By Howard F. Dyson, 1918
Town site promoters, men of optimistic mind and capitalist ideas, played a prominent part in the early settlement of Schuyler county, and we have appropriated this week a chapter from the “History of Schuyler County,” which was written by the compiler of this department.
As early as 1830 the town site boomers invaded the Military Tract, which was then regarded as the extreme western frontier of the United States, and thru their efforts this section of the country was well advertised in east and south, and many new settlers were attracted here by the persistent land agents. Up to this time there were widely scattered settlements, where a few families had kept together and made their improvements, but these were not known as towns, the neighborhood generally taking the name of the oldest or most prominent settler, and it was only the newly platted county seats that were designated by a village name.
In our research for historical data among the court records and old papers, we find towns mentioned which are now not heard of, but are of interest, nevertheless, from a historical standpoint. Prominent among the decadent cities of the pioneer days is Atlas, once the county seat of Pike county, and well known to all the early Schuyler settlers. Atlas is located in the sourthwestern part of Pike county, three miles from a railroad station, and its population has now dwindled to a few families. Commerce, a village on the Mississippi river, is also frequently mentioned in the early records, and its passing came with the rechristening of the village by the Mormons, who located there in 1838 and changed the name to Nauvoo.
But it is the story of the abandoned villages of Schuyler county that will be of most interest to the readers of this volume. The idea of deserted or abandoned human habitations, forsaken and forgotten towns and villages, has long been the theme for writers or romance, but when we contemplate the situation from its historical standpoint, intense interest is added. No old ruins mark the sites of these now forgotten villages in Schuyler county, for they were typical of the times in which they were created, and the old log or frame structures have long since been moved or destroyed by the owners. Only the sites remain, revealing nothing of the past history, and such facts as we have been able to gather have been gleaned from county records or the reminiscences of old settlers.
Most prominent of these abandoned villages is Erie, which was located on section 20 in Frederick township. Located on the river, it was the landing place for all the steamboats that piled upon the Illinois. Founded about 1834, its history is spanned by a decade, for the great flood of 1844 blasted the hopes of those who looked upon Erie as the river port of all Schuyler county. But the town will always live in history, for it was the landing place of many of the first pioneers of Schuyler county. In locating the town, it is probable the river landing had more controlling influence than the general topography of the country, for the river bank at this point is low and swampy. Erie’s improvements were confined to a big warehouse built by Ransellor Wells and a hotel which was operated by a Mr. Seaman. Hon. L. D. Erwin, of this city, was warehouse clerk for Mr. Wells in the early ‘Forties, and during those years an immense amount of business was transacted there, for it was the shipping point for the country 50 miles northward, and nearly all of the merchandise to supply the Rushville stores was delivered at Erie by steamboats.
Schuyler City was another river town that failed to fulfill the promise of its promoter. It was laid out by B. V. Teel in 1836, on section 4 in Frederick township near the mouth of Sugar creek, and it flourished for a time as a steamboat landing and shipping point. One of the old pioneers, in reciting the story of the founding of Schuyler City said, the ground where it was situated was so low a fog on the river would cause an overflow. After the flood of 1844 Schuyler City was heard of no more.
While Brown county was yet a part of Schuyler, the town of Milton was platted and extensively advertised by William C. Ralls and Lewis Gay, the proprietors. The town was laid out in 1836 on McKee creek, five miles from the Illinois river, and in the prospectus advertising the sale of town lots the promoters referred to it as located at the head of slack water navigation. Milton long ago passed from the memory of man.
With the water courses as the principal channels of commerce, it is natural the town-site promoters would choose the site for their villages along the inland streams, which gave promise of development for water power as well as navigation. And, while some of the towns so located exist today, there were others now wholly abandoned and, in some cases, even their location cannot be indentified.
In Woodstock township on the northwest quarter of section 11, township 1 S. 2 W., Samuel A. Cliff founded the town of New York in 1836. The townsite was surveyed by Allen Persinger, and the improvements consisted of a store and a mill. Micah Warren, afterwards a resident of Rushville, erected and operated the mill.
The same locality, which in pioneer times was designated as “Ague Bend,” was a favorite locality for the promoters, and the town of York was laid but never platted. York was located on the Gilead road to Calhoun county, and its tavern afforded entertainment to many weary travelers.
Richmond is another town we find mentioned in the early newspapers, but its history has passed from the memory of the old pioneers, and not intil the record of survey was found could it be located to a certainty. The town was laid out by Allen Persinger, March 5, 1836, for Wm. Wilson on the northeast quarter of section 13, 1 S. 2 W. Six blocks were platted and the location on the north bank of Crooked creek, and adjacent to the main traveled road, was considered an ideal one. G. O. Wilson advertised a barbecue to be held at Richmond in 1836, and that is the only mention of the town-site in history. Another town was located on section 2, 1 S. 2 N. but even its name has passed into oblivion.
Centerville was one of the inland towns of Woodstock township, and was founded by Isam Cox on the northeast quarter of section 21. It’s only history exists in the county records.
Ridgeville, the voting place of Browning township before township organization was perfected, was located on section 16. The village was laid out by Isaac Garrett, April 19, 1836, and, in after years, it boasted of a store, post office, church and school house, but when the post office was discontinued, it soon lost its identity as a town site.
Mosco, located on the northwest quarter of section 6, Frederick township, also gained distinction as a government post office, and Anthony Messerer was postmaster, but the town was never platted and when Fredericksville was founded on the river the post office was moved down from the bluff.
In 1836, Joseph Haskell made plans to establish a town just below where the old Camden bridge stood, but the plat was never put on record, and the improvements were not sufficiently extensive to attract general attention at a time when the competition in town-site booming was keen.
Mt. Meacham was one of the few abandoned towns that achieved sufficient distinction to secure a post office. It was laid out by W. L. Gay, on the southwest quarter of section 17 in Oakland township, and a number of quarter-acre lots were platted. Mr. Gay had a store there and was postmaster.
Newburg was founded in the spring of 1840 on the northeast quarter of section 28, in Bainbridge township, by Joseph Newburg, and of all the abandoned towns of Schuyler county, it alone is designated in the plat bood of Schuyler county. The town was surveyed by Francis E. Bryant, April 24, 1840, and 24 lots were platted on either side of Main street. Two lots were set aside by Mr. Newburg for a school building site and a Methodist “meeting house,” buy they were never utilized.
In the early days, however, Newburg showed thrifty signs of growth and boasted of a store, blacksmith shop, grist mill, saw mill, and two saloons, but in time the town diminished in importance and, timber by timber, brick by brick, it scattered to the four winds; the town lots were vacated, and even the name became a misnomer, for the government post office, which was maintained there for many years by L. O. Huff, was known as Center. The inauguration of the rural mail route removed the last vestige of even a distinguishing name to the locality, which in 1894 gained renown as the headquarters of the Populistic agitation in Schuyler county.