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

Homer Township. - The classical land of Homer - the site of the famous "Yankee Settlement," and peopled from the old and refined states of the Union, is one of the finest townships of Will County.

The first settlements in Homer Township was before the Sac war, during which period some of the settlers fled with their families to the Wabash settlements and others to Fort Dearborn at Chicago, but returned to the settlements and joined Sisson's company in the blockhouse so often referred to in these pages. The following names were among those belonging to Captain Sisson's company in the blockhouse during the Indian war: Benjamin Butterfield, Thomas Fitzsimons, James Glover, John McMahon, Joseph Johnson, James Ritchey, Edward Poor, Joseph and James Cox, John Helm, Salmon Goodenow, Joseph McCune, Selah Lanfear, Peter Polly, David and Alva Crandall. Of these, Joseph Johnson and his two sons are supposed to be the first settlers in Homer Township. They were from Ohio, and came in the fall of 1830, and were in the town during the winter of the deep snow, and suffered all the hardships of that dreary winter. The elder Johnson died in the summer of 1846. James Ritchey came from Ohio, and settled here in the spring of 1831. He made a trip through the country in November of 1830 and selected his location, and moved out in the following spring. During his first trip to the country, in the fall of 1830, he says, as he wandered through dismal swamps, dark forests and lonely prairies he for the first time in a long trip wished himself safe back at home. Joseph and James Cox came from Indiana in 1831, but whether that was their native state or not we are unable to say. John McMahon is the first who settled in what was termed Gooding's Grove. He made a claim there and sold it to Gooding, upon his arrival in 1832. McMahon came from Indiana but was originally from Ohio, and was here during the Indian war. Salmon Goodenow was from Ohio, but had lived some time in Indiana before settling in this township in 1832. Joseph McCune was his brother in law, and after the war was over, returned to Indiana, where he remained for a time and then came back and settled in what was called Jackson's Grove. Goodenow moved down about Reed's Grove, where he passed the remainder of his days. John Helm came from Indiana and settled in Gooding's Grove in 1832. He went to Indiana during the war, and when it was over, came back to the Grove and found James Gooding on his claim, and sold it to him for $10, and shook the dust of Yankee Settlement from off his feet. Benjamin Butterfield, who lived on the place afterward occupied by Jireh Rowley, and which Rowley bought from him on his arrival in the country, was an Eastern man, but had been living some time in Indiana before removing to Homer. He is noticed in Lockport, also, and as removing to Iowa, where he was living when last heard from. Peter Polly and a younger brother were in the fort, and came from Indiana in the summer of 1832. Selah Lanfear was from New York, and came to the settlement in 1832. He is said to have first settled in Lockport Township. Yankee Settlement extended to the river in Lockport Township, and it is a rather difficult task sometimes to keep all on their respective sides of the fence. David and Alva Crandall were from New York, and came to the settlement in 1832. Both were in the fort and Alva was orderly sergeant of Captain Sisson's company, while David was a private in the same command. John Blackstone, or Judge Blackstone, who settled at Hadley Postoffice, was first lieutenant of this military company, while John Ray, a brother in law of Blackstone's, was second lieutenant. They were from Ohio, and married in the Glover family. Thomas Fitzsimons was from New York, and came in 1832. He started to California during the gold excitement of 1849 and 1850, and died before reaching his destination. James Glover was from Ohio, and settled in the town in 1831 or 1832. He went to Iowa in 1854, and was alive at the last heard from him. Two others belonged to the military band who were Homer settlers, viz., Ashing and McGahan, but of them little could be ascertained. This, so far as can now be ascertained, comprised the settlement of Homer Township, or, as it was then called, Yankee Settlement, at the time of the Black Hawk war, and the names above given were in the blockhouse in 1832, and were members of Captain Sisson's company. Nearly all of them are gone to join that army of white robed saints over on the other shore, where the paleface and the savage do not war with each other, but sit down in peace together in the Father's kingdom. None are known to be alive now except James Ritchey and Edward Poor; the former is extremely sprightly, except his blindness, for a man of his years, and possesses a most wonderful memory. In fact, his recollections of the time spent in the fort are as vivid as though of recent occurrence. Mr. Poor, as stated, lives in New Lenox Township. Several of the others were alive when last heard from, but as they have removed to other states there is no definite information concerning them. Their captain, Holder Sisson, died but a few months ago, as noticed in the history of Lockport Township.

