WAPELLA TOWNSHIP (Pages 260-263)

Picture of Residence & Office of Dr. Davis.

THIS township received its name from the village of Wapella situated on the Illinois Central Railway in the southern part of the township. There is probably no body of land in that county that surpasses it for fertility of soil and general productiveness. It contains a variety of soil; the central and southern portion being a deep, rich, black loam, specially adapted to the raising of corn, though other grains can be cultivated with good success. In the last few years tilling has been introduced to a considerable extent, and at this writing there are but few acres of the land that are not under good cultivation. The township contains over 28 sections of land, about one-third of which originally was timber. There is at this time plenty of good timber to supply the wants of the people for fuel, lumber and fencing purposes. The timber belt is mainly in the north, along Lone Brush Creek and its tributaries. This land is somewhat broken, but well adapted to the raising of wheat, blue grass, fruits, and vegetables. It is of a light yellowish color, and rather shallow in depth. Lone Brush Creek enters the township in the north-east part of section 13, taking mainly a westerly course, and passes out in section 19, when it discharges its waters into Rock Creek, and from thence into the Kickapoo. Several good springs may be found along the timber not far from the creek banks. The Illinois Central Railroad enters the township in the western portion of section 15, and passes entirely through it from north to south, and crosses the line of Clintonia and Wapella in section 8. The township is bounded on the north by McLean county, on the east by Wilson and Harp townships, on the south by Clintonia, and west by Waynesville and Barnett.


The first settlements were made in this township in 1829, by John P. Glenn, William Vinson, and John Young. The former was a native of Virginia, but subsequently went to Kentucky, and moved here and settled in section 14 in the spring of 1829. He had a wife and several children, but moved with his family to Iowa in an early day. None of his representatives are now residing in the county. Mr. Vinson also came from Kentucky about the same time and located in section 23. He had a wife, but no children, and migrated to Iowa about the same time as Mr. Glenn. John Young came from Kentucky in 1829, and settled in section 25. He was a man of family, and had a wife and seven children; Polly, Larkin, Bryant, John, Sarah, Nancy, and Kate A. Mr. Young and his wife died several years ago. None of the family reside in the county.

Abraham Swearingen, another early settler, was born in Pennsylvania, and went to Kentucky when he was a mere boy, where he grew to manhood. Here he married his first wife, Elizabeth Lowe, in the year 1816. Ten years afterwards he moved to Illinois and stopped for a few years in Vermillion county. In the spring of 1830, he came to this township and settled in section 15, entering the E. of the S. E. of said section. At this time he had a family of seven children; Daniel, George W., Lydia, John H., Elijah W., David P., and Samuel R. The following were born in the township: Elizabeth, Lemuel A., Sarah E., Zilpah, Jemima, Abraham, and Mary J. The foregoing are all children of the first marriage, six of whom are yet living. John H. resides in the township in section 22, and is a successful farmer. Mrs. Swearingen died many years ago, when A. S. married his second' wife, Amy Crum, in 1843. From this union two children have been born; Isaac S., and Jacob W., both of whom are living. Mr. Swearingen is now in his 86th year of age, hale and hearty for one of his years, and is now with his second wife, residing on the old homestead in section 15. He has been here 51 years, lived in three different counties, Tazewell, McLean, and DeWitt, and yet never moved from section 15 since his settlement. We will leave the old settlers to explain this seeming anomaly to their grandchildren. Mr. S. represents 100 grandchildren, 150 great grand-children, and 2 great-great grand-children, being 252 descendants in all.

Samuel Spencer came here in 1830, from Kentucky, and in the spring of the above year entered the W. of the N. W. of section 26, when he returned home. In the fall of the same year he moved to the township, bringing his family with him, consisting of his wife, and seven children; William, Lettia, Ann, Lorinda Joseph, John, and Sarilda. Other children were born to them after coming to the county. Mrs. Spencer died in 1867 and Mr. S. lived until about five years ago. None of the family now reside in the county.

John Troxell located here in the spring of the same year as Mr. Spencer. He was also from Kentucky, and had a wife and seven children. He settled in section 28, but moved to Iowa in an early day. Frederick Troxell, a brother of the former, came from Kentucky and settled here in the same year, in section 32. He also had a family, and remained for several years, when his wife died. He again married and shortly afterward migrated to Missouri. None of the family are living in the county.

