History of Fenton Township
From Bent-Wilson History Book, 1877
Posted by Dana Fellows
The township of Fenton comprises all of Congressional township 20 north, range 4 east, north of Rock River and also so much of section 1, township 19, range 4 east and section 6, township 19 north, range 5 east, as lies north of Rock river. The territory now forming the township, formerly belonged to Lyndon Precinct, and so remained until the Commissioners appointed by the County Commissioners' Court gave it its name an boundary in 1852. The Commissioners appointed in 1849 to locate and give names to townships, but whose acts proved to be void for illegality, named the town Eden, and for some reason the people clung to that name even up to the township election in 1852, after it had been named Fenton by the Commissioners of 1852, as the following record of that election in the books of the Town Clerk shows; "Eden Archives. Township 20 north, range 4 east, and fractional part of township 20 north range 5 east, being on section 31 and west of the waters of Rock river and fractional parts of township 19 north of ranges 4 and 5, north of Rock river and east of section 4 in township 19 north of range 4 inclusive. Also that part of the township 20 north, range 4 east, lying south of Rock river inclusive. In accordance with the laws of township organization the inhabitants legal voters of the above named township convened at the house of James M Pratt, on the 6th of April 1852, for the purpose of organizing said town, and electing the proper officers in and for said town for the year ensuing, when Joseph Fenton was elected Moderator pro tem of said meeting. The voters then proceeded to ballot for Moderator, when on canvassing the votes Zera M Emery was declared elected, and J D Odell, Clerk, Viva voce, who being duly sworn, the meeting was opened by proclamation, and the electors proceeded to ballot the town officers for the ensuing year. " It will be seen by this record that the electors of the town not only adhered to the name of Eden, but gave the boundaries of the township differently from those of the commissioners of 1852. All this, however, was afterwards duly remedied. The name of Fenton was given to the township in honor of Joseph Fenton, the first settler.
About one third of the township was originally low, swampy land, but by ditching has been reclaimed, and most of it is now under a high state of cultivation. One county ditch runs through the town, coming in on section 24 on the east side, and passing out on the north part of section 30 on the west. This ditch empties into Rock creek from the east, and the part starting on the west side of the creek runs down through Erie and Newton townships and thence to the Meredocia. There is also a county ditch running into the town from the north, which empties into Lynn creek, a short distance from its confluence with Rock creek. These ditches have lateral ones running into them, so that very good drainage is afforded. Among the unbroken parts of this low land, there are about 400 acres lying in a body, which is used for the purpose of pasturage. This body of land is owned by some heirs living at the East, and they refuse to dispose of it in parcels, preferring to retain it and pay the taxes, unless the whole can be sold together. The price at which is held, we are also informed, is another bar to its sale. The Cattail, a broad slough originally, runs into the town a short distance at the central part of the north side. The northwest portion of the town is quite rough and hilly, sections 17 and 18 particularly so, and for some time after the organization of the town remained unsettled. They are now only sparsely settled. The town is watered by Rock creek, which flows through it from north to south, coming in on section 1 and passing out on section 33. Upon this stream on the southeast quarter of section 15, a saw mill was built in the fall of 1844, by Dexter Wood and Alfred Wood, and afterwards sold to Hiram Harmon, and became known as Harmon's mill, but was abandoned some years ago. Lynn creek comes into the town from the north, and empties into Rock creek on section 3. On the south, the town is bounded by Rock river, along whose banks many of the farmers have wood lands. If in fixing the boundaries of the political township those of the Congressional township had been followed., Rock river would have passed through the southeast part of Fenton. Excellent water is also obtained from wells in most parts of the town.
The first settlements were made along Rock river, in the south part of the town, so as to be convenient to both wood and water. The first settler was Joseph Fenton, who came with his family, then consisting of his wife and four children, from Burlington Co NJ in Oct 1835. Mr. Fenton first put up a rude cabin in the woods near the bank of Rock river, in Erie township, in which himself and family lived from about the first of October 1835 until the middle of January 1836, meanwhile erecting a better one of logs on the road near where the present residence now stands. Mrs. Fenton relates that the first meal partaken of by the family after their arrival at their new home, was prepared in the woods, using a tree that had been blown down for a table, and this primitive way of cooking and eating was followed for some time. During that fall and winter the family had about 40 Winnebago Indians for neighbors, and although they were peaceably inclined, yet caused more or less trouble, and occasionally gave Mrs. Fenton and the children " a heap big scare." They were on a hunting expedition, as Rock river in that vicinity was then a favorite resort for deer, and other wild game, and its waters were stocked with fish. They remained all winter, and were followed afterwards for several years by similar parties of the Winnebago and other tribes. Some of the deer paths in that neighborhood, leading from the prairie to the river, remained visible for a long time. It was not an infrequent occurrence at that period for deer to pass up and down these paths every hour during the day. The early settlers were Lyman Bennett, who came in 1836, and is now a resident of Albany; Charles Clark, John R Clark and Wm L Clark in 1837, the later of whom died in 1855. Joseph James, 1837; earnest Warner 1837, Theron Crook 1838; Robert G Clendenin 1838, Reuben Thompson, R M Thompson, Samuel A Thompson, F H Thompson, James Hamilton and G H Peters and others in 1841.
