Walnut Grove Township is located in what is known as the
“Military Tract,” a section of the state selected as bounty land for
soldiers, because of its fine soil and undulating surface. It is well watered
by Walnut Creek and its sixty-seven tributaries and is a Spoon River
auxiliary. Its soil is unsurpassed in fertility and fine farms with
substantial buildings are to be found everywhere within its borders.
The township derived its name from the extensive groves of walnut timber,
which formerly grew near its center and on the northwest quarter of Section
26. These two groves include all its timber with the exception of a small
tract in its southern end. An attempt was made toward the settlement of the
township as early as the spring of 1832 by Messrs. Jones and DeHart who made
claims and built a cabin on Section 21 but became alarmed at the hostility of
the Indians and left at the time of the Black Hawk War and never returned.
They had pushed away out on the frontier and become accustomed to roughing
it. DeHart, nevertheless was greatly frightened one day when no danger was
near. They had broken ten acres of prairie land in Walnut Grove Township on
what was afterward the farm of Amos Ward. While DeHart was plowing with a
yoke of oxen, an old Indian squaw came out of the woods and waved a red
blanket. This, he surmised, was a signal for him to move quickly for his
life. Accordingly, he started immediately leaving his oxen in the furrow. On
hearing it was only a scare, he returned the following day for his team and
effects; but left the country and never returned. Several times during the
Black Hawk War, the settlers fled to the forts. The ruins of their cabin was
still standing in 1838.
In 1836, John Thompson, the first permanent settler moved here from
Pennsylvania with his wife Catherine, and settled on Section 16. Mr. Thompson
planted the first crop, a field of sod corn, in 1837, fencing it in with the
first rails split in the township. The only near neighbors, the Thompson’s
had were a band of some thirty Indians who camped for a short time near Mr.
Thompson’s residence which was located where the Kufus Grade School now
stands. The nearest white neighbors were at Fraker’s Grove, eleven miles
distant. Mr. Thompson and Mr. Capps, two of the first settlers had been
soldiers of the War of 1812 and the father of Mr. Allen one of the pioneers
of the township, served in the Revolutionary War.
Elder M. Smith of the Mormon Church built the first frame house in 1840 on
Section 15 of what was originally called the Snow and afterward the
Wisegarver farm. In 1848 several hundred of the Mormons had located here and
designed building a temple on Section 15, but before carrying out their plans
Joseph Smith, the leader, had a new revelation (caused by the hostility of
the settlers) commanding them to leave here and go to Nauvoo, Hancock County,
which they promptly obeyed at great personal sacrifice to many of them. As
they had entered and possessed themselves of nearly all the timberland and
designed building up a community of their own faith, the other settlers were
not sorry to see them depart. The only trace they left is a row of giant
cottonwood trees, which they planted and which still stand in the center of
the road east of the village of Altona.
The first boy born in the township was John Thompson, Jr. The first girl,
Helen Maria Ward, was born February 3, 1839. She was the daughter of Amos and
Maria Ward and married A.P. Stephens, died in Russell, Kansas, January 3,
1912, and was brought here for burial. After Mr. John Thompson came other
early settlers, Levi Stephens, Abram Piatt, Simeon L. Collinson, Amos Ward.
Mr. Ward is said to have made the first wagon tracks between Altona and
Victoria in 1838. In 1839, he was elected the first Justice of the Peace. The
first couple married were Austin Frederick and Elizabeth Finney. The first
death was that of Mrs. Hinsdale, a sister of Amos Ward, who died in August
1838, at the residence of Abram Piatt, on Section 15, where she was also
buried. In 1844, John W. Clarke was appointed the first postmaster, succeeded
in 1845 by S. Ellis and he by Amos Ward in 1846 who then held the office for
a long term of years when it was much more troublesome than remunerative. A
little drawer in a bookcase served as a deposit for all the mail for ten
The first schoolhouse was built on the southwest quarter of Section 16, in
1840 and Miss Robey Tabor, a Quakeress from Massachusetts was the first
teacher. She married afterward, moved to Henry County and died in 1896.
Another early teacher was Eugene L. Gross who afterward distinguished himself
in the legislative halls of the state at Springfield. His school was taught
in a small log building, 16 X 16, built about the year 1841. In 1899, there
were eleven schools in the township, costing ten thousand dollars. Elder
Samuel Shaw organized the first church (after the Mormons). It was known as
the Baptist Church and had eight members with a place of worship on Walnut
Creek. The first township officers elected April 5, 1853, were Amos Ward,
Supervisor; A.F. Ward, Clerk; H.L Sage, Assessor; James Livingstone,
Collector; H.L. Collinson, Daniel Allen, and C. Capps, Highway Commissioners;
Reuben Cochran, Overseer of the Poor; Amos Ward and David Livingstone,
Justices of the Peace. The population of Walnut Grove in 1860 was 1,120; 1870
was 1,960; 1880 was 1,781; 1890 was 1,350; 1900 was 1,280.