Luther C Chamberlain came from New York in 1832, and purchased a claim to eighty acres of land in Homer Township, and a claim to eighty acres of Canal land, then returned to New York, and in January, 1833, came back, bringing his two sons with him. His son, S. S. Chamberlain (now of Lockport), rode an Indian pony through from New York, which his father had purchased at Plainfield on his first trip. Through representations made by Mr. Chamberlain on his return home from his first trip to this section, when he came back in 1833, the following gentlemen came with him to look at the country: Ebenezer Griswold, Warren Hanks (a bachelor at the time), Captain Rowley and his son, J. B. Rowley (the latter still living in Homer), Oscar Hawley (oldest son of Lyman Hawley, and for a number of years clerk of Will County), Abram Snapp (father of Hon. Henry Snapp of Joliet), and Dr. Weeks (the father of Judge Weeks of Joliet). The most of these returned for their families, and came back and settled in this township, of whom were Dr. Weeks, Captain Rowley and Mr. Snapp; here they lived, honored and respected citizens to the day of their death. Mr. Chamberlain settled where Rev. Mr. Cowell now lives, and planted the beautiful row of maple trees that are now the admiration of all who pass that way, and are said to be the first trees planted in Homer Township. He died in May, 1878, at the age of ninety years. S. S. Chamberlain said he slept in Lockport for the first time on the night of February 27, 1833, and that there was not another man living in 1878, so far as his knowledge extended that could with truth say the same. He said that he heard his father and Captain Rowley remark that the prairies of Homer would never be settled in their lifetime, and they would always have it for the range of their stock, and in four years there was not an "eighty" left vacant. Deacon James Gooding, the father of William, Jasper A. and James Gooding, Jr., was from New York and came to this township and settled in Gooding's Grove in 1832. He was sixty years of age when he came to the settlement, and lived at the Grove bearing his name until his death. His son, William Gooding, who is mentioned in the history of Lockport Township, planted a nursery and cultivated an extensive orchard here, perhaps the first effort at fruit growing in the township, or even in Will County. Benjamin Weaver came from New York in the fall of 1833, and died in 1870, at the advanced age of ninety years. John Lane was also from New York, and came to the settlement in 1833. He was the inventor of the first steel breaking plow ever used in Northern Illinois or in the Western country. He has been dead many years. Frederick and Addison Collins were from New York State, and were brothers. Addison was a lawyer by profession, and had practiced for a time in Rochester before removing West. He went to the Legislature from this county, and it is said that it was through him that Governor Matteson's little speculation in Canal scrip was discovered. But this is familiar to all our readers, and is withal an unpleasant theme, so we will pass it without further allusion. Addison Collins died in this town in March, 1864.

Jireh Rowley came from Monroe County, New York, in 1833, and settled on Section 19, where he lived about three years when he sold out and entered land on Section 34, where he lived until his death, which occurred in December, 1844, on the place now occupied by his son, A. G. Rowley. Calvin Rowley, another son, came out in 1832, driving a peddler wagon all the way through from New York. He made a claim, on which he erected a cabin, and in which the family moved upon their arrival. Calvin Rowley moved to the city of Rockford. Hiram Rowley, another son, lived in Chicago, and J. B. and Phineas K. Rowley, two other sons, lived in this township, where they were prosperous farmers. The Rowleys bought their claim from Benjamin Butterfield, who had entered the land where "Squire Rowley" now lives. The elder Rowley had married a second wife before leaving New York - a Mrs. Gray, who had several children, and they came West with the Rowley family. They came round the lakes on their way here, in an old schooner, and landed at Chicago, when Chicago was not, but a swampy marsh called Chicago, since grown into the recognized metropolis of the Northwest. Their landing at Chicago, and their trip from there to Homer, is graphically described by Squire Rowley in an article written in 1876 for the Joliet Sun: "On or about the 17th of July, 1833, the sail vessel Amaranth anchored in Lake Michigan, nearly opposite Fort Dearborn (Chicago) after a voyage of three weeks out from Buffalo, New York, and having on board about seventy five souls, and among them was the writer, then a boy about ten years old. The vessel was relieved of her cargo by means of small boats, and the passengers after being taken on shore, were entertained as best they could be, 'in and around' the residence of Herman Bond, which was built of logs and sods, and was located near the foot of Monroe Street. Chicago then consisted of the fort at the mouth of the river, the house of John Kinzie, and some French shanties on the North Side, the hotel kept by Ingersoll, at the forks, a store at Wolf Point, the intersection of Lake and South Water streets, the frame of what was afterward called the Mansion House, on the north side of Lake, between Dearborn and State streets, a few other shanties, and the 'palatial residence' of our host. After taking in Chicago the next day, three of the several families who had journeyed together thus far chartered some 'prairie schooners' and 'set sail' for their destination, in what is now the town of Homer, Will County. This colony was composed of the families of Capt. Jireh Rowley, John Lane and Charles M. Gray, the latter, now and for many years past, freight agent of the Michigan Southern Railroad at Chicago. We made our way as we could through the tall rosin weeds, with very little track, to Lawton's (now Riverside) and thence to Flagg Creek. Here we found the body of a log cabin and the owner, Mr. E. Wentworth, whose place in after years became quite a noted stage stand. We fought the mosquitoes until morning, and after partaking of our frugal meal, we launched out upon the prairie, and at noon halted at the Big Spring near Lilly-Cache Grove, and upon what is now the farm of Thomas J. Sprague. After refreshments, we moved on, crossing the Des Planes River at what was known as Butterfield's Ford, opposite the present town of Lockport, and near nightfall arrived at our destination, all weary and sad. Calvin Rowley (now of Rockford) who came on prior to the Sac war, was here and had erected a log cabin in the timber, about a mile and a half east of the river. Here we stayed until other and better places could be provided. On looking around we found already here, Selah Lanfear, Luther Chamberlain, Holder Sisson, Capt. Fuller, Arnistead Runyon, Edward Poor, James Ritchey, John Blackstone, John Stitt, and a few others settled in what was afterward called the Yankee Settlement." We offer no apology for this lengthy extract, but deem it very appropriate in these pages. It is but the reflex of hundreds of the early settlers and their early experiences, as many of our readers will be able to testify when they peruse this work.

