History of Frankfort Township, Will County Illinois
From: History of Will County, Illinois
By: August Maue
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis 1928

Frankfort Township

Frankfort Township. - Ninety eight years have come and gone since white men began to settle in the territory now embraced in Frankfort Township. William Rice is supposed to have been the first white man whose footsteps marked the virgin prairie in this portion of Will County. He made a kind of prospecting tour through here in 1828, but did not make a permanent settlement until in the Summer of 1831. During the spring and summer of that year, John McGovney, William Moore, William Rice and a man named Osborne settled near where the village of Mokena now stands. Not long, however, were they allowed to remain in peace and tranquillity. The notes of war were wafted to them upon the prairie winds, and the war whoops of Black Hawk and his warriors warned them that this was no safe abiding place. Early in the spring of 1832, safety demanded a retreat to a more thickly settled country, and they accordingly returned to the Wabash settlement, or to Lafayette, Indiana. McGovney, Moore and Rice were from Ohio, and Osborne had come from Indiana, but whether that was his native place or not could not be learned. After the close of the Indian war, McGovney and Rice came back to their claims, in the spring of 1834. Moore and Osborne, it appears, however, were fully satisfied with frontier life, and never returned, at least not to this settlement. Mr. McGovney preempted eighty acres of land, and succeeded in getting a "float" on another "eighty," a portion of which is embraced in the present village of Mokena. He is considered the first permanent settler of Frankfort Township. The land was not in market at the time he settled here, and settlers chose their locations and "squatted," provided there were no prior claims. Range 11 was sold in 1836, and Range 12 in 1838, at Chicago. Mr. McGovney died on his original place March 11, 1859. W. W. McGovney, a son, resided in New Lenox Township; another son, Ozias, was a prosperous merchant in the village of Mokena; Thomas G., another son, lived in Joliet, and Elijah, the youngest, lived on the old homestead until his death. The family consisted of eight children, and all lived until the youngest was 32 years old.

Matthew Van Horne settled here, it is said, in 1832, and remained during the Black Hawk War. He was from New York, and was good naturedly termed by his neighbors as a Mohawk Dutchman. He settled one mile west of the present village of Frankfort, in the Hickory Creek timber, where he lived and died, and where his widow resided until her death, in the same old house where they spent more than half their lives. Peter Flayes came from New Hampshire and settled first in the vicinity of Lockport, but removed to Frankfort Township in the spring of 1837. Orlando and Levi M. Clayes, his sons, came in the fall of 1836; Charles, another son, came out and worked on their claim during the winter, and in the spring the remainder of the family came. They bought their claim from one Robert Smith, who was from Vermont, and settled here in 1835. None of this family remain. Grandchildren survive in other parts of Illinois. E. Atkins and a brother, John Atkins, came from Vermont, and were among the first settlers in the township after the close of the Sac War, and about the same time came Weir and Duncan, from the Wabash settlements. Foster Kane and Archibald Crowl were from the same section. It is said that Kane was in the settlement all through the Black Hawk war, and settled on the place afterward occupied by Matthew Van Home. Crowl settled near the village of Mokena, in 1834 or 1835. He finally moved to Missouri, Kane moved South in a short time after the war was over, and afterward to Missouri, where he died many years ago. Daniel Wilson came from Ohio and settled in 1834 or 1835. Francis Owen was from Kentucky, and came in 1835. Phineas Holden and Trueman Smith were from Vermont, and settled also in 1835.

