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Past and Present of Will County, Illinois

By W. W. Stevens
President of the Will County Pioneers Association
Assisted by an Advisory Board,
consisting of Hon. James G. Elwood, James H. Ferriss,
William Grinton, Mrs. Kate Henderson and A. C. Clement
Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Dedicated to the Pioneers of Will County


This was one of the very earliest of the townships in the county to be settled. It is claimed that six families left Parke county, Indiana, in February, 1829, and made their way into Jackson township, or to what was afterward called Jackson township. The families were those of Charles Reed, Joseph and Eli Shoemaker, Charles Koons and George and Henry Linebarger. They were six weeks on the road and it took them eleven days to get across the Kankakee river. Reed and the Shoemakers settled at Reed's Grove which is in the corner of the two townships of Jackson and Channahon and the Koons and the Linebargers went to Jackson's grove and settled there. Charles Reed and Eli Shoemaker settled on the Jackson side of the grove while Joseph Shoemaker built his cabin on the Channahon side. These were permanent settlers for the most of them lived there many years.

Eli Shoemaker and Charles Koons were sons-in-law of Reed and hence it was somewhat of a family affair. They built their cabins and then broke up some of the land and raised a very good crop that year. George Kirkpatrick and brother and James Hemphill came into the township in May 1831. They were from Ohio and when they reached the place the first pioneers were well settled, and had pretty good farms under cultivation. James Hemphill died in 1863 and Kirkpatrick Dec. 15, 1880.

During the next year Wesley Jenkins and Thomas Underwood, a brother-in-law and Jefferson Ragsdale came there from North Carolina. Jenkins was a very emphatic man in his conversation and a great admirer of General Jackson, who was then at the height of his popularity and when it was proposed to give a name to the creek that flowed through the township, Jenkins told them it must be named Jackson Creek, and as the rest of the settlers were of the same opinion it was readily named for the hero of New Orleans and when the township was organized a few years later it received the same name as the creek, and by those names they are known to this day. The "Jenkins" colony did not remain there very long but removed elsewhere. The Linebargers were natives of North Carolina but had lived for several years in Indiana before removing to Jackson. In addition to those already mentioned two other brothers came and settled in Jackson Grove. Henry one of the brothers died some four years later and his was probably the first death in the township. George Linebarger lived there to a very advanced age. He died July 6, 1883 and John died May 6, 1885.

Peter Eib and his five sons, George, Levi, Peter, Amos and Augustus came there from Virginia in 1833. They settled north of Jackson Grove, and George the eldest of the sons is still a resident of the old homestead, though upwards of ninety years of age. Levi and the other brothers died several years ago. The Eibs were all good citizens and highly respected.

The same troubles existed at Reed's and Jackson Groves when the Black Hawk war broke out that prevailed elsewhere among the settlers of the county and there was a general stampede for the settled parts of the Wabash, there to remain until the trouble was over which was of but a few months duration. All returned in the fall and occupied their old log cabins as before. They found the most of the stock they had left behind, the goods in the cabins were unmolested, but all the cows had gone dry and there was no milk or butter to be had in the whole settlement.

In May of 1834, Jacob and Joseph Zumwalt came to the Grove and built their cabins but they remained but a few years when they went farther west to find a home.

In 1834, Robert J. Boylan, Peter Brown and his two sons, John and Ara, and Smith Johnson, all natives of New Jersey came to settle at the head of the Grove. This proved to be a most important settlement for the parties were all good and reliable citizens and came to the country with the view of making it their permanent home. Mr. Boylan was a practical surveyor and a good one and a man of excellent tact and judgment. He was sent on ahead to select and locate their land and his excellent foresight and judgment was well verified in the selection of the land as well as in the location of their future homes. Hardly a finer place could have been found in the whole county. There was plenty of timber for buildings and fuel and there was no better land to be found anywhere. He located twenty-one eighties of land all in a body, 1,680 acres, at the head of Jackson Grove and with the creek meandering through it. Another excellent thing found on the land was a good stone quarry which not only supplied their own wants for building stone but also supplied that of the adjoining townships with all that was needed. Major Boylan as he was universally known, was county surveyor and also township treasurer for many years which offices he filled with honesty and fidelity. He died at his old home in the Grove, May 11, 1892, at the ripe old age of eighty-six years. The Browns and Johnsons have long since passed away but they have left in the township numerous descendants, who are all good, substantial citizens. Peter Brown died in March, 1840; Ara Brown, September 18, 1860.