Another pioneer was Jonathan Harrold. He was born Virginia but moved to the state of Indiana in an early day and migrated to Illinois in 1833, and settled a little north-east of Waynesville, where he remained until his death, which occurred in 1836. He brought seven children with him to the state; James M., Isam, Mitchell, Eli, Mary, Naomi, and Sophronia. Their mode of conveyance was the old, four-horse wagon, crooked bed, and sometimes in that day called a steamboat. In 1842, three children, Isam, Mitchell, and Eli came to this township, procured 200 acres of land lying in section 32 and 33, and settled thereon. Mitchell died in 1873. Isam and Eli are both yet living in section 32. Henry and David Troxell, Joseph Nelson, and Jonathan Atherton are among the old settlers. David Troxell settled on the farm now owned by Eli Harrold in section 32, and died many years ago. Henry died about 1874. Joseph Nelson is yet living a little north of Wapella, and is one of the oldest men in the county. Jonathan Atherton came from Sangamon county, and settled in section 29. He is yet living at the old homestead. His wife was born in the county in 1829. They have four children living, three sons and one daughter. Mr. Atherton is a substantial farmer, and one of the prominent citizen of the township.

The following are the first land entries made: June 6th, 1829, John P. Glenn entered the W. of the S. E. of section 14. On the same day, John Young entered the E. of the S. E. of section 15. William Vinson, also at the same date, entered the E. of the N. E. of section 23. January 19th, 1830, Frederick Troxell entered the E. of the N. E. of section 32. Abraham Swearingen, on the 26th of May of the same year, entered the E of the S. E. of section 15. June 1st, 1830, Samuel Spencer entered the W of the N. W. of section 26. At the same date, John Troxell entered the W. of the S. W. of section 28.

From the foregoing it will readily be seen that the first to strike a blow toward the settlement of this township were the pioneers Glenn, Young, and Vinson, as they entered their land on the same day and were all living here in the spring of 1830, to the personal knowledge of one party who is now living, and has been kind enough to furnish a good deal of the data of the early history of this township. Their houses were all small log cabins, as they had not the means or facilities to build better. The fireplaces were constructed very wide, and the winter backlogs were hauled into the house by a horse. The crops raised consisted of a small patch of corn, with a few garden vegetables. At this time the nearest markets were at Peoria and Chicago. Milling was sometimes done at Springfield, then a town of only two or three hundred inhabitants. Wild game was plenty, and "Uncle" Abraham Swearingen tells of the killing of seven deer while standing on the same log.

The first child born was Elizabeth, daughter of Abraham Swearingen, in July, 1830; she is now living in the township, and is the wife of Peter C. Somers. The first death occurred in the same year. The deceased was Melinda, a daughter of John Troxell— she was buried on the land occupied by Mr. Troxell in section 22. This finally became a neighborhood place of interment, and subsequently dedicated to public use as such, and is now known as the "Crum burial-ground".

The first school was taught by Edom Shugart in the winter of 1831. The school-house was a pole cabin without any chimney, merely a hole in the roof for the smoke to escape. It was situated in section 27, on the farm now owned by George Hume. It was constructed for a schoolhouse, but was such a miserable excuse for this purpose that only one term of school was taught in it. James K. Scott was the pioneer preacher, and held the services in the cabins of the settlers. William Ryan and John Montgomery were also early preachers.

The first church house was built by the Christian denomination in 1856. It is a plain frame building, and situated in the little hamlet of Zabriska, in section 22. The church is yet standing and in a fair state of preservation, and the passer-by would conclude that it was built by the Catholics, as the cemetery grounds are situated in the same lot close by the church.

The first justice of the peace elected was John Montgomery Senior. He died only two years ago, a citizen of the town, and was nearly a centenarian at his death.

The second justice was John B. Swearingen, who now resides in Minnesota.

The first post-office was established in 1845, and was kept Abraham Swearingen at his private residence in section 15. In 1849, it was moved to the hamlet of Zabriska, and subsequently to Wapella.

