In 1850, when the township of Wilton was formed, Town 33, Range 11, or what is now known as Peotone, contained only two voters, and it was, therefore, necessary to include it with some other township, and as Wilton was already pretty well settled, it was concluded to embrace within its limits the two Congressional towns. It was not until 1858 that the voting population of this section was considered sufficiently strong for separate organization.
During a period embraced between the years 1849 and 1858, about twenty-five families came to the township, most of whom became permanent settlers. Most of these, however, settled during the years 1855 to 1858. The most of the earliest settlers selected the little stream which flows through the township from the northeast to the southwest, and is a branch of Forked Creek.
In 1849, when some settlements had been already made in every adjoining township except Will, this locality was but just beginning to come into notice. The first actual settlers were Daniel B. Booth and James Allen, from Massachusetts. These two men made the first improvements in the township. Both located on the land now owned by Samuel Goodspeed, having entered one-half of Sections 19 and 30, through which, it will be noticed, Forked Creek runs. While he remained, he gave most of his attention to butter-making. It had not become generally understood that this land was well adapted for agricultural purposes, and Booth’s idea seems to have been that in pasturage was its principal value; and when he found his dairy business a failure, he resolved to dispose of his interest and remove to a more congenial clime. From here he removed to Joliet, in 1855, and from thence to Texas, where he has since died. Allen seems, also, to have been dissatisfied with the country, as he stayed but a few years, and returned to the East.
These two men could scarcely be deemed permanent Settlers, and are hardly deserving of that credit. The year 1855 is, in reality, the year from which the real prosperity and substantial settlement of the township dates. In that year, Ralph Crawford, Samuel Goodspeed and the Cowing brothers came in and made improvements which have not only proved substantial, but which have increased in number and value. These men too, have stuck to the township, borne its burdens, and shared in its trials and all of its enterprises.
Crawford had really been in the township the year before, had bought his land, done some breaking, and made other improvements. He has been exceedingly prosperous, having accumulated a fortune since his location at this place.
Besides his fine farm, on which he lives, he has another farm in Texas of 32,000 acres. Mr. Crawford has always enjoyed the confidence and favor of all of the citizens of the township, and has been honored by them with almost every office and honorable position within their gift.
As before intimated, Samuel Goodspeed bought the interest of Booth. He settled on the place in the Spring of 1855, where he has resided ever since, Mr. Goodspeed had lived in the county twenty years prior to his removal to Peotone Township, having settled in Plainfield in 1835. He has proved to be one of the most substantial citizens of this portion of the county, and has filled almost every position of honor and trust, and that to his own credit and the satisfaction of the people. He was Moderator of the first township meeting, in 1858, one of the first three School Trustees, in 1859, and has held various other offices since.
John C. and James H. Cowing have been amongst the most substantial inhabitants of this vicinity. They had also been in the State some years, but were originally from New Hampshire. James H. Cowing has been dead about ten years. John C. was one of the first three Commissioners of Highways, and is serving in that capacity at this time.
John Noland and Daniel Gleason, two Irishmen, and brothers-in-law, were here in 1855. They both removed from the township but a short time since. Poland still owns a farm here.
P. Armstrong, now of Peotone, came with Goodrich as a laborer, and entered some land, but gave it up and removed to the village. The next year, 1856, Arnold, Tobias and Cornelius Fahs, Moses Wright, Milton Smith and James F. Johnson made their advent. The Fahs brothers were from Maryland, Wright from New York, and Smith and Johnson from Michigan. Of the Fahses, only Tobias still resides here. Cornelius is dead, and Arnold removed to Chicago two or three years after his settlement here. After removing to Chicago, Arnold Fahs engaged in the lumber trade, from which he realized a large fortune. He died at that place about two years ago. Moses Wright was elected first Supervisor and first Assessor in 1858, and the next year returned to Michigan, from whence he had come. Milton Smith was an enterprising man. He died eight or nine years ago, and his family removed to Iowa. James F. Johnson continued to reside here until a year ago, when he sold out and removed to Kansas.
George Reynolds and William W. Kelly settled here in 1857, the former coming from New York and the latter from Boston. Both Reynolds and Kelly have since removed to Chicago. The above, with Thomas Lockey, Smith Shaw and William P. Benn, are all that are now remembered who became permanent residents before 1858, at which date the village of Peotone commenced to grow. From that date, for a number of years, the township settled rapidly. Indeed, at that date, nearly all of the land not held by the Illinois Central Railroad had been occupied by actual settlers or bought by speculators.