Ambrose Doty came from Ohio, in 1834, and settled on the line between Frankfort and New Lenox Townships. His land lay on both sides of the line, and his first cabin was built just over the line in New Lenox Township; but when, some years later, he built a new and more pretentious residence, he set it on the opposite side of the line, and thus became a resident of Frankfort Township. As stated, he came from Ohio, but was born in Norris County, N. J. He has been living for some years in Frankfort village. Isaac Francis also came from Ohio, but was a native of the "Ould Sod," and settled in the town in 1835. Allen and Lysander Denny, a Mr. Wood, and David Ketchum came from New York in 1834 or 1835. Wood had two sons, Hiram and Sydney; one of them, a Methodist clergyman, moved to the Rock River country; the father and the other son moved away, also, but where, we could not learn. The Dennys settled in the Hickory Creek timber, Allen near Mokena, and Lysander on the Creek, where he built a saw mill, and after a time sold out and moved to the village of Spencer, where he died. Allen finally returned to New York, where he died several years ago. William Knight, also a New Yorker, came in the Fall of 1834, and settled in the Grove, but sold out in a few years and returned to New York. This includes a number of the early settlers of Frankfort Township, and, perhaps, a majority of those who settled in the town prior to the land sale, are mentioned in this list. After the sale of these lands, the community rapidly filled up until not a section was left unoccupied.

John W. McGovney, a son of John McGovney, noticed as the first settler of this township, was the first white child born in the settlement. He was born in the Spring of 1832, just before the settler left the place for the Wabash settlements, at the beginning of the Sac war. As to the first death and marriage, the few survivors of the early days, are somewhat uncertain as to who they were, or when they occurred. The first physician who practiced the healing art in the neighborhood was Dr. Moses Porter, of Hadley; Dr. W. P. Holden was the first resident physician in the township, and practiced many years, but at length retired and gave the field to younger men. The first mill was built by Matthew Van Horne, about 1835-36, and was originally a saw mill only, but a run of stones was afterward added, for grinding corn. A saw mill was built prior to this by Denny, but it was a saw mill only.

A store was opened, in 1836, by O. and L. M. Clayes, which was the first mercantile effort in the township. They continued in the business for eight or ten years, when they closed out, and one M. C. Farewell opened a store in the same house they had occupied. The latter did business under the firm name of Farewell & Case. Case lived in Chicago, and furnished the goods, and Farewell conducted the store. A post office was established in 1837, with L. M. Clayes as Postmaster, one of the merchants mentioned above. The name of the office was Chelsea, and after the Clayes Brothers discontinued their store, the office was moved to Van Horde's, and he was made Postmaster, an office he held until some years after the post office had been moved to the new village of Frankfort, as noticed hereafter. When the office was first established, the mail was brought by "horse express fast line" from LaPorte, Ind., to Joliet once a week. A village was laid out here in 1848-49 by Charles Clayes and M. C. Farewell, which was called Chelsea. The former owned the premises, and the place had some show of becoming quite a town; but upon the completion of the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad it was abandoned, and the last traces of it have now disappeared.

The first sermon preached in the town was perhaps by Father Beggs, who, as noticed in other parts of this work, was one of the pioneer preachers of the county. The Rev. Mr. Blackwell, another of the early Methodist itinerants, formed a class at Mr. Doty's about 1836 or 1837, just over the line in New Lenox Township, but at that day was included in this settlement, or this was included in that, and all known as the Hickory Creek Settlement. Mr. Doty's residence was a regular preaching place until the era of schoolhouses, as there was no church edifice built until after the village of Frankfort was laid out. There is but one church building in the town outside of the villages - the German Lutheran Church - which is located about three miles northeast of Frankfort village. It was built in 1877 and was a neat frame building, costing about $1,500, and had quite a flourishing membership. The church history will be again referred to in the history of the villages. The first schools taught in the town were by Mrs. Knight and Mrs. Hiram Wood, but to which belongs the honor of teaching the first, no one can now tell. They both taught in a little log schoolhouse, which stood on Section 19, built for school purposes, but afterward converted into a dwelling.

The cheese factory of Messrs. Baumgartner & Co., was an extensive establishment. It was owned by a stock company, consisting of John and Jacob Baumgartner, George Geuther, Francis Maue and E. Higgens. They had an excellent brick factory with stone basement, built at a cost of $6,000. It is about two miles north of Frankfort village, and was built in 1875. The manufacture of butter and cheese was carried on rather largely, but not to the full capacity of the factory, owing to the lack of material. About $10,000 is the amount of business annually, but much more could have been done if a greater supply of milk could have been obtained. This industry was abandoned in 1895. The building remains today in a good state of preservation.