The first mill was built by Samuel Spencer in 1832, situated in section 22, on the land now owned by J. L. Barr. It was a fair mill for that day, and run by a single horse, had the capacity of grinding about twenty-five bushels of corn per day. The mill with all its belongings disappeared long ago.

The first saw-mill was located at Zabriska, and constructed by William Rolefson in 1843. It had a small circular saw and was run by horse-power. Nothing of it remains at this time.

Isam Harrold was the first blacksmith, and the shop was situated on his premises in section 32. It was a log cabin constructed for the purpose of a shop in the year 1845. He then had but a meager set of tools, just enough to shoe a horse or mend a king bolt. The shop is yet standing, and is conducted by Mr. Harrold for his own and his neighbors' smithing purposes.

At this writing the township abounds in fine farms and improvements of all kinds, its inhabitants not being obliged undergo a single privation or hardship in order to enjoy the conveniences of what this day and age afford. Good, substantial schoolhouses are located all through its territory, and thus best advantages to obtain a common school education are given to all alike, rich or poor. The roads and bridges are kept in a fair condition, and reasonably passable, except in the wet season of the year. This will be remedied in time by the general system of tilling, which improvement is being pushed forward rapidly. The old State Highway passes through the town from north to south, along which is located one of the telegraph lines of the State. A novice, at a distance, would conclude that it was another line of railroad.

The following are the supervisors who have represented the township since its organization:— George A. Hume was elected 1859, and selected chairman of the board for that year. Thomas Loer, elected in 1860. Walter Karr, elected in 1861, served one term. Thomas Loer, re-elected in 1862, and served until 1865. W. R. Carle was elected in 1865, and served one term. T. L. Groff, elected for the year 1866. W. R. Carle, re-elected in 1867. H. D. Watson, elected in 1868; and William Wright in 1869. E. B. Harrold was elected in 1870, and served until 1875. Jacob Parlier, elected in 1875, and served four terms. F. L. Harpster, elected in 1881, and is the present incumbent.


This town was laid out by David A. Neal in the fall of 1854, and the first lots were sold in the spring of 1855. Neal was in the employ of the Illinois Central Railroad Company, and was then the vice-president of the road. He it was that gave it a name, and it was first spelled Wapellah. The first survey was made by the civil engineer of the railroad company, the then county surveyor of DeWitt being Alexander Barnett, who simply recognized said survey without certifying to it officially. For this reason, and some little dispute with regard to some of the corners, it was again surveyed in 1861 by Oliver Lakin, then county surveyor. The lines, streets, and all were left intact; no change being made from the original platting The following is the official description of its boundaries: Commencing at the north-east corner of the south-east quarter of the south-east quarter of section 34, town 21, range 2 east, the 3rd principal meridian; thence running west one-half mile, thence south one mile, lacking fifteen rods; thence east one-half mile; thence north one mile, lacking fifteen rods to the place of beginning. At one time, soon after the railroad was built in 1854-5, it looked as though Wapella might be the leading town in DeWitt county. The Central Railroad built an immense brick hotel here and located the machine-shops and round-house at this point, expecting to make this the central objective point between the northern and southern termini of the road. The question of moving the County Seat from Clinton to Wapella was mooted in 1857, and the battle between the two places waxed warm but the effort proved a failure. In 1879, another effort was made to the same end, but proved abortive as before. In this effort it was proposed to change the boundaries of the county line, the petition asking for a portion of the southern part of McLean county to be joined to DeWitt; thereby making Wapella more central. The machine shops were subsequently moved to Clinton, and the question of changing the county seat was abandoned.

