History of Savanna, Carroll County, Il
From: The History of Carroll County, Illinois
H. F. Kett & Co., Times Building
Chicago 1878.


The first settlement by white people within the territory of Carroll County, was made on the land now occupied by the village of Savanna, in the Fall of 1828. That settlement was made by George and Vance L. Davidson, Aaron Pierce and William Blundell and their families, a full history of which will be found in the first pages of this book. Commencing there, settlements extended out in every direction. For many years Savanna was as noted as Galena. Before the days of railroads, it was an important shipping point, and hundreds of the pioneer settlers in this and adjoining counties found their way from their old homes by steamboats to Savanna. After their claims and future homes were selected, it was the point from which they received their supplies, and when they began to raise a surplus of farm products, a market was found by way of Savanna and the Mississippi River. In those days, the farmers from Rockford, Freeport and other points in that direction, came here to dispose of their commodities and buy their lumber, and such other necessities as their wants demanded. It is one of the oldest towns on the Upper Mississippi and as such has a history within itself. Much of th at history has already been written, but there are many things yet to speak about.

Until 1836, no steps were taken towards building a town at this point. In that year, however, Luther H. Bowen, having one year before bought the claim interests of George Davidson and Aaron Pierce, laid off the town of Savanna, and soon after opened a general store. Other trading places soon followed, and in 1839, when Carroll County was organized, Savanna became the county seat, a distinction it maintained until the re-location of the county seat by a vote of the people, in August, 1843, and the removal of the county offices to Mount Carroll, in September, 1844.

As the population increased, schools were commenced and church services soon followed. The first teacher was Miss Hannah Fuller, who taught a private or subscription school, as early as the Winter of 1836-7. In the Winter of 1837-8, Dr. Elias Woodruff taught the "young idea how to shoot," and administered healing remedies to such of the settlers as fell victims to the diseases incident to life in a new country.

The Methodist people had religious services as early as 1836. These services were rendered by circuit riders - a circuit then extending over the territory now embraced in perhaps a half a dozen counties. Meeting houses there were none, but the doors of the settlers' cabins were thrown open, and every body went to church. The most active members of that denomination were George Davidson and wife, and William Blundell and wife. In 1838, the Ashby family, ardent and devoted Methodists, came in, and soon after their arrival, a class was formed and preaching became more frequent. In the Fall of 1839, a camp meeting was held in the grove about one mile east of town, on land now owned by William L. B. Jenks. The presiding elder was Rev. Mr. Weed. Such were the beginnings of Methodism at Savanna, but the building of a church was not undertaken until 1849. In that year steps were taken to build a house of worship, and a small frame house was erected on lot No. 6, block No. 41, which, when completed, served until a larger and better one was commenced, in 1868, and completed in 1869. The old church passed into the ownership of the school district, and was used for a school house. In time the scholars increased so that a larger house was a necessity, and it was sold to the Catholic Society, by whom it was re-fitted, and by whom it is used as a house of worship. The first religious services held in this building were conducted by the Universalist people before its final completion, and the first held in the present Methodist Church edifice, and before it was fully completed, were conducted by Rev. Mr. Edson, an Episcopal clergyman of Galena.

In 1854, the Congregational people built a house of worship on lot No. 12, block No. 28. Rev. James Hill was the pastor at the time the church was built, and to his management belongs the credit and the honor of its erection. Regular services were continued by this people until 1a67, when they were abandoned. After the walls of this house were up and enclosed, it fell into the nominal control of the school district and was used as a school house. At one time the old M. E. Church Building (now the Catholic), the Congregational Church, and two other houses, were used for educational purposes. Removals, etc., rendered the Congregational people too weak to maintain a pastor, and the undertaking was given up.

The Presbyterians at one time had a small organization, and held their services in the Congregational Church. Rev. Mr. Harsha was their first pastor, and Rev. Mr. Hildreth the second. Neither the Congregationalists nor the Presbyterians now attempt to maintain regular pastors, although they both have occasional preaching.

The Free Methodists have an organization, as have also the United Brethren, but neither are sufficiently able to maintain regular pastors.

The Episcopal people, of whom there are quite a number, maintain an organization, although not a legal one, and occupy the position of a missionary station. In 1872, they had a clergyman about one third of the time, as he could spare the time from his other posts of labor, and in 1876, Mr. C. Gibson, a preacher of their faith, labored among them. Bishop McLaren visited this station in May, 1877, and confirmed four persons. There are at present some twenty five to thirty baptized members, including children.

In the Fall of 1875, the friends of this church leased from the school district the building known as the Stone School House, and put it in complete repair, putting in new windows, floors, etc.

