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History of Henry County

Source: "Atlas of Henry Co. and the State of Illinois," by Warner & Beers Publishers of Chicago, 1875, pages 4 and 5

Submitted by Susie Martin-Rott

Henry County was once a part of Randolph County, and was afterwards successively a part of Pike, Peoria and Knox Counties, and was organized under an act of the Legislature approved March 2, 1837. On the 19th of June, 1837, the first election of county officers was held, at which Robert McCulloh was chosen Sheriff; Roderick R. Stewart, Coroner; Joshua Harper, Recorder; Arba M. Seymour, Surveyor; and Philip K. Hanna, Ithamar Pillsbury and Joshua Browning, County Commissioners. The first term of the County Commissioners' Court was held at Dayton, on the 27th of June, 1837, at which James M. Allan was appointed County Clerk, and Charles Atkinson, County Treasurer. The remaining business of the term consisted of granting a license for a ferry at Cleveland, to Charles Atkinson, John P. Hanna and George Tyler, and fixing the rates of ferriage. The ferrymen paid for this privilege one dollar and fifty cents. A store was also licensed at Cleveland, and one at Dayton. Several other terms were held at the same place.


This was first located at RICHMOND, October 6, 1837, by Isaac Murphy, of Warren County, Francis Voris, of Peoria, and James Raywalt, of Fulton County, appointed by the act of the Legislature organizing the county. The location was on the south one hundred and twenty acres of the northeast quarter of section seventeen, in the Town of Munson. Here a small wooden building was erected for a court house, and the first term of the Circuit Court for the county was held on the 2d day of April, 1839, Hon. Thomas Ford, Judge, and Norman H. Purple, State's Attorney. At this term, which lasted two days, one judgment was rendered—that of Arthur Thornton and Job Searl, by confession, against Moses F. Stimson, for $438.73; and John Porter was indicted for having in his possession and offering to pass counterfeit money. The second term was held October 7, 1839, and lasted three days. The first jury trial in the Circuit Court was at this term, and was an appeal case, in which Hiram Pearce was tried for "disturbing the peace and good order of a congregation assembled for divine worship, by profane language and disorderly and immoral conduct." He was found guilty and fined twenty dollars.

The court house at Richmond was burnt in June, 1839, and on the 9th of July following a convention of citizens of the county was held at Geneseo, at which it was voted to be expedient to have the county seat removed, and also the county commissioners be authorized to remove their place of holding courts, to some place within the county, where they could be comfortably accommodated, until suitable buildings could be erected at the county seat. And by an act of the Legislature, approved February 1, 1840, the acts of the county commissioners were legalized and authority given to hold the courts at Geneseo, until suitable public buildings could be erected at the county seat. And this act further provided for the re-location of the seat of justice, and appointed Alexander Turnbull, of Warren County, Miles W. Conway, of Rock Island County, and Harmon Brown, of Knox County, commissioners to re-locate the seat of justice.

The fourth term of the Circuit Court was held at GENESEO, April 6, 1840. A judgment was rendered against delinquent tax lands. Three suits for slander were commenced for this term, and Caroline Bishop, having been aggrieved by her husband Levi, prayed for and obtained a divorce. The next term was held at Geneseo, on May 17, 1841, and the next was held at the same place, on the 27th of September, 1841.

The seat of justice was next located at MORRISTOWN, and courts were held there on the 16th day of May, 1842; September 26, 1842; May 15, 1843; September 25, 1843; and May 20, 1844. A small wooden building was erected here for a court house, which, however, was too small to have a jury room, and juries considered cases under the shadow of a neighboring haystack, and upon the removal of the county seat to Cambridge, this building was moved to that place, and again used as a court house. A majority of the legal voters of the county having petitioned for the removal of the county seat to Cambridge, an act of the Legislature was passed for that purpose, and approved February 21, 1843. The present court house, built by Sullivan Howard, was completed and accepted July 28, 1845. The cost was less than $3,000. The old wooden jail was begun in 1853, but was not completed till the next year. The present one was completed in 1866. The building of the present fire-proof for clerks' offices was completed in 1858, at a cost of over ten thousand dollars.


