Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Nachusa Township, Lee County, Illinois

Nachusa and China were together for so long a period as China Township that to treat of Nachusa alone involves considerable repetition necessarily. But Nachusa history is worth repeating many times. Her pioneers indeed were the salt of the earth and rendered to Lee county services which never grow old with the telling, no matter how crudely told.

Nachusa Township was organized in the year 1871 and it was named after the Indian name for Father Dixon.

On Nov. 10, 1870, Col. Alexander P. Dysart presented to the board of supervisors a petition praying that a new township be erected. This petition evoked powerful opposition and a strong remonstrance was presented to the board by Robert L. Irwin of China Township (Franklin Grove) against the innovation. Both petition and remonstrance were laid upon the table until the next session of the board, leaving an interim in which to plan the battle royal.

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, 1871, on motion of Supervisor Viele, the petition was taken from the table and the board having heard and considered carefully both sides of the question, ordered that the prayer of the petition be granted, and the township of Nachusa was created. Alexander P. Dysart, who presented the petition, was a hard man to defeat and he proved his generalship in this undertaking by winning handsomely.

The early and easy settlement of Nachusa may be attributed to the circumstance of its proximity to Inlet, imperious Inlet, on the south and Rock River on the north. Messrs. Bennett and Brown from New England were the first settlers of this township, laying claims in section 14, which now belongs to Dixon Township by a recent fiat of the supervisors. This was in 1835.

"Squire" Cyrus Chamberlain located in the same year, and in section 19. A Mr. Eldridge came the same year and settled in section 19. So too did a Mr. Hollingshead, who took up his claim in section 19.

Joseph Crawford, so long and honorably known to the people of Lee County, came here in 1835 and for a year he lived with Mr. Hollingshead. From the day Mr. Crawford struck Lee County he kept a diary of his life and its transactions and it is preserved today by his son, J. W. Crawford. It is filled with interesting stories which go to make up the real history of Lee County. After the year spent with Mr. Hollingshead, Mr. Crawford removed to Dixon, and ever afterwards lived in Dixon, becoming its mayor, a member of the Legislature and otherwise one of its leading citizens.

Solomon Shelhamer located in Dixon Township in 1837, but after remaining a short while he removed to Nachusa Township.

In 1836 John Chamberlain bought the Hollingshead claim, later the Stiles farm. In the same year a Mr. Fisk came out from Pennsylvania, bringing with him a stock of goods with which he began a business in the house formerly occupied by Mr. Hollingshead.

Barclay Smith came in 1836 and bought the lower ferry farm, now in Dixon Township, on section 14. Messrs. Crandall, Jerry Murphy and Josiah Moores came a little later.

Down in the southern end of the township, contiguous to the old Chicago stage road, a Mr. Jones came first and located on section 20. In 1838, Dr. Charles Gardner selected a claim in section 20. He returned to his eastern home in Rhode Island and in February, 1839, he returned with his household goods traveling practically the route pursued by Governor Charters. From Newport, Rhode Island, he shipped his goods by sloop to New Orleans. From there they were taken up the Mississippi River by keel boat to the mouth of the Illinois River; thence up that stream to Peru, where they were unloaded and taken by team over to Inlet and the home farm.

Rev. Erastus DeWolf, from Rhode Island, related by marriage to Mrs. Charles Gardner, came about the same time as Doctor Gardner, and bought Mr. Jones' claim. He was an Episcopal minister and he had much to do, I am told, with the erection of the Episcopal Church in Lee Center.

Alvah Hale came a little later and settled in section 33. In 1840 John Leake came; two years later his brother, Daniel, came, bringiQg both families from England, the parental home.

During the years 1839 and 1840 malarial fever and bilious fever prevailed to an alarming extent throughout these new set-tlements. While it was not necessarily fatal, deaths did occur and it swept nearly everybody into a bed of sickness of varying length. It was the fever and ague with which old books teem.

On section 22, now in Dixon township, the first cemetery was established on the farm of John Hetler. It was abandoned, how-ever, soon after and the later one was established by Josiah Moores on the southeast quarter of section 23, now in Dixon town-ship. Sadly coincident with this location, Mr. Moores was the first to be buried in the new cemetery.

