Florence Township forms one of the southern tier of the county. It has an area of exactly six square miles,
and is bounded on the north by Harlem and Freeport, on the east by Silver Creek, on the west by Loran, and on the
south by Ogle and Carroll Counties. The township is well wooded, but there is also a large acreage of fertile and
valuable farm lands. The water supply is good, and the streams are numerous. Yellow Creek flows through the north
central portion of the township from west to east, and is joined by one or two smaller creeks of greater or less
importance, which flow down from the south. The rills and brookkts cover the township with a network of small watercourses,
and at certain seasons of the year become flooded with the heavy rains. Two railroads enter Florence Township.
The Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul cuts across the southeastern corner of the township, and has a station at
the village of Florence Station. The Chicago & Great Western cuts across the central part of the township in
a straight line from east to west, with its only station at Bolton.
The lands about Yellow Creek are heavily timbered. Especially on the north side of the creek are there woods of
considerable extent. Near the village of Bolton, formerly Van Brocklin, the County Woods, a stretch of almost virgin
wilderness, are situated. Farther toward Freeport are Beebe's Woods, and, adjoining them, the forests and hollows
of Krape Park, formerly Globe Park, where the Freeport Chautauqua is held each year. Oakland Cemetery, Freeport's
new cemetery, a beautiful stretch of wooded land, is located in Florence Township, on the Pearl City road, about
three miles west of Freeport.
The first claim taken up in Florence Township was entered upon by Conrad Van Brocklin, who settled on Section 17,
near the site of the future village of Van Brocklin. He had come to this county from western New York in the fall
of 1835, and after a long, hard winter's journey he arrived at his new home in March, 1836. His first log cabin
was built but a short distance from the farm house which he afterward built and which his descendants have continued
to occupy for many years. For most of the first year he had no neighbors nearer than Thomas Craine, at Craine's
Grove, and at Freeport In August of the same year, Mason Dimmick, of Ohio, emigrated to Stephenson County, and
took up his claim northeast of the cabin of Mr. Van Brocklin. Otis Love and his family soon followed, and these
three conclude the list of settlers of 1836.
In 1837, Lorenzo Lee arrived, as did James Hart, who settled a mile and a half north of Van Brocklin's. A few more
came in this year, whose names are now lost, but the influx of settlers was not very great as yet.
In 1838 the emigrants began to arrive in large numbers. A few of them settled at Liberty Mills on Yellow Creek.
They were followed by one Mr. Wickham, William Smith, known to the farmers roundabout as "Saw-Log" Smith,
a Mr. Strong, who came in 1839, Sheldon Scoville, Russell Scoville, and C. K. Ellis, who came the same year, and
others. In 1839 Anson Babcock came to Florence Township, but the prospects were not encouraging enough, and he
returned to New York state with his family. Strangely enough, many of the early comers to Florence did not remain
and improve their claims. The Van Brocklins were permanent fixtures, as the lapse of time has proved, but the others
came more or less as a matter of experiment, and many of them departed sooner or later for other parts. Mr. Strong,
who had come in 1839, stayed several years, but at the end of a period of reasonable prosperity he departed for
Lebanon, Ohio, where he became a member of the sect of Shakers. Several of the other early settlers are said to
have become Mormons, and a few of them moved to Freeport.
After 1840, the number of settlers suddenly increased surprisingly, and the claims began to be improved. Eli Ellis,
P. T. Ellis, Mr. Sheets, William Boyer, John Turreaure, and a few others came in 1840. Improvements began to be
made everywhere, and the condition of the township was greatly bettered. Mills were built along Yellow Creek, some
of which are still standing, such as Liberty mills and Hess' mills. All of them have long been silent.
The growth of Freeport offered an impetus to settlements in Florence Township. Formerly farmers had sought the
more distant parts of the county, such as Rock Grove Township, and Winslow and West Point, owing to the fact that
agricultural prospects in those portions of the country were brighter. Now they began to discover that Florence
Township contained a goodly extent of tillable land, and the nearness of a base of supplies at the county seat
quickly boosted the price of land. Also the proximity of Kirkpatrick's mills at Mill Grove, in Loran Township,
and the comparative insignificance of the distance to the old Van Valzah mills at Cedarville.
By 1850 the claims were taken up, and the township was about filled up. In that year, and within the next four
years, the country in the northern part of the township, along the banks of Yellow Creek, suffered greatly from
the plague of Asiatic Cholera which fell upon Stephenson County at that time, and a large number of deaths were
reported. Gradually the plague wasted itself, and, since 1854, it has never visited these regions.
By 1840 there was a demand for schools in Florence Township, and, in response, the first school was opened,
in James Hart's log cabin, with Miss Flavilla Forbes as teacher. By 1850 the school census of the township showed
such an increase that other schools were imperative necessities. In 1857 the first railroad, the Chicago, Milwaukee
St. Paul, then known as the Western Union Railroad, surveyed its line across the southeastern corner of Florence
Township. In 1859 their line was built, and with the coming of the Iron Horse the pioneer history of Florence Township
is past. Later the Great Western surveyed its line through the county, and immediately the village of Van Brocklin,
at Liberty Mills, then rechristened Bolton, sprang into prominence as a settlement of importance.
