Vermilion County, Illinois

HISTORY OF ELWOOD TOWNSHIP
Compiled by Bertham Rees
Source: History of Vermilion Co., Illinois by Lottie Jones - publ. 1911
(Contributed by Sharon Wick)


 


     As to extent, Elwood Township is only a shadow of what it was once, but without its history, the history of the county or state would not be complete, for it still contains some very noted places, noted men and some of the best and most productive farms in the county.  Before the division, Elwood comprised all of town 17, range 11, west of the second P.M., a fraction of range 10 and two tiers of sections off the east side of range 12, making almost 1
congressional townships.  The voters of the north end of the township made complaint because of having so far to go to vote so that a strip 1 mile wide was set off of the north side and given to Georgetown township.
     Later, by petition of the residents, the eastern half of the township (except sections 26 and 34) was set off as a separate township and named Love township in honor of Judge I. A. Love of Danville, who was the legal adviser in making the change.  That portion of the Harrison purchase which before had been a part of Elwood was retained, although from the way it lays it should more properly come in Love township.
     Three-fourths of the land now comprising Elwood township is deep rich black loam soil and sufficiently rolling to make the best farms.  The Little Vermilion river runs across the northwest corner cutting off about 1 sections and it is along this stream that the only waste land in the township is found.  About the only timber in the township is found in this region.  It was in this region that the first settlers made their homes, it being thought foolish at that time to get away form the streams and timber to make settlements, as the streams furnished water and the timber furnished fuel.
     The mineral value of the township so far as developed is very limited.  It is known that most of the township is underlaid with a good quality of bituminous coal but as yet there are no workings within its limits.  Several attempts have been made to locate oil, but as far as can be learned no oil or gas in paying quantities have been found.  Some claim there is a ledge of limestone in the northwest corner, but nothing has developed along that line.  It is safe to say that the soil is the chief asset of the township to date.
     The history of the settlement of Elwood township is closely connected with the history of this entire section of the country.  A great number of places in the south part of the county were settled about the same time.  The first settlements within the township were Vermilion Grove, Pilot Grove and Ridgefarm.  The names given these places were given them on account of some natural characteristic of the country.  The name Vermilion came from the Vermilion river which runs nearby and on account of a post office farther south, being named Vermilion.  When the post office here was established, it was called Vermilion Grove, being located in a natural grove. 
     Pilot Grove was so named on account of a grove located on higher ground than the surrounding country and served as a pilot for travelers through that section in early days.
     Ridge farm was the name given by Abram Smith to his farm located where the town now stands and was so named because of the rise in the ground that forms a ridge extending across the township from east to west.
     Vermilion Grove is the oldest settlement in the township and its history dates back to 1820 when John Malsby came from Indiana and built a cabin just northeast of where the public school building now stands, but finding the country so new and wild went back to Indiana..
     George Bock came about the same time and took a claim but on account of the ponds and swamps and malaria which were abundant, he with his family moved on to Brooks Point, after having sold his claim to John Haworth who became the first permanent settler in the locality.  Mr. Haworth was a Quaker or Friend, as they are now called, and thus was begun, amongst the hardships and privations of pioneer life, the foundation for the broad and substantial influence of the Friends of Illinois.
     Mr. Haworth left Tennessee in 1818, to get away from the institution of slavery and out from under its effects.  He went to Union County, Indiana, and came here in 1821 and wintered in the house built by Mr. Malsby.  He was a cousin of James Haworth who settled soon after near Georgetown.  He did not undertake farming his land by raising grain, but raising stock seemed more profitable.  Mr. Haworth entered any hundred acres of land but did not hold it to speculate on, but sold it to his friends as they came into the new country.
     George Haworth, an uncle of John, came soon after and was instrumental in establishing the first meeting in the township.  Thus the Friends church which has had so much influence on the history of the township and surrounding country, had its small beginning.  A log church was soon built near where the present brick structure stands.
     Evin Haworth, a son of John Haworth, lived all his life on the well known Haworth farm and during his life contributed much to the church and school, leaving the bulk of his land to Vermilion academy by will at his death.
     Henry Canaday came from Tennessee in 1821 and built a cabin one-half mile west of the station, but his boys could not stand the wildness and all moved back to Tennessee.  They soon regretted the move and tried it again in the fall, determined to settle down and make the new country their home.  During the first trip, so the account goes, they brought some hogs, which, when they went back, were turned loose in the woods and became wild.  These, together with other wild game, furnished good sport for any inclined to be a Nimrod for years afterward.  John Mills was another early settler here, but went farther west entering the land where the Mills descendants now occupy.