The present poor-house is located on the northwest quarter of section twenty-one, in the Town of Munson. It was built in the years 1871-2, at a total cost, including furniture and heating apparatus, of about $55,000. The design of the building was after a plan by O. E. Page, Esq., one of the building committee. The former poor-house was a frame building now standing just north of the present one.


At the November election in 1856, a vote was taken upon adopting township organization, and resulted in its favor. The last session of the county court for the transaction of county business, was held March 30, 1857, and township organization became a fact on the first Tuesday in April thereafter.


The first settler in the county was Doctor Baker, from American Bottom, opposite St. Louis. He settled on section sixteen, in the town of Colona, in the Spring of 1835. A few days after came James Glenn, Thomas Glenn and Anthony Hunt, and settled on section twenty, in the same town. These were followed by many others, among them John Kilvington, settled in 1836, near Kewanee, and shortly after John F. Willard and Henry G. Little near Wethersfield. The next year came Jacob Kemerling and settled in Burns, and still later James Mascall and William Stackhouse, in Cambridge, at the east end of Sugar Tree Grove. Captain Jack settled at Shabona Grove in 1843. Others will be mentioned under the next head.

The first marriage entered of record in the county is that of Lewis Hurd and Caroline W. Little, of Wethersfield (both now living), by Rev. Ithamar Pillsbury on the 22d Aug., 1837. The next was Ithamar Pillsbury and Caroline E. Miller, at Andover, Dec. 18, 1837. The first child born in the county was a daughter of P. K. Hanna, now Mrs. Harriet Odell. The next was Henry, son of Earl P. Aldrich.


The GENESEO COLONY was organized in Bergen, Geneseo Co., N. Y., in the Winter of 1835, and Roderick R. Stewart, C. K. Bartlett, Wm. C. Bartlett, John C. Ward, Elisha Cone, Reuben Cone, and Jairus Wilcox were among the first settlers—others following shortly after.

ANDOVER – This colony was organized early in the year 1835, in the City of New York, and Rev. Ithamar Pillsbury, and Messrs. Slaughter and Pike were commissioned to select the location, which was done in the following summer. Several settlers came shortly afterwards, and the association built a mill, which occasioned many people to go there from great distances.

WETHERSFIELD – This colony originated in the efforts of Rev. Dr. Caleb J. Tenney, of Wethersfield, Connecticut, and steps were taken for its organization late in the Fall of 1835. Among the names of the many who were interested in the scheme we find those of Selden Miner, Col. Sylvester Blish, Rev. Ithamar Pillsbury, Elizur Goodrich, Samuel Galpin, Francis Loomis, and Sullivan Howard. The company was styled the "Connecticut Association." Messrs. Pillsbury, Blish and Goodrich were appointed a committee to purchase lands, and they purchased ninety-nine quarter sections in Wethersfield, Kewanee and Neponset, in the year 1836. Another quarter section was purchased the next year, making a total of 16,000 acres. The lands were entered by Goodrich and Blish, who held them as trustees, and such of them as they did not convey to purchasers, they conveyed to Chester Bulkley, as trustee, and after selling many tracts, he in turn conveyed by a general deed, to Samuel Galpin, all the lands conveyed to him by Mr. Bulkley except such as he had already conveyed. A steam mill was built, and the present Village of Wethersfield laid out in 1837. This finally became the most prosperous of the colony towns.

MORRISTOWN – This colony was originated at Congress Hall, N. Y., by a meeting held in the Summer of 1836. Charles Oakley and C. C. Wilcox were the originators, and there were between thirty and forty members of the association. Among them was Joshua Harper, Charles W. Davenport, Sr., Nathan Washburn, John Appleton and James Bolmer. They all settled here in the years 1836-7. The first house was built by Mr. Davenport in the Spring of 1837. Mr. Oakley, who was afterwards appointed Canal Commissioner for the State of Illinois, purchased the colony lands, but never resided in the State. Mr. Harper was the first of the colonists to reach the colony. He afterwards held several county offices, and now resides in Geneseo, and is near eighty years of age.

