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

Lockport Township includes a portion of the "Great Highway", which passes through Will County. Aborigines passed through on their expeditions of peace and war. Interesting, indeed, would be the account of their journeys, how they traveled, what plans they had, what rejoicings there were after a successful tour or what sorrowings there were when they failed. The Indians passed and repassed through many generations. Sometimes they traded and sometimes they warred. They, too, had a wonderful history, but nothing remains to record these things excepting remains from tombs and a few traditions. From these we gather much which has been given in a previous chapter. The white man left more records. Father Marquette came this way. Joliet sought his fortune through this route. The later settlers left records and these are our theme in this account of Lockport Township.

The first permanent settler in Lockport Township was Armstead Runyon, who came to the neighborhood in October, 1830, He was born in Kentucky, but removed to Ohio when but fifteen years old, where he remained until 1827, when he came to Danville, Illinois. Here he remained until his removal to Lockport, as above stated. His first winter in this section was that of the "deep snow," so vividly remembered by the few old settlers still surviving, and who were here that memorable winter. Mr. Runyon had a large amount of stock, most of which he left at Danville, except some hogs which he brought with him, thinking they would winter on nuts and acorns, but they all perished during the deep snow, as he had nothing to feed them. The next spring, as soon as the snow had sufficiently disappeared to allow travel with safety, he took his men and went to Danville after the remainder of his stock and for provisions. The high waters, consequent on the melting of such quantities of snow, detained him six weeks beyond the time he expected to be gone, and his family ran short of provisions before his return. Mrs. Boyer, of Lockport, a daughter of Mr. Runyon's, informed us that for several weeks before he returned they had nothing to live on but salt pork and corn bread made of meal so musty that it did not seem fit for a dog to eat. She remembered but two families then living in what is now Lockport and Homer Townships besides her father's, viz., Edward Poor and a man named Butler, who lived where Mr. Milne now lives. Of Butler she remembered but little except that he lived there; but whence he came or whither he went she had forgotten. When her father decided to remove to this section, he gathered up, brought his family and hired men to the place and lived in a tent until he got his cabin ready to move into. Mrs. Boyer remembered very distinctly how the prairie wolves used to come round that tent and render the night hideous with their blood curdling howls. When the news came of the Black Hawk war, and that the savages were moving in this direction, Mr. Runyon was plowing in the field, which he continued until noon notwithstanding the exciting rumors. He then gathered together his family and what goods he designed to take, and moved on to Hickory Creek, where the settlers were to rendezvous preparatory to retreating toward Danville. But upon his arrival there he found they were already gone. His company consisted of his own family, Edward Poor's, Holder Sissons's and Selah Lanfear's. Finding that the Hickory Creek people were gone, they held a council of war, and, at Mr. Runyon's suggestion, went to Chicago, or Fort Dearborn, instead of Danville, as originally intended. He was also the first to propose to come out from Chicago and build the blockhouse which was built on Mr. Sisson's place, as noticed further on. Indians were plenty in this section when they first settled here, but of the friendly Pottawatomies; and Mrs. Boyer remembers an encampment, or Indian town, on both sides of her father's place, and their trail from the one to the other was by the house. They used nearly always to come in when passing, but did nothing wrong and generally behaved very well. While Mr. Runyon was gone to Danville, and detained so long, it was reported that the smallpox was at the Indian camps, and Mrs. Runyon refused to let any of them come into her house; when they were seen approaching, the proverbial latch string was drawn in. This very seriously offended the "noble red men," but they offered no molestation. Mr. Runyon went to California in 1849, where he lived until his death, which occurred in September, 1875. His daughter, Mrs. Boyer, made a trip there to see him the summer before he died. Though one of the very earliest in this section, he had been away so long that none but the oldest settlers remember him personally.