The old settlers endured many hardships and the present generation would be
very uncomfortable if they had to live in the old log houses with their
fireplaces, very few of which remained. One was standing a few years ago on
the. H.K. Whiting farm now owned by Mrs. Amenoff. The names and deeds of the
old settlers who endured hardship and trials in a new and would country to
lay the foundation for future greatness and make a more beautiful and
cultivated country and their memories should be perpetuated and handed down
to posterity so that future generations should know and appreciate those who
began the work of settling and changing a wild unsettled country as Knox once
was to what it is now. Without a road or guide, the pioneers roamed the
prairies and timber with their slow but faithful oxen. At this time, there
was but one traveled road in the county running from Peoria to Galena,
through Victoria and Walnut Grove Townships, known as the Galena Trail.
Streams were forded, hogs butchered and frozen, then taken to Rock Island or
Peoria, some taking their grain and hogs to Chicago, Jonathan Gibbs in 1842
receiving 47 cents a bushel for his wheat, one party received 15 cents a
bushel for wheat and were 11-1/2 days making the trip. They received $19.50
for the wheat, bought three barrels of salt at $1.50 a barrel, the price at
home being $3. In the winter of 1841, Judge Hanneman drove 1,300 head of hogs
from Knoxville to Chicago for which he had paid $2 a hundred pounds net. He
had them slaughtered and packed in Chicago and shipped to New York and
Boston. In this transaction, he lost $5,000. He hired sixteen boys to drive
them, the trip consuming sixteen days. At that time, Chicago was a small town
situated in the middle of miry swamps.
In 1842, Jonathan Gibbs went to Peoria to sell his pork, the highest offered
was 1-1/2 cents per pound for dressed hogs, 3-1/2 cents cash or 4 cents in
trade for green hams and lard. Over a fireplace in Mr. Gibbs’ cabin sixteen
barrels of lard were tried out that fall. Such a stupendous job of work would
scarcely be undertaken by any family at the present time. Money was an
article little known and seldom seen among the early settlers; nearly all
business was transacted by trading or barter. Taxes and postage required cash
and often letters remained a long time in the post office for want of
twenty-five cents. The mail was carried every week by a lone horseman with a
mailbag or if the village was on a stage route, the old stagecoach would make
its appearance about once a week with the mail One or two letters a month was
considered a large mail nor did three cents pay the postage. It took
twenty-five cents which sometimes took five or six weeks to earn, fifty
dollars being considered ample compensation for one year’s labor. The amount
of taxes on $1,100 worth of property in 1836 was $1.37-1/2 cents.
Bee hunting was one of the early pastimes of the settlers the strained honey
was sent in barrels to St. Louis and the price 37-1/2 cents a gallon. The
first crops of the settlers, however abundant, gave only partial relief,
there being no mills to grind the grain. Hence the necessity of grinding by
hand power or grating. A grater was made from a piece of tin sometimes taken
from an old worn out tin bucket. This was thickly perforated with nail holes
bent into a semi-circular form and nailed, rough side up, to a board. The
corn was taken in the ear and grated before it was quite dry and hard.
The first year after Mr. Amos Ward arrived in the county; he took a bag of
corn on his horse and went to Andover Mills. On arriving there, he found they
had stopped running during the dry weather. He returned home and the
following day went to Centerville. There the miller was grinding a little
when he could so he left his grist and in a few days returned for it, but it
was not ground, so he went home and finally traveled one hundred miles back
and forth before he got his bag of corn; in the meantime grating corn on the
primitive grater described and making the meal thus obtained into batter
cakes, Johnny cakes, corn dodgers, and pone, which was a common diet at that
A.W. Miller came to the county in a pioneer wagon, (prairie schooner). It was
all made of wood, there being no iron about it. The wheels were about ten
inches thick and two and a half feet in diameter. The wagon was quite low.
These wheels were sawed from the end of a log and were solid. A plank was
pinned on the side to prevent season cracking. The axles were about six
inches square rounded at the ends for a six-inch hole in the wheel. Four or
five oxen were hitched to a wagon and it was slowly dragged over the prairie.
