Knox County Early History

Part VI: Townships Continued


by Terry Hogan


In the Part V of this series, I reviewed about 1/2 of the Knox County townships' and towns' early histories to some degree or another.  In this Part, the remaining townships and towns are addressed. I had initially intended this to be a single part, but when the typed version reached 12 pages, it become obvious that an arbitrary break was necessary. Even with the break into two parts, I must admit that the abbreviated discussion was hard to maintain as I encountered interesting, although probably insignificant, stories that appeared between the lines in the old county histories.  I hope to be able to come back to some of these and treat them as independent articles.  As always, I invite readers to write or email the Zephyr with suggestions for topics.  Suggestions with information are even better.


Maquon Township-Maquon and Rapatee

Maquon Township is located on the southern border of Knox County, east of Chestnut Township.  The town of Maquon is located on the northern edge of the township, along what was labeled in 1898 as the Peoria Branch of the CB&Q railroad.  There was, in early times, a large Indian settlement near Maquon along the shore of the Spoon River. The 1898 history of Knox County makes mention of remains of the Indian village and burial grounds. The Spoon River flows diagonally through the township, heading in a generally southwesterly direction. Early settlers in Maquon Township included James Millan, William Darnell, William Parmer and Mark and Thomas Thurman.


Maquon's history in the 1899 Knox County history appears to have been more frank than some.  It notes that it had a distillery and a race track for several years before it had a church or a school. The history notes that the village was 40 years old "before Christian influence was sufficient to establish a church".  The town was surveyed by Parnach Owen in 1836.  His name seems to appear frequently in the early histories of Knox County towns and villages.    


Rapatee had its origin with the construction of the Iowa Central Railroad in 1883. It was laid out by Benjamin Adams in the southwest quarter of Section 33. In 1899, it had a church, three stores, a blacksmith shop, a wagon shop, two elevators and about 80 folks.


Haw Creek Township- Gilson and Mechanicsburg

Haw Creek Township is located north of Maquon Township.  The Spoon River passes through the eastern portion of the township, running the full length, before entering Maquon Township.  Gilson is located in the northwest portion of the township, again, being located along the railroad, i.e. the Peoria Branch of the CB&Q that also passes through Maquon.  Haw Creek's first settlers were Parnach Owens, his widowed mother and his two sisters. They arrived in 1829, but later moved to Knoxville, once the town was surveyed and established.  Parnach Owens is reported to have done the surveying work for Knoxville's formation.


Mechanicsburg was the first village in Haw Creek. It grew up along a road that connected Knoxville and Farmington.  Its growth was natural, being an occasional stopping point for stage coaches that traveled the road. From this start, a store, a wagon and blacksmith shop, and a post office were established there on May 7, 1852.


Starting later than Mechanicsburg, Gilson was founded on July 10, 1857 along the Peoria Branch of the CB&Q Railroad. It was laid out by Linneus Richmond and James Gilson, accounting for the village name.  Gilson grew and surpassed Mechanicsburg.  On March 5, 1857, the post office was relocated to Gilson. And as the 1899 county history put it, "and Mechanicsburg fell asleep".  Mechanicsburg is not shown on the 1899 township map.


Persifer Township- Dahinda and Appleton

Persifer Township is located north of Haw Creek Township and due east of Knox Township.  The Spoon River makes a westerly loop into the east border of Haw Creek.  Dahinda is located near the east line of Persifer, near the Spoon River.  Dahinda sits on what was called the Santa Fe and California Railroad on the 1899 county map.  


Dahinda is reported to have been the site of an Indian village.  The poles of the wigwams stood for years after the area was first settled by Europeans. The 1899 history of the county also notes there were 25 or 20 Indian mounds nearby that yielded human bones and arrow heads.  A branch of the old Galena Trail passes near Dahinda.


