History of Rock Run Township, Stephenson County, Il
From: History of Stephenson County, Illinois
A record of its settlement, oragnization
and three quarters of a century of progress
By: Addison L. Fulwider, A. M.
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Chicago, 1910


Rock Run township, next to Ridott, is the largest township of the county, having an area of forty eight square miles, while the latter has fifty four. It is one of the wealthiest townships of the county, and is composed of good and fertile farming land, interspersed with occasional stretches of forest.

Rock Run has a most interesting history. It is probably the most cosmopolitan township of the county, and has numbered among its early settlers a most peculiar and unusual combination of Yankees, Germans, Dutch, Irish and Norwegians. Strangely enough, they lived side by side peaceably, and their descendants have intermarried so that the original races and their characteristics are no longer discernable.

The first permanent settlement in Rock Run, of which there is any record, was that of a Mrs. Swanson, who came to these regions with her family and took up a large claim in section 10 or 11 near the site of the future village of Davis. Mrs. Swanson was a widow, with a large family of children, who aided her in the care of the farm. This was in 1835. In the same year, a number of settlers, who has previously visited the towsnhip, en route to the lead mines at Galena, returned from the west, and settled permanently on lands adjoining the "Widow" Swanson's habitation. These pioneers who presently returned to take up claims included S. E. M. Carnefix, Alexander McKinn, Arthur Dawson and one or two others. Presently a new delegation arrived, in 1836, including Thomas Flynn, E. Mullarkey, Henry Hulse, M. Welsh, William Lee, Leonard Lee, Nathan Blackamore and Aaron Baker. The Irish section of the new immigrants settled in the eastern part of the township, about four miles south of the present village of Davis, and there founded a settlement which later became known as Irish Grove.

Once the precedent was established, the number of arrivals grew. In the next year, 1837, a large migration occurred. Among the newcomers of 1837 were Dr. F. S. Payne, Nathan Salsbury, D. W. C. Mallory, John Hoag, S. Seeley, T. Seeley, Peter Rowe and others.

After this the new arrivals were continuous, and the township became quickly crowded with settlers. The Irish Grove settlement continued to grow, and the Hibernian "squatters" there were joined by a new delegation, including Pat Giblin, Miles O'Brien, a Mr. Corcoran, who afterward moved to Rockford, Thomas Foley, and some relatives of the Mullarkeys. In 1838 occurred the first birth in the township, also the first marriage. A son was born to Albert Flower, who managed the saw mill on Rock Run, and "Pony" Fletcher and Narcisse Swanson were united in holy bonds of matrimony, the latter event happening in the fall of 1838, the former earlier in the year.

The streams of Rock Run township are very swift, and have in the past afforded water power for turning the wheels of a large number of mills. Only one of these is now standing, a substantial stone structure at Epleyanna, which still continues in operation. In 1837, a saw mill was built on Rock Run in section 27, and the same year Thomas J. Turner put up a grist mill in section 34, and sold it to Nelson Salsbury, who, in turn, sold it to James Epley. In 1838, H. G. Davis came to the township with his family and purchased the Rock Run saw mill, which had been put up the year previous by Stackhouse, Carrier and Flower. Here the first postoffice ever located in the township was soon established, with H. G. Davis as postmaster. In the early part of 1839, the present Eplcyanna mills were built by Josiah Blackamore and Leonard Lee, who later disposed of their holding to Conrad Epley. A number of smaller mills were built farther south along Rock Run and its tributaries, but no trace is to be found of many of them. There was one, for instance, on the Carnefix farm, south of Davis, in section 28, the ruins of which are still to be seen.

In 1839 a large number of arrivals were registered. Among them were Conrad Epley, who purchased the Epleyanna mills, and from whom the village of Epleyanna takes its name, Edward Pratt, who afterward moved to Freeport, M. Flower, Edward Smith, who settled in section 13, Uriah Boyden, who took up a claim in section 30, Thomas Fox, who went to Wisconsin within a short time, and a large number of settlers who came to live at Irish Grove, among them Thomas Bree, Martin Mullen, Patrick Flynn, Michael Flynn, Patrick Flynn, Jr., Thomas Hawley and William Marlowe, as well as a number of others whose names have not been preserved in the traditions of the Celtic settlement.

