History of the City of St. Charles, Il
From: The Past and Present Kane County, Illinois
Wm. Le Baron, Jr. & Company
Chicago 1878


Dean Ferson is now the earliest settler living in St. Charles city or township. Starting with his brother Read from Weathersfield, Windsor County, and Ira and George Minard from Windham County, Vermont, he came to Chicago in September, 1833. After stopping a few days, Read and the Minards returned, the former appearing again in Chicago in the following May, and Ira Minard in August. Shortly after Read Ferson's arrival, and during the same month, the two brothers set out for Fox River, crossed at Batavia, stayed over night with Nelson at the Grove, thence passed to Geneva, where they stopped with Daniel S. Haight, and next day, coming to St. Charles, took up the claim where the stone house owned by George Ferson now stands, on the west side of the river, and built a log shanty. There were at that time six houses in the present corporation limits, including Ferson's, wholly or partially completed. First of these was the nearly finished but belonging to one Chunn, and standing near the little run on the east side of the river. Of the owner but little is known, excepting that he came early in 1834 - possibly late in 1838 - and left before the county had been generally settled. The body of a log house built by a man named Crandall, from Ohio, siood near the present site of the residence of Capt. Bowman, was purchased by James Herrington, and subsequently sold to one of the Youngs. Another roofless cabin, built by a native of the Buckeye State, who had left the country and never returned to make good his settlement, stood just east of the place recently purchased by George Minard of Gen. J. F. Farnsworth. Ephraim Perkins was located upon the East Side, just west of the George Minard place, and William Franklin had a log house upon the Bridges farm. Evan and Newton Shelby laid claim to all East St. Charles about the time of the arrival of the Ferson brothers, who assisted the former, late in May, in building his log house, which stood near the place now owned by Dr. Crawford. This was the seventh house in the future city. The Shelbys and Franklin had left their homes in Indiana just previous to the Garton and Laughlin party, but were overtaken by them at Lockport, Indiana. Franklin's house may be considered the first permanent residence in the place, since, if there were any settlers previous to him, they never completed their dwellings, and left within a year after arriving. It may also be stated that there was not a settler within the limits of the city - with the very doubtful exception of Chunn - previous to the Spring of 1834. Franklin sold his claim early, and located upon the farm now owned by Charles B. Gray. All of these old dwellings were torn down many years ago. Ira Minard arrived with his wife in October, 1834, returned East, but came back in the following December, and lived with Read and Dean Ferson until April, 1835, when he built a cabin upon a claim where the State Insane Asylum now stands, at Elgin, and removed there. But Ain the following year, we find him again in St. Charles, which thenceforth became his home until his recent death. His name, however, was well known in business circles throughout Northern Illinois, and the field of his operations was never limited by any narrow township bounds. He moved to a small log house upon the river bank, on the East Side, in the Spring of 1836, and about the same time purchased the part of the Shelby claim lying south of Main street, while the part north of that street, bordering upon the river and comprising about nine acres, was sold by Calvin Ward, from Massachusetts - who had obtained it from Evan Shelby - to Minard, Ferson and Hunt.

Ward had settled with his family, in the Fall of 1835, in a cabin near the position now occupied by Doyle's blacksmith shop, his purchase being the part of the Shelby claim lying north of Main street and extending from the public square to the river.

B. T. Hunt came from Massachusetts, in 1836, and is still in business in St. Charles.

The West Side was settled by Robert Moody, Gideon, Samuel and Joel Young, although claims had previously been made upon the land as above mentioned.

In May, 1835, Warren Tyler and his son Ira D., with their families, from Cayuga County, N. Y., moved to Naperville, and in the following August continued their journey to St. Charles, *here they settled the former upon the claim purchased of John Hammers, a very early settler upon the East Side, where he had built a "double log house," without nails or glass; and the latter upon a tract previously taken up by a squatter named Isaac Rice. Both settlements were upon the extreme eastern limits of the present city.

Alexander Ferson, father of Read and Dean, came with his large family in June of the same year, and settled in the township near the present Bryant Durant place. Among his sons were Robert and George, now engaged in the grain business in the town.

