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History of Geneseo & Geneseo Township

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album of Henry County IL, 1885

Copied by Linda Lang; Transcribed by Susie Martin-Rott


One of the fertile and highly cultivated townships of this county is that of Geneseo. The land is well watered by the Green River and several of its small tributaries. There are a few sections of the county containing a better class of farm buildings or better improved farms.

The Chicago Rock Island & Pacific Railroad enters the township at section 25, passes in a northwesterly direction through Geneseo, leaving the township at Section 18.

As the history of the township is largely contained in that of the city of Geneseo, we refer the reader to the following sketch.


Geneseo is a bright and beautiful little city, standing in her queenly pride at the front of the many inland residence cities of Illinois. Broad and strait (sic) and clean streets, bowered by the maple shade trees that cast their protecting shades far and wide in the hot and sultry summer, and that in winter bare their long arms to battle with the blasts of Boreas, protecting and blessing all animal life that may shelter itself here. The founders of the city were the county's first foresters; and could there be finer monuments to their care and forethought than are these shade, ornamental and fruit threes, waving their blessings to the oncoming generations. The large and gracious parks, the green velvety lawns, the spacious and elegant residences, rare exotic flowers, foliage plants, smooth side-walks and graveled streets are the admiration of all beholders. The city is well drained, and its elegant water works furnish the healthiest and finest water to be found in the Mississippi Valley. In a very short time the question of water will determine the permanency and growth of all our towns. People will not much longer be content to drink the surface water of shallow wells, that are little more than sipe water-holes for that moving current of water that slowly travels, but is always moving just below the earth's surface.

The business portion of the city is chiefly on State Street, extending south as far as North Street and north to Orange Street. In this district are many large and elegant business houses, the most extensive being the Geneseo House, and the most attractive tall building next noticed is the Farmers' National Bank building. The postoffice is about the center of the block, between First and Second Streets, on the west side. The three-acre park, with its splendid grove of maples, faces Main and State Streets, and is a most inviting retreat and a luxuriant place for the people to gather in their several capacity; or, in the language of Mark Anthony (sic) eulogizing Caesar for his great deeds when he wisely referred to those places he had provided as the public parks, "where the people do walk about and recreate themselves."

By the census of 1880 the population of the city of Geneseo is given as 3,518 but from all sources we have the information that now (1885) it is over 4,000. In fact, some enthusiastic friends of the city, and it has many such, do not hesitate the judgment that there are nearly 5,000 inhabitants within the corporate limits.

In the winter of 1835-6 nine gentlemen of the town of Bergen, Genesee County, N.Y., met together and agreed to go West the next spring and form a settlement in Illinois. R.R. Stewart, of the town of Geneseo, New York, heard of the purpose of those nine men and asked to join them in their enterprise. He was easily admitted and thus there were ten men in the original company. But only seven of the ten came to Henry County, Illinois, as follows: Cromwell J. Bartlett, Colver Bartlett, Elisha Cone, Reuben Cone, Harry Manville, John C. Ward and Roderick R. Stewart.

Stewart, Ward and C.K. Bartlett were appointed a committee to enter land for the Colony. Upon arriving at Chicago on their journey to discharge their duty, they stated their object to the landlord (most probably Baubien, the celebrated French half-breed, who was the first hotel-keeper in Chicago). The landlord introduced them to Judge (afterwards Governor) Ford, who told them of the spot upon which the splendid little city of Geneseo now stands, and they took his advice and proceeded to the place indicated.

In the fall of 1836 the Colony arrived from New York and stopped at George Brandenburg's, and the settlers of Hanna Township entertained them with the proverbial pioneer welcome and hospitality, and after the travelers had rested the good people went with them to Geneseo and helped them erect their first cabins. This was the beginning of Geneseo.

When they arrived at the intended place for their future homes they met Major James M. Allan, and with his valuable assistance they were enabled at once to select and enter the lands they wanted.

The Colonists acted more wisely than the most of such bodies in their plans for new homes. They only purchased about 2,000 acres of land. They were content to leave the lands not needed for themselves free to others who might want to come among them to purchase. The wisdom of this policy is well evidenced by the fact that Geneseo has been and continues still to be the best town in the county.

Five families came in the fall of 1837. The breaking of a wagon compelled some of the to halt with the Providence Colony, in Bureau County.