This township was named by Mr. Cappel, an old German citizen, for Frankfort-on-the-Main, his native place, a name it has always borne. The town is largely Republican, and has always been so. It is remembered by many that at one period of its history there were not half a dozen Democratic votes in the entire town. But the latter party has gained some strength in the last few years, and the National Greenback party at present bids fair to create a revolution in its political record. The war history, like all portions of Will County, is good, and many brave soldiers are accredited to this township.

Mokena is situated on the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad, about ten miles east of Joliet. The original village was laid out in 1852, before the railroad was fully completed, by Allen Denny. An addition was made to it soon after, by John McGovney, which was surveyed by A. J. Matthewson, County Surveyor. Knapp & Smith put up the first building, which was used for the double purpose of store and dwelling, and they were the first merchants in the place. The first hotel was built by Charles Gall, in 1853, and was the next building erected after Knapp & Smith's store, which had been put up in the Winter of 1851-52, before the village was laid out and before the Railroad was completed. William McCoy built the first blacksmith shop, in the winter of 1853-54. Ozias McGovney was the first Justice of the Peace in the village, and was elected in 1850, an office he held for twenty one years uninterruptedly. He was also a lawyer by profession, but did not practice for a number of years, and later engaged in the mercantile business. A post office was established in the village in the Spring of 1853, and Warren Knapp was the first Postmaster, receiving his commission soon after the inauguration of President Pierce. McGovney bought out Smith, of the firm of Knapp & Smith, and the firm became Knapp & McGovney, and so continued for a number of years. They were the first grain buyers, and bought from wagons and loaded into the cars without the aid of elevators. Cross & Jones built a steam mill in 1855, and about 1865, took out the machinery and shipped it to Kansas, when the mill building was changed in to the Mokena Elevator, and was owned and operated by Charles Hirsch in 1878, the only grain dealer in the village. Noble Jones speculated in grain and had an office there, but did business mostly on the Board of Trade, in Chicago.

The first schoolhouse was built in 1855, and was a small frame, costing $1,000. James Pierce taught the first school in it, soon after it was completed. The present schoolhouse was built in 1872, is a substantial two story frame, with stone basement, and cost, together with furniture, about $10,000, just ten times the amount of the first schoolhouse. Mrs. Sarah Baldwin was Principal of the school in 1878. Miss Swalm, assistant teacher, and Miss Clara Williams was teacher of the Primary Department. This building is in use now. (1928.)

Plans are completed and contracts have been given for a new building which will have four class rooms and a gymnasium. This building will cost, complete in every detail, $45,000.

The village of Frankfort was named for the township, and the township was named for Frankfort-on-the-Main, as already noticed. Frankfort village is situated on the Joliet cutoff of the Michigan Central Railroad, about twelve miles from Joliet, and was laid out in 1855, the same year the cut off railroad was built through the township. It was laid out by S. W Bowen, who owned eighty acres of land embraced in the village. The first store was kept by a man named Higley, a very small affair, and did not continue long. The next store - and the first really deserving the name - was opened by N. A. Carpenter in the Spring of 1855, who also put up the first building designed for a storehouse. The first hotel was built by a man named Doud in the summer of 1855. The post office in the village was kept by Carpenter, as a deputy under Van Horne, who was mentioned in the township history as accepting the Chelsea post office from L. M. Clayes. After its removal to this place, the name of the office was changed to Frankfort. Van Horne remained Postmaster for three years, but the duties of the office were performed by Mr. Carpenter, and after the expiration of the three years, William B. Cleveland became Postmaster. Nicholas Fortmiller kept the first blacksmith shop, in 1855. He soon went to Greengarden Township to take up farming.

The first schoolhouse in the village was built in 1856, and was used as a dwelling house as late as 1878. Josiah Carpenter taught the first school after its erection. The first school in the village, however, was taught by Miss Lizzie Kent before the building of the schoolhouse. A well designed schoolhouse was built in 1870; it was a two story frame, and cost about $5,000. The principal of the school was Prof. O. P. Blatchly, with Miss Raver as assistant teacher, and an average attendance of about one hundred and fifty pupils.

