DEWITT TOWNSHIP (Pages 285-288)

Picture of Jacob Swigart Residence.
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THIS township deserves favorable mention from the fact of being among the first portions of territory settled in the county. Fifty years and upwards have passed since the hardy pioneers commenced their labors toward preparing it for the abode of man. To see the fine farms and improvements, at this time, one could hardly believe that but a half a century has gone by since its first settlement. DeWitt township contains about 37 sections of land, being in the form of a square, with the exception of a small portion out off from the southern part of Santa Anna township and united to the former on the south-east. It is situated in the central eastern part of the county, and bounded as follows: On the north by Rutledge township, east by Santa Anna, south by Nixon, and west by Harp. A belt of timber extends through the township from the north-east to the south-west, following the trend of Salt creek, and it composes about one-fourth of the surface. The prairie lies on either side of the timber, and is some of the best soil in the county. Salt creek enters in the north-east of section 1, and flows south-west across the township and passes out in the south-west corner of section 31. This stream has numerous small branches, the most prominent of which are Friend and Grove creeks emptying in from the south-east. The Springfield Division of the Illinois Central railroad passes through it, entering in section 2, and passing out on the line between sections 18 and 19.

FIRST SETTLEMENTS.

The first to make his abode within the limits of DeWitt township, was a pioneer preacher by the name of Burlison the latter part of 1830, or the spring of 1831, who settled in what is now located as section 9. The history of whence he came and where he went is a blank, either in tradition or by the knowledge of the oldest inhabitants. In 1832, he sold out his improvement right to James McCord, the history of whom will be given as one among the pioneers. J. J. McGraw made a claim in the township in the summer of 1830, and dug a well on his claim. This was on the premises of what is now owned by E. O. Day. This was the first well dug in the township, and was located a little north and west of Mr. Day's present dwelling.

In the spring of 1833, there were but three heads of families within this territory: Hugh L. Davenport, Thomas R. Davis, and James McCord. There were also three single men; Orin Wakefield, Millington Brown, and James Morrison, the latter being a widower. Mr. Davenport came from Kentucky in the summer 1831, and settled in section 19. His wife's maiden name was Juanna Watt, He remained here until a few years ago, when he removed to Harp township. Mr. Davenport is now dead, but several of the children yet reside in the county. Thomas R. Davis came in the same year as Mr. Davenport, and settled in the same section. He also came from Kentucky, and had a wife and one child. He lived here but a short time, when he removed to parts unknown.

James McCord was a native of North Carolina, and settled in section 9 in the fall of 1832, buying the improvement right of the pioneer preacher, Burlison. Mr. McCord brought his family here with two teams, a horse and an ox team. His family consisted of his wife Mary, and four children: Martha S., John, Hannah, and William Y. Other children were born to the family after coming to the county. Mr. McCord died here in 1852. His wife survived him but six years. Only one of the children, James W. is now residing in the county.

Millington Brown afterwards married Miss Eliza Nott, and raised a family of children. He moved with his family to Rutledge township in 1838, where he died. His widow afterwards married again, but has since died. James Morrison came from Ohio, and squatted in section 19. He died several years ago. Two of his sons are yet living in the county, John and Simeon. The former is a prominent citizen in Tunbridge township, and the latter of Harp.

Orin Wakefield was a native of the state of New York, Jefferson county, and was one of the first to enter land in this township, being the west half of the south-east quarter of section 17. This entry was made the 28th of May, 1883. As already stated, when he came here, he was a single man but soon commenced improving the land be had entered, "batching" it for a few years. In 1836, he married Hannah McCord, a daughter of James McCord, the pioneer. From this union eight children were born: Susan, Mary, George W., Melancthon, Bandusia, Hepheston, Philetus, and Lycurgus. In 1856, Mr. Wakefield had the misfortune to lose his wife. He was again married to Susan N. Howard, in 1858, from which marriage no children have been born. Both are now living in the old homestead in section 17, and enjoying a happy old age. But one child is now living in the county, a son, who resides in Waynesville. Mr. Wakefield owns a large farm near the village of DeWitt, and is one of the most prominent farmers in the township. He is the oldest pioneer citizen in DeWitt township, and is now 73 years of age. The county at the time Mr. Wakefield settled in it was wild and uncultivated, nothing but a vast expanse of prairie, with good timber hugging Salt creek. Neighbors were but few and widely scattered. A cabin of settlers, miles away, were then acquaintances and warm-hearted neighbors. At this time no one passed a log hut without calling to see if all were well, and in case of sickness, members of the family were better cared for than in this day of selfishness. Often the settlers would go ten or twelve miles to aid the new comers to raise their cabins. The fellowship of these pioneers is wholly unknown to the present generation. The manner of preparing the mortar to daub their cabins was unique indeed. This was done by digging up a quantity of clay and covering over with prairie grass. A lot of shelled corn was then scattered over all, and enough water poured on to make it a proper consistency. The hogs were then turned in, and in their efforts to pick up the corn, the clay and grass would become well mixed and in good shape for use.