In October, 1839, occurred an event which is most memorable in the annals of Rock Run township. A delegation of Norwegians arrived at the settlement at Rock Run mills, and there formed what is said to have been the first Norwegian settlement in the United States. Whether or not this was the case, it was at least the first Norwegian settlement in this part of the country. The descendants of the early settlers are some of them living in Rock Run township today. Others have vanished from the pages of the Rock Run annals. Among the Norwegians who settled at Rock Run Mills were C. Stabeck, whose descendants afterward became identified with the history of the village of Davis, Ole Anderson, whose descendants are also farming in Rock Run township today, Canute Canuteson, who opened the first blacksmith shop in the township, Civert Oleson and Ole Civertson, who opened the first wagon shop in the vicinity. They were thrifty and hard working citizens and became a credit to the community in which they had chosen to settle.

In 1840, D. A. Baldwin arrived and took up a claim in section 40. In the year following, 1841, Captain Knese settled in section 13. Fresh arrivals were numerous at the various settlements, especially at the Norwegian colony at Rock Run Mills and at Irish Grove. In 1841, the first postoffice in the township, Rock Run Mills P. O., was established at H. G. Davis' mill on Rock Run, with Mr. Davis himself as postmaster. It remained at the mills until 1848, when it was removed to Jamestown, or Grab-all, near the present site of Rock City. When the Western Union Railroad came through, and Rock City became a point of importance, the postoffice was again moved, and the Jamestown settlement went out of existence. In the fall of 1840, a son of John R. Webb died, the first recorded death in Rock Run township.

From 1840 on the township developed rapidly. In the summer of 1838, the Catholic Church at Irish Grove had been erected. In 1855, the First Presbyterian Church, known as the Rock Run Presbyterian Church. was organized, and services conducted by the Rev. Joseph Dickey. This church was subsequently removed to the village of Dakota, in Dakota township.

In 1857, the Western Union Railroad, now the C., M & St. P. R. R. came through the township, and the village of Davis and Rock City became the points of importance in the township. Rock Run Mills and Jamestown, or Grab-all, were fairly abandoned, and the only outlying settlement of the old days was Irish Grove.

Rock Run is today one of the pleasantest places both for farming and residence in these regions, and it is hard to realize what the pioneers who took up their claims in 1835 must have gone through before they could transform the wilds of the prairie into a place of habitation. Times were hard financially; to add to the burden. The early settlers were able to make their living very satisfactorily, for there was an abundance of game, and vegetables and fruits such as the region afforded, they were easily able to grow themselves. But there were other menaces. The Indians had not left the district, nor did they for many months after the fields of Rock Run began to assume the appearance of highly cultivated lands. Another enemy, even more subtle than the Indian, was the snake. At one period in the history of Rock Run township, the whole district is said to have been fairly overrun with snakes. And they were snakes such as are never seen in these parts today - not the harmless garter snake, although that species flourished also, but rattlesnakes, and the deadly massasauga, whose bite nearly resulted in the death of more than one venturesome pioneer.

Rock Run township is well provided with streams. Rock Run, a small but swift current, flows down from Rock Grove township at the north, and is joined, near Epleyanna Mills, by Rock Creek, a stream of equal size, which flows down from the northwest. Rock Run pursues a southward course, receiving the waters of a number of smaller streams, flows into a small lake near the new mill on the Hunt property, east of Ridott, and thence into the Pecatonica River, which it joins just above Farwell's Bridge. Brown's Creek, a small swift creek, rises in the northwestern part of the township, and flows southeast into Rock Run, tarrying for a while in a tiny lake, near its mouth.

There is only one railroad, the C., M. & St. P., which crosses the township from east to west, touching the villages of Rock City and Davis, and running in the vicinity of Epleyanna.

The township is well wooded. There are a number of large groves and timber lands left, but the majority of them are disappearing under the blows of the axe, and the larger part of the land is under cultivation.


