Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Ashton Township, Lee County, Illinois

And here is another resource of old Inlet! Until 1861 it was included in Bradford Township. In 1861, it was set off by itself. It contains but one-half a government township.

Ashton was not settled early for the reason that, knowing the land was exceedingly rich and fertile; speculators later bought up nearly the whole township. Not a single settler is known to have settled here in the thirties and even not until the late forties when in 1848, Erastus Anderson settled here. A few weeks later his brother Timothy followed. In December their father followed.

In 1849 a man named Hubbard settled in the western part of the township, and in 1852 Daniel Suter located in the town and so did H. Sanders.

Another reason for the absence of settlers was the lack of timber. Old settlers demanded fuel. They feared the prairies over which the winds whistled. Then too, there was no great road or trail through that section and naturally settlers would not seek the country so long as claims nearer the trail were to be had.

The entrance of the Galena and Chicago Union railroad in 1854, gave this region its first impetus.

The first church erected in Ashton was the Methodist, in 3863. It was a temporary building to hold down the donation of a lot until a better could be built. The second church was a Free Methodist Church built in 3864 and it is claimed for itself to be the first of that denomination to be built in the state. Among the first members were Jonathan Dake, Sidney and Melville Beach, Sylvester Forbes, Charles Butolpk, Isaac Martin, Samuel Walker, James Reed, William Martin; Rev. J. G. Terrol was the first pastor.

The third church was built in 1866 by the Catholic people with a membership of fifty. The Christian Church was built in 1868.

Among its first members were F. Nettleton, J. P. Taylor and Peter Plantz. At first the meetings were held in a schoolhouse.

The German Baptist Church was built just outside of the village to the south in 1866.

In 1877 the Presbyterians erected their church. Their first minister was Rev. S. Vale. Among the earliest members were Samuel F. Mills, Nathan A. Petrie and Messrs. Pollock, Griffith, Huston and Brewer.

Ashton is a wonderful little city. Beginning with 1863 it has been visited several times with very destructive fires. The grain elevator, loss $2,000 and the flouring mills, loss $60,000, were burned. In 1871, the railroad property, which consisted of two tanks, the depot and a coal house with 1,200 tons of coal were consumed. A lumberyard and four dwelling houses went too. The coal house was the origin. Loss $75,000. In 1874 the hay press and an elevator were burned; loss $30,000.

Several tragedies have been enacted in Ashton, of the most atrocious character. A preacher named Samuel P. McGhee, a married man, in 1877 became infatuated with another woman. By the use of strychnine, administered in small quantities he put his wife out of the way. When first taken ill, the doctor was called. He attended her constantly, but the trouble was not discovered until later. The last dose was administered by the husband just before he left for church to preach and hold his usual Sunday services. He was arrested at once and placed in jail. At first he tried to fasten the blame on his fourteen-year-old daughter and he succeeded in having her sign an acknowledgment to that effect. But the jury did not believe him. He was seen to throw the package containing the last dose on an awning. It was recovered and used in evidence.

In this trial which lasted about a week before Judge Heaton and a jury. Judge John V. Eustace defended the prisoner. As already stated it was one of the noted trials in the state, and Judge Eustace presented a masterful defense. If he had not, the verdict of guilty and fourteen years, would have been for life or hanging.

McGhee was a sleek fellow; his long silky beard almost black, was regarded with the same affection that the peacock has for his brilliant tail. During all the long trial, he stroked it continually. The other tragedy was enacted but recently Aug. 18, 1912. It was a frightful one.

Warren Sanders had married Westanna Griffith, a young girl, almost young enough to be classed a child. She was handsome.

In time a child was born, little Naomi. Later the couple parted. Sanders lacked the knack of getting along in the world. At first the father-in-law permitted him to occupy the old home farm.