This building was used for school purposes until 1925, when it was removed and a four room school of brick was erected. This is modern in every detail and houses an excellent graded school. It cost $35,000.

The Methodist Church was built in 1856, and was the first church edifice in both the village and the township. The society was originally organized in the "log schoolhouse," one mile east of the village, and grew out of the society formed at Doty's, as elsewhere mentioned. The building is a frame, cost about $2,000 and the present Pastor is Rev. George K. Hoover. A Sunday School is maintained. The Baptist Church was built in 1863, a frame building, costing $1,600. Rev. David Letts was the first Pastor, and lives now in Iowa. Rev. Stephen Barterick is the present Pastor, and has a membership of thirty or forty. The society supports a flourishing Sunday School, of which the Pastor is Superintendent. The German Evangelical Lutheran (United) Church was built in 1868. It was a frame building 30x56 feet, cost $2,000 and had a membership of about forty. Rev. T. Walter was Pastor, and Superintendent of the Sunday School. The growth of the town and the increase in church attendance, made a new church desirable. A brick edifice was erected in 1918. It is a beautiful building, modern and complete in its equipment. It is prosperous in every way. A beautiful parsonage was built in 1925, adjacent to the church.

At this writing, (1928), Frankfort Township is having more improvements than any other township in the county. The Sauk trail of the Indians passed through near the central line of this township. Later, this became the road for Conestoga wagons and later than that, the route for the Oswego and Indiana plank road. This plank road was never realized, and the right of way was sold to the Cut off Railroad, which became the Michigan Central and is now part of the New York Central lines. Later still, about 1898, an electric line was built parallel to the Michigan Central and everyone hailed it as a wonderful success. This prospered for a few years when the rapid development of automobiles made it impracticable. Then came the concrete road, now the Lincoln Highway, following the general line of the old Sauk trail. This development rendered the electric line useless, and it was sold for junk. The village of Frankfort is now on the Lincoln Highway. This year a concrete road comes through Green Garden Township one mile from the east edge and after coming into Frankfort, proceeds eastward to the east edge of the village of Frankfort and then goes due north to the city of Orland in Cook County, where it becomes a part of the complicated highway system around Chicago. This will give the village of Frankfort splendid highways and affords opportunity for transportation of every kind.

All other main highways of the township are built with water bound macadam. These stone roads connect the concrete highways so that farmers have splendid outlet in every way.

The village of Mokena does not have any concrete road, but it is connected with the concrete roads in the south and the east by good stone roads which are always kept in good condition. In this way it enjoys the same advantages that the village of Frankfort does. Mokena is developing rapidly, and seems about to become a suburban town for Chicago. During the past year the Rock Island Railroad has installed elaborate signal service which looks forward to the electrification of the railroads. This will give Mokena splendid service to and from Chicago. Practically all of the land between Mokena and Chicago adjacent to this line of road is now held for real estate purposes. The next 10 years should see a remarkable development of this neighborhood.

The agricultural interests in the township develop in a splendid way. All of the land is under cultivation and drained thoroughly so that all of it may be farmed. Dairying is the most important part of the farming industry. Much grain is raised but much of it never goes to market as grain. The farmers find it more profitable to feed it to the live stock and get their returns in that way. Trucks are used to gather up the milk from many stations in the township, and farmers have very little difficulty in traveling over difficult roads which were so common twenty years ago.

Both Mokena and Frankfort are important business centers. Mokena maintains a State Bank which serves its community and the surrounding farmers. It is a prosperous institution. Frankfort maintains two State Banks both of which are doing a good business and they are managed efficiently, and serve both the village and the surrounding farming community. Both villages contain general stores. These have quite a struggle to make ends meet because people travel quickly and easily over the good roads to the larger centers. Both of the villages are prosperous.

The accounts of the various leaders in this township were given in the biographical part of this history and need not be recounted here.

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