William W Davis.

History of Whiteside County, Illinois from its earliest settlement to 1908 : illustrated, with biographical sketches of some prominent citizens of the county (Volume v.1) online

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January, 1845, at the Unionville schoolhouse, with D. B. Young, Henry
Boyer, and others, organized a society more in harmony with their senti-
ments. As a sequel to this, a church building was erected in Unionville, and
services held regularly until 1870, when the building was removed. Since
that time no services have been held in the town except Sunday schools and
occasional preaching in schoolhouses. After Morrison sprang up, several
churches were removed to that place from Unionville, where they were organ-
ized and flourished for a time. Mrs. W. B. Bull, of Union Grove, is a grand-
daughter of Jacob Baker, and her children and grandchildren represent the
fourth and fifth generation of their noted pioneer.


The first school in the town was taught by Miss Mary Jeffers in 1840,
in a room in Henry Boyer's log cabin. In the same year A. J. Maxwell was
engaged to build a frame schoolhouse on a corner of the farm of D. B.
Young, the same now owned by Hon. H. M. Teller, of Colorado, on the Mt.
Carroll road. When the building was enclosed, a meeting was called, and
it was decided to change the site, and it was moved across the prairie to the
place where Mrs. Graves now lives, near the Unionville schoolhouse. About
1882 C. T. Heathcote purchased this building, and removed it to Morrison
for a dwelling. It now forms the west part of the residence of Mrs. 0. P.
Gray. There are now eight schools in Union Grove, with progressive teach-
ers. Among the pedagogues who have taught in the town during the last
forty years are Columbus Vennum, W. F. Eastman, S. D. Gossert, F. Ogs-
bury, Miss Kate Martin, S. A. Maxwell, W. S. Ellison, J. V. Washburne,
Frank Willsey, Miss Bertha Lati-mer, and Arthur Klontz.

Unionville has the distinction of having the only official branch office
of the U. S. Weather Bureau in the county. Complete records are kept show-
ing meteorological conditions for every day for the past several years. Mr.
S. A. Maxwell, the observer, has during the past five years furnished data
to attorneys, bearing on cases in Whiteside and Carroll courts, and Clinton,

Among the early settlers still in the town after 45 years may be men-
tioned Ira S. Burch, Mr. and Mrs. Milo Johnson, William Annan, Miss Kate
Annan, and John Phinney. The latter is a well known teacher, having
served in various parts of Whiteside, and doubtless has the record for more
years of educational usefulness than any other in the profession. He is in
fairly good health for an octagenarian, and lives on his farm with his daugh-
ter and husband, two miles west of Morrison. He was born in Vermont in

In the west part of Union Grove are the Cat-tail Bottoms, a by-word
from the earliest days for rough travel and impossible cultivation. It has
been discovered that they are highly valuable, and Oscar A. Oliver, formerly
in business in Sterling and Chicago, now residing on the west side of the
bottoms, south of Morrison, on the Garden Plain road, has started extensive
celery beds, which thrive like a green bay tree. Other growers are Ira Burch
and Peter Clapp. The latter has purchased the interest of George DeHaan.
The quality of the vegetable is excellent, and large shipments are made to
the cities.

West of Unionville is a neatly kept cemetery. On the tombs you may
read such names: Wenger, Richmond, Pollard, Summers. The oldest per-
son is Joseph Johnson, who died in 1864, aged ninety, a soldier of 1812.
The children of Rev. H. Hawkins, 1861: Jane Root, 1851. Here is a spruce
planted by a girl over the grave of her lover. Henry Ustick, aged 66, who
died in 1855. Elijah Town, 1843. Peter Root, 1862, Co. B, 75th Illinois
Volunteers. These rural grave yards, what places for meditation and mem-
ory! Here sleep these faded forms far from the madding crowd, the strug-
gles of the busy world.



By Prof. S. A. Maxwell.

