History of Palmyra Township, Lee County, Il
From: Encyclopedia of Illinois
and the History of Lee County
Edited by: Mr. A. C. Bardwell.
Munsell Publishing Company
Chicago 1904.


For the names and time of arrival of early settlers in Palmyra Township, the following quotation is made from an article by Miss Jane Johnson, appearing in "Recollections of Pioneers of Lee County" (p. 497):

"The first settlement was begun in the spring of 1134 by old Mr. Morgan and his sons, Harvey and John. and Benjamin Stewart, who settled in the south side of the Grove, known as "the Gap." They were followed in the autumn by John H. Page and wife, and Stephen Fellows, with a large family.

"The following spring (1835) the new accessions included W. W. Bethea, Absalom Fender with a large family, Capt. Oliver Hubbard, a numerous family of Gastons, Smith Gilbraith, William T. and Elkanah Bush, Daniel Beardsley, old Mr. Thomas and his sons, Enoch and Noah; Daniel Obrist, Nathan Morehouse, Jeff Harris, Anson Thummel, brother of Rev. C. B. Thummel; James Power and sons, Thomas and Jeptha. From 1836 to 1845 large additions were made to the infant settlement, most of the following being well known families: John C. Oliver, Noah Beede, Abijah Powers, Frederick and Henry Coe, Walter Rogers, Reuben Eastwood, William Myers (afterwards known as the "Prophet"), Hiram Parks, W. W. Tilton, Timothy Butler, Hugh Graham, John T. Lawrence, John Lawrence, Abner Moon, John Lord and his son John L., Jarves N. and David Holly, Wm. Martin and his nephews, James, Jacob and Tyler Martin; Capt. Jonas M. Johnson and his sons, William Y. and Morris, with their families and a son-in-law; Eben H. Johnson and wife, Joshua Seavey and sons, Jesse and Winthrop; Joshua Marden and son William; Albert and John Jenness, Harvey E. Johnson, Charles and Dana Columbia, Levi Briggs and father, Thomas Monk, William and John Benjamin, Truxton and Lemuel Sweeney, John and Joseph Thompson, John Norris, William and Lockwood Harris, Win. Burger, Win. Stackpole, Rev. William Gates, James Gates, William Ayres, Thomas Ayres, L. Deyo, E. Deyo, Col. Leman Mason and sons Sterne, Volney and Rodney; Moses Warner and sons Henry, Moses and George; Major Sterling, Henry and Gustavus Sartorius; Nehemiah, William, Fletcher and Morris Hutton; Abram O'Brist, Martin Blair, Wesley Atkinson, Thomas and Moses Scallion, John Carley, Hardin, Beach, Tomlin, Martin Richardson, Benjamin Gates, Mathias Schick, Anton Harms, Charles A. Becker, Henry Miller, Becker Miller, Mr. Curtis, Martin and William Brauer, William Miller, John Morse." The names of David Law (father of Dr. David H.) and family, who came in 1839, and their relatives, the McGinnisses, who came at or about the same time, should be added to this list. It should also be noted that John Lord and family first settled in Dixon, near the point where Peoria Avenue crosses the Chicago & Northern Railway.

Between 1839 and 1844 the New York Colony (so called) settled in Palmyra. Capt. Hugh Graham was its acknowledged head. William Graham, John T. Lawrence and brother were the first to arrive. C. F. Hubbard came later. The colony was made up for the most part of highly educated young men and women from New York City and across the sea. They were lured westward by imaginary attractions of a new and fertile country. It was to be their El Dorado, but proved quite otherwise. Their lack of experience in agricultural pursuits, and their unfitness for pioneer life, its hardships and problems, defeated their hopes, financially, but it is not too much to say that the community was still a distinct gainer. Their influence was always exerted in the direction of better educational conditions, and they contributed in the press and by example to raise the intelectual standards of the neighborhood. Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Geyot and Mr. Hubbard spent their lives in the locality where they first settled, and were gathered to their fathers only a few years ago. An article contributed by Mr. Lawrence to that excellent collection of essays on early days, "Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County" (above quoted from), gives a most graphic account of their experiences, is rich in local incident and suggests the scholarly cast of the New York Colony. Mr. Lawrence says, in the paper referred to, that Palmyra was named by Fred Coe, from the town of that name in New York.