The farm lands of Florence Township today present a neat and orderly appearance. It is a well known fact that when
the Freeporters have friends or out of town guests to whom they wish to show the fine farming lands of the county,
they invariably take them out on the Pearl City road, and down south through Florence Township. And this is not
wholly on account of the accessibility of Florence, but because the region justly deserves its name of the most
fertile and prosperous of the regions round about.
There are a number of Freeport enterprises, connected with the growth and development of Florence Township, which
deserve mention in connection with the history here presented.
Krape Park. Globe Park, in the possession of the Order of the Knights of the Globe, was established about ten years
ago, and named from the organization of which W. W. Krape was founder and supreme captain general It is a portion
of the wooded land lying on the banks of Yellow Creek about a mile west and two miles south of town. Just adjoining
the tract are Beebe's Woods, noted for their popularity as a picnic ground for Freeporters.
When the Cosmopolitan Life Insurance Company went out of existence, and the Order of the Knights of the Globe suffered
in consequence, Globe Park passed from the hands of the fraternity into Mr. Krape's own hands, and the park was
rechristened Krape Park. For several years it has been the seat of the Freeport Chautauqua, of which Mr. and Mrs.
Krape were the instigators and advisory committee.
A number of improvements have been made, which improve the park as a camping and chautauqua ground, but somewhat
mar the natural wilderness. The necessary park buildings, including a very attractive and commodious little lodge
for the keeper of the park, have been built, a windmill on the banks of the creek supplies the place with drinking
water, and a large iron bridge spans the creek near the park lodge. Formerly a bridge was built across the dam,
farther down stream, but four years ago, it was deemed unsafe and removed, and the present structure forthwith
built. Across stream are located the Chautauqua buildings. No large auditorium has been built as yet, but one is
contemplated. Several cottages have been built on the cliffs, and swings and park benches add to the comfort and
Nature had done her best to render the site of Krape Park attractive. Yellow Creek, at other points a very ordinary
muddy prairie streamlet, is here transformed into a sylvan river of exquisite beauty. On the south side of the
creek the limestone cliffs tower to a height of two hundred feet, indented with numberless caves and tiny indentures.
A natural bridge of considerable proportions spans the dry bed of a stream, which formerly made its way down the
cliff side in the form of a tiny waterfall, and which, at times, becomes gorged with the spring rains. Two large
caves in the rock are accessible from the river and by pathway from overhead. One of these is known as Krape's
Cave, while a smaller but more picturesque opening, far above, half covered with trailing vines and shrubbery,
is known as Bear Cave. A huge cliff, rising above Krape's Cave, and surmounted with a growth of evergreen, has
become known as Cedar Cliff, and the point of land on the heights overhead, from which an extended and lovely prospect
of the park and surrounding country is visible, is christened Lookout Mountain. Until recently animals have been
kept in the park, but not long ago the deer were taken away. Krape Park is about two miles from the heart of the
city, and is accessible by an automobile transfer line from the courthouse.
Oakland Cemetery. The new cemetery, four miles from Freeport, covers about one hundred and fifty acres of wooded
land, extending southward about a mile from the Pearl City road. The landscape gardener has done his most to beautify
the locality, and a large part of it is now laid out with winding drives and carriage paths. A large stone gateway
half hidden by vines and trees forms the entrance to the cemetery and from the entrance, the drive leads down into
the hollow and up on the hill where most of the lots now sold are located.
Several stone buildings have been erected on the premises. There is a stone receiving vault, built into the hillside,
down in the southern end of the cemetery, a stone chapel where services can be held, and one marble mausoleum erected
by Jacob Schaetzel. Many of the lots of the city cemetery have been transferred to Oakland Cemetery, and the place
is now regarded as one of the most beautiful spots in the neighborhood of Freeport
Bolton comprises two villages: the original village, known as Van Brocklin, which contains a church and originally
contained the store and postoffice, and the new village, called Bolton, which is built about the Chicago Great
Western station, nearly a mile south of Van Brocklin The old village is of early foundation, and marks the site
of the first permanent settlement in Florence Township. The new village dates from 1887, when the railroad station
was erected and the plat of the town laid out south of the station.
There is nothing of interest at Bolton. The town contains a grain elevator, a creamery owned by a farmers' stock
company, and a distillery, which caters to a local trade. The population of the town is about fifty, with small
signs of an appreciable future increase. Yellow Creek winds through the old village of Van Brocklin, now almost
deserted, but for the country church. The site is very picturesque, lying a short distance southwest of the limestone
cliffs and caves of Krape Park. The old village is interesting as the site of an early settlement in the county's
history, but the new village is practically without life or interest.