LA GRANGE – This colony originated in Pittsfield, Mass. Alfred Buell and Edward Kilbourn were leading men in the enterprise. But Mr. Buell alone came there to reside. About 1839 he built a large house for the colony and resided in it several years. He afterwards moved to Galena.

Before dismissing this subject, we may well remark that Henry County was extremely fortunate in having these colony settlements made in so early a day. New Yorkers and New Englanders, who came through their influence, brought with them the two grandest ideas of the age – free schools and independent religious thought. They brought with them a degree of intelligence and activity and dignity of character never excelled by early emigrants in any country. These excellences attracted other settlers of the better class, and have continued to cast their influence over society ever since. The marked intelligence of the people and their present great prosperity, as well as their dignity of character, may justly be attributed to these causes.

BISHOP HILL COLONY – This was a religious organization, consisting exclusively of Swedes, who were dissenters from the state religion, which was Lutheran. The principal cause of dissatisfaction was because the church was connected with and supported by the state. This association was formed in Sweden, and adopted the community system. The first of the colony to settle here was Olof Olson, father of Hon. Jonas W. Olson, of Galva. He settled in Red Oak Grove, in the Town of Weller, in 1845 or 1846. His brother Jonas and Eric Jansen and many others soon followed. They were generally very poor, and some of them lived the first winter in caves dug in the ground. When they afterwards got settled at Bishop Hill, they lived in large houses, ate at a common table and did their work in common. By a careful distribution of labor, but few women were required to do the housework and take care of children, and the others worked in the field. Their property was owned by and held for the benefit of all. The title to the most of the land purchased at first was taken in the name of Mr. Jansen who had become a leader among them. Between this Jansen and another Swede, John Root, not a member of the colony, their arose a quarrel which ended in Root deliberately shooting Jansen through his heart, in the Court House, in Cambridge, during the noon recess of the Circuit Court in May 1850. Jansen died immediately, and Root was afterwards tried in Knox County for his murder, and sentenced to the penitentiary for two years, but was pardoned in about a year. He died some years ago in Chicago.

The Colony was chartered by a special act of the Legislature, on the 7th day of January, 1853, by which the entire control of the property and business of the corporation was given to seven trustees. For a time they prospered, but dissent ions arose and large indebtedness was contracted, and suspicions against the management were awakened, and grew so strong that litigation was begun in 1860, but was dropped. The colony, however, was dissolved. In 1871 a suit was instituted in chancery to wind up the affairs of the colony, which is still pending. The entire real estate is now divided up into small farms, and the community system wholly abandoned.


The Chicago & Rock Island Railroad, now Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad was surveyed in 1850, and completed through Henry County, in February, 1854. The Central Military Tract Railroad, now Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, was surveyed in the Fall of 1852, and was completed as far as Kewanee, in December 1854, and to Galesburg shortly after. The American Central Railroad, now the New Boston Branch of the C. B. & Q. Railroad, was begun in 1847. It was afterwards sold to the latter company, and was completed in the Spring of 1868. The Peoria & Rock Island Railway was originated by Orrin E. Page, Esq., of Cambridge, who procured a charter in 1867. To his unremitting courage and labors in overcoming great obstacles, we owe its completion. The first train passed over it July 8, 1871. The Rockford, Rock Island & St. Louis Railroad was completed later in the same year. Each side of this large county as well as its center having a railroad, all parts are within easy reach of produce markets, thus very nearly equalizing the value of real estate throughout the county. Had these roads all crossed each other at any given point, doubtless a large city would have grown up there, but as it is, our village population, though considerable, is divided among several good sized but thriving villages.

The POPULATION of Henry County in 1840, was 1,260; in 1845, (estimated) 2,000; in 1850, 3,807; in 1855, (estimated) 7,500; in 1860, 20,660; in 1865, 26,856; and in 1870, 35,506.


