1918 Annals - Walnut Grove Township

By Mrs. Fannie H. Sheahan

Walnut Grove Township is located in what is known as the "Military Tract," a section of the state selected as bounty land for soldiers, because of its fine soil and undulating surface. It is well watered by Walnut Creek and its sixty-seven tributaries and is a Spoon River auxiliary. It soil is unsurpassed in fertility and fine farms with substantial buildings are to be found everywhere within its borders.

The township derived its name from the extensive groves of walnut timber which formerly grew near its center and on the northwest quarter of section 26. These two groves include all its timber with the exception of a small tract in its southern end. An attempt was made toward the settlement of the township as early as the spring of 1832 by Messrs. Jones and DeHart who made claims and built a cabin on Section 21 but became alarmed at the hostility of the Indians and left at the time of the Black Hawk War and never returned. They had pushed away out on the frontier and become accustomed to roughing it. DeHart, nevertheless was greatly frightened one day when no danger was near. They had broken ten acres of prairie land in Walnut Grove Township on what was afterward the farm of Amos Ward. While DeHart was plowing with a yoke of oxen, an old Indian squaw came out of the woods and waved a red blanket. This, he surmised, was a signal for him to move quickly for his life. Accordingly, he started immediately leaving his oxen in the furrow. On hearing it was only a scare, he returned the following day for his team and effects; but left the country and never returned. Several times during the Black Hawk War the settlers fled to the forts. The ruins of their cabin was still standing in 1838.

In 1836, John Thompson, the first permanent settler, moved here from Pennsylvania with his wife Catherine, and settled on Section 16. Mr. Thompson planted the first crop, a field of sod corn, in 1837, fencing it in with the first rails split in the township. The only near neighbors, the Thompsons had were a band of some thirty Indians who camped for a short time near Mr. Thompson's residence which was located where the Kufus Grade School now stands. The nearest white neighbors were at Fraker's Grove, eleven miles distant. Mr. Thompson and Mr. Capps, two of the first settlers had been soldiers of the war of 1812 and the father of Mr. Allen one of the pioneers of the township, served in the Revolutionary War.

Elder M. Smith of the Mormon church built the first frame house in 1840 on section 15 on what was originally called the Snow and afterward the Wisegarver farm. In 1842 several hundred of the Mormons had located here and designed building a temple on Section 15, but before carrying out their plans Joseph Smith, the leader, had a new revelation (caused by the hostility of the settlers) commanding them to leave here and go to Nauvoo, Hancock county, which they promptly obeyed at great personal sacrifice to many of them. As they had entered and possessed themselves of nearly all the timber land and designed building up a community of their own faith, the other settlers were not sorry to see them depart. The only trace they left is a row of giant cottonwood trees which they planted and which still stand in the center of the road east of the village of Altona.

The first boy born in the township was John Thompson, Jr. The first girl, Helen Maria Ward, was born February 3, 1839. She was the daughter of Amos and Maria Ward and married A. P. Stephens, died in Russell, Kansas, January 3, 1912, and was brought here for burial. After Mr. John Thompson came other early settlers, Levi Stephens, Abram Piatt, Simeon L. Collinson, Amos Ward. Mr. Ward is said to have made the first wagon tracks between Altona and Victoria in 1838. In 1839 he was elected the first Justice of the Peace. The first couple married were Austin Frederick and Elizabeth Finney. The first death was that of Mrs. Hinsdale, a sister of Amos Ward, who died in August, 1838, at the residence of Abram Piatt, on Section 15, where she was also buried. In 1844 John W. Clarke was appointed the first postmaster, succeeded in 1845 by S. Ellis and he by Amos Ward in 1846 who then held the office for a long term of years when it was much more troublesome than remunerative. A little drawer in a bookcase served as a deposit for all the mail for ten years.

The first school-house was built on the southwest quarter of Section 16 in 1840 and Miss Robey Tabor, a Quakeress from Massachusetts was the first teacher. She married afterward, moved to Henry county and died in 1896. Another early teacher was Eugene L. Gross who afterward distinguished himself in the legislative halls of the state at Springfield. His school was taught in a small log building, 16x16, built about the year 1841. In 1899 there were eleven schools in the township, costing ten thousand dollars. Elder Samuel Shaw organized the first church (after the Mormons). It was known as the Baptist church and had eight members with a place of worship on Walnut Creek. The first township officers elected April 5, 1853, were Amos Ward, Supervisor; A. F. Ward, Clerk; H. L. Sage, Assessor; Jas. Livingstone, Collector; H. L. Collinson, Daniel Allen and C. Capps, Highway Commissioners; Reuben Cochran, Overseer of the Poor; Amos Ward and David Livingstone, Justices of the Peace. The population of Walnut Grove in 1860 was 1,120; 1870 was 1,960; 1880 was 1,781; 1890 was 1,350; 1900 was 1,280.
Endured Privations

