Ridott Township is the largest township of Stephenson County. It is oblong in shape and contains an area of
fifty four square miles, just six more than Rock Run, which is second in size. Likewise the township contains more
villages than any other in the county. Several of these are no longer postoffices, since the coming of the rural
free delivery system, and one of them, Nevada, is practically deserted, with nothing except a group of houses to
mark the place where a flourishing village once stood.
The first settlement in Ridott Township was made in the year 1836. Andrew Jackson and Jefferson Niles arrived in
this county on the 4th of March of that year, and built a little shanty on the south bank of the Pecatonica, near
the present site of the village of Ridott. Just previous to that ime, either early in 1836 or in the latter part
of 1835, Harvey P. Waters and Lyman Bennett had visited Stephenson County and pitched camp at the mouth of Yellow
Creek in Silver Creek Township. The whole of the district, including Silver Creek end Ridott Township, was then
known as Silver Creek Precinct, and so remained until the passage of the law providing for township organization,
when the two were divided. Waters remained for several months in his first location, when he pulled up stakes and
moved into Ridott, where he continued to live for many years. Before going to Ridott, however, he went to Kirk's
Grove, where he put up a mill known as Waterman's Still. Then, about March, 1836, he came to Ridott. In the same
spring, a large number of new settlers came, among them Sawyer Forbes; Daniel Wooten, who settled about a mile
east of the place where the village of Ridott stands today; Horace Colburn; a Mr. Wickham, who entered his claim
where the village of Ridott rose later; John Reed and his brother, who took up claims on the south bank of the
Pecatonica near the paint where Farwell's Bridge spans the river; Benjamin and Josiah Ostrander, who "squatted"
near the mouth of Yellow Creek; David Niles; Asa Nichols; and others. Nearly all of the pioneers chose to build
their huts on or near the Pecatonica. As they subsequently found out, the site was not as healthy as could have
been desired, but, after all, it was the logical place for a pioneer to take up his claim. The land was fertile,
the water power was good, and a large part of the transportation was by water. The rolling prairies away to the
southward about the present village of German Valley were just as fertile and desirable if they had only taken
the time to find out. Later settlers did discover the gold mines which lay in the rich loam of the German Valley
district, and the result was the flourishing colony of Germans who established themselves in that region.
In 1837 a very large number of pioneers came to take up claims in Ridott, apparently attracted more by the advantages
which the place seemed to offer than repelled by the numerous disadvantages which faced them at the outset. A list
of the newcomers of that year cannot be given with any attempt at completness, for many names are lost or forgotten.
Some of the new settlers were Caleb Tompkins, who settled in a tract of timbered land near the river; G. A. Seth;
Isaac Farwell; Eldredge Farwell, the two last named settling about four miles east of the present Ridott, near
the present Farwell's Bridge; Garrett Lloyd; Norman Brace; Levi Brace; Isaac Brace; Orsemus Brace; Harvey Webster;
Jeremiah Webster; Sybil Ann Price, who settled about a mile west of the Farwell farm; Stewart Reynolds; Sanford
Niles, and others.
In 1838, another delegation quite as large came to take up land in Ridott Township. Among the new men this year
were Lewis Gitchell; David Gitchell; Philo Hammond; Ezekiel Forsythe; Jacob Forsythe; John Lloyd (a brother of
Garrett Lloyd who came in 1837); Putnam Perley; Ezekiel Brown, who "squatted" on the river bank, near
Holmes Mill; John Brazee, who settled west of the present village; Christian Clay, and others.
In 1839 Charles Babcock came, and later George H. Watson, who drove before him a flock of a thousand sheep, Willia
B. Hawkins, Ross Babcock, Anson Babcock, John Karcher, Lewis Woodruff, and others.
After 1840 the immigration was continuous, and the township became settled up. The northern part was settled first,
however, and it was not until perhaps ten years later that the original German Valley-ites arrived bag and baggage
in Stephenson County. In 1842, on the 28th of August. the famous colony of English agriculturists, whose descendants
in many instances still reside in Stephenson County in the vicity of Ridott, came west. They settled in the timber
lands in Ridott Township, near the river, having been directed to that portion of the county by their scouts who
were sent out the year before and settled the lands near the river as suitable place for settlements. For several
years the Englishmen lived together in peace and harmony in the Ridott woods. Then a dissension arose for some
unknown reason, and part of the colony departed for the western wild, and have never since been heard of, except
indirectly. Among the prominent members of the colony were Thomas Hunt, with his wife and mother, Robert Knight,
Charles Foulkes, Robert Lankford and wife, Thomas Clay, Henry Layland Knight and wife. Charlotte Hurst, John Wooton,
George Barnes, Joseph Gibson. Joseph Lester, and W. R. Fairburn and wife.
