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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 earliest settled of the towns in the county. The township was largely covered with timber, and that proved as great an attraction to the pioneer in Frankfort, as it did in the other parts of the county, for it was a fixed fact that the pioneer would build his cabin where fuel and shelter was to be had, and that too with but little trouble to himself. Another attraction was the land was high and rolling and well watered and drained, and besides the Old Sac trail, which went in almost a direct line from the ford on the Desplaines river to the St. Joseph river in Michigan, passed directly through where the present village of Frankfort was located. That trail was then the great highway or thoroughfare for all who came into the county with teams from the east. Although the trail itself was but a narrow, well worn foot path, as Indians always travelled in single file, one behind the other, yet the trail soon became a well beaten road, and in dry weather was very good traveling. The township is divided nearly in the center by Hickory creek, which passes through it from east to west. There are two villages in the township, the one upon the south side of the township being Frankfort, while that on the north is called Mokena. These villages were settled when the railroads were built through the township, Mokena on the Rock Island and Frankfort on the Cut Off. These villages were completed,—all finished off soon after the completion of the roads, and there they have remained for the last forty or fifty years, monuments of the thrift of the pioneers of those villages.

The first settlements made in the township was in 1831, when John McGovney, William Moore and William Rice, came there and built their cabins near where the present village of Mokena stands. But they did not remain there in quiet long, for the spring following, Black Hawk went on the war path, and they being near the old Sac trail, knew it was not safe there, and so they with many others retreated to the better settled country of the Wabash. They were from Ohio, and after the war scare was over, Moore returned to his former home. McGovney and Rice, however, returned to their claims, and became permanent settlers. Mr. McGovney brought with him four sons, W. W., Ozias, Thomas G., and Elijah, only one of them being now alive, and that one is Ozias who has always lived in Mokena, and is one of its oldest and most respected citizens. Thomas G. was for many years a resident of Joliet, his house being on the corner of Richards street and Third avenue. He died there February 6th, 1885.

Another son of Mr. McGovney, John W., was born in the settlement, in the spring of 1832, and was the first white child born in the township.

Mathew Van Horn came from New York, and settled on the creek a mile west of where Frankfort is now located, and where he first built his cabin. There was his home until death called him home. Peter Clayes was a native of New Hampshire. He first made his claim near Loekport, but in 1837, removed to the township and built his cabin in the creek timber. Orlando and Levi M. were his sons, and they settled near the father in the timber. Charles, another son came soon after, and worked on the claims made by the father and brothers. They all are dead. Charles Clayes died January 14th, 1894, and Levi M. July 27th, 1896. Daniel Wilson same there from Ohio in 1834, and also settled in the creek timber. Francis came in 1835 from Kentucky, and Phineas Holden, and Truman Smith came from Vermont the same year. Ambrose Doty came from Ohio in 1834, and settled on or near the line of New Lenox and Frankfort townships, in fact, it is said that his cabin was exactly on the line. But some years later he built a handsome residence a little farther east in Franfort township. His son, Levi Doty, is now a resident of the village of Frankfort. Allen and Lysander Denny, and Daniel Ketchum, came from New York in 1835. The Dennys settled on the Mokena side of the Hichory creek timber. Lysander afterwards built a sawmill on the creek, but several years later sold out and removed to the Village of Spencer, where he died. Allen lived in the township for many years, but finally sold out and returned to New York, and died there some thirty-five years ago. There were others who came to the township and remained a short time, and then returned to their old homes.

The township has three railroads, which, gives to it unbounded railroad facilities. The first of them to enter the township was the Rock Island, on the north side of it. That was in the fall of 1852. The village was laid out where the company had located the station, and soon buildings were going up in every direction. Lumber was shipped from Chicago that had been brought from the pineries of Wisconsin and Michigan, and which was not only cheaper, but much easier worked than the hardwood lumber sawed at the home mills. In 1855, the "Cut-Off" road, as it was called, was opened from Joliet to Lake Station, and then there was a boom for the south side of the township. Still later another road has been built through the town a little south of the "Cut-Off" road, and running parallel with it, called the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad, or the "Outer Belt Line," which is quite an addition to the town for freight traffic, but not otherwise.

The first practicing physician for that section of the county, was one Dr. Moses Porter, who had settled over in Hadley, in Homer Township, but the first resident physician was Dr. W. P. Holden, who came there in 1832 or 1833, and settled on the south side of the township. The first mill built was that of Mathew Van Horne, who built a small mill on the creek in 1835, but it was afterwards added to, and a run of stones put in for grinding corn. In 1836, C. O. L. and L. M. Clayes came there and opened a store which they managed for some ten years, and then closed it out. Soon after, M. O. Farwell came and opened a store in the same building. A postoffice was opened there in 1837, and Levi M. Clayes appointed postmaster, the name of the office being Chelsea, and after the Clayes closed out their store, the office was removed to Van Hornes, and he made the postmaster. The mail supplied to the postoffice was a weekly, and came from La Porte, Ind. When the postoffice was first established in 1837, a village was laid out by Farwell and Charles Clayes, which they named Chelsea. It had quite a boom for a while, but when the Rock Island road was started in 1852, the village was abandoned, and the business with several of the buldings removed over to the railroad.

It is said that Father Beggs preached the first sermon in the township, as he was in fact the pioneer preacher in most of the towns in the county. The Rev. Mr. Blackwell, another Methodist preacher came there in 1837, and organized a class at Mr. Doty's house. His house was the largest in the settlement, and was the usual place for holding religious meetings before school houses were indulged in by the pioneers.

