LEE CENTER TOWNSHIP.
Adolphus Bliss and wife were the first settlers within the territory later known as Lee Center, having located
there in May, 1834. Mrs. Bliss was the first white woman to reside in the township, and the second in the county.
It was a year before she had a neighbor nearer than Dixon. Mr. Bliss entered a claim on west half of southwest
quarter of Section 4, and the north half of the northeast quarter of Section 9. The first to follow him was Corydon
R. Dewey, who came in the following spring and entered a claim on the east half of the northwest quarter of Section
9, and later, but during the year, Cyrenus and Cyreno Sawyer joined them, and together took up a claim on the northeast
quarter of Section 1. In the spring of 1836, Lewis Clapp settled on the northwest quarter of Section 8. In this
year Charles F. Ingalls and his brother, George A., entered their claims in the southern part of Lee Center Township,
on which a Pottawatomie Indian village then stood.
In 1837 Mr. David Tripp and family, with his brother-in-law Orange Webster, settled at Inlet. My. Birdsell was
an arrival of the following year. During that year Dr. R. F. Adams arrived and was the first physician in the neighborhood.
Roswell Streator filed a claim in 1833, on the land on which Lee Center is situated, and the following year built
a log house in the edge of Inlet Grove, which was near his claim. He gave a portion of the land towards the erection
and maintenance of an academy, which will be hereafter referred to. George E. Haskell early settled at the Grove.
Two of the Ingails brothers, Henry and Addison, first settled on the Illinois River near where Chandlerville now
stands, and Abraham Lincoln surveyed the farm for one of them. Mr. Ralph Ford was also one of the early arrivals.
In the spring of 1836 the first sermon in the neighborhood was preached by Peter Cartwright in Mr. Dewey's house.
In that year the first Methodist class was organized, with John Fosdick as leader. Mr. David Tripp was a Baptist,
and services were now and then held in his house until he built a new barn, which was dedicated with protracted
meeting. A Baptist society was organized with Mr. Webster as deacon and Mr. Tripp as clerk. Here meetings were
held regularly until a school-house was built near the Dewey Mill. In 1835 Rev. Luke Hitchcock and Oscar F. Ayres
came, and the former preached the first funeral sermon in the town. It was over the body of a young "circuit
rider" by the name of Smith, who died at Tripp's homestead.
The first school-house was built in the edge of the timber on the Bliss land. George E. Haskell was teacher. It
was a typical log structure. Moses Crombie settled in the village of Lee Center in 1840. Prior to the erection
of this school house, Mrs. Crombie conducted a neighborhood school in her own house.
The first building occupied as a store stood on the ground where David Tripp's grout house stood. It was sold to
George E. Haskell, who moved it nearer to Inlet Creek, where it stood a few years, when it was moved to the town
of Lee Center and was occupied for some years by Joseph Cary.
The pioneer teacher was Ann Chamberlain, who in the summer occupied a room in Adolphus Bliss's house for her school.
In the log school-house already referred to, Otis Timothy taught, and later settled at Franklin Grove where he
died. His teaching was for three months in the winter of 1837-8. He had twenty to twenty-five pupils under his
charge, and was paid at the rate of $15 per month. A log tavern kept by Benjamin Whittaker stood where Mr. Cephas
Clapp lived in recent years. This was as early as 1839. The first wedding in the town was that of Albert Static
and Elmira Carpenter, in 1836, Daniel M. Dewey, Justice of the Peace, performing use ceremony. Mr. James Brewer
reached Inlet in 1843, having ridden on horseback from Montgomery, Ala., and later became principal of the academy.
There were other schools than those already mentioned. Mrs. Sallie P. Starks taught a class of five boys and five
girls, ranging from one year old to near twenty-one; her teaching was for 12 hours a day all the year round.
Lee Center Academy.- The main part of the Academy building was constructed of brick and built in 1847, at a cost
of $2,000. Mr. Moses Crombie was the contractor, and the school opened the same year and soon advanced to a leading
rank among the educational institutions in that section. A certificate is found recorded in the Recorder's Office
of the county, stating that Lewis Clapp, Luke Hitchcock, N. P. Swartwout, Martin Wright, Daniel Frost. Moses Combie
and R. F. Adams were elected Trustees of the Academy, March 3, 1847. The first Principal was Hiram McChesney. a
graduate of Rensselaer Institute, of Troy, N. Y. He served one year, when he was succeeded by H. E. Lenard, of
Naperville. After two years Rev. James Brewer, a graduate of Jamestown College, Mass., took charge remaining one
year. After him came Simeon Wright, during whose three years of service the Academy reached a degree of prosperity
never exceeded either before or after. The average attendance of the school in this year was 150 pupils. Prof.
Nash came after Mr. Wright and remained until 1859, in which year he died. By this time other schools of importance
had sprung up at Paw Paw, Dixon, Amboy and elsewhere, and the Academy, remote from railroads, begaa to decline,
so that, in the year 1859, it became a graded district school. In 1853 a stone addition to the schoolhouse was
erected to acommodate the increasing needs of the institution.
In these days Lee Center was indeed a flourishing village, with an academy as its center of interest and activity.
Lyceums, lectures and traveling entertainments were frequent in the chapel.