Joseph Brierton came here in 1836. Inasmuch as his claim is now included in Dixon Township, it would be better to defer remarks about him for Dixon, although by every association he should be regarded a Nachusa man along with his other neighbors of the kingdom.

Mrs. M. D. Gilman in speaking of the kingdom once bearing the prefix smelling of the brimstone which the proprietor's name is apt to carry, mentions a fact that a brother of Emma Abbott bought a sawmill in the neighborhood, in which lumber was sawed and shingles were made. This was in the spring of 1838. It was located on Atwood creek. The same man afterwards built a chair factory on the banks of the creek south of the bridge. Subsequently he sold out his holdings to Atwood.

Along the Chicago road there settled Ludlam Ayres, Levi Green, Thomas Hopkins, William Parker, William Richardson, James Goddard and Don Cooper, most of them in the forties. Some of them, however, from recent changes of boundary, would have to be classed old settlers of Dixon.

The boundaries of Nachusa have been changed more frequently than those of any other township and one is led a merry chase to keep track of the western and northwestern boundary of the township for any length of time. Don Cooper sold his claim to Joseph Emmert, a man of means and tremendous energy. The next year he built the best improvements on the place to be found in Lee County. The residence was a fine two-story affair and the bam was a very large one, its sills and timbers all being hewed from hardwood trees. It was the first large barn built in the county. In the year 1850 Mr. Emmert built a large flouring mill on Franklin creek. It was the first one built in the township and it was almost the first one to be built in the county. At all events when completed it was the best and most complete.

In the year 1847 Alexander P. Dysart, later colonel of the Thirty-fourth Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, purchased the claim of Thomas Hopkins and entered other lands from the Government. In the year 1846 John M. Crawford and Samuel Crawford came to Nachusa Township and located on lands which they held until their respective deaths.

These two families, the Crawfords and the Dysarts, were large families, and to this very day their children and grand-children are numerous. I do not know the family that ever resided in Lee County better qualified to receive honor from the historian or biographer than the Crawfords and the Dysarts. They were prominent in all the useful walks of life. They were people of strong character. They were fearless; they were up-right and generous and enterprising and in the upbuilding of this county they have been powerful factors. The last of the old guard has gone to his reward, but long after the names of Crawford and of Dysart shall go down before the Reaper, the names of the old pioneer members of those families will live in the memory of Lee County people.

The village of Nachusa was platted by Joseph Crawford, county surveyor, March 1, 1851, and Col. Alexander P. Dysart and George Baugh were proprietors of the townsite. At first it was named Taylor, but with time the names of the township and the village were made identical.

About the time of the platting A. P. Dysart and a man named Cunningham erected a store and entered the mercantile business. About 1860 John Dysart and a Mr. Riley succeeded to the business and in conjunction they erected a grain elevator.

The first postmaster was Alexander P. Dysart and almost continuously ever since some member of the Dysart family has been the postmaster. The first school in the township, built of stone, was erected by Cyrus Chamberlain and presented to the school district. It was located on section 19. Mr. Chester Harrington was the first teacher. Prior to its erection, schools were taught in private houses by a man named Sheldon, who was the first teacher in the township. Cyrus Chamberlain was the first justice of the peace and he was the first master in chancery as well. He also built the first sawmill in this part of the county.

The second schoolhouse was built of stone, on section 26, and the same later was used as a church by the United Brethren.

When Lee and Ogle counties were united as one under the name Ogle, Cyrus Chamberlain was one of the county commissioners. During all his life he was an active, whole-souled, generous man of affairs, always ready and willing to contribute liberally of his time and means to push the interests of his county or his neighborhood.

After reading the delightful relation by Mrs. E. C. Smith (Sephie Gardner) of the trials of her parents, Doctor and Mrs. Charles Gardner, the history of Nachusa in a general way looms up big and forceful. The family lived on the Chicago road, six miles from Dixon, six miles from Inlet "Grove, six miles from Palestine Grove and six miles from Franklin Grove. Emigrants by the hundreds passed their home. The reputation of kind Mrs. Gardner had gone back east and almost every emigrant knew Mrs. Gardner and her deeds of kindness long before entering the Inlet country. Many times indeed I am afraid the dear lady was taken advantage of by impecunious, though aguish emigrants. Her aunt, Mrs. Erastus DeWolf, came west and bought a place about a mile from the Gardners and in Aunt Hannah's parlor the first Sunday school ever held in the township was held. The very first school, too, ever taught in the township, Mrs. Smith insists was taught in Aunt Hannah's house. Prior to that time the children had been sent to Mrs. Edson's in South Dixon. The first teacher in Mrs. DeWolf house was Miss Betsey DeWolf, who married John Barnes, a brother of Uzal and Nelson Barnes.