The first to settle in what is now the village of Wapella was Gibson Coy, in the summer of 1853, at the time of the grading of the Central Railroad. His house was a board shanty, 16x40, situated in the middle of what is now called East and West Center street. The shanty had bunks arranged one above the other, extending along on either side of the building, and were filled with straw for sleeping purposes. Samuel Rounds was the architect, and by trade a mason and bricklayer. He afterwards made the brick for the machine shops and hotel for the Railroad Company, and aided in their construction. The second inhabitant was Philip Donnigan. He built a small shanty for a dwelling, 12x16, and it was situated on North Main street. This was the same year as the above. Daniel Thompson sold the first goods. The storehouse was a little shanty, and located in the lot now occupied by A. D. Metz's business house on South First street. This was in the fall of 1854. He continued here in business until 1878, when he moved to Lead City. Mr. Thompson was also the first postmaster, and the office was established in 1855. He kept the mail matter in his store, and every person helped himself to his own mail. The second frame house constructed in the place was a story-and-a-half building, 18x26, and situated on South First street. It was built in the fall of 1854, and utilized for a hotel, and kept by A. J. Foster. The sleeping rooms were in the upper story. The beds were eight in number, and so closely packed together that one could scarcely pass between them. It was no uncommon occurrence to stow away the guests with three in a bed. At that time it was neither lathed nor plastered. It is yet standing and occupied by Isaac Bolin for a dwelling. The large brick hotel built by the railroad company was commenced in 1854, and completed the following year at an expense of about $20,000. It is now utilized by the company for a general freight house and ticket-office.

William Graves was the first blacksmith in the town. His shop was a board shanty, and situated on Locust street, between South First and South Second streets. This was in 1854. The shop was torn away long ago.

The first brick edifice constructed, except the railroad buildings, was built by Johnson and Rigg for a storehouse in 1855. It is occupied by J. M. Green for a grocery, boot and shoe store.

Father O'Harry held the first church services in 1854, in the shanty of Philip Donnigan. Dr. John Wright was the first to practice medicine, about the same year as the above. He then lived with Joseph Spencer, a mile north of town. The first teacher was J. C. House, who taught in the summer of 1855. The school-house was a board shanty, 16x20 feet, and situated on lot 5, block 7, corner of Locust and North First streets. It was built by Lewis Celeskia, and is yet standing. It was last used for a barber-shop on Locust street. Gibson Coy was the first elected Justice of the Peace, in 1856. He soon afterwards resigned, and Thomas Loer was elected to fill the vacancy. The first church building was constructed by the M. E. Church in 1858, and located on the corner of Locust and South Third streets. It is a frame building, 35x45 feet in size, and cost about $1,500. It has a cupola and bell, and is still in good condition for holding church services. The town now contains three other churches; Catholic, Christian, and Presbyterian, a full history of which will be found in the Ecclesiastical chapter. The first fruit tree and the first fence-post was set by J. D. Metz in 1855. The latter was placed at the corner of South First and Locust streets. It was removed only two years ago.

Incorporation.— The preliminary meeting for incorporating the town was held on the 9th of February, 1867. Daniel Thompson was chosen president of the meeting, and F. M. Vanlue, secretary. A vote being taken for and against incorporating resulted in 37 ayes and 17 nays. The first election for officers was held on the 16th of February following. Daniel Thompson, T. Green, E. Swift, F. M. Vanlue, and J. D. Metz were elected trustees. At the meeting of the board, Daniel Thompson was chosen president, and F. M. Vanlue secretary, for the ensuing year.

The present village officers are, President, W. R. Carle; other members of the board, G. R. Davis, H. B. Ives, A. James Butterworth and A. D. Metz.

The town now comprises about 400 inhabitants, American and Irish nationality. It is strictly a temperance town, and it is said by the inhabitants that it is prospering under this regime, there not having been an inmate of the calaboose for more than two years, and business being good for a country town. It has had its ups and downs in various ways, by first losing the hope of making it at some time the future county seat, and subsequently the removal of the machine shops of the Central Railroad. In the winter of 1867, the smallpox prevailed in the town to an alarming extent. It is said that there were not less than a hundred cases of this dread disease and varioloid, only five of which, however, proved fatal. And yet with all its drawbacks, it is a growing and thrifty little village, with fair side-walks, business houses and other improvements to make it a pleasant place in which to reside.


Carle & Butterworth's Warehouse. —This is one of the largest grain houses in the county, and is situated on the west side of railroad and south of south First street. The building is a brick and was formerly used by the Illinois Central Railroad Company for their car shops. It is two stories, and 41x160 feet in size. It contains 5 dumps and a storing capacity of 50,000 bushels of grain, besides cribs sufficient to contain 25,000 bushels of corn. The dumps including approaches are 320 feet in length. The firm is composed of experienced grain dealers, and was established August 1st, 1881.

