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.