“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” sang the bard of Stratford-on-Avon. This township was erst known as Trenton’s name bestowed by William Nelson, the first Supervisor after township organization. When Will County adopted township organization, there not being a sufficient number of voters in this to form a township, it and Greengarden were embraced in one, under the name of Trenton, after the town in which Mr. Nelson had resided in New York. In 1853, the population having sufficiently increased, the two towns were separated, and the name of Manhattan was proposed by John Young, Esq., the first Supervisor of this one, and no objection being made by Nelson, it was duly named for the island of the Knickerbockers, since which time it has been known as Manhattan Township, 34 north, Range 11 east. It is a beautiful undulating prairie, lying in gentle eminences, having much the appearance of the swell of the ocean after a storm has passed away. No timber breaks the monotony of the prairie, except Five-Mile Grove, and which comprises less than a section of land. It is thoroughly an agricultural region, than which there is none better in Will County, with no towns or villages, or manufactories to interfere with the farming interests. Its population, in 1870, was 922 souls.
The first settler in Manhattan Township was Orin Stevens, but of him little can now be learned further than that he had made a settlement at Five-Mile Grove. He was keeping a sort of tavern there when the next settlers came in, in 1834. The Perkinses were the next to settle after Stevens, and consisted of Ephraim Perkins and four sons, viz., Orin, Edward, Ephraim and Pliny Perkins. They were from Trenton, N. Y., and Edward came out in June, 1834, and bought out the man Stevens. Where Stevens was from, when he settled at Five-Mile Grove, or what became of him after he sold out, are items of the township history lost in the things of the past. Edward Perkins was a single man when he first came to the settlement, but returned to New York in the Fall and married, and brought his young wife to the West. Jerrod Gage came about this time, and he and Perkins entered into partnership in the dairy business at Five-Mile Grove. The next Spring (1835), Perkins’ father and brothers came out, and also Gage’s father and his family. The elder Gage had been an extensive dairyman in “York State,” and being an ardent admirer of Henry Clay, the “Sage of Ashland” and renowned Kentucky statesman, once made for him a mammoth cheese, and presented it to him during one of his campaigns. When Edward Perkins returned from New York, after his marriage, he located for a time in Joliet, as noticed in that part of this work, and was interested with Dr. Bowen in his Addition to the city of Joliet. The elder Perkins and Gage are both long dead; Edward Perkins died in this township; Orin went to California during the gold fever, and when about to start for home, died; Pliny and Ephraim Perkins, Jr., are both living still in this State, but in what part our informant had forgotten. Hiram Harvey also settled at Five-Mile Grove, about 1835 or 1836, and was from the East, but what particular State we were unable to learn, nor do we know what became of him. These few settlements around Five-Mile Grove seem to have been all that were made in the township until a quite recent date, as compared to other portions of the county. As this little grove was the only timber in the town, and it required a score or two of years for the people to find out that the prairies were habitable, probably accounts for the long gap that occurred just here in the arrival of new-comers to this section, as the next we find coming in about 1847 and 1850, and which we will now notice.
John Young came from New York City in 1849, and settled in this township, where he remained until 1876, when he removed to Joliet. His son, Mansfield Young, a prosperous merchant of Joliet, married Miss Sarah Walker, daughter of Joseph Walker, of New York, who is said to have been a most amiable and lovely woman, beloved by all who knew her. She died in 1876, and he and his father (also a widower) now live together, the old and the young bereaved ones forming a single family. Samuel Bowen and his two sons were from the Quaker State of William Penn, and came also in 1849. Bowen had first settled in Jackson Township, where he remained some time before coming to Manhattan. He has been dead some years. Bryan Gorivan and son settled in the town in 1848. They were from Ould Ireland, the “blissed Gim of the Say,” are still living, and are prosperous farmers of the community, Martin Bergen was also from Ireland, and came to the country a poor man, but went to work, and by industry and energy became the owner of about six hundred acres of fine land, and amassed considerable other property; was honored with office, and had been for some time School Treasurer of the township, when he suddenly decamped, and his business was found to be in rather a deranged ondition. His accounts as School Treasurer were short a thousand or two, but so secured that nothing was lost. His neighbors, who speak of him in indly terms, seem to wonder at his going away when he apparently had sufficient property to liquidate all his liabilities. Freeman Gay came from the bleak shores of the Pine-Tree State, about 1847 or 1848, and settled in this neighborhood, where he remained a number of years, and finally removed into Jackson Township. He is still living there, and is a wealthy farmer of that town.