     Thus many settlers came and began the foundation for a strong church, a splendid school and a prosperous and substantial farming community.  The hardships and privations were great, but out from this toil and suffering, spring the institutions which the people of this community now enjoy, and many do not fail to ascribe the honor and tribute to those who wrought and fought for the splendid heritage.
     The first school in Vermilion County was taught by Reuben Black who came from Ohio, in the winter of 1824-5.  It was in a log house one mile west of Vermilion Grove.  John Mills sent three sons and one daughter,
Joseph Jackson sent two children, Ezekiel Hollingsworth sent four children, Henry Canaday sent his son William, John Haworth sent his sons Thomas, David and Elvin  This made 14 scholars in all.  The branches taught were spelling, reading, writing and arithmetic.  The second school was taught by Elijah "Yeager, a Methodist minister from east Tennessee, two years later, in a cabin one mile northeast of Vermilion station.  The house was built of logs, 16 feet square.  It was certainly one of the old timers of which some of us have heard our fathers tell.  But the old house soon became inadequate and the needs of the fast growing community demanded a better building.  In 1850 a frame structure was built, 30x52, with two recitation rooms properly furnished.  This was called Vermilion Seminary.  Jonah M. Davis was employed as principal and school opened with 110 students.  The following branches were taught: Geography, algebra, chemistry, geometry, surveying, history, mineralogy, philosophy, reading, writing, spelling, elocution and Latin.  Mr. Davis continued here for five years, and was certainly one of the best educators of his day.  Many of the (now) old men who reside in this and surrounding communities date their education back to this old seminary.
     Vermilion academy of today is really the continuation of the old seminary.  It was established in 1874, by the Society of Friends and has continued under their management to the present time.  The first board of trustees chosen consisted of William Rees, John Henderson, Richard Mendenhall, John Elliott, Jonah M. Davis and Elvin Haworth.  A two story brick building, 46x60, was erected at a cost of $8,000.  The brick for the building were burned on the ground, thus reducing the cost to the minimum.  For the maintenance of the school $10,000, consisting of 50 scholarships of $200 each were subscribed.  The owner could pay the interest at 7% on this scholarship each eyar which would constitute the tuition for one scholar for one year.  If he had no children of school age, he could sell the scholarship to some one who wished to attend school.
     It was the aim then, and still is, to offer a better opportunity for a liberal academic education, under purer and more christian influences than is commonly afforded by the public high schools.  While it is under the supervision of Friends church, yet is is not sectarian.  The fact that Vermilion academy has stood and still stands for noble manhood and womanhood, is strongly attested by the large number of men and women scattered far and wide, who have graduated and gone from its influence.
     Out of 166 graduates who have gone out from the institution, 96 have at sometime since graduation taught in the public schools, 33 of them have graduated at higher institutions, eight have gone to their long home and all the others have and are meeting the problems of life in a way that reflects credit on their teachers and alma mater.
     The original town of Ridgefarm was platted for record Nov. 10, 1853, by Abraham Smith, and consisted of thirteen lots beginning ten feet west of the west side of the state road and eight feet south of the county road.  The same year Thomas Haworth laid out and recorded an addition west of the state road and north of the county road.  On the 27th of February, 1856, Thomas Haworth laid out his second addition of seventeen lots.  On the 1st of December, 1854, J. W. Thompson laid out his first addition, east of the state road and south of the county road, eight lots; and in August, 1856, his second addition of thirty-two lots.  On April 11, 1856, Abraham Smith made his third addition of six lots.  On the 25th of March, 1857, Thomas Haworth laid out his third and fourth addition.  In November, 1872, A. B. Whinnery laid out an addition of two blocks near the Big Four Railroad, and soon afterwards established a flourishing business and for a number of years, that part of town was the main business center.  On the 5th of April, 1873, R. H. Davis platted his sub-division of section 30.  In April, 1872, J. H. Banta platted his addition of four blocks east of the Big Four Railroad and April 15, H. C. Smith platted an addition east of the state road.  Soon after the town was laid out by Abraham Smith, he built a frame store room near where the armory now stands and conducted a general store room near where the post office now is, and rented it to another man who put in a stock of hardware.  John Dickens built a tavern on the southwest corner of the square.  About 1857, Weeks and Price put up a building on the northwest corner of the square and used it for a drug store.  It is hardly worth while to say that these old buildings have long since been removed and imposing brick structures occupy the most prominent places, while the last resting places of the men who built the old buildings are marked by simple stone slabs in Pilot Grove, Vermilion Grove and Ridgefarm cemeteries.