C. K. Bartlett put up the first cabin, on the creek south of where the present town is. Near his cabin Calver Bartlett built. These two cabins were near the site selected and where the company in 1839 built a mill. R.R. Stewart advised these parties that there would be danger of chills and intermittent fevers so close upon the stream. And afterwards these families suffered so greatly in this respect that they were compelled to move out upon the open prairie.

The families left at Providence, Bureau County, attempted the dangerous experiment of making their way to their friends in Henry County in the following December. They started upon their journey in a wagon drawn by several yoke of oxen, under the guidance of E. M. Stewart. A warm and gentle rain was falling as they started, which was rapidly converting the snow that lay upon the ground into thin slush. They had proceeded but a few miles when suddenly there came from the northwest a cold, biting wind, and so intense was the sudden change that it converted in a few minutes the water and melting snow into hard ice, strong enough to bear a man's weight. It was impossible to face the bitter storm, and the party was compelled to return to Providence as fast as they could, in order to save their lives. Nearly every one in the party was more or less frozen before he could get to shelter. This sudden and terrible cold storm is vividly remembered by all old settlers of Northern Illinois. People and domestic animals lost their lives, and the whole face of the country was a glare of ice.

It should be stated above that Ward and Mannville, with their families, came the next spring, and thus there were seven families at the founding of the city of Geneseo. The town was laid out in the center of section 21, township 17, range 3, in the spring of 1837. Seymour surveyed and platted it. It contained 15 blocks, 24 rods square; depth, north and south, three blocks; east and west five blocks; streets 99 feet wide, north and south and 60 feet wide east and west. The two alleys--Spring and Creek--- 30 feet wide. The six colonists from Bergen, NY , proposed naming the town "Genesee." Mr. Stewart suggested as he was the seventh member it would not be out of place to let him suggest the seventh letter of the name. This all approved and he suggested the "o" and thus it was happily named "Geneseo." The plan of the colonists was simple and just. Each member was to have a farm and town lot-- to be drawn by lot--the balance of the town to be sold and the money applied to build a seminary. Before the distribution of town lots S.D. Backon, the early celebrated singing-master---noted as widely for his power to scold his classes as for his singing---joined the colony and drew his lot.

Soon the colony numbered about 50 souls. C.K. Bartlett and Elisha Cone died many years ago. Colver Bartlett removed to Peoria. Ward sold out and returned to the east.

John C. Ward was a prominent member of the Geneseo Colony. His widow resides in Galesburg. They had no children except by adoption. One of these, Mrs. Emily Olmstead, lives in Galesburg.

Elisha Cone built the first cabin in Geneseo; J. C. Ward the first frame house.

In 1844 the brick Seminary building was erected. When enclosed a storm blew down the walls, and in 1845 the building was again put up and completed. It is now a public school building.

An episode of those early days is given, as illustrative of the stern notions of the people of Geneseo on the subject of neighborly ethics. There were some rather hard citizens living not far from the town, on the river. People suffered from their midnight raids, and in the meantime there was accumulated evidence as to their hard characters. The matter culminated by finding the old man, who was supposed to be the ringleader, one morning dead---choked to death by his neck getting tangled in a rope. It was a profound mystery, and a hasty post mortum by the neighbors decided the old man had been either killed by his loving family or had killed himself, and the others of the grief-stricken family were solemnly advised to move away to a healthier country. They acted upon the hint and folded their tents and quietly stole away.

The Geneseo Church (Congregationalist) was organized in New York, originally having 13 members. After running along tolerably smooth for two or three years it was placed under the care and supervision of the New School Presbyterians. This was maintained about ten years and then returned to its original faith. There were some lively kicking by two or three true-blue Presbyterians against this change, who put themselves up as the Church and claimed the building, organization, etc. This induced some lively skirmishing all around, but finally the Congregationalists triumphed.

The first store in the town was kept by John C. Ward, in a room of his small dwelling. Then James D. Tabor opened the next store. Then came Lewis M. Webber, from Rock Island, who put up the first building in the place, exclusively intended for a store. This was about all the place had or needed in this line until the advent of railroads, when business and building suddenly bounded forward, and in 1858 there were 30 good-sized business places in the town.

