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

Wilton Township. - Of all of the interesting little nooks in Will County, Twelve Mile Grove is, without doubt, the most romantic. Not only on account of location has it this peculiar aspect, but associated with it, were it in our power to unearth it, is an ancient history of a sufficiently wild flavor for a poem like that of Hiawatha. Almost entirely secluded as they were from the rest of their race, with surroundings at once so beautiful and so well adapted to their style of life, we cannot but conceive that the wild people who dwelt here must in many respects have been peculiar. The little grove is said to have been one of the finest tracts of timber in Northern Illinois, and was full of deer, wild turkeys and other game, at the time of the earliest settlement by the whites. The fine little stream, a branch of Forked Creek, dividing the township diagonally into two almost exactly equal parts, flows over a rocky bed, along which the grove, on the other side, lies. On every side lies the open prairie, and in approaching the timber one is reminded of the little clumps of timber described by Eastern travelers as appearing on the Great Desert, toward which their anxious eyes and weary limbs ever turn for refreshing shelter and drink for themselves and thirsty animals. Formerly this feature was much more apparent than now, the adjacent prairie having long since been occupied and planted here and there by the early settlers, not only with fruit trees, but also with those of the forest, so that at present, the whole township presents the appearance of a succession of little groves. The land of Wilton Township is of varied quality and appearance, in some portions being very rich and productive, and in others quite the reverse; in some portions being very flat, and in others undulating. In some parts of the township stone of a good quality is found, which answers a good purpose for foundations for buildings, though it has been utilized to a limited extent for other purposes.

Wilton Township formerly embraced the township of Peotone, but was separated from it by order of the Board of Supervisors in 1858.

As before intimated, the township, or rather that portion still known as Twelve Mile Grove, was occupied by a small tribe of Indians. The grove was reserved by act of Congress, ratifying a treaty with these people, for their sole use and benefit; but, though they were not concerned in any way in the Black Hawk disturbance, or any other unfriendly or hostile act toward the whites, they removed from here the same year that saw the exodus of the hostile tribes. They simply abandoned their lands here, not because of any encroachments by the whites, nor because of their inability to hold the title to the land, but, perhaps, because they did not like the idea of being separated so far from others of their race.

From the best information in our possession, Joseph Lawton, one of the owners of the land, was a half breed; and, from him and others of the tribe of Ce-nag-e-wine, the land comprising the grove was bought, by James M. Kibbin, William T. Nelson and A. M. Wiley, ten or twelve years after the Indians had deserted it. A considerable portion of the land in the township was granted to the Illinois Central Railroad Company, and, from that company, bought by such settlers as came in after 1853. Samuel Hocum, who is usually accredited with being the first settler at the Grove, really affiliated with the Indians, and when they left here to reside at Council Bluffs, followed their fortunes thither. Hocum, whatever his character may have been, was, in one characteristic which distinguishes the civilized white from the uncivilized red man, of civilized proclivities, in that he lived in a house. It is said that he built the first cabin erected by white men in the township, and that it stood at the east end of the grove, on the farm later owned by Chauncey Clinton. The exodus of the Locums, the Lawtons and the other Indians, took place about 1835, at which date Abram Huyck came to the township and settled on Section 36, since and still called Luyck's Grove. For two years, the Luyck family were the only inhabitants of the township, and Twelve Mile Grove was deserted.

When the whites first began to settle here, many traces of the former occupants of the grove were yet visible. Among the most interesting of these, as illustrating their methods of sepulchre, were the tombs of three Indians, supposed, from the profusion of their decorations, to be chiefs. The sepulchre, or whatever it might be called, consisted of a little pen, built up of small sticks, laid one upon the other, to the height of about four feet, being from four to five feet square. The whole was covered with sticks, weighed down with heavy stones. And therein, on a kind of stool, sat the three "poor Loes," looking lonesome and ghastly enough. The cracks between the sticks composing the pens were sufficiently wide to admit of inspection, while being at the same time too small to allow of their being disturbed by wild animals. In this position, these ghastly remains sat in all of their feathers, beads, and jewelry, with the flesh decaying from their bones, for a number of years, till at length a foolish lad, who lived in the neighborhood, upset their charnal houses, scattering their bones about the surrounding country.

In 1837, three families from Canada came in and settled at the grove. These were Franklin Chamberlin, Oliver Chamberlin and James Adams. The Chamberlins were father and son. The Chamberlins built the first frame house. The timbers were "got out," hewed and prepared from the grove, and the boards were brought from Wilmington, where a sawmill had recently been built. Adams occupied the Hocum cabin. The Chamberlins remained here until 1845, when they removed to Black Oak, near Chicago.

If intelligence were necessary to "keep school" in those days, the Adams family must have been in that respect more than ordinary, as the first two terms taught in the township, in 1841 and 1842, were taught respectively by Lydia and Sallie Adams, daughters of James Adams. At about the last date named, the Mormons at Nauvoo were in all their glory. Missionaries were being sent to all parts of the country to enlighten the people on the peculiar doctrines of Joseph Smith, as revealed in the Book of Mormon; and among the places visited in this part of the state was Twelve Mile Grove. Their efforts here were not without success. The Adams family, having become fully established in the faith, sold out and removed to headquarters at Nauvoo. A few years later, when the conflict arose between the authorities of the state and the troops of Smith, which resulted in the death of that would be prophet, and the succession of Brigham Young to the prophet's position, most of the Mormons removed to Salt Lake. Among the faithful who followed the fortunes of Young to the new land of promise were Adams and his family. In crossing the plains among the hundreds of these people who perished was Lydia Adams. Sallie afterward became one of the wives of an influential and wealthy Mormon, and resided in that country. Several other converts were made to Mormonism in this neighborhood, some of whom still reside here, but repudiate the doctrine of plural marriages, cleaving to the faith as expounded by Joseph Smith, Jr.