The Indians were gathering sweetness from the maple trees of Sugar Grove when the white man came, and under the latter's care the "sap bush" soon became a fixed institution.

At an early date a double log house stood in front of the spot on which now stands the John Lord family residence, of which Smith Gilbraith's family occupied one side.

It seems that there was a postoffice at the Gap in the early days, E. B. Bush being the first Postmaster and having a deputy at Buffalo Grove. This same Bush ran a ferry near where the center line of Section 10 strikes the river. Joshua Morgan also served as Postmaster. The office was continued until the recent introduction of postal delivery service.

In 1840 the settlement had sixty voters.

As early as 1843 Matthias Selricks had a blacksmith shop at Prairieville, and there were others in the town.

O'Brist had a saw mill on Sugar Creek where, after a heavy rain, a little sawing of the native logs could be done. There were two brothers; Daniel was drowned in Elkhorn Creek and Abram then ran the mill. Aside from the assistance of this mill, nearly all the buildings were made of hewed logs, shakes or split shingles for the roof, and puncheons or boards split from logs for the floor.

There was a time not many years ago when the carriage and wagon shops of John L. Lord did a large business, considering their inaccessibility by rail. The business was founded by John Lord in 1841, and twelve years later passed into the hands of his son John L. Comppetition having eventually proven too formidable for works so situated, the business was, a few years ago, abandoned. The first church in Palmyra was at Gap Grove on the site where the school house now stands. Its dimensions were 24 by 36 feet and it was built in 1839 jointly by the Congregationalists and the Methodists, and was occupied on alternate Sundays by those two denominations. It was abandoned at least forty years ago and transformed into a school house and used for a number of years, when it was moved off and sold for $20, and in its place the present school house was built. The old school house was converted into a barn, in which capacity it is still doing service for H. M. Gilbert.

About the year 1855 the Methodists built a church at a point on the south side of the public road, near the west line of the southwest quarter of Section 34. Near it stood a frame school house, but when built or what figure it cut in the neighborhood we have been unable to find out. It is, however, at present used as a milk house on Howard Martin's farm. The church was sold and torn down many years ago.

On the southwest corner of the farm now owned by Gustav Selig (southeast quarter, Section 27), near the forks of the road, once stood a log house, which is claimed by some to have been the true historic school house of the section. At one time the number of pupils here taught reached fifty.

In 1857-8 a brick church, with basement for school purposes, was erected at Sugar Grove. At an early day there was also a log school house near the John Lord residence on Section 36, and, in the "Hall" at "the Gap," which was originally a saw mill built by W. W. Tilton, a Mr. Judd once taught an advanced school, to which many came from a distance on horseback to enjoy its advantages.

Old settlers are not agreed touching the first school teacher of the town. Mr. J. T. Lawrence awards the mantle to Mary Hill, who in time became Mrs. Michael Fellows, while Rev. S. N. Fellows, brother of Michael (both of whom were sons of Stephen Fellows), gives the honor to his sister Margaret. Another accords it to Mrs. Hubbard, afterward wife of W. W. Tilton. However this may be, no regular school was established until 1838, when a small frame school house was erected in the center of Sugar Grove, but never finished, in which W. W. Bethea was master for two winters. In 1837 there was a school house at the Gap nearly opposite the ground where the town hall now stands. In 1847, a frame school house was built on or near the. spot where the combined school and church building at Sugar Grove, on the south line of the southeast quarter of Section 22, was later erected. On the former coming into use the log house on the Selig tract was abandoned. In 1856 the house of 1847 was moved off and became a part of the dwelling on the farm now owned by Fletcher Seavey, where it still may be found. In its stead a building, with stone basement and brick second story, was put up by the voluntary contributions of the neighborhood. The basement being desirable for school purposes, was, in some way, soon sold to the school authorities of the town. The walls of the second story proving too light to safely support the roof, they were taken out without disturbing the roof and replaced with a suitable frame inclosure. About the year 1880 the building was entirely consumed by fire. It was promptly rebuilt substantially as before, and as it is now seen, except that the first story is of wood instead of stone.