The old settlers endured many hardships and the present generation would be very uncomfortable if they had to live in the old log houses with their fireplaces, very few of which remain. One was standing a few years ago on the H, K. Whiting farm now owned by Mrs. Amenoff. The names and deeds of the old settlers who endured hardship and trials in a new and wild country to lay the foundation for future greatness and make a more beautiful and cultivated country and their memories should be perpetuated and handed down to posterity so that future generations should know and appreciate those who began the work of settling and changing a wild unsettled country as Knox once was to what it is now. Without a road or guide the pioneers roamed the prairies and timber with their slow but faithful oxen. At this time there was but one traveled road in the county running from Peoria to Galena, through Victoria and Walnut Grove Townships, known as the Galena Trail. Streams were forded, hogs butchered and frozen, then taken to Rock Island or Peoria, some taking their grain and hogs to Chicago, Jonathan Gibbs in 1842 receiving 47c a bushel for his wheat, one party received 15c a bushel for wheat and were 1114 days making the trip. They received $19.50 for the wheat, bought three barrels of salt at $1.50 a barrel, the price at home being $3.00. In the winter of 1841 Judge Hanneman drove 1,300 head of hogs from Knoxville to Chicago for which he had paid $2 a hundred pounds net. He had them slaughtered and packed in Chicago and shipped to New York and Boston. In this transaction he lost $5,000. He hired sixteen boys to drive them, the trip consuming sixteen days. At that time Chicago was a small town situated in the middle of miry swamps.

In 1842 Jonathan Gibbs went to Peoria to sell his pork, the highest offer was 1-1/2c per pound for dressed hogs, 3-1/2c cash or 4c in trade for green hams and lard. Over a fireplace in Mr. Gibbs' cabin sixteen barrels of lard were tried out that fall. Such a stupendous job of work would scarcely be undertaken by any family at the present time. Money was an article little known and seldom seen among the early settlers, nearly all business was transacted by trading or barter. Taxes and postage required cash and often letters remained a long time in the postoffice for want of twenty-five cents. The mail was carried every week by a lone horseman with a mail bag or if the village was on a stage route the old stage coach would make its appearance about once a week with the mail. One or two letters a month was considered a large mail nor did three cents pay the postage. It took twenty-five cents which sometimes took five or six weeks to earn, fifty dollars being considered ample compensation for one year's labor. The amount of taxes on $1,100 worth of property in 1836 was $1.37-1/2.

Bee hunting was one of the early pastimes of the settlers the strained honey was sent in barrels to St. Louis and the price 37-1/2c a gallon. The first crops of the settlers, however abundant, gave only partial relief, there being no mills to grind the grain. Hence the necessity of grinding by hand power or grating. A grater was made from a piece of tin sometimes taken from an old worn out tin bucket. This was thickly perforated with nail holes bent into a semi-circular form and nailed, rough side up, to a board. The corn was taken in the ear and grated before it was quite dry and hard.

The first year after Mr. Amos Ward arrived in the county, he took a bag of corn on his horse and went to Andover Mills. On arriving there he found they had stopped running during the dry weather. He returned home and the following day went to Centerville. There the miller was grinding a little when he could so he left his grist and in a few days returned for it, but it was not ground, so he went home and finally traveled one hundred miles back and forth before he got his bag of corn, in the meantime grating corn on the primitive grater described and making the meal thus obtained into batter cakes, Johnny cakes, corn dodgers, and pone, which was a common diet at that time,

A. W. Miller came to the county in a pioneer wagon, (prairie schooner). It was all made of wood, there being no iron about it. The wheels were about ten inches thick and two and a half feet in diameter. The wagon was quite low. These wheels were sawed from the end of a log and were solid. A plank was pinned on the side to prevent season cracking. The axles were about six inches square rounded at the ends for a six-inch hole in the wheel. Four or five oxen were hitched to a wagon and it was slowly dragged over the prairie. When in use it would be heard for miles squeaking even when well-greased with soft soap. One load of wood such as this wagon was capable of hauling would last a family all summer.

