Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

May Township, Lee County, Illinois

Still sojourning within the confines comprehended in old Inlet precinct, we enter the township of May, whose history is preserved to us with considerable volume and accuracy.

The first settlers of May were compelled to go to Inlet to vote at the house of Joseph Sawyer, which was the polling place. May did not become a separate polling place until the year 1843.

The first settler was a man named Joseph Bay, who settled on section 13. The next settler was Ira Axtel, who settled the same year on section 6. So far I have been unable to ascertain the exact dates of their settlement, but it was in the early thirties.

The town was named May in honor of Captain May, an American officer, who fell in the battle of Palo Alto.

Of those who came in 1840 were William Dolan, who settled on section 14; Martin McGowan, J. Moran and John Darcy, who took up their claims on 14 and 23.

In 1843 May was made a separate precinct, and in 1845 the land was surveyed by the Government and thrown into market.

The old Peoria road from Dixon's Ferry went through this township, which joins Marion on the south, and along the same, at the residence of Mr. Morrison, a post office was established which was called May Hill.

As I have said. May was made an independent voting precinct in 1843. In seventeen years, 1860, she had 120 votes, yet May Township furnished forty-seven men to aid in the suppression of the rebellion. Company F, of the Seventy-fifth Illinois Infantry, was recruited almost exclusively from this little township.

Patrick Riley, one of May's best citizens, settled in that township in the year 1848, on section 23. He was a hard working, frugal man and in time he had accumulated a fortune. In 1860 his health began to fail, and, notwithstanding all his efforts to restore it, in 1868 he died. Ambitious to do good to less fortunate people, who might be assisted by educational advantages, he left 120 acres to be enjoyed by his wife during life, then Martin McGowan and Patrick McCann in trust for the purposes of constructing an academy in Maytown. These trustees sold the 120 acres left them and set to work and executed their trust faithfully by beginning its construction on a piece of land belonging to the estate, on the old Peoria stage road, eight miles from Amboy. The main building was 30x48. The L was 16x18 feet and the entire structure was twenty feet in height. The school was divided into several compartments. On the first floor were the school rooms, music room, parlor, sitting room, dining room and kitchen. On the second floor was the chapel, beautifully furnished with a vaulted roof. The rest of the upper floor was divided into sleeping rooms, occupied by pupils who boarded at the academy. The building was surmounted by an observatory, from which a splendid view of the surrounding country was had. Young ladies alone were received as boarders, but boys were received as day scholars. Six sisters of the Benedictine order taught the various grades in the common branches and in addition taught music, drawing, French and German.

In September, 1880 the academy was dedicated and for a long while the school was crowded with pupils. But after about ten years of happy successes, the attendance fell off until it was considered best to abandon it altogether. In 1895 the property was sold and the old academy was torn down.

The advantages to the township were immeasurable and May Township as an educational center ranked very high. It seems too bad that so useful an institution should decline, but then in earthly affairs we must accept the inevitable. Like Lee Center, rivals attracted the children. As boys and girls read about the larger schools, like children the world over, they felt that the little school was not big enough for them and like the old Lee Center school it dropped out of existence peacefully and quietly, though leaving behind memories never to be effaced by the most vigorous workings of time. The spot was beautiful. The teachers were of the very highest class and all the conditions were ideal. It does seem too bad that idealism cannot fight its way against the intensely practical institutions of today.

The old state railroad, which was graded through May Township, caught many a poor settler. James Darcy was one of them. He worked on the grade in 1840, for which labor he was paid in worthless scrip, issued by a so called banker of La Salle, named A. H. Bongs. Yet in the face of his early adversities, Mr. Darcy accumulated a handsome fortune.

Through the machinations of interested parties, the stage road was changed and the May Hill post office was shifted to the residence of Daniel Beard. In 1850 William Dolan laid the matter before the then Postmaster-General; and three months afterwards the route was changed again and the post office restored to its former location. A Mr. Hubbard then was appointed postmaster, which position he held continuously until the railroad was continued into Sublette and the post office was removed to that place.

In the year 1850 the township was organized by Joseph Crawford, Harvey Morgan and Lorenzo Wood, county commissioners. For a time May Township people had many good reasons to expect the Illinois Central railroad would run through the town. In fact, the old grade, made many years before the road was built, was made through May Township, running southerly past the academy. The same grade, to be seen today just outside of Dixon, was part of the same survey and fared as the one which was made through May.

The Anti Claim Jumping Association was very strong in May Township. Its membership extended from May through Amboy over into Lee Center and the first call for action, almost, was made to its members to redress a wrong done in the township of May. A man named Hiram Anderson had made a claim. Anderson offended a neighbor, who, representing himself to be the owner, in turn went to Dixon and sold the claim to Bull, who dealt in claims once in a while. Bull it seems, as I get the story from May, also drove stage down the old Peoria road.

When Anderson found that his claim had not only been sold out from under him, but that Bull actually had stepped over to the land office and entered it from the Government and received his receiver's receipt, Anderson notified the committee. A meeting of the ''Palestine Grove Minutemen, ''as the association was called, met in the barn of Mr. Fessenden, over in Sublette, and passed the usual set of resolutions demanding its return.