He did not succeed there and experimented with other pursuits in town. At last Mrs. Sanders, left him and with the child, went to live with her parents. Reconcilements were effected, but for no lasting time. About a year before the tragedy occurred, Mrs. Sanders went to Chicago to seek employment. Sanders followed and for a short while they lived together. Another separation followed. Mrs. Sanders procured a divorce. Later the decree was reopened and there the matter stood, when learning from the daughter at Ashton, that his wife was to return to Ashton that night for a visit, Sanders waited till the train arrived that night, about 1 o'clock, and when his wife alighted, he deliberately shot her two times and she dropped dead on the station platform. Then turning to his mother-in-law, Mrs. Melva Griffith, who had brought the little daughter, Naomi, down to the train; he shot the mother-in-law twice, and then surrendered himself. He pleaded guilty to the indictment for murder and Judge Farrand sentenced him to life imprisonment. Mr. Harry Edwards made a remarkably able prosecution, and Mr. John E. Erwin made a brilliant defense. Ashton is one of the richest communities in this part of the state. Way back in the sixties. Mills & Petrie sold $109,000 worth of general merchandise in one year in Ashton and today in the little village the Ashton bank presents a statement of three-quarters of a million dollars, almost. Two of the very oldest, almost the very first business men of Ashton live there today. They are Samuel F. Mills and Nathan A. Petrie.

In 1854 Mr. Mills came here and engaged in the grain and lumber trade. In 1858 Mr. Petrie, his cousin, joined him and ever since the lives of those two gentlemen have been wrapped up as one. For years it was their custom to dress alike; to wear moustaches alike. They were married on the same evening, and for most of their married lives, they lived together. Now Mr. Mills is eighty-three years old and the devotion of Mr. Petrie, twelve years his junior, is even more beautiful than Jonathan's devotion to David.

About two years ago Mrs. Mills died. Mr. Mills and she had returned to the old family home in Parrish, New York, where, retired, the comforts of the old home and the glamour of childhood scenes might be enjoyed. On the death of Mrs. Mills, the husband returned to Ashton, where, though somewhat infirm, he enjoys the atmosphere of his early successes.

In 1861, these gentlemen gave up the grain business for general merchandizing. In this they made fortunes. In 1867 they entered the banking business. A few years ago they incorporated as The Ashton Bank.

Sidney Beach came out to Ogle county in 1838, later he moved across the line to Ashton; James King came to Bradford in 1854, later he moved into Ashton; Peter Plantz moved from Ogle county into Ashton in 1856; Melville Beach, 1852; Riley Paddock settled in Ogle county in 1837, later he moved to Ashton; Erastus Anderson settled in Ogle county in 1846; in 1848 he moved to Ashton township; Henry Saunders, Jr., came here from Ogle County. Thais it will be seen that most of the first settlers moved from Ogle county, immediately north, and Bradford, immediately south.

What Kalamazoo is to the celery market, Ashton promises to be to the asparagus market.

About twelve years ago, Mr. Benton Drummond planted seven acres to asparagus. The next year he planted five acres, making a total of twelve acres.

In three years time after planting, the grass began to yield a crop for market. By careful tillage and very heavy enrichments each year, the field now yields annually three thousand cases of choice grass. During the season Mr. Drummond hires seven people to cut and pack this grass. At first he shipped to Chicago, but the quality of his product spread so rapidly that very soon he was deluged with offers in other places, and latterly, all of his shipments have been made to Milwaukee.

Mr. Drummond's grass is labeled ''The Drummond Grass'' and is known and prized in every asparagus market.

In every crate there are twenty-four boxes. Every afternoon the grass is shipped on the four o'clock east bound train and arrives that evening in Milwaukee.

Since Mr. Drummond 's success has become so pronounced, eight others have planted fields, so that now, Ashton furnishes about nine-tenths of the asparagus which goes into the Chicago market.

Ashton of Today

Sitting snugly in the midst of land, a piece of which sold recently for $300 per acre, Ashton should not be blamed if she were vain. But she's not. A more hospitable people cannot be found in the county than in Ashton.

The people are a church going, industrious and well to do people. There are no saloons here and there have been none for a long time. There are about one thousand people here at present I am told. Ashton is the home of several fraternal orders. Ashton Lodge, 977, I. O. O. F., is a very prosperous body. Frank Hart is noble grand; Arthur Dugdale is vice grand; E. J. Yenerick is secretary and Faust Boyd is treasurer. Rebekah Lodge, 497, has a large membership. Its officers are as follows: Mrs. Lura Dugdale, noble grand; Mrs. Mary Gilbert, vice grand; Mrs. Myrtle Zeller, past grand; Mrs. Ida Bassler, secretary; Mrs. Olga Howey, treasurer; Miss Clara Bode, warden; Miss Lena Bode, conductor; Mi's. Alice Hann, chaplain; Mrs. Dora Putman, R. S. N. G.; Miss Hattie Brown, L. S. N. G.; Mrs. Ora Beach, R. S. V. G.; Miss Gertrude Fell, L. S. V. G.; Miss Lucy Hart, inside guard; Mr. John Vaupel, outside guard.