The first regular school taught in the township was in a small log structure near the creek on section nineteen. There were two ladies who taught there at different times, a Mrs. Knight and Mrs. Hiram Wood, but which one taught first it impossible now to say.

But school facilities have greatly improved in the township since that day. There are now eight school districts with good school houses all well filled with scholars. The township is excellent for dairying, and large quantities of milk are shipped daily from Mokena, to Chicago. In that respect it excells any other station on the road. There were formerly cheese and butter factories in the township, but we think they have been abandoned, as it pays much better to ship the milk than to manufacture it into butter and cheese. It is claimed that the township was given its name by John Coppel, an early settler and a native of Frankfort-on-the-Main, in Germany. The township had not as many inhabitants in 1900 as in 1880. Then there were some 1,900, while in 1900 there were but 1,560. In the former year over 400 votes were east for election, while at the last election, but 375 were cast.


Frankfort became a village under the general law in 1879. An election was held on September 18th, of that year, and the following were elected as the first officers: John McDonald, president; and T. Herschbach, C. F. Bauman, O. Donahoe, Henry Nettels and F. Hasenjaeger, trustees of the village. It was laid out by Sherman W. Bowen of Joliet. who owned the eighty acres that embraced the village. It was in 1855, the same year, that the Cutt-Off road was opened through there. The village, like its neighbor on the opposite side of the township, improved rapidly for a few years until it got its growth, and since then it has just about held its own.

The first store in the town was a small one kept by a Mr. Higley, but it did not continue long. N. A. Carpenter started a store in 1855, and also erected a building for a storehouse. The first hotel in the village was erected by a Mr. Doud, but J. R. Letts soon became the proprietor, and kept it for many years. It is still the only one in the village. A postoffice was established in the village in 1856, and was named at first Frankfort Station, but several years later the name was changed to correspond with the name of the township.

The first grain merchant was N. A. Carpenter, who purchased for J. L. Hurd & Company of Detroit. A grain warehouse was erected in 1856, but the building was burned in 1878. The next grain buyer in the village was John McDonald, who came there as station agent for the railroad in 1857. He purchased of the teams on the street, and loaded the grain into cars direct from the wagons. In 1878 he had made his pile large enough to afford an elevator, and proceeded to erect one. It cost some $7,000.00, and had a capacity of 25,000 bushels. Mr. McDonald did a large business in grain, and always shipped it east over the Michigan Central road. When the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern railroad was completed south of the village, Mr. McDonald also built a large warehouse for the storage of grain on that road, thus doubling his business, as well as his capacity for handling grain. He died in that village.

Frankfort has another large grain elevator, which was erected by Carroll & Meyer in 1875, and which has a capacity of some 40,000 bushels of grain.

Among the early merchants of the village were Thomas Herschbach, who opened a hardware store and tinshop there about 1860. He is still doing a good business at it at the same old stand where he first started. And he is the only one left of the old business men that opened trade there at that date. E. C. & David S. Stephen started a large manufactory of plows, and other agricultural implements about the same time. They are still there and doubtless doing well.

As soon as the village was well started, a school house was erected, and Josiah Carpenter taught the first school after its erection. A Miss Lizzie Kent, however, taught a small school in the village before the school house was built. The present fine school building in the village was erected in 1870, at a cost of $5,000.00.

In 1856, the first church edifice in the village or township, was erected by the Methodists. The society was formed several years previous at the meeting held at Doty's before mentioned. There was a division of membership sometime after the meeting a part going to Mokena and the balance remained at Frankfort, and formed a society there when the village was started. A Baptist church was built in the village in 1863, and Rev. David Letts was the first pastor. The United German Evangelical Lutheran Church was erected in 1868, at a cost of some $2,000.00.


Mokena is some two or three years the elder of Frankfort Village, and was started in 1852, before the Rock Island Road was completed. Allen Denny was the original proprietor of the village, although John McGoveny laid out an addition to it afterwards. By the fall of 1853 it was quite a respectable village with a hotel, blacksmith shop, one or two stores, and several very comfortable dwellings. For four or five years building in the village was quite brisk, but by 1860 the building had been completed, and since that time but little building has been done there. The village has a very neat and commodious school house at the east end of the main street. Ozias McGoveny was the first justice of the peace in the village, a position he has filled for more than a score of years with excellent credit for himself as well as for the village. Warren Knapp was the first postmaster, its location having been changed from the village of Chelsea.

A steam mill was built in the village in 1855, but it proved to be a poor investment and ten years-later the machinery was taken out and sold and the building changed to a grain elevator, and such has since been its use.

There are three churches in the village, the Methodist, German Lutheran and German Catholic. The Methodist society was formed there soon after the village was started. The society held their meetings in the school house until 1868, when a very neat and commodious church was erected. The Methodist Society is a small one, and the church is occupied each alternate Sabbath by the Baptist society.

The German Lutheran church was built in 1859 at a cost of some $1,500.00. The Society, though small, is a nourishing one and has a very interesting Sunday school.

The St. Mary's German Catholic church was erected in 1864, and has a membership of about fifty families. It has a good Sunday school which is well maintained.

The village was incorporated in 1880, under the General Law, and on May 14th, of that year, an election was held with the following result: Ozias McGoveny, president; John A. Hatch, clerk; and John Coppal, John Zahn, George Smith, Valentine Scheer and John Ulrich, trustees.


Number of pupils enrolled in 1906, 239
Number of school districts, 8
Number of teachers, 12
Number of graded schools, 2
Number of ungraded schools, 6
Number of pupils enrolled in 1876, 610
Loss in thirty years, 371

Last Update: Sunday, 22-Mar-2015 20:07:20 EDT

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Will County Coordinator: Dennis Partridge
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