Between 1840 and 1850 the lands in Ridott Township increased greatly in value, and as a result settlers began to
feel that the land was desirable. In 1850 the famous colony of Germans, whose descendants conduct the business
of the village of German Valley, arrived in these parts. Among their numbers were the familiar names of Uno Collman,
Poppa Poppen, Wessel Wessels, Jurin Van Buckum, Christian Akermann, Folk Hayunga, Yelle Ruter, T. Jussen, John
Heeren, Balster Jelderks, Fokke Rewerts, Michael Van Osterloo, and others, who were joined later by reinforcing
colonies from their particular districts of Germany.
The first birth in Ridott Township occurred in 1837, when Margaret Wooton, daughter of Daniel and Julia Wooton,
was introduced to this plane of existence. In 1839 came the first marriage. The happy couple were A. J. Niles,
and Nancy A. Farwell, daughter of Gustavus A. Farwell. The ceremony was performed by the Hon. Thomas J. Turner,
one of the early settlers of the county, who, in his capacity of justice of the peace, was vested with such authority.
The first deaths are in doubt. Some assert that the drowning of Milburn and Reed in the Pecatonica, not far from
the mouth of Yellow Creek, was the first instance of a visit of the Grim Reaper. Others assert that the drowning
occurred in Silver Creek Township, just across the town line, and there is very good reason to believe that such
was the case. At any rate, the drownings are on record as the first cases of death, and if they are not authentic,
there is no story to the contrary which attempts to give the names of the unfortunates.
After 1850 the growth of Ridott Township was rapid and somewhat uninteresting. About the beginning of the decade
the township suffered a relapse in the visit of the cholera plague which attacked Freeport and points along the
Pecatonica and Yellow Creek. The blow struck hardest at Nevada, near Ridott, which never fully recovered. Unlike
Mill Grove, in Loran Township, it was not erased from the map, but the number of deaths was appalling, and most
dreadful to contemplate in so small a town.
In 1852, the Chicago and Galena Union Railroad, afterward a part of the Chicago and Northwestern system, came through,
and speculators and purchasers came to the township in large numbers. But not until about ten years ago did the
Ridott farmers have their greatest impetus for development and improvement. This came in the shape of the Rockford
and Freeport electric line of the Rockford and Interurban system, which touched the villages of Ridott and Nevada,
running parallel with the Chicago and Northwestern tracks. This was especially a boon to the villagers of Ridott
for it has enabled them to come to Freeport and do their shopping at any and every time of the day, affording quick,
cheap, and comfortable transportation.
In addition to the Interurban, three steam railroads enter Ridott Township, making a total of four within the whole
area. The Chicago and North western cuts across the northern end of the township, running through Ridott village,
and also Nevada, but not maintaining a station at the last named place. The Illinois Central runs through the central
portion from northwest to southeast and through the stations at Everts and Legal. Lastly, the Chicago and Great
Western cuts across the southwestern corner of Ridott Township, with its station at the village of German Valley.
From German Valley it runs directly southeast to Ogle County, where its first station is located at Egan. From
that point it runs to Chicago in an almost direct line.
The farms of Ridott are in good condition and have a well kept, prosperous look. That is not particularly true
of the farms in the northern part of the township, near the river. The farms in this section of the county are
very old, and probably more dilapidated and forsaken farm buildings can be found in the region surrounding the
State Road than in any other section of the country roundabout. Of course, these farm houses are not occupied and
it is only a matter of time when they will be torn down. The new and occupied buildings are of course well kept
and neat in appearance. There are also a number of old stone buildings, very ancient, and interesting to the lover
of the antique. Among the very old buildings of Ridott Township, and of the county for that matter is the old Hunt
place, on the State Road, south of Ridott, formerly used as a Tavern for the Chicago-Galena stages. The place is
still occupied by the descendants of the original keeper.
As a place for investments in farm lands both with a view to speculation, and permanent residence, Ridott Township
is not surpassed. The lands about the Pecatonica River in the northern end of the section are well wooded, but
aside from that the surface is most wide rolling prairie, containing lands which compare well in fertility with
any part of the state.
