Annuals of Knox County, Illinois

typed by Ann Maxwell the whole book for publishing here at American History & Genealogy Project


From sketch by E.H. Goldsmith

This township was organized April 5, 1853, at the home of Thomas H. Taylor, on Section 14, and the following town officers were elected: T.H. Taylor, Supervisor; Asaph DeLong, Clerk; Stephen Russell and Peter Davis, Highway Commissioners; Moran Baker and Hugh Ferguson, Justices of the Peace, and Marshall P. DeLong, Constable. Mr. DeLong afterwards served the town as Justice of the Peace for twenty-five years. S.G. Dean served eight years, and John J. Sutor for a number of years. William Robson served long continuously as supervisor.

While Hezekiah Buford has the credit of being the first settler by building on Section 23, in 1834, the Wilmots have a record for longest continuous residence on the same land, for Amos Wilmot built a log cabin in June, 1836, on Section 6, in which he lived for fifteen years. He then built a house, where he lived until his death in 1878. Very soon after his arrival came Reuben, Cyrus and Edward Robbins, brothers, and Levi Roberts, a cousin. The first of these was about the last of the early settlers. To him we are indebted for some of the information given in this sketch. From the fact that Levi Robbins having raised a large orchard and other trees “Robbins’ Grove” was for many years a noted landmark and people came long distances for apples, as well as to hold picnics. In 1836, Asaph DeLong (who built the first house between Knoxville and Heath timber), Luman Field and William Heath settled on Section 31. The latter was married at Knoxville to Lucinda Field in 1837, and “hung up” housekeeping in their log cabin, a picture of which is stilled preserved. In a northeast direction they had but one neighbor nearer than Victoria. Mrs. Heath was a member of the society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, she being the granddaughter of Elisha Field, Jr., and a great granddaughter of Elisha Field, Sr., both of whom fought in the Revolutionary War. She possessed papers showing the entire war history of her illustrious ancestors. Her grandchildren presented her with the badge of the society, which is an old-fashioned spinning wheel with beautiful surroundings and inscriptions.

James Neely settled on Section 30 in 1838, and Abram Neely on Section 5 a few years later. Other early settlers were: B. Ely, Thomas and George W. Faulkner, Booker Pickrel and C.C. West. Among those who came subsequently and who with those already mentioned, as well as those who will be noticed hereafter, have been influential in the political and religious prosperity of the township, are Solomon Lyon, J.V.R. Carley, Schuyler Goldsmith, A.F. Adams, William E. Morse, Henry Rommel, L.W. Olson, Oliver Stream, Joseph Masters, William A. Lee, Jr., D.W. Nisley, R.W. Hulse, Vickery Nation, Ransom Babcock, F.Z. Wikoff, G.S. Hawkins and John Taylor. The latter was assessor for over 30 years.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy passes through Sparta in a diagonal line from near the northeast to the southwest corner. In November 1894, the Galesburg, Etherly and Great Eastern Railroad was opened, running twelve miles east, to strike a great coal belt of some eighty-two sections, the center of which is Etherly, where the company placed a shaft costing $30,000. This company suspended railroad operations on September 7, 1895, but resumed December 7, 1897, under the name of the Galesburg and Great Eastern, with Edward J. Harms as manager.

Prairie fires in early days were beautiful to witness and oftentimes to be dreaded. As one time a fire which is said to have started at Red Oak in Henry County, threatened to devastate the farms of the new settlers, but warning was given those in the southwest part of the township by Maria, daughter of Luman Field, in time to avert the approaching catastrophe.
Sparta, both before and during the Civil War, contained quite a number of abolitionists; among them was Abram Neely, a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Some of the old citizens still remember his hiding fugitive slaves at his home and taking them a night’s ride to the next station.

The population of Sparta Township has been: 1840, 113; 1870, 1,950; 1800, 1,682; 1890, 1,293. For later figures see elsewhere.


Wataga was platted in the spring of 1854 by J.M. Holyoke, Silas Willard and Clark M. Carr, and was incorporated by a special act in 1863. The first village election was held September 19, 1863. In 1874 it was re-incorporated, under the general law, with Section 16 as the village territory. J.M. Holyoke was the first resident and postmaster, and also built the first store in conjunction with A.P. Cassel. This was operated by Willard and Babcock. The first bank in the place was started in 1863 by H.P. Wood. The depot was built in 1856, and in the same year the Wataga House was erected and operated by Garrett Post for one year, when Loren Smith bought and conducted it for one year, and for years it was the property of C. H. Norton. The Wataga mill was built by William Armstrong in 1856, and soon afterwards was damaged by an explosion in which John Armstrong was seriously injured. George F. and David P. Niles, now extensive farmers and fine stock-raisers, bought the mill in May, 1867, and ran it very successfully for eight years, patrons coming long distances with their own wheat and receiving entire satisfaction. Among those who have since owned the mill are: William and M.O. Williamson, who introduced expensive modern machinery and Frank Darst, who also put in improvements and did excellent work.