     With the building of the railroad in 1873-74 business increased and several business ventures found location near the railroad.  A large flouring mill was built there at that time by Davis Brothers, which was considered one of the best mills in the country and did the mill work for a large scope of country.  The mill was purchased by Banta & Coppock and afterward Mr. Coppock sold to A. J. Darnell and he to A. B. Whinnery.  An extensive grain busines was built up and when it fell to younger men, W. F. Banta became the proprietor, and he, being very successful, retired from business in 1907, the National Elevator Co., of Indianapolis, having purchased the entire business of Mr. Banta.  This included a large number of elevators at other places.  There were a great number of other business ventures which were successful and which have been transferred to younger men who now conduct them in a profitable and courteous manner.  We might mention the lumber yard which for many years was conducted by Adam Mills, who afterward became president of the First National Bank and served in that capacity until his death.  The mercantile business conducted by A. B. Whinnery was for many years the leading business of the kind in south Vermilion County, but as trade is transient and buyers are always seeking new things to satisfy their fancy, and as Mr. Whinnery grew older, his trade was largely changed to his competitors who employed new and up-to-date business methods.  A. J. Darnell became the leading merchant but at this time no one could long hold a monopoly of the trade.  MR. Darnell did well however, and left a large estate.
     The hardware business was chiefly left to J. P. Tuttle who with his son still conducts a very extensive trade in that line.  Others have come and gone but Tuttle stays.  Many others might be mentioned but space and time forbids.
     A petition for the incorporation of the village of Ridgefarm under the general incorporation act, signed by Uriah Hadley and others, was filed in the county court on the 3d of March, 1874.  The petition proposed the following limits to the village:   The S. W. 1/4 of 25 and the N. E. 1/4 of sec. 31, town 17, range 11, and the S. E. 1/4 of 25 and the N. E. 1/4 of sec. 36, town 17, range 12, embracing 1 mile square of territory; and it set forth that there were within said limits 350 inhabitants.  The court ordered an election to be held at the store of J. C. Pierce on the 21st of March, 1874, to vote on the question of incorporation.  George H. Dice, R. H. Davis and J. H. Banta were appointed judges of the election.  At that election fifty-one votes were cast, forty-nine for incorporation and two against.  The proposition to incorporate having thus carried, the court ordered another election to be held on the 22d of April, to vote for six trustees to serve until the regular election in course of the law.  At this election J. H. Banta, M. A. Harrold, T. C. Rees, A. J. Darnell, A. B. Whinnery and Moses Lewis were duly chosen trustees.  The trustees on May 1, organized by electing A. J. Darnell president, and T. C. Rees, clerk.  They adopted a set of ordinances and fixed the compensation of officers; trustees to have $1.00 per meeting; treasurer, one per centum; collector, two per centum, and assessor $1.50 per day.  The offices of collector and assessor were afterwards dispensed with.  At the regular election in 1875 the following were elected:  President, M. A. Harrold; A. B. Whinnery, A. M. Mills, C. Lewis, S. Haworth and H. R. Craven, trustees; T. C. Rees, police magistrate; James Quinn, clerk; E. Goodwin, constable.  The village has enjoyed a constant, steady growth since its incorporation.  It has never had what is generally known as a "boom" but has quietly plodded along until now, residents claim a population of about 1,400 people.  Among the many large and commodious residences of the village at the present might be mentioned those of William F. Banta, S. H. Brown, John Brown, Isaac Woodyard, Mrs. Addie Guffin and many more almost imposing and beautiful Ridgefarm is noted for its fine homes.
     In church, professional and business lines, Ridgefarm ahs the following list: 1 elevator, 1 lumber yard, 1 implement firm, 1 light and ice plant, 1 creamery, 1 furniture store, 4 grocery stores, 2 general stores, 1 dry goods and clothing store, 2 hardware stores, 2 restaurants, 1 drug store, 1 millinery store, 1 jewelry store, 1 printing office, 1 paper, 1 garage, 2 banks, 2 blacksmith shops, 2 butcher shops, 1 candy kitchen, 1 harness shop, 1 livery barn, 2 railroads, 1 interurban, 1 grist ill, 1 building and loan association, 3 barber shops, 1 tile mill, 1 high school, 4 churches, 5 doctors, 1 dentist, 2 veterinary doctors, 1 lawyer and 2 telephone exchanges and no saloons.  A fine Carnegie library has just been completed and is ready for occupancy.  This building stands where the old Methodist church stood years ago.  A new school building is under course of construction.  This when completed will be the largest and best high school building in eastern Illinois outside the large cities.  It will cost over $30,000.  Mr. Frank Pribble the contractor is a Ridgefarm boy and has been very successful in contract work.
