© 2000, Lori Laird for ILGenWeb.


Mr. Isaac B. Essex, in whose honor this division of Stark County was named, settled here in 1829, removing in that year from Ft. Clark, now the City of Peoria, where he had taught school the preceding winter.  The whole of what is now Stark County was then wilderness, and the forest presented its huge trees without underbrush, with Indian trails stretching out in every direction. The Indians left Spoon River and Indian Creek soon after this and moved some miles westward, returning later for a few years.

Isaac Essex built a cabin on the south eighty of the northeast quarter of Section 15. In due course of time other settlers came and located farther up Spoon River, as the streams and timber were then considered the most desirable portion of the country. A little to the east of him were Greeley Smith and his father, who came from Ohio in 1830. Next was J. C. Owens, the first justice of the peace in the county, living on what is now the Edgar Miller farm (1906). Benjamin Smith and Major Silliman were also close by. Farther up the river in turn were Thomas Essex, David Cooper and Coonrad Leak. Still farther on was old man Leak who built a saw and grist mill on Spoon River southwest of Wyoming, “where you could get your clapboards sawed, corn cracked and wheat mashed.” A freshet in 1836 washed the mill away, but traces of it could be seen within a few years. Still up the river were Sylvanus Moore, on the place long known as the General Thomas homestead; also




Jesse Heath, who kept a little store nearby, and John Dodge. Up and west of here, near the Methodist camp grounds, lived Wesley and Peter Miner, and a little northwest of Wyoming, Samuel Seeley.

Starting west of here on Indian Creek and following the course of that stream toward the south were Samuel Merrill, Major McClennehan, Stephen Worley and Benjamin Essex. Henry White lived on what is known as the Peter Sheets or A. J. Simmerman farm, and John Marrow on the James Ballentine farm (now owned by A. J. Scott). Charles Pierce and Thomas Winn were others, the latter building a cabin in 1834 in the old Spoon River fort on Section 16. Jarville Chaffee came here from Michigan in May, 1834. Thinking to get up something extra he split the logs, whitewashed the inside and had an upstairs, reached by a ladder. This was the entire settlement on Spoon River and Indian Creek from 1829 to May, 1834. Dr. Ellsworth came from Ohio in the fall of 1834, and was the first practicing physician in the county. Henry Colwell came from Ohio in 1837, and was the first stock auctioneer in the county.

Mr. Essex, as soon as there were a few neighbors, had been appointed postmaster, and the first within the present limits of Stark County, the office being called Essex. In 1834-5 there was a weekly mail route established from Springfield via Peoria to Galena. Upon this the early settlers were entirely dependent for their mail matter. There was some sort of an office, or “hold in the bluff,” just below the present town of Northhampton in Peoria County, and a man by the name of Hicks was postmaster. From



this office under the bluff the mail was carried on the volunteer system, the settlers taking turns at carrying it once a week. It was usually carried in a meal bag and could have been in the crown of a man’s hat. “Galena Miner” (as Mr. Harris Miner was often called), generally carried it on foot. The Essex office at this time was an old boot box, set up on pins driven into the wall, high and dry, and above the reach of children in the cabin of Mr. Essex. In 1833 only two newspapers were taken in the county, one by Mr. Essex and the other by Benjamin Smith. At this date two weeks were required to get a paper from Springfield, and a proportionately longer time to get intelligence from Washington. This office was transferred to Wyoming in 1839, where William Godley was appointed postmaster. A number of Pennsylvania families had settled there, and while they did not care especially for the county seat, they did want the postoffice. The coming of the railroad (now the C. B. & Q.) brought with it the village of Duncan and with the village the return of the postoffice. In addition to Duncan and part of Wyoming, Slackwater and Stringtown had up to this time formed the leading settlements of the township. Moulton on its northern border and Massilon on its western border long since passed away and their sites were plowed over by the modern husbandman.

In 1832-3 the question of establishing a school in the Essex settlement was brought before the legislature and on March 1, 1833, an act was approved creating Isaac Essex commissioner of the school fund and authorizing him to sell Section 16. On February 4, 1834, this section was sold for $968.70. The day prior to this sale, the voters assembled at the Essex cabin and



elected Sylvanus Moore, Greenleaf Smith and Benjamin Smith, trustees. Moses Boardman was elected in 1835. Madison Winn in his paper of 1886, says: “On the fourth day of July, 1834, the people came together for the purpose of building a school house. The site chosen was near the northeast corner of the northeast quarter of Section 15, in Essex Township. The building was planned to be twenty feet square, and all went to work with a will, some cutting, some hauling, some making clapboards, and others building. By noon it was built up waist high; and there coming a shower, we arranged the clapboards over the wall and underneath ate our Fourth of July dinner. The first day the walls were built up to the roof, which was soon covered, and from Leak’s mill slabs were brought for seats. A post was driven into the ground and a slab laid on it for a teacher’s desk, while mother earth was the floor. Adam Perry commenced school about July 15th, with about thirty scholars. (This Perry received $55.50 for teaching the winter school of 1834-5 for three months. Sabrina Chatfield, later Mrs. Hilliard, received $13.00 for a three months’ summer school in 1835, and Mary Lake $6.34 1-4 for six weeks’ teaching during the fall term.) In the fall the house was finished -- a floor put in above and below, three windows sawed out, the east one having a light of glass in it, the other two covered with cloth, cracks plastered up with yellow clay, holes bored in the walls in which pins were inserted and slabs laid on for desks, and a sod chimney built. Sabrina Chatfield, better known as Grandmother Hilliard, of Lafayette, now taught, and was the first female teacher conducting a school in the county. Next were Jesse W. Heath, Mary Lake, Joseph R. Newton, William Samis and



James Dalrymple. At the close of Mr. Dalrymple’s school in March, 1839, he gave a school exhibition, the first in the county.  The first sabbath school was organized in this building by one Seigle, in 1837. The Methodists held meetings here for some years, coming from Lafayette and Princeville, bringing their dinners and staying all day.