Hiram Harvey and sons came to the township from Canada in 1841, stayed three years and then removed to Five Mile Grove, where they resided nearly four years, returning to Twelve Mile in 1848. Jabez Harvey, one of the best esteemed citizens of the township, went to California during the gold fever, and had returned by June, 1853, having in the meantime seen somewhat of the manner of dealing with outlaws in that country, at that time governed neither by the principles of law nor morals.

In 1846, Kibben, Nelson & Co., the new proprietors of the reservation, came to the Grove with a view to making improvements and selling out the land. The land was surveyed and offered for sale; and, there being no other timber near, coal not yet having been discovered in the county, and the railroad not yet having been projected, the people were greatly excited over the prospect of having the only source of fuel and lumber disposed of without a chance to obtain a piece; and as a consequence, land, which could later be bought for $20 per acre, brought $100. The proprietors who had bought the reservation for a trifle became rich men in a short time.

The Nelson family, of whom W. T., mentioned above, was a member, consisted of the father, John Nelson, and sons, W. T., S. G. and D. M. They came from Indiana to reside at the Grove in 1848. John Nelson had been, in the state of his former residence, one of the first citizens of the county in which he lived, and was honored with many positions of trust, among which was that of member of the Assembly of the state. Mr. Nelson died two or three years after his removal to this place.

Joseph Cook was the first blacksmith. Lis shop at first consisted of a bellows, anvil and a few hammers, and the broad branches of a tree were his only shelter.

A horse power sawmill was erected by Henry Stone, later of California, in 1850, but it ran but a short time, as the completion of the railroad brought lumber of a more desirable character to within a short distance. The first goods were sold in 1856 by J. Hopkins, at Wallingford. Lopkins did not continue in the business long, but sold out to S. G. Nelson. A store was started in Wilton Center in 1857, by Barret & Hersperger, and by them it was run for about three months, when they sold to Jabez Harvey, who continued the business without intermission or suspension for twenty years.

There were at one time three postoflices in the township. The first established was the one at Ingham's Hill, near the center of the township, and then removed to Wallingford. About 1856, a postoffice called Pierce was authorized at Huyck's Grove, and another at Wilton Center. Pierce Postoffice existed but a short time. The one at Wilton Center was somewhat irregular, until a few years ago when it became a permanent fixture.

In 1850, there were in the township, as then organized embracing, also, Peotone - about twenty five voters. The precinct, with the Grove as center for an indefinite area surrounding, was called Dallas. In the year named, howover, the commissioners of the county changed the name, giving the precinct a definite boundary, with supervisor and other township officers.

The first election was held April 2, 1850. Of this meeting, Henry Stone was elected moderator, and William T. Nelson, clerk pro team. Twenty six votes were cast, of which the following persons for the respective offices received majorities: William Dancer, supervisor; Horace Kelsey, clerk; James M. Kibbin, assessor; Joel O. Norton, collector; Hugh Kennedy, overseer of the poor; George Dancer, Samuel Hall and Alfred Warner, commissioners of highways; Samuel Wilson and Patrick Boyland, justices of the peace, and Edward Graham and John McGowan, constables.

In 1858, the eastern half of the precinct, now constituting Peotone Township, was, by order of the board of supervisors, set off as a separate township, and Wilton left with boundaries co-extensive with what we now find them.

Wilton Township is entirely rural at this writing (1928). A century ago it contained an Indian Village which was much larger than the usual town of that people. In the grove where Wallingford was established later, the natives met for conferences, for war dances and other social functions peculiar to that people. Here, too, they carried on what trade was demanded by their simple living. It was known as an important center over a large territory. Wallingford became a village with the store, blacksmith shop, cobbler's shop, postoffice, school and church, and a horse power sawmill. It had a promising future until railroads came in affording the needed transportation. Thus trade shifted to Manhattan. Wallingford passed, excepting in name.

Wilton Center established a store under Barret and Hersperger and in three months sold to Jabez Harvey. He served the community so well that his business prospered for many years. The postoffice maintained here was a help to the store. Then came better roads and rural delivery. The postoffice was abandoned by the Government. The store dwindled and ceased to be a center for the rural folks. The coming of automobiles completed the transformation, and the store has become a refreshment stand for tourists and a gasoline station for autoists. The churches, Baptist and Methodist, still stand, the school is well attended, and a half dozen homes remain. In 1926, a community hall was built by the people of the township. It is a commendable institution and serves as a gathering place for all of the people of the township. This hall has brought a community spirit which is doing much for all of the people. They learn to know each other and, because they know their neighbors, they like them. John Keniston has been a leader in this get together movement.

Route 22, of the Illinois State Highway System passes through Wilton Center. This affords a ready outlet for dairy and poultry products and these two industries are increasing rapidly. However, grain farming remains as the principal line for farmers.

The family names found in the preceding paragraphs in which the earliest history was recounted have disappeared. In their stead one finds descendants of Irish, German, and Scandinavian predominating. Truly, the pioneer was a restless being, ever seeking virgin soil and isolated regions.

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