The woman of Whiteside county to attain the greatest age was Mrs.
Phebe Vennum, whose last years were spent in the home of her son, Edward
Vennum, Union Grove, She was born at Rockaway, Morris county, New
Jersey, June 23, 1784, the daughter of Benjamin and Abigail Jackson. The
father was a veteran of the Revolutionary war, holding the rank of major,
On Feb. 25, 1802, Phebe became the wife of Isaac Lewis of Sussex county,
by whom she had two sons, James L., born Jan. 25, 1803, and Benjamin
J., born July 4, 1805. Mr. Lewis died in 1814, and Mrs. Lewis with her
two children removed with her parents to Knox county, Ohio, where, three
years later, she married John Vennum, of Washington, Pa. They had three
sons, Edward, Columbus, and John N., and one daughter, Betsy, who died
in infancy. Mrs. V. came to Illinois with her husband and family in 1846,
and settled in Union Grove on section 3, where Mr. V. died Feb. 12, 1858.
After his death, she made her home for 31 years with her son, Edward, a
prosperous farmer. Her health was remarkable. To her one hundredth
year, she had taken little medicine, and was never seriously sick. Her senses
to her last illness were acute, and conversation with her was always a pleas-
ure. The writer visited her at the age of 102, and presented her a cane on
behalf of W. 0. Dudley and A. J. Maxwell of Lyndon. At this time, her
sight, hearing, and power to converse, were excellent. One June 23, 1884,
her one hundredth anniversary, nearly 200 relatives, friends, and neighbors,
young and old, assembled at the Vennum home to pay their respects to the
venerable pioneer. Among those present was Benjamin Lewis, of Flint, Mich.,
the eighty-year old son of Mrs. Vennum. At the old settlers' meeting on
Morrison fair ground, Sept., 1884, Mrs. Vennum was present, being then one

Mrs. Vennum was nearly five when Washington was inaugurated, fif-
teen at his death in 1799, twenty-five when Lincoln was born, thirty-four
when Illinois became a state in 1818, fifty when the first settlers came to
Whiteside, seventy-seven at the outbreak of the Civjl war, and 105 lacking
four days at her death, June 19, 1889. Peter Ford, who died at Deer Grove,
1907, at the age of 105, and Mrs. Vennum, are the only two centenarians
of the county.


By S. A. Maxwell.

The wide-spreading pond, and the mill which stood by it,

The bridge, and the rock where the cataract fell. Woodworth.

Perhaps there is no other landmark in Whiteside county familiar to
more people than the stone grist mill on Rock creek. Just fifty years ago,
in the summer of 1858, its erection was began by John A. Robertson and
Wm. Annan, but it was not completed till Dec., 1859. It has always been
in operation, and grists of wheat, buckwheat, and corn, are still turned out


to the satisfaction of customer?. The larger part of its work now is the grind-
ing of mixed corn and oats for feeding stock.

In 1867, Annan became sole owner by the purchase of Robertson's inter-
est. Annan died about twenty years ago, and his son, Wm. Annan, who had
been employed in the mills since 1868, has conducted the business since.

The first mill on this site was a saw mill built in 1839 by John A. Rob-
ertson and Benjamin Burns. The latter traded his interest in 1842 for the
whole of section 2 in Union Grove, and this section of the mill interest changed
owners two or three times. In 1855 Porteus Robertson owned it, and sold
out to Wm. Annan. For several years, the mill ran irregularly, as saw
logs became scarce, and as excellent pine lumber could be obtained cheap at
Fulton and Albany. When it became a poor investment, the proprietors
wisely concluded to take it down, and erect the present grist mill.

Rock creek furnishes the power for the mill. Previous to 1862, a brush
dam was used, but since, a frame dam has 'done excellent service with occa-
sional repairs. The mill and dam are only sixty feet from the public road
from Morrison to Unionville, which here crosses the creek on a splendid
steel bridge. It was erected in 1892 in place of the previous structure of


So we grew together,

Like to a double cherry, seeming parted. Shakespeare.

If any one walks Third street from east to west, two miles long, now
lined with stores and residences, and thinks of the time when there were a
few scattered cabins on either end, he will soon have an idea of the wonderful
development of the city. For years there were indeed two rival towns, Har-
risburg on the east and Chatham on the wast. Hezekiah Brink was the pioneer
who, in June, 1834, put up the first log hut in what is now the first ward.
Every year following brought accessions. In 1835 the Albertsons; in 1836
Luther Bush, Nelson Mason, Van J. Adams; in 1837 Hugh Wallace, E. B.
Worthington, the Woodburns, Ezekiel Kilgour; in 1838 Luther Wetherbee,
the Whipples, Jesse Penrose, Jonathan Stevens; in 1840 R. L. Wilson, John
Dippell. But there was a jealousy between the two towns. Between the west
line of Harrisburg and the east line of Chatham were six blocks called neutral
territory. It was soon found that" to exert any influence the towns must
sink their differences, and unite for the common good. This necessity was
hastened by the importance of securing the county seat. At a conference
in 1839 the consolidation was effected, and Sterling adopted as the name, at
the suggestion of Hugh Wallace, in compliment to his friend, Col. Sterling,
of Pennsylvania. Broadway was made the dividing line, and the new court-
house was erected on its west side in 1844. This became the center of busi-
ness, and stores sprang up. But a large gap, a long hill still separated the
eastern part of Sterling from the west. It was so as late as 1856. After the
excitement due to the removal of the postoffice to the west end by Joseph
Hutchison, to quiet the enraged patrons, Mr. Hutchison put up a small