The following list shows the correct name of each town or village and addition thereto as platted, together with the date of each plat and the names of the proprietors, so far as disclosed by the records – a kind of information which it is conceived will tend to prevent mistakes in preparing conveyances by lawyers, notaries and justices.

ALPHA was laid out by Anson Calkins, June 1, 1872.

ANDOVER was laid out by Eben Townsend, E. A. Mix and Ithamar Pillsbury, Trustees of the Colony, December 29, 1841.

ANNAWAN, by Hon. James Grant, of Davenport, Iowa, and Charles Atkinson, now of Moline, March 1, 1854. R. G. Ferguson's Addition was laid out September 23, 1869.

ATKINSON was laid out by Charles Atkinson, December 12, 1856. Nowers' Addition was laid out in 1867. Sub-Division of Out-lots Nos. 2 and 3 was made by Thos. Nowers, September 1865.

AUBURN was laid out about in 1835, near the crossing of Spring Creek on Section Thirty-six, in the Town of Geneseo. No plat on record, and no town was ever started there.

BISHOP HILL was laid out by Olof Johnson, Jonas Erickson, Swan Swanson, Jonas Olson, Jonas Kronberg, Olof Stenberg and Jacob Jacobson, Trustees of Bishop Hill Colony, April 1, 1861. Replatted by Olof Johnson, Jonas Erickson, Swan Swanson, Jonas Kronberg, and Jacob Jacobson, Trustees, etc., Nov. 4, 1866.

CAMBRIDGE was laid out June 16, 1843, by the County Commissioners. Pillsbury's Addition was laid out by Ithamar Pillsbury, Dec. 22, 1851. Pillsbury's Second Addition was laid out by Edward P. Pillsbury, Aug. 13, 1867. Wells' Addition was laid out by Henry W. Wells, March 7, 1856. Northeast Addition was laid out by Eliza T. Ayres, Elizabeth L. Davenport, Vincent M. Ayres, Thos. Davenport and Henry W. Wells, June 2, 1856. Gould's Addition was laid out by Nathaniel B. Gould, Henry M. Wier, Wm. Orcutt, Wm. A. Gardner, Amos Gould, Wm. C. Lockart, Daniel G. Stratton, S. A. Fitch, Nils Frederick, Samuel B. Randall, Geo. W. Iman, Julius S. Hinman, M. G. Horton and Robt. H. Sadler, in 1870.

CLEVELAND was laid out by Charles Atkinson and James D. Taber, April 26, 1836. Williams' Addition was laid out by Taylor Williams, April 23, 1871. Williams' Block was laid out April 20, 1871.

COLONA was laid out by Marcus Warren, July 25, 1855. R. A. Smith's Addition was laid out Aug. 25, 1863.

DAYTON was laid out by Mark M. Aikin, of Peoria, Oct. 31, 1836.

GALVA was laid out by James M. Wiley and William L. Wiley, October 25, 1854. Wiley's Addition was laid out by James M. and Wm. L. Wiley, July 4, 1855. Wiley's Second Addition was laid out in 1859. Wiley, Fleming and Davis' Addition was laid out by Franklin D. Miller, A. Judson Curtis and Lucius P. Barry, April 13, 1857. Merriman's Addition was laid out by Benjamin F. Merriman, April 13, 1857. Cass' Addition was laid out by Lewis W. Cass, Jan. 7, 1857. Farr's Addition was laid out by George Farr, April 14, 1857. Bennet's Addition was laid out by John I. Bennett, July 3, 1866. Eldridge's Addition was laid out by B. S. Eldridge, March 25, 1870.