The entire association nearly, went to Dixon. Most of them waited in the timber south of town while Chester Badger and a Mr. Baird went to the Western tavern, where Bull was stopping, to demand the return of the claim. Bull was loaded in a wagon and started to jail; but explanations followed; Bull conveyed the claim to Anderson; the neighbor gave his note for what he got. Anderson secured the $1.25 per acre which Bull had paid, and thus a bad job was straightened out. If it had not been adjusted the angry members would have seized Bull and they would have secured satisfaction. There was a case, which if sent to the courts, never would have been adjusted properly. Besides much money in lawyers' fees would have been spent. This committee settled it fairly, expeditiously and without expense. Border committees generally are needed.

Religious influences always have had a strong foothold in May. Not only was the academy dominated by the refining and enabling influences of religion, through the efforts of a noble company of Sisters of the Benedictine order, but the laity at large over the town actively supported the interest of the church.

The first schoolhouse in the township was erected on section 3 and for a time it was used by the Catholic Church for its services. A short time after the war, the German Catholics built a church on the east side of the township, which was named St. Mary's. At about the same time the Irish members of the Catholic Church built a church on the west side of the township, which cost approximately nine thousand dollars. It surpassed any church building in that part of the county for many years.

Subsequently, however, the building of the beautiful Catholic Church at Sublette, by all odds the most beautiful and costly church in Lee County, drew to it most of the May Germans and the May church was permitted to remain unoccupied. The west side church has prospered almost phenomenally. A parish house for fairs and entertainments and a handsome parsonage have been added. As though to contribute its mite, Nature herself furnishes with almost no expense natural gas which is piped to the surface and into the buildings and there you will find the most beautiful illumination to be formed in Lee County. Rev. Father Porcella enjoys the love of one of the very large parishes of the county.

The farmers of May generally are men of large means, devoted to the best methods of soil culture and to the raising of live stock, pure bred. In fact May leads the county in its numbers of fine stock raisers. Among those who have very choice herds are McLaughlin brothers, James and Charles, who own perhaps the best herd of Poland China hogs in Lee County. At the fairs of last fall, they took nearly every blue ribbon offered by the managements. They also own a splendid herd of shorthorn cattle. Mr, Peter J. Streit, the noted Duroc Jersey hog raiser, by the exercise of careful selection and judicious mating and pruning, has assembled what is regarded as one of the choicest herds in the state. His annual sales are regarded now as famous events in Duroc annals.

Mr. Streit also has the best stables of Morgan horses in Northern Illinois. Last fall nothing was able to stand before them at the fairs.

William J. Sharkey, James Buckley and Bernard Dorsey also have line herds of the popular Duroc swine.

Michael Leffelman owns a herd of Chester White hogs, which for a long while has attracted attention. In strong competition, Mr. Leffelman, at the fairs, has taken every one of the blue ribbons.

One feature of Maytown has been made especially noticeable to the writer. For several years the children of James Buckley, especially William, and the children of William J. Sharkey have been correspondents for the Weekly Citizen, and in justice to those young people, children I might say, I must say their letters are things of infinite delight to me. Invariably they are filled with sparkling wit and humor that would bring laughter from a cake of ice. Maytown children are exceptionally bright youngsters.

The children of May have given good accounts of themselves wherever they have cast their lot. Daniel E. Shanahan, of Chicago, Representative in the Legislature and the power in republican politics for many years, behind the throne, was born and raised in old May Township. W. J. McGuire, of Peoria, is another worthy son of the same township. In politics he has won fame and in business he has won success. Two other young men, lawyers, are rapidly going forward to the same splendid goal James Dorsey and John M. Buckley, another son of my old friend, James Buckley.

Normally, May is democratic; but the voters of May never permit themselves to be influenced by party affiliations in township matters. Mr. Buckley is a republican, yet his democratic neighbors have elected him supervisor for years.

Maytown people are hospitable people; notably so. Nobody can call at the home of a man from May and leave before he takes a meal. I have seen this fact demonstrated so many times that very naturally my heart has been drawn towards the people of good old May.

Names of May's earlier settlers: Joseph Bay; Ira Axtel; William Dolan, one of the most prominent of May's citizens, 1840; Martin McGowan, J. Moran and John Darcy, 1840; Patrick McCann, who came with the Illinois Central grade into the county, 1853; Andrew Kessler, 1850; Joseph G. Hall, 1857; George Ash, 1857; Silas W. Avery, 1857; Hugh Fitzpatrick, 1857; Michael Harvey, 1852.

This famous trial was brought once more into the public eye so late as the month of November, 1913, when through Attorney John P. Devine, the old Keane farm, a beautiful piece of ground, was sold in order that it might be divided among the heirs who all these years had clung to the old home. Attorney Albert H. Hanneken, a special master in chancery, conducted the sale and the land was struck off and sold to Philip Keane, one of the heirs, for $122 per acre.

Lee County Townships


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