Birmingham Township History

Situated in the extreme Northwestern part of the county is Birmingham township, its nearest railroad station and town being Plymouth a few miles distant from its Northeast corner, in Hancock county, on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railway. It is bounded on the North by McDonough county, on the East by Brooklyn, on the South by Huntsville, and on the West by Hancock county. Entering the township, between sections 3 and 4, from McDonough county on the North, Crooked creek winds it course through the Northeastern portion of its territory and passes into Brooklyn near the Southern line of section 13. Along its whole route affluents pour their waters into it. The principal tributary is Flower creek, which traverses the township from west to east, and receives near the cental part, the water of Flower branch. Farther south and flowing in a northeasterly direction, are Harrison and Lewis branches, tributaries of considerable size and of great value as reservoirs and for drainage for that portion through which they flow. The township is nearly equally divided between undulating and fertile prairie land in the south and north; and heavy timber land along the water courses, though much of which was formerly forest, is now cleared. The entire township is well supplied with timber, and well watered, and is sufficiently rolling to drain well, and throughout the township are well improved farms, with pleasant houses; and prosperity on all sides is the result of many years of toil and privation.

First Patents

The first patents of land in Birmingham Township were issued October 6, 1817, to James Whitney for the N. E. 1/4 of section 12; Abraham Mulett for the S. W. 1/4 of section 28; and Patrick McGinness for the S. E. 1/4 of section 28; October 14, 1817, to Winthrop Dodge for the S. E. 1/4 of section 25; November 29, 1817, to Elias Duly for the S. W. 1/4 of section 3.

Early Settlers

The first to seek a home on the hills of Crooked creek in Birmingham, was Brummel Sapp, an old friend and neighbor of the Manlove family in North Carolina, some of whom had left their homes in that state and arrived in Schuyler county as early as 1824; and had written back glowing descriptions of the richness of the soil and the beauty of the county, which information scattered among their old neighbors induced many to seek homes in this and adjoining townships, throughout the county. Brummel Sapp was born in North Carolina in 1790, where he grew to manhood and married. Hearing, through the Manloves of the beautiful country, which offered to all a home, almost free of charge, in the early fall of 1831, he loaded his few household effects into a one-horse wagon, drawn by an old, worn-out blind horse, began his long and tiresome journey, accompanied by his wife and children, Harmon, Jefferson, Jacob, Adam and Newell (twins), William P., S. R., and Sarah. After many weeks' travel, he reached Rushville late in fall of 1831. It being late in the season, and the necessaries of life being scarce, he thought it wiser to remain in the settlement, until spring, than to attempt a settlement in the wilderness at the beginning of winter. He remained in the settlement at Rushville until the spring of 1832; and then moved direct to Birmingham and in the timber within a half mile of Crooked creek, on the S. W. 1/4 of the N. E. 1/4 of section 3, on which he subsequently built his cabin and cleared his fields. He was the first settler in the township; and away from friends and neighbors he toiled day after day. He sowed the first wheat in the township, a field of three acres, which produced the bountiful yield of onw hundred and sixteen bushels. On his old homestead he spent his declining years, surrounded by a large family of children, having witnessed the transformation from a wilderness to a thickly settled and intelligent community, many of whom had shared with him the hardships and privations of the same frontier life, and assisted in making nature the servant instead of the master of man. Mr. Sapp died on the 31st day of March, 1872, at the ripe age of eighty-two years, and left a large family of children, many of whom are highly respected citizens of the township. David Manlove, an old neighbor of Mr. Sapp, was the first to follow him into Birmingham, only two months later. He had left his home in North Carolina, with his father, and arrived in Schuyler county, in the fall of 1824, and had been living in what is Rushville prior to his removal to Birmingham. He brought his effect, and a wife, and his children, Elizabeth, Annie, William and Franklin in a one horse wagon, and selected for his home the N. W. 1/4 of section 3, which he subsequently entered, and upon which he continued to reside, until be bought an interest in a mill and moved to Birmingham village. Moses Manlove, a brother of David, with his wife and family, came into the township and settled on the N. E. 1/4 of section 5, where he built his cabin and made his home for some years. He came to Birmingham at the same time as David; and an elder brother, Jonathan D., also came with his family and made an improvement on the N. W. 1/4 of section 9, where his son, William B., still resides. This same year Peter Popham, a bachelor, with his father, came from Kentucky in the summer and settled on the N. W. 1/4 of section 29. A man named Haggard with family took possession of the N. W. 1/4 of section 30. He was a practical wheelwright, and came in 1832. Among the number moving into and assisting in the development of the country in 1833, was a man named Renshaw, who arrived with his wife and a family of children and settled on the N. W. 1/4 of section 31, and Edward Wade and family, from Morgan county, residents of Tennessee. Wade built his cabin on the W. 1/2 of the N. W. 1/4 of section 4, bought the land and lived there for many years. He was a soldier of the war of 1812; and participated in the battle of New Orleans. He is now residing at Plymouth, Hancock county, Illinois. David Wade, a brother of Edward, with a wife and family, came from the same place as Edward, and made his home on the S. E. 1/4 of section 5. Isaac Pigeon and family were near neighbors of Mr. Sapp in 1833, and improved an adjacent farm. William and Jesse Bodenhammer, brothers, old neighbors of Mr. Sapp and the Manloves, came from North Carolina with their families in the spring of 1833. William Bodenhammer selected the S. W. 1/4 of section 3, built his cabin, and by years of unceasing toil died possessed of a fine farm, on which some of his descendants now reside. Jesse Bodenhammer at first lived with William but afterward moved to the N. W. 1/4 of section 9, made some improvements and then sold and emigrated to Arkansas. The father-in-law of Brummel Sapp, Adam Wier, with his children, Jacob, Daniel, Barbara and Margaret, and Bernard and Samuel, two married sons, arrived from North Carolina, in the spring of 1833. Adam Wier bought the forty acres in the southeast corner of the S. E. 1/4 of section 3, and there spent the remainder of his day. Bernard rented a farm, while Samuel improved the S. 1/2 of the N. E. 1/4 of section 15, where he continued to reside until his death. The Wiers left many descendants in the township, George H. Wier being one of the number.

