Oakland Township History

Oakland is one of the four townships in Schuyler County bounded on the north by McDonough County, and it is bounded on the east by Fulton County. The land surface of the township is broken and in early days was covered with heavy timber that has long since been cleared away on the uplands where we now find expansive and fertile farms.

Sugar Creek and its tributaries drain this wide scope of country and the stream flows the entire width of the township, entering on the west in Section 7, winding its course southward and east to Section 36. The stream is now an insignificant one, with the bluffs towering high above it, and from whose sides there are numerous outcropping of coal veins that are worked profitably, even though the coal is but thirty-six inches in thickness.

In the month of April, 1892, a natural phenomenon occurred on the north half of Section 27 that is worthy of note. In one night a portion of a hillside sank deep down into the earth, carrying with it the large trees growing on the surface. This sunken area included a tract of land five acres in extent, and in a night it sank to a depth of forty-five feet and the big trees were left intact with their tops waving, where only a short time before was the level of their roots. The walls of the depression were left as perpendicular as the walls of a house and all the lateral fissures were the same. A creek running at the foot of the hill was made higher than the surrounding ground, and a new channel, fifty yards away, was cut by the stream. The coal that was pushed out with the mud and gravel, and into the creek bed, showed that there was a cave or chamber in the coal vein that had been formed when the coal was made, probably centuries ago.

The first settler in Oakland Township was Richard Ashcraft, a pioneer of Kentucky. In 1832 he drove to Illinois from Indiana in a one-horse wagon, and brought with him his wife and three children, William, Abner and Abisha. Crossing the Illinois River at Beard's Ferry he pushed northward and, in November, 1832, settled on the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 25, where he built his cabin and prepared to make his home. Mr. Ashcraft afterwards became a licensed preacher of the Baptist denomination and resided in Oakland until his death.

Daniel Matheney moved to Oakland from Woodstock Township soon after Mr. Ashcraft settled there, but later left the county. William Burress, a brother of Mrs. Ashcraft, came from Kentucky in December, 1832, and, together with his wife and one child, lived with his sister until a house could be built. In the spring of 1833 Josiah Downen located on Section 23, and the following year Joseph Logan settled on the same section, but afterwards removed to Littleton.

Prominent among the other early settlers were Caleb Houston, who located on Section 27 in 1834; Ephraim Hills, who removed from the Hobart settlement to Section 31 in 1835; Thomas Pemberton, who arrived in the fall of 1836 and took possession of the southwest quarter of Section 11, and Nicholas Pittenger, who came from Virginia in 1837 and located on the southwest quarter of Section 13.

The first birth in the township was that of James Ashcraft, September 3, 1833, son of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Ashcraft. The first death also occurred in this family, their son, Abisha, dying in the spring of 1833.

The first school was taught by a man named Preston in the summer of 1835, in a cabin erected by Frederick Noble, on the southeast quarter of Section 21. Mr. Preston remained in the township only two years.

Rev. Thomas Kane, a Free-Will Baptist, preached the first sermon in the fall of 1834 at the home of Richard Ashcraft. Rev. John P. Fast, Richard Ashcraft and Rev. Deacon Brown were other pioneer ministers.

James Skiles was the first merchant in the township and he opened a store on the northeast quarter of Section 34. In 1867 a postoffice known as Oil Hill was established there, and Mr. Skiles was first postmaster.

When the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad built its line through Oakland Township, a town was founded on the southeast quarter of Section 26 by William Seachrist and named Oakland, but was afterwards renamed Ray by the Railroad Company. The town was platted by J. W. Watts, County Surveyor, and lies along the edge of the bluff. After the town was established James Skiles removed his store from Oil Hill and the postoffice was transferred at the same time.

Township population in 1900, 1,192.

Excerpted from Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Schuyler County, 1908, edited by Howard F. Dyson.
Transcribed by Karl A. Petersen for Schuyler County ILGenWeb

Copyright 1999, 2000 Robin L. W. Petersen; all rights reserved. For personal use only. Commercial use of the information contained in these pages is strictly prohibited without prior permission. If copied, this copyright must appear with the information.

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