The society now have a lease of the building for three years to come. Lay reading is kept up regularly every Sunday morning by Mr. Greenleaf, and preaching by transient clergymen, perhaps on an average of once a month.

The Catholic Church was organized November 19, 1870, and bought the building first erected for a Methodist house of worship, but subsequently used as a school house, and which, at the time they purchased it, was the property of the school district. The society numbers about forty members. The society was organized and the church property purchased under the ministration of Rev. P. J. Gormley. Rev. Father Kilkenny, of Fulton, is now the officiating priest, and comes about once a month to administer spiritual consolation to th e Catholic residents. The.society is in good condition.

Educational. - The present graded school building is a model of architectural beauty and convenience. It was completed and occupied in the Spring of 1869. David L. Bowen was the contractor and builder, as well as the architect and draughtsman that fashioned it. It rises three stories above the basement, is surmounted by a Mansard or French roof and heated by furnaces. It cost, including furniture, furnace, etc., about $20,000. Four thousand five hundred dollars more were expended for the grounds, fencings, etc. A school of five departments is maintained about nine months of each year. George C. Mastin is the present principal. Miss V. P. Batterton presides in the grammar department; Daniel Stewart in the intermediate; Miss Hattie Van Bebber in the second primary, and Miss Mary Northey in the first primary.

The City Hall Building was erected by the corporation authorities in 1873, at a cost of about $1,600. The lower story is used for a city jail and fire engine house. The upper part is fitted up for a public hall. It will seat about zoo persons. The engine is the private property of the Germania Fire Company. This company has no legal organization. It is maintained as an independent volunteer company.

Savanna was made a point - and the only point named - between Cairo and Galena, in the original charter of the Illinois Central Railroad. Work was commenced on that line between Galena and Savanna, and the grading and culverts of twenty miles of the track completed. The embankments, fills, etc., are still traceable between Galena and Apple River.

The Western Union Railroad was completed to Savanna in the Fall of 1862. A grain elevator was built by the railroad authorities in 1863, with a capacity of 80,000 bushels. It is operated by steam. This year the company has made a good many improvements on their buildings here.

The Rhodes Brothers are completing another elevator, to be operated by horse power. It will have a capacity of 40,000 bushels.

The Savanna Exchange Bank, of Jeremiah Wood, was established in 1877. The W. U. R. R. Co. maintain repair shops here, that give employment to quite a number of men.

Manufacturing Industries. - In 1865, Messrs. S. J. Herman and J. A. Stransky established wagon making and machine shops on a pretty large scale, and gave employment to quite a number of mechanics. Their wagons, etc., were of the best quality, and soon won for their makers a proud reputation. Their business prospered from the commencement, but misfortune overtook them and crippled the shops for a time. November 27, 1873, their entire establishment was burned down, carrying into ruins the machinery and tools that had been added from time to time during the eight years they had been established. A dissolution of partnership followed this disaster to the firm's business and hopes, and Mr. Stransky succeeded to the entire control and management of a business once so prosperous and promising, and immediately commenced re-building. The new buildings cost $3,000, and, with the steady employment of seven men, he is rapidly "coming to rights " again. He could find room and facilities for the employment of twenty men, if the times would justify their engagement. These shops are devoted to the manufacture of plows, wagons, carriages, steam engines, and all kinds of agricultural machinery needed by the farmers of the adjacent country. Stransky 's facilities for repairing all kinds of machinery are good, and, with his manufactures, his business reaches an aggregate of $10,000 a year.

Messrs. Morse & DeWolf have an extensive planing mill, that, in ordinary times, is well sustained. Their machinery is ample and of modern make. They are energetic, industrious, pushing men, and their mills are valuable to the community in which they are established.

M. D'Puis' steam saw, shingle and lath mills are of long standing and successful management. They are located immediately on the banks of the Mississippi River, and when the mill is running logs are snaked out of the water by steam machinery, carried to the carriageway, where they are soon made into lumber. Logs are bought in rafts or strings from Black River, Chippewa, Stillwater and Minneapolis log men. In former years, Mr. D'Puis has bought and made into lumber as much as 25,000,000 feet, and until within the last year the mills have been kept busy. Before the "hard times " set in, he often sold as much as $30,000 to $40,000 worth of lumber per year. In 1852, his sales amounted to $5o,000. But that was before the days of railroads in Northern Illinois, when people came all the way from Rockford, Freeport, and other interior points, for lumber. In 1853 and 1854, he had a lumber yard at Freeport, where his sales were large.

Two breweries are located here. One is owned by J. Bogue, and the other one by Joseph Keller. The former is of small capacity. The Keller establishment is of larger capacity, and is in satisfactory operation. It was built in 1868.