Henry Watkins and his three sons, Henry, Jr., Benjamin and Peter came from New York in 1834, but they stayed but a few years when they went elsewhere to locate.

A school house was built at Reed's Grove that year and Henry Watkins, Sr., was engaged to teach a school in it. That was the first school in the township.

Edward Kirk came to the county in 1834 and the year following went to the township and put in his claim for land there. After the scare of Indian wars had blown over the township settled up quite rapidly. It was not until 1840 that there was a postoffice in the settlement. In that year a mail route was established from Joliet to Danville and as it passed through Jackson's Grove a postoffice was established and James Gager was the first postmaster. It was a great convenience to the community, but a great nuisance to whoever had charge of it, for it paid but little or nothing and yet whoever kept it must attend to it and keep the office open all reasonable hours of the day. When however the railroad was completed through the township in 1854 and a station named Elwood was established, the postoffice was then removed there and became a fixture for all future time.

The township was organized and named in 1850 and the first election held on April 2, of that year. The township was first settled with men who were of democratic tendencies and that is the way the votes have been cast with very few exceptions since the first settlements. The emphatic Jenkins in the early settlement of the township said that no man on earth but Jackson should be honored by having his name given the Creek, Grove and township and there has been no attempt on the part of anyone to call it by any other name since that time. Even Major Boylan, a good straight Whig and Republican as he was, never objected to the name of Jackson for the township. The democratic majority in the township is seldom large, but it is always very reliable, showing that the voters there may sometimes change in other respects, but their votes, never.

In 1833, a religious society was formed and as was the case with most other townships in the county it was a Methodist society and William Thornberg was chosen the leader of it. But little was done, however, aside from holding meetings occasionally in the homes of the members until 1852 when a very substantial church building was erected one mile west of the present village of Elwood. The building cost some $1,800 and in 1866 the society voted to remove the building to the village. Although the road over which the building was to be moved was comparativeiy smooth, yet the distance was considerable to move so large a building and it took a long time to accomplish the task. Meetings were held in it, however, quite regularly so that the only inconvenience was to find it each Sabbath, as there was a change of location weekly. The old pioneers in Methodism in the county were among the first preachers in the township, and the names of Jesse Walker, Stephen R. Beggs and John Sinclair were well known to all the settlers, for it was quite a common custom for all the pioneers to attend those meetings whether they were Methodists or not.

The Baptists have a very neat and attractive church building in Elwood which was erected in 1859.

The Reformed Lutherans in the township built a small church near the creek on the southwest corner of section fifteen and among the first members and leaders in the enterprise were Rev. Rufas Smith, Edward Loomis, S. Bosley, Henry and Christopher Lichtenwalter and Christian Fout. Rev. Smith was the first minister and he proved to be a very acceptable one, for he labored among his people with zeal and fidelity. But after a labor of some five years, the few members became disheartened and voted to deed the building to the Lord and accordingly a deed was prepared and regularly signed by the members, but as it was never put on record of course there was no conveyance of title. Late years the building has been occupied by various denominations as they desired its use. The United Brethren erected a small church in the northeast corner of the township some forty-five years ago. The church has a very good membership and is in a fairly healthy condition. The German Methodists have a small church on the northwest corner of section twenty-four. It is a frame building and cost the society $1,400. William Pollman, John Gise, Isaac Mayer, William Kriemier and Jacob Wible were the original members and contributed largely towards the erection of the building.

The schools in the township are among the very best in the county. From the very first settlement of the township, schools were provided for and fostered and thus every child of proper age in the township was taught the rudiments of an education that was to prove of much value in after life. From the opening of the first school at Reed's Grove in 1834, until the present time, schools have been the great aim and object of the inhabitants in bringing up the child, and there is not a person probably in the township who cannot read and write. The people of the township have good reason to be justly proud of their schools for they are certainly worthy of it.