In 1836, the settlement was further increased by the arrival of Leonard and David Howard; William G. Conklin, in July; Joseph Sibley, John Andrus and the Bairds, all from Buffalo; Horace Bancroft and Dr. Nathan Collins, N. H. Dearborn, in the Summer, from Plymouth, N. H.; Asa Haseltine, from Vermont, in the Fall, and William Dickinson. Valentine Randall was also an early settler about this time.

Leonard Howard's first settlement was made at Geneva, on a claim purchased of Edward Trimble, but he was frequently in St. Charles, from the time of his arrival in Kane County; and in 1887, having sold to Scotto Clark and purchased a claim of Gideon Young upon the West Side, he settled thereon. He now resides upon the East Side, having taken a prominent part in the building up of the town. His brother is also living.

William G. Conklin also resides upon the East Side. Sibley is now in Kansas; John Andrus, the Bairds, N. H. Dearborn and William Dickinson are still residents of St. Charles; Horace Bancroft recently died in Michigan, and Haseltine many years ago in St. Charles.

Among the settlers, about 1837, may be mentioned James Lovell, now in De Kalb County; Rev. N. C. Clark (deceased); Keyser, of pottery notoriety, and John Scott, who died during the past year (1877).

The Pennys, from Maine, were early in the town; and John Glos, the first German settler.

1838 brought, in March, Aaron Blanchard, well known throughout the city. In June, the late S. S. Jones; while Asael Bundy and Abel Millington came during the same year.

Dr. DeWolf came from Western Pennsylvania, in 1840.

P. J. Burchell (deceased), R. J. Haines and Judge Barry were early corners; while William Marshall, from England, commenced as a blacksmith in the village, in 1848, with scarcely a penny, and now owns a good farm between St. Charles and Campton.

But long ere this latter date, scores of immigrants had arrived, whose names cannot now be given; and it becomes inconvenient to form complete lists of the settlers later than 1836.


The town was christened Charleston,* by Minard and Ferson, but since it was afterward discovered that there was another Charleston in Coles County, a meeting was called in 1839, to re-christen the village. Various names were suggested, and many of the New Yorkers were in favor of Ithaca, while John Glos, the enterprising German already mentioned, was positive that none of his countrymen could ever be induced to immigrate to a place the name of which was cursed with a the sound, and suggested one which he considered more euphonious, but upon which there arose a diversity of opinion. At length, S. S. Jones having mentioned the name of " St. Charles as a compromise, it received a majority of the votes, and St. Charles it remains.
* From Charleston, N. H.


Dean Ferson and Prudence Ward were married at the log house of the bride's father, by the Rev. D. W. Elmore, September 14, 1836 - being the first couple married in the place.

On Christmas Day, 1837, David Howard's first child was born and named Frances Christmas, in honor of the holiday. This was the first birth within the present corporate limits.

The old grave yard upon the East Side was given to the town by Ephraim and Otho W. Perkins, Minard, Ferson and Hunt, in 1838; and the first person buried there was James Wright, in the Fall of the same year.

S. S. Jones; one of the ablest men who has called St. Charles " home," was its first attorney; was subsequently editor of the Religio Philosophical Journal, was eminently successful both as a lawyer and a writer. but met a violent death in 1876.

The earliest physician in the town was Dr. Nathan Collins, the date of whose arrival has already been mentioned.

Several professional men appear in the new town about the same time and a little later, among them Lawyer Miller, Mr. Clark, the first resident clergyman, Doctors G. W. Richards, Waite, DeWolf, and Crawford.

The name of Dr. Richards is now remembered by the early settlers, from the riot which his practices occasioned and which resulted in the death of himself and one of his students. The doctor was a man of undoubted ability, but extremely independent and radical in his views. He neither feared his fellow man nor regarded their prejudices, and where it was possible to choose between two lines of action preferred to astonish and shock rather than to conciliate. He had opened a medical school at St. Charles, where it had long been rumored by many of the people that his students were possessed of hyena proclivities. At length positive proof was obtained that the body of a Mrs. Runyon, a young married lady, who had recently died near Sycamore, had been removed from the grave and taken to his dissecting table; the robbers were tracked to Richards' doors, and the indignant father and husband of the deceased spread the story of the outrage throughout the northern part of DeKalb County. An armed mob, composed of some of the most respectable citizens of that county, joined by a delegation from Geneva, swelling the ranks to about three hundred, marched to the doctor's residence, formed in the street in line of battle, and appointed a committee to wait upon him and demand the body. They were not only refused but treated with the utmost contempt. Shots were exchanged; John Rood, one of the doctor's students, was mortally wounded through the body, and Richards was so iujured by a ball through one of his lungs that he died, in Dubuque, four years later, from its effects. There has been some diversity of statement regarding the person responsible for the first shot, but it is the general belief that it was fired from the house. After these warlike measures, it was promised that the body should be given up to the friends of the deceased. A number of the students and others were despatched to remove it from the place where it had been secreted and it was delivered to the relatives at a designated spot between St. Charles and Geneva. The school was closed, and the young student who was wounded died a few days later.


