In 1823, when the first settlement was made in Schuyler County, there were few well established roads in Illinois. In the south and central portions of the State there were well defined lines of travel, but these were little more than paths or trails, and as they approached the Illinois River they grew less distinct, and when Schuyler County was reached they had disappeared altogether. Here the trail of the settler ended and, to the north as far as the Hudson Bay country and west to the Rocky Mountains, there were none of the familiar signs to mark the parth of the adventurous homeseeker.
Following the trail was not as easy as the name suggests, and to do it successfully the settler had to exercise the keen knowledge of woodcraft that he had gained by observation and experience. Animals and Indians had located the fords in many instances before the coming of the white man, and thus had outlined a general line of travel, and the emigrants, following the path through the trackless forests and across the wide expanse of prairie which, in time and through constant travel, became a well defined highway.
When the first settlers who located in Schuyler made their journey north from the southern part of Indiana, they found only a rude trail that here and there had been roughly corduroyed over the worst sloughs. The trees along the route had been blazed to mark the trail, and in many instances those who had gone before had written their names on the smooth barked trees, telling where they were from and where they were going, a message that was often read with welcome by friends who came after them. When some one had found a better road leading off from the trail, it was marked by setting a row of stakes at the points of digression, which was a sign well understood by the pioneers of the plains. The roads thus improvised by the frontiersmen were laid out without reference to section lines and, as necessity arose, they were straightened, but the first rude trail very often determined the destiny of what are now flourishing cities and, in a manner, affected the greater lines of commerce when railroad building began.
In this connection it will not be out of place to refer to the establishment of a trail, or road, from Rushville to Rock Island, which afterwards became a well defined route of travel when the excitement over the lead mines at Galena started a stream of emigration northward. This road was laid out in 1827 by J. D. Manlove and Thomas Beard, who were engaged in the work for ten days. They left Rushville on horseback and, in their travels northward, did not find a single settlement until Fort Armstrong was reached. In a reminescence of pioneer times Mr. Manlove writes that the road was marked by stakes and buffalo bones, which were found in abundance, and that after they had finished their work, the first team passed through Rushville in the spring of 1827 for the Galena lead mines.
By authority of a State law the County Commissioners were given very broad, but rather vague, authority to lay out roads, and in the first year of Schuyler’s history the question of roads was one that occupied a considerable share of the attention of the County Commissioners. It was on December 5, 1825, that the first road district in Schuyler County was laid out, and it embraced a territory included within the following bounds: “Beginning at the Illinois River on the Base line, along river to mouth of Sugar Creek, thence with main branch to the county line, thence along said line to the county of Adams, thence south along said line to the base line, thence east to place of beginning.”
At this meeting of the Board a report of the Commissioners appointed to lay out a road from Beard’s ferry to the southeast corner of Section 16, 2 N., R 1 W., was received, and Jonathan Reno appointed to supervise the construction of the same. The Commissioners who had laid out the road were Ephraim Eggleston, Jonathan Reno and Levin Green, who had each received $1 for their services. David E. Blair was the first Supervisor of Roads in the county. By order of the Commissioners on March 7, 1826, the road from Beard’s ferry to Section 16, in Rushville Township, was ordered straightened so as to leave Beardstown, first named the county-seat, off the route.
Frequent changes were made in the road districts and, on April 5, 1827, the county was divided in four districts and Supervisors were appointed as follows: Edward White, Manlove Horney, William Pennington and William Stephens. To keep pace with the demand for road building the number of districts was increased to ten March 4, 1828, and Supervisors named as follows: John T. Norton, Elisha Kellogg, Moses W. Pettigrew, Willis O’Neal, William H. Taylor, Thomas Justus, Isaac Linder, William McKee, Joel Tullis and William Stevens. Two years later the number of districts was increased to fourteen and McDonough County, which was then under jurisdiction of the civil government of Schuyler, consituted one district.
In laying out the first roads in the county the work was accomplished without aid of a surveyor and no permanent record made. In the year 1829 a petition was circulated for a new road from Beard’s ferry to Rushville and thence west to the county line, the object being to continue the State road that ran through Illinois from Terre Haute, Ind., by way of Paris, Decatur, Springfield and Beardstown, which afterwards became an important highway for western travel. The road was surveyed by William P. Manlove, County Surveyor, and in his notes, dated November 29, 1829, he stated that he began at a forked maple on the west bank of the Illinois River opposite Beardstown, and surveyed to the northeast corner of the public square in Rushville, a distance of eleven and a half miles, and from there to the west county line, a distance of twenty-five miles. The line was run its entire length by courses and distances, with blazed trees for witness points, and while no other surveyor has ever been able to follow the original survey, the road as now established follows the general course as laid out in 1829.