The abundance of timber here affords remunerative employment to a large number of industrious wood choppers, especially in the winter season.

Fishing. - About twenty five men, whose homes are in Savanna, are constantly engaged in this industry. They operate with seines, and their employment is highly remunerative. As many more men are indirectly engaged in the business as peddlers through the country.

Cholera. - In 1853, this fearful scourge made its appearance in Savanna. During that year the cases were only occasional, but in 1854 its presence was quite general, and a large number of citizens were attacked with it. Some twenty cases proved fatal. Its first appearance in 1854 was in the month of July, lasting through August. The cholera, says Dr. Woodruff, was connected with congestive chills, and was followed by typhoid where the victims passed the congestive form.

Newspapers. - The first newspaper was the Savanna Register. It was commenced in 1854, by Charles Allen, as printer, assisted editorially by Smith D. Atkins, now of Freeport. A few months after it was commenced, the projectors of the enterprise sold the office to Mr. Grattan, who removed the material elsewhere.

While Howlitt was publishing the Lanark newspaper, he printed a small sheet for Savanna, but it was more of an advertising sheet than newspaper.

The first issue of the Savanna Weekly Times was a seven column folio, printed at the office of the Shannon Gazette. It was dated June 191 1875. J. William Mastin was the publisher of the Gazette, as also of the limes. The local matter and advertisements were written up at Savanna, and sent to Shannon to be put in type. This arrangement continued only ten weeks. September 11, 1875, was the date of the first issue of the Times, printed in Savanna, a six column folio, by Greenleaf & Mastin. The material of the Shannon Gazette was purchased and brought to Savanna at that time. This arrangement continued until the following March, when Mr. Mastin retired, Mr. Greenleaf purchasing the entire office, etc., and continuing the paper as editor and proprietor. The Times has a bona fide circulation of about eight hundred copies, liberally supported by the business men of the city. The Times goes to all parts of the county, and is a creditable publication, not only to its manager and the town in which it is published, but to the county at large.

As a matter of reference, it may be said that no one of the several papers published in Carroll County is designated by the authorities as an official organ, but each of them is paid a small sum for publishing the proceedings of the board of supervisors.

The Savanna Circulating Library Association was organized in 1875. It has a library of 303 volumes.

Savanna was first incorporated as a town in 18-. It remained under that government until 1874, when a city charter was obtained. The first mayor under the city charter was Medard D'Puis. The present mayor is Jeremiah Wood. At the first election under the new charter, there was an animated contest between the license and anti license people. The contest was very close, but the license ticket was elected by a small majority, which has ever since been maintained.

Monthly Fair. - An effort is making to establish a monthly fair and market for the exhibition and sale of stock. An organization for this purpose is already formed, with Munroe Bailey, of York Township, as president. The experiment was undertaken about six months ago, and two very creditable exhibitions have taken place.

Business, etc. - All told, there are about fifty business houses in Savanna. There was a time, anterior to the building of railroads, when there were many more. In those days, people came from Winnebago, Stephenson. Ogle and other counties to Savanna for their supplies - groceries, flour, etc. - and the merchants and traders drove a thriving and prosperous business. In the years 1837-8, especially, Savanna was a kind of general depot, a grand trading point, and those interested there planned great things for the future, and expected to see their village become a city of tens of thousands; but the building of railroads blasted their hopes, disappointed their expectations. As an instance of the immense trade of those days, it is recorded that one single merchant, Luther H. Bowen, sold two thousand barrels of flour during the year 1837. It must be remembered that there were other merchants doing a proportionate share of business, and that the population then was very meagre as compared with the population of the present day.

Nestled down on a level plateau or savanna of land, at the foot of towering bluffs, crowned with a heavy growth of timber, Savanna has a very handsome, if not picturesque, location. The business houses are, in the main, confined to one street, running parallel with the river, and extending nearly two miles in length. Some of the business houses are large, and carry heavy stocks. They are supported by local trade, and carefully managed. Many of the residence houses are handsome and commodious. They are nearly all built of wood and brick, although the bluffs afford inexhaustible quarries of the best of building stone. The first brick house was erected in 1838, by Mrs. Harford. It is now owned by Miss Ewing, of Clinton, Iowa.

Such is the history of Savanna at the close of the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy seven, dating from the Fall of 1828, and compiled from data furnished by Dr. E. Woodruff, D. H. Bowen, John Orr and Simon Greenleaf, Esq., editor of the Savanna Times, and respectfully dedicated to the memory of Luther H. Bowen, the founder of the village, the first merchant, and for over forty years a useful and influential citizen.

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