Following is the roster of the officers of the R. N. A., Myrtle Dade Camp 6061: Mrs. Earl Howey, oracle; Mrs. George Van Ness, vice oracle; Mrs. George Putman, past oracle; Mrs. Adam Eisenberg, chancelor; Miss Minnie Aschenbrenner, recorder; Miss Ida Eisenberg, receiver; George Putman, manager; Mrs. Roland Eisenberg, marshall; Mrs. John Weishaar, inside sentinel; Mrs. Conrad Smith, outside sentinel.

The Masonic body is very strong. Following are the officers of Ashton Lodge, 531, A. F. & A. M.: John Drummond, worshipful master; Carl Schade, senior warden; Ralph S. Charters, junior warden; George R. Charters, treasurer; Roy W. Jeter, secretary; Charles Hunter, senior deacon; Jacob B. Farver, junior deacon; Fred C. Mall, senior steward; Paul W. Charters, junior steward: Laban T. Moore, marshall; Fred A. Richardson, chaplain; John D. Charters, organist; Charles Tuck, tyler.

O. E. S.: Mrs. Lewis Sindlinger, W. M.; M. N. Glenn, W. P.; Mrs. Ed Chadwick, Associate M.; Mrs. Doll Omer, secretary; Mrs. Joseph Wetzel, treasurer.

M. W. A., Camp No. 48: George Putman is V. C.; R. J. Dean, clerk; Jo Mall, banker.

Mystic Workers: W. F. Klingebiel, prefect; Miss Lena M. Howard, secretary; John Oesterheld, banker.

The Ashton churches are all handsome structures. Of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. A. E. Ullrich is pastor. The Sunday school of this church is a marvel. Ralph J. Dean is the very able superintendent. The Men's class of Mr. A. W. Rosecrans has a membership of 85 men and the average attendance is 50. In the school there are 201 members.

Of the Presbyterian Church, Rev. McWherter is the pastor. He presides, over the Franklin Grove church, too, I understand. Rev. Mack is the pastor of the Lutheran church. All of these buildings are frame. The United Evangelical, German, is a brick structure and Rev. George Walter is the pastor. Of the Catholic Church, the pastor at Rochelle ministers to its members. Thus it will be seen why Ashton enjoys so much comfort and why so many good things abound there. The schools too are of the highest order.

The new school building which cost $35,000 is the best equipped school building in the county by all odds. It is positively fire proof. It was occupied Dec. 8, last. The present enrollment is 185. There are eight grades and a four-year high school course. Diplomas from this school are recognized by the colleges and universities which of itself speaks volumes for the high character of the Ashton schools. There are three teachers in the high school courses, Prof. J. Nofsinger, superintendent; Miss Eva Nelch, principal and Miss Alice Eddy, assistant principal. In the four lower rooms where eight grades are taught, the teachers are John Absher, Miss Minnie Schade, Mrs. Pearl Billmire and Miss Lena Bode.

The members of the school board are S. T. Zeller, president: Dr. H. A. Bremmer, clerk, and E. C. Shippee.

While dwelling on the schools I may as well give the following historical sketch written in 1909:

''More than a half a century has passed since the educational interests of the village of Ashton began. The early inhabitants of the village were largely of Irish descent. To the north it was entirely American while to the south there were some English people and a small settlement of French. The thrifty German population is of more recent years. No very learned or cultured classes seem to have gilded the fair name of Ashton in an early day. Most emphatically the people of today are descendants of the common people, the tillers of the soil, of which we have no regrets to express.

''As early as 1859 a school election was held in the village of Ogle and elected James Brecumer, Daniel Suter and George Glenn as directors. The records have it that the first school in the place where Ashton now stands was taught by J. A. Andrus who acted in this capacity for several terms. The first assistant was David A. Glenn. Among the early assistants were Maria Bradstreet, Miss Kate Buck, who taught for the stated sum of $10 per month, and Miss Margaret Cartwright who was engaged for $12.50 per month and furnish her own board. Miles Tennyck and George Brewer were also among the early teachers of the school. The above teachers taught in an old stone schoolhouse with a frame wing located on the south side of the present school lot.

