WILLOW CREEK TOWNSHIP.
In this town are to be found four groves, often referred to in early history and by early settlers as landmarks,
by names which they still retain; Smith's Grove, Allen's Grove and Twin Grove, or Groves for there are two of the
latter, as the name implies.
The township may perhaps be distinguished from all others in the county by the large percentage of inhabitants
of either foreign birth or extraction, the Norwegian and German predominating. An enumeration made in 1880 placed
the population at 1,214, of whom onehalf were of foreign birth. Add to this the probable number of descendants
of such parents, and the number will be greatly increased. We have been unable to find the census of 1890 covering
such statistics, and that of 1900 is not yet obtainable.
Settlements were made almost simultaneously at the several groves. Peter Gonzolas. a Frenchman, put in his appearance
at Allen's Grove in the fall of 1836; John Smith, a Scotchman, at Smith's Grove in 1837 and William Moore at the
south one of the Twin Groves, in the latter year.
The Gonzolas tract (the Shoudy farm of recent years) was acquired in the spring of 1878 by Richard M. Allen, whose
name was given to the grove, and this farm was the first in the township to be improved. Allen sold in 1840 to
a man by the name of Bond, who sold to a Mr. Price in 1842. Mr. Smith bought a claim on Section 35, and there settled,
and the name "Dry Grove," by which the timber was first known, soon surrendered to the name of the proprietor.
With Mr. Smith came another Scotchman, John Colville, who was postmaster for many years at Paw Paw, dying there
in October, 1893. Mr. Smith's log cabin, roofed with mowed grass, was the second to be built in the township. In
mid winter following its construction, fire caught in the inflammable roof, and the cabin burned to the ground.
As soon as possible another was erected in its place. Soon after moving into the first cabin Mr. Smith's son John
died, the first white person in the township to be taken away. Mr. Smith sent to Ottawa, the nearest point, for
a doctor, who was guided across the prairie by Robert, a brother of the sick boy, now residing in Dixon.
Robert and David Smith, sons of the first settler, still survive and own parts of their father's original claim.
Israel Shoudy came in 1844 and bought the Gonzolas or Allen tract from Price, and lived there until his death,
which occurred in California at an advanced age only a few years ago. His remains were brought back and are buried
over the line in DeKalb County. Horatio G. Howiett settled at Allen's Grove in 1839, having spent the two preceding
years at Dixon. Nathaniel Allen settled in the vicinity of Smith's and Allen's groves, in 1845 with four of his
five sons and daughters, his son, Chandler, coming a year later. Benjamin Nettleton had joined the settlement as
early as this. Isaac Ellsworth came in the spring of 1846 and Christopher Vandeventer in 1848. The Littletons arrived
at Smith's about 1845.
The Indian Trail from Ottawa north to the hunting grounds in Wisconsin ran through Allen's Grove.
Twin Groves were first named Moore, from William Moore, the earliest settler there, who began his improvements
in 1837 at the South Grove. James Thompson and Levi Lathrop came here together about 1842, and in partnership bought
Moore's claim. The first birth at the grove was that of Robert Blair, son of Robert Blair, Sr., in 1846. Cummings
Noe settled here probably as early as 1846, and together with James Thompson and James Smith, entered all of the
South Grove. James Smith and Nathan Koons, Jesse Koons and A. N. Dow arrived in 1847. Cyrus Goff came in these
early days and built between the two groves where he kept a tavern. Lewis G. and Gilbert Durin, brothers, joined
the Twin Grove settlement in 1849. Wesson Holton's coming was in 1853. The station "Scarboro" on the
Rochelle Southern Railway, now being built, is located on L. G. Dunin's farm.
The pioneer among the German settlers was Gotlieb Hochstrasser in 1854. A little later, but probably in the same
year, came Joseph Herman. In 1856, Frank Bates, Frank Herman and John Herman were added, and the next year witnessed
the arrival of Archeart Hochstrasser.