William Nelson, a prominent citizen of the town in the early days, came here from Trenton, N. Y., but was an Englishman by birth. He settled in his section in 1848, and gave the town the name of Trenton, when it and Greengarden were known as one township, as noticed in the beginning of this chapter. He sold out, some years ago, and removed into Jackson Township,, where he still resides. William and Charles Bissett were from Bonny Scotland, and came to the settlement in 1848. Charles died in a short time after their settlement here. William went to California during the gold excitement of 1849 and 1850, where he still lived the last known of him. A man named Borders settled here in 1849. He was from Ohio, and did not remain long in the settlement. What became of him no one knows or seems to care, as he was, to use a Southern phrase, “small potatoes” anyway, it was said.
Clarke Baker came from New York, and bought land here in 1847, but did not settle on it until 1850. He is still living, an active, energetic man of fourscore and two years, and is one of the respected citizens and wealthy farmers of the township. He is the present Supervisor, an office he has held for several years, as will be found on another page. This comprises a number of the first settlers of Manhattan Township up to a period when the tide of immigration poured in with a rapidity defying the power of the historian to keep pace with names and dates. When township organization went into effect, in 1850, there were but ten legal voters in the territory now comprised in Manhattan Township, and, as already stated, was not sufficient to form a township of itself, but was, with Greengarden, known as Trenton Township, and so remained until 1853, when they were separated and organized under their present names. William Nelson was the first Supervisor of Trenton Township, and held the office in 1850; was succeeded by M. Bailey, who served during 1851 and 1852, when the towns were divided, and John Young elected Supervisor of Manhattan for 1853. Clarke Baker was elected in 1854, and held it for two years, when Mr. Young was reflected, and held the office from 1856 to 1860, inclusive. In 1861, Clarke Baker was again elected and also in 1862, and in 1863, was succeeded by G. A. Buck, who served until 1865, when J. E. Baker was elected, serving from 1865 to 1869, inclusive. G. A. Buck was then re-elected, and served 1870-72, and was succeeded by S. Robinson, in 1873-74, when Clarke Baker was again elected, and has held the office ever since. Other township officers are Clarke Baker and Hiram Olney, Justices of the Peace; Hiram Olney, Town Clerk; Michael Haley, Constable, and George A. Buck, School Treasurer.
As recent as the settlement of Manhattan Township has been, the early record of mortality is somewhat cloudy and vague. The first death of which we have been able to learn definitely was that of Charles Bissett, who is noticed as settling here in 1848, and who, it is said, died in a year or two afterward. A child of Stephen Bowen was born in 1850, and was probably the first, or, at least, the first in what might be termed the second era of settlements in the town. It might be claimed that Edward Perkins was the first settler of the township to perpetrate matrimony, though he married in New York. But to come down to a more modern date, George A. Buck and Miss Sarah Baker were married at quite an early day. We do not give these, however, as being the first births, deaths and marriages which actually occurred in the town, and are inclined to think they are not; but they are the first of which we have been able to learn anything definite. It is altogether probable that, with many German and Irish immigrants coming in, there were births at an earlier date than those given. But it is stated by some of the early settlers that children were rather scarce in Manhattan in the early days of its settlement, and that it was long before there were enough to form a school. Mr. Young, who had resided n New York City, where the crop of juvenility was ponderous, says his wife was often annoyed there by the noise and racket of children in their neighborhood; but used to say frequently, after she had been “here a spell,” that she would give much to hear the noise of children at play.
The first Justice of the Peace in the township was William Bissett, and received the office in 1849, but did not hold it long, as he sold out in 1850 and went to California. The first blacksmith-shop was kept by a man named Cunningham, in 1851. Where Cunningham came from, or whither he went, no one can now tell. There is no village in Manhattan Township, nor has there never been a store within its borders, nor a post office established for its particular benefit. But very recently Greengarden post office was moved over, just beside of the Manhattan line. Joliet is the point of traffic of its citizens, and the post office where the large majority of them get their mail matter. It is there they haul their grain and other farm produce, and hence, stores and post offices have not been at all required in their town, and would not, perhaps, be much patronized if they were as plenty as Falstaff’s blackberries.
