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

Washington Township. - This township is situated in the extreme southeastern part of the county, and is the most distant from the county seat of any township, being from its center, in a direct line from Joliet, twenty seven miles and by rail not less than thirty five. Since the division of Reed Township, this is one of the two greatest in area in the county, including within its limits all of Congressional Town 33 north and 14 east, and about one fourth of Range 15. The township presents more than an ordinary variety of soil and surface, being in some portions quite flat and in others rolling; in some portions a deep, rich soil, and in others lacking in this character. It is watered by the small stream which drains Eagle Lake, which also furnishes stock water for the northeastern, central and southwestern parts. Eagle Lake, formerly much larger than at present, covers an area of a quarter of Section 7, and the swamp adjacent, nearly all of this and Section 18. Before the work of draining the lake was begun, hundreds of bushels of cranberries were annually produced and gathered here, but now this industry is destroyed.

The Chicago, Danville & Vincennes Railroad passes through the western part, furnishing an outlet for its products and a means of communication with other parts of the country. Prior to the completion of this line, most of the marketing was hauled direct to Chicago, or shipped by the Illinois Central at Peotone or Monee. Most of the land in this township, being outside of the Illinois Central limits, was sold to original settlers or to speculators for $1.25 per acre, and was occupied within a period ending about 1857.

The first settler in the township was a man of the name of Jesse Dutcher. But little is known as to whence he came or whither he went; but, in 1851, he was found here occupying some land a couple of miles north of Washington Center. The line running through the Center, and continuing through Crete, and thence to Chicago, with its southern terminus at Vincennes, Ind., was the main traveled road between these two extremes, and was one of the most used thoroughfares in the State. Marketing of all kinds was hauled from Vincennes and all intermediate points by way of this road to Chicago. As a consequence, little settlements sprang up all along the line, and at short distances, houses for the accommodation of the traveler and teamster, and for the profit of the owners, were opened. These houses were scarcely deserving of the name of hotel or tavern, but were owned by parties who were opening farms, and having built cabins of more than ordinary size, established this species of lodging house in connection with their farming operations. Such an establishment was Dutcher keeping at the time remembered by the earliest settler, in 1851, and for two or three years later. How long he had been there, we are unable to say; but those who saw him there at the date named, judging from the looks of his house and other improvements, credit him with a half dozen years' previous residence. Dutcher was also a preacher, and, as now remembered, was of the Methodist persuasion.

Along this general highway other habitations sprung up in due time, and the "big road" settlement was distinct for many miles up and down its course. Among these were John Rose, William Strain and Joseph Maxwell. John Rose was probably the third settler in the township, and is almost entitled to the credit of being the first, as the settlements previously named could scarcely be called permanent. Certain it is that the Rose family is now the oldest family in the bounds of Washington Township. Mr. Rose was a native of Ireland, and came to this part of the country in 1851. He settled on the west side of Section 3, which, it will be noticed, is near the line of the former "big road." John Rose died in 1858.

William Strain was also a native of Ireland. He came to this place in 1852.

Joseph Maxwell came from Ohio with T. L. Miller, and still resides here.

Philip Nolan was also one of the earliest settlers in this part of the township. Nolan had lived in Chicago a couple of years before removing to this vicinity in 1851. Joseph White was one of the prominent men of the early times in this neighborhood, though his residence here was but brief, extending from the year 1854 till about 1858. It was at his house, on the Dutcher farm, that the first township election was held, in 1856; and at this election he was chosen one of the first Justices of the Peace. After the exodus of Dutcher, White installed himself as landlord and farmer, and continued here until 1858, when he removed to Indiana.

While these settlements were being made, another, known at the time as "The Settlement," was being made in the northeast corner of the township, in the vicinity of Eagle Lake. Among the first settlers in that neighborhood were Henry Bahlman, Peter Bohse, Andrew Carstensen, Pade Kruse, Charles Fuller and William Bliss, most of whom have since removed to other places.