Appleton was laid out in the spring of 1888 by J. H. Lewis.  Mills Vohris did the surveying for Appleton.   In 1899, Appleton supported freight and an express office, two stores, a grain elevator, a blacksmith shop, a carpenter shop, a lumber yard and nine houses.


There is a story that the famous Indian Chief Shabona (different spellings exist) had offered to show an early settler, William Morris, the location of a silver mine. Morris, being less than enthusiastic for accompanying an Indian into the wild, declined the offer. 


This history of the township, itself, is pretty limited in the 1878 county history, but it does provide some interesting descriptions of an early settler cabin.  It was, of course, a log cabin, by the builder, Charles Benson, hollowed out a large sycamore tree trunk that was 7 feet long and 3 feet in diameter.   He used skids to move it and set it on end, at the end of the cabin to act as the chimney for the fireplace.  The cabin floor was made of "lin puncheons" and the cabin door was made from walnut boards, attached to battens with wood pins, and the door was attached to the cabin with wood hinges.


The Benson's had a child and a dog.  The dog became the protector of the child, keeping it safe from snakes, wolves, and other dangerous animals.  When the baby tried to crawl too far away, the dog would drag the child back to the cabin.


There is also the tale of Indian buried treasure along the shore of Court Creek.  As the story goes, a wealthy Indian woman, with the aid of her son "Bill" buried a brass kettle full of gold and silver. After she arrived at a new destination, she sent Bill back to dig up and recover the kettle.  He could not locate the burial site.   In 1841, a farmer named Taylor, was digging out a cellar.  He found three bars of copper, hand-forged, buried at about four feet below the surface.


Copley Township-Etherley and Victoria

Early settlers in Copley Township have been reported to be Larkin Robinson, in 1837 and John McDowell in 1838.  The Chapman (1878) history is pretty meager for Copley.  There is no discussion as to the origin of the township name or the origin of Etherley.  Etherley is located on the southeastern township line, with parts of the town in Copley and Victoria townships. It was the termination point for the Galesburg and Great Eastern Railroad that ran from Wataga to Victoria and to Etherley. 


Victoria sits on the township line, also straddling Copley and Victoria township lines and was the termination point of the other branch of the Galesburg and Great Eastern Railroad.  As noted elsewhere, Victoria, in Copley, was the birthplace of Swedish Methodism in 1846. 


Etherley was a relatively a recent village, being laid out on August 10, 1894 by Samuel L. Charles. It was intended to become a mining town as the area is rich in coal. In November 1894, the Galesburg, Etherley and Great Eastern Railroad began running 12 miles east from Wataga to Etherley and the coal reserves.  A coal shaft costing $30,000 was created in Etherley to tap the coal reserves. The company ceased operations on September 7, 1895, but started up again with a new name - "Galesburg and Great Eastern".  Edward J. Harms was the manager.  According to Bateman's history (1899) there was apparently some legal issue that caused problems with these plans and interfered with the growth of Etherley.  Bateman's (1899) history noted "It is believed, however, that, under altered conditions, a thriving mining town will soon be built up to develop the rich, unworked coal deposits which underlie nearly all the southern part of Copley."    


Walnut Grove Township- Altona

Walnut Grove Township is located on the north boundary of Knox County, north of Copley Township and east of Ontario Township.  Not surprising and consistent with the trend noted in this article, Altona is also located along a railroad.  In this case, it is the CB&Q railroad.  As the railroad cuts across the township from the southwest to the northeast, Altona is located approximately in the center of the township. The origin of the township name is not addressed in the 1878 history, although it is likely that the name is self-evident. This is confirmed by the 1899 history that states it was named for extensive groves of walnut trees growing near its center.


I am less eager to discuss the origins of the town name. The town of Altona was once known as LaPier. However the CB&Q railroad insisted that the name be changed to Altona, which was done.  To add to the confusion, the name of the post office was Walnut Grove, However, there was a movement to name the post office as Reno, in honor of a famous general of the period. About that time, some never-do-goods who were by the name of Reno were lynched in Indiana.  Not wanting Reno to be possibly associated with this recent hanging, the name was given up and the name of the village, railroad station and post office all became Altona.  History sometimes moves in mysterious ways, particularly in the evolution of town names.