GENESEO was laid out by John D. Ward, Roderick R. Stewart and Cromwell K. Bartlett, July 12, 1838. Aldrich's Addition was laid out by Esek Aldrich, in 1855. Wm. T. Allen's Addition was laid out May 30, 1855. Allen's Addition was laid out by Wm. Allen, October 24, 1855. Cone's Addition was laid out by Eliza A. Cone, May 22, 1854. Crook's Sub-division was laid out about 1859. Dresser's Addition was laid out by Justus F. Dresser, November 1, 1858. Hickok's Addition was laid out by Lewis A. Hickock, probably in 1857. Hoyt, Barnes and Avery's Addition was laid out by Geo. E. Hoyt, Charles H. Barnes and Amos Avery, March 1, 1856. N. B. Huntington's Addition was laid out March 1, 1856. Humphrey's Addition was laid out by Cornelia W. Huson, probably in 1856. King's Addition was laid out by Geo. H. King, September 19, 1857. McIlvaine's Addition was laid out by James G. McIlvaine, April 25, 1861. McFarlane's Addition was laid out by Andrew McFarlane, April 21, 1855. McFarlane's Sub-division of Block Four, McFarlane's Addition, was laid out April 3, 1865. Munson's Addition was laid out by Merritt Munson, January 4, 1854. Munson's Second Addition was laid out by Hector J. Humphrey and Caleb Rawson, December 2, 1854. A. S. Munson's Block was laid out by Albert S. Munson, probably in 1855. J. T. Pierce's Addition was laid out by John T. Pierce, May 26, 1856. Pillsbury's Addition was laid out probably in 1856. Richmond's Addition was laid out by Josiah Richmond, probably in 1855. Rowe's Addition was laid out by Isaac B. Rowe, probably in 1859. Russell's Addition was laid out by Wm. Russell and Esek Aldrich, August 18, 1854. Sheppard's Addition was laid out by William J. Sheppard, probably in 1868. Soule's Block was sub-divided by Addison Soule, October 26, 1867. Stough's Addition was laid out by Oliver J. Stough, August 16, 1864. Sub-division of Block Three, Park Villa was made by James M. Allan, May, 1873. J. I. Thompson's Addition was laid out by Jirah I. Thompson, September 10, 1855. Turner's Addition was laid out by Orrin A. Turner, probably in 1863. Vaill's Addition was laid out by Franklin Y. Vaill, May 13, 1854. Vaill's Second Addition was laid out December 3, 1860. Wait's Addition was laid out by Geo. E. Wait, probably in 1858. Walker's Addition was probably laid out in 1855. Geo. S. Wells' Addition was laid out June 7, 1865. Henryville was laid out by Hiram Wentworth and Stephen Dewey, November 28, 1835, on the south side of Green River, on Section 13 in the Town of Geneseo. This plat was long since vacated, and the land is occupied as a farm.

KEWANEE was laid out by the name of Berrien, by Ralph A. Tenney, Sullivan Howard, George A. Morse and Sylvester Blish, May 1, 1854. The name was changed by an Act of the Legislature, approved Feb. 14, 1855. Blish's Addition was laid out by Wm. H. Blish, Charles C. Blish, Thomas Blish and George C. Blish, September 14, 1857. Blish's alteration of Blocks Three and Four and certain streets in the Town of Kewanee, was made by Sylvester Blish, May 20, 1855. Cutter's Sub-division of Lots Eight, Thirteen and Fourteen in Elliott's Addition, and Lots Eighteen to Twenty-three inclusive, and part of Lot Seventeen in Block Eleven in Tenney's Addition, was made by Charles N. Cutter, July 6, 1856. Elliott's Addition was laid out by James Elliott, June 3, 1856. Howe, Preston and Co.'s Addition was laid out by John H. Howe, Jairus R. Preston, Geo. W. Foote and Ralph A. Tenney, September 2, 1856. Morse's Addition was laid out by George A. Morse, April 21, 1858. Sloan's Addition was laid out by Seymour Sloan, July 3, 1865. Tenney's Addition (to the Town of Berrien) was laid out by Sullivan Howard, Nelson Lay, Henry G. Little and Ralph A. Tenney, Nov. 3, 1854.Tenney's Second Addition was laid out by Howard, Little, Lay and Tenney, June 5, 1855. Rees' Addition was laid out by John C. Rees, June 2, 1856. Searle's Addition – No plat recorded. Willard and Morse's Subdivision south of the C. M. T. Railroad (now C. B. & Q. R.), in Kewanee, was laid out by Silas Willard and Geo. A. Morse, March 12, 1855. Willard and Morse's Subdivision north of the C. M. T. Railroad, in Kewanee, was laid out Sept. 1, 1856. Willard and Morse's Subdivision of Lot Three of Willard and Morse's South Subdivision, was laid out by George A. Morse, Sept. 21, 1858.