The first postoffice was established in Homer Township in 1836. This was the Yankee Settlement, bear in mind, and the Yankees were wide awake, intelligent people, and would not be deprived of their mail and other reading matter. The office was called Hadley, for Hadley, Mass., from which some of the settlers came who were active in getting it, and Reuben Beach was appointed postmaster. A store was opened by Pratt & Howard, and Hadley became quite a business place, with some chance of becoming a town. At one time it boasted two stores, a postoffie, blacksmith shop, church, etc., but railroads and the canal changed the order of things, and the glory of Hadley waned. Before the office was established here, the settlers of Homer went to the postoffice on Hickory Creek, at "Uncle Billy" Gougar's, for their mail matter, and right gladly forked over their quarters (which was then the postage on letters, payable at the office of delivery) for the long wished for letter from the old home in the Yankee States. When the postoffice was established at Hadley, the mail was carried on horseback from Chicago, but a few years later, a mail route was formed between Michigan City and Joliet, and then it was brought to Hadley over this route in a kind of open hack or stage.

The first store in the township was kept by Norman Hawley, on Hawley Hill, in 1835. The goods were hauled from Chicago by ox-team express, then the usual mode of transportation. This spot once made some pretensions toward becoming a village; but, as Josh Billings said of the attempt of the two railroad trains to pass each other on a single track, "it was a shocking failure." Mr. Lanfear built the first house on the hill; the first schoolhouse in the township was built there, then a blacksmith shop and the store itself. Reuben Beach built a sawmill on Spring Creek about 1838 or 1&39, and several years later, Jaques & Morse built a steam sawmill. These were the only efforts made in the mill business in this township. Before Beach put his mill in operation, the settlers used to haul what little lumber they were forced to use, from Col. Sayre's mill on Hickory Creek. With the lumber thus procured some of their first shanties were built, while others were built of logs, "chinked and daubed," and had chimneys made of sticks and mud.