The First Congregational Church was organized June 10, 1855, and the church society October 27, 1856. The church organization was led by the Rev. S.G. Wright. The first meeting was held in the depot, where the first sermon was preached. Subsequent services were held in the newly completed schoolhouse until 1860, when a substantial church, costing over $3,000, was erected, to which in 1876, a parsonage was added at a cost of $2,000. The original members were: A.P. Babcock, William S. Farnham, Mrs. Maria S. Farnham, Mrs. C.F. Farnsworth, Benjamin Gardner, Mrs. Abigail Gardner, Miss Sarah Gardner, Mrs. Minerva Holyoke, Charles W. Rhodes and Mrs. Jane Rhodes. William S. Farnham served as deacon for 30 years. James Hastie also served as deacon until his demise in 1879 and was succeeded by Amos S. Fitch, the latter holding the office until his death in 1882. Among the secretaries of the society have been Hon. John Gray, of Jefferson, Iowa; the late J.M. Holyoke and E.H. Goldsmith, the latter of whom held that office twenty-four years and was church clerk for thirty years. This church has had many pastors. Among those who have faithfully served in that capacity may be mentioned the Revs. Zairian Hyde, William W. Wetmore, Hiram P. Roberts, Prof. Willis J. Beecher, of Auburn (New York) Theological Seminary, and William R. Butcher, the last named serving six years. The Sunday school records show that on December 26, 1869, the membership was two hundred and the average attendance one hundred and forty-eight. John Hastie was the secretary and E.H. Goldsmith the superintendent, the latter holding that office for twenty –five years. The late George P. Holyoke and William M. Driggs, with their wives rendered valuable assistance in former years.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1856 by the Rev. William M. Clark, whose circuit consisted of Oneida, Wesley Chapel and Wataga. He made his journeys on foot. Mr. Clark gave the site of Gilson campground to this district. Among the early members were S.F. Spaulding, John Gaddis, B.W. Foster, Lucius Vail and S.G. Dean, with their wives. Mr. Dean was the first Sunday school superintendent, serving four years, and he was succeeded by S.F. Spaulding who, for nineteen years, gave his best services to the school. Among the pastors were: G.W. Brown, N. T. Allen, William Watson, D. Ayers, N.B. Clark, G.P. Snedaker and C.F.W. Smith. The church was completed and dedicated in 1867 under the pastorate of J.W. Coe, the presiding elder being W.H. Hunter.
The Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized in 1856, the first pastor being the Rev. T.N. Hasselquist. In 1860 the society commenced building a church, having formerly worshipped in private houses and school buildings. This church was struck by lightning and burned in 1875, but in the same year the present tasteful edifice was erected. The Rev. N. Nordgren, served this people many years.
The Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1857 with the Rev. V. Witting as the pastor. The keeping up of regular services and of the Sunday school was largely due to the untiring efforts of Oliver Stream.
The Wataga Christian Church, costing $2,000, was erected in 1875, but was torn down in 1896 and the church organization no longer exists.
The Wataga Catholic Church was erected in 1877 at a cost of $2,000. The Rev. P. McGair was its first pastor.

Wataga Lodge, No. 291, A.F. and A.M., was instituted August 17, 1858.

The Order of the Eastern Star was organized February 22, 1888, and being the first chapter in the county it had many members from the surrounding towns, there being at one time seventy-four names on the roll. Other chapters were organized in every town from which this drew its followers.

Wataga Lodge, No. 509, I.O.O.F., was organized January 10, 1876, by A.W. Berggren. Its first officers were: W.N. Thomas, N.G.; J.E. Thomas, V.G.; L.C. Whitcomb, Secretary; P.A. Smith, Treasurer. Other charter members were P.A. Smith and John McConchie.

Rebecca Lodge, No. 48 was organized October 20, 1891. The first officers were: John Deming: N.G.; Mrs. Nancy Deming, C.G.; Oliver Stream, Secretary.

Wataga Camp, No. 3229, Modern Woodmen, was organized September 224, 1895, with eighteen charter members.


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