The short history does tell a tale of the presence of a large number of Mormons that settled in the township, based upon direction from their prophet, Joseph Smith.  Not uncommon for the period, the Mormons were not warmly received by the other inhabitants, and with time, the Mormons left their proper and the temple and relocated to Hancock County, where one can presume, they encountered additional resistance to their presence.


Seemingly ironic, a band of Indians came through the township in 1836 and 1837 and camped for some period near the residence of John Thompson.  After a period of time, the band moved on but one pair of elderly Indians stayed behind and lived as neighbors to the Thompsons. They were well received and were reported to be good neighbors.


According to the local history, one of the first lawsuits in the township involved the legal question of who owned a tree. The two contestants had come to blows on the subject.  The case was heard before a jury, in a local log cabin.  The jury deliberated in a small wood rail pen, to determine the merits of the arguments and who owned the tree.  The names and the decision, or the significance of the tree (if any), were not given in the history so this story remains unfinished.


Salem Township- Uniontown, Yates City and Summit/Douglas.

Salem Township is located in the southeast corner of Knox County.  Summit and Yates City were located along the Peoria Branch of the CB&Q Railroad, as shown in the 1898 county map.  Only Uniontown was not served by a railroad.  Early settlers to the township included Solomon Sherwood, Henry Dalton, Alexander Taylor, Felix Thurman, Avery Dalton, Benona Hawkins, John Darnell, Sala Blakeslee, William Kent, John Thurman, and John Haskins (Chapman, 1878). Salem boasts of having the most miles of railroad track of any township in Knox County, excluding Galesburg.


Mr. Blakeslee planted ten chestnut trees on his farm from seeds in 1846. By about 1878, these chestnut trees were reported to be about 2 feet in diameter.  I suppose it is unlikely that they survived the Chestnut blight that was to follow.  In any event, it is another example of how Knox County was changed with settlement and the establishment of farms. Blakeslee was also credited with being the first to bring timothy seed to Salem Township in 1834.  


Douglas used to be Summit. It was laid out on October 17, 1856 by William Ware. It was surveyed E. T. Byram.  Its birth was a product of the creation of  the Peoria and Oquawka Railroad.  In 1899, it was speculated to have about 250 folks residing there.


Uniontown is claimed to be the oldest village in the township. It was laid out by Moses Shinn on June 4, 1839 and it was surveyed, platted, and recorded by George A. Charles on June 6, 1839.  The village looked to have an exciting future as the first survey for the Peoria and Oquawka Railroad came its way.  But when all was done, the railroad built about two miles north of Uniontown, based on another survey conducted in 1856.  The village declined rapidly after this change and in 1869, the legislature vacated the plat.


Yates City claimed to be the "metropolis" of the township.  It was located along the CB&Q railroad line and conducted a flourishing business that was somewhat hindered by the construction of the Santa Fe line through Truro Township, about 12 miles north in 1887-1889. The 1899 Knox County history notes that with the Santa Fe line coming through, trade had been reduced, but Yates City was still doing  a large business in general merchandise, grain, and stock.


Elba Township

Elba Township is located on the east boundary of Knox County, north of Salem Township. The origin and originator of the township name are not given in the history. According to the 1898 map, Elba had no railroad within the township. It is assumed that it had the least miles of railroad track of any township in the county, although it might have been tied with Victoria.  It also had no towns or villages shown on the 1899 Knox County map, but it did show a town called "Eugene" in Section 2 in Chapman's 1878 map of Knox County.  It looks as though the Spoon River touches the northwest corner of the township. The first settlers arrived in the 1835-1836 period and included John King (or Thomas King - a disagreement appears in the histories of the township), Darius Miller and his brother; John Thurman, Jacob Kighlinger, L. A. Jones, and J. H. Nicolson.  A post office was established in the southern part of the township in 1870.  It was known as "Spoon River" but later changed to "Elba Centre".


