Reminiscences of the Town of Seward
Written by Samuel Ashbroke Heginbotham
Published in the Kendall County Record, June 3, June 24 & July 15, 1869
Edited and compiled by Elmer Dickson
Old customs, traditions, and faces are fast passing away. The household scenes and habits of today are far different from those, which have preceded them. There has been a rapid and onward march of civilization, progress, education and genius. The wonderful adaptation of machinery to supply almost our every wish, and do away with the roughness and severity of rural labor has added greatly to the comfort and pleasure of the agriculturist.
The original settlers were mostly from the state of New York. On enquiry we find that Chester House and John Shurtliff came at or nearly the same time as the Collins, Cryder, Walley, Rutherford, Tabler, Hollenback, and Harris families in the year 1833. Chester House built the first log house in this part of the county. Governor Matteson built a house on land adjoining House's. There was no house across the wild and luxuriantly beautiful prairie nearer than that of Hollenback's settlement. Plainfield was the nearest place, and where the old settlers mostly traded, except when they hauled their grain to the slumbering quiet city of the west, Chicago. There were neither railroads nor canals in those days and the journey to market was long and the prices of produce low.
During the Black Hawk War of 1833, the early residents had hard times of it. The worst, most cruel and vindictive passions of the Indians were aroused. Families were butchered, houses burnt and blockhouses built for mutual safety. They were as cities of refuge to the flying households. A tribe of restless savages issued forth from Paw Paw Grove to destroy the Hollenback settlement. The true, the faithful, the friendly chief Shabbona was ever the kindly guardian angel of the white faces. Upon this occasion he was true, as steel. He rode over and acquainted the settlers at Hollenback's Grove, that in two hours the Indians would be upon them and show no mercy. It proved, alas! Too true! The families fled with all possible rapidity to the blockhouse at Plainfield, where a company of Illinois Rangers was stationed. In crossing the prairie they got lost until the next morning when they found the place of safety, luckily escaping their avenging pursuers and foes. Noble old Shabbona was flying with the swiftness of the wind, having under each arm some of the young ones of the white settlers.
Due justice has not been done to this illustrious chief. He lies in the public cemetery in the city of Morris, in a grave unknown and un-honored. How neglectful, must I say ungrateful, have the descendants of our early settlers been to the deserts and honor, and respect of this illustrious brave.
The house of Mr. Harris, a brother-in-law of George Hollenback, was set on fire. All the inmates had flown like scared birds except an old man who was bedridden and unable to flee. On the return of the Rangers he was found alive. His life had been spared.
Black Hawk was an indomitable brave, but never a chief, although he was an early and distinguished warrior, of considerable intelligence. He proclaimed himself to be a British subject, and received an annuity. He was an avowed enemy of the United States.
Black Hawk was taken prisoner by the Winnebagos and was delivered to the officials of the United States at Prairie du Chen. After being taken to Washington and other cities, and being held as a hostage at Fort Monroe, he was allowed to return to his native wilds. He was so broken in spirit and disheartened he died. The Black Hawk War just about terminated the Indian troubles in this part of the country.
The old settlers being relieved of their Indian danger applied themselves perseveringly and steadily to the improvement of their homesteads. Additions were being constantly made by the arrival of newcomers. In 1838 we find the family of Mr. John McCloud, and a family named Slyter. Mr. Platt, Sr., of Plattville, uncle to Judge Richardson, founded the village which was named after him. His long-term business and upright conduct has endeared him to a large circle of old friends and admirers. Considerable business is now done at this point. His worthy sons deserve the patronage of the neighborhood, as there are few county stores as full of so many and excellent varieties of drapery and dry goods. A beautiful church, school, post office, blacksmith shop, a rising doctor, and a large well-filled store, speak for its stability and progress.
The old stagecoach belongs to the past, and may now be placed in the old curiosity shop. Boats on the Illinois and Michigan Canal have surpassed it. The chief place of burial at this time was near Patrick Stand a tavern and stage stop near the Aux Sable Creek. The graves are to be seen to this day. Much credit is due to the current owners of the land, for the honorable respect they have shown to these slumbers. Many in those days were interred upon their own land, but that custom has now almost ceased. We find at this time also the families of Milks, Walker and Davis. The Gleason family is also found here about this time. They have always taken an active part in the public business of the town. We are glad to say two worthy sons of the old stock, still remain with us.
The nearest gristmill was two miles from Plainfield.
A fine row of mulberry trees, the largest and most numerous, we remember seeing, have been here, we believe for upwards of twenty years. They seem very hardy, and firm. The trees provide a strong sheltering belt, whether they were intended for the raising of silkworms we cannot say, but it seems probable.