The following year (1834) witnessed the arrival and settlement of a large number of families in different parts of the township. Among the number were three brothers, Alexander, John and Charles Bilderback, who came from Adams county, where their father had arrived from Kentucky some years previously and settled in this county. They came in the spring, and located land, building their cabins and improving their farms. Alexander settled on the northwest quarter of section 28; John on the southwest quarter of section 29, and Charles on the southeast quarter of section 28. All have children living in the township. These three brothers were followed in the fall of the same year by two other brothers, William H. and James Bilderback. William H. selected the southeast quarter of section 29, and James built his cabin and made improvements on the adjoining quarter. James G. King also settled in the township the same year, on the southwest quarter of section 4, where he now resides. Alpheus Oliver, a young unmarried man, whose parents resided in Adams county, improved the southwest quarter of section 31. Jonathan Thorp, a native of North Carolina, and a relative of the Manloves, moved into Birmingham in the spring of this year. He had been in other parts of the county since 1829, and when he came here he had a wife and family of children. He made a pre-emption of the southeast quarter of section 6, but did not remain long, moving back to Rushville. David Graham, a native of Virginia, was another arrival this year; he was a young unmarried man of considerable education and much energy. He came from Rushville in the spring of 1834, where he had been living the previous year. He squatted on the northeast quarter of section 11, where he built a cabin, and afterwards married a widow lady, Mrs. Frances M. Stout, in January, 1835, and then moved to the site of the present village of Birmingham, and built a mill. He lived in the village the remainder of his days, and reared a large family of children. Robert Wilson, unmarried, a practical millwright, arrived a short time after Mr. Graham, and noticing the superior facilities for a mill, suggested them to David Graham, who was favorably impressed by them. Mr. Graham and Wilson at once made preparations to build the mill. Mr. Wilson sold his interest to Moses and David Manlove in 1838, and went further west. Two families from Virginia made settlements in the northern part of the township in 1834. They made the journey in an ox cart. One was Thomas Twidell, with a wife and large family of boys, and settled in Round Prairie; the other was Simeon Morris. John T. Gash and family came from Kentucky at the same time that Col. H. Briscoe and John L. Ewing, of Huntsville, arrived in 1835, settled in Birmingham township, built his cabin, and cultivated the southwest quarter of section 33. His family was composed almost entirely of boys. He moved to Macomb, Illinois, some years ago, where he died. William Edwards and family followed their old neighbors from North Carolina, and came into the township in the spring of 1835, improved a farm, after building a cabin on the southwest quarter of section 6, where they spent many years; subsequently sold out, moved to Hancock county, and finally returned to the village of Birmingham, where the old gentleman died. The community was still further increased in 1836 by the arrival of James and Harrison Graham, brothers of David Graham, who brought their mother, and made their homes in the village with their brother. They came direct from Virginia, and were accompanied by Jonathan Tucker, a Methodist minister and a native of Kentucky, who also made his home in the village. John L. Carden and family also came with the Grahams from the same place, and after building his cabin, he purchased the southwest quarter of section 14, which he made one of the finest farms in the county. His son, John S. Carden, now owns and occupies the old homestead, with his family. The old gentleman has been dead several years. Among those who found homes in this romantic and fertile section of the township in 1837 was a well-educated young man, Willian Noel, who was single when he came to the village of Birmingham, but soon afterwards found a wife in the person of Sarah Graham. He bought and improved the south half of section 11, and spent his days in enriching his home. His widow survives him and resides upon the home-place, with her son, C. C. Noel. S. S. Walker and Edward Whipple were in the county as early as 1838, and may be classed among those known as old settlers--the pioneers who struggled with nature and improved the township.