In the fall of 1833, and spring of 1834, there was quite an influx of immigration, among whom were Benjamin S. Day, the McCords, Z. G. Cantrall, and James Hutchison. The former was a native of Kentucky, and moved here with his family in the spring of 1834, and settled in section 19. His family consisted of his wife and six children; Mary, Elizabeth, Edward O., Rebecca, H. T., and Caroline. Mr. Day laid off the town of Marion, (DeWitt) improved a good farm, and died in 1845. His wife survived him but a few years. Four of the family are yet living in the county. The McCords and Z. G. Cantrall, came the same year, and settled in the same section, 19. The latter remained but a short time. Several of the former families are yet living in the county. James Hutchison was a native of Virginia, but moved from there to Kentucky in an early day, and from thence to Sangamon county, Illinois, in the fall of 1828. In 1833 be moved to Waynesville, where he remained two years, when be came to this township. At this time he had a wife and six children. His wife's name was Mary. The children were, William, Mary J., Elizabeth, Martha A., Amanda, and James H. Mr. Hutchison lived until the summer of 1845. His wife died in 1861. But two of the family are now living, and reside in DeWitt; Elizabeth, wife of D. F. Robbins, and Amanda.

Hiram Chapin, another early settler, was a native of North Carolina, and emigrated to Tennessee, and from thence to Kentucky. In the latter state he married Martha Day, a sister of Benjamin S. Day, the pioneer. In 1819, be moved to Madison County, Illinois, and from there to near Waynesville in 1829, where he remained until 1835, when he came to this township. He had a wife and five children; John D., Stillman A., George D., Abraham D., and Martha A. He afterwards removed to McLean County, where he died in the fall of 1871. Stillman A. is the only member of the family living in the county. He resides in the village of DeWitt, an old and respected citizen. Daniel Robins settled here in the fall of 1835, and located in section 19 He was a native of Kentucky, and moved here with a carriage and a four-horse wagon, bringing with him seven children; Martha, Jane, D. F., Adolphus C., Amanda C., Ann Eliza, and Mary. He was then a widower. They first moved into the log kitchen of Hiram Chapin. Mr. Robins was engaged in the mercantile business in the town of Marion, now DeWitt, and afterwards moved to Clinton, where he followed the same pursuit and died in 1870. D. F. Robins is the only one of the family now living in the county. He resides in the village of DeWitt, and has reared a family of nine children, four of whom are living in the county. John Callison came from Kentucky in a very early day, and settled in section 17. At the time of his coming he was a young man with a wife but no children. Several children were born to them after coming to the county, three of whom are residing in the county; Benjamin is living in section 18, and is a successful farmer. The old gentleman, John, and his wife, Elizabeth, are yet living at the old homestead in section 17, and among the most esteemed citizens. Jacob Swigart, one of the old settlers and staunch men of the county, was a native of Ohio, and came here in 1847. He was then a single man, but afterwards married in the county. His residence is in section 14, and he owns 2,300 acres of land and is one of the largest stock raisers in DeWitt County. He has served in all six years as township supervisor, and is the present incumbent.

The following are the first land entries made in the township, and reaching to 1835: February 15, 1833, James McCord entered the W. of the N. W. of section 15. John McCord entered the W. of the S. E. of section 6, February 18, 1833. At the same date Thomas R. Davis entered the S. W. of the N. E. of section 19, May 28, 1833. Orin Wakefield entered the W. of the S. E. of section 17. In the same year, December 31, Z. G. Cantrall entered the E. of the S. E. of section 19. March 17, 1834, Millington Brown entered the E. of the S. E. of section 10. In the same year and in the same section, Martha S. McCord entered the W. of the S. E. . At the same date Hannah McCord entered the E. of the N. E. of section 14. Benjamin S. Day entered the S. E. of the N. E. of section 19, April 21, 1834.

The first marriage occurred in 1834. The contracting parties were Sylvanus Shurtleff and Elizabeth Day, daughter of Benjamin S. Day. The rites were solemnized by Gabriel Watt, a justice of the peace, and a local preacher of the Methodist denomination. The first death was Mrs. Morrison, wife of James Morrison, in 1833. She was buried on the land he squatted on in section 19. The first regular interments were made in section 30, but this being wet or "spouty" ground, the burial place was afterwards changed to the present cemetery in section 19.

