History of Empire Township, McLean County, Illinois
From: History of McLean County Illinois
By: Jacob L. Hasbrouck
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianoplis 1924

Empire Township. - Ever since the settlement of the county, Empire has had a leading part in its history. It formed a desirable place for first settlers, being provided with timber, water and rich prairie land. John Buckles came to this section in 1827 and settled at the grove which bears his name. This and other groves in the township comprise 8,700 acres. Buckles and his family of thirteen children always bore a leading part in the township's history. Michael Dickerson came in 1830. He had two sons, Henry and Frank, who were leading citizens. The Greenman family settled at Blooming Grove in 1829 and afterward removed to Buckles Grove. The Crumbaughs came in 1830. Henry Crumbaugh kept a noted pack of hounds. David Crumbaugh was another well known member of the family. Squire Hiram Buck was a settler in 1837 and was the first postmaster at Leroy. He also served as justice of the peace for eighteen years and was one of the members of the county court in the '50's. Mahlon Bishop came to Buckles Grove in 1835 and was elected to the legislature in 1837. He was one of the first known "farmer candidates." A school was built in 1837, known as the Clearwater School, of which William Johnson was the first teacher.

Empire Township was early the home of the most prosperous farmers and cattle raisers of the county. There was timber for building, water for the stock and rich prairie lands for grazing. The earliest mill in this township was built in 1835, and shortly afterward there were mills built on Salt Creek by David Phillips and Isaac Williamson. They were crude affairs, but helped to grind the grain of the settlers.

A new era dawned for the township on the construction of the first railroad, the Danville, Urbana, Bloomington & Pekin, later the Big Four and now part of the Nickel Plate. The township donated $75,000 toward the construction of the road, and got two stations, Leroy and Empire. Later a branch of the Illinois Central was built from Leroy to Rantoul and West Lebanon, Ind.

Asahel Gridley and Merritt Covell laid out the village of Leroy in 1835, but owing to hard times it made slow progress the first few years. In 1838 Edgar Concklin built a frame store and next year a post route was established with Hiram Buck as postmaster. The route ran from Danville to Pekin via Leroy and Bloomington. John W. Badderly had started a town called Monroe a mile south of Leroy, but moved to Leroy when that place was laid out. Badderly and Amos Neal were Leroy's first merchants. Other early merchants were Baker & Greenman, L. H. and B. F. Parke, E. L. Morehouse & Son, and T. J. Barnett. Joseph Keenan was merchant, farmer and banker. The first church was established about 1830 by James Latta. In 1838 the Methodists built a church on a lot given them by Edward Concklin. In 1902 the Methodists built their present large and modern church. The Christian church was organized in 1888. Universalises have carried on services for many years and erected a chapel. The Cumberland Presbyterians organized a congregation very early and in 1898 erected a brick church, also conducting the Leroy Seminary for higher learning for some years. The Spiritualists had a flourishing congregation at one time, and the late J. T. Crumbaugh left them an endowment for a church which is to be built at some time in the future. In 1904, on April 22, the McLean County Historical Society sponsored a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the settlement of Buckles Grove, at which papers recounting all the early history of Empire Township were read by Simeon H. West, Thomas L. Buck, John McConnell, George Hedrick, Mrs. J. V. Smith, Mrs. Adam Murray, Mrs. E. B. Young, Mrs. John McConnell, Mrs. A. L. Rike, John M. Harper, Nelson G. Humphrey, J. R. Covey, Charles Williams, Joseph Keenan, S. D. Baker, Rev. W. E. Leavitt, A. B. Conkling. Leroy had several grist and saw mills in its day, the owners of these being Elisha Gibbs, and Buckles & Farmer. The first burned down and the second was eventually dismantled. Leroy has always had a good school system. It now has one of the best township high schools in the county. The Eugene Field school houses the grades. Leroy has one large factory, a branch of the Bloomington Canning Company, which is a busy place in certain seasons. It has one newspaper, the Journal, run by Melvin A. Cline. There are all kinds of retail stores. Leroy is the third largest town in the county, having a population of about 1,700.

Modern Leroy has some two miles of fine paved streets and one of the best city water plants in the state for a place of its size. Just at the west end of the main business section is a pretty, little park and fountain, the gift of Simeon West, a pioneer. The city has several fine churches, flourishing lodges of Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Red Men, Modern Woodmen, Eastern Star, Rebekahs, and a large post of American Legion named for Ruel Neal. The churches are the Presbyterian, Christian, Methodist, and Universalist. Leroy is one of the few places of its kind which maintains a Commercial Club, it being ten years old and having a record of much activity. There is a women's auxiliary to this club. Fine club rooms are kept up. The women of the city maintain an active Parent-Teachers' Association for cooperation with the schools. Other organizations of women are the Woman's Relief Corps and the Garden Club, besides several strictly social and literary bodies. There is a Country Club in Leroy, with a fine golf course and club house. Some day the city will enjoy a public library as a gift from the Crumbaugh estate. They have a splendid new high school building.

The Leroy fair is one of the best managed and most prosperous public enterprises of its kind to be found anywhere. It has continued for many years and drew great crowds for a whole week by its agricultural exhibits and entertainment features.

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