The marriage of David Graham and Mrs. Frances M. Stout, on the 15th day of January, 1835, was the first wedding ceremony in the township. An infant daughter, born to Mrs. Brummel Sapp, was the first birth, and by the subsequent death of the child, while a mere babe in 1834, together with its burial upon the home-place, was chronicled the first death, and the location of the first graveyard, in the township. Peter Borin, a Methodist minister, preached the first sermon at the house of Mr. Sapp, in the summer of 1833. Revs. W. Pitner and John P. Richmond, both Methodists, were the pioneer preachers; and the first physician to practice were: Drs. North, John P. Richmond and Hubert Grizzle. David Manlove was the first justice of the peace, and dealt out justice to all in a fair and even-handed manner. Austin Wheeler had the first forge in the township, where the village now stands, as early as 1834. We have previously alluded to the first mill in the recital of the arrival of Robert Wilson. Upon the acceptance, by David Graham, of the proposition made by Robert Wilson to build a mill, work was at once commenced on the dam. It was vigorously prosecuted, and by the spring of 1836, the first grist was ground. The mill was a neat two-story frame building, the first erected in the township, and the motive power was obtained through the medium of an undershot water-wheel. The burrs were brought from St. Louis. When first completed, the mill was purely a grist-mill, and at a later period a saw-mill was added. After serving the people of this township for nearly half a century, the high water of 1882 undermined it, and on the 5th day of May, it was carried down Crooked creek, and the only vestige that now remains is the dam, over which the waters roll, singing a requiem of the past. The roads of the township at the present day are in a good condition, and conveniently located. The numerous streams are spanned by substantial bridges, making it convenient in getting to all parts of the township. Outside of the village there is a handsome frame edifice belonging to the United Brethren organization. It was built in 1857, on the northwest quarter of section 18, but has since been removed to the northwest quarter of Sec. 17. It is worth about $500. Rev. John Carr is the present pastor. The building is known as Mount Harmony Chapel.

The schools of the township are eight in number, all provided with neat and comfortable frame buildings, well supplied with furniture and the necessary apparatus for their successful operation. The annual term is six months. The financial condition is of the most flattering character. The timber of the township is of the most valuable species and abundant in supply, while building stone of all kinds is plentiful along the banks of Crooked creek. A quarry has been opened on the northwest quarter of section 11, from which a superior quality of limestone has been taken, and of which the piers of the bridges over Crooked and Flower creeks were constructed, and they have withstood the erosion of the waters for many years without perceptible effect. A portable steam saw mill now situated on the northeast quarter of section 9, belonging to and operated by George W. Smith, is now the only manufacturing establishment. The citizens of Birmingham are social, courteous and progressive, respecting the laws and observing the Golden Rule. Nature has bestowed her bounties upon them liberally. The census report of 1880 gives the number of improved farms as 201, and places the population at 1,074.

Board of Supervisors

The township has always been represented in the board of supervisors by some of its most intelligent, progressive and representative men, whose influence has been felt in every work of a substantial and beneficial character. The following is a list of supervisors from the time that the county adopted township organization to the present time:
1854 - Col. James G. King
1857 - Solomon Twidell
1858 - Col. James G. King
1859 - Solomon Twidell
1861 - William Dron
1867 - William T. McCreery
1868 - John T. Wycoff
1869 - William T. McCreery
1871 - Edward Whipple
1872 - William T. McCreery
1875 - Marcus Whetstone
1876 - William T. McCreery
1877 - A. L. Beard
1879 - Marcus Whetstone

Excerpted from the Combined History of Schuyler and Brown Counties, Illinois, 1882
Transcribed by Robin Petersen for Schuyler County ILGenWeb.

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