It was at that date that a move was made looking toward the separate organization of the eastern half of Wilton Precinct into a separate township. The usual formalities of signing and presenting a petition to the County Board having been observed, and an order from that body having been obtained, the first annual township meeting was appointed for April 6, 1858. At this meeting, Samuel Goodspeed was elected Moderator, and George Reynolds, Clerk pro-tem. The oath was administered to the officers in charge of the election by Richard Constable, a Justice of the Peace, of Wilton. The result of the ballot was the election of Moses Wright, Supervisor; George Reynolds, Clerk; Moses Wright, Assessor; William W. Kelly, Collector; James H. Cowing, Overseer of the Poor; Milton Smith, James F. Johnson and John C. Cowing, Commissioners of Highways; Cornelius Fahs and Ralph Crawford, Justices of the Peace; and James Fahs and James H. Cowing, Constables. At that date there were in the township 25 voters. Since then, the township has cast as many as 237 votesan increase of nearly 1,000 per cent. The population was at that time about 125; the present population exceeds 1,200.
The present officers are: Michael Collins, Supervisor; William Young, Clerk; William Crawford, Assessor; Louis Gundlach, Collector; John Meyer, Jr., John C. Cowing and Henry Gintert, Commissioners of Highways; F. C. Hasenmeyer and Henry Joint, Constables; Louis Gundlach and David Morrison, Justices of the Peace; William Dunlap, Jonathan Dennis and D. L. Christian, School Trustees; and Peter Conrad, Treasurer.
In 1858, every township in Will County had established schools except Peotone. This was, previous to that date, entirely destitute of school accommodations. There were a few children sent to the township of Wilton, where schools had been in operation for eight or ten years; but the distance was so great that only during the finest weather could they be made available. A year after the organization of the township, however, a movement was made toward putting in operation the means for establishing schools in the midst of the settlements within the bounds of Peotone Township. On the 28th of February, 1859, the voters of the township met at the house of J. F. Johnson and elected Samuel Goodspeed, A. H. Fahs and Tobias Fahs, School Trustees; and by the Trustees, Ralph Crawford was elected Treasurer, which office he held for the next fourteen years. At the meeting just mentioned, the Trustees divided the township into four school districts. Two of these; the one in the Goodspeed neighborhood, and the other at the station, which was then attracting settlers, built houses and opened school the same year. The next year, the Third, and the next, the Fourth Districts established schools and built houses. Both of the first schoolhouses are still in usethe one for the purpose for which it was erected, the other, with some additions, doing duty as a church.
By 1866, the number of districts was increased to six, and in all except one were school-buildings. At that time, which was seven years after the first steps were taken to establish the system in the township, there were 453 persons under 21 years of age, 301 of whom were entitled to the benefits of the common-school system, being between the ages of 6 and 21 years. Of these, 248 were reported as having attended school the previous year. The people of the township were at that time making up for lost time, 248 persons out of 301 being a large proportion for a newly-formed township. Another seven years, we find, has increased the number of schools to 9, and the number of enrolled scholars to 366, out of 398, entitled to school privileges.
A few items taken from the report of the Treasurer to the County Superintendent of Schools for 1877, will doubtless prove interesting, especially as compared with the preceding figures:
Number of School Districts – 9 Number of persons under 21 – 791 Number of scholars enrolled – 427 Number of persons between 6 and 12 – 613 Highest wages paid any teacher, per month – $ 70 00 Whole amount paid teachers – 2,280 00 Total expenditure for school purposes – 3,380 00 Estimated value of school property – 10,000 00
In each district is to be found a comfortable schoolhouse, and, in several, are buildings that are a credit to the district. Nearly all are furnished with modern desks and apparatus, and we are credibly informed that the schools of this township are in a nourishing condition.
The people have provided well for the moral and religious instruction of themselves and of all who care to avail themselves of these privileges. Besides the churches of the village, mentioned elsewhere, there are three handsome church-buildings. The United Presbyterian Church was organized in 1860 by Rev. R. W. French, who was subsequently called to the pastorate in 1861, at which time he moved to the neighborhood. The original members were Thomas Luther, David Gilkerson and James E. Shaw, with other members of their families, and a few other persons, to the number of eighteen.
In 1867, the building was erected at an outlay of $3,600. It is a very neat and comfortable house, 30×45 feet in size, and well furnished throughout. The membership numbers at present about fifty. It is not as strong as at a former period, quite a number having withdrawn to unite with the Presbyterian Church of the village, and several families having removed to Kansas. Rev. R. W. French has been the Pastor ever since the organization of the Church. Sunday school is kept open during the Summer.