Davis is the largest village of Rock Run township, and one of the most important of the county. It is of recent growth, being one of those settlements which the coming of the railroad has "made," and not a town of natural growth, In 1857, when the Western Union Railroad had sun eyed its route through the county, and was making all preparations for the building of the line, it became very evident that a station on its route through Rock Run township was most necessary for the farmers of that district. Accordingly, Samuel Davis, John A. Davis, Thomas J. Turner and Ludwig Stanton, who owned the land in the vicinity of the present village, donated a total of one hundred and sixty acres, which was surveyed and platted for a village site. This was in 1857, and the work of surveying and platting was not quite completed that year. In 1858 everything was finished and the sale of lots began. That year the railroad was finished through the village, but the train that first sped over the rails was not run until the following year, on the occasion of the state fair, which was held in Freeport in 1859.

The panic of 1857, occurring at a time when the village of Davis was in its earliest infancy, threatened for a time to blot out the venture altogether. Lots were sold very slowly, although the men interested in the enterprise made every effort to offer inducements to new settlers. Streets were laid out and made good with crushed stone, sidewalks were built, lots cleared, trees planted, and building sites were offered for sale at prices ranging from $40 to $125. A few of them were sold, but the work progressed slowly.

In 1858, the first store in the village, known as "Davis's Store," was erected by Samuel J. Davis. In the summer of 1859 the Evangelical Church was put up, and other church edifices were soon after erected. The stone schoolhouse was put up in 1858, and the first brick house in the town was finished for occupation in 1866 by Ernest Wendt.

From 1857 to 1863 there was almost no growth. War and panic succeeded in checking the progress of the growing village, and for a time it looked very dark for Davis. It seemed at one period as if the village must certainly be abandoned, but a better time was coming. With the close of the war, business suddenly revived, almost as if it had never suffered a relapse. From 1863 to 1869 a steady growth was visible, and residences, stores, and other buildings were erected in large numbers. By 1873, the settlement felt itself ready to assume the privileges and duties of a corporate community.

On Thursday, May 1, of that year, an election was held to decide whether or not the settlement should be incorporated under the provisions of the general law for incorporating villages, adopted April to, 1872. S. J. Davis, Peter McHoes and John Gift acted as judges of the election, and the project was carried by a vote of thirty three to thirty one. Soon after an election was held, and the first town officers duly installed in their positions. The first village officials, elected in the year of 1873, were:

E. A. Benton, president; E. Clark, M. Meinzer, Thomas Cronemiller and M. W. Kurtz, members of the board; M. W. Kurtz, village clerk; village treasurer, no record for 1873.

Since the incorporation of Davis as a village, a development fully meeting the expectations of the most sanguine of its dwellers, has taken place. Short as the time of its development has been, Davis has attained to the rank of fourth or fifth in size among the numerous villages of Stephenson county, and is only exceeded in size by Freeport, Lena, Orangeville and possibly Pearl City. It is about equal in size to Winslow, Cedarville, Dakota and German Valley. Business has never been at all lively in Davis. There is a grain elevator owned by H. A. Hilimer, of Freeport, also a creamery; and these two comprise practically the only reasons for Davis' commercial communication with the outside world.

Farmers' Bank. The Farmers' Bank, of Davis. is a substantial institution founded fifteen years ago, and since maintained on a firm and solid basis. The officers and directors are all men of avowed business ability, and the affairs of the bank have been conducted with unimpeachable sagacity and clear headedness.

The Farmers' Bank was organized in 1895 by T. Stabeck, a descendant of the C. Stabeck, who immigrated to Stephenson county with the original Norwegian colony and settled at Rock Run Mills P. O. in 1839. The institution was apitalized at $25,000, which capital has never been raise. The bank occupies a brick structure, the most substantial on the main street of Davis, a few doors from the hotel. The officers of the Farmers' Bank at present are:

President, Fred Alberstett; vice president, Niles Pattison; cashier, C. O. R. Stabeck; directors, Fred Alberstett, Niles Pattison, C. O. R. Stabeck, H. N. Stabeck, and O. H. Anderson.

The Davis Creamery, operated by J. F. Beardsley, was established about fifteen years ago, and continues to do a flourishing business.