Spinning wool and flax by means of the spinning wheel was one of the common household duties. The loom was also necessary. A common article woven on the loom was linsey woolsey, the chain being linen and the filling woolen. This cloth was used for dresses for the girls and their mothers. Nearly all the clothes worn by the men were homespun. The cooking was done in large kettles hung over the fire suspended on trammels which were held by strong poles. A long handled frying pan was used for meat which was furnished in abundance. Wild game, quail, prairie chicken, and turkey, deer and bear meat, were plentiful, pork and poultry were soon raised in abundance. The pleasures of the early settlers took the form of amusements such as the "quilting bee," "corn husking," "apple paring," and in timbered sections "log rolling," and "house raising," and they would come for miles around to enjoy these gatherings. Wolf hunts were enjoyed by the men.

The census of 1870 gives the population of the township 1,962; voters, 375. Number of farms, 170; dwellings, 393; horses, 1,042; mules, 29; sheep, 458; hogs, 2,405; bushels of wheat, 17,607; rye, 3,300; corn, 210,220; oats, 66,733.

Census of 1910 — Population, 1,209. Township officers, 1918, are: Supervisor, J. A. Johnson; Town Clerk, S. H. Johnson; Assessor, N. H. Nelson; Collector, G. N. Larson; Commissioner of Highways, C. L. Youngdahl; Justice of the Peace (resigned); Constable, O. W. Peterson; School Trustees, J. P. Walgren, Alfred Nelson, W. C. Stuckey; Library Board, C. C. Sawyer; Clerk, A. C. Keener.

Coming from the west, the traveler sees a picturesque little village, its streets embowered in trees, crowning a slight elevation in an otherwise level tract of farming land. This town, Altona, is situated on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad about sixteen miles east of Galesburg. Around it lies as rich a farming country as can be found in Illinois, and the village itself is one of the most prosperous in the county, having electric lights, cement walks, a public library, bank, and all modern improvements.

Altona was laid out and platted in 1854 by John Piatt for the heirs of John Thompson. Later E. B. Main and Daniel Allen laid out an addition, just northeast of the first location. The place was then called La Pier. While the Central Military Tract, now the C, B. & Q. R. R. was being built in 1853 many laborers employed on the road came and camped in the edge of the wood, near the railroad line. To supply their wants, Cyrus Willard and J. S. Chambers built a store, 18x36 feet in size near the center of Section 16 on the northeast quarter of that section of land then owned by Daniel Allen. This was the first store building erected in Altona, and was the pride of the community, as it was the only store between Galesburg and Kewanee. Samuel P. Whiting built the second store, Niles & Gay later. In 1854 Mr. Erickson, of Moline, built a flouring mill. The mill continued in successful operation for ten years, Nels P. Peterson and Thos. Taylor operated it later. Ambrose Foster had a broom factory. There were several wagon makers, Darius Pierce operated a cooperage, later Mr. Tornquist had a carriage factory. None of them employed much extra help. In 1855 an elevator was built. Cline's elevator and Tamblyn's were burned. The farmers now own an elevator on the site of the Tamblyn elevator.

The first hotel was built back of Willard & Chambers store (which was located where E. F. Swanson's store now stands) was operated by a Mr. Hahn and later burned down, never rebuilt. The Walnut Grove Hotel was built in 1854, operated by Needham Rogers, Matthew Wiley and Mrs. Ackerman in turn, is now demolished and a nice modern residence built on the site by W. C. Stuckey whose father, S. S. Stuckey came here in 1854 and built the first house in the northeast part of the township. The Altona House, facing the depot, was constructed by Mrs. McKie, H. G. O. Wales, J. A. Negus, J. B. McCalmont and Mr. Hopkins were successive proprietors. The Brown Hotel was built later by B. H. Brown and operated by him, later by G. F. Edwards, Robert Wilson and Mr. Hopkins, is now a private residence occupied by S. M. Whiting, whose father built the second store building in town. He was later editor of the Altona Journal from 1877 to 1884, succeeded by O. B. Kail. The Altona Record was first published March 1, 1888, by C. F. McDonough. Later editors were Sam W. West, Arthur Austin and F. C. Krans, its present proprietor, who is also mayor of the town.

The village of Altona was incorporated under special charter in 1856 under the general law in 1862 and again in 1874.