The first death in the township was of ''Old Michael,'' a man who worked for Mrs. DeWolf. This was about the year 1840, and at the time Mrs. DeWolf gave the little burying ground which Michael's grave dedicated, to be used for cemetery purposes. It was in the northwest part of the farm and is called the DeWolf cemetery to this day.

In 1842, or 1841 perhaps, the first schoolhouse in the south end of the township was built and Miss Betsey DeWolf taught there; also a Miss Hunter. The school afterwards was moved to the southwest comer of the Gardner place, where it was known as the Locust Street place, from the numbers of locust trees growing there planted by Dr. Gardner.

In 1840 Thomas Brown brought his bride to live in the little cabin just opposite the Gardners. They had been old friends back at Newport, Rhode Island. Among the good old names associated with the name and life of Mrs. Gardner are Mrs. William W. Heaton, Mrs. O. F. Ayres (who lived at Inlet for a while), Mrs. Seaman and Mrs. Silas Noble, all of Dixon; Mrs. Charles F. Ingalls, Mrs. Hannum, Mrs. Abram Brown and Mrs. Sarah Trowbridge, names to endure as long as grateful memories are permitted and as long as the Lee County Chronicler will take the trouble to write accurately.

I might add also the names of Mrs. William Y. Johnson, Mrs. Ozias Wheeler, Mrs. J. T. Little, Aunt Sally Herrick, Mrs. Alonzo Mead, Aunt Polly Hale. Never has story been told better of the cares of the country doctor than by Mrs. Smith when writing of her father's experience.

''My father came west with the intention of becoming a farmer and giving up the medical work, which had been so severe a tax upon him and mother in Newport, but it was simply inhuman to refuse to give what aid he could to the sick and suffering in the new country. He was far too warm-hearted to consider personal comfort when weighed against such odds.

''So it came about that in less than a year he was riding all about the county, over the trackless prairies, fording streams, or getting ''sloughed,' in a practice far more extended and difficult than that of the city had been. Sometimes in a sickly season he got scarcely any rest, except in his buggy, and his faithful horse learned to go from place to place with the reins lying loose on his back or to find his way home in storms with unerring fidelity, when, as father said, he could not see his own hands, or tell which way they were going.'

''He often had to be not only physician, but nurse, cook, surgeon, dentist, lawyer, or even housemaid when he found families all sick and needing these varied services. The enduring regard of the friends of those days proves beyond question that he filled all the offices acceptably, though his rewards were often of a very unsubstantial character.

*''Mother often supplemented his work, going with him, or taking his place in milder cases or on alternate days, but sometimes she had to sacrifice personal comfort or even more that he might minister to those in greater need.''

He went northward as far as Buffalo Grove and to the east into DeKalb County; going, coming, nights and days, without meals and almost always without pay for his services. Such a man was Dr. Charles Gardner, the old pioneer physician of Nachusa Township. Many years he has been gone. The old homestead has changed hands but I doubt if the solitary thoughtful person ever passes the old homestead but he says to himself, ''There is the old Doctor Gardner place.'' Children are taught to reverence it and I verily believe that so long as memories of the glories of the old Chicago road shall endure, so long shall memories of Dr. and Mrs. Charles Gardner endure.

Among the children who attended Sunday school at the home of Mrs. DeWolf were the Leake children and we are told that Sunday school drew children from many miles of circuit.

The handsome brick house on the Chicago road which to this day is the admiration of the countryside, was built by Daniel Leake. The other members of the Leake family already named but not nicknamed were Butcher John Leake, Miller John Leake, and John Leake, Jr.; all Johns. Then there was Daniel and his children.