Returning to the subject of the early growth of Geneseo and the arrival of immigrants: Five families, numbering forty persons, the two Cones, two Bartletts and R.R. Stewart, left New York Sept. 17, 1836 for the new world over the route across Canada, Southern Michigan, Northern Indiana and via Princeton, the route selected for their coming. Nine weeks was spent on the way. The recollection of the few survivors is that for bad roads they will never forget the country about what is now Ypsilaniti, Michigan, where the most heroic efforts only scored about seven miles in six days. They recollect the stage coach kept them company many days through these bottomless sloughs of despond; and one time the coach upset and almost literally buried a poor woman in the slush and the ooze, and was rescued by the great efforts of the immigrants. In imagination they can now see the coach passengers, each supplied with his fence rail, going to aid in prying out the mired coach, and at the same time a protection to him who carried it against being engulfed in the bottomless ooze that seemed to spread all over the country.

The colonists kept a vigorous outlook for places of divine worship along the way, and when nothing of the kind could be found, they held "praise meetings" in their nightly camps. Like many colonists who came from the East, they had organized their Church for their Western home before leaving their old homes.

Leaving home the 17th of September, it was winter when they reached their new homes, and this was the probable cause of apart of the company tarrying in Bureau County, at Providence, and under the guidance of E.M. Stewart attempting to finish the journey late in December, and were caught in the terrible storm, as already told.

The families of Ward and Mannville came the next spring.

The next spring, 1837, they laid out Geneseo, that certainly then was as one "crying in the wilderness." On the west, twenty-eight miles distant was Rock Island, to the south and east was the far away small Wethersfield Colony, just starting, and to the south and west was Andover, and forty miles away was Henderson's Grove, and fifty miles away was the little beginning of Galesburg, a log-cabin hamlet; to the east was Princeton, and to the north were three families on Rock River. There were lonely and isolated settlers' cabins at Hanna's, Brandenburg's and Gordon's on Green River and the Crooks and Seelys at Prophetstown--lost ships upon the great seas,--

"Alone, alone, all alone,
Alone on the wide, wide sea,"

In 1837, the town was laid out. Trustees--John C. Ward, Cromwell K. Bartlett and R.R. Stewart. The spring of the same year was planted the first crop in what is now Geneseo Township. The only postoffice was Andover, where occasional mails were brought. In 1839, Geneseo was made a postoffice, with James M. Allan as Postmaster.

Among the families that added their presence to the original colonists in 1838-39 and '40, were those of Marcus B. Osborn, Lyman Snow, who was the first and much needed blacksmith, Philo. Ward, Dr. Enos Pomeroy, Mr. Gillmore, Mr. Richards. The growth of the town was very slow, and so continued until the survey of the railroad and finally the commencement of work thereon.

Capt. Joseph B. Brush, a native of New York and an "old sea dog", was born in 1807 and for twenty years roamed the great seas around the world. He came to Henry County, 1838, and carried the first mail that was brought to Geneseo, in 1844. This was a route from Morristown to Geneseo, and he contracted to carry it four years, and after two years it was discontinued. When Capt. Brush came his family was himself and wife. Two children, Henry and Naomi were born here. The Capt. now lives in Geneseo, and although he has lost the use of his legs, which he attributes to scurvy contracted in his sea voyages, he otherwise is a splendid specimen of a cheery and chipper old man that is most cheering and cheerful to meet. His son is in the West, and his daughter Naomi, is the wife of Mr. Hall, residing in Geneseo.

Mrs. Hannah E. Reynolds Stemson, widow of Liberty Steinsan (sic). Mr. Stemson came, 1836, and located lands in Geneseo Township, and brought his family in 1839, from Weston Massachusetts. He died in 1878.

H.G. Reynolds, a brother, was State's Attorney and County Judge for some years and resided in Cambridge; now lives in Blue Springs, Kansas. His brother, E. P. Reynolds, is now a prominent citizen in Rock Island.

The first brick business house in the township was built in 1854, by Perry Brothers, on the corner of Main and Buffalo Streets, now the residence of Mr. Green. The business center of the town at the time was on Main Street, fronting the beautiful three-acre park on the south side, and running east to Buffalo street. Here were the stores, postoffice and hotel, and choice lots in the early '50s found ready sale at what would now be very high figures. Mr. Abram Miller offered $50 a foot for a small corner that had been taken off his hotel lot at an administrator's sale; but another purchaser bid over him and got the prize, paying $850 for 13 feet front and 50-deep lot. On the block still east of this, Mr. Miller bid $700 and was again overbid.

