History of Kaneville Township, Kane County, Il
From: The Past and Present Kane County, Illinois
Wm. Le Baron, Jr. & Company
Chicago 1878


Kaneville, like Virgil, was one of the latest settled townships in the County. Several farms remained unsold as late as 1845, while at the public Government sale only forty acres of its unsurpassed prairie lands were disposed of. Yet Kaneville was partially populated years before.

Job Isbell, a bachelor, from Ohio, settled in the Fall of 1835, on what is now the Owen estate, erected the body of a log cabin, cut and stacked a quantity prairie hay, and returned to his home in the Buckeye State, where he died. James Isbell, his brother, who was then living in Sugar Grove Township, removed in the Spring of 1837, to his vacant claim, and commenced improving it.

But, previous to this, the first permanent settler had established himself in the township. This man, who is still living upon his original claim, and is by no means an old man yet, is known throughout the vicinity as Amos Miner In 1836, he resided in Wayne Co., N. Y.; his worldly possessions consisted of a wife and one small child, Rosanne, a hoe and an axe; and finding the financial outlook black, as it always is for a man in his circumstances, he determined to make a desperate move. A friend, Levi Leach, was about immigrating, with his family, to Michigan; he accordingly cast his lot with him, traveled by way of the Erie Canal and the Lakes to Detroit, and thence by teams to a point in Calhoun County, about one hundred miles distant. After a short delay at this place, Mr. Leach went on a prospecting tour to Fox River, purchased a claim in Du Page County, and returned for his family. His representations of the climate and soil of Illinois were so favorable that Mr. Miner, who had found no inducements to remain in his present location, resolved to accompany him to his new home. But here a difficulty arose. Mr. Miner's assets were not far in excess of his liabilities, and he found it impossible to hire a passage for his family to Chicago. Mr. Leach's condition was more favorable; he possessed some money, ox teams and goods, and, in Mr. Miner's trouble, offered to convey Mrs. Miner and her daughter over the country with his own family. The proposal was gladly accepted. Mr. Miner found it more convenient to make the journey by way of the great lakes, and, bidding farewell to his family, walked back to Detroit, and took passage on a steamer about the middle of July, for Chicago. A voyage through the straits of Mackinaw was a dreary one then, and the ports at which the boat stopped were nearly as desolate as they had been since the creation. Ft. Machilimackinac was not materially different from the fort captured by the Indians in 1763. A number of squalid Indians lay upon the beach; the houses were few and small, and the garrison had nothing to do but go through the daily routine of military duty, which was scarcely sufficient to keep them awake from morning till night. Further up Lake Michigan, Mr. Miner found Milwaukee, containing nothing but two or three shanties, inferior to many settlers' huts to be seen even at that day Ain the wilderness of Illinois. In due time, the traveler was landed at the head of the Lake, in the hamlet since known throughout the habitable world, and thence walking to Mr. Leech's claim, near Warrenville, he found no tidings of his friends, who had gone from Michigan by the more direct route. After waiting a week in anxiety for their arrival, he started on foot to meet them, and after walking eight miles, arriving within two miles of Naperville, he found the party encamped.

They had traveled through the marshes of Indiana, enduring incredible hardships; had often been swamped and obliged to haul their loads from the mire by attaching the cattle to the hind ends of the carts; had camped in sloughs among snakes and mosquitoes, and, on reaching a point near La Porte, had been obliged to stop on account of the illness of Mrs. Miner and Mr. Leech's aged mother. After the invalids had recuperated, they had proceeded on their way and met Mr. Miner as stated above.

Such were the hardships of thousands who settled in the Great West. It was August before the friends met, and the entire party proceeded to Mr. Leech's claim, where Mr. Miner remained until October, when a Mr. Sperry, who had taken land in Blackberry Township, called at the settlement to purchase a team which Mr. Leech had advertised for sale. Having concluded a bargain, and desirous of a teamster to drive one of his yoke of oxen back to Blackberry, Mr. Miner offered his services and after a tedious drive, fording the river at Aurora, reached Mr. Sperry's partially built house, which, owing to the cracks between the logs admitting daylight from all sides, was afterward known far and wide as "Sperry's light house.