one-story building on the hill, which gradually attracted trade, and led to
other improvements.

It will be noticed that the avenues of Sterling, running north and
south to the river, are much wider than the streets east and west, Rock
river was considered a navigable stream, and small steamers in good stage
of water came from the Mississippi. So delighted with the arrival of Capt.
Harris in 1836 in his steamer Pioneer that the proud citizens of upper town
named it Harrisburg in his honor. As late as 1844, when Gait and Craw-
ford were carrying on a general store, they sent lard, butter, and other produce
to St. Louis by occasional boats that made the trips up and down the river.
A political incident is pleasantly recalled in connection with the block
built on Third street in 1858 by J. H. Boynton. Hon. John P. Hale, the
famous anti-slavery senator of New Hampshire, was advertised to speak,
Oct. 30, but the wind was so wintry, that an out-door meeting was impossible,
and as the partitions of the Boynton block were not up, the whole lower
floor was seated, and several hundred men made comfortable. He spoke
for two hours, keeping his audience in good humor with his argument, ridi-
cule, and illustration, and there was a sigh when the genial speaker left
the stand. No more delightful piece of political oratory was ever given in
the city.


Whoe'er has traveled life's dull round,

Where'er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found,

His warmest welcome at an inn. Shenstone.

Four of the older hotels are gone, the Central House, Sterling House,
the American somewhat later, the Wallace House, now the office of the
Gazette. The Boynton has been metamorphosed into a European hotel. The
old W T allace House, built in 1854-55 by Hugh Wallace, enjoyed a high repu-
tation for twenty years, secured chiefly through the management of Mr.
and Mrs. William McCune, who, like the landlords of English country inns,
gave their personal attention to office and kitchen.

The opening of the Gait House, erected in 1877 by Thomas A. Gait,
drew together the largest assemblage of prominent persons since the railroad
inauguration in 1855. The reception and ball on the evening of August 21
was attended by five hundred invited guests, comprising state officers, editors,
men in high station from various cities. Flowers, music, decorations, made
the brilliantly lighted halls a scene of Arcadian revelry. A sumptuous ban-
quet. Toasts and replies by Attorney General Edsall, Speaker Shaw, Con-
gressman Burchard, Sullivan of Chicago Journal, Judge Eustace, Win. Barge,
M. S. Henry, C. C. Buell, E. B. Washburne stood on the stairway, and said
a few words, the last appearance of our distinguished diplomat in the city.
The enterprise represents an investment of $75,000. J. H. Gray, of Chi-
cago, was the first lessee. The building is brick, four stories above basement,
and one hundred by hundred and twenty feet on the ground. Accommoda-
tions for two hundred guests.


Built a few years later is the Randolph House, corner Third and A
avenue, on the site of the oldest grocery in Wallacetown, kept by Robert
and Edgar Randolph, whose gray-haired father, a soldier, was until his
death, the oldest citizen, and regularly given the place of honor on the plat-
form at public celebrations. It is just north of the Northwestern station, con-
venient for travelers, and until her decline of health, was conducted by Mrs.
Emma Randolph, widow of Edgar.


By John D. Arey.

Oft in the stilly night

Ere slumber's chain has bound me

Fond memory brings the light

Of other days around me. Moore.