Newspapers of Davis. Davis has, at certain periods of its history, supported weekly newspapers. The projects have all been discontinued for the very excellent reason that the village of Davis is altogether too small to support a newspaper, and there is not the slightest probability that they will ever be resuscitated.

The Davis Budget, started in May, 1873, by K. T. and K. C. Stabeck, was a quarto sheet, independent as to politics, which was published in connection with the Freeport Budget. For five years, the Davis Budget was published by Stabeck Brothers, until they removed to Freeport in September, 1878, and decided to devote their whole time to the publication of the Freeport sheet. They disposed of their Davis interests to S. W. Tallman, who changed the name of the paper to the Davis Review and the politics from independent to republican. Mr. Tallman spent a good deal of labor upon his paper, and succeeded in raising the weekly circulation from a mere handful to three hundred and fifty. But he soon discovered that a newspaper in a country village was not a paying proposition. The Davis Review was abandoned, and the unsavory experiment has never been tried since.

Churches. Davis contains four churches, but services are held in only three of them at present.

First Methodist Church. The First Methodist Episcopal church is the leading church of Davis in activity and in respect to the size of its congregation and Sunday school. Likewise it is one of the oldest. It was organized in June, 1857, under the auspices of the Rev. James McLane, with twelve charter members. For three years services were held in the Davis schoolhouse, when the church leased the Evangelical Chapel, and held services there when the church was not in use by the other congregation. In 1866, four years later, the structure at present in use was built at a cost of $1,800. Subsequent repairs, improvement, and additions have raised the value of the building several hundred dollars.

For a time the Davis church formed a part of the Durand (Winnebago County) charge, and services were held only on Sunday afternoons. In the fall of 1878 it became an independent charge, with the Rev. F. W. Nazarene as pastor. For a good many years after this, the Davis charge was a student charge, but wtihin the last three years it has had a regularly ordained minister. The Rock City church has become a part of the Davis charge also.

The congregation at Davis numbers fifty two members, but a much larger number attend the services - in fact, practically all the English speaking portion of the community. The Sunday school numbers a few more about sixty two. The church building, together with the lot upon which it stands are valued at about $3,000. The parsonage which is a comfortable building, built some time ago, is valued at $1,200.

The various church societies are very active. The Epworth League and the Ladies' Aid Society form a large part of the women's and young people's social life in Davis. The church is in a very prosperous condition at present. Two years ago, the church was entirely rebuilt, inside and out, at a cost of $450, $150 being expended upon the exterior repairs, and $300 upon the interior frescoing and re-decoration. New Methodist hymnals were purchased recently by the congregation to take the place of the old ones, which were deemed out of date and inappropriate. The pastor in charge is the Rev. J. A. H. McLean, an Englishman, who came to the Davis charge from Canada in January, 1910.

Evangelical Association. The Evangelical church of Davis is the oldest church of the village. It was organized in 1857, with the following members: Thomas Bond and family, Jacob Bond and family, Jacob Weaver, Michael Meinzer, William Kramer, T. Jenuine, and their families, and M. Abbersted. Services were conducted in various private residences and in the schoolhouse until 1862, when the present church was built at an expense of $2,500. It is a frame structure, solid and substantial, without attempt at much ornamentation without or within. Recent improvements have somewhat raised the value of the property.

When the break occurred in the Illinois Conference and the Dubs faction withdrew, the latter built another church in Davis, and the Evangelical Association continued in possession of its first church. Some changes were occasioned, however, notably in the circuit, which no longer embraced Rock City, but took in instead Davis, Afolkey and Ridott. The minister in charge of the Davis church resides in Afolkey. The Davis church numbers about fifty communicants, with a Sunday school of about the same size. The church property is valued at $2,750.

Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Lutheran church of Davis is probably a thing of the past. Services have not been held in it for some time and although the congregation still possesses a handsome church structure the church is disorganiztd and broken up.

The Lutheran church was one of the newer churches in Davis, having been organized as late as 1870 by the Rev. William Shock, of Forreston, with eighteen members, of whom Joseph Keller was elder, and Levi Ungst deacon. For two years services were held in the Methodist church. In 1872, the present structure was built, of frame 34 x 50. with a steeple seventy five feet high, at a total cost of $3,100. It was then occupied for many years, but lately. as heretofore stated, services have been discontinued, and there is every reason to believe that they will never be resumed.