The next day was Sunday, and Mr. Miner having heard of unclaimed land in the West, walked to the Smith, Platt and Vanatta settlements, all of which were in Blackberry Township, thence to Lone Grove, where he took up the claim, embracing a liberal strip of timber, where he now resides.

It is a peculiar circumstance, but one easily explained, that nearly all of the earlier settlers selected timber or rolling lands instead of prairie. They were Eastern men, and naturally prejudiced in favor of Eastern scenery; and then their distance from lumber markets made it essential that there should be some wood upon their tracts with which to build their first cabins and supply them with fuel. At that time, the magnificent timber with which the groves abounded was no minor inducement. Those who have only seen Northern Illinois in its present aspect will be inclined to regard this statement with astonishment, since scarcely a tree above mediocre size can be found in an entire grove; but then, entire forests of the choicest oak and black walnut towered for a hundred feet above the surrounding prairie.

After marking his claim, Mr. Miner returned to Du Page County, where he employed himself at such odd jobs as the primitive condition of the country afforded until February, 1837, when Mr. Vanatta came to the settlement, begging assistance for Mr. Lance, of Batavia, whose house had recently been destroyed by fire, one of his children, 7 years old, perishing in the flames. Upon his return, Mr. Miner accompanied him, walking from Mr. Vanatta's house to his own claim, wading Blackberry Creek, which had frozen and recently thawed, and cut a sufficient number of logs to build a house, sleeping upon the ground and living upon cold lunches in the meantime. In April, with the assistance of some of the Blackberry settlers, his house was raised, and on the 10th of May, 1837, his family occupied it. For two years lie had no team, and was obliged to pay a man five dollars an acre for breaking the first five acres of land which he cultivated, and drive the team besides. As he had no money, he split 2,500 rails to satisfy thee prairie breaker's demands; and in the same season completed his house, fenced his land and raised a good crop of sod corn, buckwheat, beans and vegetables His first cow was purchased four miles east of Warrenville, and paid for during the summer by working in the harvest fields for farmers in Sugar Grove. Mr. Leech signed a note with him as security. While Mr. Miner was away at work, his wife and child were left alone for a week at a time. The price paid for binding was twelve shillings a day. Thus, like Robinson Crusoe, all his comforts and luxuries came directly from his own labor. During the Summer, there was only one neighbor, James Isbell, nearer than Blackberry Township, but in the Fall, Mr. Alfred Churchill, from Batavia, N. Y., purchased, for fifty dollars, a claim which had been taken up by John B. Moore, who, subsequently, settled in what is now Virgil Township. Mr. Churchill was a prominent man among the early settlers; an early Superintendent of Schools, a member of the Constitutional Convention and an actor in various responsible positions. He remained in the township until his death, in 1868. Shortly after the arrival of the Churchill family in their new home, an event of great importance, in an unsettled country, occurred at the house of Mr. Miner in the birth of a daughter, Mary, on the 27th of November, 1837. She is still living, and is now Mrs. Robert Alexander, of Campton Township.

The Summer of the following year found several other families located in the neighborhood, first of whom were the Inmans, from the State of New York, and later, Daniel Wentworth, from New Hampshire, who settled upon the bank of the creek, on a place now occupied by Silas Hayes. The McNairs were, likewise, early residents of the town.

On the 24th of February, 1838, the first marriage in the township took place, James Isbell and Sarah Moore being the couple. The bride, who was a daughter of J. B. Moore, of Virgil, died many years ago, but Mr. Isbell is still living at Batavia. John Bunker settled about this time on a claim now owned by Mr. Hoyt.

In 1839, Miss Fayetta R. Churchill - now Mrs. David Hanchett - taught, in her father's house, the first school in the township, and during several succeeding Winters was the only schoolma'am in Kaneville, or Royalton, as the township was then called. Miss Churchill was, also, the first teacher in the first log school house, which stood near the center of the township, on a place now owned by Mr. Hough. The old building is now gone from the memory of the younger inhabitants, but was considered a suitable dwelling place for learning in its day. It was built of logs, Messrs. Churchill, Miner and Isbell being mainly instrumental in its construction. Mr. David Hanchett made his home in the township in 1847.