The list of early roads of Schuyler, in the order of their establishment, is here given:
From Beard’s ferry to Rushville, 1825.
From Rushville to intersect road leading from Lewistown to county line, 1827.
From Rushville to the north boundary of McDonough County, as staked by Manlove and Beard in their route to Rock Island, 1827.
From Rushville to ford on Crooked Creek, Sec. 35, 1 N., 2 W., thence to intersect road from Atlas, seat of justice in Pike County, 1827.
From Rushville to mouth of Crooked Creek, 1828.
From the Narrows in the Illinois River to Six Prairie, near Mt. Sterling, 1830.
From west line of what is now Brown County to cross Crooked Creek at Henley’s mill-site and intersect State road from Rushville, 1831.
From the southwest corner of Sec. 33, 2 S., 2 W., by way of Wilson’s ferry at the Narrows on Illinois River to Rushville, a distance of thirty-two miles, 1831.
There were scores of other roads established with the development of the county, but the ones named were the principal lines of travel from adjoining counties and they were commonly designated as “State roads.”
By 1853 the development of the pork-packing business in Rushville created a demand for highway improvement, and a local company was organized to build a plank road to Frederick, on the Illinois River, a distance of nine miles. The road was built, toll-gates established and a charge made for every vehicle or animal that used the road. With the decline of the pork-packing business the road was abandoned, though it well served its purpose during the years it was in use.
POST ROUTES.–In the days before the building of the railroads all the mail was handled by contractors, and these men were usually the owners of important stage-lines and had thousands of dollars invested in their equipment of coaches and horses. At Rushville previous to 1841, Abraham Tolle had the contract for delivering the mails, and he operated stage-routes to Peoria, Springfield, Burlington, Jacksonville, Quincy, Macomb and many near-by stations. He owned four big Troy coaches, each drawn by four horses, and they were regarded as the finest conveyances in the West, and were operated on a regular schedule time between the larger cities named. The mail-routes were let by contract and, in 1841, an Eastern concern underbid Mr. Tolle and secured the business. These men did not give their personal attention to the business, but sublet the route in minor divisions, and this was the beginning of the government “Star Routes” which, if not conceived in iniquity, soon developed into the most brazen fraudulent dealings and involved the department in endless scandals. For more than sixty years Rushville was a hub, as it were, for numerous “Star Routes,” but, with the development of the rural free delivery, there has been a gradual diminution until there now remains but two routes out of Rushville.
The first rural free delivery routes were established in Schuyler County, August 1, 1901, Route No. 1 was from Rushville to Littleton, while Route No. 2 covered portions of Bainbridge and Woodstock Townships. New routes were added in subsequent years and, in 1905, a complete county system was established and twenty-four routes, not all of which start in this county, makes it possible for nearly every farmer in the county to have a daily mail delivery. Seven of these routes have their headquarters in Rushville.
FERRIES AND BRIDGE SITES.–The question of licensing ferries was one that devolved upon the County Commissioners and, inasmuch as the county was bounded on one side by the Illinois River and traversed by two large streams, there were numerous applications to come before that body.
The first ferry license was issued to Thomas Beard, who desired to establish a means of communication across the river where Beardstown is now located. His license was issued June 5, 1826 and he was given authority to charge the following rates:
Wagon and four horses or oxen – $.75
Wagon and two horses – .50
Wagon or cart and horse – .37 1/2
Man and horse – .12 1/2
Loose horse – .06 1/4
Footman – .06 1/4
Cattle, per head – .05
Sheep, Hogs and Goats – .02
Double rates were allowed when it was necessary to take passengers to or from the foot of the bluffs. This license proved to be a remunerative one and a ferry was maintained until 1889 when a bridge was constructed over the Illinois river at that point.
Other ferry-licenses granted were as follows:
Andrew Vance, September 4, 1826, upper landing on Illinois River.
William Wilson, March 1, 1830, on Illinois River at the Narrows, three miles below mouth of Crooked Creek.
Willis O’Neal, March 9, 1831, on Crooked Creek on Rushville and Quincy road.
David Tallman, December 5, 1832, on Crooked Creek, opposite Section 11, 1 S., 2 W.
William Haskell, June 2, 1834, on Crooked Creek, opposite Section 23, 2 N., 3 W.