A Congregational Church was organized in 1843, at the home of Amos Crombie, near Binghamton in Amboy Township,
with eleven members. The first pastor was Rev. Joseph Gardner. It was called the Congregational Church of Palestine
Grove. Worship was conducted until 1849 in the Wasson school house, in Amboy Township, after which it was changed
to Lee Center, when a building was erected in 1856 at a cost of $1,500. In another account of this society (see
Amboy) John Worrell is mentioned as first pastor and Joseph Gardner as third. We are unable to determine which
statement is correct.
A Methodist Church was organized in 1837, at the residence of Corydon R, Dewey. at Inlet Grove. Their first church
building was erected in 1342, in which services were held until 1858, when a larger and more commodious one was
built. For many years Luke Hitchcock was pastor. Philo Judson. afterwards an eminent toreign missionary, preached
here, and "Father Penfield" often filled the pulpit. The building was badly racked by the tornado of
June 3, 1860. and was finally demolished by a storm on October 30, 1882. Its place was supplied by a fine new structure
erected in 1883-4.
It appears by a certificate, recorded in the Recorder's Office, that I. G. Dimick. C. R. Dewey. Daniel Frost, D.
H. Birdsall and G. R. Lynn were elected Trustees of the "Methodist Episcopal Church at Inlet," December
12, 1840. On June 4. 1848, Daniel Frost. Solomon Matteson, A. W. Crombie, C. S. Frost, M. S. Curtis and Hezekiah
McCune, were elected trustees of the "Methodist Episcopal Church of Lee Center." In 1849, trustees of
a parsonage were elected, but we have been unable to learn when the building was constructed.
An Episcopal Church was organized in 1855, and a building erected in 1857, costing $2,500. The windows of the cnurch
were presented to the congregation by Bishop Whitehouse. The title was vested in the Bishop by instrument dated
May 4, 1857. Dr. Charles Gardner and Garrett M. La Forge were the principal supporters, and after they left the
town the services here declined until the building was abandoned and sold for other uses a very few years ago.
The country was greatly disturbed in the period from 1843 to 1850, by a succession of crimes indicating a thorough
organization among the lawless class. The principals in the nefarious business are known in the annals of this
and adjoining counties as the "Banditti of the Prairies." The vicinity of Inlet furnished one of their
bases of operation. Counterfeiting, robbery and murder were included among their offenses. Two leading citizens
of Inlet Grove one of them a magistrate were implicated in a robbery, and sent to the penitentiary where both died.
Other citizens were found to be involved in like transactions. One turned state's evidence, which resulted in more
arrests and the recovery of considerable stolen property. As a means of better contending with the law-breaking
element, an "Association for Furthering the cause of Justice" was formed. The preamble of the constitution
recited that, "appearances have plainly shown that Inlet Grove has been a resting place and depot for the
numerous rogues that infest the country." A vigilance committee was appointed to hunt out and run down the
rascals, by which effective work was done for the protection of the people and punishment of criminals.
The lands on which the pioneers settled were not open to purchase until 1844, when the first land sale occurred
at Dixon. Hence the early settlers were known as "squatters," having no assurance that the lands they
occupied would ever become their own. To protect themselves against the cupidity of interlopers who might seek
to enter the lands of the first corners secretly, and also as a means of adjusting any differences which might
arise between them touching their respective claims, the settlers of this neighborhood formed a "Squatters'
Association," with a formal constitution containing rigia provisions for the mutual protection, of its members.
Similar movements were resorted to in other sections, and became known as "Grove Associations." The constitution
of the one in the vicinity of Amboy was preserved by Ira Brewer, and bore date, "Inlet, Ogle County, Illinois,
July 10th, 1837," and was subscribed by sixty-six members. The field of the association extended from Inlet
half way to Knox, Dixon, Malugin, Palestine and Franklin Grove. George E. Haskell was the first president and Martin
Wright the first clerk. The scheme called for a bond to be signed by each member, obligating him to convey to the
adjoining claimant any land occupied by the latter which might, inadvertently or otherwise, be purchased by the
formen Difficulties were apt to arise owing to the fact that the Government survey had not then been made. In a
committee report of choice diction and marked seriousness, having much of the tone of a plea addressed to the membership,
it is said: "The claims of all have been respected and a just regard had to the growth and prosperity of the
neighborhood, in the accommodations afforded to all that wished to unite themselves to this community in nearness
of settlement. But a change in our circumstances is about to take place. The rightful owner of the soil upon which
we are located is to call upon us for his dues, and that too at a period not far distant. Some, and it is hoped
all the members of this association, will be able to answer the call and obtain a title to the land which they
now claim. In paying for land, whether at general land sales or under the preemption law, the individual so paying
receives his title to the same, which no right of the claimant can ever reach."
The situation was manifestly one of grave peril to these frontiersmen who were in danger of losing the property,
the home, which they had braved so much and forsaken so much to secure. As a rule, however, the community, by the
intimidating force of a law of its own making, was able to protect the bona-fide settler against the barbarous
greed of the "claim jumper." The early settlers brought with them much of the spirit of colonial days,
and vigorously used all that was needed to meet the emergency.
Shaw Station was platted as "Shaw" on land of Sherman Shaw October 24, 1878. The place has an elevator
operated by Chas. Guffin, a Congregatlonal church, which was built five or six years ago. and a public school.
The population of the township in 1890 was 789. while in 1900 it was 876.