In 1843 wheat was sold for 43 cents per bushel, oats ten cents, butter seven cents per pound and pork $1.00 per 100 pounds. These were indeed the days of low prices. Coming down the stream of history, we find Griffith Owens and his brother David, Peter O'Brien, Thomas Fletcher, Horace Johnson, C. B. Ware, the Bartlett, Brady and VanCleve families, and others. Land was cheap, market facilities were increasing, and with them the comforts and happiness of the people.
Lisbon became a business stand. A few active enterprising families clustered together and formed a village, and this little inland town became a place of considerable business. There are some large and spacious stores. A general variety of goods were kept in abundant supply. In hardware you could get almost anything from a mousetrap to a cooking stove. The clerks were smart and accommodating. Their customers were well satisfied, and the Messrs. Moore did a smashing business. Most of the trade of Seward was at that time done there. The opening of the Rock Island Railroad diverted it to other channels, initially Morris and later Minooka.
About 1853, quite a large addition was made to the population of the town and neighborhood, by the arrival of many English immigrants mostly from the neighborhood of Manchester. They were heartily welcomed by the residents. They were found to be hard working and industrious citizens. Land was worth about ten dollars an acre. The last government land was sold to William Bradford, Edwin Heap, and others. The Crimean War in Europe was the cause of a complete revolution in the price of grain and land. The war gave prices a start upward, which it has since maintained.
Before that period, and the lamentable famine in Ireland, Indian corn was but little known in Europe. Since then it has become one of the world's necessities. The immense amount produced, and its many uses, make it one of our most important and valuable articles of commerce.
We arrived at Morris in the spring of 1857. We came by the Rock Island Railroad, which had not been very long completed. Morris was then the nearest point to our destination. The season was pleasant and agreeable. The balmy, healthy and invigoration breezes from the prairie and the Illinois River peculiarly grateful. The city looked neat and thriving. The size of the "Hopkins House" compared with the place surprised us but it spoke of the faith of its original builder and owner, in the future growth and increasing stability. He deserves as much honor and credit as anyone we know of for his self sacrificing and continued efforts to create it as an important market. Some little tribute of acknowledgement was paid him when he was elected Judge and a member of the State Legislature.
The highly esteemed George Fisher was the postmaster. We well remember the familiar face of Mr. George H. Kiersted, County Surveyor. We recall his rare attainments in his profession, and his perfect acquaintance with the old mounds, hills, and landmarks. And whose wonderful tenacity of memory has rendered him an established authority, in such differences and disputes. May his shade never grow less. Friend George was frequently called to the Town of Seward. He was generally successful in discovering "mounds" and "blaze trees."
We inquired our way from the city of Morris, to the Town of Seward, and were kindly directed to it. Beyond the railroad depot at Morris there were hardly any buildings until you came to the new windmill, just built by an old friend and acquaintance from England, Mr. W. H. Bradbury. The mill was built from a model purchased at the great exhibition in the city of London. It was the wonderful undertaking of the western prairie.
Mr. Bradbury was an attorney, and a ripe scholar. He was a generous, free hearted, merry fellow. His speculation proved unfortunate, and the winter winds decapitated it (the windmill.) Our old friend now resides and is engaged in a successful practice in Gardner, Grundy County. He well deserves the confidence and respect of all.
The next day a team of oxen came to meet us to convey our baggage and ourselves to Squire Bedford's place. In those times horse teams were not so prevalent as now. Those were the times of log cabins. The English pioneers had invested their all in the erection of shanties, seed, and stock.
We arrived safe and in good health at our destination. Every step of the way we attentively scanned to miss nothing relating to our new and adopted home. Much curiosity was manifested to see this new transportation of Johnny Bulls. But it is a fact that shorthorn Durhams, and Devons (cattle) multiplied greatly afterwards. The party brought many new and valuable seeds with them as well as many souvenirs of parting friendships. We met with a hearty welcome and had a time of good rejoicing.
It took us some time to recuperate, visit friends, see the sights and settle ourselves down, etc. The season we found was unpropitious, and late in May they were replanting for the third time. The price of all kinds of produce was low. Corn on the ear, 15 or 16 cents a bushel, butter, seven cents a pound, eggs, five cents a dozen, beef and pork about five cents a pound. It was indeed a land of beauty, plenty and cheapness. A large box of sugar sold for a dollar, tea 50 cents and up for a pound, dry goods were equally as cheap. As we passed through the prairie, we were lost amid the high waving grass and flowers of dazzling radiance.