The village of Ridott was founded in 1860. Nevada, a short distance west of the village site, and now known
to the inhabitants of Ridott as the "old town," was the fore runner of Ridott. When the Chicago and Galena
Union Railroad was completed through the township, a station was established at Nevada and a town surveyed and
platted. This remained in existence for three years. at the end of which time J. S. Cochran and brother of Freeport
purchased sixty acres of land, upon a part of which the present village of Ridott stands. Through some previous
transaction, the details of which were always shrouded in mystery, the Cochran Brothers had concluded a contract
with the railroad company, agreeing to grade the side tracks, plat, and lay out the town, providing the railroad
station was transferred from Nevada to the new place. On the loth day of July, 1860, the station was moved to "Cochranville"
as the place was then christened, and soon after G. W. Loveland, the Nevada postmaster, in obedience to instructions
from the department. moved the postoffice to Cochranville, and built the postoffice. the first building erected
in the village. The first store was soon after built by the Cochran Brothers, and named the "Farmer's Store."
About the same time, Oscar H. Osborn built a house near the track which he adapted to residence and saloon purposes.
Ridott has never been a "dry town" since that date. In 1861, Samuel Irvin built his shoe shop on Adams
street, James Clark his residence. on the same street. W. E. Moorhouse a house on Jefferson street, and these constituted
the village until the close of the Civil war. A few buildings were erected in the vicinity, but the period was
not distinguished by phenomenal growth or enterprise.
In the fall of 1861, the name of the village was changed to "Ridott" through the agency of a petition
prepared by the residents and addressed to the Department at Washington. The name was taken from the township,
and that, in turn, is said to have been named after a clerk in the postoffice department at Washington.
After the close of the war, the growth of Rldott was renewed, and the building of the village resumed. Ross Babcock
erected a brick building which still stands on Adams Street, and contains "Ridott Hall," a spacious audience
room, office rooms, and two stores. Isaac S. Shirey built a residence on Washington street, J. A. Kerr soon built
a house near to his, and later Josiah Deimer, Mrs. Lewis Getchell, Reuben Clark, and Hezekiah Poffenberger erected
mansions on the same street. Henry Gibler built himself a home on Adams street about the same time, and Dr. M.
W. Walton moved a building into the village, reconstructed it, and used it for dwelling purposes. In 1867, the
U. B. church was erected, the only one in the village for many years, in r869 the new brick schoolhouse was built,
and in 1875 the town was incorporated as a village F D. Coolidge was the first president of the village board,
and the first members were H. P. Waters, Samuel Moyer, O. M. Doty, W. A. Kerr, and J. L. Robinson. W. A. Kerr acted
as village clerk, and Samuel Moyer as village treasurer.
Among the archives of the village have been preserved the records of the first birth, the first marriage, and the
first death. The first birth was a son to Oscar and Mary Osborn. The first death was that of Elizabeth Leech, and
the first marriage was contracted between Brock Mullen and Mrs. Mary Hill.
For many years the village pursued the even tenor of its course, quite like the ordinary country village. But
about ten years ago a change was effected, when the Rockford and Freeport line came through Ridott and erected
its station there. The increased facilities for transportation have been taken advantage of by the people of Ridott
to such an extent that they do practically all of their shopping at Freeport, and now consider themselves as suburban
dwellers of the county seat. The village has grown a great deal since the advent of the electric line, and numbers
a population of about four hundred inhabitants.
United Brethren Church. The largest and most influential church of Ridott is that belonging to the United Brethren
Association. The congregation was organized about 1859, before the village of Ridott was laid out, and was composed
principally of the residents of Nevada. Services were held first in the schoolhouse on the Moyer farm, later in
the schoolhouse on the Waters farm.
In 1867, the present church, a frame edifice 28x48, valued at about $2,500, was built on a lot on Adams Street.
Recently the whole building was rebuilt and remodelled. A parsonage valued at about $1,500 has also been built,
next to the church building. The congregation numbers fifty eight, with a Sunday school of one hundred and six.
There have been a large number of pastors connected with the Ridott church since the coming of the first pastor,
Rev. James Johnson. All of them have also performed the pastoral duties at the Winneshiek church in Lancaster township.
The minister at present in charge is the Rev. J. E. Fry.