When in use it would be heard for miles, squeaking even when well greased
with soft soap. One load of wood such as this wagon was capable of hauling
would last a family all summer.
Spinning wool and flax by means of the spinning wheel was one of the common
household duties. The loom was also necessary. A common article woven on the
loom was linsey woolsey, the chain being linen and the filling woolen. This
cloth was used for dresses for the girls and their mothers. Nearly all the
clothes worn by the men were homespun. The cooking was done in large kettles
hung over the fire suspended on trammels, which were held by strong poles. A
long handled frying pan was used for meat, which was furnished in abundance.
Wild game, quail, prairie chicken, and turkey, deer and bear meat were
plentiful, pork and poultry were soon raised in abundance. The pleasures of
the early settlers took the form of amusements such as the “quilting bee,”
“corn husking,” “apple paring,” and in timbered sections “log rolling,” and
“house raising,” and they would come for miles around to enjoy these
gatherings. Wolf hunts were enjoyed by the men.
The census of 1870 gives the population of the township 1,1962; voters, 375.
Number of farms, 170; dwellings 393; horses, 1,042; mules, 29; sheep, 458;
hogs, 2,405; bushels of wheat, 17,607; rye, 3,300; corn, 210, 220; oats,
The census of 1910 – Population, 1,209. Township officers, 1918, are:
Supervisor, J.A. Johnson; Town Clerk, S.H. Johnson; Assessor, N.H. Nelson;
Collector, G.N. Larson; Commissioner of Highways, C.L. Youngdahl; Justice of
the Peace (resigned); Constable, O.W. Peterson; School Trustees, J.P. Walgren,
Alfred Nelson, W.C. Stuckey; Library Board, C.C. Sawyer; Clerk, A.C. Keener.
Coming from the west, the traveler sees a picturesque little village, its
streets embowered in trees, crowning a slight town, Altona, is situated on
the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad about sixteen miles east of
Galesburg. Around it lies as rich a farming country as can be found in
Illinois, and the village itself is one of the most prosperous in the county,
having electric lights, cement walks, a public library, bank and all modern
Altona was laid out and platted in 1854 by John Piatt for the heirs of John
Thompson. Later E.B. Main and Daniel Allen laid out an addition, just
northeast of the first location. The place was then called La Pier. While the
Central Military Tract, now the C.B. & Q. Railroad was being built in 1853
many laborers employed on the road came and camped in the edge of the wood,
near the railroad line. To supply their wants, Cyrus Willard and J.S.
Chambers built a store, 18 X 36 feet in size near the center of Section 16 on
the northeast quarter of land then owned by Daniel Allen. This was the first
store building erected in Altona, and was the pride of the community, as it
was the only store between Galesburg and Kewanee. Samuel P. Whiting built the
second store, Niles & Gay later. In 1854, Mr. Erickson, of Moline, built a
flouring mill. The mill continued in successful operation for ten years, Nels
P. Peterson and Thomas Taylor operated it later. Ambrose Foster had a broom
factory. There were several wagon makers, Darius Pierce operated a cooperage,
later Mr. Tornquist had a carriage factory. None of them employed much extra
help. In 1855, an elevator was built. Cline’s elevator and Tamblyn’s burned.
The farmers now own an elevator on the site of the Tamblyn elevator.
The first hotel was built back of Willard & Chambers store (Which was located
where E.F. Swanson’s store now stands) was operated by a Mr. Hahn and later
burned down, never rebuilt. The Walnut Grove Hotel was built in 1854,
operated by Needham Rogers, Matthew Wiley and Mrs. Ackerman in turn, is now
demolished and a nice modern residence built on the site by W.C. Stuckey
whose father, S.S. Stuckey came here in 1854 and built the first house in the
northeast part of the township. The Altona House, facing the depot, was
constructed by Mrs. McKie, H.G.O. Wales, J.A. Negus, J.B. McCalmont and Mr.
Hopkins were successive proprietors. The Brown Hotel was built later by B.H.
Brown and operated by him later by G.F. Edward, Robert Wilson and Mr. Hopkins
is now a private residence occupied by S.M. Whiting, whose father built the
second store building in town. He was later editor of the Altona Journal from
1877 to 1884, succeeded by O. B. Kail. The Altona Record was first published
March 1, 1888, by C.F. McDonough. Later editors were Sam W. West, Arthur
Austin and F.C. Krans, its present proprietor, who is also mayor of the town.
The village of Altona was incorporated under special charter in 1856 under
the general law in 1862 and again in 1874.