Unfortunately, although Kaneville was settled by an intelligent people, and was, as already noticed, one of the later townships to be taken up, its records are far from satisfactory, from a historical point of view. The minutes of the proceedings of the Board of Trustees of Schools, which were doubtless one of the most valuable sources of information, have either been lost or destroyed, and the records of the earliest church organization are frequently indited by a gentleman of exceedingly emotional nature, who has made note of the spiritual status of the members rather than of the times and places of holding the meetings. Enough still remains, however, from the recollections of early settlers to show that a Sabbath school was commenced in the house of Mr. Bunker, previous to the formation of a church of any denomination; that a Christian minister, by the name of Van Deuzer, delivered the first sermon in the township, at the house of Mr. Alfred Churchill, and that Rev. Augustus Conant preached at the same place later in the year. There was no regular place in the township for divine worship until 1847, when the members of the Baptist Church, previously formed in Blackberry Township, began to meet in the first frame school house in Kaneville. Mr. James Lewis, from Ohio, originally from Connecticut, was an active member; and there were a number of communicants from several of the adjoining townships - Big Rock, Sugar Grove and Blackberry. But there had been preaching previously by the same denomination in Kaneville, when Elder Whittier officiated at the house of Mr. Bunker, October 20, 1844. Rev. Thomas Ravine, of Kaneville, commenced his pastorate in the same church, and died,* before the expiration of a year, September 6, 1846.
* This was probably the second death in the Township. J. B. Moore's, who died at the house of his son in law, was the first.

During the year 1845, a preacher of the Methodist Episcopal denomination addressed a small congregation at the old school house, and afterward at Mr. Miner's residence. A number of years followed before any society erected an edifice dedicated exclusively to the worship of God. Meanwhile, various important events occurred; foremost among which must be reckoned the establishment of a post office, called Avon, at the house of Mr. Churchill. During the previous:Oars, there had been no office nearer than Blackberry, but now settlers were accommodated once a week with mail brought to their own neighborhood. Mr. Churchill was both Postmaster and mail carrier from the Blackberry office. Mr. Miner went to Naperville for his first mail in 1887, a distance of over twenty five miles.

In June, 1845, H. S. Gardner, the first blacksmith in the township, settled near its northern boundary, where lie still resides. The first frame house in Kaneville was the one built by Mr. Bunker immediately after his arrival. Mr. Bunker was a very tidy and practical farmer, and an honored resident of the township in which he settled, until 1862, when he fell dead in his house. Mr. Churchill's death was equally sudden. The rights of the settlers in Kaneville, as elsewhere in the county, were protected by claim organizations. Many were too poor at the time of the land sale to purchase the farms upon which they had made improvements, and, but for a general union between them for mutual protection, strangers might have purchased their dwellings, land and crops at the price of unimproved sections. Under the claim societies, however, such an act of injustice toward any squatter would have brought upon the offender the vengeance of the entire settlement. Attempts to defraud a claimant of his land, whether authorized by law or not, were therefore generally unsuccessful. But one project of this kind was not altogether a failure, and occasioned discord among neighbors for years. It occurred as follows: James Isbell's tract had extended over a portion of Section 16, which the law of the State had set apart, in each township, for school purposes. This section, in Kaneville, hand been divided into ten and twenty acre lots and offered for sale by the town, at low rates, in order that claimants might not lose their improvements, made before the survey of the land. Two ten acre lots were upon Isbell's claim, and had been appraised at six and seven dollars per acre, with the understanding that in the auction sale no one should bid above those figures. But several of the neighbors of Mr. Isbell, desiring the valuable timber with which the land was covered, raised his hid, and obliged him to pay over sixteen dollars an acre for one of the lots, while the other was raised to such a high price that he refused to contend for it longer, and it was struck off to another man. Mr. Isbell was naturally enraged, and. going to Chicago upon his earliest opportunity, entered at the land office the claims of his neighbors who had wronged him, and purchased them at Government rates. The owners declared him a thief. and threatened to shoot him, but he coolly replied that he would re-deed the land on condition that the balance above the appraised sum which he had paid for his ten acres should be returned to him, together with the price which he had paid, for their land. Resistance was useless, and the gentlemen reluctantly consented.