Many of the early settlements of Lockport were made by New Yorkers - men of intelligence and enterprise - qualities still distinguishable at the present day. Among these early pioneers, we may mention the following from the Empire State: Holder Sisson and his brother in law, Cyrus Bronson, Selah Lanfear, Lyman Hawley, and his son Warren Hawley, Nathan Hutchins, William Thomas, William Gooding, Isaac Preston, A. J. Mathewson, David C. Baldwin, Edward P. Farley, Col. James Wright, James S. Baker, Justin Taylor, Horace Morse, Hiram Norton, and Henry Bush. Sisson was one of the first settlers in the township, and located on the east side of the river in October, 1831, on what has since been known as the Hanford place. He was born in Rhode Island in 1790, and died in April, 1878, at the ripe old age of eighty eight years. Though born in Rhode Island, most of his life had been spent in New York, until his removal to the West. He served six months in the War of 1812; was captain of a company during the Black Hawk war, and built a fort or blockhouse on his place near the village of Lockport, in the spring of 1832. He first located in Indiana, near the present city of Evansville, at which time the country was new and very sparsely settled. During the fifteen years he remained there, he improved five farms, and, finding no market there for his produce, built flatboats and carried it to New Orleans. As an example of his indomitable energy, of the four trips he made to the Crescent City, he returned from two of them on foot. From this Indiana settlement he returned to New York, but did not remain long, until he again removed to the West, as already noticed, in October, 1831, and settled in this township. When the Black Hawk war broke out, the families of the few settlers were removed to Fort Dearborn (now Chicago) for safety; they made the trip to that haven of peace in ox teams, and on the return to the settlement of the men, Mr. Sisson was elected captain, and proceeded at once to build a blockhouse, and make preparations for defense. On receiving his command, he was ordered by General Scott to proceed with his company to Indian Creek, in LaSalle County, and bury the unfortunate whites massacred there by the Indians. In November, after settling in Lockport, he went to Michigan where he had sold a drove of cattle "on time" while living in the Wabash country, to try to make some collections; but the trip was a fruitless one, as well as one of privation both to him and his family at home, which at that time consisted of a wife and five little children. The winter set in, and he was detained long beyond the time he had intended remaining; his family was almost without provisions, or any of the necessities of life. During his absence his wife had to go out and cut wood in the forest and carry it to the cabin to keep her children from freezing. There were few neighbors, and they were at a distance; Indians were plenty, but mostly of the friendly Pottawatomies, and under these circumstances, the heroic woman endured the long absence of her husband ignorant of his fate, and hardly daring to hope for his return, owing to the severity with which the winter had set in. His sufferings and perils were great, and a man of less courage and energy would have sunk beneath them. As he was returning from his fruitless trip, while crossing Mud Lake with his Indian pony, the ice gave way and pony and rider were submerged; the weather was piercing cold and the snow nearly two feet deep. It was night, and in his frozen clothes he rode on to his home, not knowing whether he would find his wife and children alive or dead. Upon his arrival, finding them all well and comfortable as could be expected under the circumstances, he sat down and wept like a child. But we draw a veil over the meeting, and, as the novelists say, leave it to be imagined; to describe it is beyond the power of any who never experienced a similar meeting. Soon after the close of the Black Hawk war, he sold his claim to Comstock Hanford and removed to the west side of the Des Planes, on the bluff where George Wightnian (who married Mr. Sisson's youngest daughter) lived. The second night after his removal to this place, a prairie fire, one of those terrors to the early settlers, came well nigh ruining him. Sixty tons of hay, standing in ricks, were burned, and handfuls of the cinders could be picked up on the spot where the ricks stood many years after. Of 170 head of sheep, they were all burned to death or injured so that they died from the effects, with the exception of six or eight; and of forty head of cattle, many died from the scorching, and those left he was obliged to sell for a dollar or two apiece to prevent them from starving on his hands, as he had nothing left to feed them.

William Gooding, together with the family of his father, who are also mentioned in the history of Homer Township, came to Illinois in 1833. He had been prevented from coming earlier on account of "wars and the rumors of wars" of Black Hawk. He and his wife and infant son were the first passengers to come around the head of Lake Michigan with the United States mail, and arrived in Chicago in May of the year mentioned, when the metropolis of the Great Northwest was mighty in nothing but its mud and mire, and contained but about one hundred and fifty inhabitants besides the garrison. Three days later, they arrived in Gooding's Grove, then a part of Cook County. In 1836, he was appointed chief engineer of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which position he held until its completion, in 1848.

