Annuals of Knox County, Illinois

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By William Scott

In attempting to write the annals of Haw Creek Township, Knox County, Illinois, the writer of this short sketch will be somewhat handicapped as to the early history of the same.

After having served two terms of enlistment in the War of the Rebellion in Ohio organizations, and after having been discharged from said service in June 1865, came to Illinois in October, same year, and located in Haw Creek Township. Entering school in Hedding College, Abingdon, Illinois, the winter term of 1865, remained in same school (excepting vacations) until the late fall of a866, when he began District school teaching and continued in that Profession until the ending of the school year, 1878; embarking in the Mercantile business in Gilson, Ill., March 1878; ran a general merchandise business for over forty years.
In order to obtain anything like an accurate knowledge of Haw Creek’s early history, the writer will have to glean his knowledge from various sources. He will in some instance have to refer to a former history written in 1899 by C.W. McKown, of Gilson, (now deceased).

In attempting to answer, the questions of the committee who have this matter under consideration will say that very little is known of the first inhabitants of this Township. I now refer to the Redmen or Indians of the forest and prairies of Illinois. There are evidences in Haw Creek Township that the Redmen at one time roamed over our prairies hunting the game that was plenteous and fishing in our principal river, (the Spoon), which at that time abounded with vast numbers of fine fish.
The population at the present time consists almost wholly of native-born inhabitants of Haw Creek. Most of the early settlers came from Ohio. We note from the former history referred to, that the first White settler in Haw Creek was Mrs. Elizabeth Owens, accompanied by her son Parnach Owens, the settlement was made in 1839 on Section 18. In 1834, other settlers came from Ohio and settled in this township. Among those families were John Scott, Zephaniah Scott, and Jacob Harshbarger. About the same time also came the following families and located in Haw Creek; these were James Nevitt, Samuel Slocum, David Teel and David Enochs. They were soon followed by Woodford Pierce, David Housh, Joshua Burnett and Lineas Richmond, William Dickerson and others, so that in 1835 there was quite a settlement in Haw Creek, all coming from Southern Ohio, Highland and Jackson counties.

The first white child born in Haw Creek was a son to James Nevitt and wife, soon after locating in their new home. The first death in the township was that of Eleanor Jarnigan, 1834. First sermon preached by the noted Rev. Peter Cartright, 1831.
After the settlement of Haw Creek there were no churches but services were held in the homes of the farmers. The Rev. Peter Cartright, Richard Haney (Uncle Dick) and William Clarke officiated at the services held in the farm houses. The first denomination in the field was the Methodist Episcopal, afterwards followed by the United Brethren in Christ. After the erection of school houses the religious services were held in them. The first regular church built in Haw Creek was Clark’s Chapel, Section 17, built in 1864, since discontinued. There are at present three churches in the township, the Methodist in Gilson, built in 1865; the Gilson United Brethren built in 1866. The value of each church when built was not over, $1,200, but now $2,500 would not replace them and their furnishings. The other church referred to is a Unite Brethren located in Section 3, known as Union or Wolfs Chapel, at a value of $1,500. They are all of them well kept up and in good condition. The present ministers are: Methodist, Rev. E.B. Morton; United Brethren, Rev. Jay A. Smith, each of them live wires.

As to the first school house built in the township, I am not able to say, but I presume it was the log structure erected on the Northwest Quarter of Section 15. The first school in the township was taught by Miss Susan Dempsey in 1836, who afterward became the wife of Booker Pickreal. The school system of Haw Creek is up to that of average of other townships in the county. We have nine districts with that of Gilson, which is a graded school, besides we have the Haw Creek Township High School with three teachers. Classes in this school are regularly graduated after a four years prescribed course by the efficient School board. None but good and efficient teachers are employed in any of the schools of the Township.
The methods of travel are varied at the present time. But early methods were principally by wagon and carriage. Before the days of the railroad the farm produce was hauled by wagon to Peoria and Chicago; principally to Peoria, wagons loads back with groceries and merchandise of various kinds.

The first store in the township was conducted by Edmond Smith at Mechanicsburg, southwest of Gilson three-fourth miles on Section 18. This store was a general stock. The C.B.&Q. Railroad was surveyed and built in 1856. In 1857 the Village of Gilson was surveyed and regularly established on the southeast one-fourth Section 7 by Lineas Richmond and James Gilson, after whom the village was named . Ever since Gilson was established it has been a good trading point for the sale of farm produce, such as all kinds of grains and stock. Gilson at present has a population of 200. Three general stores in the town, all seem to do a good business, one elevator and one lumber yard, one blacksmith shop and one general repair shop, post office and one rural delivery.

The only mill of an early date was a large grist mill on Section 34 of Spoon River, known in 1865 as the Burnett Mill. It did a very fine business when first built but was abandoned about twenty years ago on account of a lack of power for only about six months in the year. There was also a sawmill erected on Haw Creek 2 miles southwest of Gilson which did a very good business for several years.