Even at that early time. malefactors had begun to disturb the peace of the generally tranquil township, and there is a report of money having been, stolen from one of the settlers and an innocent man being charged with the offense. Hog and stock thieves were not uncommon in the county previous to 1840, and Kaneville had her quota. The anecdotes of their unlawful proceedings are, some of them at least, amusing, and two of them, although the scenes recorded occurred outside of Kaneville Township, may be recorded here. The name of Rev. Mr. Elmore is prominent in the history of the northern part of St. Charles as an educated and philanthropic preacher of the Baptist persuasion. He was never wealthy, although his acres were broad and fair, and he was often perplexed, during the first years of his residence in the county, to obtain a comfortable subsistence for himself and family. One Fall, in regard to the date of which deponent testifieth not, he had prepared several hogs for the market, and was nearly ready to butcher them, when on an evil morning he awoke, and, proceeding to feed them according to his usual custom, he found no trace of them left. He rubbed his eyes to be sure that he was awake, and then examined the premises, but with no satisfactory results. There was not a single clue to the mystery. They had gone, and had evidently "gone up," too, for there was no indication of their having escaped upon the surface of the earth. He had read of children being "spirited" away, but the thought of three or four hogs, each weighing 500 pounds, being conveyed from this world in that manner was of itself sufficiently absurd, and was forthwith dismissed. After a few inquiries among his neighbors, he gave up all hope of recovering the property, offered a prayer for the thief, we suppose, as was his duty, and settled down to the practice of the more careful economy which his reduced circumstances necessitated. Years rolled on, successive Autumns changed to Winters, Winters to Springs, and Summers to Falls, but the lost pork never returned and was at length forgotten. Nearly a decade had passed, and Mr. Elmore's land had increased in value and his condition in life become more favorable, when a stranger approached his gate one day with a flock of sheep.

"I believe these sheep belong to you," said the man.
"You must be mistaken," replied Mr. Elmore. "I have bought no sheep.
"Do you remember, a number of years ago," continuned the stranger, "that you lost some fat hogs one night?"

The reverend gentleman assured him that the circumstance was still vividly impressed upon his mind.

"Well," he replied, "the man who stole those hogs lives in Wisconsin. During the years which have elapsed since that night, the crime has rankled in his bosom until he has been driven to seek peace of mind by making ample restitution. He accordingly presents you with these sheep, sufficiently valuable to pay the principal and interest for the pork, and requests that you will accept them, asking no questions, and thus restore him to the condition from which he fell when he stole those hogs."

He opened the gate, and the sheep ran into the yard, while Mr. Elmore again rubbed his eyes, not quite sure that he was awake. Then, bidding him good day, the man walked rapidly off, and Mr. Elmore never saw him again.

Aurora and the vicinity were notorious as the abiding places of thieves and robbers, who carried on a good trade in ill gotten spoils. One of them, a lank and ungainly reprobate, stole a pig and home he ran." He was arrested and indubitable evidence given of his guilt. B. F. Fridley was engaged to defend him, and, if the story is true, informed his client that his only hope was in taking "leg bail." The day of the trial arrived, witnesses were called and examined, and a clear case proven against the defendant. The counsel for the plaintiff deemed it unnecessary to say a word, and delivered the case to the jury without any attempt to influence them. Fridley then arose and delivered an eloquent harangue. He ranged the fields of law from the days of Blackstone to his own times, he reveled amid the clouds of fancy, built up men of straw and knocked them down again, and ended with a splendid peroration in which he appealed to the jury, in the name of the American eagle and the principles of eternal justice, to protect accused innocence from the defaming tongue of slander. "Now," said he, gentlemen of the jury, I have proven this man's innocence beyond the possibility of a reasonable doubt!" and with this he emphasized his last word by a tremendous blow upon the table, which knocked it over in front of the Sheriff, whereupon the "innocent client" darted from the door as if all the warlocks and witches in Kirk Alloway" were at his heels. He had gained at least a half mile before the Court awoke from his astonishment, and then pursuit was useless.*

* We give this story merely as one of the popular legends of the county, not believing for a moment that so honorable a gentleman as B. F. Fridley ever connived at the escape of villainy from justice.