As already stated, there were plenty of Indians here when the white people began to settle in the vicinity, but they were friendly, lazy, and not at all times disposed to heed that commandment forbidding us to steal. Says the "Will County Gazetteer," of 1860: "From the observations of the first white settlers in this vicinity, it is evident that what is now Lockport had long been a favorite resort of the Indian tribes which had occupied this section of the country. The spreading oaks, the clear running brooks, the rapid river, all made this one of the brightest spots in this paradise of the red man. Here their graves are found, their caches, or places for hiding their corn, etc., and arrow heads, stone hatchets and other evidences of their having lived and died here. Even after the settlements by the whites commenced, the Indians often came here to spend the hunting and fishing season. Another reason why this became an important stopping place for them was, that here was the best ford across the Des Planes River, and a crossing could be effected here in consequence of the rapid fall and numerous channels into which the river was divided in extreme high water, when it could nowhere else." But the time came when, "Lo the poor Indian," with the star of empire, had to wend his way westward. Their old hunting grounds have changed into broad, cultivated fields, and herds of domestic animals now graze where they once chased the wild deer. Their war whoop is no longer heard, their council fires have gone out in the forests and few now living remember them from personal knowledge. Mrs. Wightman said she very well remembered the last Indians she saw in this settlement. She and others of her father's children were sitting on the fence eating butter and bread, when two Indians came along on their ponies, and snatched the butter and bread from their hands. Mr. Rogers, who lived in the neighborhood, had called for something and witnessed their act to the children, became incensed, and seizing Mr. Sisson's horse whip rode after the Indians and whipped them every jump for a mile or more. She was a small child at the time, but remembers the occurrance and that they were the last she ever saw in the country. Mr. Bronson says that when they took up their line of march for their new hunting grounds beyond the Mississippi, they presented a rather sad and mournful spectacle, as they trudged along on foot in true Indian file, with heads bowed down and a melancholy and dejected cast of countenance, that might well have become the bard of Bonny Do on, when he wrote:

"Farewell my friends, farewell my foes,
My peace with these, my love with those."

The first white child born in Lockport Township is supposed to have been Orrin Runyon, who was born on the 27th of May, 1833. He lives now in California. This is doubtless correct, as at that time there were but a few families in the town. The first birth on the west side of the Des Planes River, in the present limits of Lockport, was Eliel S. Bronson, a son of Cyrus Bronson, born April 23, 1835. The first marriage was that of Louisa Webb and Michael Noel, and the matrimonial knot was tied by C. C. Van Horne, a justice of the peace from the Hickory Creek settlement.

The following circumstance is, perhaps, not out of place in this connection. A son of Nathan Hutchins went to Chicago with a wagon and team. He carried a load of produce to be exhanged for groceries and such goods as were needed at home. They were then living near Rockford, having moved to that section in 1836. The young man's team was found stabled by some one who recognized it, and word sent to Hutchins, who came and took it home. It had been there several days, the proprietor of the stable feeding and caring for it without knowing to whom it belonged. From that day to this, the young man has not been heard of. It is said that he had a little money and whether he ran away or was murdered is, and will perhaps remain forever, one of the unreveáled mysteries.

The first practicing physician in Lockport Township was a Dr. Miner, who came to the settlement in the winter of 1833-34, and lived on Mr. Runyon's place for a year or two. He was an Eastern man, but from what state could not be ascertained.

The first minister of the Gospel in this section of the country was a young man from Massachusetts, of the name of Greenwood, sent out by the Home Mission of the Presbyterian Church, and who preached for a year and a half at the house of the elder Bronson, on the west side of the Des Planes River. After leaving his labors in this town, he went to the wilds of Wisconsin, and once got lost in what was well known in an early day as the "Big Swamp" of the Badger State, and came very near starving to death before he found his way out. He had some property and when believing he was doomed to perish in the dismal swamp, sat down and wrote his will, threw it on the ground and lay down by it to die. But reviving somewhat after awhile, got up and pursued his way in a kind of listless manner, until the crowing of a cock infused new life into him and assured him that relief was at hand. He found the cabin of a settler, who took him in, gave him food, and where he remained until his exhausted energies were fully restored. The next preachers to proclaim salvation in this township were the Methodist itinerants, Revs. Blackburn and Beggs, the latter removed to Plainfield, to rest from a long life of labor in the vineyard of the Lord. Another of the early preachers of that day was a Congregational minister of the name of Foster, who used to preach at the schoolhouse, long before there was a church edifice in the town. The old fellow had a way of wiping his nose on his coat tail, when preaching, a performance not altogether agreeable to his hearers; and so Dr. Daggett, with some others, raised a contribution and bought the good old preacher a beautiful red bandana, which, with due solemnity, they presented to him. The elder Mr. Bronson was in Chicago one day with his team, and when about starting home was accosted by a very polite, courteous gentleman, with a slight foreign accent, who asked to ride out with him. He brought him out in his wagon, found him very intelligent, and was well pleased with him. Acting upon the injunction to be kind to the wayfaring man, for many have so entertained angels unawares, he kept him over night, and in the morning sent him on to Joliet. A few days later Mr. Bronson was in Joliet, when the same gentleman came up and spoke to him, apparently very glad to see him. He then learned that it was Father Plunkett, sent to Joliet to take charge of the Catholic Church there, and whose melancholy death is noted in the history of that city.

