first of the pioneers to settle there took it for granted that land that was too poor to raise trees was too poor to raise anything else. But the pioneer soon learned that the open prairie was the best for farms. The timber was all right for shelter and fuel but the prairie was by far the best for farms. Florence is one of the very best farming towns in the county. There is no poor land in the township and it is now in the very fore front of the farming community. In fact the prices for farms in the township are as high as in any town in the county except near Joliet where the facilities for market are better and there is more of a demand for farm lands. The whole township is devoted to farming. There is a small village on the Wabash railroad in the eastern part of the township where there is a grain warehouse, a store or two and a few dwellings and that is all. The most of the trading done by the farmers is in Wilmington which has a better market where they can dispose of their produce.
The township has but two small streams of water in it and these are Prairie creek and a branch of Forked Creek. These afford ample facilities for watering stock for those farmers who live near them. Stone was formerly quarried in places for foundations to buildings but it was of a very poor quality and is now pretty much abandoned.
The first actual settler in the township was Lewis Linebarger who came from Indiana in the spring of 1831. He first went to Jackson's Grove but after prospecting for a few days around the country he concluded that Starrs Grove was the best place and so settled there. He built a log cabin for himself and family and was soon occupying it as the pioneer settler of the township. He did not however remain there long but soon removed over into Reed's Grove and from there a few years later he removed to Oregon. Arthur Potts came there in 1S34 and bought Linebarger's claim and that was his home until 1855 when he sold out and removed to Iowa.
John Kahler came there a year later and lived in the vicinity for many years. James Martin a native of the north of Ireland came to the township in 1836. He was one of the best and most substantial citizens of the township, a good farmer and a man of worth and ability. He assisted Dr. Bardin in the building of the first mill at Wilmington and was for years one of the school-trustees of his township. He died at his home there in 1861. James W. Martin a son of his who was a native of that township, but now a resident of Joliet, has for many years been one of the most prominent men in the county, having filled the office of county treasurer for several terms.
A year later Daniel Stewart and Duncan McIntyre came there, the latter taking up a claim in section 28. Daniel Stewart remained in the township but a few years when he removed to Wilmington and by business thrift and good investments accumulated a large amount of property. He died in 1875. In 1841 Walter Monteith came to the township. The year previous he had spent in Joliet at work in Matteson's woolen factory. When the township was formed in 1854 he was the first supervisor. He died in 1860.
Charles Starr in whose honor the little grove was named was a native of Nova Scotia and came there in 1842. The late Charles R. Starr of Kankakee was his son. He died January 25, 1874, at the age of 98 years. Isaac Jackson, another native of Nova Scotia, came there about the same time Starr did and settled at the Grove. He was a Quaker preacher although not always agreeing with his brethern in the faith upon all points of the Orthodox Quakers. Before removing from his native land he had built, at his own expense, a small church in which he preached his peculiar doctrines free to all who would come and hear him. He was a most devout and firm believer in the doctrine that the Gospel should be preached to all of God's creatures without money and without price. After settling in Florence he preached in the school houses in the neighborhood and had many followers who not only told the truth, but firmly believed his own sayings. Mr. Jackson was a great mechanical genius and could make almost to perfection any article needed about the house. He died there in 1875 at the advanced age of ninety years. Enoch Jackson, a son of the Quaker preacher, lives on the old place and enjoys the happy distinction of not only being the oldest justice of the peace in the county, but also of having served continually the most years.
Up to the year 1848 several permanent settlements had been made in the town, among them being John Jordon, Rufus Corbett, George A. Grey, Adam White, Edward Gurney, the Baskerville family, Lelah and Leonard Morey, William Barrett, Dr. E. H. Strong, Adam White and sons John and James, C. G. Jewell, R. H. Nott, Andrew Layton, Henry Hand and Hezekiah Warner. Those coming to the township soon after were George Munroe, John Hayden, Royal Corbin, William Nelson, Peter Oelhues, Wesley Cook, John M. White, William Kerr, Joseph Shirk and David Forsythe. To Henry Althouse is given the credit of starting the first school in the township. He had a large family of children of his own and one or two more from the neighbors made up quite a school. Althouse hired a young lady not only to teach the school, but also to help in the care of them and thus she served in the double capacity of school teacher and nursery maid. The first school authorized by the township was in the winter of 1842-43. It was a small school of only six scholars and lasted only thirty-five days. The teacher, a Miss Sarah Fisher of Wilmington, received less than two dollars a week and "boarded round."
In 1845 those living at or near Starr's Grove had a school district formed and built a small school house in the Grove in 1849. Previous to that the schools had been taught in a room in some private house. James Martin, John Kahler and William Vander Bogart were the first school trustees in the township.
There are now eight excellent schools taught in the township, with 171 scholars attending them.
In 1850 Florence was formed into a township with Wesley and Wilmington for voting purposes, and John Frazin elected the first supervisor. But in 1851 the township determined to have a "government of its own" and so petitioned the board of supervisors to be formed into a township by its self and the favor was granted. April 1 of that year an election was held and forty-two votes cast and the following were elected to the respective offices: W. W. Montieth, supervisor; William Yander Bogart, assessor: Leonard Morey, clerk; C. G. Jewell, R. H. Nott and G. A. Gray, "highway commissioners; Charles Starr and H. Warner, justices of the peace; Henry Hand and Andrew Lay-ton, constables; and Rufus Corbett, overseer of the poor. John Hayden is the present supervisor of the township, having served in that capacity for several terms with marked credit and ability.
No township in the county excelled Florence in the great struggle of 1861-65 in the efforts of the country to maintain the union in proportion to its inhabitants. Every call for troops was nobly responded to and no draft was ever made in the township. Of those who so nobly responded to the call of their country and sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom were Walter Vander Bogart, killed by a shell; Charles Morey, died of disease; Henry Ohlhues, killed; Daniel Linebarger, killed; Norman Kahler, died of wounds; Thomas Martin, died in the army; Charles Jackson, died of disease in the army; Thomas Stewart, died of army disease; William and John Shoemaker, died of army disease; Albert Wilkins, died of disease; and Alman Merrill, killed.
We think that the only religious society in the township is the German Evangelical association, which was organized in the year 1866. Nicholas Wischie and wife, Henry and John Rockey and James Taylor were the first members. They met in school houses and in each others' residences until 1874, when they erected a very handsome frame church building on the southwest corner of section 10, very nearly in the center of the township, and the town hall was soon afterwards erected adjoining on the east.
The population of the township in 1900 was 760 and the highest vote cast was 186.
THE SCHOOLS IN THE TOWNSHIP.
Number of pupils enrolled in 1906, 171
Number of school districts, 8
Number of teachers, 8
Number of pupils in 1876, 267
Loss in thirty years, 96