The organization of the township was effected on April 5, 1853. This organization took place at the Nevitt school house, southwest of Gilson two and one-half miles. The following officers were elected: William M. Clarke, Supervisor; Woodford Pierce, Clerk; Isaac Lott, Assessor; Joseph Harshbarger, Collector; Jacob Wolf, Overseer of the Poor; John S. Linn and Enoc Godfrey, Justices of the Peace; George Pickrel and William Lewis, Constables; Milton Lotts, Allen T. Rambo and Benoni Simpkins, Commissioners of Highways. The present officers follow C.H. Upp, Supervisor; Clark H. Snow, Assessor; C.C. Dossett, Overseer of Poor; C.H. Upp (by virtue of office) Justice of Peace; Earl Snell, Constable; John Housh and H.L. Connor, Commissioner of Highways, Ben Taylor. With my limited knowledge, prior to 1865, I am unable to give the location of the first farm and how cultivated, but I should judge that the method of cultivation was principally by the one and two-horse cultivators, as a great many of these settlers were from Ohio and there they had to use the one and two-horse cultivators, on account of stumps and roots in the ground. Much improvement has been made in this part of the country in the farming line in the manner of preparing the seed bed before planting or sowing the seed. The farm tractor is just now coming into use in Haw Creek. It may eventually take the place of horses in the extra heavy, hard and hot work

Early pastimes and amusements were as follows: Celebrations, which usually occurred on Holidays, Spelling Schools, Singing Schools, Corn Huskings, Log Rollings and Quilting Bees.

The township at present time is in a very good and prosperous condition owing to the extra good crops and the extremely high prices obtained for all kinds of farm commodities. The population of the township, as near as we can estimate it, is 1,080.
The first good farm house built in the township was that of James Nevitt in 1835. First Brick house built by Woodford Pierce in 1836 on Section 7, Northeast Quarter. First post office established May 7, 1852, and named by the Government, Haw Creek. The post office was in the general store at Mechanicsburg, run by Edmond Smith. The first postmaster was Joseph Harshbarger and was succeeded by Allen T. Rambo, September 16, 1852. The latter was succeeded by Woodford Pierce in March 17, 1855. On March 5, 1857, the office was removed to Gilson which then was a railroad station. Mechanicsburg then going out of existence as a village.

I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to the former historian of the township, Mr. C. W. McKown, for my knowledge of the organization of the township, also the first officers of the same and also for the first post office and first postmaster of the township.

I also wish to relate a couple of instances relating to the Rev. William M. Clarke and Rev. Richard Haney, the founders of Methodism in Haw Creek. In the early settlement of Knox County and Haw Creek the Rev. William M. Clarke was appointed by the Conference to the Knoxville Circuit, which consisted at that time of three or more appointments. At that time he was living on his farm, just east of the old Gilson Campgrounds, where the Methodist church held their Camp Meetings for so many years. After he had taken charge of the Knoxville Circuit he called the official board together and contracted with them for his year’s salary, which was not an overly large one. The Board agreed to pay his salary regularly as he had a large family to support and the salary would be needed to support them. He had preached for them a part of the year and the good brothers had failed on their part of the contract. He called the Board together and stated to them that he was in need of the money for the support of his family. They made him a good promise, but failed to carry it out, so Uncle Billy, as he was familiarly called, called the official board together again. He said to them: “Brethren, you have not treated me right in the matter of filling your obligation to me in the matter of salary. I have endeavored to do my best for you in the matter of pastoral work, but you have utterly failed to keep your part of the contract, so, I am going to tell you something which is not very pleasant for me, ‘You can all go to the devil and I will go back to the farm;’” and he went.

I know wish to relate an incident in which Uncle Dick Haney was interested. He was preaching at a farm house in the early settlement of Haw Creek and in those days window glass was a very scarce article. In the absence of a glass a white greased paper was tacked to a frame and used as a sash in window frame. Uncle Dick said at this farm house he was delivering his sermon in his best possible manner, he had taken his position close to the windows supplied with the greased paper. When he was at his best in the discourse he heard a commotion on the outside of the house, which proved to be a fracas between the cat and dog belonging to the premises. He said he was doing his best in the way of the delivery of his discourse, when the noise increased all at once, pussy to escape the dog sprung directly through the greased paper in the window alighting directly in front of Uncle Dick. Afterwards in speaking about the incident he said it was always a question in his mind what he should call it; whether a Dogmatical or a Categorical problem.

At another time of his preaching at a farm house, and the good sister of the house had no place to keep her well filled milk crocks, only on a bench place at one end of the room, in which the services were being held. Uncle Dick said he took hi position close to the milk bench, he stated when he warmed up in his sermon and using all the oratory he could command, making all the gestures that was possible for him to make and giving it all the force and power he could, at this point he noticed a peculiar sensation in one of his lower limbs. When he cast his eyes in that direction, he discovered that his coat tail had completely skimmed one of the good sister’s crocks of milk and the cream was running down the calves of his legs and filling his shoes.


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