Education received attention at a very early period in the history of Lockport. The first school of which we have any account was taught in 1835, by a young lady from Joliet, whose name is now forgotten. She afterward married a man named Eastman, and removed to Chicago. The next was taught by a Miss Royce, of Dupage Township. Both of these schools were before the day of schoolhouses, and were taught in a little room built by Captain Sisson as an addition to his dwelling and intended for a kitchen, but surrendered it for school purposes. The first schoolhouse was built by the neighbors en masse, and was a small log cabin. The work and material were donated, one man giving logs, etc., while another cut down a tree, sawed it up and made "shakes," or boards, to cover it. A log was cut out for a window, a large fireplace with a stick chimney, and benches made by splitting open a small tree, boring auger holes and putting in legs, is a pen photograph of this primitive schoolhouse. There are some who assert that the first school was taught by a Miss Warren, of Warrenville, DuPage County, as early as 1834, just in the edge of Lockport, near what was known as the Barnett place.

The town site for Lockport was chosen by the canal commissioners, and the village laid out by them. It was selected with a view of making it their headquarters, and soon after its selection, they erected their Canal office here, which has ever since, with some improvement, been used for that purpose. The village was laid out under the supervision of William B. Archer, by a surveyor named Wampler, and the first sale of lots took place on the 22d day of November, 1837, and lots sold to the amount of $6,000. The Canal office was the first building of any importance erected in the town, and doubtless had considerable influence in inducing the first settlers of the village to come to the place. The Canal commissioners, as well as many other persons of intelligence, probably over rated the advantages of this locality for a commercial and manufacturing town.

The first store was established in Runyontown (now North Lockport) by a man named Kellogg, and was but a sort of grocery store, a rather small affair. Goss & Parks kept the first dry goods store at the same place, and at the laying out of Lockport proper, removed within its limits, Goss and Stephen Godding opening a store in partnership, and Parks likewise opening one on its own hook. After the retirement of Stephen Gooding, Oliver P. Gooding took charge of this, and soon other mercantile establishments were opened, and Lockport grew rapidly. The first building of any pretensions erected was the Canal office, as already stated. There were, however, several cabins and huts put up within the present limits of the village, by the early settlers, long before it was laid out as a village. The first tavern was built by Horace Morse, but Mr. Runyon, we believe, kept travelers before this tavern was built, though he did not pretend to keep a regular hotel. The first postoffice was established in 1836, over on the west side of the river, at the stone mill, and Edward P. Bush was the first postmaster. The office remained at the mill until 1839, when it was removed across the river to the east side, where it has ever since remained. While at the mill, the mail came once a week, and was brought on horseback. In 1839, coaches were put on the Chicago and Ottawa route, and the mail then came that way, which was considered, in that early day, quite an improvement, and a considerable advance toward civilization. The first representatives of the legal profession were Gen. James Turney and John W. Paddock, both long since dead.

The Methodist Church was organized in Lockport at an early date. In 1838, this was included in Joliet Circuit, with Rev. William Crissey, pastor, and Rev. John Clarke, presiding elder. In the winter of 1838, Rev. Mr. Crissey formed the first class in Lockport, consisting of G. L. Works, class leader, his wife, D. Breesee and wife, M. Brooks, R. Lowrie, Polly McMillen, Dira Manning, A. Heath and Julia Reed. In the spring of 1842, Col. Joel Manning joined on probation, and was appointed class leader, a position he held for fifteen years. In 1852, Lockport was made a station, and, in 1854, it and Plainfield were united. In 1854-55, during the pastorate of Rev. M. Reed, the present fine stone church was built, at a cost of $7,000; and, in 1867, a second parsonage was built, costing about $3,000, on a beautiful lot opposite the church.

The Baptist Church was organized in 1844, by Rev. Solomon Knapp, with twenty one members. Some years later, their church was built, a neat little frame building, which cost about $1,500.

The Congregational Church was organized in 1838, with nine members, viz.: Erastus Newton and wife, John Gooding and wife, Harvey Raymond, Dr. Chauncey White and wife, and William B. Newton and wife. The church was built in 1839, at a cost of $2,000. The first minister was Rev. Isaac Foster, and following him in the order given were Rev. Jonathan Porter, Rev. Alanson Porter, Rev. Joel Grant, Rev. Mr. Whiting, Rev. George Slosser, Rev. Alfred L. Riggs, Rev. H. C. Abernethy, Rev. Mr. Post, Rev. A. B. Brown, Rev. J. E. Storm, and Rev. S. I. McKee.