The first school was taught by, F. S. Robins, in the winter of 1836. At that time there was no school-house, and the school was conducted in the kitchen of Benjamin S. Day. It was a subscription school, and but few pupils were in attendance. The first school-house was built the following year, and situated just west of Mr. Chapin's residence in the village of DeWitt. It was a little log cabin of very meagre pretensions, and characteristic of the day. It passed away long ago. The ground on which it was situated is now owned by Henry Myers.

Rev. Burlison preached the first sermon in the huts of the few pioneers. This was as early as 1831-2. Dudley Richards and Thomas Davis were also pioneer preachers. The first to practise medicine was James A. Lemen. Dr. G. R. Morrison was also an early physician. The first blacksmith was Ralph Rosecrans, and his shop was in the town of Marion, on the south side of the square. This was in 1836.

The main part of the early history of DeWitt township, so far as business is concerned, was confined to the town of Marion, so that was the oldest settled portion of this territory; hence the remainder of the early history will be found under the caption of the village of Marion.

The following are the supervisors who have represented this township since township organization: Edward O. Day was elected the first supervisor in the spring of 1859. Alexander McConkey was elected in 1860, and served two terms. Jacob Swigart was elected in 1862, A. D. Chapin in 1863. Jacob Swigart was re-elected in 1864. Darius Cheney was elected in 1865. David Basserman elected in 1866 and served two terms. Darius Cheney was re-elected in 1868. P. V. C. Poole was elected in 1869, and served two terms. Smith Fuller succeeded him and served one term. D. A. Rosencrans was elected in 1872 and served one term. Jacob Swigart re-elected in 1873 and served two terms. John Marsh was elected in 1875 and served two terms. D. A. Rosencrans was re-elected in 1877 and served one term. John Marsh re-elected in 1878. Jacob Swigart re-elected in 1879, served one term. Charles Richter elected in 1880. Jacob Swigart re-elected in 1881, and is the present incumbent.

The township has a railroad indebtedness in favor of the Springfield Division of the Illinois Central, in the sum of $40,000. The bonds were issued in 1871, and made payable in twenty years. They are bearing ten per cent interest, but will probably soon be refunded at six per cent. The population for 1860 was 1018; 1870, 1061; and 1880, 1116. The roads, bridges and other improvements are in excellent condition and the township bids fair to keep pace with others in the county.

VILLAGE OF DEWITT.

The town was originally called Marion, and is one of the oldest villages in the county. Marion was laid out by Benjamin S. Day, March 7th, 1836, and comprised ten acres, being a part of the north-east quarter of section 19, town 20, range 4 east. The lots were 41 feet by 82, and the streets 82 feet. Benjamin Austin was the surveyor. At a public sale held in the same month, nearly all the lots were sold, ranging from five to twenty dollars per lot. The following summer the first election was held at the house of Benjamin S. Day. Gabriel Watt and Flemming G. Paine were elected Justices of the Peace, and James Hutchison was elected Constable. In 1836, Daniel and F. S. Robbins opened the first store in the precinct. It was situated about 200 yards south of the square. The building was a hewed log house, of small dimensions, and the stock was such as was kept in those days in a country store. The building was taken down and moved away many years ago, and was afterwards utilized by Mr. Benjamin Day for a dwelling. The first dwelling was constructed by F. S. Robins, in the fall of 1835. It was a log cabin, and situated on the property now owned by D. F. Robins, a little south of the square. It is yet standing, but clap-boarded with rived boards four feet in length, and used for a coal and wood house. The pedestrian can see it at this writing by passing Mr. Robins' hotel. The first hotel or public house was kept by Sylvanus Shurtleff, in 1837, and located on the north-east corner of the square. It was a double-hewed log house, of fair pretensions for the times. About fifteen years ago it was taken down and moved to the prairie out of town, and used for a stable. Mr. Shurtleff also built the first mill in 1836. This was a rude concern with an inclined wheel, ten feet in diameter, for a power. Those who desired to have their corn ground were obliged to get on the wheel and tread it. He did not understand the principles of philosophy, and first attempted to run the wheel by a wheelbarrow well-greased and filled with stones attached at the top of the incline; thinking the weight would propel the wheel. Of course this would not work, and hence his patrons were obliged to tread the wheel. The mill was located on the east side of the square, near the dwelling now occupied by H. LeFeber. Mr. Shurtleff was of a roaming and restless disposition, and subsequently moved to the far west. The second mill was built by Daniel Robins a short time afterwards, and situated on the south side of the square. It was a horse mill, and did fair service for that day. Mr. Robins was also the first postmaster, and the office was established in 1837. In the same year the town of Marion was greatly enlarged by the additions of Day and Robins; the former by twenty acres, and the latter by forty. Prior to this time the people were destitute of mail privileges, the nearest post offices being at Decatur and Bloomington. Newspapers were a luxury not thought of, and letters from friends abroad did not come oftener than about four times within the year. The first church house was constructed by Cumberland Presbyterians in 1840. It was a frame building, and situated just across the street from the present brick church. It was afterwards abandoned by the church and used as a sorghum mill, and subsequently for a stable. It has since been torn down and moved to another place.