A company under the name of Minard, Ferson & Hunt was formed in 1836, and laid the foundation of the new town. A store* built by them in the Spring of the year, where Minard & Osgood's Block now stands, was the first frame building in the place. During the same season, the company built a dam across the river, and erected a saw mill on the East Side, just above where the ruins of the carding mill now stand. The old building remained there a number of years, but was taken down about 1850. The earliest frame dwelling house was erected by N. H. Dearborn, just opposite the present site of the bank. The building is still standing, and used as a barn. Minard, Ferson & Hunt's old store is also in existence.
* Thomas E. Dodge was the builder.

In 1841, the first brick dwelling in the place was built by B. T. Hunt, from a kiln of brick manufactured by John Penny in the public square, upon the East Side.

The earliest hotel had been raised four years previous, by David Howard, and, with an addition upon the west end, was known in later years as the the St. Charles Hotel, and kept by the late P. J. Burchell. William Knight kept tavern in it for a time, and was followed by B. T. Hunt, who completed and dedicated it on the 4th of July, 1838, by the first public ball in St. Charles.

The Western Enterprise and Franklin Houses were built about 1840. The former, by James Mead, is now used as a barn by Edgar Dunning; the latter, a brick building, is standing upon the West Side.

The Mallory House, formerly the Howard House, was built by Leonard Howard, in 1848, and, having been in the possession of various parties, is now kept by B. D. Mallory. It is a brick building, of convenient dimensions.

The intelligence of the early settlers in this city is denoted by the circumstance that one of the first schools in the county was taught there in the Fall and Winter of 1835-36. The building was Hammer's old log house, then owned by Warren Tyler, and the teacher was Prudence Ward, now Mrs. Dean Ferson.

A little slab school house was built in the Winter of 1836-37, on Pierce & Adams' corner, and, in 1839, the citizens raised by subscription a sufficient fund to build a single story frame school house on Lot 5, Block 23, just west of the Universalist Church, and hired as their first pedagogue a young man named Knox, who had been clerk in the store of Minard, Ferson & Hunt. While employed in his new vocation, Mr. Knox died. Other teachers took his place, and schools were continued during the following years until the building became inconvenient. Several successive private or public schools were then opened - one in the basement of the Methodist Church, another in the Universalist, and others in the Baptist - and in this manner education was obtained under difficulties, until 1854-55, when the Public School building was put up on the West Side. Two years later, the one on the East Side was erected. Both are of brick, large and convenient. The former, in District No. 8, is valued at $16,000; the latter, in District No. 7, is valued at $15,000.

Some difficulty was experienced by the early settlers in obtaining a post office, as St. Charles was not upon any regular mail route. It was at length voted, however, to obtain the mail from Elgin, at the expense of the citizens. The first Postmaster, Horace Bancroft, was appointed in 1837, and brought the first mail from Elgin in his pocket handkerchief. His office stood upon the present site of McKeever's store, and was built by Leonard Howard. The Postmasters who followed were, in their order of succession, C. A. Brooks, P. J. Burchill, J. T. Durant, P. C. Simmons, Albert Hayden and A. V. Lill; the latter, one of the early settlers, was appointed in 1861, and has retained his position, with honor, for seventeen years.

Bancroft was also the first blacksmith in the village, and made the irons for the first saw mill, which was in operation in November, 1836. He likewise had an ear for other melody than anvil choruses and brought the first piano to the place.