Before the cities of Sterling and Rock Falls existed, the place they occupy
was called Rock river rapids. In 1837 a town of about one half mile square
was laid out on the north bank of the river at the head of the rapids, called
Harrisburg in honor of Capt. Harris, who ran the first steamboat up the river
to this place. Soon after a town of the same size was laid out on the same
side of the river, at the foot of the rapids, about one-third of a mile below
Harrisburg, called Chatham. At this time the State of Illinois began a
series of internal improvements, one of which was a canal up and down the
rapids, to enable boats to pass them by a lock. The canal was located along
the south bank of the river, and about $40,000 expended toward its construc-
tion. This gave the south side of the river a great advantage in future pros-
pects, and a town one mile square, called Rapid City, was laid out on that
side opposite Chatham, and while the state work was in progress, completely
overshadowed the prospects of the two north side towns. The work done on
the canal was one-half mile in length, between avenues A and D in the pre -
ent city of Rock Falls. A dry stone wall, eight feet wide at the bottom, and to
be four feet wide at the top, was laid along the margin of the river far enough
out from the bank to give the canal the proper width, the stone quarried
from the bank to build the wall, and the stripping and waste from the quar-
ries deposited on the river side of it, making a bank about fifty feet wide
and a little higher than the wall. When the work was stopped, the wall, was
from six to eight feet in height, but no part of it was completed. The failure
of this work put a stop to any further improvements in Rapid City, and it
passed out of existence.

When Whiteside county was organized, Lyndon was fixed upon as the
county seat, and the courts were held there for a few years. The town did
not furnish a suitable building in which to hold courts and keep the county
records, and it became a question between the towns in different parts of the
county as to which could hold out the greatest inducements and secure the
prize. Harrisburg and Chatham both realized that neither could succeed if
opposed by the other, and immediately decided to unite their fortunes and
the towns at the same time, which they did by laying out a street north-


westerly from the river bank, through the center of the piece of land between
them, one hundred and fifty feet in width, called Broadway, and extending
the streets in each town until they intersected it, distinguishing the num-
bering of the blocks, by east, or west, of Broadway. A committee from each
town was authorized to decide on which side of Broadway the county build-
ing should be located, and on a name for the new town. Block fifty-seven
west of Broadway was selected, and the new name was Sterling, given in
honor of a personal friend of one of the committee. In 1844 a courthouse
was erected, and the courts were therein located. There were then about
two-thirds of the inhabitants of Sterling living east of Broadway, but as
stores and hotels were built, they were mostly located west, and in 1855, when
the first railroad was built, a majority of the people were living there. When
the first depot was located there were but two or three buildings in the town
west of Third avenue, the lower dam was built the same season, and the stone
used in its construction was taken from the old canal wall, and the quarries
that were opened in both banks of the river above the dam. Wallace's addi-
tion was laid out and stores, hotels, and other business enterprises grew up
in the new part of the town. Mills and factories were built on the water
power, and the city which was incorporated in 1857 has had a steady growth
to the present time.

In 1857, Morrison, then an important station on the railroad, and
located near the center of the county, raised the question of a new location for
the county seat. An act was passed by the General Assembly enabling the
people to vote on it. Out of a total vote of 3,203, it was carried for the town
of Morrison by a majority of 59, and the county offices were moved to that
place in 1858, where they have since remained.

At the time of the earliest settlement of Rock river rapids, the nearest
point where the people could receive their mail, was at Dixon's ferry, where
the mail route from Peoria to Galena crossed Rock river, and a postoffice
was established. The first postoffice was opened within the limits of the
present city of Sterling in 1837, and was kept in a store on River street, on
the west side of Chestnut street in the town of Chatham.


The river knows the way to the sea;
Without a pilot it runs and falls. Emerson.

In the days of Harrisburg, a ferry propelled by horse power was run
across Rock River above the rapids for a few years and discontinued. From
that time until the lower dam was built, the only way of crossing the river
at Sterling with teams, was fording in summer, or crossing the ice in winter.
A fund was raised by subscription in 1856, and the first bridge was built
from avenue B, crossing the north channel to the island, from the island
to the south bank. The bridge was completed with the exception of the
floor planking at the south end, when it was carried out by the i<!e in the
spring of 1857. The railroad bridge west of Nelson was at the same time
taken from the piers and left standing with the track on it, on the bottom


lands on the east side of the river, about half a mile down the stream. A
boat was then built, and a ferry established about two hundred feet above
the present location of the First avenue bridge. A cable chain was laid across
the river, and the boat was propelled by a tread power, the chain running
over the drive wheel, and over pulleys at each end of the boat. A few years
afterward another ferry was established at Broadway, and was operated by
anchoring one end of a wire cable about a thousand feet in length, in the
center of the river above the ferry, with the other end attached to the boat
in such a manner that it could be swung across the river by the current.
The cable was supported above the water by small boate located at intervals
of about two hundred feet, under the line of the cable; it did not prove a
.success, and only ran one season. About the same time a rope ferry was
started on avenue B below the dam, which was operated until in 1863 a
stock company was formed, and a toll bridge was built at the same place,
and maintained until a few years after the present bridge was built.