The first and the only church structure ever erected in Manhattan Township, is the Episcopal Church, built in 1857, under the ministerial charge of Rev. Clinton Locke, who at the time was Rector of the Episcopal Church in Joliet, and now of Grace Church, Chicago, and whom we noticed as officiating n the reception of President Hayes in his recent visit to Chicago. The church edifice is a frame, and cost about $1,500. Some dozen or twenty families worship there at the present time under the pastorate of Rev. A. W. Glass. Other religious organizations have regularly established societies in the township, and hardly a schoolhouse but serves as a temple of worship and for Sunday schools, but there are no other church edifices. The first schoolhouse was built in 1852, and in it was taught the first school in the township. For as before stated, there were but few children in the settlement for several years, and consequently not much need felt for schoolhouses. In 1872, a little more than a score of years after the second era of immigration set in, we find the town contained eight school districts and eight good, substantial schoolhouses. There were 416 pupils enrolled and 13 teachers employed; the district tax levy for the support of schools was $1,135.22, and $1,422.35 the amount paid to teachers. Ihe schools of Manhattan are in a flourishing state; each district has a good, comfortable schoolhouse; the best of teachers are employed, and school maintained for the usual number of months each year.
When Mr. Young settled in Manhattan Township, in 1849, there was not, he informed us, a rod of fence in the town, but a little in Five-Mile Grove, where Mr. Baker had bought land. Aside from that little bunch of timber, it was an unbroken prairie, well set in tall, waving grass, overtopped with wild-flowers, and presenting a picture of beauty equal to the most extravagant ideas of the Western prairies to be obtained from the New York Ledger and kindred publications. The town is sufficiently rolling to drain well; in fact, there is not a section but that is capable of being well drained. It is irrigated by Jackson and Mud Creeks, two small brooklets that usually go dry in the Summer season, but sometimes in long “rainy spells” get on the rampage and become rather boisterous streams. There are no mills in this town, nor railroads, and as before stated, no villages or cities, or “corner lots,” and hence, there is very little in the way of history pertaining to it, beyond the mere fact of its settlement, and that of its being, as already noted, one of the finest agricultural districts in the county. Although originally settled by New Yorkers, and other Eastern people, the foreign population has rather the ascendency at present. The German and Irish elements are well represented, and can boast of many excellent and wealthy farmers.
As showing the importance of Manhattan as an agricultural community, we present the following statistics from the last Assessor’s books:
—- – ACRES. – BUSHELS.
Corn – 8,371 – 210,330 Oats – 3,857 – 16,510 Irish Potatoes – …. – 5,880 Apple Orchards – 135 – …. Flaxseed – …. – 231 TONS. Timothy Meadow – 2,063 – 2,500 Prairie Meadow – 2,101 – 2,643 Pasture – 5,959 (not including woodland.) No. pounds wool shorn – 160 lbs. No. of Fat Sheep sold – 15 head. No. of Cows kept – 557 head. No. Fat Cattle sold – 107 – average weight, 1,000 lbs. per head. No. Fat Hogs ” – 1,408-average weight, 250 lbs. per head.
From the above figures it will be seen that Manhattan is an excellent farming district, and does its part in swelling the agricultural resources of the county.
The political record of Manhattan is Democratic by a very small majority, or has been, until the present “shaking of the dry bones of the valley” caused by the National Greenbackers, and just now it appears somewhat uncertain as to what a day may bring forth. The township bore a good record in the late war, as is shown by reference to the “Patriotism of Will County.” As the deeds of its soldiers are perpetuated in the pages of that work, we shall not go into details of their war history here. They bore the perils of the war for the Union, and we will pass from the subject, with this tribute to those who sleep their last long sleep:
“Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud, A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave, Man passes from life to his rest in the grave.”
Source: LeBaron, William, Jr. History of Will County, Illinois. Chicago: William LeBaron, Jr. & Co. 1878.