United Evangelical Church. One of the smaller churches, as well as the newest, is the United Evangelical church. It came into existence at the time of the quarrel in the Illinois Conference, and the Dubs adherents of Davis withdrew to complete its organization. Services were held in various places until a few years ago, when the new church building, a frame structure, was put up. The new church is an inconsiderable and unpretentious edifice, built in the most old fashioned of styles. The congregation numbers about fifty. The Davis churth is on a circuit with the Rock City church. The pastor is the Rev. J. Johnson, who came here from Ashton, Illinois, on April 1, 1910.

Lodges. The village of Davis supports a large number of lodges, of which it is possible to give only brief mention.

Evening Star Lodge, No. 414, A. F. & A. M. The Davis lodge of Masons is one of the oldest in the county. It was organized on March 11, 1864, under a dispensation of the Grand Lodge of Illinois. It obtained a charter October 5 of the same year. The following were the first officers: James Zuver, W. M.; George Osterhaus, S. W.; Edward R. Lord, J. W.; Dr. J. R. Hammill, secretary; Charles Wright, treasurer. The lodge has always been the most prosperous and progressive of the commuity. It occupies a handsome lodge hall, and has now a membership of fifty two members. The officers are W. M., C. O. R. Stabeck; secretary, T. H. Briggs.

Eastern Star. The Eastern Star lodge was established in Davis seven years ago. It has always had a large membership, the present roll amounting to about thirty three members. The officers are: W. M., Mrs. William Kanne; secretary, T. H. Briggs.

Davis Lodge, No. 376, 1. O. O. F. The Odd Fellows lodge of Davis was organized September 19, 1880, with the following members: Martin H. Davis, Isaac Denner, John Nagle, Thomas Hays, Alvin Gestenberger, and J. W. Caldwell. The officers were: Noble Grand, John Nagle; Vice Grand, Martin H. Davis; treasurer, Thomas Hays.

The I. O. O. F. occupies today a lodge hall just off from the main street, which is one of the largest and best appointed in the country towns of the vicinity. The membership is thirty four, and the officers: Noble Grand, Arthur Wise; secretary, A. A. Rheingans.

Rebekah Degree, I. O. O. F., Faithful Lodge, No. 187. The Rebekahs have been in existence in Davis for fifteen years. The membership has been fluctuating, at times higher than it is now. The lodge now claims a membership of twenty eight, with the following officers: Noble Grand, Miss Ella Degunther; Secretary, A. Rheingans.

R. N. A. The Royal Neighbors have been in existence for the past four years, have a membership of twenty three, and the following officers: Oracle, Mrs. A. Bliss; Secretary, Miss Ella Degunther.

Modern Woodmen of America, Davis Camp, No. 25. The Davis Camp of the Modern Woodmen is one of the oldest in existence, having been founded about twenty five years ago, when the organization was very young. The membership is large, approximating fifty two. A. Helmts is Counsel, and M. M. Kurtz, Secretary.

Mystic Workers, Davis Royal Lodge, No. 143. The Mystic Workers first came into existence in Davis in 1902, and have since pursued a prosperous and upward path. The membership is far larger than that of any other organization in Davis, embracing as many as seventy two members. The officers for the year are: Prefect, E. Jenewien; Secretary, Edward Degunther.

The village of Davis supports a number of stores and shops, a reasonably satisfactory hostelry, known as the Davis Hotel, two livery barns, etc. Among the mercantile establishments, the barber shop of Edward Degunther is especially to be noted. It has been kept by the Degunther family for nearly the last half century, having been kept by the grandfather of the present proprietor for many years, then by his father, P. J. Degunther, and now by himself.

The village is said to have a population of about five hundred or more inhabitants. It is reached from Freeport by the C., M. & St. P. R R., being about thirteen miles distant by railroad, and twenty miles by carriage road. The village supports very good schools, the district school building being one of the best for miles around. It is a two story structure, 30x20, which was built in 1863, at a cost of $2,000.


