GROVE — A small growth of trees lacking dense undergrowth.
Grove was a comforting word in days of yore. When Easterners were looking westward—looking, studying, deciding, yearning, seeking land on which to grow bigger homesteads and become independent of a stern relative or a local land baron who kept land to himself or family. Social structures had already set in the new country.
Reports had come back that the Illinois country was open for business. But that the central parts were all open prairie, lacking trees for fuel and building material.
How could one live without trees? Then news trickled back that in the south of the state and in the hilly northern sections there were vast timbers and groves by which to settle with nearby open land to farm. Ideal, eh! Groves would protect them from the relentless winter winds and there were said to be never-failing springs and countless streams.
County histories of the 1870’s pointed out the groves and timbers in their chronicles. Townships were described by acres of open land, the groves and numbers of wetlands, etc. The 1877 Whiteside history reported that by that year, more than forty years after their unit of government had been set aside there already was a second stand of timber, the original groves, etc. had been cut to build for the future.
The word “grove” was often used as an important characteristic of the sites early taken up. Some continue to this day as names of townships of points of interest and neighborhoods ... In surrounding neighborhoods ... Buffalo Grove, Cherry Grove, Hickory Grove (tree names were popular) such as Maple Grove. Or some word appealing Back Home in the East such as Freedom Grove, Prospect Grove (originally Sight Grove).
There were surnames like Franklin Grove or Dent’s Grove or biblical words or descriptive ones like Round Grove, Twin Grove, Union Grove. Yes, grove was a key phrase.
Such came to attention when Shirley Farthing Prowant, now of Lanark but once a Whitesideian, lent a copy of a reminiscence written some decades ago by the late Fay Landis of the northern tier of townships in upper central Whiteside County. It tells many an anecdote which is not necessarily found elsewhere or brings a fact into perspective. Thanks! We’re enjoying it as, perhaps, you readers will because its content can build our character! Some of Mr. Landis’ notes will be copied verbatim, or paraphrased along with information from the county histories; the more recent one by the late Wayne Bastian written in 1967. Landis wrote: “Our early history is dominated by the specific needs of the people striving to make a living in hopes of opportunity and the freedom to espouse their philosophies of life. From 1835 into the 1850’s the need was for wood and water and therefore took to the wooded areas or groves which were nearby at small streams or springs (more about water later). The woods provided shelter from the roarin’ prairie winds. By the 1850’s the settlers began to get markets for their grain and livestock so consequently took up prairie lands (for crops and grazing) although they still lived in the groves. Soon they found this an inconvenience so built frame houses on the worked land as saw mills had begun to be put up beside the grist mills along the rivers.
The first of those settlers in the north central tier of townships in Whiteside County were from the South and Eastern seaboards or near. Some from Virginia and Kentucky, and as the first settler in Genesee Township in 1835 was Jesse Hill Sr. from North Carolina. The Hill family walked the 1,500 miles from Carolina to Rock Creek in Whiteside where on arrival discovered the stream so flooded they couldn’t cross so they backtracked and staked a claim at present day Genesee Grove Central Cemetery and the Coleta Sportsman’s Club and northward. They settled on the north side of the grove, the grove being about six miles long and three miles wide. At that date the land wasn’t as yet for sale, it not being surveyed completely until 1843.
Hill had nine children, five boys and four girls. His wife had died on the way to Rock Creek in Indiana (perhaps in childbirth???). The senior Hill was determined to have a claim large enough that all his children could live near him. But Mr. Bastian in his notes states that after Hill’s death, all of the children went to other places and didn’t stay in Genesee Grove. Five to Oregon state, one each to Iowa, Texas, California and Kansas. None remained. But then some of their memories must have been bitter. The hardships they’d experienced were probably felt by many another of their contemporaries. In another place, perhaps, it would be better. Hopefully!