''In 1860 the board of trustees were C. J. Wilson, J. B. Williams and D. G. Shottenkirk.

''The first school treasurer was Aaron Weeks.

''Owing to the needs and increasing demand for better school advantages there was considerable discussion as to the possibility of a new school building. The agitation grew and found hearty cooperation among the more progressive people of the village. These affairs took definite shape when an election was held which resulted in the decision for a new building. There was considerable contention over a location for the new building. Two sites were under consideration by the people. One side favored the site where the present school building is and the other the more elevated location where the Catholic Church now stands. After a considerable excitement over the contending locations the old one was chosen and was made larger by the district purchasing the lot to the north which made the present school grounds. The trustees at the time of the new building were Henry Glenn, Henry Bly and Aaron Weeks. W. H. Emerson was clerk when the school site was chosen.

''The material for the building was obtained in the quarry on the north edge of the village. James Quick superintended the work and a Chicago architect designed the style of the building. Among those that worked upon the building were Isaac Earl, Wilburn Earl, and J. S. Thompson; the latter making the pattern work for the stone. There is no accurate record as to the actual cost of the building, but upon inquiry we find that a bond of $19,000 was given by the district and other additional expenses brought the cost up to $23,000. The building was completed in the fall of 1869 and school was begun in the new building the first Monday after New Years, 1870, with H. M. Halleck as principal.

''No town in this part of the state could boast of better school advantages at this time than Ashton. The building was a monument to the district and was considered superior to any in this section of the country. Foreign scholars from a radius of many miles were enrolled as members of the Ashton High School, there being so many that it was necessary to utilize a portion of the upper hall for a part of the scholars. During the history of the school which covers a period of forty years there have been seventeen principals. The first high school assistant was Miss Olive Rogers. Among the most successful of the early principals were M. E. Phillips, A. W. Rosecrans and H. V. Baldwin. There are other good teachers, that preceded and followed these and did their share towards raising the school to a higher standard, but there can be no valid objection in giving these men the honor of such successful effort.

''Many able scholars and professional men have had their preparatory work in this school. The first class that graduated from the school was under M. E. Phillips in 1874. The class consisted of Lyman Booth, Mrs. Westana Glenn Rosecrans and Mrs. Maggie Brown Byers. Since that time many good classes have been graduated from the school whose members are proud that the Ashton High School is their alma mater. The Ashton High School Alumni Association is a flourishing organization and its influence will be a force for good for the school.

''The influence of the former students and the general interest of the patrons of the school and the people of the village is the best evidence of the spirit and success of the school.

''Perhaps some of the older inhabitants of the village, as well as the younger generation, will be interested in the above sketch. To the critical reader some errors may be detected in data and names, but often school records are poorly kept and errors in dates are very frequent and sometimes annoyingly so, and for this reason much of the information has been obtained from inquiry. Mere facts have only been stated and someone after me has the field for embellishment.''

Possibly another reason why Ashton enjoys so much praise as not only a live village but one so mighty clean, is because its municipal affairs are conserved so creditably by its officers: J. B. Farver, president; Ralph J. Dean, clerk; Harry Pierce, E. J. Yenerick, Clifford Knapp, Charles Tuck, Adam Strabe and J. W. Griese, trustees. Ashton Township and its surrounding territory are regarded as a German community very largely and that of itself assures Ashton of wealth and sturdiness of character.

Charles Heibenthal is supervisor; Fred Beach is collector; S. T. Zeller, Sr., is assessor and the highway commissioners are O. W. Bowers, Henry Beitz and Earl Howey. George Stephan is town clerk.

Naturally in listing the business houses of a place, the banks come into view first. The Ashton Bank is a very prosperous concern. Its history has been noticed already. Its published report Jan. 20th, last, shows loans, $420,000; bonds, $62,000; cash means, $79,000. Its capital stock is $50,000 and its surplus is $25,000. Its deposits are $482,253.10.