Abel Millington was a man of more than ordinary energy, and had no sooner settled in the growing town than he commenced, in the Spring of 1838, the erection of one of the most essential elements to its success, a grist mill, upon the West Side, upon a claim purchased of Gideon Young. The foundation was laid by Leonard Howard. Unfortunately for the town, Mr. Millington died in the Fall of the same year. The mill is now owned by R. J. Haines.

The original plat of the town was surveyed and laid out for *Ira Minard, Read Ferson, Calvin Ward and Gideon Young, in the Spring of 1837, by Mark W. Fletcher, County Surveyor. Numerous additions have since been made upon both sides of the river.
* we give the names of the proprietors as they are given upon the plat in the Recorder's Office.

The earlier settlers of the town crossed the river by means of a ferry; but in the Summer of 1837, business had increased to such an extent that a bridge was deemed a necessity, and accordingly a wooden structure was raised, at a cost of about $700. It was subsequently carried away, and several have since been built in the same place, one of which was put up about 1857, at a cost of $5,000, and was replaced, at a cost of $8,500, by the elegant iron one which still spans the river.

About 1838, Joseph Keyser, from Pennsylvania, who arrived in the town the previous year, started a pottery, and commenced the manufacture of brown earthenware, on the south side of the lot now owned by J. S. Christian. But the business not proving as remunerative as he had expected, he loaded his goods into a small boat, and, with his family, sailed down the river, and was seen in St. Charles no more.

A. N. Locke built a carding mill in 1837, which for a time succeeded. and gave employment to about twenty five hands, but is now standing vacant, upon the East Side.

Ira Minard took an active part at this time in all the enterprises for the promotion of the welfare of the town, was elected one of the first Justices of the Peace, in 1836, and to the State Senate in 1842. In the latter year, he started, in company with L. B. Flint, a castor and linseed oil manufactory, between the paper mill and Miller's blacksmith shop; but the business was unsuccessful, and the building was sold for a store, to O. M. Butler, about 1850, and burned down some years later.

In 1840, Read Ferson built a blacksmith shop on the East Side, which was converted, in the following year, into a paper mill, by William Debit. Paper is said to have been made in it for some time by hand, but Debit soon quit the business, when the property was owned for a short time by R. J. Haines and P. C. Simmons, and at length by Butler & Hunt, who first fitted it with suitable machinery. The West Side paper mill was built by Butler & Hunt, 1847-8, and was subsequently greatly enlarged, but was nearly destroyed by fire in the Summer of 1856. It was repaired, however, and great additions made; was employing eighty hands, and making 7,000 pounds of print paper per day, when it was again burned, February 5, 1866, and has never been rebuilt. The stone walls alone are standing, and the property has been in litigation for ten years. The East Side grist mill was built about 1845, by E. C. Chapman.

The first house of worship was the little school house upon Adams & Pierce's corner, which was used by all societies, and was soon abandoned for school purposes. Father Clark first preached in it, but long before its erection, and some say as early as 1834, there had been preaching in the vicinity. On the 4th of March, 1837, the Congregational Church was organized, with nine members, to wit: Robert Moody, Elizabeth Moody, Alexander Ferson, Abigail Ferson, Dean Ferson, Prudence Ferson, John Fisk, Calvin Ward and Abby Ward. The meeting for organization and the first communion service was held at the log house of Robert Moody. Father Clark met for worship with this small flock for nearly a year, in private houses. His pastorate continued for three years and a half, during which time he gathered a church of about twenty five members. In July, 1841, he resigned, to accept a call fro the church &t Elgin. In 1842, preparations were made to build, which resulted in the completion of the present edifice, in November, 1848. In 1844, twenty members were dismissed, to form a church at Wayne Center; and in 1851, eight more were dismissed to form the church at Campton. Present membership about 140.

The Baptist Church was organized in the Winter of 1835, in the house of John Kittredge, and comprised, during the year's immediately following, members from St. Charles, Dundee, Elgin and Campton, who held their central point at Rice Fay's double log house, at Fayville. While meetings were held there, churches were organized, at Elgin, Dundee and Campton (then Fairfield), from this single germ. The parent church was then moved to St. Charles, where the building now occupied was erected, about 1853, and repaired and enlarged in the Summer of 1876.

