Lee County Illinois
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Viola Township, Lee County, Illinois

One section of Viola at least may be classed as belonging to the first year of Chicago road history. I refer to that part clustering around Melugin's Grove and Guthrie's Grove. In that little corner or rather spot in sections 32, 33 and 34, near Melugin's Grove and sections 26, 35 and 36 in which Guthrie's Grove was situated; in the southern tier of sections, settlements were made very early; contemporaneously with those just over the border to the south, in Brooklyn township. In fact most of the claims of the border settlers, both sides, lapped over. The prairie portion of the township, like all other prairie townships, did not appeal to the settler, and Viola further to the north did not settle until a much later period. When in 1851, Smith H. Johnson, father of the present commissioner of the Inlet Swamp Drainage District, B. F. Johnson went up into the prairie country of Viola to settle, he was nicknamed ''Prairie Johnson,'' for his temerity and ever afterwards the name clung to him. At first Mr. Johnson lived south of Little Melugin's Grove, so that he was an old settler in Viola neighborhood and may be classed as one of the very oldest.

William Guthrie probably was the first settler of Viola Township. In the chapter devoted to Brooklyn and Melugin's Grove, his name appears many times prominently. He settled at the grove which afterwards bore his name, in 1834. Mr. Guthrie like so many others who had been attracted to this county, had served in the Black Hawk war. In 1834, Mr. Guthrie made his claim and the next year he built his cabin. The grove was laid off into small lots of about one acre and sold as timber lots in the early day. Mr. Guthrie actually built the first house, a log affair, in this township. He cut the logs from his grove and lived nearby until his death. In later days, his grove became known as the Little Melugin's Grove. While John Gilmore actually lived just over the line into Brooklyn Township, his original lands extended over into Viola, so that it would be unfair to class him as an old Viola settler.

William Lawton came in a little later, but when Walter Little came along still later, 1837, he sold his claim to the latter.

In the year 1837 there came to Viola Township, one of the most remarkable men that ever lived in Lee County. He was a man under size, five foot six or perhaps seven, weight not over 145 pounds when I used to know him; very quiet; deep set blue and very mild eyes, yet a man of tremendous forcefulness. He was born in Ireland, in the County Antrim in 1815, October 15th. In the year 1835, after four years' residence further east, he settled in Viola Township and lived there until the day of his death.

Landing here without a dollar, he accumulated land so rapidly and so perseveringly that he held for half his lifetime the largest body of land owned by any man in Lee County. There were 1,300 acres in his beautiful homestead in and around sections 25, 26 and 35. He was a stock-raiser. Rarely ever did he buy steers to feed. He preferred to raise his own steers. He put thoroughbred bulls at the head of his herd and very soon he owned the best grades in the county and Adrain steers in the markets needed no advertising. He was honored with every important office in his township. Though Viola was a long time settling, those people who took up their homes there achieved much and made great progress once they had got a good start.

Henry B. Cobb is another instance of what one man can do who possesses push and energy. I would class him as one of Lee County's biggest men. Exactly like Mr. Adrain, he farmed intelligently and accumulated large bodies of land. In the year 1852, he bought a land warrant of Elias B. Stiles and located it on the piece of land on which he lives to this very day. He had so much faith in Lee County land that he did not look at it before he laid his land warrant on it. It proved to be one of the rarest pieces of land upon which the sun ever shone.

Mr. Cobb did not settle upon this land at once. When later he did, John Hagardine, a brother-in-law, settled nearby and so did one or two other relatives and friends from Connecticut, Mr. Cobb's native state. These relatives however did not like the country very well and so after wintering and summering it for a short while, they left. But with New England pertinacity and pluck, Mr. Cobb stuck and today, he probably owns more high priced land than any two or three men in Lee County combined.

Mr. Cobb always has been a feeder. But unlike Mr. Adrain, he has bought feeders and fed them the product of his rich lands. He uses the same feed lot today he has used for something like sixty years and today you will see in that lot some of the shapeliest steers the butcher would care to see.

The old house, modest, like the houses of all the old pioneers were, stands today a little to the east of Mr. Cobb's present beautiful homestead. In that little home, he and Mrs. Cobb built up this splendid fortune, and unless misfortune befall it, the little home will stand many years more. When Mr. Cobb entered this land in section 13, he did not have the means to till it and so he went down into Bureau County, near LaMoille and did team work; also worked for a Mr. Edwards in a nursery until by and by he felt he had accumulated enough to carry him over the period of waiting for a crop. His wages under Edwards were thirteen dollars per month and board.

By reason of the large area of swamp land in the central and western parts of Viola, large herds of cattle frequented that section in the earlier days.

Among the other old time settlers and farmers were Richard Phillips, B. P. Johnson, William Tripp, Henry Bennett, a man named Winters, another named Baker and another named Bucholz.

Originally Viola was a part of Brooklyn Township. On the second day of April, 1861, the voters of this township met at the house of Moses Van Campen and nominated Simeon Cole moderator and Abram Van Campen, clerk. With their election the business of organizing the township of Viola began. On a vote being taken, it was found that fifty-seven votes had been cast, the great majority being for Samuel L. Butler for supervisor; Simeon Cole, assessor; Samuel Vosburgh for town clerk; constable and collector, John Melugin; justice of the peace, Henry Marsh; commissioners of highways, William Holdren, Ralph E. Ford and Moses Van Campen; poor master, Evins Adrain; pound master, John Melugin.

By the very reason of the herding of vast numbers of cattle by Robert M. Peile, this township had gone by the name of Stockton; but when it came to giving it a legal name under the organization proceedings, Butler, Eldorado and Elba were proposed. At this meeting no name was given, however, and so the officers gave their bonds to the township of Stockton.

On May 11, 1861, the highway commissioners of Brooklyn and Stockton met for the purpose of making the road along the common township line. The name for the township must have been discussed at that meeting because very soon thereafter the name Viola was given to it.

Willow creek is the only natural stream flowing in the town-ship and it empties into Inlet swamp country in section 16.

The greatest enterprise carried on in this township, of course, has been the drainage proceedings which should be read carefully. The Panama canal is regarded properly as the engineering feature of history. But behind that enterprise, a great Nation with inexhaustible resources was furnishing the necessary funds. This great enterprise was carried on by a small portion of a small county and yet the section of the county which paid for it, per capita, paid far beyond the tax per capita paid for the canal.

Evins Adrain's wedding was the first to be performed in Viola Township. He married a widow lady, Smith by name, whose maiden name was Marilla Goodale. The marriage of William Hopp and a Miss Smith was the next wedding and that of Truman Johnson to Miss Mary Melugin was the third.

Walter Little was the first adult person to die in this township. The first child born in the township was William Lawton's which died in infancy.

Inasmuch as Melugin's Grove furnished the churches and the schoolhouse of the early day for Viola, it is unnecessary to allude to the latter at least, except through the report on schools made by Prof. L. W. Miller. There was a little school, however, at Guthrie's Grove and the first teacher there was Moses Van Campen.

Viola has made a great number of very rich farmers. At this very moment there are dozens of retired farmers living in Dixon and Compton, made independently rich from Viola farms. About two years ago Mr. Cobb astonished the whole county by buying a large farm near his own for the sum of $300 per acre, spot cash. When asked if he did not feel that he had got rather ahead of the times in paying that price, he took out his lead pencil and in no time at all he proved that he had made a bargain in his purchase at the price, the first time in the history of the county that $300 per acre had been paid for farm lands.

Lee County Townships


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