By 1856, farms were also being opened in the southern and western parts of the township. The Germans, who are now more than half owners of the township, were beginning to arrive; and by the year last named, there were about twenty additional families, among whom are remembered; Rensellaer and Edwin C. Richards, W. and C. Lyon, Joseph Irish, Horace Morrison, William and M. Watkins, Richard Lightbown, Isaiah and Stephen Goodenow, Robert and David Dunbar, John B. Bowes, John Miers, Peter Dohse, H. Spanler, John Tatmire and Aaron and Miles Johnson. The township was yet a part of Crete, and voted and transacted all political business with that precinct. In the year mentioned, however, a move was made toward establishing this as a separate precinct. A petition was prepared and presented to the Board of Supervisors; and no good reason appearing to the contrary, an election for the purpose of organization and for selecting township officers was by them ordered to take place on the 1st Tuesday of April, 1856. As has been stated, the election was held at the house of Joseph White, and the record which is still extant indicates that there were thirty voters present.

The oldest organized church in the township is St. John's Evangelical Lutheran, near Eagle Lake. This organization was accomplished in 1850; but, as has already been stated, there were not more than two families resident in Washington Township, and they, as has been intimated being of other belief; in regard to religious matters, it will be surmised that the organization could not have been effected here. The church was at first established a mile north of its present location, in the township of Crete. A building for religious and educational purposes was erected there at the date named, and church and school were kept open there until 1864. Rev. Gustav Pollack was the organizer of the enterprise, and was Pastor for fifteen years. In 1864, it having been determined to build a new house of worship, a new location was selected for the same, though school has been kept open at the old site till the present time.

St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church, located a mile northwest of Beecher, was organized in the Spring of 1865, by Rev. Gustav Pollack, who had been preaching in this vicinity.

St. John's German United Evangelical Church, located two miles southeast of Beecher, was established and an organization effected in 1864. Rev. Peter Lehman had been preaching in the vicinity for a year before, and organized the society at the date named, with a membership of forty families. After the Church had been established, Rev. Philip Albert was installed as Pastor, and acted as such for two years.

The Congregational Church, at the village of Beecher, was organized January, 1872, the house of worship having been erected the year before. The original members were eight in number.

Doubtless, the most interesting industry, and at the same time one which has given the little village of Beecher a reputation co-extensive with the whole country, is the breeding of fine stock, as carried on by T. L. Miller, Esq., of this place.

Mr. Miller came to this place in 1852, and located land, preparatory to embarking in the gigantic enterprise in which he is now engaged. He did not, however, begin operations until 1861, in the mean time engaging in other business in Chicago. In the year last named, he removed to this place, and from that time till 1870 engaged in the cattle business in a small way, and with no definite idea of future plans or prospects. During all this time, however, he carried on an extensive correspondence, and conducted a thorough course of investigation and experiment, so that in 1870, his mind was fully made up, and his future plans fully mapped out. Then began the great work that has not only proved to be one of the most extensive in the United States, but which led to a grand success. After a careful study and minute consideration, he decided, much against the then popular opinion of the leading cattle men of this country, to adopt the Hereford breed. The Durham cattle had for years been accorded, by breeders of this country and the landed gentry of England, the first place as beef producing cattle. For nearly a century the short horn breeds had held the prestige, though the Herefords were accredited with being good stock. A few feeble attempts had been made in this country, prior to the inauguration of Mr. Miller's enterprise, to introduce the stock; but the great character of the competing herds already attained so overshadowed them that their efforts in this direction were almost lost sight of. When, therefore, Mr. Miller announced his intention of breeding the Hereford stock, he was not looked upon as a competitor, but was regarded with feelings akin to pity. Even his warmest friends could not but feel apprehensive of his ultimate failure; and, perhaps, no one but himself discerned the grand success with which his efforts have been crowned. After awhile, however, he began to be recognized as a competitor; and since that time, he fought his way, foot by foot, until, if his cattle do not stand pre eminent, they at least bear the reputation of equal merit with any herd or breed in the world. When it is considered that all of this change in sentiment, in the face of such gigantic opposition, during a time of such severe financial depression, has been wrought almost by one man, we come either to one or the other of two conclusions: that the character of stock which Mr. Miller handles must be of a superior quality, or that he is a man of much more than ordinary courage, good management and pluck. Perhaps it would not be incorrect to credit the enterprise with both of these advantages.

Beecher. - T. L. Miller had begun his fine stock enterprise, secured the location of a station here, and laid out and named the new town. Thenceforward the growth of the Center was checked, and the station became the point, from which improvements have widened until the village of Beecher has not only over shadowed the Center, but by building out toward it, has nearly enveloped it in itself. Beecher was laid out in 1870 by George Dolton, for T. L. Miller, and commenced at once to build up, and develop a trade which compares favorably, at this time, with towns three times as old. As we have seen, Metterhausen opened the first store in the village, in what proves to have been the second building erected, and which also proves to have been the first store building. Metterhausen had been a teacher in the Lutheran school.

