Brooklyn Township History

Brooklyn is in the northern tier of townships that border on McDonough County and, though far removed from the first settlement made in Schuyler County, not many years elapsed until the homeseeker had reared his humble cabin within its border. This was due, perhaps, to the fact that Crooked Creek flows through the town from north to south, for the early pioneer followed the water courses in his search for a new home, and the earliest settlements were usually made not far from the stream. The timber country was always first choice of the early homeseekers, and Brooklyn afforded many choice locations of this kind, for all the country adjacent to Crooked Creek abounded in the finest kind of timber. When Brooklyn Township was first settled Crooked Creek was known as La Moine River, and was regarded as a navigable stream, and great things were expected from the development of the water power along its course. While these expectations were never realized. Brooklyn Township has made great progress as an agricultural country and its people were prosperous as a result thereof.

William Owens was the first settler who made a home within the bounds of Brooklyn Township. Reared in Kentucky, he was married In 1828 to Miss Helen Swan and, in the fall of the year following, the young couple decided to follow the bride's parents to Illinois. They made the trip on horseback and were six days in the saddle, and, on reaching Schuyler County, found a warm welcome at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Swan, who were then residents of Buena Vista Township. There they spent the winter and, in the spring of 1830, pushed on farther west and built a cabin in Brooklyn Township. After putting in his crop Mr. Owen returned to Kentucky to get his household goods, and, on his return, sold his pre-emption right in Brooklyn and returned to Buena Vista Township.

William Manlove, who came to Schuyler from North Carolina in 1895, was attracted by the rich prospects of Brooklyn Township and, in 1832, settled with his family on the northeast quarter of Section 7. He was accompanied by his brother-in-law, William Huff, who with his family settled on an adjoining quarter. About this time John E. Rigsby settled on the east half of the southeast quarter of Section 7. He referred to his claim as "Guinea Prairie," and the neighborhood is, to this day, known by that name.

William C. Ralls will always occupy a conspicuous place in the history of Brooklyn. He was a man of energy and determination, and had unbounded faith in the ultimate development of a great manufacturing center in the wilderness of Illinois. On December 6, 1831, he was granted a mill site on Crooked Creek on the southwest quarter of Section 20, and was authorized to build a dam not to exceed nine feet in height. Before his improvement was completed came the call for volunteers to fight the tribes of the Indian Chief Black Hawk, and Mr. Ralls entered the service of the State as Captain of a volunteer company. He did not forget his pet project of developing the water-power on Crooked Creek, however, and in 1832 returned to his claim and resumed work on the dam.

Another of the prominent Brooklyn settlers of the early day was Rev. Samuel Dark,  a Baptist Minister who labored in the Lord's vineyard for more than fifty years, and whose name is yet honored and revered not only in Brooklyn, but in all the adjacent country. Samuel Dark was a native of North Carolina. but removed to Tennessee when a child. Accompanied by his father, Samuel Dark, and two cousins, Horace and Samuel Dark. Jr., and a brother-in-law, Hugh Hays, he came to Schuyler County in February, 1830. The little party first located in Buena Vista Township, where Robert I.. Dark had builded a home, and in the fall Samuel L. Dark moved to Brooklyn Township and settled on the northwest quarter of Section 5.

William Lewis was one of the pioneers in Brooklyn and, for more than fifty years, one of her most prominent citizens. Mr. Lewis was a native of Philadelphia, where he was born March 7, 1801, and was a grand-son of Francis Lewis. one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. In early life he was admitted to the bar in Philadelphia and planned to follow a professional career, but came west in 1829 for the benefit of his health. He spent three years in Rushville and, in 1832, in company with Samuel Oliver, who had accompanied him from the East, he located on the northwest quarter of Section 19, in Brooklyn Township. The rugged life of a pioneer restored his health and he lived to a ripe old age, his death occurring in 1889.

Dr. James S. Blackburn, one of the pioneer physicians of the county, first located in Rushville in 1830 and there erected the first tannery in the county. He afterwards studied medicine and in 1836, removed to Brooklyn, where be achieved success and honor.

Philip Chipman, a native of North Carolina, located in Brooklyn in 1836 and he served as a volunteer in the Mormon and Mexican wars, and enlisted in the army of the North in the Civil War, but was discharged on account of illness. Mr. Chipman is quoted as saying that he often hauled produce to Quincy, where be sold wheat for 30 cents a bushel and pork at $1.25 per hundred, and in payment therefor took calico at 25 cents a yard, and bull skin boots at $8 a pair.

Jackson Higgins, one of the few surviving old pioneers, accompanied his father, Daniel Higgins, to Brooklyn in lS38. Mr. Higgins, Sr., was a tailor and made into clothes the cloth the wives had woven from carded and spun wool. Jackson
Higgins, in conversation with the writer says the old camping grounds of the Indians were clearly discernible when they first located in Brooklyn. At the time Mr. Higgins and family took up their abode on Section 9, which is only a short distance from their present home, there was a class of rough characters living along the creek, who made their livelihood by hunting and fishing. They were not a desirable class of citizens and, as the country settled up, they moved away to other frontier points, and Brooklyn has never since been troubled by such as their kind.

The town of Brooklyn has for its founder William C. Ralls, who as early as 1831 planned to there build a city that would rival any in Northern Illinois. The first step in the realization of this plan was the erection of a mill, which was built on the northeast quarter of Section 20, in the year 1832. To assist in this work Richard Redfield moved from Rushville, where he had located in 1830, and he operated the first blacksmith shop in the township.

With the establishment of the mill accomplished, Mr. Ralls unfolded his plans for the establishment of a manufacturing center near by. Thus it was that, on October 26, 1836, on the south bank of Crooked Creek, on a rolling piece of ground sloping gradually towards the stream, Allen Persinger platted the town of Brooklyn. The proprietors were William C. Ralls, Joseph Duncan, Benjamin Clark and Dr. Green. They did not sit idly by and wait for the town to grow--that was too slow a proceeding for those stirring times. Instead they spread abroad the news that there was to be a sale of town lots, and it was advertised in every paper of prominence in the United States.

Brooklyn, like many other towns of that time, fell short of the promised greatness. Fate did not deal kindly with the village when the great railroad systems girded the country and, in a day, made towns where before there had been a wilderness. But Brooklyn is, today, a thrifty inland town, surrounded by a rich. agricultural country and, in its long history, no disastrous storms, fires or pestilence have marred its serene prosperity.

The first school in the village was taught by Miss Dodds in 1844. Brooklyn was made a Government postoffice in 1840, and William Horney was the first postmaster. On the site of the old mill, erected in 1832, there stands a mill today, the only flouring mill operated within the bounds of Schuyler County.

The census report of 1900 showed a population for Brooklyn Township of 1,173.

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

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