     Pilot is only a settlement, but is the most historical place in Elwood township because it is in this neighborhood that the famous Harrison purchase begins.  The northern point of this triangular piece of land lies just north of what is known as Locust corner school house.  Harrison negotiated with the Indians for a large tract, beginning at this point, the east side of which is a line running from this rock, on a certain day of the year, toward the 10 o'clock sun, the western line running toward the 1 o'clock sun and terminating in the northern part of Crawford County, thence east to the Wabash.  The east line terminates at the Wabash river a few miles north of where it becomes the boundary of the state.  The part that belongs to Elwood township extends one-half mile below the southern boundary of the township, running parallel with the southern boundary.  Just why this extension into Edgar County, has not been explained.
     And at one time there was a small grove near the center of the township known as Pilot Grove which in later years has been cleared and the ground is now farmed, there being only a few acres remaining.  It is now known as the Fowler farm.
     there is only one village within the borders of Pilot.  It has a two-room school building, a church, a bank, a grain elevator, two or three stores and a dozen dwelling houses.
     There have been several postoffices in the township on what was known as "Star" routes.  These were known as Oak, Charity and Bixby.  Since the advent of the free rural deliveries these postoffices have been abandoned and the east end of the township is served by a rural carrier out of Collison, the north side from carriers out of Potomac and Armstrong, the south from carriers out of Ogden, Fithian, Muncie and Oakwood, thus the township, practically being inland, has a good rural route system.
     The Sidell branch of the C. & E. I., cuts across the eastern part of the township and near the place known as Collison point.  A village is located on the Thos. A. Collison place and is known as Collison.  The Village Grove branch of the same system touches the northwest corner of the township where is located a small store, a school house and an elevator which is known as Gerald.  It has no postoffice and is practically only a cross-roads place.
     The whole township is practically inlaid with drainage tile.  The principal crops now are corn, oats, clover and grass.  Grass is not as profitable as it was several years ago when large herds of cattle were seen grazing on the pastures.  The land is now given up to agricultural purposes and is not used for grazing.  Cattle grazing has become obsolete.  The cattle that are now fed are purchased at the Chicago or other markets, shipped in, fattened and re-shipped to Chicago to the packing houses.
     Pilot township is known as the largest feeders of sheep in the county.  Frequently there are 25,000 head of sheep in this township.  These are fed and reshipped to Chicago markets.
     Most of the corn and oats of the township are shipped to other markets.  At one time this was all fed to cattle as Pilot township used to be one of the best feeding places in the country.
     Pilot has only one village, Collison, located on the C. & E. I. railroad in the eastern part of the township near what was known in early day as Collison point. 
     The father of John Fletcher moved into this locality in 1828 and the Folgers soon followed, and much of the land in the locality still belongs to the direct descendants of those early settlers.  A friends church was early established in this locality and is still kept up.  Although the membership is small, yet the earnestness and zeal with which the members carry on the work, is a subject for comment by outside people.
     Olivet is the name of a new religious and educational community in the northern part of the township.  This is in the vicinity of the Old Sharon neighborhood, on the farm at one time owned by that pioneer Henry Canaday.  Here within the past three years has sprung into existence a new school which promises to be of immense proportions.  As stated in the catalogue:  "Out of the conviction of a common need came the desire and prayer of a few of God's people in this state for a school which would stand definitely and always for holiness of heart and life.  The answer of that prayer and effort is Illinois Holiness University."
     The conviction was that the religious element is necessary to education; that religious experience and ethical culture must come in the formative stages of one's life; that God can have His way with His creature man only when his spiritual is in advance of his intellectual; and that the beginning and developing of the spiritual part must be undertaken in early life and conducted from the first in a sane and safe manner, with the Bible as a text book.  To this end a small school was started in 1907.  Later, the present site of the university grounds was secured and a grammar school and academic departments were added in 1908.  A college department was added in 1909 and a large dormitory for girls was erected at a cost of $30,000.  Another large administration building is now being erected at a total cost of $50,000.  Other buildings are contemplated.  A corps of 12 teachers are in charge of the school.  Ezra T. Franklin is president.  Growing up around the university is the town of Olivet.  About 16 houses with modern equipment are completed.  Many others are soon to be finished for people coming here for school purposes.  Over 400 lots are platted, and 50 have been sold within the past 12 months.  The location is ideal and the place is fast taking on the appearance of a modern university community.

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