Rock City, located about two and one half miles west of Davis on the line of the C., M. & St. P. R. R., is a city only in name. It is doubtful if a spot more completely devoid of life is existent in the county. The site is not an unpleasant one, for all that, and the village contains a central square, in the middle of which is a tall windmill, which pumps water for the village pump and watering trough.

The village was projected and platted early in 1857, upon the completion of the Western Union Railroad through the place. In reality the history of Rock City reaches farther back than 1859, for the village is a logical outgrowth of the old Rock Run Mills Postoffice, founded by H. G. Davis as early as 1841. In 1848, the Rock Run Mills Postoffice was moved to a town called Jamestown, or Grab all, very near the site of Rock City. Here it remained for eleven years, until the building of the Western Union Railroad through Rock City made Grab-all a lost town and the very site is now almost forgotten.

On January Jo, 1859, George Raymer executed a contract with T. S. Wilcoxin and William Peterson for the transfer of a certain section of land for village purposes. In the same year the village was surveyed and platted, and lots were sold at prices ranging from $10 to $50. Upon the completion of the railroad, the town began to build up somewhat, but the settlement never suffered the throes of a "boom." No considerable inducements were ever offered to settlers in Rock City, and settlers never came there in considerable numbers.

Rock City boasts of two churches and a school, both churches being supplied by ministers from Davis.

United Evangelical Church. This church somewhat dominates the religious element of the village. It was originally a church of the Evangelical Association, having been founded in 1868. The present edifice was completed and dedicated in 1869, under the pastorate of the Rev. H. Rohland at a cost of $2,200. The pulpit is now occupied by the Rev. J. Johnson. of Davis. The number of communicants approximates thirty five, with a Sunday school of about the Jame proportions.

Methodist Church. In the fall of 1878 a number of Methodist believers of Rock City connected themselves with the Davis circuit, holding services in the schoolhouse and the Evangelical Church until the summer of 1879, when the present church building was completed and occupied. Its cost, including a bell, was $1,500. The congregation at Rock City has always been small; the present membership is about a dozen. No Sunday school is maintained. It is altogether probable that Methodist services will be discontinued at Rock City, the size of the Methodist community being too small to warrant their further continuance.

Rock City presents a commonplace appearance, quite like that of any other unprogressive country village of the present day and age. There are a few very handsome residences, one or two stores, a railroad station, together with the buildings connected therewith, and there the catalogue ends. There has never been any large influx of population, and probably never will be. The fact that the village is hemmed in between Davis and Dakota, and is, withal, only about eleven miles from Freeport by railroad, and seventeen by road precludes the possibility of growth. The population is not over one hundred.


Epleyanna is a small settlement on the road between Rock City and Davis. It scarcely deserves the title of village, for there is no general store, and there never has been a postoffice. There is a mill which was built in 1837, and, with many improvements and changes, is still standing It is a stone structure, three stories in height, and is turned by the current of Rock Run.

Among the features of the settlement are the German Evangelical Church, Rev. Mr. Beerbohm, pastor, and the Epleyanna School. The settlement comprises a few less than a dozen houses and a population of about thirty inhabitants.

The settlement takes its name from Conrad Epley, who early in the history of the township purchased the Epleyanna Mills and the land surrounding the regions. His descendants have moved to other parts of the county since his death.


Irish Grove was one of the earliest settlements of the county. It was gathered about 1836 by a company of Irish immigrants, whose descendants still reside in the vicinity. There were the Mullarkeys, the Foleys, the O'Briens, and many others. Here, at Irish Grove, one of the five Catholic churches of Stephenson County was established in 1838. Father Petiot, a Galena priest, assisted in the raising of the first structure, and he is said to have walked on foot from the western town to preach the Word of God to the early settlers.

The old church did service until 1862, when the second structure was built. The old church had been a ramshackle affair with only two pews, and the 1862 edifice was not much better. Finally, in 1895, under the leadership of Father Sullivan, the Irish Grove people built the present handsome frame structure. Irish Grove has no store or post office, and only about twenty settlers, but the vicinity is replete with Celts and adherents of Catholicity.

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