Of the Norwegians, Ommor Hilleson was the forerunner of the large settlement, having, it is said, landed in New
York in 1837 and walked all the way thence to Chicago. He settled in Bradford Township a year or two later and,
after accumulating a goodly fortune, died there. Though the pioneer of his nationality, the greater portion by
far settled in Willow Creek Township. Lars Larsen Rissiter located there in 1847.
In this township, as elsewhere, schools were early looked after. The first school in the township was at Allen's
Grove. It was started in 1848 in one of Israel Shoudy's log houses, and Martha Vandeventer. sister of Christopher
Vandeventer, was the teacher. Preceding her, however, were Miss Price, Eliza Nettleton and Laura Brace. In the
fall of 1849 a frame school house was built by subscription, one half mile east of the present one. Prior to the
building of this school house, school was taught by the ladies mentioned in the dwellings of Dr. Basford, Shoudy
and Howlett. The first Board of Examiners to pass on the qualifications of teachers for this school consisted of
John Smith, Sr., H. G. Howlett and Colville, Smith examining as to Geography and Grammar, Howlett in Mathematics
and Reading, Colville in Writing and Spelling. At Twin Groves the first school was taught in James Thompson's original
log cabin, but in what year we are not informed. Later, in 1854, a school house was built at the Groves by subscription
and was purchased by the school district three years later. It was destroyed by fire in the winter of 1863-4. The
Ellsworth school house was built in the spring of 1855, and Mrs. Ellsworth was the first teacher.
It will be recalled that the territory. now embracing the town of Wyoming, Willow Creek and Alto, was first set
off as Paw Paw Township, but was soon changed to Wyoming. In 1855 the north two thirds was made into the Township
of Willow Creek. The first town meeting in the new township was convened at Twin Groves School House, April 3,
1855. A. N. Dow acted as Moderator and G. Bishop as clerk. In 1861 Alto Township was set apart. In 1874 the town
house was built on the southeast corner of Section 16, Willow Creek, at a cost of $1,100, including one acre of
ground. At a meeting to pass on the question of building, the proposition was carried by a vote of 50 to 47.
When the Chicago & Rock River Railroad Company (now the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy) was seeking township
aid toward the construction of its line, at an election held October 16, 1869, Willow Creek gave one vote in favor
to twenty four against the proposal. But when the Chicago & Iowa Railroad Company applied for a subscription
of $50,000 to its stock, the town, at a meeting held March 26, 1870, by a vote of seventy five in affirmative and
fifty one negative, agreed to subscribe for the stock on condition that the road be located within, one mile of
the center of the town. This condition not having been complied with, the town wholly escaped railroad taxation.
The town was one of four to levy a bountytax to encourage enlistments in the War of the Rebellion, Dixon, Lee
Center and Palmyra being the two others. The reports of the Adjutant General of the State credits Willow Creek
with $5,200 bounty paid at an expense of $232.70, being a total of $5,432.70. The patriotism of the community was
further evidenced, not only by the volunteers it sent to the front, but by the fact that, although it was then
a purely agricultural district, with no village to increase its population, a "Union League" was organized
in the dark days of 1862 with a membership of seventy.
Churches.- As early as 1844 and for eight or ten years thereafter, regular preaching was held at Allen's Grove,
and about 1848 a Presbyterian Society was formed and existed several years. In 1868 a church building, under control
of the Methodist denomination, was erected on the southwest corner of Section 16, at a cost of $3,500, owned jointly
by the Methodist, Congregationalist and United Brethren denominations. It was dedicated November 9, 1868, Rev.
F. A. Hardin and A. P. Beach officiating. The date of the organization of the Methodist Society is not accessible
to the writer. The Congregational Society was formed in 1859. It never numbered over seventeen members, the removal
of whom from the section gradually accomplished its dissolution.
The Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran church was formed in the fall of 1858, by Rev. Didrikson. The members were then
scattered through several townships, but in time the most of them were found in Willow Creek. A church building
was erected on a commanding site (northeast corner of the west half of northeast quarter, Section 11), at a cost
of $3,500. A parsonage, with a twenty acre tract adjoining, belongs to the society. The Zion church of the Evangelical
Association was formed in 1868, its membership being confined to Germans. The first trustees were John Yetter,
William Dunkelberger and J. L. Lutz. In 1875 a house of worship was erected on the southeast corner of Section
5, at a cost of $3,000, including ground.
The German Catholics had readings of mass about 1863, by Father Westkam, of Mendota, at the house of Peter Kimbler.
The following year a stone building was put up on the northwest corner of the southwest quarter of Section 16,
at a cost of $3,000.
In 1863 a society of Dunkards was formed and, in 1870, a German Lutheran Society was organized by Rev. William
In the spring of 1878 a Catholic church was built in the village of Lee, at a cost of $3,200, John Kennedy, James
Kirby and Stephen Kirby being the principal contributors to the undertaking. It was dedicated in the autumn of
1878 by Father Verdin, of St. Ignatius College, Chicago. Father Edwards, of Rochelle, was the priest in charge
when it was built.
A Methodist church was built in the village in 1877, at a cost of nearly $2,000. It is located in the DeKalb County
section of the village.
It is doubtful if any other agricultural township in the county has as many churches and distinct denominations
ministering to the religious wants of its people.
The tornado which swept over the county from the west on Sunday, June 3, 1860, entered Willow Creek about nine
o'clock in the evening, midway of the west line of Section 18, and left it midway of the east line of Section 13,
on the county line. Devastation was strewn in its path. Mrs. Abram Miller, Mr. James Nealis, A. N. Dow and family,
consisting of eight persons, and Mrs. McConeky were all more or less seriously injured, while Mr. McConeky and
his eldest and youngest boys were killed outright. All of the buildings in the path of the storm were either injured
or totally demolished, and a windrow of twisted, splintered and uprooted trees, ten to twenty yards wide, was left
through the southern portion of the Twin Groves.
Village of Lee.- That portion of the village lying in Lee County was platted for Francis E. Hinkley and John Kennedy
August 19, 1872.
The first building to be erected was the small grain office and grocery of Christopher & Jorgens. About the
same time J. Cheasbro put up an office for trading in grain, coal and lumber. The first store was at the corner
of Main and B Streets, and was built by R. J. White, who became the first Postmaster in the new town. J. Johnson
was the next to start a general store, his location being on Main Street, between A and B Streets. Abel Downer's,
at the southwest corner of Main and B streets, was the third general store, and included drugs. Ostewig & Leyder
started in hardware the same season. The first dwelling was built by James Minnihan, in 1872. W. H. Emmett erected
the second in March, 1872. The first hotel was built by Frank Bacon on B Street, and in 1874 A. B. Trask built
the second. The first elevator was erected by J. Cheasbro in the fall of 1872, and that winter Christopher &
Jorgens built one. A third elevator was erected in 1901 and is operated by James E. Johnson. The other two are
now owned and operated by M. P. Harris. The first brick structure to be put up in the new town was the store of
Sardis Vosburg, at the northwest corner of Main and B Streets. The first school was opened in December, 1874, in
the Dyas building, with W. H. Emmett as teacher. Different vacant rooms were occupied until the summer of 1876,
when the first school house was put up.
Lee has the distinction of belonging to two counties, the center line of B Street being the dividing line between
Lee and DeKaIb. It was incorporated as a village June 23, 1874.
About three o'clock on the morning of July 5, 1902, the place was visited by a disastrous fire, which licked up
one entire block of buildings on the west side of Main Street. Substantial brick buildings are gradually taking
the place of the ones destroyed.
According to the census, the population of the township, including the Lee County part of the village of Lee, was
1,034 in 1890 and 959 in 1900. The part of the village lying in Lee County was 153 in 1890 and 151 In 1900. The
total population of the village in 1890 was 264 and in 1900, 286.