Peotone Township

Managing Change from the Ground Up, 8212 Kennedy, Peotone, Illinois 60468
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History of Peotone Township

Reprinted from History of Will County Illinois, Volume I, by August Maue - Pages 317 – 328.  Historical Publishing Company - copyright 1928

Peotone Township – In 1850, when the Township of Wilton was formed, Town 33, Range 11 or what is now known as Peotone, contained only two voters, and it was,therefore necessary to include it with some other township, and as Wilton was already pretty well settled, it was concluded to embrace within its limits the two Congressional towns.  It was not until 1858 that the voting population of this section was considered sufficiently strong for separate organization.

During a period embraced between the years 1849 and 1858, about twenty-five families came to the township, most of whom became permanent settlers.  Many of these, however, settled during the years 1855 to1858.  The most of the earliest settlers selected the little streams which flows through the township from the northeast to the southwest, and is a branch of Forked Creek.

In 1859, when some settlements had been already made in every adjoining township except Will, this locality was but just beginning to come into notice.  The first actual settlers were Daniel B. Booth and James Allen, from Massachusetts.  These two men made the first improvements in the township.  Both located on the land later owned by Samuel Goodspeed, having entered only half of the Section 19 and 30, through which, it will be notice, Forked Creek runs.  While Booth remained, he gave most of this attention to butter-making.  It had not become generally understood that this land was well adapted for agricultural purposes, and Booth’s idea seems to have been that in pasturage was its principal value; and when he found this dairy business a failure, he resolved to dispose of his interest and remove to a more congenial clime.  From here he removed to Joliet, in 1855, and from thence to Texas, where he has since died.  Allen seems also to have been dissatisfied with the country, as he stayed but a few years, and returned to the East.

These two men could scarcely be deemed permanent settlers, and hardly deserving of that credit.  The year 1855 is, in reality, the year from which the real prosperity and substantial settlement of the township dates.  In that year, Ralph Crawford, Samuel Goodspeed, and the Cowing brothers came in and made improvements which have not only proved substantial, but which have increased in number and value.  These men, too, have stuck to the township, borne its burdens, and shared in its trials and all of its enterprises.

Crawford had really been in the township the year before, had bought his land, done some breaking, and made other improvements.

John C. and James H. Cowing were amongst the most substantial inhabitants of this vicinity.  They had also been in the state some years, but were originally from New Hampshire.

  1. Armstrong, now of Peotone, came with Goodrich as a laborer, and entered some land, but gave it up and removed to the village. The next year, 1856, Arnold Tobias and Cornelius Fahs, Moses Wright, Milton Smith and James F. Johnson made their advent.The Fahs brothers were from Maryland, Wright from New York, and Smith and Johnson were from Michigan.

George Reynolds and William w. Kelly settled here in 1857, the former coming from New York and latter from Boston.  Both Reynolds and Kelly have since moved to Chicago.  The above, with Thomas Lockey, Smith Shaw and William P. Benn, are all that are now remembered, who became permanent residents before 1858, at which date the village of Peotone commenced to grow.  From that date, nearly all of the land not held by the Illinois Central Railroad had been occupied by actual settlers or bought by speculators.  It was at that date that a move was made looking toward the separate organization of the eastern half of Wilton Precinct into a separate township.  The usual formalities of signing and presenting a petition to the county board having been observed, and an order from that body having been obtained, the first annual township meeting was appointed from April 6, 1858.  At this meeting, Samuel Goodspeed was elected moderator, and George Reynolds, clerk pro tem.  The oath was administered to the officers in charge of the election by Richard Constable, a justice of the peace, of Wilton.  The result of the ballot was the election of Moses Wright, supervisor; George Reynolds, clerk; Moses Wright, assessor; William W. Kelly, collector; James H. Cowing, overseer of the poor; Milton Smith, James F. Johnson and John C. Cowing, commissioners of highways; Cornelius Fahs and Ralph Crawford, justices of the peace; and James Fahs and James H. Cowing, constables.  At that date there were in the township 25 voters.