Free Methodist Church. The Free Methodist church was organized in 1875, and numbers a congregation of about forty.
For some years services were held in the schoolhouse, in Ridott Hall, and in various other locations. Then the
present church edifice, a small and unpretentious structure on Adams Street, was erected. Rev. Mr. Ferns was the
minister under whose direction the charge was organized. The pastor at present officiating is the Rev. J. G. Plantz.
Lodges. Ridott is not a great lodge town. Unlike the villages of the northern part of the county, which are very
active in this direction and support a large number of secret societies, Ridott supports very few. The two now
in existence are the camp of the Modern Woodmen of America, which was established about fifteen years ago, and
the lodge of the Stars of Equity, which is a comparatively recent organization.
Ridott Band. The Ridott Band was organized in June, 1910, by Professor L. M. Hiatt, of the University of Indiana,
who came to the village at that time to reside with his relatives, the McCrackens. The band consists of twenty
six brass instruments, and furnishes music on all occasions where an organization of the kind is called upon to
Before the Chicago Great Western came through the county, there was a general store and one or two houses at
the cross roads where German Valley, or Baalton, as it was then called, was located. With the advent of the railroad,
in August, 1887, the present village was platted, and the town re-christened German Valley.
Probably the least attractive and interesting of all the Stephenson County villages, German Valley is nevertheless
the home of a number of wealthy farmers, who are descendants of the famous German colony that came to Ridott over
half a century ago. The country about German Valley is most attractive, the fields are fertile and productive,
and the farm houses and barns are trim and well kept. The village itself is far from. lively. There are half a
dozen stores in operation, a creamery, a blacksmith shop, and a grain elevator owned by the H. A. Hillmer Co.,
M. E. Church. The Methodist church of German Valley is of recent origin. The present church edifice was put up
in 1903, the congregation having met about in various places before the building of the church. It is a frame structure,
of a modern type of architecture, having cost about $2,500. The congregation also owns a new frame parsonage, located
across the street from the church, which is worth about $1,500. The congregation numbers in the neighborhood of
fifty communicants, with a Sunday school about as large. The Rev. Edward Breen is the pastor in charge.
There are no other churches in German Valley, but there are a number located within a radius of a mile or two,
which are attended by the German Valley citizens. The German Reformed church is located a mile west of the town,
and the Christian Reformed church two miles northeast.
Pleasant Prairie Academy. The German Valley high school, known as the Pleasant Prairie Academy, is located about
a mile west of the village, at the settlement known as Pleasant Prairie. The academy is operated by the officials
of the German Reformed church, and has been in the past presided over by the ministers of the Pleasant Prairie
Rev. Mr. Byers is at present principal of the Pleasant Prairie Academy. He is assisted by Rev. Schicker, pastor
of the Pleasant Prairie church. The academy offers an excellent course of instruction, covering three years of
preparatory work, and four years of high school and academic instruction. A very full course is offered, including
Latin, Greek, English, the modern languages, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and the various studies included
in the curriculum of an up to date high school. The faculty includes a corps of three or four instructors.
German American State Bank. The State Bank of German Valley was organized in December, 1906, and opened for business
January, 1907. It is one of the prosperous village banks of the county, and was incorporated under the banking
laws of the state of Illinois. The founder and original president of the institution was F. A. Briggs, of Madison,
Wisconsin, who resigned after a short term of office, to be succeeded by H. W. Coffman. The bank is capitalized
at $25,000. The officers are:
President: H. W. Coffman.
Vice president: H. Heeren.
Cashier: Louis Fosha.
Assistant Cashier: L. Van Osterloo.
The German American Bank occupies a substantial brick building built especially for its occupation on the main
street of the village. It enjoys a large patronage among the farmers of the vicinity.
German Valley also supports a creamery, which is owned by capitalists at the village of Kent, twenty miles west
of German Valley. The local superintendent in charge of the factory at German Valley is C. B. Ressler.
Unlike most of the county villages, German Valley does not possess any lodges or secret and fraternal organizations.
The want is filled by the various church societies, and by the lodges at Ridott, and the neighboring villages to
the west and north.
There are half a dozen stores, a large general store owned by N. H. Jansen, a postoffice, blacksmith shop, and
the usual residences. The population of the village is quoted as two hundred, with a slight increase since the
taking of the last census. German Valley is about fourteen miles from Freeport, accessible by the Chicago Great
Western from the South Freeport station.