The land in the township is good and well cultivated and the farm buildings well cared for, presenting a neat and comfortable appearance. The values placed on the farms are high, much higher than in other parts of the county where the land is quite as good. This may be accounted for in part from the fact that comparatively few of the farms are for sale. They are owned and occupied by persons in easy circumstances who have no object or desire to dispose of them.

The following well-known citizens, although later settlers there, still they are worthy of mention here.

Thomas Tait was born in the Shetland Islands, September 23, 1830. He came to America with his parents in 1838, and Chicago in July of that year. They soon after removed to Lake county, and in 1841 came to Will county. In 1851 he purchased a farm in the north part of Jackson township, and in 1858 removed upon it with his family. That was his home until his death, May 2, 1896.

Daniel Eaton was a native of Ireland, having been born in County Antrim, September 26, 1827. He came to America in 1855, settling first in Kendall county, where he remained until 1862, when he came to Jackson township, and purchased a farm five miles south of Joliet. That was his home until his death, December 7, 1906.

Elias Brown is a native of the township, being a son of Ara Brown, and one of its earliest settlers. He has always resided in the township, and is one of its most respected and substantial citizens. He has been the supervisor of his township for several years, and is the present incumbent of that office.

Seth Gibler is one of the successful farmers of the township, and has been since 1853. He is a native of Ohio and came to the county when a boy of fourteen years. He is one of the leading men of his township, always having taken a great interest in its affairs, and especially in the cause of education.


A most horrible tragedy occurred in the township on the evening of July 4, 1861, when Christian Golz, an aged man of sixty-three years, was murdered at his own door. He lived at Troutman's Grove, some six or seven miles southeast of Joliet, and was considered a peaceable, quiet citizen. He was at work doing his chores about his barn on that evening, when a young man by the name of Richard Dooley came along and got into an altercation with the old man. Dooley was said to have been ugly drunk. They had quarrelled before and Golz had forbidden Dooley's going upon his premises and when he came that evening, the old man ordered him to leave, as was alleged, and took measures to put his order into execution, when a tight ensued, and Dooley drew a large dirk knife, and stabbed Golz to the heart, thus killing him instantly. The wife of the old man heard the noise, and going to his rescue, was stabbed by Dooley in the side, but the wound did not prove fatal, and she in time recovered. Dooley did not attempt to escape, but was arrested the following morning upon a warrant issued by Justice Fryer of Channahon. Dooley waived an examination and was taken to Joliet and lodged in jail. He was afterward tried for murder, found guilty, and sentenced to state's prison for life. He was lodged in the old jail, and when Zaph, the murderer of Benjamin Pickles broke jail Dooley escaped with him, but was recaptured and taken to prison, where a few years later he died, thus serving out his sentence and paying the full penalty of his awful crime.


Until the Chicago and Mississippi railroad or the Chicago and Alton as it is now called was built there was no thought of having a village in the township, from the fact there was hardly any need of one and had there been there was nothing to build up one. The people were content to go to Joliet to trade and even get their mail there and that was all that was necessary. But the building of the railroad through the township presented a new aspect of affairs to the people. They saw that there must be a station in the township and that the station would soon grow into a village. Hence a site was selected for the station and a village laid out; the lots sold, and soon quite a village stood out on the bare prairie without a tree or even a bush in the vicinity. William Turner built the first building and opened up the first stock of goods ever seen in the township. Soon other buildings were erected, a school house, stores, blacksmith shop, and in 1869 it became incorporated under the general law as a village. William H. Mulig was elected the first president, of the village and R. Spafford, John Linebarger, William Eversoll and T. A. Mapps as a board of trustees. W. E. Keith was the first police magistrate. A very destructive fire occurred in the village on the night, of May 28, 1874, which destroyed nearly every building in the business portion and seriously retarded the growth of the village. There was but little insurance on the property destroyed and the owners were so seriously crippled that but few ever resumed business there.

The population of the township at the last census was 1,155 and the vote 301, 162 of which was democratic and 139 republican.


Number of pupils enrolled in 1906, 298
Number of school districts, 10
Number of graded schools, 1
Number of ungraded schools, 9
Number of teachers, 11
Number of pupils enrolled in 1876, 415
Loss in thirty years, 117

Last Update: Sunday, 22-Mar-2015 20:06:40 EDT

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Will County Coordinator: Dennis Partridge
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