I have just learned that Miss Nancy Teal was one of the very early teachers of the stone school built by Mr. Cyrus Chamberlain. She was sixteen years old at the time. She was fortunate in her salary, receiving one dollar and fifty cents a week instead of the current stipend, one dollar and twenty-five cents. Mr. Chamberlain gave her a tin horn and requested her to blow it whenever she required assistance. One day the horn was blown and Mr. Chamberlain responded promptly. An unruly pupil was sent home. His irate father returned to school at once prepared and resolved to thrash the teacher. But a few well timed remarks from Mr. Chamberlain sent him back home and not very long afterwards the pupil apologized. Mr. Chamberlain was always do-ing services for others; many of them of great value, and if not too late I should like to add that over in Grand Detour he built in 1852 a Methodist church costing $2,500 and donated it to the society. About 1850 the ''Red'' schoolhouse was built substantially on the county line.

Elias Teal came to this neighborhood in 1836. He was a Government surveyor. He built a log house and lived on the place the rest of his long life. His place is known today as Teal's comer.

On the northeast quarter of section 19 and over into the south half of section 18, the old trading house of LaSallier and the big Indian burying grounds were located and there in 1822 as will be found in another chapter, a large business was done with the Indians in furs. Only a little distance from there was the big Indian village in which Andrew Mack dwelt in the very early days and there too was built the fur press used in pressing furs for the Indians and the traders indiscriminately. So far as is known Nachusa township contained the first settlements or at least the first white settlers that ever set foot in Lee County. Traces of the LaSallier cabin, the fur press and of the Indian village are to be found easily at the present day.

The LaSallier place was on the farm of Eugene Harrington, whose father was another of the very oldest of the old pioneer settlers of Nachusa. In Nachusa too is located the Kingdom, known far and wide almost from the beginning of things. Just now the first part of the name has been forgotten by the present generation. But it is a fact that because that section of the river country was so naughty in the early day, it was called ''The Devil's Kingdom. ''

All is changed now. Within its confines will be found the very best we have of citizenship. Beautiful homes; substantial out-buildings, macadam roads, automobiles; verily a land flowing with milk and honey.

The German Baptist (or Dunkard) church on section 5 was organized by Rev. Jacob Emmert and the church was built about the year 1850. This structure was superseded by the later one, 34x54, with basement and kitchen and sleeping room above the audience room. The society organized with about twenty members, among who were Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Lahman; Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Riddlesbarger; Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Riddlesbarger; Oliver Edmonds and wife; Benjamin Kesler and family, with others.

The name of the first preacher, who can be recalled, was Benjamin. He preached around at the different houses. Another minister named Reed, an Englishman, preached to the early settlers at the stone schoolhouse near Joseph Brierton's.

James A. Heaton, came to this township in 1844;
Jonathan Depuy arrived in this township June 2, 1842;
William W. Darker came in 1845;
Samuel Crawford, 1848;
William H. Fiscel, 1848;
John P. Brubaker, 1849;
the Keslers in 1850;
Col. A. P. Dysart located in 1845 and settled permanently in 1847;
John Leake landed at Dixon's Ferry with Isaac Means and William Moody;
Daniel Leake, and Thomas Leake, sons of John Leake, brought the rest of the Leake family in 1841
John C. Leake came with the last named in 1841;
Daniel Leake who came in 1841;
Calvin Burkett, 1849;
John M. Crawford, 1849;
John R. Merrill, 1839;
William Garrison, 1845;
the Hausen family, 1840;
George Palmer, 1846;
Jacob Wertman, 1838;
Benjamin F. Brandon, 1837;
Jacob Emmert, 1841;
Marshall McNeel, 1847;
Jacob Hittle, 1841;
John Garrison came in 1845;
Alexander Depuy came in 1846.
Chester Harrington or as sometimes spelled Herrington, came to the Kingdom in 1837. He married Miss Zerina, daughter of Cyrus Chamberlain. It is on his farm that the old LaSallier trading station was located.

This closes the chapter of Nachusa, the first settled township of the county according to its present boundaries. Of course for some time it was in Dixon precinct. But most of the time it was a part of China Township and while the Harrington farm during that period was in China Township, China then might claim the right to be styled the oldest town in the county. We are dealing with the year 1914 however. Nachusa in this year, contains the Harrington farm; consequently in dealing with things as they are today, Nachusa is the oldest township in point of settlement by a white man in Lee County.

Lee County Townships

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