LA GRANGE was laid out by Alfred Buell and Edward Kilbourn, Aug. 6, 1838, on sections 25 in Western and 30 in Osco. It is now vacated and used as farming land.

LYNN was laid out by Malcom McKillop, Nov. 25, 1870.

NEKOMA was laid out by Maxwell V. Z. Woodhull, of Washington, D. C., July 21, 1869.

MONROEVILLE was laid out by James M. Pattee, Oct. 22, 1853, on the west half of the east half of section 21, in the Town of Lynn. The lots were disposed of at the East, by Pattee, in a manner altogether too sharp to be honest. He afterwards realized a large sum for himself from a gift enterprise swindle at Omaha, which was represented as for a charitable purpose. Monroeville is now occupied for farming purposes.

MORRISTOWN was laid out by Charles C. Wilcox and Charles Oakley, June 7, 1837, on sections 24 and 25, in the Town of Colona. This was once the county seat, but is now occupied as farming land.

OAKLEY was laid out by Thomas F. Davenport, Aug. 11, 1865.

OPHEIM was laid out by Peter Johnson, Dec. 26, 1871.

ORION (platted by the name of Deanington) was laid out by Chas. W. Dean, Dec. 26, 1853. Blackfan's Addition was laid out by Samuel Blackfan, in 1869. Blackfan's Second Addition was laid out Dec. 1, 1873. Higgin's Addition was laid out by Levi Higgins, Nov. 1, 1871. Lloyd, Higgins and Trego's Addition was laid out by Mahlon B. Lloyd, Levi Higgins and Scudder H. Trego, Sep 29, 1869. McWhinney's Addition was laid out by Andrew McWhinney, Sept. 30, 1870. H. S. Trego's Addition was laid out by Henry S. Trego, in Aug., 1869. H. S. Trego's Second Addition was laid out Dec. 10, 1873.

OSCO was laid out by Orrin E. Page, Dec. 14, 1871.

OXFORD was laid out by Daniel Briggs and James M. Briggs, Feb. 25, 1858, on the west half of section 30, Town of Oxford. At this place, in 1860, existed the wildcat "Bank of the Mississippi Valley," whose assets at that place were said to be one worthless iron safe, one cent – old-fashioned copper – part of one lead pencil, a rusty steel pen, and a half-sheet of foolscap, with figures on it!

RICHMOND (see "county seat," ante) was laid out by James M. Allan and Gilbert C. R. Mitchell, who owned the north part of the tract, and the south part, belonging to the county, was laid out by Philip K. Hanna, Joshua Browning and Ithamar Pillsbury, county commissioners, March 23, 1838. This plat was formally vacated by J. M. Allan, then proprietor, March 6, 1850.

WETHERSFIELD was laid out by Chester Bulkley, trustee of the association, in 1837.

WOODHULL was laid out by Maxwell Woodhull, of the City of New York, Sept. 30, 1857. J. W. Horn's Addition was laid out by John W. Horn, May 10, 1867. J. W. Horn's Second Addition was laid out Feb. 4, 1870. In the early years of the county a town was laid out on section 17, in the Township of Colona, but no plat is recorded, and it never had a name. Stimsontown was laid out on section 14, in Geneseo, Fordtown was laid out just south of Auburn, on section 36, in Geneseo; and a Mr. Chilson laid out a town on section 18, in Cornwall. Among the above-mentioned towns, Geneseo only has a city charter, and Annawan, Atkinson, Cambridge, Galva, Kewanee, Orion and Woodhull, have town or village charters.