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From Sketch by H.M. Reece
The following interesting notes on Chestnut Township are from a sketch by H. M. Reece in 1899:
The earliest settler of Chestnut Township was Anson Dolph, who came from Kentucky in 1833. He raised a crop of wheat that year on Section 17, and in 1834, came as permanent settler. In the year last named came also John Terry from Virginia, who settled on Section 16, and became the first Justice of the Peace. He enjoyed the distinction of having performed the first marriage ceremony in the township, the contracting parties being a Mr. Gay and a Miss Cope, whose wish for a legal union was sufficiently strong to induce them to ride a long distance on a single horse. Those early marriages often presented romantic features wholly lacking in the fashionable weddings of these days of purer refinement and higher civilizations. To illustrate: One of the marriages solemnized by Squire Terry was that of a couple who stood on one bank of the Spoon River, while he pronounced the fateful words on the other, the stream being too swollen to permit either party to cross to the opposite bank. Mr. Terry afterward engaged in trade, and amassed what in those days was regarded as an independent fortune. In 1836, Robert Leigh and Archibald Long came from Ohio and settled on Section 33, where Mr. Leigh remained until his death. Soon after his arrival he commenced raising hemp, and there being no market for the raw product, he constructed a factory of a rude description, where he manufactured his own and his neighbors, hemp crops into rope, For a time the industry proved very profitable, and he, too, amassed a comfortable fortune. Mr. Long, soon after settling on Section 33, removed to Section 19, where, in 1842, he platted the village of Hermon.
He was a local Methodist preacher, and soon after his arrival at his new home organized a Methodist class, which met regularly at his house for many years. The last of this devoted band was Mrs. Sally Shafer.
Among the early settlers should be also mentioned O.P. Barton. He was famous in those times as a pedestrian, and gave repeated evidence of his prowess and power of endurance in this description of exercise. Once, starting on foot at the same time with several horsemen for the land office at Quincy, one hundred miles distant, he out-stripped them all, securing the prize offered to the winner of the race which consisted of forty acres of government land in Section 17. Another pioneer was Harmon Way, who was famous as a marksman and hunter.
The first house was built of logs by Mr. Dolph on Section 17, in 1833. The first brick house was that of Robert Leigh, erected about 1845. The first road was the old State Road, from Peoria to Oquawka, which ran diagonally through the township from southeast to northwest. Its course, however, has been since changed, so that it now follows section lines. The first bride was built about 1846, at the point where the old road crosses Spoon River. It was a very cumbersome, wooden affair, which was carried away and demolished by a flood in 1855.
The first birth was a daughter to Mr. and Mrs. Shaver, in 1835. The first death was that of Jacob Harford, in 1836.
The first school house, after the fashion of those early days, was built of logs, and was exceedingly rude as regarded both its exterior and interior. It was put up in 1836. and some years afterward was replaced by a frame building which, after undergoing many alterations, is still used as the school house of District No. 3. Two years later (1838) the second school house, likewise of logs, was built on Section 28. It disappeared long ago, and the site is now occupied by the Church of the United Brethren. The first school teacher to exercise his vocation was Mr. Haskins, who taught in what is now District No. 3. At present, 1899, the township has eight schools, none of them graded; occupying buildings valued at six thousand, five hundred dollars. The aggregate attendance is two hundred and forty-three, out of a total population of three hundred and eighty-six minors.
The first mill was built by Mr. Howard on Haw Creek about 1845. It was designed both for sawing lumber and grinding corn, but was used only a few years and has long since been only a memory. There was also a saw mill on Litlerís Creek, on Section 25, about the same time, which has shared the same fate. Early in the forties, Mr. Parker manufactured brick on Section 23, for several years.
The first store was kept by John Terry on Section 16, and its stock was very limited. A Mr. Moor early established another on Section 15, but it proved unsuccessful and he soon abandoned the enterprise.
One of the earliest taverns was kept by Jonathan Potts, on Section 22, on the old State road. The first physician was Dr. Porter, who came in 1838 and remained but a short time. He was succeeded Dr. Morris, and he, in turn, by Dr. Wilson.
The first settlers of the township were compelled to depend on Troy, in Fulton County, and on Knoxville, then the county seat, for postal facilities, but in 1848 a post office was established at Hermon, the mail being brought from Knoxville once a week. The first postmaster was a Mr. Massie.
The township was organized at a meeting held in 1857, by the choice of the following officials: Samuel Collins, supervisor; John Terry and David Massie, Justices of the Peace; Mr. McCoy, Clerk; William Graves and Freeman West, Constables; Robert Benson, Collector; and Owen Betterton, Assessor.
Justices of the Peace since the first elected have been Owen Betterton, Hiram Culver, Walter Bond, Samuel Jamison, Henry Bond, George Haver, Marion Dyer, T.J. Routh, Clayton Trumbeel, J.W. Ogden and John E. Davis and Lee Lucas, the present dispensers of justice, (1899), for the township.
There is but one village in Chestnut, originally called Harrisonville, but now known as Harmon, A Village was laid out in Section 23, in 1852, by Andrew J. Parker. It was situated on the right bank of the Spoon, near where the present bridge crosses that stream. It never grew, and the plat was vacated by the legislature in 1869.
The Christian Church in the township was organized in 1854, by Revs. John Miller and Gaston. The Church of the United Brethren was organized in 1859, and the denomination has a well-built edifice, on Section 28.
The Methodist church was first organized by Archibald Long, an early settler and local preacher. Through his efforts a modest church building was erected in 1842. The Baptist Society was organized early in the forties by Elders A. Gogorth and C. Humphrey.
The township furnished its quotas to the Civil War and to the wars since then. Its citizens have had a conspicuous part in the affairs of the county.