The village of DeWitt as now situated is long and straggling, extending from the original town of Marion north to the railroad, a distance of about three-fourths of a mile. The addition was made by A. C. Jones, August 23d, 1871, and described as follows: Commencing at the N. E. corner of the E. of the S. E. part of section 18, town 20 N., R. 4 E., south on section line 2,646 feet to section corner; westerly on section line 1,240 feet; north 2,646 feet north, easterly 1,240 feet, except right of way of the G. C. & S. Railroad, now Springfield Division of the Illinois Central.

Incorporation.—The village of DeWitt was incorporated the fall of 1879, and the first meeting of the board was held November 1st, of the same year. The following are the names of the first board: A. McConkey, President; Charles Richter, Henry Myers, J. H. Tyler, H. LeFeber and H. S. Chapin. The second board, or for the year 1880, were, Charles Richter, President; H. LeFeber, H. Myers, John McDonald, H. Baker, W. A. Finley. The board for 1881 —Charles Richter, President; H. LeFeber, John McDonald, H. Myers, Frank Fisher, and Samuel Darby. J. R. Basserman, Clerk. Prior to 1881, the clerk was not an elected officer. W. A. Myers has officiated as village Treasurer since its organization.

PRESENT BUSINESS.

DeWitt Tile Works.—This industry was established in the summer of 1876 by Charles Richter, present proprietor. It is situated just south of the railroad, and east of the depot. These works were built at a cost of $5,000, and have capacity of manufacturing 300,000 feet of tile annually, and give employment to seven men. There are two kilns of an improved make, styled the crown-top and down-draft. The size of the sheds are 30x220, feet with three car-ways extending the entire length. The works are driven by a ten-horse power engine. Three hundred and fifty cords of wood and ten car loads of coal are consumed every season.

Saw and Grist Mill, owned and operated by E. M. McPherson. It was established in the fall of 1866 by Nixon & Leasure, and came into the possession of Mr. McPherson in the spring of 1876, and is located on the north-east part of town, about midway between the square and the depot. The saw-mill contains a circular saw, 60 inches in diameter, and can saw 7,000 feet of lumber daily. The grist-mill attachment contains but one burr, used wholly in grinding corn, and has the capacity of turning out 130 bushels of meal per day. The entire machinery is driven by twenty-five horse power engine. From five to eight men are given employment by this industry.

Blacksmith, Wagon and Carriage Shop, A. King, proprietor.—This shop is situated one block north-east of the square. The business gives employment to three men.

Blacksmith and Wagon-ironer, John Armstrong.—The shops are situated on the west side of the main street, leading from the square to the depot, about two blocks from the former.

Wagon and Wood Workman.—John Gagnon.

Carriage and Wagon Painters.—W. A. Finley, Edmund Dupre.

Grain, Lumber and Coal dealer.—H. LeFeber.

General Stores.—C. L. Oakford & Co., J. W. Cain.

Drugs and Groceries.— M. M. Robins.

Drugs.—N. Cain.

Boot and Shoe Store.—A. Myers.

Harness and Saddlery.—Charles Dupre.

Physicians.—E. M. Taylor, John H. Tyler, H. S. Chapin, J. Bryant.

Stock Dealer and Shipper.—Henry Myers.

Norman Horse Dealer.— G. B. Leasure.

Insurance Agent.—H. LeFeber.

Shoemaker—A. J. Brown.

Sewing Machine Agent.—Levi Hodges.

Meat Market.—Archibald McConkey.

Carpenter.—John McDonald.

Hotel.—D. F. Robins.

Police Magistrate.—A. J. Brown.

Constable.—Charles Zartman.

Postmaster.—J. W. Cain.

There is also one saloon in town.