Allen Alexander, March 4, 1835, on Crooked Creek, opposite Section 33, 1 N., 2 W.
William Wilson, March 7, 1836, on Crooked Creek, opposite Section 13, 1 S., 2 W.
Benj. V. Teel, June 6, 1836, on Illinois River opposite Schuyler City, located near mouth of Sugar Creek.
John Knight, September 1, 1837, on Illinois River, at foot of Grand Island.
MILLS AND MILL-SEATS.–The old band-mill, operated by horse power, did service in Schuyler County for many years after the county was first established, but the pioneers were not slow to avail themselves of the water-power afforded by Sugar and Crooked Creeks, and the first petition for a mill-seat was made by John Ritchey, who asked permission to build a dam across Crooked Creek on northwest of Section 33, 1 N., 2 W., the present site of Ripley. The writ was issued December 7, 1829. The next step was the appointment of a commission by the County Commissioners, who visited the proposed mill-site and made an estimate of the probable damage to adjoining property caused by the erection of a dam. They also specified the height of the dam. The records of the Commissioner’s Court give the date of establishment of the early mills in Schuyler County as follows:
Benj. V. Teel, June 7, 1830. N. E. Sec. 6, 2 N. 1 E., on Sugar Creek.
David Wallace, June 7, 1830. S. W. Sec. 20, 2 N., 1 E., on Sugar Creek.
Thomas Justus, June 7, 1830, S. W. Sec. 17. 2 N. 1 E., on Sugar Creek.
Walter D. Scott and Osborn Henley, June 6, 1831. N. E. Sec. 11, 1 N. 3 W., on Crooked Creek.
Wm. C. Ralls, June 6, 1831. S. E. 1/4, Sec. 20. 3 N. 3 W., on Crooked Creek, at present location of Brooklyn. (Today the mill on this site is the only one in operation in Schuyler County.)
Benj. Chadsey and John Johnson, June 6, 1831. E. 1/2 S. W. Sec. 5, 1 N. 1 E., on Sugar Creek.
James A. Chadsey, March 5, 1833, N. W. 22, 2 N. 1 E., on Sugar Creek.
Scott & Bull, March 5, 1833, N. E. 11, 3 N. 4 W., on Crooked Creek, the present location of the town of Birmingham.
Abel Logan, March 20, 1835, N. W. 3, 1 S. 2 W., on Crooked Creek.
Wm. McKee and John Taggart, Dec. 8, 1835, S. W. 11. 1 N. 3 W., on Crooked Creek.
Wm. A. Hindman and Samuel A. Clift, June 9, 1836. S. W. 2 1 S. 2 W.
Asa Benton, Sept. 6, 1836, S. W. 29, 1 S. 2 W. on Crooked Creek.
Robert H. Burton and Eli Alden, June 5, 1837, S. W. 29, 1 N. 2 W., on Crooked Creek.
Asa Benton, June 6, 1837, S. W. 4, 1 S. 2 W., on Crooked Creek.
Peter F. Jonte, June 5, 1834, S. W. 20, 1 N. 1 W., on Crane Creek.
Samuel S. Claughburgh, June 5, 1838, N. W. Sec. 28, 1 N. 1 W., on Crane Creek.
Adam Dunlap, September 4, 1838, S. W. Sec. 28, 2 N. 3 W., on Little Missouri Creek.
John King, Sept. 4, 1838, N. 1/2 15, 3 N. 4 W., on Flour Creek.
FIRST COUNTY BRIDGE.–The General Assembly of Illinois having enacted a law making appropriation for building bridges, the County Commissioners on March 31, 1827, gave notice of the erection of a bridge over Crooked Creek, where it was crossed by the State road from Rushville to Quincy. This is what is now known as the Ripley bridge. The contract for building this bridge was let to Benj. Chadsey for $400. Thomas McKee constructed the abutments, for which he was paid $160. The bridge was accepted by the Commissioners February 9, 1830, and Mr. Chadsey was allowed $12 for bringing the money from Vandalia that had been appropriated by the General Assembly.
The history of railroads in Schuyler County, if it should cover the general lines of railroads planned and promoted for this region, would require a book of itself; but for actual results accomplished a paragraph would suffice. Not another county in Illinois has had as many alluring prospects as Schuyler, and few there are that have fared worse in actual construction.