The Farmers Bank was organized April 10, 1905. Its president is W. C. Yenerick; vice president, Lewis Sindlinger; cashier, E. J. Yenerick and the directors are W. C. Yenerick, Lewis Sindlinger, John M. Killmer, William Krug and Will Sandrock. The beautiful new building for this bank will be ready for occupancy in a very short while. Thus equipped the Ashton banks will have the finest homes to be found in any small town in the state. By state-ment dated January 19th, this bank is shown to have a capital stock of $25,000 and undivided profits of $3,234.42. Its deposits are $104,414.21. Its cash means are approximately $20,000.

At the present time, Ashton markets 450,000 bushels of grain every year. Before the elevators were built down at Middlebury on the electric road which runs from Lee Center, Ashton shipped 650,000 bushels, and inasmuch as the Middlebury houses are run by Ashton people, it might be classed as Ashton grain to this very day.

The two grain elevators of Ashton are run by O. C. Baker and R. W. Jeter.

A little further up the track, Nathan Sanders has his sheep yards. Annually, Mr. Sanders feeds thousands of sheep which are taken off here in transit and he feeds them until they are fully-rested from their usually long journey from the West. Sometimes he buys and feeds his own sheep; but he prefers feeding for others. This business amounts to a large profit annually.

The physicians are Drs. William Petersmyer, C M. Cheadle, H. A. Bremmer, E. M. Sheldon and James Brown. Dr. S. C. Gould is a D. D. S., and so is C. R. Root. H. L. Winder is the veterinarian.

There are no lawyers in Ashton; just why is inexplicable because in the probate court at least, there is a vast amount of legal business for this community to be transacted.

The business houses of the Ashton of today are: A. W. Rosecrans, general store; C W. Jonker, jeweler; Harry Pierce, barber; G. R. Charters & Son, drugs; Randle & Lake, shoes; M. N. Glen, hardware; The Passtime theater, picture show, by Philip Ereich; Conrad Kliebe, butcher; The H. D. Mosher candy store; Mrs. William Fee, gift shop; Jordan & Paddock, blacksmith shop; Carl Wedler, jeweler; J. B. Farver, blacksmith; Philip Ereich, pool room; William Meister, livery; F. H. Boyd, garage; W. J. Sams, blacksmith; J. C. Griffith, lumber and coal; McCade & Weishaar, implements; Charles Bode, harness and shoemaking; Oscar Schade, pool room; Louis Sindlinger, tinner; F. P. Eisenberg, 10 cent novelty store; George Stephan, furniture and undertaking; F. I. Smith, drugs; Adam Faber, lunch room and cigars; E. S. Rosecrans, clothing; W. B. McCrea, grocer; post office, Harlow E. Chadwick, postmaster; Clifford Knapp, plumber and auto dealer; Joseph A. Roesler, grocer; William Leslie, implements and coal; Griffith & Moore, automobiles; L. T. Moore, harness and buggies; Ventler and Klingebiel, implements and automobiles; C. S. Kron, hotel and restaurant; G. A. Hamel, general merchandise; George Van Ness, barber; George Geyer, harness; Henry Nelson; William Schade, cigars, paints and oils and C. W. Jonker, jeweler, a very strong array of very strong business men. The Illinois Northern Utilities Company supplies Ashton with electricity and power. Ashton has the only municipal gas plant in the county. The streets are well lighted with 300-candle power electric lights, one on each corner. Cement walks have been laid before every building in Ashton and every vacant lot as well.

In Ashton Township there are five quarries from which the very best of sandstone is taken. Once these quarries did a thriving business, but cement now forms so strong a competitor that but little is quarried.

Ashton Township and village lead all other communities, except Dixon, and perhaps, Lee Center, with macadam roads. This town has spent large sums of money for roads. Only a short while ago $20,000 was expended in making hard roads. Every main road in the township has been macadamized. Ashton is blessed with one of the best local newspapers in the State of Illinois. Mr. Ralph J. Dean, the proprietor, makes every train; he is constantly on the alert for locals with the result that every week he gives his readers about eight columns of locals besides a front page full of good matter pertaining to his locality. In connection with his print shop which turns out the very best of job work, Mr. Dean owns the only book store of Ashton. He is a very active wire, a money maker and saver and I put him down as the most comfortable newspaper man in the county.


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