A Universalist society existed in the place at a very early day, and the building commenced in the Fall of 1839 was the first in the place, and probably the first in the State. Rev. William Roundsville, who organized the society, was the first pastor. Preaching was held for a time in the old school house, previous to building, and Rev. A. Pingree, now of Pingree Grove, was active in establishing the organization. It ran down, however, about 1857, and for years the building has been closed.

The Methodist Episcopal Society was one of the first formed in the village, and commenced a church building about 1843, which has since been greatly improved. As its early records have been lost, or destroyed, we have no means of obtaining an extended account of the organization of the society. It is prosperous, and one of the largest religious denominations in the city.

In 1859, according to the statement of a reliable Free Methodist, a number of the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church became unusually noisy from "getting blessed." The pastor, D. C. Howard, unused to such a racket, undertook to'keep them quiet, but signally failed. They objected to his interference; a meeting was called to take their case in hand, and twenty one of them were expelled. Organizing immediately, under the celebrated Dr. Redfield, they resolved themselves into a Free Methodist Church. Their building was originally an elevator, belonging to T. A. & R. A. Wheeler, and standing just north of where S. S. Jones' vacated elevator now stands. It was purchased of the original owners June 20, 1860, and is still used as the house of worship. There are now between fifty and sixty members.

In 1843, mass was held in the house of Michael Flannery, by Father Keegan; but previous to this date, Father O'Donnell, from Joliet, had visited the Catholics of St. Charles occasionally, and administered to their spiritual wants. In 1851, a stone church, the only one of this material in the place,was commenced, on the West Side. The membership is large, and the number on the increase. The first bell in the town was placed upon the Congregational Church, in 1847.


Journalism commenced in Kane County with the publication at St. Charles of a small sheet devoted mainly to the presentation of certain religious views of Dr. John Thomas, its editor, who had moved to the place from Kendall County, and brought a small press with him. It was short lived, however, and about the Fall of 1841, Dr. Thomas commenced the publication of the St. Charles Patriot, Fox River Advocate and Kane County Herald, which eventually failed perhaps from a lack of vital energy to keep its name before the public - but after continuing a number of years. In the fall of 184, it was burned out and the press destroyed, but Ira Minard purchased another for the good of the place, and the paper was issued as The Fox River Advocate for some time, by Dr. D. D. Waite. The Prairie Messenger was started in 1846, by Smith & Kelsey, changed hands several times, and went down like its predecessors. In the years which followed there successively appeared The People's Platform, The Democratic Platform, The Kane County Democrat, The Democratic Argus, The St. Charles Argus, and The St. Charles Transcript. It should also be mentioned that a Universalist paper was started in January, 1842, by Rev. William Rounsville and Seth Barnes; was continued for about a year, when it was removed to Chicago, where it was published in the following years under the title of The New Covenant. The St. Charles Transcript commenced its career under S., L. Taylor, March 1, 1871. Having received a bonus of about $400 from the citizens of the town in consideration of its establishment, the editor placed it under the able management of Samuel W. Durant, to whom whatever merit it possessed was due, as but a small part of Mr. Taylor's energies were devoted to it. In July, 1871, it was purchased by Tyrrell & Archer, who published it until June, 1873, when it was sold to Frank McMaster and H. N. Wheeler. It was then a seven column folio, with a circulation of about 300. The name was changed to The Northern Granger in the same Fall, and again to The St. Charles Leader, in December, 1874, when it was enlarged to a six column quarto. Since then it has been steadily increasing in influence and importance, and in November, 1875, was for the first time issued from a cylinder power press, having been previously struck off on one of the dimunitive and bungling hand concerns. In 1876, one of its able editors, Frank McMaster, sold his interest to his partner, who remains the sole editor and proprietor. In June, 1877, a new departure was taken in country journalism, by introducing upon its title page an elegant engraved heading, the design being one of especial local interest. In politics the Leader is Democratic, its circulation is about 1,200, while its rank among the papers of the county, in energy, vigor of thought and the independence of its views, is clearly indicated by its title. Its office is also one of the best in the county in the. convenience of its equipment for newspaper and job work. In September, 1874, a diminutive publication was commenced by Tyrrell; the former editor of the Transcript, but it went out after a six months' struggle.

[Continued in Part 2 of St. Charles History] [Also see the Township of St. Charles]

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