Warehouse of E. Kent & Co., is located just west of the railroad and north of South First street. The business was established in 1877, and the building of the firm is leased from the Central Railway Company. It was originally a part of the car shops of the company, and is a brick building, 32 feet high, and 40x100 feet on the ground. It contains three dumps, and a capacity of storing 25,000 bushels of grain; also, 400 feet of cribs which will hold 20,000 bushels of corn.

Corn Grist Mill, owned and operated by A. A. & W. Alexander. This was the first and only enterprise of the kind established in the town. It was built in 1876, and is situated west of the railroad track in the northern part of the town. The building is a frame, one-story, and 22x84 feet in size. It has an engine power of 25 horses, and has the capacity of grinding 150 bushels of meal daily. Three men are given employment, The proprietors propose to enlarge their mill and make many new improvements, suitable to a first-class flouring mill.

A tile factory and saw mill are also situated about two miles north of the village near the Central Railroad. The former is owned and conducted by Karr & Downing, the latter by John Marker. The engine of the tile works also runs the saw mill.

The present school-house was built in 1868, at a cost of $7,000 including furniture and ground. It is a neat frame building, two stories high, and 34x50 feet on the ground. It also contains an L 14x18 feet, and of the same height as the main building. Three teachers are employed, and therefore the school is fairly graded. The house has a cupola and bell, and is surrounded by one acre of ground. Maximum attendance 150 pupils. Carle's Hall is situated in the building over the store-room of A. J. Latimer. The hall is 22x48 feet, and is conveniently seated with chairs, and can accommodate an audience of 100 persons. It has a stage 10x22 feet.

General Merchandise. —A. J. Latimer, C. C. Smith, S. E. Coy.

Groceries, Provisions, Etc. —E. F. Turner.

Druggists. —F. L. Harpster, T. W. Davis.

Groceries, Hardware, Etc. —A. D. Metz.

Groceries, Boots and Shoes. —James M. Green.

Groceries and Confectionery. —J. H. Lighthall.

Millinery and Notions. —Mrs. M. M. Gossard.

Physicians. —T. W. Davis & Son, J. H. Potter.

Dressmaker. —Miss Ida Blossom.

Meat Market. —Clark & Bolin.

Postmistress. —Mrs. R. Nelson.

Barber. —E. F. Turner.

Bakery. —Mrs. Julia Comboy.

Undertaker. —A. D. Metz.

General Trader. —W. R. Carle.

Blacksmiths. —Scott Roberts, William R. Rogers, Dennis Ryan.

Carpenter and Wagon maker. —W. A. Hickman.

Wagon makers. —A. C. Karr & Son.

Contractor and Builder. —James W. Karr.

Plasterers and Bricklayers. —Robert Dunbar, James Alsop.

Weaver. —Mrs. A. C. Karr.

Shoemaker. —Thomas Foley.

Telegraph Operator. —E. J. Caddy.

Justice. —Edward Norvell.

Tailor. —D. D. Dunseth.

Stock Dealers. —J. K. Davis & Sons, Nicholas Foley.

Coal Dealer. —Joshua Carle.

Hotels. —S. S. Cone.


Forest Lodge, No. 255, I. O. O. F. was chartered October 1858. The charter members were: I. N. Frost, W. T. Sherr, George Harrington, William Green, and Lewis Carey. The following are the present officers: I. S. Swearingen, N. G.; C. Short, V. G.; E. J. Caddy, Sec.; A. A. Alexander, Treas.; J. Caddy, "Rep." Present membership is 35. The Lodge meets in Woy's Hall every Saturday night. The Lodge financially is in a good condition, having moneys, notes, and property valued at $1,000.

The little hamlet of Zabriska is situated on the old state road three miles north of Wapella and, from its general appearance, would strike the observer as having its origin as early as 1800; but this is a mistake, as it dates back only to about 1850. A mill was erected here at this time and, as it was situated on the public thoroughfare of the township (there then being no railroad), a nucleus was formed which, under favorable circumstance, would have finally developed into a town. The hamlet now contains seven houses with a population of about thirty inhabitants, and is one of the landmarks peculiar to the state road of ye olden times, prior to the screeching of the iron horse through the prairies of central Illinois.

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