On June 30, 1840, twenty-three votes were cast in favor of organization for school purposes. In December 1856, Cox’s school house, Essex Township, was completed on ground donated by Joseph Cox. In 1872 the districts were readjusted and increased to ten in number, thus settling the district boundary lines, which had been a troublesome question previously and which have remained thus settled with practically no change to the present time.  They have recently been renumbered, however, by the county system.

The earliest church in the township was the Methodist, its establishment being contemporary with the settlement of the Essex family in 1829, although a class was not regularly organized until 1835. In these days the school house was, of course, used as a place of meeting. Rev. Wm. C. Cummings writes: “In 1835 I was appointed by Bishop Roberts from the Illinois conference of the Methodist church to (what was then) Peoria Mission. It extended over a large territory -- nearly embraced now in Peoria and Kewanee districts, being part of the following named counties, viz.: Peoria, Fulton, Knox, Stark and Marshall. I preached at Father Fraker’s, whose name is of precious memory in the churches and rode from there over the ground where Toulon and Lafayette now stand, though they probably had not been thought of. Not far from the present site of Toulon lived Adam Perry, whom I appointed



class leader of a small society in the Essex settlement, and where we held a quarterly meeting in 1835, at which W. B. Mack and Stephen R. Beggs were present. The circuit preachers who attended here from 1830 to 1839 are named as follows: S. R. Beggs, 1830; Rev. Wm. Crissay, 1831; Zadoc Hall, 1832; Joel Arlington, 1833; Leander S. Walker, 1834; J. W. Dunahay, 1836; W. C. Cummings, 1835-7; A. E. Phelps, 1837; S. R. Beggs, 1839. After Mr. Begg’s last term the history of Methodism drifted to Toulon and Wyoming, until the M. E. church of Duncan was organized in 1888. Rev. F. W. Merrill came from Princeville for the purpose and Mr. Ezra Adams superintended the building of the church.

The Methodists were soon followed by the Latter Day Saints, who made some converts here, and, it is said, led some members of the Essex family and others equally prominent, away from their allegiance to Methodism.

United Brethren Church of Essex Township, or Pleasant Valley church, was regularly organized in 1867, and the present house of worship erected that year. The Pastors have been: 1867, B. C. Dennis; 1868, J. L. Condon; 1869, F. J. Dunn; 1871, John Wagner; 1872, P. B. Lee; 1874, Geo. H. Varce; 1875, A. Norman; 1877, J. K. Bradford; 1879, A. A. Wolf; 1881, A. W. Callaghan and J. S. Smith; 1883, J. Lessig; 1885, E. O. Norvill; 1886-9, W. E. Rose, and later in succession, Reverends John Weigle, Kosch, Schomp, Valentine, Bruso, Lindsy, O. Marshall, Kemp and Spurlock; until recently there have been no services at this church, although Sunday school is still held.

The Methodist Protestant church, adjoining the Sheets cemetery, is of more recent organization, hav-



ing been in existence only some ten years at this writing.

Pleasant Valley church lot and cemetery were platted by Edwin Butler in August, 1873, on two acres in the northeast corner of Section 32, given by Coonrad Smith. The Sheets cemetery, the oldest in the township, had been in existence long before this. There is also the Schiebel cemetery near the school house, on what was formerly the Sewell Smith farm.

The town of Duncan was surveyed by Edwin Butler for Alfred H. Castle in June, 1870. Monroe, Adams and Jefferson streets running north and south; Main, Washington and Galena streets running east and west; but block one forming the extreme northwestern part of the village and all Galena street with northern extensions of Monroe and Adams, have been vacated.

The Essex Horse Company was organized in April, 1858, on cavalry plan, but not for military purposes. It was to compete with the other townships for the agricultural society's premium for the best twenty-six horses. H. Shivvers presided, with J. W. Drummond, secretary.

In 1834-5 the Indians cultivated their cornfields along Camping Creek and near its mouth; but their old village on the borders of Josiah Moffitt farm was then deserted, and their council-house in ruins. Even the mimic fortress built at the close of 1832, to commemorate the war, was then going to decay. A new era was introducing itself, which, within fifty years, and much more within seventy-five years, effected a total change in the customs and manners of the people, as well as in the country which the pioneers found a wilderness. Throughout this state there cannot be found a more beautifully located township



than this of Essex. Within its limits many of the early settlers made their homes; there also, that natural locater, the Indian, built his wigwam, and squatted, so to speak, in the midst of plenty. The streams of the township offered the lazy red men their wealth of fish, the forest its game, and the soil its wild fruits, herbs, and in some cases corn.