The Roman Catholic Society was organized here at the commencement of the building of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, and was at first attended by the priests in charge of the Joliet Mission. The first resident priest at Lockport was Father Dennis Ryan, and the first church was a small frame shanty, moved from Lemont, which, with some improvements, was used for a house of worship until 1877. In 1877, the elegant stone church was begun. When finished, this was the finest church in the city, and handsome ornament to the place. It cost about $25,000. The architects were Egan & Hill, of Chicago, and the stone was furnished by J. A. Boyer, of Lockport. Father Dorney was the priest in charge, and to his energetic efforts was the parish indebted for this magnificent church. This church is still a splendid edifice visible for miles because of its commanding position on the hill.

The City of Lockport is now a residential section for Joliet and Chicago. It has a large number of commuters for Chicago each day, people who find employment in schools, offices, and factories. Many others use the electric line to take them to Joliet for the various industries of that city. A good street car service is maintained. A bus line runs between the two cities and a concrete road makes it possible to pass back and forth quickly.

It has the Chicago and Alton Railroad connecting it with Chicago and all points south. It has the interurban electric line which is one of the few lines which has survived in the competition with busses and trucks. It is a flourishing institution and bids fair to continue for many years. The concrete road, Route 4 of the Illinois State Highway System, makes it possible to drive back and forth over good roads.

There are three large manufacturing industries in the city of Lockport. The Barrows Lock Company which has been located there for more than a quarter of a century. This firm has uniformly good business amounting to more than a quarter of a million dollars per year. It furnishes steady employment to many men at good wages. The Northern Illinois Cereal Company has been located in Lockport for fifteen years. It took over the plant of the Morton Flour Mills which could not compete with the larger concerns of the northwest where wheat was easily obtained. This cereal company is a prosperous concern. Its business amounts to more than half a million dollars per year. The Texas Company has a plant which covers half a section of land upon which they have storage tanks by the score, refining plants and all of the other equipment necessary for producing the various products from crude petroleum. The crude oil comes by a pipe line from Houston, Texas, and other points in the southwest. Large shipments are also received in tank cars. A business of this concern amounts to millions of dollars per year and reaches into many states. The Illinois and Michigan Canal office is still maintained in this city. While the old canal is no longer filled with water between Joliet and Chicago, below Joliet there is some traffic. The Lockport office manages all of the details of that institution.

Lockport has good paved roads. It is a city of beautiful homes, located upon the higher land above the valley.

The schools of Lockport are very good and consist of three grade schools and the township high school. The township high school takes care of about 190 students. It has a capacity for many more and will be able to take care of the increased attendance for another decade. The grade schools, three in number, the Lockport City Grade School which employs twelve teachers; the Taft School which is sometimes known as the South Lockport School employs eight teachers; and the Fairmont School employs eleven teachers. This last named school has a new building in the process of construction at the present time. The new structure includes a modern gymnasium with all of the modern equipment for that part of the school work. All of these schools are well managed by able school men.

Lockport Township High School was organized in the year 1908 and housed in a new $50,000 building, located on the block bordered by Jefferson, Madison, Twelfth and Thirteenth Streets. In the year 1911, there were 152 students in the building and the school graduated twenty students. The attendance gradually increased until it was deemed feasible to build a new addition to the original structure which cost in the neighborhood of $85,000. This addition was erected in 1925. Just prior to this, a sixteen acre athletic field had been purchased by the Board of Education and during the last year, the three tennis courts on that field have been paved. The attendance during the fall of 1928 has reached the mark of 270. Forty five seniors were graduated in the spring of 1928.

The school is a member of the North Central Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges and is accredited by the State Department, by the University of Illinois and also by the University of Chicago. A wide choice of subjects is offered to students in the academic, commercial, vocational, domestic science, music, and athletic departments. There is a band of forty five pieces and an orchestra of twenty four pieces. Two Girl Scout Troops are an integral part of the high school. The school has charters from the National Athletic Scholarship Society and from the National Honor Society. A school paper is published every month and a school annual at the end of the year.

The Board of Education is composed of Mr. H. A. Godfrey, president, who resides at Fairmount; Mr. Joseph Hyland, who is employed at the Northern Illinois Cereal Company; Mr. Murray Ladd, president of the Illinois Cereal Company; Gilbert Pierce, who owns and operates a farm, and Doctor Roblee, practicing physician in Lockport and Joliet.

James M. Smith, B. A., M. A., a graduate of the University of Chicago, is superintendent of the high school. He came to Lockport from Harvey in 1925. Mr. Smith served in France during the World War.


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