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

Monee Township. - Among the number who emigrated to this county soon after the close of the troubles alluded to, were a number of families from Ohio. John S. Dilly, John M. Chase, S. W. Cooper, S. W. Gaines, Nicholas Young and Aaron Bone11, were the original and first settlers of Monee Township, and, like all early emigrants from the heavily timbered regions of the East, sought the neighborhood of the little groves, found here and there throughout this part of the state. All of these men, with their families, settled in the northeastern part of the township, in the vicinity of Thorn Grove. A notable feature of many pioneer settlements is the rough character of its members. Many early settlers have been people who, having been reduced in means and character in their original dwelling places, have fled to a strange and new country, in the hope of recuperating their fortunes, and either to run away from their characters or reform their doubtful habits. Then, too, in a new country, the restraining influences of church society, added to which may be counted that of the law, are much less felt than the older settled sections. But this settlement seems to have been a notable exception to the rule, every man of the primary settlement proving himself worthy of the name of a "good citizen." Indeed, one of the number bore the title of Parson, and as such ministered to the people in things spiritual, while he at the same time cultivated the soil.

John M. Chase is credited with building the first house in the township. Chase was a well to do farmer, and a man who enjoyed the confidence of his neighbors, as witnessed by his election to the office of justice of the peace and several other honors conferred upon him. Howover, he did not remain here long enough to merit the title of permanent resident, but sold out his improvements after a few years' residence and returned to Ohio.

In 1834, William Hollis Newton came from the State of New York.

Otis Phillips was also from New York, but came a year after Newton. He lived here several years and then removed to Wisconsin, where he has since died. He is, without doubt, entitled to the honor of being the pioneer educator, as he taught the first school established in this part of the grove. J. E. Phillips, later residing near the village of Monee, came from New York the next year - 1836 - and settled at Thorn Grove. He was a farmer, in moderate circumstances, but spent much of his time in hunting. Indeed, we may well believe that many of the early residents were wont to obtain a subsistence from the use of the rifle.

Thorn Grove, in the time of which we write, abounded with game of different kinds, and the tables of the early settlers were generously spread with meats that are now rare, and are only eaten as a luxury. And yet, while thus well supplied with venison, turkey, wild chickens and ducks, many articles of food, now common, were almost entirely dispensed with. Tea, coffee, most spices and sugar were obtainable at greater expense than many of them could afford, and home prepared substitutes took their places. Rye coffee, sassafras tea, and corn bread instead of wheaten, with mush and milk, constituted their fare. In the matter of clothing and furniture, their allowance and quality were still more primitive. Silks and broadcloths, furs and kids, were reserved for a later generation. There were no fine carpets on their puncheon floors, no expensive pictures on the walls or tapestry at the windows. Such luxuries were neither obtainable nor desired. The little marketing that was done required long journeys to the nearest stores; and goods of every kind, owing to slow and expensive transportation, were very dear.

The houses of the pioners were not stately or imposing structures, such as have more recently taken their places. A one story, one roomed log cabin was about the most stylish house in the neighborhood. In the construction of the first houses, there was not used a sawed board in the whole building, and, in some, not a single piece of iron, not even a nail. Wooden hinges and latches (with the string out) for doors, puncheons for floors, clapboards for roofs, and wooden pegs, on which to hang clothing, were some of the makeshifts to which they were obliged to resort.

The year 1837 was one of the worst in the financial history of the country, and especially of Illinois, that ever occurred; and for a time emigration to these parts was, in a measure, checked. Occasionally a new settler made his appearance. Guided, some by letters and others, as it were, by instinct, they dropped in from time to time, but not for several years after the earliest date mentioned did the township settle rapidly. At first, all the settlements were made in the edges of the timber, but when all of the land in the vicinity of the wooded portions had been occupied, shanties here and there on the prairie began to appear. By the year 1850, seventeen years after the first settler made his appearance, the following additional residents are noted: John S. Holland, Stephen, Jacob and James Goodenow; George, Emerson and Minet E. Baker; A. J. Smith, Eugene Lashley, August Klien and Simeon Abbott. Of these, some are dead, some have removed further west or returned to their native states, and some are still residents of the township.

Stephen Goodenow and brothers (Jacob and James) were from the several states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Indiana, and came to this part of the country about 1845. George and Franklin Goodenow, relatives of the above, settled in the adjoining township, the former of whom is proprietor of the town of Goodenow, on the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad.

As before intimated, the first land occupied was that in the eastern portion of the township, in the vicinity of Thorn Grove. In 1854, however, the Illinois Central Railroad was completed, and a station being established in the western part, on that line of road, improvements began to be made in that neighborhood. Since that date, the west side of the township has taken the lead in population. By an act of Congress, each alternate section of land in this and other township through which this railroad passes (excepting lands already entered, the school section and the "reservation") was transferred to the Illinois Central Railroad Company to assist in building the road. In transferring the land to the company, the price of the remaining Government land was raised to $2.50 per acre, being double its former price, and at that price nearly one third of the land was purchased by settlers. The lands occupied by settlers prior to the road was bought at $1.25 per acre, and that from the Railroad Company from $2.50 to $10.00, according to location and date of purchase. The Indian reservation, sometimes called Coon Grove, consisted of about three fourths of Sections 28, 29, 32 and 33. This land had been deeded by treaty to a small family or tribe of Indians, and by them was held until a comparatively recent date, when it was put upon the market by their agent, Henry M. Ward, and sold to different parties who now occupy it. The ancient aborigines, to whom the land belonged, had long since removed from this part of the country.