Wesley M. E. Church, of West Peotone, was organized in 1868, and a building erected in 1870, at an expense of $3,000. The building is 32×48 feet, and is a very neat and comfortable structure. Rev. R. Wright was the first minister who officiated as such in the new building. The present membership of the Church is about thirty, with Rev. N. Crichter as Pastor. Sunday school is kept open throughout the year; of this, William Crawford is Superintendent.
St. John’s German Evangelical Church, in the northern part of the township, was organized in 1866 by Rev. F. Baeber, with sixteen families. Mr. Baeber preached here a year and a half. The whole establishment consists of four acres of land, a parsonage, schoolhouse and church edifice. The parsonage was the first building erected in 1868. In this church, services were held with varying frequency, until 1871, when the building of the chapel was completed. In 1873, the schoolhouse was built. The buildings have costthe parsonage, $1,500; the church, $3,000, and the schoolhouse $400. The congregation consists at present, of about fifty families, of whom Rev. D. Behrens is Pastor and teacher. The school is kept open six months in the year, the children attending the public schools a portion of the time.
We would not forget that when the life of our country was in danger, in 1861-65, Peotone Township, though but illy able to contribute largely to its support in men or means, having been so recently settled, did her part and made several noble sacrifices; but, unfortunately, on account of a method which then prevailed, proper credits were never given, and many of their names appear in the Adjutant General’s Reports as credited to other towns. The township of Peotone is described in the Congressional survey as Town 33 north, Range 12 east of the Third Principal Meridian. It is bounded on the north by Greengarden, on the east by Will, on the south by Kankakee County, and on west by Wilton Township. The township is not greatly diversified in soil or surface, but is mostly of a rich, deep soil and a slightly rolling surface, broken only by the two creeks which flow through it. There are no native groves of timber; but on many of the older farms are to be seen fine little groves of soft maple, elm and poplar, planted by the early settlers. The products of the township are those common to most parts of the county, and consist of corn, hay, oats and rye. Within the last year or two, considerable attention has been given to the dairy business, and the result has been the establishing by Messrs. Conrad & Son, of a cheese-factory, a half-mile west of the village of Peotone.
The factory was built this year, and business began August 5. The buildings are commodious and well adapted to the purpose for which they are designed. The cost of buildings and machinery was $4,000. They began operations with the consumption of 2,000 pounds of milk per day. The capacity of the factory is 14,000 pounds, which limit, it is confidently thought, will be reached in a short time.
For some years, hay has been a reliable crop, and a large amount of both timothy and the native prairie hay has been cut and shipped. However, as the prairie was gradually fenced up and tilled the natural product decreased. Farmers have been giving more attention to stock than formerly, and a larger amount of this product has been consumed at home for the purpose of wintering cattle and sheep. In 1869, Oliver Lipincott built a hay-press at the village, for the purpose of preparing the hay for the city and Southern markets.
The press is scill in operation, but, for reasons already assigned, the business of hay-pressing has somewhat fallen off. Formerly, considerable wheat was raised here, and, in 1858 to 1868, especially during the earlier years of that period, wheat was considered a staple crop; but of late years the crop has been a failure, and its cultivation has been almost entirely abandoned. In 1872, Messrs. Elling & Rathje erected a fine mill for the purpose of manufacturing this product into flour. The mill cost nearly $12,000, and is one of the finest of its kind in the conntry. It is built on the Holland plan, with four large fans, of fifty feet each in length, which furnish power equal to forty horses. Owing to the fact already mentioned, that but little wheat is now produced here to keep the mill at work, the grain is brought by railroad from Minnesota and other places, and ground here, for consumption by those who formerly raised the article.
Village of Peotone
In 1855, a year after the completion of the Illinois Central Railroad, the site of the village was bought from that Company, and, in 1856, it was laid out by David Goodwillie. For a couple of years, no one seemed disposed to embark in business here, as the settlements, prior to that time, had been made mostly in the western part; and what little business was done was transacted at Twelve Mile Grove, in the adjoining township. Gradually the eastern portion of the township began to be settled, and a demand for postal and commercial privileges began to arise, which were no sooner demanded than they were supplied.