Cemeteries. - In 1840 a cemetery was located at the Gap and the first interment was that of Samuel Fellows, on February 8th of that year. It was situated on the south side of the half section line at the northwest corner of the southwest quarter of Section 34, and at the northeast corner of the southeast quarter of Section 33. A number of bodies were removed, but a number are still there, though the spot has long been abandoned to weeds and underbrush. A considerable burial ground also existed at one time about the middle of the tract south of the road in the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 26, on what is known as the Beede farm. The bodies here buried were all removed, some finding a temporary resting place on the east side of the forks of the road on the west line of said quarter section; but nearly all of them reposed at last in the cemetery at the Grove church and school house, which was opened in 1855, the remains of an infant child of Asa Seavey being the first interred here. By the bestowal of much labor and taste, for which the ladies are largely to be credited, it is now an ideal little burial plot.

The cemetery north of Prairieville, at the northeast corner of the southeast quarter of Section 31, was established by deed from Abijah Powers, dated April, 1861. Its location is a beautiful spot for which nature has done much, and while considerably less has been expended upon it than on the other, it is still a respectable rival.

Prairieville was located and platted at the instance of Abijah Powers, Phillip Schock, Samuel Shaw and Winthrop Seavey, April 10, 1855. On its site a blacksmith shop was in full blast in 1843.

The village school house is a two story brick structure surmounted by a belfry. It was built at a cost of $3,000.

In the schoolyard inclosure a soldiers' monument, costing about $900, was erected June 3, 1869, by the voluntary contributions of the patriotic citizens of the township. It is a notable fact that this is the only monument, thus far set up anywhere in the county, to the memory of the brave men who served their country in the War of the Rebellion.

On September 3, 1902, this monument was moved to the cemetery one half mile north of Prairieville, through the interest and agency of the W. C. Robinson Post, G. A. R., of Sterling. To make this practicable, the heirs of the late Samuel Shaw donated their beautiful lot in the center of the grounds where had reposed, until removed to the cemetery at Dixon, the remains of Timothy Shaw, the son of Samuel Shaw, and brother of Miss Elizabeth J. Shaw. He was the first Lee County boy to enlist in the War of the Rebellion. The date of his enlistment appears by the records to have been April, 1861. He was at school at Jacksonville at the time, and became a member of Company B, Tenth Illinois Infantry.

The marble shaft was rededicated in its new position by appropriate ceremonies, Mr. S. H. Bethea, an honored son of Palmyra, delivering the address. On this occasion the shaft bore the following names of the country's defenders credited to Palmyra: Timothy Shaw, Jerome D. Morgan, Benj. E. Berry, Solomon Stewart, Joseph Brown, Jefferson Seavey, Michael O'Kane, Charles Becker, Henry Peek, John Strothman, Norman D. Smith, Morris Hutton, Theodore Gaston, William Hackett, Edward S. O'Brien, Emanuel Schick, Henry D. Wood, George P. Ehrman, Louis Gleichman, Deidrich Kruger, Albert Slater and Homer Clink.

There is at present the school house referred to, and a church edifice in the village of Prairieville (if the few houses there now can be so called), in which the Congregationalists and Lutherans hold service. A blacksmith shop and small store cater to the wants of the neighborhood in their respective lines.

The town hall at the Gap was built about the year 1880.

To encourage enlistment in the War of the Rebellion, Palmyra, as a town, paid $12,470 in bounties.

Palmyra Insurance Company. - One of Palmyra's permanent institutions is the "Farmer's Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Palmyra," which was incorporated by special act of the Legislature, February 15, 1865, since which time it has done a large business in Lee and surrounding counties. When the company commenced doing business in the following July, it had applications for over $100,000 of insurance to start with. Its business has increased until it is now carrying risks aggregating over $1,500,000. It is what is called a "District Company," and is one of the largest of its kind in the State. Its operations are confined to Lee, Ogle, Whiteside and Carroll counties, and it insures all kinds of farm property, but never enters cities or incorporated villages. Its first officers were John H. Page, President, and C. B. Thummel, Secretary. Its present officers are F. M. Coe, President, and Fletcher Seavey, Secretary.

The population of Palmyra Township was 1,016 in 1890, and 1,019 in 1900, as shown by the Government census.

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