In 1858, every township in Will County had established schools except Peotone. This was, previous to that date, entirely destitute of school accommodations.  There were a few children sent to the township of Wilton, where schools had been in operation for eight to ten years; but the distance was so great that only during the finest weather could they be made available.  A year after the organization of the township, however, a movement was made toward putting in operation the means for establishing schools in the midst of the settlements with in the bounds of the Peotone Township.  On the 28th of February, 1859, the voters of the township met at the house of J. F. Johnson and elected Samuel Goodspeed, A. H. Fahs and Tobias Fahs, school trustees; and by the trustees, Ralph Crawford was elected treasurer, which office he held for the next fourteen years. At the meeting just mentioned, the trustees divided the township into four school districts.  Two of these, the one in the Goodspeed neighborhood, and the other at the station, which was attracting settlers, built houses and opened school the same year. The next year, the Third, and next the Fourth Districts established schools and built houses.  Both of the first schoolhouses are still in use – the one for the purpose for which it was erected, the other, with some additions, doing duty as a church.  By 1866, the number of districts were increased to six, and in all except one were school-buildings.  At that time, which was seven years after the first steps were taken to establish the system in the township; there were 453 persons under 21 years of age, 301 of whom were entitled to the benefits of the common-school system, being between the ages of 6 and 21 years.  Of these, 248 were reported as having attended school the previous year.  The people of the township were at that time making up for lost time, 246 persons out of 301 being a large proportion for a newly-formed township.  Another seven years, we find, increased the number of enrolled scholars to 366, out of 398, entitled to school privileges.

The Township of Peotone did not settle early.  It was prairie land which did not yield readily to the plows which the farmers had at that time.  Water for the stock as well as for the families’ use was not easy to obtain.  Therefore people were slow to take up the land.  However at this time the township is one of the leading ones in the county. The farm land has been well drained where it was necessary by the organization of drainage districts which made it a community project.  These waterways are kept in good condition and serve their purpose well.  Much of the farming is given over to the raising of grain.  The land is fertile and yields good crops.  During the last four years dairying has become more important because the trucks gather the milk and thus furnish an easy market.  Good roads are coming into the township rapidly and this will help in this development.

The city of Peotone is the most prosperous perhaps outside of Joliet.  The merchants are energetic and up to date in every way.  The general merchandise stores are maintained by H. A. Frahm, Arnold Harken & Company, Harry Conrad, Duwe and Schroeder.  A confectionery store is operated by Cavallini and Parenti.  John Conrad’s Sons maintain a hardware store which is as good as any in the county with a complete stock which is always up to date.  Two grain companies are in the city – the Farmers’ Grain Company and the Esson & Barbour.  The Continental Bridge Company is the manufacturing establishment in the city.  It is a prosperous concern employing sixty men. Two banks are maintained, the Bank of Peotone and the Citizens State Bank.  Both of these establishments are prosperous and have the confidence of the people.  Dr. F. B. Daugherty is the dentist who has an office in the city.  Dr. Frank A. Holzhauer looks after the health of the people and D. V. Knowlton sells drugs.

The schools in Peotone have kept faith constantly with the improvement of the city.  They have maintained a good grade school system and a four-year high school which is attended by large numbers from the rural schools around the city.  In March, 1928, the school building was destroyed by fire just before the Board of Education was ready to accept the addition to the high school.  After the fire it was found that they could salvage more than half of the new addition.  The board immediately took steps to rebuild, changing the plans so that the grade school part is adjusted to the high school building.  The entire new building will be ready for use about November, 1928.  It is modern in every detail and provides the latest equipment for both grades and high school.  Mr. A. R. Evans is the superintendent in charge.

The churches of the community have been maintained through the years.  The attendance is good and the support in a financial way is always liberal.

For a number of years the city and the surrounding country have maintained a fair for exhibiting live stock, machinery, and the various products of the farm.  The premium list is liberal and covers all details.  It is always well attended and is an established institution which does much to upbuild the agriculture of the surrounding territory.

This interesting account of “Way Back” is contributed by the Peotone Vedette for February 23, 1928:

“One September morning in 1861 an elderly man in a top-buggy, who for more than twenty years was a resident of West Peotone, and the writer then a boy of about nine years, left the hamlet of Bloom (only a hamlet then, Chicago Heights now), and drove south through Crete and down over the prairie east of Monee Grove looking for a station on the I. C. Railway called ‘Peotone’.  We failed to discover it either on the prairie or on the horizon.  However, over to the west we could see a string of little freight cars of all colors, red, yellow, green, etc., being drawn southward by an engine with a funnel shaped smokestack.  By and by the smoke rose straight up near what looked like it might be an elevator.  It was.  When we came nearer we could see six or eight buildings strung along the railroad about half a mile from north to south.  The Laidaw place at the north end of D. L. Christian’s place at the south, and in between was the two story station house on the west side of the tract (not tracks), the store of V. L. Morey, the shanty saloon of Johnny Higgins, then a block away another Morey brother lived in a house where Mrs. Lockie now lives, and across the road from that west the two story smithshop where ‘Col.’ Fahs blacksmithed, and lived upstairs.  He looked the part of the ‘Village Blacksmith’ (all but the spreading chestnut tree), being a brawny man with a big gray beard, and he did everything in ironwork.  The schoolhouse on the lot it now occupies, completes the picture.