As early as 1836, two years before a single mile of railroad was built in the State, a company was formed in Rushville to build a railroad from this city to the Illinois River at Beardstown. Considerable money was spent on it, but the panic of 1836 caused its temporary suspension and the burning of the building in Rushville, which contained all the books and papers of the company, buried the scheme forever. The construction of this road would have been of inestimable value to Rushville, for it would have given connection with the commerce of the Illinois river and afterwards served as a connecting link in a great railroad system. The period of financial depression that followed cut short the many ambitious plans for internal improvement in Illinois, and it was not until 1854 that Rushvillites began to have fanciful dreams of being made a railroad center. It was a time when railroad building had its first great impetus in Central Illinois. Much was promised, but little done towards fulfillment. Schuyler, like many other counties, took the bait eagerly and voted enthusiastically to give whatever the railroad promoters asked.
On May 1, 1854, Schuyler County, by a popular vote, took favorable action towards subscribing $75,000 for the building of the Peoria & Hannibal Railroad. Not satisfied with extending aid to one road, the county did the hospitable act of welcoming all comers and, in 1856, the county voted $75,000 to the Rock Island & Alton. In February, 1860, the people of Schuyler awoke from their dream. The tax rate for that year was 29 cents for county purposes and 37 cents for interest on railroad bonds, which seemed exorbitant to the frugal settlers of that day. There immediately ensued a strong opposition to railroad bonds and talk of repudiation was rife. The railroad promoters held the bonds and the county was, figuratively speaking, “holding the sack,” for up to this time there had been no actual operation of the roads. Added fuel was heaped on the flame by the action of the Rock Island & Alton Company in bringing suit against the county, which was defended at a cost of $1,042.44, and with the railroad victorious.
When the same road threatened to renew the suit in 1865, Schuyler County asked for terms of settlement and a compromise was effected by returning the old bonds on a basis of fifty cents on the dollar, which were to draw interest at 5 per cent. Emboldened by this success, the county in 1867 brought suit against the Peoria & Hannibal Company for the return of the bonds issued in 1858. Another compromise was effected and, in July, 1868, new bonds were issued to the amount of $73,000, bearing 6 per cent interest. These bonds were placed in the hands of a trustee, and $4,000 of the same were to be delivered when two miles of road was built in the county, and a given number of bonds with each successive mile until Rushville was reached. This hastened the building of the road, and in 1869 trains were running into Rushville on what is now the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy track.
In 1888 the Peoria & Hannibal bonds were refunded at 5 per cent interest, and were sold at a premium of $2,115 to the American Exchange National Bank of New York. In the meantime the Rock Island & Alton bonds had been retired and, in 1893 and 1898 the county took up $30,000 of the Peoria & Hannibal bonds, and in 1903 another $20,000, which leaves $20,000 of the $150,000 bond issue for railroads to be paid in 1908, when the county will be free of her old outstanding obligation and out of debt.
The first train on the Peoria & Hannibal Road came into Rushville July 4, 1869, and it was made a day of great rejoicing. The taking over of the road by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, put an end to further extension, however, and Rushville has had to be content with a stub road.
The Rock Island & Alton Road, that was planned to pass through Rushville, had a roadbed graded and bridges built from Frederick to Littleton, and there seemed no likelihood of a change in route when the promoters decided to follow the river to Browning and then continue northward, and Rushville was cut off entirely. This road likewise became part of the great Burlington system and is known as the Rock Island and St. Louis Division.
The only other railroad in the county is the Macomb & Western Illinois, which has its southern terminal at Littleton. This road was promoted by C. V. Chandler and William A. Compton, of Macomb, and extends from Macomb to Littleton. Train service was established from the latter village on January 30, 1904.
TELEPHONES.–The development of the telephone from a mere mechanical curiosity to a house-hold neccessity, was accomplished in Schuyler County within a decade, and now every portion of the county can be reached by some one of the many lines that radiate from Rushville.
The first telephone line was built in Schuyler County in the early winter of 1894 by Philander Avery, of Industry, who ran a line from that village to Rushville, and had the terminal office in the feed-store operated by E. W. Parker. At the time this line was building, Samuel Work was engaged in constructing a line to Beardstown, and it was in operation by January 1, 1895. The terminal station at Rushville was in the Cottage Hotel, and there were toll-stations at Pleasantview and Frederick. At Beardstown Mr. Work met with strenuous opposition from the city authorities, who did not wish to have poles set in the city streets, and he was not allowed to carry his line into the business district, but secured an office near the wagon bridge, which he used in carrying his line over the river. During the time this line was maintained it paid fair returns on the investment, though Mr. Work says he was put to much extra expense and trouble by men and boys shooting off the insulators. