History of Will County 1878
The ancient philosophers recognized in nature four primary elements – water, earth, air and fire. This was quite a natural classification, as from these, they readily perceived, came all of their comforts. From the first two came food and drink, and from the last two they derived health and heat. Modern scientists have changed and modified the arrangement of the ancient alchemist, so that the earlier classification is now known only in history. And yet these four items, just as the ancients understood them, are the great essentials of life, and to them we turn for all of our needs and all of our luxuries. A locality that furnishes all of these in abundance and of a good quality is a locality blessed by nature with all that is desirable. These four items entered into the argument which induced the settlement, not only of this but of every country in the world; and, in whatever locality one or more seemed deficient, a corresponding tardiness in occupying the country is observed. Thus, the prairies of the West, though favored with a soil scarcely equaled, and possessed of climate and water unsurpassed, yet apparently lacking in the means of producing warmth, were slow to attract the attention of the speculator or the emigrant; while the eastern portions of the United States, though not favored with such a good soil, settled two hundred years earlier. When Illinois finally began to fill, we find its first occupants steering immediately for the streams of water, where they rightly concluded lay, with a productive soil, also plenty of fuel and water. Certainly but few portions of the State have been more highly favored with these natural advantages than that of which we write. With a good soil, with water privileges and water-power in great abundance, with timber for fuel and with a salubrious climate, it is not strange that this section had attractions for the early emigrant. Nature seems to have overexerted herself, in this instance, in producing a locality which is at once beautiful, healthy and productive.
The Kankakee River at this place is one of the finest streams in the State or in the whole West. The water, pure and clear, flows over a solid limestone bed, and this, with a rapid descent, tends to purify the stream and the air, and render the surrounding country healthy in an eminent degree. Even the Indians, who preceded the white people, realized fully the advantages of this neighborhood, and the relics of these original owners of the soil are found here in abundance. Arrow and spear heads, stone axes, rude pottery and other articles found upon the banks of the Kankakee, in this township, attest that this must have been a favorite dwelling-place as well as hunting-ground. Not only so, but the fortifications, constructed of earth, on which now grow trees more than two hundred years old, and of which the later race of Indians havenot a tradition, points to an earlier race of human beings, who not only made this their home, but defended it with all the skill and power at their command. Doubtless, prior to 1836, white men lived in the township of Wilmington. Evven before the the Black Hawk war, some hunters may have made the banks of the Kankakee their headquarters. If such there were, their stay was but temporary, those inhabiting the section before 1832 retiring, on the rising of Black Hawk and his allies, to safer localities, and those coming in immediately after peace was restored making their stay so short as not to entitle them to the credit of permanent settlers.
To Thomas Cox is justly due the honor of being the first permanent settler of this vicinity. In 1836, he laid claim to all of the land on which the city of Wilmington now stands, laid out the town, calling it Winchester, erected the first saw-mill, built a house and disposed of a few town lots. He followed these improvements soon after with the addition of a corn-cracker to his saw-mill, and still a little later by the erection at the upper end of the race, near where Whitten’s flour-mill now stands, of a grist-mill and carding machine. These improvements gave the town a wide reputation, and Cox’s mills were patronized by many who lived more than fifty miles distant. The old pioneers of Kankakee, Grundy, Livingston and other counties are wont to tell how they took their corn and wheat to the mill at Wilmington, consuming, often, nearly a week in the trip. Having such a long distance to go, it became necessary to wait for the grinding of the grain before their return; and, as the mill was frequently crowded, they were often necessarily detained several days. The first mill was built without any bolting machinery; but, after a time, a bolt, made to turn by hand, was constructed, and through this the patrons of the mill were allowed to sift their own flour. Prior to the erection of the mill, tradition says there was an oak stump that stood near the site of Stewart & Henderson’s store, which was slightly hollowed out in the top. A spring-pole was fixed in a suitable position, and to the end of the pole was tied a bar, into the end of which was fastened an iron wedge, constituting a heavy pestle. The stump was the mortar, into which was cast a small quantity of corn to be pounded and cracked for bread and mush. While undergoing the pounding process, hot water was sometimes poured on, and while this prevented the mashing of the grains, it facilitated the removal of the husk or bran, and a good article of hominy was thereby provided. This primitive machine is said to have been well patronized, and furnished food for the early pioneers.
Fearing that our younger readers may associate Cox’s carding machine with a printing press designed to turn out the little bits of paper with which they are wont to amuse themselves on an idle evening, and which gamblers put to the more base purpose of deluding their simpler-minded companions, thereby gaining a livelihood, we will say that it was a machine used to straighten the wool of the sheep’s fleece, and cut it into rolls or cards preparatory to spinning and weaving into cloth. In the early times, all these processes were common to the farmhouse; and our grandmothers not only made the clothing for the family but spun the yarn and wove the cloth of which it was made. Times have changed wonderfully in this regard. The carding machine, though a wonderfully ingenious invention, is a thing of the past; the spinning-wheel, found in a few of the oldest settlers’ garrets, has ceased its merry hum, and the loom, if one still exists, is known as a loom in an entirely different sense – an heir-loom. The saw-mill, too, which prepared the most of the lumber for the first houses of Wilmington and vicinity, passed gently down the river years ago.
Perhaps the man who has left a deeper, broader, longer and brighter mark on this part of the county than any other, was Peter Stewart. While some may have outranked him in education, and while others may have had the gift of oratory in a higher degree, his impress was doubtless of such a nature as to make him the acknowledged mark of manly character and of all that makes up the respected citizen.
Peter Stewart was a native of Scotland. When but a boy he left his home to seek employment and an independence in a distant portion of the country. Without education, and with scarcely sufficient knowledge of the English language to make his wants known, he went to England and succeeded in obtainingy work in Lord Anglesea’s garden, as a common laborer. He was, however, under the superintendence of a scientific gardener, who was at the same time a practical civil engineer, and from him he acquired a thorough knowledge of both branches by hard study after the day’s work was over. He, at the same time, became greatly interested in the study of botany, and finally became thoroughly versed in the science. By industry and economy he saved sufficient to pay his passage to America. At the time of his arrival in this country, the Erie Canal was being constructed, and this proved to be a favorable opening. His knowledge of engineering soon gave him a paying position on these works, and when the excavation of his part of the canal was done, he built the very first lock on the whole canal. He afterward obtained a number of large contracts for building public works of various kinds, among which were the grading of the Schenectady & Utica Railroad and the building of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. During this time he was not unmindful of his less fortunate relatives, whom he had left in the old country; and when he had accumulated means sufficient to warrant, went back and brought over to the United States the balance of his father’s family.
In 1835, partially to prospect in the interest of the Michigan & Illinois Canal enterprise, which was then receiving attention from both the State and General Government, and partially to look at the land in its proposed vicinity, he came to this neighborhood, selected a piece of land and returned to Amsterdam, N. Y., which had been his home, and the next Spring emigrated to this place. Already he had performed the work of an ordinary life-time, but he was still a young man and his activity continued till his death; and to name all of the enterprises both benevolent and business in which he had been engaged, would be to consume more space that the design of this work will permit. One of his first works, after coming, was that of inspector of masonry of the Michigan & Illinois Canal. He was a stanch Presbyterian, and contributed his means and influence to building up the society here, without stint. When a building for the use of that denomination was to be erected, the people contributed as they were able, and Peter Stewart gave the balance. He was an Abolitionist of the most ultra kind, and yet, always reasonable in his views and demands, commanded the respect of even those of contrary opinions. At one time, a company of men from the South visited Wilmington, in pursuit of a fugitive slave. When their business became known, they were at once surrounded by a mob of citizens, at whose hands they could not but expect violence. Having heard that Peter Stewart was a man of influence in the town, they sent for him to intercede for them. When Stewart arrived on the ground, the would-be slave-catchers implored him to use his influence with the people for their release, and were astounded to find that he was the leader of the Antislavery movement in this neighborhood. But, after learning that they would be only too glad to return to St. Louis, Stewart counseled the citizens to set them at liberty, with an injunction not to delay their return to their homes, which advice was duly heeded. Mr. Stewart took great interest in the organization of the township into a separate precinct, and of the organization of the town of Wilmington and in whatever would tend to their prosperity. The history of his expressive title – Colonel – which he wore with good grace, was conferred on him by common consent. On another page, is mentioned a little “unpleasantness” that took place at Lockport many years ago. The mutineers or rioters had been notified of the approach of a posse, commanded by the Sheriff of the county, but had stood resolute until their appearance on the hill. Then they began to waver a little; but when the Sheriff delegated to Peter Stewart authority to go down alone and treat with the belligerents, many feared that he would be roughly received. But Stewart, who was the man for the occasion, went boldly forward and commanded them to surrender, which they did unconditionally.
Peter Stewart passed on to a better land several years ago. His funeral was more largely attended than that of any other person who had preceded him in this city. He left a large, wealthy and influential family, notice of several of whom appears in the biographical portion of this work. The advent of Cox and Stewart was nearly coincident. Following shortly after, at close intervals, were the members of Cox’s family – a son Joseph, and five sons-in-law, Henry and Elias Brown, Peter Polly, John T. Basye and Peter Marlatte. Henry Brown built the first hotel, in 1838, and called it the “Eagle.” He did not, however, occupy the house, but rented it to other parties, himself engaging in merchandise. His store was located on the site now occupied by Willard’s drug store, and was the first business house on the south side of Crooked Creek, and the second in the town. Basye bought and operated for a time the saw-mill which had been erected by his father-in-law.
The whole family – Cox and son and sons-in-law – sold out their interests here and removed to Salem, Oregon, in 1847. A year after Peter Stewart came, his brother Daniel arrived in the neighborhood. He settled shortly in what is now Florence Township, in the history of which he receives further notice.
James L. Young, familiarly called the “Senator,” came to the township in 1837 and settled near the junction of the Kankakee and Des Planes Rivers, but subsequently removed to the village. He was a blacksmith, and swung the sledge until, like Cincinnatus, he was called by his fellow-citizens to take a more responsible position. He has held the office of Justice of the Peace almost continuously since the organization of the township. At the organization of the village he was elected first Clerk. Some years ago, when he held his office in the upper story of the post office building, the boys gave his office the name of the “upper house,” and styled the post office the “lower house;” and, as Mr. Young occupied the “upper house,” quite naturally was conferred upon him the title of “Senator,” which has tenaciously stuck to him ever since. Certainly, this distinction could not rest on more worthy shoulders.
Hon. Archibald McIntyre was the first merchant in this vicinity. His store was located on the north side of the creek, in Stewart’s Addition. He was a most successful business man, and accumulated a large property. As indicated by his title, he was a member of the Legislature, as representative from this district. He was a brother of the McIntyre of the celebrated lottery firm of Yates & McIntyre, of Philadelphia. At the time of his death, which occurred a few years ago, he was President of the First National Bank of this city. He was a native of New York, and came to this place in 1837.
Dr. A. W. Bowen, though not one of the very earliest inhabitants of this place, deserves mention here, as he was interested here as early as 1838. The Doctor had been living in Joliet for four years when, at the date named, he purchased of Cox a half interest in the site of Wilmington; and soon after, by a division of interests, became sole proprietor of the north part of the original town. Perhaps it may interest some of our readers, who are in any way concerned in the real estate, to follow for a little way the title of the land on which the city is built.
As previously stated, Thomas Cox pre-empted and entered all of the land, including the island, which he afterward laid out and called Winchester.* (* A short time after, it having been ascertained that there was already one town of that name in the State, it was changed to Wilmington.) A short time before his departure to Oregon, he conveyed the remainder of his landed property to James F. Alden, of Maine, who had recently come to the place. After this, Alden conveyed what he had not already disposed of to his brother, H. O. Alden; and from him, the larger portion of the upper town, including the island, was bought by the Kankakee Company. This short abstract will explain how some of the earliest deeds run from Cox, why some in the lower part of the city are traceable to Bowen, and why some of the later primary titles run from the Aldens. As stated, prior to the selection of this locality as a town site, Dr. Bowen lived at Joliet. That village, now a city of large proportions, was then an insignificant village. At the time of his arrival at Joliet, in 1834, the territory now constituting Will and some other counties was embraced in Cook; and, though some thought had been given to formation of a new county here, nothing positive had been done. Dr. Bowen took hold of the matter, and circulated a petition, which soon received 500 signatures, praying the Legislature to form a new county out of what is now Will and all of that part of Kankakee County which lies north of the Kankakee River. This was at the last session of the Legislature held at Vandalia, in 1835-6. The Doctor was in attendance at the session, and brought such influences to bear that the petition was granted, in exact accordance with the wish of the signers. In the petition was a clause locating the county seat at Joliet. In 1849, Dr. Bowen moved to Wilmington to engage in business. He practiced his profession, established a store, built what has been known as the lower mill, and took a lively interest in whatever tended to build up and prosper the town. The venerable Doctor and his wife still reside at Wilmington, and to their kindness much of what is valuable in this work is due. In 1837, Abner Wright, father, mother, brother and two sisters came from New York to reside at this point. The father, mother and brother are all dead, while he and the two sisters still remain. In the year last named, Daniel McIntosh, a Scotchman, who had for a few years resided at Amsterdam, N. Y., immigrated to this part of the county. McIntosh had been employed on the Erie Canal Works, and was Superintendent of a division, while Seymour was one of the Canal Commissioners. He was a man of extensive business qualifications, and died leaving a large estate. In 1839, soon after Dr. Bowen had built the lower mill, John Fisher, who was a practical miller, came on from Rochester, N. Y., to work in the mill. He died a few years later and left two sons, John and Bryan, who have carried on the business ever since, more recently not only as operators but as proprietors. At present, the mill is owned and operated by Fisher & Pennington, who came into possession in 1859. One of the old stones, on which some of the first grists of corn were cracked, is still in use in this mill, though the old Bowen mill is now idle, except as a store-house.
Andrew Whitten came to this vicinity in 1840 from Canada, and engaged in the mercantile trade. He has been very successful in business, accumulating a fortune. His sons are in the banking business, and own large interests in the mill and other enterprises.
Franklin Mitchell is a native of Vermont, where he lived until 1836, when he came to Chicago. He stayed in Chicago a few months, when he removed to Joliet and resided four years. In 1840, he came to Wilmington to take charge of the Eagle Hotel, then the only one in the village. After remaining in charge of the house three years, he began the erection of the “Exchange,” which he completed and occupied the next year. Mitchell, as a landlord, was a great success, and during his occupancy of the house, a space of twenty-one years, the Exchange was counted one of the best hotels in the State.
In 1854, Peter Stewart built the hotel which bears his name, and a few years subsequently, the Exchange was converted into store-rooms, and for that purpose it is still used.
By the year 1846 – the closing of the first decade of the existence of the settlement, and which period may properly be termed the pioneer period – quite a number of persons had selected this township and village as a place of residence. Among the number are remembered S. C. and J. C. Thompson, James Johnson, John L. Wilson, Henry and Robert Northam, John R. Jones, Henry Bowen, John and Robert Lyon, John G. Putman, Jonathan Barnatt and Peter McIntosh. The two Thompsons were brothers, and were natives of Scotland. S. C. was a good blacksmith, and quite a successful man in business. During the gold excitement which followed the acquisition by the United States of the Pacific Coast, he went to California and stayed a couple of years. Soon after his return from the gold-fields to this his adopted home, he died. J. C. is still a resident of the city.
James Johnson was from Erie, Penn. He was a very successful physician, but the injunction, “Physician, heal thyself,” was by him unheeded, and he passed away about 1849.
John L. Wilson came from Albany, N. Y., and engaged for a time in the mercantile trade. He left here in 1850, and removed to Chicago, where he now resides. He is a brother of Charles L. Wilson of the Chicago Journal, and until recently has been connected with that paper.
John R. Jones was a native of Wales, and had been living at Detroit on the farm of Gen. Cass. He died a few years ago.
Henry Bowen is a brother of the Doctor. He was a blacksmith, but latterly laid aside the anvil and hammer, took up the plow and hoe, and became a farmer. Some years ago he removed to Kansas, where he now resides.
The Lyon brothers had charge of the carding machine, but subsequently removed to California.
In 1848, came one of Wilmington’s most solid men, J. D. Henderson, a native of New York, had been employed in the construction of the upper dam at Joliet. He came to Wilmington in the year named, to open a store with Dr. Bowen. With him he continued in partnership nine years, when George T. Stewart bought the interest of Bowen, and the firm of Henderson & Stewart has existed without change ever since. His fellow-citizens have shown their appreciation of him by frequently electing him to the highest office within the municipality. In 1849, the Legislature of the State of Illinois passed an act authorizing counties to change their organization to what is known as township organization. The county of Will was one of the first to adopt the system, and Wilmington Township was one of the first to accept the new arrangement. The order for election was made and a preliminary was held March 1, 1850. By the order of the Commissioners, appointed for the purpose of dividing the county into townships, the township of Wilmington consisted of the Congressional Towns 33 north, Ranges 9 and 10 east, and that part of 32 north, 9 and 10, lying north of the Kankakee River (this territory now constitutes the townships of Wilmington, Florence and Wesley). The boundaries of the township were given as Channahon and Jackson on the north, Wilton and Rockville on the east, Grundy County on the west, and the Kankakee River and Clinton on the south. By a glance at the map, it will be seen that Clinton must have been what is now known as Reed Township. The first election for township officers was held at the “Exchange,” April 2, of the year named. The meeting was called to order by Don A. Watson; Peter Stewart was chosen Moderator, and S. W. Stone, Clerk.
John Frazier was elected Supervisor; John R. Bickerton, Clerk; Daniel Stewart, Assessor; F. D. S. Stewart, Collector; Elias Freer, Wm. Van De Bogart and William P. Hewit, Commissioners of Highways; Archibald McIntyre and David Willard, Justices of the Peace; F. D. S. Stewart and Daniel Ferris, Constables; and Adam White, Overseer of the Poor. It will be noticed that a number of these names appear for the first time in this narrative. Some of them have come in since 1846, some are citizens of what are now Florence and Wesley Townships, and will probably receive further mention in the history of those localities. At this election, 210 votes were cast, most of which were from the immediate vicinity of Wilmington. Even at that date, but few settlements had been made, except very near the river. In 1851, the townships of Wesley and Florence were organized as separate precincts, and, from that date. Wilmington Township voted and transacted business alone. Franklin Mitchell was elected first Supervisor of Wilmington Township, as it now exists. His successors have been as follows: 1852, A. J. McIntyre; 1853, H. R. Whipple: 1856, John J. Camp; 1858, R. S. Noble: 1859, John D. Henderson; 1861, D. W. Cobb; 1863, A. J. McIntyre; 1865, Franklin Mitchell; 1866, E. R. Willard; 1867, John H. Daniels; 1871, S. C. Camp; 1871, Robert C. Thompson; 1877, Samuel Sillman. A full list of the present officers is as follows: Samuel Sillman, Supervisor; L. L. Stephenson, Clerk; W. J. Carter. Assessor; Martin Carroll, Collector; Joseph Martin, James Dunn and E. P. Smith, Commissioners of Highways; Le Roy Baker and S. D. B. Lines, Constables; James L. Young and J. P. Ransom, Justices of the Peace.
The township of Wilmington was one of the most active in the effort to suppress the great rebellion. Besides several whole companies of the Thirty-ninth and One Hundredth Regiments, very many enlisted in various other regiments, in this and other counties. Quite a number of the best and bravest officers of the regiments named were from this vicinity. S. W. Munn was Major of the Thirty-ninth. He is now a successful lawyer of Joliet. L. A. Baker was Captain of a company in the same regiment, and lost a leg in the service. He was afterward Postmaster of Wilmington. The present Postmaster, R. S. Camp, was also Captain of a company. Capt. R. S. Bowen, who raised Company A of the One Hundredth Regiment, was also of this place. He was afterward promoted to Major; was wounded at Franklin and carried to Nashville, where he died. Capt. M. McN. Stewart of the One Hundredth Regiment, was hit on the side of the head by a cannon ball. Ordinarily a man’s biography stops at this point; but, only for a few minutes, Stewart believed himself dead. He still lives and performs the duties of teller in the First National Bank.
L. D. B. Lines went out in the One Hundredth and was promoted to a Captaincy. Capt. Hezekiah Gardner of the One Hundredth Regiment was wounded at Missionary Ridge, and had a leg amputated to prove his valor. He was afterward promoted to Major of an invalid corps, and is now on the retired list, residing in New York. Several hundred other brave men who left their homes, families and property, deserve honorable mention here, but space forbids even a mention of their names. Suffice it to say that the township of Wilmington, of which the soldiers were a large part, did its duty well in that most trying period. The township never submitted to a draft, a sufficient number having volunteered, so as not to necessitate such demand.
The people of Will County have honored this township, by the selection of several of its citizens to fill positions of honor and trust. George Strathde and Warren S. Noble have both been called to, and served the county in the capacity of Sheriff. John H. Daniels was elected to the Legislature, as was also Archibald McIntyre. Mrs. Sarah McIntosh was elected to the office of Superintendent of Schools, and held the office four years, filling the position and discharging the duties of the same in a very satisfactory manner. Franklin Mitchell, before the county adopted the township organization act, was for several years, one of the three County Commissioners.
The subject of education received attention in this vicinity at a very early date. As early as 1838, a small private school was kept at Wilmington; but in the year 1841, a small building having been erected, a public school was established. This first schoolhouse was a very modest affair, indeed. It was a small frame building, and stood on the site of Mrs. Rogers’ residence. The ancient academy, college, institute, or whatever it may have been called, is still in existence, forming a portion of a dwelling in which John Patterson now resides. The first term of public school taught in this institute or seminary was by George Bristol. The term consisted of forty-two days, for which Prof. Bristol was to receive $31. Perhaps he did receive it, but the books of the Treasurer do not indicate the fact. There were in attendance at the school, during the session, fifty-three scholars. Authority was conferred by the County Commissioners, October 20, 1841, on Peter Stewart, Thomas Cox and Daniel McIntosh to organize a school district, within the bounds of Town 33 north, Range 9, and they accordingly met at Cox’s house and made the whole town one district, appointing Jonathan Barnatt, Treasurer, and John G. Putman, Samuel C. Thompson and Abner Wright, School Directors. At the next subsequent meeting of the Trustees, the Treasurer reported that he had taken a census of all the children in the district, and found 117 entitled to public school privileges. He had also received from the School Commissioner $22.22, with which to sustain school the coming year. Previous to this, the town of Florence, or Town 33, Range 10, had not been sufficiently settled to support a school; and, at the meeting last named, some of the citizens of that locality appeared, desiring to be attached to the Wilmington District for school purposes, which request was granted, and thus the district consisted of two full townships. The next Winter, Sarah Fisher taught a half-dozen scholars in that part of the district known as Reed’s Grove. In 1845, the whole district consisting of the two towns, contained 214 persons under 20 years of age, of whom 190 were in Wilmington and 24 in Reed’s Grove. In 1848, Reed Grove was cut off as a separate district, and, a short time thereafter, a new school town was formed from Town 33, Range 10, and Wilmington again became independent. The township has gradually grown in population an strength, until there are now seven school districts, each with a convenient house, in which schools are sustained every year. The number of persons of school age is just about one thousand. The total expense of supporting th public schools of this township averages, for the last ten years, a little over $5,000 per annum. In 1851, D. U. Cobb was appointed Treasurer of Schools and has held the office continuously ever since.
Wilmington Township is a full Congressional town, consisting of thirty-six whole sections, and is bounded on the north by Channahon, on the east by Florence, on the south by Reed, Custer and Wesley, and on the west by Grundy County. The surface is gently undulating, and is covered in the vicinity of the river with timber. Some of the timber along the bank is of a good quality and heavy growth, but at a distance from the stream it consists of small and seemingly stunted oak, unfit for much else than railroad ties and firewood. The township is crossed from southeast to northwest by the Kankakee, one of the most beautiful streams of water to be found in the State. The descent through this section, though not so rapid as to require a broken and barren district for-its bed, as is the case with many streams affording water-power, has sufficient fall and sufficient volume of water to run more than a hundred mills. Besides the Kankakee, two fine little creeks, the Prairie and Crooked, empty into the Kankakee in the township. The former flows from the township of Florence, entering Wilmington on Section 12 and dropping into the Kankakee at the northwest corner of Section 15; and the latter enters the township and empties into the same stream at the city of Wilmington. Stone of an excellent quality is found two and a half miles below Wilmington, near the mouth of Prairie Creek. Some of this stone, used in the construction of the first houses built in the city, is as clear and white as when dressed, and seemingly almost as hard as granite. In the southwestern part appear the cropping of the great Wilmington coal-fields. The land in the neighborhood of the coal deposits is of an inferior quality. The soil is quite thin, and the sub-soil, being of a kind of quicksand, renders successful cultivation rather uncertain.
CITY OF WILMINGTON.
The village of Wilmington was laid out in 1836, and as this and its immediate vicinity was the objective point toward which the early settlers naturally cast their eyes, the early history is necessarily embraced in that of the township. However, in 1854, having attained a population required by law, it was deemed best by most of the leading citizens to organize the village as a separate corporation. It was argued that this would give the village authority to build sidewalks, abate nuisances, control the liquor traffic, and, perhaps, obtain some revenue from the trade in the way of license, and numerous other advantages not enjoyed while merely constituting a portion of the township. Therefore, a notice, signed by “Many Citizens,” requesting the residents and freeholders to meet at the schoolhouse on Saturday, the 24th day of June, to take into consideration the incorporation of the town, was posted in various public places by S. W. Munn ten days before the date specified in the notice. At the meeting, Peter Stewart was called to the chair, and James F. Alden was selected as Clerk. The advantages of incorporation were then argued pro and con, (mostly pro), after which a vote was taken, resulting in favor of organization 12 to 1. A day was then appointed for the election of a town board, and on the 3d day of July the election took place. Of the election, Peter Stewart and James F. Allen occupied the position designated at the primary meeting. Sixty-three votes were cast, and D. W. Sinead, J. D. Henderson, Samuel C. Thompson, J. A. Seebor and James F. Alden were elected Trustees; James L. Young was chosen Clerk; Anthony Riker, Street Commissioner, and Fred. Walrath, Constable. Thus was the incorporation of the village fully accomplished, and under this organization it continued eleven years. D. W. Smead was chosen first President. His successors were as follows: 1855, H. Warner; 1857, Anson Packard; 1858, Israel Massey; 1859, S. W. Munn; 1860, William Harbottle; 1861, John D. White; 1862, John S. Jessup; 1864 E. H. Jessup.
About the date last named, the question of changing the charter of the town, so as to give the incorporation some additional powers and a more genteel title, began to be agitated, and resulted in obtaining from the Legislature a charter, February 15, 1865, “constituting the inhabitants of said town a body corporate, by the name and style of city of Wilmington.” Under this charter, the first election was held on the third Tuesday of March of the year named.
John H. Daniels received the most votes for Mayor, and Edward Alden, R. P. Morgan, Jr., William H. Vaughan, M. F. Blish, V. Banyard and J. B. Johnson were elected Aldermen. The succeeding Mayors have been J. D. Henderson, W. H. Odell, J. H. Daniels, D. U. Cobb and the present efficient officer, S. E. Trott.
The Board of Aldermen, as now constituted, consists of Howard Johnson, John Whitten, Edward Donahoe, Edmund Cushing and Joseph Burton.
The early settlers of Wilmington, unlike the pioneers of most other localities, were religious people, and they had but constructed a habitation, which barely sheltered them from the inclemencies of the weather, before they began to take measures for the establishing of a house for the Lord. Like the ancient Israelites, they experienced no trouble in worshiping God, even in the wilderness, and Peter Stewart’s barn answered the purpose of a tabernacle. In this, barn, services were held, and, in 1838, two years after the first settler made his appearance in the vicinity, in it was organized the Presbyterian Church. The organization was effected by J. G. Porter, now a venerable servant of the Master, and resident of Naperville. Among the original members were the two Stewart brothers and Daniel McIntosh with, their wives. Rev. Mr. Porter continued to preach for the little society once a month for a year or two, holding the services sometimes in the barn and afterward in the little frame schoolhouse erected about this time. Afterward he was called to the Church, regularly installed, and served the Church as Pastor for twelve years. A part of the present building was erected in 1840, at a cost of $1,400. Since then some additions have been made which make it quite a commodious and comfortable house. The present minister is Rev. R. K. Wharton. In connection with the Church is a prosperous Sunday school, of which H. L. Cady is Superintendent. The membership of the Church is 121, and of the Sunday school about 150.
At about the same date that the Presbyterian Church was organized, the Methodists began to hold religious services here, and a class was formed, though the society was not organized as a separate charge until 1868. In 1840, a small building, now used as a parsonage, was erected, and in this services were held until 1857, when their present fine edifice was built. The building is a large, solid, stone structure, with basement, forty-five feet in width and ninety in length, and cost $15,000.
The society has been quite prosperous, and numbers at present 180 members. Rev. E. W. Drew is the present Pastor. Prof. H. R. Beggs is Superintendent of the Sunday school. The Episcopal Church was organized in 1857, and was placed in charge of the Rev. Charles B. Stout. In 1857, a small church building was erected on the site of John Fisher’s residence. Previous to this, the society had worshiped in one of the public halls of the city. In 1867-68, their present tasty house was put up, at a cost of $7,000. The present membership of the Church is thirty-five. Rev. W. H. Hopkins is Pastor and Superintendent of the Sunday school.
The Catholics established a society at Wilmington in 1855, and built a small house of worship at the date named. This society has been a most flourishing one, and has grown to large proportions. In 1865, having entirely outgrown their first church accommodations, they built, at a cost of $12,000, their present large brick edifice, capable of seating 500 persons. The membership, including all baptized persons, is nearly 1,000, 650 of whom are communicants, representing over 200 families. A small parsonage was erected some years ago, which was burned in 1875. The next year a very fine building of this character, containing library, drawing-rooms and every modern convenience, took the place of the burnt one. This building cost the society $6,000. The first priest was the Rev. Mr. Enthout. The present priest, the Rev. Hugh O’Garra McShane.
Besides the churches already named, the Swedenborgians have a small house of worship, though services are not now held.
Religion and education usually go hand in hand; and as the first settlers were religious people, they also interested themselves in the subject of education, and the people of Wilmington have ever been on the alert to adopt whatever measures would tend to improve the morals and enlighten the minds of the youth. The little frame schoolhouse already alluded to had outlived its usefulness by 1849, and a more commodious building was demanded and erected on the site of the present fine structure. A two-story brick, capable of accommodating 200 pupils, was built. For its day, it was considered a very handsome and convenient affair, and by many supposed to be ample for all time to come. A curious and amusing incident is remembered in connection with the construction of this schoolhouse. When the building was almost ready for occupancy, and but little time for its completion remained, it was found that there was not a pint of oil in the whole town with which to mix the putty for glazing the windows. It must be remembered that an order could not then be sent to Chicago in the evening, with a certainty of its being filled and delivered the next morning – the railroad made its appearance five years later. However, unlike the five foolish virgins of Scripture reputation, an inventive genius was on hand, and suggested the substitution of lard which could be had in abundance (if only the virgins had thought about that, how much mortification they might have saved themselves). The suggestion was adopted, and the whiting and the lard mixed made a very fair looking article. The windows were accordingly glazed, and a good job it seemed to be. But some time after school had opened there came a warm day, and suddenly, crash! a pane of glass slipped from its place and disturbed the quiet of the school. Directly another and then another, until more than half the glazing on the south side was worse than a wreck. Then it was discovered that lard was worse than no grease for glazing purposes, and the balance of the panes were removed before the temperature had caused additional havoc. In 1869, the “brick school-house” was found to be entirely too small for its purposes, and other rooms had to be leased temporarily to accommodate all who desired to attend. The division of the school in this manner was attended with numerous disadvantages which the saving of money could not compensate, and so it was concluded that economy indicated the erection of a new and still more spacious building.
Therefore, in the year last named, the City Council passed an ordinance, appropriating $30,000 for the erection and furnishing of the present temple of learning. If not the finest and most convenient school-building in the county, it certainly is one of that description. It is a large brick three-stories high, besides basement, and will accommodate 700 pupils. It is located on what was originally designed for a park, and is one of the finest sites in the city. This is a wonderful improvement over the little frame structure of forty years ago, and indeed over its successor of 1849. The schools of Wilmington have certainly kept pace with the other institutions of this vicinity, and the citizens of Wilmington have good reason to feel proud of their excellence. Besides the graded system at the schoolhouse just described, the authorities have also established a primary school, and erected a building on the west side of the river, to accommodate the dwellers in that quarter of the city. The school system of this city is peculiar, being an adjunct of the city corporation, and immediately under the control of the City Council. To a Board of Inspectors elected by the people, is delegated the immediate duty of looking after the interests of the schools. A little “special legislation,” while the proposition to build the $30,000 schoolhouse was under consideration, helped the friends of the enterprise out of a difficulty. As stated, the ordinance appropriating $30,000 was passed July 27, 1869. The Board of Inspectors, who had been elected for the purpose of disposing of this anticipated fund, had been elected on the 16th of March, and had performed several important acts, looking toward the erection of the house, when it was suddenly discovered that the election of the Inspectors, though subsequent to the passage of the bill authorizing their election, was prior to its approval, and that their acts were at least of doubtful validity. As soon as this fact became known, a deputation was hurried off to Springfield, the, Legislature being still in session, and an amendment legalizing the election of the Board obtained.
Wilmington Lodge, No. 208, A., F. & A. M., was authorized by the Grand Lodge of the State of Illinois, October 7, 1856. This is comparatively one of the “ancient” lodges, as the number of lodges in the State at present is nearly eight hundred. The charter members were Joseph Shirk, Cyrus Stowe, Hezekiah Warner, Franklin Mitchell, George E. Cavanaugh, William G. Cutshaw and William A. Tinsler, the first three of whom were respectively Worshipful Master, Senior and Junior Wardens. The officers in charge at present are: J. B. Johnson, W. M.; H. W. Blood, S. W.; John P. Ransom, J. W.; I. Cracraft, Treas.; O. D. Row, Sec; Austin Smith, S. D.; W. H. Mitchell, J. D.; S. D. B. Lines, Tiler, and William Hart, Chaplain. Meetings arc held on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.
This Order, in 1870, obtained from the Grand Chapter a charter for establishing a subordinate chapter at this place. The charter was granted October 7, and designated this as Wilmington Chapter, No. 142, and constituted William .H. Odell as High Priest, Franklin Mitchell, King, and Alexander McIntosh, Scribe. The balance of the original members were H. Jones, L. A. Baker, F. L. Quigley, C. J. Jukes and S. D. B. Lines.
The regular meetings are held on the first and third Fridays of each month. The two societies occupy a large room in the third story of Empire Block, which they have fitted up for their mysterious purposes in a very tasty and elegant manner. The present officers of the Chapter are W. H. Odell, H. P.; Franklin Mitchell, King; William Hart, Scribe; E. W. Willard, R. A. Captain; H. W. Blood, Prin. Soj.; F. Larned, Captain of Host; Vincent Banyard, Treasurer; L. A. Baker, Secretary, and S. D. B. Lines, Sentinel.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows organized a lodge of that character March 26, 1872, the original members of which were: H. H. Wise, William Harbottle, F. Vitenhoff, L. I. Gildersleeve and L. Lorch. From this original hive have swarmed the lodges at Braidwood, Elwood and Wilton Center. A remarkable fact in the history of this Lodge, is that in all of its existence of sixteen years, but one death has occurred. M. P. Kilbourn is present Representative; John R. Babcock, N. G.; T. W. Kahler, V. G.; J. P. Ransom, Sec.; T. S. Mcintosh, Treas. The Lodge is styled Will Lodge, 301, and meets every Monday in Empire Block. The present membership is forty-seven, though, at times, it has been greatly in excess of that number.
One of the most important interests, and doubtless destined to be the greatest in this section, is that developed by the vast water-power supplied by the Kankakee River; and, but for some unfortunate circumstances, would ere this have been more fully utilized. The improvement of the river in some of its features dates back many years. In 1835-36; an act was passed by the Legislature of the State, authorizing the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The project had been agitated for a number of years by both the State and General Government – by the former as a commercial enterprise, and by the latter as both a commercial and military necessity. The war of 1812 had shown the necessity of a work of this kind, for the purpose of transmitting supplies for the army, should a foe ever ascend the Mississippi River above the mouth of the Ohio, and Government accordingly donated a large amount of the public lands in aid of its construction. Work was begun on the Canal the year following the passage of the Canal act by the State Legislature, and was completed in 1848. The original idea was to make it a ship-canal, but a very inferior work was the one completed at the date named. However, this has been deepened, widened and otherwise so improved that small steamboats now make trips, not only the entire length of the Canal, but from the city of Chicago to St. Louis. When the Canal was ready Ifbr use, it was found that at the lower end there was a lack of water, and that an extra feeder was necessary for its supply. It was therefore decided to construct a dam across the Kankakee at a point which, allowing for sufficient fall, would meet the extra demand. The dam was built at a point in the Kankakee River, near the center of Wilmington Township.
From this point a canal was constructed, on the north bank of the river, crossing the Des Planes River by aqueduct near the northwest corner of the township. The dam alluded to created slack water to the city of Wilmington, and below the dam, to the mouth of the river, it was already navigable. This, however, lacked a means of raising boats to the level of the water above the dam. In 1870, a company of gentlemen from Boston, perceiving the great advantages which must necessarily result from a further improvement of the river, formed a gigantic stock company for the purpose, prominent among whom were Gov. William Claflin, E. P. Carpenter and Joel Hills, who were respectively President, Managing Director and Treasurer. Work was begun, and nearly a half-million dollars were expended. The improvements made to this date consist of the raising of the State dam, to which allusion has been made, two feet, thus creating navigation to Wilmington; the construction of a tight earth dam at the city, fourteen feet in height; the building of an overflow dam at the head of the island, five and a half feet high; and the construction of a monster dam, sixteen feet in height, a mile above the city. At each of these dams are locks of the most substantial character, and of a size to admit boats eighteen feet in width and one hundred in length, and carrying one hundred thousand feet of lumber or six thousand bushels of grain. These works make the Kankakee navigable for the boats described, a distance of twenty-one miles, and make an outlet for this region, by water, to Chicago and St. Louis. Boats are run regularly from the mouth of Horse Creek to Chicago every week by E. D. Small & Co., of Wilmington, and Stephen Hanford & Bro., of Reed Township. The original design was to extend the line of dams and locks to the Indiana line, to tap the bog-iron fields, and to construct a canal to the Braidwood coalfields, thus not only bringing the two materials in contact, but also making a water outlet for the vast fuel product. Not only have these works made all this possible, but the fall of nearly fifty feet of this large volume of water makes a water-power variously estimated at the driest season at from four thousand to eight thousand horsepower. But a comparatively small portion of this has yet been utilized. The flour-mill, already alluded to and operated by Messrs. Fisher & Pennington, is situated at the lower end of the race. This mill contains six runs of stone, and has a capacity of five hundred barrels daily. Messrs. McIntyre & Co. (or McIntyre & Whitten) built near the bridge, at about the time the water-works were begun, a fine flour-mill of about the same capacity as the lower mill. At about the same date, Messrs. Chapman & Jukes erected, at the upper end of the island, a building designed for a bolt and nut factory; but, owing to the financial crisis which swept over the country in 1872, the enterprise failed. The building was bought a few years ago by Dr. S. E. Trott, who turned it into a paper-mill. M. D. Keeney put in the necessary machinery, and the mill is now in successful operation. Straw-board of a good quality is manufactured from rye and oat straw, at the rate of seven tons per day. Some years ago, a distillery was started in a brick building erected near the bridge, but the parties interested failed, and the high waters subsequently damaged the building so that for many years it stood idle. This Dr. Trott also reconstructed and has introduced into it a planing-mill, turning-lathe and other machinery. The system of water-works for the use of the city in case of fire was introduced last year, and connected with machinery at Whitten’s flour-mill and Trott’s planing machine. Hydrants, to which pipes are laid, connecting them with the pumps at the mills, are placed at convenient points in the city, so that all of the business portion and part of the residence property is fully protected. A fire company, of which C. W. Barnhart is Chief Engineer, has been organized, and this system, in connection with a hook-and-ladder company, which is organized on an independent basis, gives the city ample protection. At a moment’s warning, the power of either mill can be transferred to the pumps, and in an instant two streams of water, each two inches in diameter, from any hydrant, can be made to play on a burning building. The whole system, consisting of the Holly pumps, pipes, hose and hydrants, has cost about $1,500.
The river, on several occasions, has been the cause of much anxiety to the citizens of Wilmington, and the cause of no small amount of damage to property in the immediate vicinity of its banks. On the 14tb day of February, 1867, the floating ice gorged at the lower dam – then the only one – and in a few hours all of the business part of the city was under water. The main business street afforded navigation for boats of good size. A considerable amount of goods was damaged in the stores, and business was entirely suspended for some days. The bridges, including the railroad bridge, were swept away, and some buildings near the bank of the river were somewhat injured by floating ice. It is thought that the building of the other dams will hereafter prevent any such mischief.
An industry, which bids fair to develop into large proportions, is that of the manufacture of butter and cheese. Indeed, though but in its incipiency, the business has already become one of considerable importance. In 1844, E. Allen of this place, commenced buying butter and grading the same, for the St. Louis market. So careful was he in his selections that Wilmington butter soon attained an enviable reputation, so much so that Mr. Allen could not supply the demand, even at a higher price than was usually obtained for other brands. He continued in the butter trade until a few years ago, when he resolved to erect a creamery. In 1875, he built his cheese and butter factory, at an expense of about $6,000, and began buying milk and manufacturing butter, paying for the milk 70 cents per hundred pounds. The enterprise proved quite successful, and last year he began the manufacture of cheese. He is making at present about 75,000 pounds of butter, and 365,000 pounds of cheese per year. The average price received for butter is 33 cents, and that for cheese 9 cents. Much of the cheese manufactured finds a market in Europe. The Wilmington Dairy Association was incorporated June 21, 1877, with William Burke, Joseph Shirk and John Bovee as its officers. Buildings costing $6,000 were erected, and the manufacture of butter and cheese begun. At the rate at which they are now manufacturing, they will turn out 42,000 pounds of butter and 600,000 pounds of cheese per year, the receipts for the former averaging 30 cents, and the latter 87 cents per pound. They consume at present 15,000 pounds of milk per day, and have a capacity of 40,000. The present officers are Lawrence Tinsler, President; William Burke, Secretary, and William Martin, Treasurer.
One of the most important events in the history of this part of the State, was the construction of the Chicago & Mississippi Railroad, now known as the Chicago & St. Louis. The road was completed through this section in 1854, and the first train of cars passed through Wilmington on the 4th of July of that year. From that date the real prosperity of the country, within a breadth of fifteen to twenty-five miles on either side of the road, began. Farming lands, which had previously been held at from $2 to $5 per acre, immediately went up to three times these prices. Towns and villages already established grew as they had not grown before. New towns sprang up all along the line. Land, which the Government had been offering for sale for twenty years, was snatched at by immigrants and speculators. Thus, in a few years after the completion of the road, though its management was at first comparatively poor, the population doubled. Farms were opened, stores established, shops built and life and animation took the place of that state of lethargy and dullness which had heretofore prevailed. The road has continued to increase in efficiency and capacity, and has come to be looked upon as necessary to the very existence of the country through which it passes.
Probably no event has had such a depressing influence on this community as the failure, in 1873, of J. H. Daniels, banker and speculator, of this city. Daniels had come to the place in 1855, and was the first to establish a bank. His career here was one of exceeding brilliancy; and to say that the people honored him with their confidence and credit, is but to state the feeling of the people for him in mild terms. Their confidence in his integrity was unbounded, and as a proof of the same, they deposited their substance with him for safe(?) keeping, in preference to investing in enterprises designed to build up and develop the city, to the extent of almost the last penny. When, seemingly, the last dollar had been deposited, the ears of the populace were scarcely able to believe themselves, when it was suddenly announced that it was necessary for the bank to suspend for a short time; but when afterward it was learned that the concern was hopelessly involved and would pay but eight cents on the dollar, the depositors went home and read the first three verses of the fifth chapter of the First Epistle of James, and other similar passages, and pondered long and deeply.
The following history of the press of Wilmington has been kindly furnished by E. D. Conley, Esq., editor and proprietor of the Wilmington Advocate:
Wilmington’s first newspaper, the Wilmington Herald, was established in this place in 1854 by D. H. Berdine. Whether misfortunes never come singly or not, that year marked the advent of the cholera in our midst, also. The Herald was a joint stock institution, gotten up by a number of citizens; and the setting-up of the press and material was literally a nine-days wonder in the eyes of many villagers. Cholera swept off one of the printers – John J. Post – and sickness and disaster threatened the Herald’s success. In less than a year afterward, R. W. Waterman, a large stockholder, obtained control of the office and placed it in charge of William H. Clark, of Michigan, who was to edit and publish the sheet (a six or seven column folio), at a salary of $15 per week. Clark watched his opportunity. The stock gradually merged in the hands of a few, and that few mortgaged it; a snide “mortgage sale,” made in the presence of a chosen few, was had, and the Herald passed into the hands of Clark, the consideration being $7.00!. It run along three or four years, when Joseph Braden, of the Joliet True Democrat, came down to Wilmington with an old Ramage press to trade for the Herald press – a Poster; but the citizens got wind of it and mobbed the office. How the aggrieved and swindled original stockholders settled the matter, the writer does not remember; but it was patched up somehow and security given. In 1856, or thereabout, Clark removed from this place – office and all – to Kendall County, where he established the Kendall County Clarion. The present publisher of the Advocate was chief “devil” of the Herald office for some time, while J. H. Reubenau, now a C. & A. express-train conductor, was the principal typo when not engaged in stealing Waterman’s dry wood.
W. R. Steel, Esq., established the Wilmington Independent here in 1861; so, if the Herald’s coming brought with it cholera, the Independent, not to be outdone, brought the pomp and circumstances of war. The Independent became Republican in politics, and had quite a good circulation in the Kankakee Valley. It was purchased by Alexander McIntosh in 1861. It was run along until the Fall election in 1872, when it suspended publication and was sold under a mortgage. H. H. Parkinson, under a lease, run it a year longer, when the paper died, and the material was sold to parties abroad. In the meantime, June, 1870, the People’s Advocate was started by Jacob H. Warner, at the instance of many who, in political issues, opposed the policy of the Independent. When the Advocate was 35 weeks old – February 18, 1871 – E. D. Conley, Esq., purchased a half interest and became its chief editor. But partnership proved a bad horse to ride, and dissolution in ownership followed. In May, 1872, Mr. Conley bought the office for $2,000 cash, and from that date to this the Wilmington Advocate has been issued regularly, and is generally recognized as a fixed and solid institution.
Another Wilmington Herald and a paper known as the Wilmington Free Press have, within a few years, been issued in this city; but both proved short lived.
At the present writing – September 20, 1878 – the Wilmington Phoenix is published in this city, though principally edited and printed in Joliet.
Source: LeBaron, William, Jr. History of Will County, Illinois. Chicago: William LeBaron, Jr. & Co. 1878.