The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad was surveyed in 1850, and was completed through Geneseo in the latter part of December, 1853. At that time there were only a little more than 400 people in the town. The moment the railroad became a reality the town and country sprang into vigorous life. What is now the business part of the city was a vacant common, but few supposed it would ever become a part of the incorporated city. It was owned by Merritt Munson, whose keen foresight took in the situation. He saw here a golden opportunity presented by the mistake of the owner of lots in the business part of town, in holding lots at such prices that people coming to the town would not buy. He planted and laid out his addition to the town in 1853, and offered every one wanting to build choice lots at low prices, --in fact, offering tempting inducements to any one desirous of putting up a business house.

The property owners on Main Street saw the danger threatening their interests, but they came to a full realization when it was too late. The tide had started toward Munson's lots, and at the same time toward the railroad depot. Graduately and inevitably the change went on, and now, for the past few years, not a business house or office is left where once all were to be found.


By special act of the General Assembly, approved Feb. 14, 1855, Geneseo was incorporated as a village. The following were the charter members of the board: Merritt Munson, Enos Pomeroy, Robert Getty, John Willshire, Alfred W. Perry.

The gentlemen elected to serve as trustees during the time the place remained under this regime were as follows:

April 2, 1855. Merritt Munson, President; O. A. Turner, A.W. Curtis, J.F. Dresser, Luther C. Sleight.
April 7, 1856. James M. Allan, President; H. McArthur, T.D. Crook, O. P. Beebe, A.O. Turner.
April 5, 1858. Robert Getty, President; F. P. Brown, Solon Fleming, J.M. Hosford, Liberty Crosset.
April 4, 1859. Joshua Harper, President; J.P. Long, Joseph Hammond, Cyrus Kinsey, Enos Pomeroy
April 2, 1860. Joseph Hammond, President; Cyrus Kinsey, J. P. Long, Elisha M. Stewart, W.P. Blackingston.
April 1, 1861. George Richards, President; David L. Perry, P.H. Sniff, Albert McCurdy, J. B. Byers.
April 7, 1862. James McBroom, President; A. B. Kinsey, E. M. Stewart, J.F. Dresser, Solon Kendall.
April 6, 1863. James McBroom, President; Solon Kendall, E.A. Wood, J. J. Town, P. H. Beveridge
April 4, 1864. I. N. Wilson, President; P.H. Beveridge, E. A. Wood, Albert McCurdy, Peter Worrall.

During this period the following village Clerks served: William T. Allan, 1855 to 1859. R. F. Steele, 1859 to 1862. J.F. Dresser, 1862 to 1863. Solon Kendall, 1863 to 1864. James McBroom 1864 to 1865.

The act of the Legislature incorporating the city of Geneseo bears date of Feb. 16, 1865. It provides for the election annually of a Mayor and a Board of Alderman, two from each ward, to hold their office two years. Two wards were made. The incorporators were Isaac W. Wilson, Andrew Crawford and Joseph A. Sawyer. There are now four wards, and two Aldermen from each.

Judge George E. Waite was the first Mayor--1865 to 1887: The next was Joseph Hammond, then John D. Grant, Warren P. Cook, Robert F. Steele, J.M. Allan, P.S. Schnabele, James McBroom (two terms), Peter Worrall, Ira R. Wells, J. H. Mitchell, present incumbent.

City elections are held every year and this was one of the few cities that never abandoned its special charter for the general law charter.

The first Board of Aldermen (1865) was: James Bradley, I. N. Stewart, Joseph Hammond, and E. A. Wood.

Present city officers (1885): James H. Mitchell, Mayor; L.C. Campbell, Clerk; and the Aldermen are S. J. Arnot, Christian Buell, W.W. Cole, John Goss, Jr., R. Herrington, P.S. Schnabele, P.A. Sweeney and Alexander White.

The City Library (2,206 volumes) was established in 1881; city appropriates $800 to it.

The water works belong to the city. Have now 5,600 feet of street mains, and are putting down 3,600 feet additional pipes.