One of the earliest roads in the County was laid through Kaneville Township, from Sugar Grove to Ohio Grove. The first claim mentioned as purchased at the Government sale by James Isbell was located on Section 21. M. M. Ravlin and John Bunker were the first Justices of the Peace. and were elected in 1845, under the old precinct division of the county. In the same year, Rev. Thomas Ravlin purchased the claim on which Kaneville village now stands of Willard Inmann, for about three dollars per acre, and afterward entered and purchased it of the. Government. His house stood near the present site of the Baptist Church. The Avon post office was short lived, and, in 1848, the office at Kaneville village was established under N. N. Ravlin, and was at first supplied by the Sugar Grove office. The name of the township was changed upon the year of its establishment as follows: Nearly all Northern Illinois formed at that time one Congressional District, and "Long John" Wentworth was the member of Congress from that district. A petition was presented for a post office, to be called Royalton but upon making the application it was ascertained that there was another office of the same name in the State. Not dishing to disappoint his constituents, Long John substituted, upon the spur of the moment, the name of Kaneville, and told the people that they might change it at their convenience if it was not satisfactory. It met with general approval, and instead of changing the name of the office, the township also was henceforth known as Kaneville. The village has been supplied with daily mails and stages for about fifteen years from Blackberry Station. About 1852, William Hall built a small hotel, which was the only public place of entertainment in the village until 1869, when B. A. Carey erected the present ample addition. In 1855, preparations were made by the Baptist Society to build its first house of worship, which was dedicated in October of the same year. The church has greatly increased since its organization, and is now prosperous. A Methodist Episcopal Church was organized early at Blackberry, and removed to Kaneville about the same time as the Baptist organization, where for several years it enjoyed, with the latter congregation, alternate preaching at the old village school house. A church edifice was at length erected, in which Rev. S. Stover preached the first sermon, and this building was replaced in the Fall of 1875 by the present elegant structure. The old school house was superseded in the Summer of 1857 by the building still in use, in which N. F. Nichols, now a lawyer in Aurora, was the first principal. The first store in the village, as well as in the township, was built in the. Fall of 1852, by one Goodwin, sold to Hathorn, and at length went into the possession of B. A. Coy, who sold to J. H. Scott, the present proprietor. It has been much enlarged since its erection by Goodwin, and contains an unusually large stock of goods for a country store, the sales amounting to from $35,000 to $40,000 per annum. Frank Perry started in business at his present stand, on the opposite side of the street in 1874. A Catholic Church was organized early in Kaneville Township, and subsequently removed to Lodi, in the history of which a sketch of it will be found. The township contains at the present time eight school houses, all frame buildings, and a majority of them well adapted to the purpose for which they were constructed. The one in District No. 8 was put up in 1872, at a cost of $1,000; and the one in District No. 3 in 1876, at about the same price. The entire valuation of school property is $6,500; the assessed valuation of the township, $586,542. The farms of Kaneville Township are surpassed by few in the world, and the farm houses are among the most elegant in the county. The original houses of the old settlers have disappeared, as the above statement would imply, and owing to the excellence of the soil, stimulated by the wise and frugal management of the landowners, they were able, when the time came, to rebuild, to replace the log huts and slab shanties by mansions, many of which might well he used as architectural models by the fanners throughout the entire country. Their clean white walls may be seen across the rolling prairie for miles, contributing to the general beauty of the scene, and contrasting strongly with the dark fields of corn which every Autumn sun will find waving around them. The population of the township, by the census of 1870, was 1,003. It lies south of Virgil, joins Blackberrry upon the west, and is Congressional Town 89, North of Range 6, East of the Third Principal Meridian.

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