Altona has always been noted for the excellence of its schools. There has
been a good graded school here since 1858. The first school election was held
October 9, 1858, at which M.B. Waldo, E.B. Main and James T. Bliss were
elected directors, and a graded school established with a primary,
intermediate, and grammar course. The grammar course as follows: Practical
and intellectual arithmetic, geography and map drawing continued, Sander’s
New Fifth Reader, Analysis of words; 2. Single entry bookkeeping, U.S.
History, English Grammar, Analysis and Punctuation, Elocution and
Composition; 3. Harkness first and second Latin book, Caesar, Cicero and
Virgil, first Greek Book, Xenophon’s Anabasis, Higher Arithmetic, Algebra,
Geometry, Surveying, Rhetoric, Natural Philosophy, How Plants Grow, Political
Economy and History. The first principal, William A. Jones, a Yale graduate,
received $600 a year; Nancy Johnson, Intermediate, $240; Miss Marsden,
Primary, $4.50 a week. A new school building and location was voted for at an
election held May 2, 1863, at which thirteen votes were cast, O.T. Johnson
receiving ten for director. August 15, 1864, it was voted to sell the old
building and site for $1,500. An additional $1,500 was borrowed of George W.
Ransom for building purposes. Matthew Wiley was the contractor and the High
School building was completed in 1864. The new Kufus Grade School was erect
in its place and occupied for school purposes September 1917, Mrs. Mary I.
Riner Kufus donating $8,000 toward its erection. It was completed and
dedicated August 28, 1918, Rev. Brink, M.E. minister; S.J.S. Moore,
Presbyterian minister; A.R. Keeler, Mayor of Altona; Hon. Francis G. Blair,
State Superintendent of Public Instruction; Walter F. Boyes, County
Superintendent of Schools and Mrs. Thomas Sheahan, (a former teacher and
graduate of the old school and daughter of William Hillerby, an old settler,)
being on the program. A short time before, in 1916, the Walnut Grove Township
High School in the north part of town had been dedicated with appropriate
ceremonies. Judge J.D. Welch, Co. Supt, Boyes of Galesburg and State Supt. of
Public Instruction Francis G. Blair were speakers on the program. Mr. and
Mrs. J.M. McKie donated a fine new piano for the use of the school and
handsomely furnished a rest room for the teachers.
The Ransom Public Library was erected and dedicated March 28, 1890. Hon.
E.A.Bancroft of Galesburg and Dr. G.S. Chalmers were speakers. George W.
Ransom left his entire estate, some $8,000, (with the exception of a bequest
to the Masons and Walnut Grove cemetery), to establish a Public Library in
the town, if the township would build a suitable building.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in August 1853, with membership
of thirteen, under charge of Rev. James Quimby. In 1857, a church was erected
and later a parsonage, the two costing $5,000. The church has been remodeled
and rededicated twice. Rev. Brink is the present pastor, members 128. The
Congregational church was founded February 21, 1857, with nine members under
charge of Rev. A. Root. A church costing $4,000 was dedicated November 9,
1866. The present members worship with the Presbyterians, George A. Ward,
clerk. Rev I.N. Candee, D.D., T.S. Vaill and J.T. Bliss organized the
Presbyterian Church (O.S.) April 25, 1857, there being twenty-one members.
The old building was remodeled and burned, a new brick structure was erected
and dedicated December 2, 1917, members, 133. The formation of the Lutheran
church took place in 1869; the congregation erected a church building costing
$4,000 and later a parsonage. The first pastor was Rev. Philip Direll. The
denomination has steadily grown in numbers, membership at present about 350.
The Swedish Baptist Mission was opened in 1876 by J.W. Stromberg but only
holds occasional services being without a regular pastor.
The first bank in the village was an outgrowth of the general mercantile
business of A.P. Johnson & Co., which was started in 1854. Until 1890, when
Mr. Johnson left the place, his was the only bank in Altona. Then the Bank of
Altona incorporated under the State Banking Law was organized with A.M.
Craig, President; C.S. Clarke, Vice President; George Craig, Cashier; J. M.
McKie, Assistant Cashier. In January 1896, J.M. McKie was elected to the
position made vacant by George Craig’s death. The present officers are J.M.