“From the east the open prairie came to the railroad track.  Wagon trails led off easterly in various directions.  West of the railroad the prairie came right up to the store and houses which have been mentioned.  Towards the west two or three trails led off in different directions.  The first house to the southwest was the Robert Rains place three miles out.  The next, two or three miles further.  Northwest the Beards, the Palmers and the two or three settlers were a bit nearer.  The only schoolhouse in West Peotone was five miles out, and was called the Ralph Crawford School and he lived a half mile away.  That schoolhouse was 14x28, not plastered but lined with thin matched boards.  The coal house was over by the hedge and had neither roof, sides, nor floor.  Some of the children came two and three miles.

“The station house at Peotone was combined passenger, freight, and residence. The telegraph instrument recorded the messages on paper tape.  In the winter of 1861-62 the building burned down.  The agent was a nice young fellow.  He had brought a bride from Louisville, Ky., not long before.  The writer was vastly concerned to hear that all her silverware had melted down with the house.  She was a lovely young lady and certainly shone while she remained in Peotone, but she did not let her man stay there long.  She gave the writer’s mother the first egg plants he ever saw and full directions for preparing them for the table, but they did not make a hit with him.

“In 1861, the deer and wolves were not all gone.  The first deer I ever saw was a doe about eighty rods distant, with two fawns trailing after her and I did not know what they were.  I have seen a wolf gnawing at a dead horse in broad daylight in a swail about twenty rods west of where the residence of the late M. Collins stood later.  Mr. Collins had not yet arrived to become the station agent.  Timber wolves came down from Monee Grove and the woods of Northern Indiana.  I know, for I have shot at them, big fellows, the size of a police dog, and they were not like the cowardly prairie wolf.  They continued to come occasionally for several years.  They were not panicky when shot at but just loped away like it was of no consequence.

“The rattlesnakes were not all gone either and now and then we killed on in the school yard.

“Morey’s store was the city emporium.  Upstairs Freddie tinkled away on the only piano in these parts.  Freddie was a nice, pretty boy and afterwards went to Germany to study music and finally came back a handsome hard boiled young man.

“Out west of ‘town’ a couple of miles Layton Palmer had a flock of several hundred sheep.  He pastured then on the prairie this side of the creek.  A big boy was sheep herder by day, and tight board fence enclosed the yard just this side of the creek, and by it a pole 16 or 20 feet high with a seat at the top was for a man to sit on with a gun to watch by night.  The pole was there a long time after the sheep and the yard had gone. Palmer had a great fancy for a trotting horse.  Sitting in a high wheel sulky, his whiskers waving in the summer breeze he would push a gray “hoss” around a track he had laid out in the prairie not far from the sheep yard, with all the enthusiasm of a veteran trainer. He was a good old sport but the I. C. Express finally got him at a town crossing.   

“In the summer in those first years the prairie was like a flower garden.  Sweet Williams, buttercups in the low grounds, star flowers, shoestring lavender plumes, many varieties of sunflowers large and small, bluebells, two kinds of tall rosin stalks with spikes of yellow flowers, red tufts of flowers on a rather coarse plant, and hidden down under the long grasses little modest blossoms white and cheerful looking, wild roses everywhere, water lilies and other flowering plants in the ponds, scarlet blooms that blazed out of the pools in the creeks and many other flowers whose very names I have forgotten gave color and charm to the landscape.  Only the wild roses in some unswept corner of the fields or by some neglected roadside and now and then a bluebell in the shelter or a hedge or some little flower that has escaped the civilizing plow of man, still continue to lift their sunny faces to those who once delighted in the glory of them and their sisters.  Where Peotone now stands in urban pride the soft airs of the summer evening once wafted the faint perfumes of God’s broad fields of beauty.  Now the scent of the lowly cabbage boiling in the kitchen dinner pot welcomes the laborer as he treks homeward from his day’s toil.  Such is civilization.

“Bird life on the prairie was abundant.  In the fall clouds of ducks would rise from the cornfields with a thunderous boom.  In the spring the hopeful sound of the crowing prairie chickens filled the early morning air.  Some wise fellows have claimed that the prairie rooster did not ‘drum’ with his feet as did some species of partridge.  But sitting on horseback I have seen them strutting about with their head plumage erected, take a little run, drum the ground with their feet, stretch out their necks and crow, all in one performance, the whole flock only a few rods away.  I have had a prairie hen stick to her nest as I plowed past her up and down the field until I had to turn the plow to avoid running over her.  How they preserved their lives on the open prairie, with their little ones, from predatory animals, only the Creator who made them scentless and inconspicuous at such time could be fully cognizant. 

