The Mystery of Cherry Grove


by Terry Hogan


There’s not much left of Cherry Grove.  I grew up only a handful of miles from it and never heard of it.  Perhaps it was overshadowed by Louisville.  Both were located just a little north of Abingdon.  The Cherry Grove Cemetery marks that which was once, but is no more.  A marker along Route 41 shows the west turnoff to the cemetery, shortly before you enter Abingdon from the north. But in the state of Washington, a large, living, and vibrant memorial to Cherry Grove’s own can be found along the Puget Sound.  It is now known as Seattle.


Cherry Grove had an early start in Knox County.  It was settled before Abingdon was founded.  On or about 1830, it is reported that Joseph Latimer and his family left Tennessee and settled in Knox County at a place that was to be named Cherry Grove. The following year, Jonathan Latimer and Jacob West settled nearby, followed by John C. Latimer, Alexander Latimer and their sister Mrs. Richard Boren.   Oddly enough, the site was named for the abundance of wild cherry found in the mix of hardwoods at that location.  Frequently, it seems that names were derived from where somebody came, rather than being derived from where they arrived.  Even the township was called Cherry Grove, but the name was forced to be switched to Cedar Township as the former name was already taken in Illinois.


Jonathan Latimer is credited as founding the Cherry Grove Seminary along with other residents, sometime prior to 1840, perhaps in June 1835, as reported by one source. Of the 13 original founding members, seven were reported to be Latimers. The Seminary was under the direction of Rev. Cyrus Haynes, but its life was relatively short. At that time in Knox County’s history, schools and school teachers were supported by the local community. The Latimer extended family possessed about 2,000 acres around the Cherry Grove Seminary. As such, this group was primarily responsible for the Seminary. The Seminary was abandoned in 1866 as part of a consolidation of the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination. While Cherry Grove Seminary flourished, it is reported that there were about 100 students annually registered. Most came from Illinois or the adjoining areas.


The library and records from the Cherry Grove Seminary were moved to the Cumberland Presbyterian College opened at Lincoln, Illinois.  Cherry Grove closed its doors in 1866.


Mrs. Richard Latimer Boren mentioned above as being the sister of the Latimers, was a widow when she arrived at Cedar Grove.  She was later to marry John Denny on September 10, 1848.  John Denny was the father of her son-in-law, Arthur Denny who had married Mary Ann Boren.  If I have this figured out right, that would have made John Denny both father and father-in-law to Arthur Denny.  Not to be content with this, Arthur’s brother, David Denny, married Louisa Boren, sister of Mary Ann Boren. This would, in turn, make the two sisters sisters-in-law, and the two brothers as brothers-in-law.     


In any event, in April 1851, John Denny with his second wife, and his two youngest sons, and her two daughters and a son, left Cherry Grove for the long trek west toward Oregon.   It was their intent to settle in the Willamette River Valley near what would become Portland, Oregon.  They arrived at their destination, but Arthur Denny and his wife,  Mary Ann Boren Denny were sick, perhaps with “ague”, which we now call malaria. I should note that one source indicates that Mary gave birth about this time (Skagit River Journal, 2003).


As good as a site as they had found, they heard stories of better land, and better seaport opportunities farther north.  As Arthur was still too sick to travel, his younger brother, David traveled north to the Puget Sound.  David sent a brief but glowing report for land in the valley of the Duwamish River.  Arthur and his wife packed up and traveled north to join David.  They claimed 160 acres each for themselves and another 160 acres each for their wives on February 15, 1852. 


By this act, Seattle was born. Well, almost.  It wasn’t originally known as Seattle.  Its original name was Duwamp, or other approximations of Duwamish, the name of the river, which also was the name of the local tribe that lived in the area. Ultimately, the name of Seattle was taken, in honor of a reluctant Chief Seattle who didn’t want his name to be used, at least as the story goes.  And as another “well almost”, Seattle celebrates Nov. 13, 1851 as its birth date.  This is the date that Arthur Denny and others arrived at the site on the schooner Exact.  History and birthdays can be a tricky business.


The Skagit River Journal (2003) observes:

Arthur Denny was eventually declared the key city father of Seattle, due mainly to his own autobiography, and donated part of his claim on Elliott Bay for the territorial university that grew into the present University of Washington.  David Denny always lived in the shadow of his older brother and had financial disagreements with him.”


“The rest is history” as the saying goes.  Seattle grew and became, at least in my eyes, one of the prettiest large cities in the United States.  It is vibrant and has an international flare to it.  Fresh seafood markets, good coffee, and a variety of geography make it hard to beat. Rain forests, sea coast, mountains, and active volcanoes give Seattle more than enough assets to off-set the drizzle that besets Seattle from time to time.


But the mystery of Cherry Grove – What was it that drove the Denny family to leave an extended, successful family at Cherry Grove?  Good land, family support, and ownership of the local power structure were all there at Cherry Grove.  Why leave?     The answer:  “I don’t know”.  Thus, the mystery of Cherry Grove.



Brown, Hunter. Undated. Finding Cherry Grove.


Knox County, Illinois Genealogy & History.  The George Griswald Latimer Family


Perry, Albert. History of Knox County, Illinois.  Pages 448-449, (extracted by Janine Crandell)


Skagit River Journal. 2003. Exploration and settlement of the last frontier by Europeans and easterners.


The Economic History of Seattle.


Wagner, Dick. 2006. Founding Seattle.