Altona has always been noted for the excellence of its schools. There has been a good graded school here since 1858. The first school election was held October 9, 1858, at which M. B. Waldo, E. B. Main and Jas. T. Bliss were elected directors, and a graded school established with a primary, intermediate, and grammar course. The grammar course as follows: Practical and intellectual arithmetic, geography and map drawing continued, Sander's New Fifth Reader, Analysis of words; 2. Single entry bookkeeping, U. S. History, English Grammar, Analysis and Punctuation, Elocution and Composition; 3, Harkness first and second Latin book, Caesar, Cicero and Virgil, First Greek Book, Xenophon's Anabasis, Higher Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Surveying, Rhetoric, Natural Philosophy, How Plants Grow, Political Economy and History. The first principal, Wm. A. Jones, a Yale graduate, received $600 a year; Nancy Johnson, Intermediate, $240; Miss Marsden, Primary, $4.50 a week. A new school building and location was voted for at an election held May 2, 1863, at which thirteen votes were cast, O. T. Johnson receiving ten for director. August 15, 1864, it was voted to sell the old building and site for $1,500. An additional $1,500 was borrowed of Geo. W. Ransom for building purposes. Matthew Wiley was the contractor and the High School building was completed in 1864. The new Kufus Grade School was erected in its place and occupied for school purposes September, 1917, Mrs. Mary I. Riner Kufus donating $8,000 toward its erection. It was completed and dedicated August 28, 1918, Rev. Brink, M. E. minister; S. J. S. Moore, Presbyterian minister; A. R. Keeler, Mayor of Altona; Hon. Francis G. Blair, State Superintendent of Public Instruction; Walter F. Boyes, County Superintendent of Schools; W. L. Steele, Galesburg, City Superintendent of Schools, and Mrs. Thos. Sheahan, (a former teacher and graduate of the old school and daughter of Wm. Hillerby, an old settler,) being on the program. A short time before, in 1916, the Walnut Grove Township High School in the north part of town had been dedicated with appropriate ceremonies. Judge J. D. Welch, Co. Supt. Boyes of Galesburg and State Supt. of Public Instruction Francis G. Blair were speakers on the program. Mr. and Mrs. J. M. McKie donated a fine new piano for the use of the school and handsomely furnished a rest room for the teachers.

The Ransom Public Library was erected and dedicated March 28, 1890. Hon. E. A. Bancroft of Galesburg and Dr. G. S. Chalmers were speakers. Geo. W. Ransom left his entire estate, some $8,000, (with the exception of a bequest to the Masons and Walnut Grove cemetery), to establish a Public Library in the town, if the township would built a suitable building.
The Churches

The Methodist Episcopal church was organized in August, 1853, with a membership of thirteen, under charge of Rev. Jas. Quimby. In 1857 a church was erected and later a parsonage, the two costing $5,000. The church has been remodeled and rededicated twice. Rev. Brink is the present pastor, members 128. The Congregational church was founded Feb. 21, 1857, with nine members under charge of Rev. A. Root. A church costing $4,000 was dedicated November 9, 1866. The present members worship with the Presbyterians, Geo. A. Ward, clerk. Rev. I. N. Candee, D. D., T. S. Vaill and J. T. Bliss organized the Presbyterian church (O. S.) April 25, 1857, there being twenty-one members. The old building was remodeled and burned, a new brick structure was erected and dedicated December 2, 1917, members, 133. The formation of the Lutheran church took place in 1869, the congregation erected a church building costing $4,000 and later a parsonage. The first pastor was Rev. Philip Direll. The denomination has steadily grown in numbers, membership at present about 350. The Swedish Baptist Mission was opened in 1876 by J. W. Stromberg but only holds occasional services being without a regular pastor.
The Banks

The first bank in the village was an outgrowth of the general mercantile business of A, P. Johnson & Co., which was started in 1854. Until 1890 when Mr. Johnson left the place his was the only bank in Altona. Then the Bank of Altona incorporated under the State Banking Law was organized with A. M. Craig, President; C. S. Clarke, Vice President; Geo. Craig, Cashier; J. M. McKie, Assistant Cashier. In January, 1896, J. M. McKie was elected to the position made vacant by Geo. Craig's death. The present officers are J. M. McKie, President; C. C. Craig, Vice President; G. N. Larson, Cashier, and C. E. Eckstedt, Assistant Cashier. The capital stock is $50,000 and surplus $100,000.
Fraternal Life