Turo Township- Turo and Williamsfield

Turo Township sits north of Elba Township and east of Persifer Township. It sits along the east county line.  Turo has the Spoon River passing though the center of the township from east to west and in 1898, it had the Santa Fe and California Railroad also passing through the center of the township, through the town of Williamsfield.  The first settler for the township was John Dill, according the Chapman (1878).  A ferry was opened on the Spoon River in Section 30, in 1834. It was established by John Coleman.


The Chapman history of Turo Township tells two interesting tales. The first is that the first known European death in the township was the postman on his first run of his route. In 1834, Malon Winans was making his first delivery of mail, but drowned as he attempted to swim the Spoon River with the mail bag strapped to his back.


The second story has to do with the unusual Indian burial grounds in Section 31 that were uncovered by early settlers.  The remains were "buried" in the forks of trees at a height of 10 to 15 feet above ground. Chapman reports, "Logs had been split in halves and excavated for coffins; the forks of the trees were cut away with their tomahawks sufficiently to let them in, and the rude coffins there rested with their skeleton contents, until about 1836 the whites took them down and buried them in the earth."


Williamsfield had a late arrival.  Like most towns, it grew at the edge of the railroad.  In this case, it was the Santa Fe that didn't cross the township until 1888. Williamsfield was laid out by E. B. Purceil. Economic interests in Galesburg promoted Williamsfield and the town rapidly grew.  By 1899, it supported about 500 residents.   


Victoria Township- Victoria and Etherley

 Victoria Township is located north of Turo Township and directly east of Copley Township.  It shares Victoria and Etherley with Copley as the two towns straddle the township line.  Both towns are termination points for the old Galesburg and Great Eastern Railroad that originated in Wataga in Sparta Township. It was named for Queen Victoria.  It has an abundance of coal, which was hauled by the railroad. The early settlers of the 1835 to 1838 period included Edward Brown, John Essex, Mr. Frazier, John Smith, William Overlander, Moses Robinson, Moody Robinson, Archibald Robinson, Charles Bostic, John Arnold, Passons Aldrige, H. Shurtliff, and Conrad Smith (Chapman 1878).


Victoria was one of the few towns in Knox County that did not have a railroad, but did acquire one relatively recently (1899).  Victoria was laid out on May 11, 1849.  It was originally platted in Victoria Township, but in time, it spread across the township line into Copley Township.   This portion of Victoria (in Copley) became the site of the first Swedish Methodist, established on December 15, 1846 by Rev. J. J. Hedstrom, the founder of Swedish Methodism.


Lynn Township

Lynn Township shows no villages in the 1899 map but does show Mllroy, located in Section 33 in the Chapman 1878 map. Lynn Township is located in the northeast corner of Knox County, the 1898 map shows two CB&Q railroad lines just passing through the northwest and northeast corners of the township.  Millroy would have been located about as far way from these railroad tracks as possible and still have been in Lynn Township. The Chapman history points out that Lynn Township is the only township in Knox County without benefit of church, town or post office. Before Millroy was Millroy, it was called Centerville, but was platted as Millroy.  Whatever its name, it failed to flourish.



Bateman, Newton, et al. 1899. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Knox County. Munsell Publishing Company. Chicago. 968 pages.


Chapman, Chas. 1878. History of Knox County, Illinois. Chicago. 718 pages (reprinted version by Knox County Genealogical Society, Galesburg, IL).


Mitchell, A. 1837 Illinois in 1837; A sketch descriptive of the situation, boundaries, face of the country, prominent districts, prairies, rivers, minerals, animals, agricultural productions, public lands, plans of internal improvement, manufactures etc. Philadelphia. 143 pages.