Alfred W Fenton, son of Joseph and Elizabeth Fenton was the first white child born in what is now known as Fenton township, his birth occurring on the 13 of May 1837. Robert S Fenton, by reason of having been a constant resident of the township from 1835 to the present time, claims that he is the oldest Fentonian of the male persuasion living in the town, and the palm has been gracefully awarded to him by the citizens. The first parties to enter into matrimony were Robert G Clendenin and Miss Hannah Clark, the happy event taking place Oct 3 1839 and the ceremony performed by Rev. E H Hazard. Mr. Clendenin was the father of Frank Clendenin, Esq. Postmaster of Morrison, who was born in Fenton in 1840. The first death is thought to be that of Miss Esther Peters and took place in 1841.
The first road traveled was the one known as the Dixon and Rock Island Road, and ran through the south part of the town. The celebrated Frink & Walker stages used to run upon this road, and in its day it was probably the best known highway in this part of the State. The proprietors of the Frink & Walker line of stages were energetic and broad minded business men, and determined to please the public. Their horses and vehicles were the best that could be procured , and their time table lived up to as near as horse flesh and capable driving would allow. Before the era of railroads these stages carried the mails and passengers from Chicago to different points west, and were considered prodigies of speed and comfort. This old stage route is now known in our southern townships as the Lyndon and Erie road, and passes by the farms of Solon Stevens, M M Potter, J M Pratt, Samuel A Thompson , and those of the Fenton and Peters estates in the township of Fenton. This road was also the first legally laid out one after the township organization.
The first school was taught by Miss Arminta Lathe in a log House owned by Mr. James M Pratt, and situated near his present residence. This was in the fall of 1848. The house had been put up some years before by Mr. Pratt, and occupied by him as a residence. It was a double structure, and when Miss Lathe taught school in it she occupied one part, and a Mr. Hendee and his family the other. If did not furnish the kind of school accommodations Fenton has today but the children who attended there look back with considerable pride to the period when they mastered the rudiments of the English branches in the old log house. The first public school house was built in District No. 1 in 1857, and is known as the Pratt school house. It is a frame structure, and Miss Mary Johnson had the honor of teaching young ideas how to shoot therein, as soon as its doors were opened. Fenton has now eight school districts, and each district has a commodious frame school building.
About the time Mr. Fenton and Mr. John Freck, until lately a resident to Erie, made their claims on section 33, a few persons at Lyndon, purporting to be pioneers of a colony soon to emigrate from the Eastern States, claimed, in the name of the colony, a right to all the land which could be discovered from the tops of the tallest trees in the groves in and around Lyndon, and also the right to determine the quantity which each man should possess. These pioneer gentlemen made Messrs. Fenton and Freek an official visit, addressed them in an official manner, and gave them lines and boundaries, limiting them to 80 acres each, and forcibly implied that a strict compliance with these regulations would be required, or a removal outside the Lyndonian claim would follow in case of refusal. Mr. Freek yielded to these imperative demands, and removed west of Rock creek into the township of Erie, built him a house at the head of Lake Erie, where he lived a peaceful , honest, happy and enviable life, with his latch-string always out, and the poor never turned away empty. But Mr. Fenton, planting himself firmly on the common law of squatter sovereignty, repudiated stoutly this agrarian law, which repudiation was crouched in the pointed and forcible language then in use on the frontier, and not yet obsolete, though not sanctioned by Webster's Dictionary nor Dwight's Theology. It had, however, the desired effect of repelling the Lyndonian invaders, and leaving Mr. Fenton "alone in his glory" and the peaceable possession of his 215 acres, for which the Government afterwards received its proper due of $1.25 per acre. Soon after these Lyndonian-Fentonian troubles, a report obtained East that the Indians had murdered and scalped all the inhabitants in these parts, and consequently the settlement of the township, as well as of the country around, was seriously retarded for several years. This report was evidently started for ulterior purposes, as there was no foundation for it, the Indians then being peaceably inclined.