Following the raising of their log cabin, it is said that the material for a rail fence was obtained by the boys splitting the logs for a fence and the girls carried them on their shoulders to the place it would be built. Clearing the timber, of course, would make it able to be plowed and without horses or oxen you can picture how the sod was worked! The children’s labor, hardship and sacrifice was done without shoes or boots. They wore buckskin moccasins. There was no calico or broadcloth let alone worsted for warmth. The girls made linsey working the sheep’s wool in the weaving. It was called butternut because it was the nut from that tree that they made a dye to color it. Each long, tedious process done by hand. A charming craft today but then, hours of work.
A visitor in later years recalled that one day on entering the cabin at midday the girls were serving the meal: potatoes cooked with their skins on and the vegetables were dumped on the puncheon floor where they all sat “tailor-fashion” because there was no table or chairs. The girls retired shyly from the stranger who had arrived unexpectedly. He said their attire was rough homespun fitting like a sack with holes cut into it for the head and arms. They did return quietly to eat. It was noted that they could serve as an example of many households who lived in such straits.
Shortly after the Hill family had arrived in 1835, a group of Indians came by to tell them that a “smoky woman” lived with others on the south side of the grove. When they checked, the Hills’ found the Adam and John James families, the ‘smoky woman’ merely being a white woman. Between them all they concluded that there was enough timber in the grove and enough wide prairie to support them; everyone. It was a “living” but hardly a rich one.
Suggestions have been put forward that that first group of Southerners had come to move away from slavery states, states becoming more avid about directly another freedoms. The “West,” the Illinois Territory was a “free” state and no such strictures regulated life. The settlers in central Carroll County also were Southerners, they coming from the “American Bottoms” where families had lived for a number of decades having come West from Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, too. No hint has arisen that the anti-slavery stance lured them here however. It was more likely the lead mines.
The next wave of settlers was quite different in background. They were mostly English or Scottish who had emigrated to Canada hoping to find fewer regulations that limited their lives. Upper levels of society had made many restrictions on the less well-to-do. Buying up land and keeping “the common folk” in their place. Who had hoped to find the freedoms their ancestors had discovered in America by traveling to their country’s “Provinces.” Instead a certain society governed in Canada also, and eventually an unrest occurred. Although not as lengthy or violent as the Revolution in America, the “Patriots’” War came about and many fled to the United States, some coming to Whiteside County where they lived together or near one another as they did also in Ogle County where, in fact, a neighborhood is still known as the “Canada Settlement.” It is west of Polo. Its story will be told in the future.
A Yorkshireman, Mark Harrison, who had been a sailor and who serving in the States aboard a steamer plying the Great Lakes’ trade out of Chicago. He came West to Sterling in 1836 and worked digging a mill pit for Hezekiah Brink, founder of that town, but the pit being in Empire, now Emerson. By 1837 he’d taken a bride, Mrs. Mary Taylor, and moved to Twin Grove, upper Whiteside. All their possessions were on a pack horse with a wooden saddle fitted to the horse’s back. Mark had fifty cents to his name while Mary had a wealth of fifteen dollars with which they bought rye, wheat and corn seed to plant crops. Later he took an acquired cow to Galena that he sold for five dollars. Using the money from that he purchased two five pound bundles of cotton yarn.
Mary Harrison used it to weave clothing for them both. When the corn crop came in he sold it to Brink for twenty-five cents a bushel but took in payment a three year old colt worth thirty dollars. The Harrison’s wealth was slowly increasing but then when their marriage occurred they had no table, chairs or bed. A table was contrived by laying a board over two pegs stuck into auger holes drilled in a log wall of the cabin.
Three-legged stools were roughed out for chairs and a bed was gathered from the prairie grasses and straw from outside, covered with a homespun piece of cloth. Some time passed before a genuine table, chairs and bed could be obtained.
As you see, many of our forefathers, the people who carved out of the wilderness the places we live today by determination, necessity, principle, hardship and sacrifice. They did it without grant, subsidy, welfare by helping one another and with the assistance of family and friend. They may have been rich in land but had no cash money. It was daily touch-and-go. But there was the fertile prairie land, the woods and the water about which we’ll tell a little next week. There was opportunity and a chance to espouse those freedoms they had come for!