McKie and C.E. Eckstedt, Assistant Cashier. The capital stock is $50,000 and
Among the societies can be mentioned the Masonic, the I.O.O.F., Maccabees,
Modern Woodmen of America, Eastern Stars, Rebekahs, Royal Neighbors,
Altona-Oneida Branch of the Free Kindergarten and Red Cross. The Masonic
Lodge was organized October 1, 1860; and now owns its own Masonic Hall, a
gift being left toward its purchase by George W. Ransom. The first officers
were Hiram Hall, W.M.; A.P. Stephens, S.W.; G.D. Slanker, J.W.; J.N. Bush,
Sec.; J.S. Chambers, Treas.; B.H. Scott, S.D.; George, McKown, J.D.; O.S.
Lawrence, T. An order of Eastern Stars was organized in 1892 with forty-six
members. In the 60’s, a lodge of Good Templars or W.C.T.U. was organized and
during its career the members demolished a saloon which stood where the
garage is now located. I.O.O.F., No. 511, was organized October 14, 1873,
charter members, Matthew Wiley, P.G.; John A. Stuckey, Edward Nelson, Richard
J. Burneson, Harry E. Wheeler, James A. Griffith, G.A. Hall. M.W.A. Camp,
3737, organized April 3, 1896, charter members, Alfred Anderson, Carl Elion,
Nels H. Nelson, Harry Austin, W.B. Elliott, E.W. Norene, August Bowman, P.
Englund, F. Parker, G.L. Brown, G. Harling, O.W. Peterson, H.S. Brown, G.
Johnson, R.C. Sellon, Thomas Sheahan, S.B Brown, Frank Krans, A. Swanson, S.L.
Collinson, William Lady, W.H. Van Scoyk, J.H. Cummings, Nels Lundahl, H.L.
Weaver, William Doadk, and Alf Nelson. K.O.T.M. organized August 14, 1894,
charter members G.C. Eckley, C.W. Miller, Arthur Shade, C. Gates, A.C.
Peterson, G.W. Pierce, Reuben Cox, C.A. Clifford, J.S. Swanson, C.A.
Ackerman, Ben Davenport, W.B. Gray.
Of the old settlers very few are left (none of 1850). B.H. Scott, A.J.
Anderson, Mrs. L.B. Cummings, Mrs. R. C. Stuckey still reside here. D.
Pierce, Knoxville; Mrs. Helen Lindwall, California; Ed Wales, Colorado and
Mrs. Tamblyn, Nebraska are some of the pioneers still living.
Fires and Floods
Disastrous fires have occurred at various times. B.H. Scott’s store and the
building south of it having been destroyed by fire three different times.
January 2, 1899, the main street was completely wiped out but was replaced
the next year by the substantial brick buildings which are now there two of
which were erected by Judge A.M. Craig and two by John McMaster. In 1900, the
electric light plant and Tornquist carriage factory was burned, electric
light plant rebuilt.
Several floods have caused Walnut Creek to go on a rampage. One, June 25,
1898, resulted in the death of J.F. Hubell, and washed out the large railroad
bridge and arches west of town, causing erection of a new iron road bridge
and a summer’s work by the C.B. & G. Railroad when new foundations were sunk
deeper to hold the large new arches. Last year the railroad built a large
reservoir at their pump house east of town, 800 feet long, 150 feet wide and
15 feet deep. This reservoir was completed July 1918, after eight month’s
work. A fine place for a factory location. August 1907, a disastrous
hailstorm destroyed the crops in the township, a strip six miles wide and
fifty long being devastated. The year 1859 is noted, as having a frost every
month in the year, was also very wet. The winter of the deep snow was 1830.
Cold winds, dark skies, and gusty winds made the days preceding Christmas of
1830 dismal, streams were swollen and snow fell in big wet flakes, later the
weather grew bitterly cold and wind of hurricane force whipped snow hard as
sand into the faces of men and beast and piled it in drifts many feet deep
covering all fences and cabins. Scores of men perished on the prairies and
many of the bodies were not found until spring had melted away the snow. For
sixty days, there was no sun. Snow four feet deep on the level lasted until
late in spring. In 1891, there was a great deal of snow and roads could not
be used until shoveled as they filled up with every fresh storm. Snow still
remained in fence corners in June. 1917 was another snowy year with bitter
cold weather, drifts eighteen feet deep in the railroad cuts, trains stalled
from Friday until Sunday January 17, 1918, between Galva and Kewanee. Each
new snowstorm filled the roads from fence to fence, making roads impassable
even at this late day; so the days passed shoveling coal and snow but no such
hardships as the pioneers endured in that winter of 1830 when the domestic
and wild animals and game perished by the thousand, and the settlers
themselves by the score.
The population of Altona in 1870 was 902; 1880, 806; 1890, 654; 1900, 633 and