In 1836 Lyman Bennett, now a resident of Albany, made a claim north of Portland ferry, and in 1837 Thomas Gould settled east of Rock creek, on land now owned by James M Pratt. In 1837 William Clark and in 1838 Robert G Clendenin settled in the township, the former on the farm now owned by R M Thompson and the latter on the farm no owned by M M Potter Esq.. Mr. Clark was the father of Capt. Alpheus Clark, who was so highly esteemed in this county, and who was mortally wounded June 9 1863 at Beverly Ford, VA and died in the hospital at Georgetown DC July 5 1863. Mr Clenden was a native of Lancaster PA and remained in Fenton until 1844, when he removed to Lyndon. A full biographical sketch of Mr. Clendenin will be found in the History o Lyndon township. In 1840 J B Peters, now deceased, settled on the east bank of Rock creek, near Mr. Fenton's place, and in 1841 his brother George H Peters also now deceased, arrived from Adams MA, purchased a claim of 140 acres from Theron Crook, and paid the Government price ($175), earning the amount by laboring at the rate of fifty cents per day. Mrs. Peters states that in those early days her husband used to sell his wheat in Chicago and his port in Galena, receiving for his wheat thirty cents per bushel and for his port, after deducting expenses for marketing, seventy-five cents per hundred weight.
As near as can be ascertained, the first export from Fenton was 2000 lbs of beef, by Mr. Fenton, to Galena in 1836, for which he received two and one half cents per pound. HE next exported to Sterling, then a Western city of Few dwellings and a store, a load of port, which he sold to the firm of Barnett & Mason for six dollars per hundred. The reason assigned for the high price then obtained was that the people of Sterling had been without meat for some time, were "hungry for pork", and would have it at any price. Many of the citizens followed his wagon as he drove to the store, earnestly requesting him to let them have a piece, but he had sold it all to the storekeepers and to them they were compelled to go for the coveted morsel.
As a further illustration of the hardships the pioneers and their families had to endure, it is related by Mrs. Fenton that when the family first came to Rock creek they were compelled to live for several months in a little, cold hut, part of the time and part of the time without food; getting their potatoes from Rock Island, their corn meal from Henderson Grove; their venison and wild turkey (when they had meal to give in exchange); going to bed without supper when no meal was on had, the potatoes all gone, and no kind Indian at hand to hold up his turkey and saw "swap", or if one was at hand the meal sack would be empty, and he would go away mealless and spiritless, and Mrs. Fenton and the children retire with the setting sun to sleep the sleep of the supperless. The want of money was felt in more ways than one, not the least of which was the wherewith to pay postage upon letters received from loved ones at home. Cheap postage did not then obtain, which add another hardship to the settler. A letter now costing only three cents for mail transportation, then cost twenty-five cents. As an instance of the difficulty of getting letters out of the post office in early times, we give the one told to Prof. M R Kelly, of Morrison, by the late George H Peters of Fenton. The instance will answer for hundreds of others. Some time after the settlement of Mr. Peters on the Fenton Flats, it was reported that a letter had arrived for him from the East, and was at the Lyndon post office, awaiting his call. He hastened to the office and called for it, when to his surprise and disappointment, he was told by the obdurate Postmaster that before receiving it he must pay the postage. "How much is it"? tremblingly inquired Mr. Peters. "25 Cents" was the short reply. "Haven't got it" was the melancholy response. Hastily departing, Mr. Peters sought work, found it, earned the twenty-five cents, and with that amount of the coins of the realm released the fond missive from the official bondage which held it from his embrace.
Among the reminiscences of the town is one related of any early settler who resided near Rock River. At that period the lands thereabouts were liable to overflow in times of high water, and the settler to guard his house from inundation built a sod fence around it, leaving only a space sufficient to drive in with this team. This space was protected by bars. A heavy freshet came in due time, and the settler was almost drowned out. When asked how it came that his sod fence did not prevent the water from nearly carrying away his house and family, the reason seemed to strike him at once, and he replied, "I declare, I forgot to put up my bars!" The first constable in Fenton made out his bond in the following form, with the exception of the name which is a fictitious one: " I John Smith, do solemnly swear that I will perform my duties as constable to the best of my ability, so help me God". The Supervisor to whom this unique bond was sent, returned it to the newly elected conservator of the peace with the remark, that while it might do well enough for an oath, it was hardly the square thing for a bond. The constable went away pondering what new fangled notions people would get up next as to officer's bonds and "other fixins". At the annual town meeting held in April 1866, it was voted to make "every elector on the poll list a pound master, clothes with the authority to impound all stock, hogs, horses, mules and asses unlawfully running at large, and to advertise and sell the same." This high honor was not very highly appreciated by many of the voters and the next year the votes was reconsidered, and a smaller and more select number of pound masters appointed.