At this writing, the village contains about 300 inhabitants. It has one church, a brick structure with cupola and bell, and was built in 1856. It is of the Methodist Episcopal denomination. The school-house is a one-story brick, and was built in 1871. It employs two teachers, and is thus semi-graded. About ninety pupils is the maximum attendance.

SOCIETIES.

Amon Lodge, No. 251, A. F. and A. M. was chartered October 6, 1881, with the following Charter officers: John H. Tyler, W. M.; John Marsh, S. W.; Benjamin S. Lewis, J. W.; Stillman, A. Chapin, Treas.; Joseph J. Kelly, Secretary; Joseph Marsh, S. D.; James McCord, T. The number of Charter members were 11. The present officers are: James Marsh, W. M.; Isaac C. Lafferty, S. W.; John Furgeson, J. W.; G. B. Leasure, Treas.; S. A. Chapin, Sec.; H. LeFeber, S. D.; Asa Wilson, J. D.; A. King, T. The present membership is 59. The Lodge meets in the Masonic Hall, Tuesday evenings, on or before the full moon in each month. This is one of the oldest Lodges in DeWitt county. It is in excellent condition financially, owning the entire building in which their Lodge meets.

DeWitt Lodge, No. 183, I. O. O. F., was instituted the 12th of October, 1845, with the following charter members: John M. Richter, B. T. Jones, Thompson S. Smith, S. K. Harrell, and Samuel L. Swords.

In consequence of the decease of membership during the war, the Lodge merged with Mt. Pleasant Lodge, No. 126, in the year 1862. It was reinstated as DeWitt Lodge, the 18th of March, 1875. The present officers are: A. J. Brown, N. G.; Samuel Darby, V. G.; H. S. Chaplin, Sec.; M. A Myers, Treas.; Charles Chappell, C.; Levi Hodges, I. G.; Edward E. Claflin, O. G.; Darius Cheney, R. D. G. M. The present membership is thirty. The assets of the Lodge in furniture and regalia is estimated at $200.00. Amount in the treasury, $400.00. The Lodge is therefore, in good financial condition.

TOWN OF PARNELL.

This town was laid out by James Porter, a public-spirited citizen of the township, in the spring of 1880, and situated on the Springfield Division of the Illinois Central, just south of the township line between DeWitt and Rutledge township. It was named in honor of the present Irish agitator, Parnell.

The first house was a small frame building, 16 by 24, and built by John Williamson in the spring of 1880, for a blacksmith shop. Mr. Williamson still conducts the business at the old stand. The first dwelling was constructed by J. W. Nichols in the spring of the same year. The first goods were sold by C. L. Winslow in the same season. The store was a frame building, and situated on the corner of Lincoln and Elizabeth streets.

Picture of Nichols's North's Elevator.
Click on image for larger picture.

Nichols & North Elevator Co.—This elevator was built in the summer of 1881, at a cost of $3,000, and is one of the neatest and most complete elevators in DeWitt county. It is thirty feet square and fifty-six feet in height, and has the capacity of storing 20,000 bushels of grain, besides having cribs capable of holding 35,000 bushels of corn. Its capacity for elevating per day is 4,000 bushels, and employs four men to run it. It is conveniently situated on the switch of the railroad, has one double dump, and drive ways suitable for the business. It is operated by what is known as the "Taylor horse-power," but will some time in 1882, put in a steam-power, as the business is so increasing that the latter power will have to be utilized. In addition to the steam-power, there will also be added a track-scale, and a set of corn burrs for manufacturing meal. In the last twelve months this firm has handled 180,000 bushels of grain.

General Stores.—Brickery Bros., C. L. Winslow.

Hardware and Stoves.—NichoIs & North.—Manufacturer and Dealer in Boots and Shoes.—August Anderson.

Blacksmith Shops.—J. W. Williamson; Walker & Williams.

Coal, Lumber and Agricultural Implements—Nichols & North.

Postmaster.—J. W. Winslow.

Freight, Express and Ticket Agent.—J. W. Nichols.

Boarding House.—J. H. Brickey.

Notary.—J. W. Nichols.

The little town is on the high road, in time, to become a village of some local importance, as it has an excellent country surrounding it; and a wide-awake class of citizens. It now contains but about fifty inhabitants, and is not two years old at this writing. Mr. Wilson North has a telephone connecting his store with his residence, three-fourths of a mile away.

FULLERTON STATION.

Is situated on the railroad, about midway between the town off DeWitt and Parnell, and contains one store, consisting of a general stock. Mr. David Fuller is the proprietor, also grain buyer, freight and ticket agent. The place has a switch, and all day-trains stop here.

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