The present free bridge between Sterling and Rock Falls was voted by
a large majority, and completed in 1878. It is a six-span bridge, each span
171 feet long, the superstructure of iron being twenty feet above the bed
of the river, with a road bed eighteen feet wide, and a walk five feet wide
on each side. The abutments and piers of Batavia stone. The structure is
guaranteed to sustain a weight of 1,800 pounds to the lineal foot.

In 1874 George W. Barr fitted up a steam tug, purchased at Lyons,
Iowa, and operated it as a ferry boat between the cities. It was called the
White Swan, and did a good passenger traffic for several years.

Avenue G Bridge, completed in December, 1907, is the latest structure
thrown across the river. It is the second on the same site. The first barely
completed and ready for travel, was swept away bodily in the tremendous
ice gorge of March, 1906. The solid iron and stone work snapped like pipe
stems before the resistless wall of moving blocks. Steps were taken at once
to rebuild, and the rapid reconstruction is worthy of all praise.

The committee in charge of the construction of the bridge were Super-
visors A. E. Parmenter of Lyndon, Frank Thomas of Tampico, and Rollin
Halsted of Rock Falls; Road Commissioners F. S. Bressler, Amos Hoover
and John I. Phillips, the clerk of the board being Roy R. Baer.

The approximate estimate of the cost of the superstructure is $32,000;
the concrete abutments $8,000; the fill and grading $1,500, making the total
cost of the bridge $41,500, which is $3,500 less than the appropriation pro-
vided for the building of the bridge. The town of Sterling voted the sum
of $22,500 to rebuild the structure and the county appointed a committee of
supervisors to act for the county, which is equivalent to appropriating $22,500
for the county's share of the bridge.

The total length of the Avenue G bridge is 1,200 feet and is built in
two parts, covering channels on each side of the island at the foot of Avenue
G. A truss bridge was erected across the south channel. It is a 300 foot
span, the largest single span on Rock river and is a magnificent structure.
There are nine spans of 100 feet each on the north side. This is plate girder
.superstructure. The width of the roadway is twenty-four feet, and the floor


is twenty feet above the normal surface of the water. This is five feet and
four inches higher than the old structure. The plate girders are ten feet
deep. The floor of the bridge was built on the bottom of the girder. On
the old bridge the floor was built in the center of the girder. The girders
will act as a wind break during winter. It was necessary to re-enforce the
girders and at intervals of fifteen feet "wind" braces were> erected to brace
the girders.

The new bridge is believed to be even more substantial than the other.
It looks firm enough to stand for all time. A magnificent prospect up and-
down the stream. Really the most picturesque spot in the city's landscape.


All houses wherein men have lived and died

Are haunted houses. Thro' the open doors

The harmless phantoms on their errands glide

With feet that make no sound upon the floors. Longfellow.

The cabins of the earliest settlers, Brink, Brewer, Kilgour, and others,.
Wallace's fort, are gone. So the hotels, Sterling House and Central House,
and later, the American in first ward, torn down in 1908. The stone house
west of Central Park, sometimes called the Glass house, was built, says M.
M. Warner, about 1847, by Captain McCabe, who many years ago navigated
Rock river at the time from Como to Rock Island and operated the stone
flour mill at Como. The mill at the time was the largest on Rock river. The
captain went to California, and died there.

Kilgour's log hut stood near the site of Walter Haskell's mansion.
George Brewer's father built his first house with bass wood sides, near the
river, south of Mr. Brewer's present home. Luther Bush built a low one-
story house in 1838 near the present Lincoln school. The stone foundation is
two feet thick, heavy enough for tower of Babel. Mr. Bush and his sons
Ed and Henry burned brick, and erected that large double dwelling on
Broadway, lately purchased by John Hoover. This was in 1856. The son,

Online LibraryWilliam W DavisHistory of Whiteside County, Illinois from its earliest settlement to 1908 : illustrated, with biographical sketches of some prominent citizens of the county (Volume v.1) → online text (page 39 of 72)