Among the societies can be mentioned the Masonic, the I. O. O. F., Maccabees, Modern Woodmen of America, Eastern Stars, Rebekahs, Royal Neighbors, Altona-Oneida Branch of the Free Kindergarten and Red Cross. The Masonic Lodge was organized October 1, 1860, and now owns its own Masonic Hall, a gift being left toward its purchase by Geo. W. Ransom. The first officers were Hiram Hall, W. M.; A. P. Stephens, S. W.; G. D. Slanker, J. W.; J. N. Bush, Sec; J. S. Chambers, Treas.; B. H. Scott, S. D.; Geo. McKown, J. D.; S. Lawrence, T. An order of Eastern Stars was organized in 1892 with forty-six members. In the 60's a lodge of Good Templars or W. C. T. U. was organized and during its career the members demolished a saloon which stood where the garage is now located. I. O. O. F., No. 511, was organized Oct. 14, 1873, charter members, Matthew Wiley, P. G.; John A. Stuckey, Edward Nelson, Richard J. Burneson, Harry E. Wheeler, Jas. A. Griffith, G. A. Hall. M. W. A. Camp, 3737, organized April 3, 1896, charter members, Alfred Anderson, Carl Elion, Nels H. Nelson, Harry Austin, W. B. Elliott, E. W. Norene, August Bowman, P. Englund, F. Parker, G. L. Brown, G. Harling, 0. W. Peterson, H. S. Brown, G. Johnson, R. C. Sellon, Thos. Sheahan, S. B. Brown, Frank Krans, A. Swanson, S. L. Collinson, Wm. Lady, W. H. Van Scoyk, J. H. Cummings, Nels Lundahl, H. L. Weaver, Wm. Doak, and Alf Nelson. K. O. T. M. organized August 14, 1894, charter members G. C. Ecklev, C. W. Miller, Arthur Shade, C. Gates, A. C. Peterson, G. W. Pierce, Reuben Cox, C. A. Clifford, J. S. Swanson, C. A. Ackerman, Ben Davenport, W. B. Gray.

Of the old settlers very few are left (none of 1850) . B. H. Scott, A. J. Anderson, Mrs. L. B. Cummings, Mrs. R. C. Stuckey still reside here. D. Pierce, Knoxville; Mrs. Helen Lindwall, California; Ed Wales, Colorado, and Mrs. Tamblyn, Nebraska are some of the pioneers still living.
Fires and Floods

Disastrous fires have occurred at various times. B. H. Scott's store and the buildings south of it having been destroyed by fire three different times. January 2, 1899, the main street was completely wiped out but was replaced the next year by the substantial brick buildings which are now there, two of which were erected by Judge A. M. Craig and two by John McMaster. In 1900 the electric light plant and Tornquist carriage factory was burned, electric light plant rebuilt.

Several floods have caused Walnut Creek to go on a rampage. One, June 25, 1898, resulted in the death of J. F. Hubbell, and washed out the large railroad bridge and arches west of town, causing erection of a new iron road bridge and a summer's work by the C. B. & Q. R. R. when new foundations were sunk deeper to hold the large new arches. Last year the railroad built a large reservoir at their pumphouse east of town, 800 feet long, 150 feet wide and 15 feet deep. This reservoir was completed July, 1918, after eight month's work. A fine place for a factory location. August, 1907, a disastrous hailstorm destroyed the crops in the township, a strip six miles wide and fifty long being devastated. The year 1859 is noted as having a frost every month in the year, was also very wet. The winter of the deep snow was 1830. Cold winds, dark skies, and gusty winds made the days preceding Christmas of 1830 dismal, streams were swollen and snow fell in big wet flakes, later the weather grew bitterly cold and a wind of hurricane force whipped snow hard as sand into the faces of men and beast and piled it in drifts many feet deep covering all fences and cabins. Scores of men perished on the prairies and many of the bodies were not found until spring had melted away the snow. For sixty days there was no sun. Snow four feet deep on the level, lasted until late in spring. In 1891 there was a great deal of snow and roads could not be used until shoveled as they filled up with every fresh storm. Snow still remained in fence corners in June. 1917 was another snowy year with bitter cold weather, drifts eighteen feet deep in the railroad cuts, trains stalled from Friday until Sunday, January 17, 1918, between Galva and Kewanee. Each new snowstorm filled the roads from fence to fence, making roads impassable even at this late day; so the days passed shoveling coal and snow but no such hardships as the pioneers endured in that winter of 1830 when the domestic and wild animals and game perished by the thousand, and the settlers themselves by the score.

The population of Altona in 1870 was 902; 1880, 806; 1890, 654; 1900, 633, and 1910, 528.

Extracted 15 Dec 2017 by Norma Hass from Annals of Knox County: Commemorating Centennial of Admission of Illinois as a State of the Union in 1818, published in 1921 by the Centennial Historical Association, Knox County, Illinois, The Board of Supervisors, pages 197-205.

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