The first school in Homer was taught by D. C. Baldwin, the veteran hardware merchant of Lockport, and was taught in the winter of 1834-35, on Section 19, in a little log shanty with stick chimney, which had been put up as a "claim hut" and abandoned. It is said by some that a Miss Sallie Warren taught a school before Baldwin, but from the most reliable facts now to be had, we are of the opinion that Baldwin preceded her. The next summer after Baldwin's school, Miss Abigail Raymond taught a school in a building that had been put up for a cow stable, on the place of Deacon Lanfear. The first house for school purposes was built on Hawley Hill, by the neighbors, who donated the time, labor and material. An old settler - but young enough then to shoot paper wads in that primitive building - thus alludes to some of the comforts and conveniences pertaining to it: "Our seats and desks were made of split puncheons, and our 'persuaders' and 'reminders' were the young hickories growing around the schoolhouse." Among the scholars who attended this early temple of learning, were some of the brightest men of Will County, of whom we may mention Hon. Horace Anderson, Hon. Henry Snapp, Judge C. H. Weeks, N. L. Hawley, Esq., Judge E. S. Williams, of the Cook County Circuit Court, and others. Mrs. Fred Collins, then Miss White, taught a school in the settlement in a little log cabin, still standing on Mr. Collins' farm, in 1838. But the schools of Homer have increased since that day, as we find in 1872, there were in the township eight districts and nine schoolhouses. There were 412 pupils enrolled, sixteen teachers employed, at a cost of $2,213.53. The total expenditures of the year were $2,683.30, leaving a balance in the treasury of $122.67.

The first church organized in Will County is said to have been the Presbyterian Church at Hadley, in this township, by Rev. Jeremiah Porter, the pioneer of the American Home Mission Society in the Northwest. The society was organized about 1833 or 1834, and Rev. Mr. Porter and Elder Freeman, both of Chicago then, preached alternately for some time at this place; and people of all religious beliefs within a radius of ten or fifteen miles would come together and worship God without the restraints resulting from closely drawn sectarian lines, as at the present day. Mrs. Mason says they owned a yoke of oxen and Mr. Gooding a wagon. On Sunday they would hitch their oxen to his wagon, and both families jump in, and off they would go ten miles to "meeting." Churches there were none. Religious services were held in the groves - "God's first temples" - and at the cabins of the settlers. The first church was built at Hadley about 1838 and 1839, and was church and schoolhouse combined. The people met in it, of all denominations, and were not selfish nor confined to one particuler sect. But the church there passed away and the society drifted into the Congregational Church, near the center of the township. This edifice was erected in 1862; it was a near frame, and cost $1,500. Rev. George Slosser was the first preacher. The membership was rather small; decreased by death and removal, but was in a flourishing state in 1878. Rev. Mr. McKee was the pastor at that time and William Storm, Superintendent of the large Sunday school. The Baptist Church at Hadley was originally organized by Elder A. B. Freeman, as already stated. He was the first Baptist preacher in Northern Illinois, and is said to have baptized the first person on the western shore of Lake Michigan in April, 1834. The church was built there a year or two before the Congregational Church above mentioned. It had a large membership and a flourishing Sunday school, but no regular pastor at that time.

As stated in the introduction to this chapter, Homer has neither railroads, large towns nor villages; but one or two small country stores, a blacksmithshop or two, a post office at Hadley and at Gooding's Grove, and two neat and tasty little church edifices. Aside from this, the town is devoted wholly to agricultural pursuits, and as to the productiveness of the land, it is not surpassed in the county, and scarcely in the State."

When Homer was first settled, its prairies were considered the most beautiful that the enthusiastic Yankee had seen. They were just rolling enough to resemble the billows of the ocean after a storm had passed, and the thick grass, three or four feet high, overtopped with fragrant blossoms, might without violence to the comparison - have been taken for the land of Beulah, which Bunyan "saw in his dream," lying on the borders of the Celestial City.

The early history of Homer Township, which has been given as it is found in the publication of 1878, said that Homer had neither railroad, large town nor village. This is true in 1928. Perhaps not entirely because the Wabash Railroad runs through the southeastern corner of the township for a distance of about one third of a mile. In 1878, it had a Post Office at Hadley and one at Gooding's Grove. Both of these have disappeared because rural delivery made them unnecessary. Blacksmith shops are no longer maintained, although the building stands at Gooding's Grove as well as at Hadley.

Homer has a good stone road crossing the township from east to west and another stone road crossing most of the township one mile south of the Cook County line. Two cross roads of stone connect these two. The development of the State highway system will undoubtedly bring a concrete road through the northern section, passing through Gooding's Grove and going straight west to intercept Route 4 to Chicago.

Homer still remains largely agriculturally inclined. There are many good homes and it contains more people than any other township, without villages. Its schools are well patronized and well supported. The people are never found lacking when it comes to the support of schools, either in paying taxes or in giving attention to the many little details which help to make a good school.

The first settlers came into the Yankee Settlement, and this name indicating the place from whence they came. Most of the farmers of the township at the present time are of German parentage. During the past ten years a goodly number of farmers of the Slavish peoples have come in. All of these are honest, industrious people who devote themselves to their homes and to farming.

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