“Christmas time, 1863, a fierce blizzard swept over the whole West.  Cattle froze to death in the half protected yards.  Men froze on the prairie.  Children stayed all night in the country school.  Our soldier boys down south suffered severely.  It lasted a week. The following August we has a tremendous rainstorm one afternoon and night which flooded the streams and swept every bridge away.  Out southwest of town the farmers’ cattle were caught on the wrong side of the river-like creek.  Next morning a bunch of farmers sat on their horses looking across the stream wondering how they were going to get their cows home.  By and by, a ten-year old Scotch girl came riding down the road on a gray stallion work horse, rode him straight into the water, swam across twenty-five or thirty rods of it, drove the cows in and brought them across while the farmers sat on their horses and looked at her do it.  She learned to swim in old Scotland on the North Sea and was not afraid of water.  We she grew up the writer married her.” – Auldays.

The Peotone Vedette for July 14, 1928, contributes this interesting story of Civil war days.  It has not been published before and adds much to our own history as well as to the history of the nation:

“Late in 1864 the number of men volunteering to serve in the Union armies was rapidly declining and the Government at Washington decided to resort to the draft.  It was generally believed throughout the North that the Union cause would eventually win, but the Confederate forces were fighting tenaciously and in many ways they had the advantage because they were fighting on their ho9m soil and were nearer their bases of supplies.

“In may parts of the North there was a great deal of disloyalty and out-and-out opposition to the drafting of men for the Union armies.  In New York and other cities there were serious riots.  The Northern morale was at a low ebb and the future appeared dark indeed to thousands of citizens who had sacrificed much to aid the Union cause. 

“Such was the situation when the citizens of the pioneer township of Peotone were informed that the draft would be put in operation unless the township furnished six volunteers.  At that time, Peotone had 34 registered voters.  Practically every available man had volunteered for military service and no one knew where the six men could be found.

“At a meeting of the citizens it was decided to bond the town for $4000.00, the money to be used for ‘bounties’ to be paid to men who would volunteer.  No one seemed to favor the drafting of men.

“There was not time enough to go through with the red tape of calling an election to vote on the bonding proposition.  The sum of $4000.00 was raised by subscription with the understanding that all were to vote for the bonds and that the subscribers were to be reimbursed when the money was raised in the legal way.  By the way, just think what $4000.00 meant to thirty-four pioneer settlers!

“That scheme was carried through and there was no draft in Peotone. 

“Ralph Crawford was appointed commissioner to attend to the details and when he found a man who could be induced to volunteer for the lump sum of cash bounty offered him, Mr. Crawford would accompany him to Joliet where the recruiting officer gave Crawford a certificate for the man in the following form:

“ ‘Office Provost Marshal,

    Sixth District, Illinois

            Joliet, Feb, 9, 1865.

“ ‘I hereby certify that John Fish has this day enlisted and been mustered into the service of the United States, and credited to the Town of Peotone, Will County, Illinois.

                                                                        Abel Longworth.

                                    “ ‘Captain and Provost Marshal, 6th Dist., Ill’

“In this way Mr. Crawford came into possession of twelve of these certificates and Peotone furnished just twice as many men as had been asked for.

“The twelve certificates all signed by Abel Longworth and bearing various dates between February 9 and March 17, 1865, are now in the possession of the editor of the Vedette, through the courtesy of Elmer J. Crawford, who found them while going through his late father’s papers.

“The names of the twelve men are John Fish, Thomas Cooper, J. H. Peterson, C. C. Cross, John Wainwright, Samuel S. Beal, Albert Andre, Henry Goodspeed, John H. Shufelt, Joseph Brown, Lyman A. Bradlay, and John Simonds.

“The only one these that means anything to the writer is that of Henry Goodspeed, who was the son of Samuel Goodspeed, one of Peotone’s earliest settlers.

“Can any of the older readers of the Vedette give us any information regarding any of the other men?

“It was not necessary for Mr. Crawford to secure citizens of Peotone to fill the quota for the town.  He could pick up men wherever he could find them and them credited to his town.

“This system of offering a cash bounty to a man who would agree to ‘volunteer’ gave rise to the evil of ‘bounty jumping.’  A ‘bounty jumper’ was a man who collected the bounty offered by a town and after reaching the military camp would desert and going to another town would collect another bounty, and again enlist under an assumed name, repeating this performance as often as he could with safety.

“Occasionally the ‘bounty jumper’ was detected and punished for deserting.  The modern methods of identification had not been though of in the ‘60s and the ‘bounty jumper’ nearly always escaped merited punishment.”