Harlem is one of the central townships of the county and one of the most important in every respect. It was
settled fourth in point of date in the county, and has always been an important factor in the social and political
life of Stephenson County.
As far as can be learned, the first settler who came into Harlem Township there to remain permanently was Miller
Preston, who hailed from Gallipolis, Ohio. Mr. Miller first came to the county in 1833, en route from Dixon to
Gallipolis, by a roundabout route prospecting. The land in Harlem Township looked promising, and he determined
to settle down there. But it took some time to arrange his business affairs at home in Gallipolis in such shape
that he could make the move. He was engaged in the tanning business in the Ohio town, and he found it necessary
to complete tanning a quantity of hides/ for which he had made a contract before going on his prospecting tour.
So long did it take him to thoroughly straighten out affairs before leaving for the west, that it was 1835, fully
two years later, before he set out for his future home. At a point on the Galena stage road he built his cabin
and set up his claim. The township where his land lay was then a part of Lancaster Township, and had, only a short
time before, been part of the old Central Precinct. Soon the eastern section of the township was portioned off
into Lancaster Township and the western half took its present name of Harlem.
Harlem Township has always been noted for the particular attractiveness of its natural scenery. At the time when
Miller Preston built his log cabin, for which he was obliged to hew the heavy logs from the adjacent forests, the
country is said to have been surpassingly beautiful. The region from the earliest times was noted for its picturesqueness,
and it was this, perhaps, which drew to its confines a large band of Indians. As late as 1840 the Indians were
in full sway in the region, and they held a large camp - Winnebagoes and Pottawattomies - at the confluence of
Richland Creek and the Pecatonica River.
In the fall, after Miller Preston's arrival, came William Baker, who settled in the southeastern corner of the
township, and the party with Benjamin Goddard, all of whom settled in the part of the township which afterward
became Lancaster. In 1836 Elias Macomber arrived, but he, too, settled in the Lancaster portion. A year later,
in 1837, a large number of immigrants came to Harlem Township: John Edwards, Rezin, Levi, and Thompson Wilcoxin,
Levi and John Lewis, and others. Levi Wilcoxin soon after built a mill on the banks of Richland Creek on the site
of the present Scioto Mills. John Lewis put in the water wheel of the new mill, and among the other newcomers who
assisted in the labor of building were: John Edwards, George Cockrell, William Goddard, Alpheus Goddard, Peter
Smith, Wesley Bradford, Homer Graves, and John Anscomb. In the month of August of the same year the mill was finished
and commenced to run.
P. L. Wright was a newcomer of the year 1838. He settled on a claim purchased of William Robey, who had come a
short time previous with E. H. D. Sanborn. Mr Sanborn owned a farm a half mile in area which he subsequently sold
to George Furst for $2,800. In the same year came William Preston, who located his claim on the banks of the Pecatonica,
Mathew Bridenhall, and a number of others. Lewis Preston established his farm in Section to, and had not been in
Stephenson County very long when a little daughter was born to him, the first recorded birth in Harlem Township.
In. 1839 Robert Young arrived in Harlem, near the mouth of Cedar Creek in the northeast portion of the township.
In the same year Benjamin Bennett came. In February, 1839, occurred the death of Mrs. William Preston, who was
buried on the farm of her husband, William Preston, in Section 15. This was the first. death in Harlem Township.
In 1839 Thomas Cockrell came to Stephenson County, and settled on the east side of the Pecatonica in Harlem
Township, near the present site of Scioto Mills, which was for a time known as Cockrell Postoffice, from the fact
that Thompson Cockrell and his relatives held extensive farms in the immediate neighborhood. Thompson Cockrell,
or "Tom" Cockrell, as he was familiarly known to the people of the vicinity, died only recently, at the
ripe age of eighty six. He was a familiar character in Freeport, and could be seen almost any pleasant day sitting
about the courthouse clad in his red flannel shirt, for which he was famous. "Tom" Cockrell was proprietor
for many years of the Scioto Flouring Mills at Scioto Mills Postoffice.
From the settlement of "Tom" Cockrell in Harlem Township the immigrants began to be numerous, and the
"modern history" of the township begins. After 1845 there is very little distinguishing about the history
of Harlem Township. Soon the railroad came through, the old Chicago & Galena Union Railroad, afterward sold
to and made a part of the Illinois Central Railroad, and immediately land prices in Harlem Township took an upward
jump. Nor have they ever gone down. Land in Harlem continues to be most valuable, and in respect of prices cannot
be matched anywhere else in the county, although Lancaster, Rock Grove and Buckeye contain farm lands which are
the equal of Harlem in every respect.
Harlem Township is fairly covered with a network of streams, large and small The Pecatonica River flows through
the township diagonally from southeast to northwest. It is joined by a mutlitude of smaller streams, such as Richland
Creek, which is probably the swiftest stream in the county, and has in the past afforded water power for turning
numerous mills, Cedar Creek, which flows into Richland and thence to the Pecatonica, Preston's Creek, a small stream
which makes its way into the river from the west, and a large number of smaller rills, which join the Pecatonica
and its tributaries, mostly from the eastern side.
Only one railroad traverses Harlem Township, but that railroad possesses two branches. The main line of the Illinois
Central runs through Harlem from east to west; and the northern branches, which run to Madison and Dodgeville,
leave the main line at West Junction and thence run side by side for about four miles into Buckeye Township, where
they divide at Red Oak and go their several ways.
There is but one village of importance in Harlem Township, Scioto Mills. Damascus, a settlement on the road from
Cedarville to Lena is partly in Harlem, but the postoffice, now discontinued, was in Vaddams Township. Harlem is
one of the most populous of the townships, as it is one of the most important. It contains an area of about thirty
four square miles, and a population of over two thousand inhabitants.
Scioto Mills, formerly known as Cockrell Postoffice, an inconsiderable village of something less than an hundred
inhabitants, is the only village which Harlem Township boasts. It is located on the banks of Richland Creek, on
the Madison-Dodgeville branch of the Illinois Central Railroad. Richland Creek, with its swift current and many
rapids, furnishes admirable water power, and a number of mills have always been located along its banks. Scioto
has always been a favorite spot for mills, although the present mill has not been running for some time. Levi Wilcoxin
built the first mill ever located at this particular spot on Richland Creek, and later Scioto Flouring Mills, with
Thompson Cockrell as proprietor, were located on the site of the first mill Milling has long since been discontinued.
The village itself contains two or three stores, the railway station, a blacksmith shop, and a number of residences.
There is only one street, but the town is very beautifully situated on a hill sloping down to the creek, in the
midst of a grove of high trees. The main business of the Meyers Brothers Lumber Company is located at Scioto Mills,
with sub stations at Buena Vista, and elsewhere. The last census gave Scioto Mills a population of over one hundred
inhabitants, but the number has dwindled somewhat since that time, and comprises about ninety at the present time.