James Burns built the first house - a dwelling - and sold lumber for a few months and then removed to Michigan, from whence he had come.

Shortly after this, Henry Bielfeldt built and opened a hotel. Carl Melow moved his blacksmith shop from the Corners in 1871, and Rudolph Fecht opened a furniture store. Fred Schmidt built a second hotel, and John R. Miller moved the old dancing hall from the Corners and put in a second stock of goods. William Struve, formerly of Monee, followed Burns in the lumber and coal business. By and by the post office was removed from the Corners to Metterhausen's, and he was appointed postmaster. Elliot Miller, son of T. L. Miller and now partner in the firm of L. Gould & Co., of Chicago, was appointed first station agent. About this time, T. L. Miller built the first warehouse, and Henry Block commenced buying grain, eventually buying the warehouse and continuing the business until the present. The period extending from 1870 to 1873, was a lively one for this vicinity. The sounds of the ax, hammer and saw were heard in all directions, new comers were arriving almost daily, and, by the end of the period named, the village had grown in size and importance to proportions hardly expected by its most enthusiastic friends.

Eagle Lake is a little village in the northeast part of the township. It derived its name from a lake of the same name which no longer is there, the water having been drained out forty five years ago. In its place is farming land of unusual fertility, with a deep soil rich in humus. The village contains about one dozen houses, most of which are occupied. The store, the post office and the saloon ceased years ago. The church and the school, public and parochial, survive.

Washington Township did not see permanent settlers until 1851. It has made more progress since then than most of the townships in the development of agriculture, transportation and in the business interests of the town of Beecher.

This was one of the towns which had very little drainage and much of the land was flat and low and appeared too wet for farming when the first settlers came. Drainage has made it possible to cultivate all of the land. The soil is fertile and yields good crops of grain. In the last decade the farmers have devoted themselves very largely to dairying. The Dixie Highway which runs through this township from North to South was a great incentive in this work. Large trucks gather the milk each day, thus making it unnecessary for farmers to haul it very far. A good stone road crosses the township from East to West on the central line. Two other roads from the East connect with the Dixie Highway. There three hard roads give the farmers easy access to the permanent concrete road. The village of Beecher contains a bottling plant which takes care of large quantities of milk each day and ships it out for consumption in other cities both North and South. The farmers are progressive in every way. Washington Township usually takes the lead in the number of members in the Will County Farm Bureau. They apply the latest methods in maintaining the productiveness of the soil.

The city of Beecher prospers in all the lines of business found there. The town is well kept with good stores, good homes with well kept lawns and is a good place to live. We enumerate the business establishments because that it is a quick way to show what the business it: General Merchandise, Stade Bros., and Storch & Stelling; Dry Goods, George A. Batterman; Meats, W. F. Myrick; Garages, C Bockelman and Henry Wehmhoefer. Two soft drink establishments, Chas. Stadt and Westenfeldt & Thornau; Elevator, Wm. Warner; Hardware, Emil Koch; Lumber, Ruge & Rehn. Two doctors take care of the health of the people, Dr. M. R. Miley and Dr. Van Voorhis and John Wehrley sells what drugs they need together with soft drinks; Wm. Paul looks after the beauty of the community and sells them jewelry. Rev. Wm. H. L. Schultz is the pastor of the Evangelical Church which is a prosperous organization. There is a large number of families in the congregation.

The city of Beecher maintains water works which are very effective and a Police Department which renders good service. A community hall has been arranged for by a vote of the people and plans are under way for the same.

Beecher has always maintained good public schools. The building is a two story brick structure which houses the grade school and a three year High School. Supt. H. A. Mayhue has charge of all of the schools. The three year High School is well attended by the students of the district and those that come from the surrounding rural section. The fourth year is usually taken at Chicago Heights. The students have good records in the Chicago Heights High School. The parochial school is maintained in connection with the Evangelical Church. Two teachers are employed. They are capable and use the best modern methods in their institution. The eighth grade students take the final examination which is given by the County Superintendent of Schools and always acquit themselves with credit.


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