A visit to the site of Nevada is not necessary to convince the inquisitive historian that the village no longer
exists, for the mere name is scarcely mentioned in these parts today. Formerly it was a place of great importance
and was settled very early in the history of the county. Before the propagators of Ridott had brought their village
before the eyes of 'the world, the town of Nevada was platted out and promised to be. some day, a factor of importance
in county politics. But fate had ordained differently.
Nevada came into existence in 1852, when the Chicago and Galena Union Railroad came through the region. The railroad
surveyors as well as the farmers of Ridott felt the need of a station somewhere along the route through Ridott
Township, and the services of a surveyor were secured to plat out a town and sell lots. A railroad station, long
since disappeared, was built, and the town named "Nevada" after Nevada City, Colorado, where Daniel Wooton,
who owned the land on which Nevada was platted, died in '49, en route to the gold fields in California. A postoffice
was also established, of which William Wright was postmaster, and a number of improvements were made, which seemed
to show that Nevada was a coming city.
This was all in 1852. Hardly had the town felt itself established, when the cholera plague came swooping down upon
it from the west and with deadly results. So many of the inhabitants died within one short summer that the population
was decreased nearly a half. In 1854, the cholera came again, and with results quite as horrible. The town was
so depleted in population that it seemed unlikely that it would ever be able to tide over. However, it survived
the shock six years, and an agency other than the dreadful cholera, viz., commercial enterprise and a transaction
on the part of a company of Freeport gentlemen, which would today be branded "graft," succeeded in forever
ruining Nevada's prospects. These men bought a large territory of land, where the village of Ridott stands today,
having previously concluded arrangements with the railroad company that in the case of their platting out a town
the railroad should remove its station, side tracks, and so forth, to the new site. This was done in 1860. On the
loth of July of that year, the station was removed, and trains no longer stopped at ill fated Nevada. A little
later in the year, in obedience to the instructions of the department at Washington, G. W. Loveland, postmaster
of Nevada, moved his postal station to the new town, and as the sun of Ridott rose, the orb of Nevada set. The
villagers of Nevada were not loath to leave their old homes, with their memories of the cholera plague, and their
proximity to the swamps and river bed lowlands, and a large majority of them moved to the new village A few remained
in the old home, and saw the deserted houses of their departed townsmen go to rack and ruin about them.
Deserted villages are sometimes quite as interesting as inhabited settlements. Sometimes, at least, from a historical
standpoint, they are even more so. A visit to the empty plat of the Nevada town site shows some interesting developments
within the last few years. The city lots have long been parts of a farm, and have been untilized as cornfields,
but now a transformation is taking place. The town is apparently reviving. A new house has been built on the main
street within the last year, and an old mansion which stands back at some distance in aristocratic seclusion, has
been re-painted and re-inhabited. It would be strange indeed if the logic of events should make Nevada a village
again, with a wakeful community. It may be the case, for the village is easily accessible from Freeport by the
interurban, and the lack of transportation facilities, which ruined the town, has been filled by the coming of
the new electric line. As yet, the steps which have been taken are too vague to be called hopeful, and the population
is a mere baker's dozen, while back from the little handful of houses which border on the tracks stretch the furrowed
fields of a thriving farm, and the site which the village of Nevada used to occupy is only marked by the waving
blades of corn.
Everts Station, or Stevens Postoffice, is the first station east of Freeport on the line of the Illinois Central
Railroad. It is a tiny settlement, and of little or no importance since the postoffice has been removed. The hamlet
contains a few houses, a store, and a grain elevator owned by Freeport capital. Everts was founded when the Illinois
Central line came through, although Stevens Postoffice was of earlier origin. The village was at one time quite
a thriving little community and promised, some day, to gain some importance. The rural free delivery system cut
off the postoffice patronage, caused the trade of the store to dwindle, and now Everts is a very lifeless spot
without much prospect of future resuscitation.
Legal, or Legal Postoffice, as it is still familiarly called, contains a store, and a cross roads settlement
of limited dimensions. It is located on the Illinois Central line about two and one half miles east of Everts,
and formerly contained a postoffice with a large rural patronage. The postoffice is now discontinued, and the settlement
is no longer of any importance. It does not contain any church or school, although school and church facilities
are offered in the near vicinity. No regular railroad station is maintained at Legal, and the settlement, as a
village, is now practically abandoned.