In 1858, John F. Pickering erected a house, in which he lived and also opened a small stock of goods. In the Spring of the next year, he erected the first real store-building. Thus opened, business of various kinds began to appear; and, in the Summer of 1859, several families came to the village, bought lots and made some improvements. A post office, the first ever established in the township, was established about this time. In the Winter of 1859-60, as has been stated on another page, the first school was taught. The first teacher was W. W. Clark. Dr. Charles Stedman located here soon after, and was the first resident physician. A warehouse had been erected by Messrs. Harding & Comstock, in 1857; but this being the beginning of the “hard times” period, yet fresh in the minds of many of the early settlers, but little, by way of grain-buying, was done for several years. Partially owing to the same cause, the town improved but slowly until the midst of the war or near its close when money was plenty, and produce plenty and in great demand. Then, Messrs. Comstock, Gilkerson & Worden, and Messrs. Schroeder & Rathje, began buying large quantities of grain; and, in 1868, both firms erected elevators. This was, indeed, the beginning of the period of Peotone’s solid growth. Prior to 1866, not more than fifteen houses were to be found here, one of which was the store. From that time forward, for about eight years, the town improved rapidly. New dwellings, stores, shops and churches went up. During that period of prosperity, three churches, a good schoolhouse, and most of the stores and other buildings now found in the lively little town were erected. Then began to be felt another period of hard times, consequent upon the panic of 1878, since which time Peotone, like most other places, has shown no signs of special activity. In 1869, the village was incorporated. The first election was held June 6, of the year named, and the following officers were selected: C. A. Westgate, President; B. S. Smith, Emanuel Wirt, Joseph Imholtz and John F. Pickering, Trustees, and John F. Pickering, Clerk. The present officers are: Philip Sultzbaugh, President; E. B. Cowing, Fred. Schroeder, N S. Beedy, Martin Collins and James Barnhardt, Trustees; Martin Collins, Clerk; James Barnhardt, Treasurer; John Conrad, Police Magistrate, and Fred. Wahls, Constable.
In 1869, the old school-building, which had been erected ten years before, was found to have outlived its usefulness, or rather its capacity was found too limited for its purpose. It was thought by some that additions to the old building would be the better way to enlarge the school capacity; but it was finally resolved to build anew from the ground, and dispose of the old building for other purposes. The house erected is a very fine one, for a place of this size, and cost about $7,000.
The M. E. Church was the first to organize, and one of the two first to build. The organization was effected in 1858, by Rev. John Hitchins, and consisted at first of ten members. The building, which stands in the west part of the town, was erected in 1867, and cost the society $3,000. The parsonage, owned by the Church, cost $1,000. Rev. Henry Hill is present Pastor.
The German Evangelical Church was erected the same year, the society having been recently organized. In 1870, it was set off as an Independent Church, having formerly belonged to the Rockville Circuit. The building is a Frame structure, and stands in the southeastern part of the village. Though to outward appearance a good building, it was poorly constructed, and must, at no distant date, be taken down and replaced by one of more substantial character. Rev. John Wellmar officiates as minister.
The Presbyterian Church was organized in 1871, by Rev. J. H. Trowbridge, with seventeen members. The building of the new schoolhouse a year or two before, and its recent occupancy, left the old schoolhouse vacant. This house had not been a stranger to the sound of the Gospel or the songs of praise. All of the denominations, during a period prior to the erection of their houses of worship, had made use of this building for Church and Sunday school purposes. So when the building was vacated by the school, the society purchased it and refitted it for their use. Rev. W. F. Wood is minister of this congregation. The parsonage is the best in the village. The German Lutheran Church is the best building of the four. It was built in 1875, and stands in the southwestern part of the village. The organization of the society had been accomplished four years before, by Rev. F. Baeber. The present Pastor is Rev. Christopher Wobus. In connection with all of the congregations are flourishing Sunday-schools, and each minister is provided with a comfortable parsonage.
Peotone Lodge, No. 636, A., F. & A. M., was established October, 1869. The charter members were Samuel Jamison, Charles A. Westgate, John B. Sollitt, Charles Gates, David Gilmore, Benjamin Sellers, Rufus K. Reynolds, August Herbert, Henry Pape, W. F. Hutchinson, D. F. Mason, J. M. French, A. A. Manson, J. D. Downing, J. L. Miller, John M. Tobias and F. Elder.
The regular communications are held on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. The present membership is thirty-seven. The present principal officers are C. A. Westgate, W. M.; Charles Gates, S. W.; R. G. Jorgenson, J. W.; Thomas Collins, Sec., and Philip Sultzbaugh, Treas.
Source: LeBaron, William, Jr. History of Will County, Illinois. Chicago: William LeBaron, Jr. & Co. 1878.