As before intimated, the first school was taught at the "Grove" by Otis Phillips. Like the township records, the school records of the township have been lost, and nothing positive can be stated in regard to this school except that it was in a little cabin owned by Mr. Phillips, the teacher. The date was, no doubt, about 1836. All schools in the State of Illinois at that date were supported by private means, and of course, this was a subscription school. It is further remembered that Mr. Phillips was not only a good teacher, but a good man and well worthy of the title of "pioneer schoolmaster."

The year 1853 was an eventful one for this section of the state, which had, prior to that time, been without commercial privileges, except as carried on by means of wagons with Chicago. The enterprise of building a railroad through this part of the state had long been talked of, and some legislation had resulted therefrom; though but few realized the importance of the scheme until the road was completed.

The village of Monee was laid out by Henry M. Ward, for August Herbert, in 1853. August Herbert was in the Mexican war, and being honorably discharged at the close, he was given a warrant entitling him to 160 acres of the unoccupied Government land, wherever he might choose to locate. So, in 1849, he found his way to this township, and located the southeast quarter of Section 21. When the railroad was located though it did not run through Herbert's land, it ran so close that his land became available as a part of the town site. He therefore sold to the railroad company forty acres; and this, together with what Herbert laid out, embraces the principal part of the village. In 1853, Herbert built the first house in the village. He also built in partnership with others a warehouse; built a storehouse and opened a general store, in which he continued until about two years ago, when he removed to Grant Park. Though Herbert erected the first building (later a portion of Kettering's Hotel), a house had been brought by Simeon Abbott, from the southern part of the township, which was used by the employes of the railroad company as a lodging house. This house occupied one of the most prominent corners in the village, and was used by Messrs. Sonneborn & Son for a tailoring establishment. Mr. Abbott lived in the house for a time, and then removed to Iowa, where his descendants still live. The first store building was erected in 1853, by O. B. Dutton, the same later being in use by August Schiffer. Among the other early residents of the village were Adam Vatter, Bronson Wiley and Theodore Wernigk. Of these, Vatter was a carpenter, who gave most of his attention to the erection of churches; and nearly all of the German churches in this, Greengarde, Peotone and Crete Townships are works of his.

Wiley was the first blacksmith, and Wernigk was the first physician. Laban Easterbrooks is also one of the oldest residents, having resided in the village for twenty one years. " 'Squire Brooks," as he was familiarly called, was a native of Rhode Island, and always enjoyed the friendship and business relations of Gen. Burnside, of that State. Mr. Easterbrooks was a carpenter, and Burnside was cashier of the Land Department of the Illinois Central Railroad; and, through that relation, came to possess large tracts of land in the township of Greengarden. The General, having been acquainted with the 'Squire, and wishing some improvements made on his land, employed him to look after his estate, have it fenced and build houses on the same.

The post office was established here in 1853, with O. B. Dutton as Postmaster.

Monee Township together with the village of Monee have prospered from the first and at this writing there is no indication of any decay. The township lies on both sides of the Illinois Central Railroad which crosses it from northeast to southwest. This railroad is perhaps the most prosperous of any in the United States. This prosperity is attributable to the Panama Canal which has shifted transportation from an easterly and westerly direction to a northerly and southerly direction. One indication of the success of this railroad is found in the fact that in the year 1924 and 1925 they expended one and one half million dollars in Will County alone.

The farm land of Monee Township is inferior to that of the township east and west of it. The village of Monee is the highest point on the Illinois Central Railroad. This indicates an elevation which exceeds that of the surrounding areas. The soil is heavy clay loam which holds the moisture in the Spring longer than most soil and retards the planting of the crops. This late planting together with the nature of the soil sometimes hinders raising a good crop. The extreme western edge as well as the extreme eastern edge have more black soil and get better results. Dairying is now the chief industry with the farmers. They find a ready market at their gates because trucks gather up their products each day for the Chicago market.

The village of Monee contains four stores dealing in general merchandise. Three of these are owned and operated by men whose families are as old as the town itself. These three are: Sonneborn Brothers, August Plagge, and George S Miller. The fourth one is a newcomer in the village but not in the township. This is Romeo Illgen. Two hardware stores are founded in the village, F. D. Homan and R. Merker. John Conrad sells farm implements far and wide and Emery Woeltje runs a garage. The Monee Grain and Lumber Company is a prosperous firm doing a large business.

The prosperity of the town is indicated by the fact that they have two prosperous banks. The Eastern Will County State Bank and the Mokena State Bank.

The Chicago and Interurban Traction Company maintain a line from Blue Island through Harvey, Chicago Heights, Steger, Crete, Monee, Peotone, and on to Kankakee. This company struggled along until 1927 when the road was sold for junk, pulled up and hauled away. Thus it is that the onward march of inventions spoils the best laid plans of men.

This year a concrete road forty feet wide is under construction, parallel to the Illinois Central Railroad. The plans are to complete it this year (1928). The width of the road indicates the faith of the State Engineers who believe that it will become the most used highway north and south. The Illinois Central Railroad maintains an electric suburban service as far as Ritchey. Monee and Peotone hope to have it soon. This suburban service together with the concrete road should mean rapid growth for this town.

Dr. C. O. Sullivan takes care of the health of the people. Rev. A. B. Gaebe looks after their spiritual welfare in the Evangelical Church which is a splendid edifice with a large congregation. Rev. Gaebe serves them unusually well.

The school is a four room building of brick built twenty five years ago. It has modern conveniences and the pupils are well cared for. Three teachers look after the grades and one teacher looks after the two year high school which has about twenty five students. These high school students finish the four year course at Harvey, or at Chicago Heights, or at Kankakee. Mr. J. D. Knater is Principal. Mrs. Knater teaches the high school and the Misses Lehmann look after the lower grades.


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