SUPERVISORS: 1852 - 55 James M Pratt. 1856-57 Alfred Freeman. 1858 Hiram Harmon. 1859-60 Alfred Freeman. 1861-62 Joseph R Paul. 1863 - 64 Reuben M Thompson. 1865 Arthur Mclane. 1866-70 James M Pratt. 1871-72 Arthur McLane. 1873 Reuben M Thompson. 1874-76 James M Pratt. 1877 M O Hurless.
TOWN CLERKS: 1852 J D Odell; 1853 -54 H M Baker; 1855 Thomas J Olds; 1856-60 James Wood; 1861 Thomas J Olds; 1862-63 James Wood; 1864 Thomas J Olds; 1865 A S Pratt; 1866-72 George W Wood; 1873 H L Ewing; 1874 - 77 Joseph Pinkley.
ASSESSORS: 1852 Thomas W Havens; 1853 H W Cushman; 1854 Thomas W Havens; 1855 Thomas J Olds; 1856-60 Joseph R Paul; 1861 Thomas J Olds; 1862 James N Bull; 1863 John D Fenton; 1864 L J Robinson; 1865 J L Showalter; 1866 L J Robinson; 1867 A S Round; 1868-70 Arthur McLane; 1871 A B Mahany; 1872-73 Henry Likes; 1874-76 A B Mahany; 1877 L J Robinson.
COLLECTORS: 1852-53 Reuben M Thompson; 1854-55 Morrill P Carr; 1856 Henry Francis; 1857 C D Finney; 1858 C E Coburn; 1859 L J Robinson; 1860-63 Leonard Cady; 1864-66 A B Mahany; 1867 Jacob Miller; 1868-69 Thomas J Olds; 1870-77 John L Showalter.
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: 1852-57 Hiram Harmon, Martin M Potter; 1858 - 59 Martin M Potter, Joseph R Paul; 1860 Joseph R Paul, George M Cole; 1862 Martin M Potter; 1864 Martin M Potter, Joseph R Paul; 1865 J C Train; 1868 Joseph Pinkley, Reuben M Thompson; 1869 Martin M Potter; 1872-77 Martin M Potter, Joseph Pinkley.
A church edifice was erected on the Northeast corner of section 17 in the summer and fall of 1870, known as the New Lebanon church, and is owned by the United Brethren Society. It was built under the superintendence of Rev. Mr. Rogers, a minister of the United Brethren denomination, although persons of all denominations residing in the neighborhood contributed to its construction. The United Brethren Society had been organized and held meeting in Lynn creek schoolhouse sometime previous to the building of the church. Besides this Society, the Brethren in Christ hold monthly meetings in the edifice, having Rev. A Good as their pastor, and also the Methodist Episcopal Society whenever they have a pastor. At present the latter are without stated supply. The building is situated on high ground, and commands a fine view of the surrounding country. The Dunkards hold meetings in the Sand Ridge schoolhouse. The members of other denominations residing in town attend church either at Morrison, Erie, Garden Plain or Newton.
The Rockford, Rock Island and St Louis Railroad, now under control of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway Company and the Mendota branch of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway, pass through the south part, the latter almost diagonally from southeast to northwest. There are three depots upon these roads within the town limits, one at Pratt on the RRI St Louis road; one at Fenton Center on the C B & O road and another on the same road where the R R I & St Louis, and C B & Q roads cross each other, a short distance above Pratt. The latter depot is used principally for the transfer of freight from one road to the other.
Fenton township contains 11,475 acres of improved land, and 10,715 of unimproved. The Assessors book for 1877 shows the number or horses to be 443; the number of cattle 1,483; of mules and asses, 40; of sheep 109, of hogs 1,888; carriages and wagons, 149; sewing and knitting machines 79; watches and clocks 99; pianofortes 2; melodeons and organs 13. Total value of lands, lots and personal property $328, 192; value of railroad property $34,039. Total value of all property in 1877 $362.150.
The population of the township in 1870 was 758 of which 654 were of native birth and 104 of foreign. The population in 1860 was 639. The estimated population in 1877 is 1,000.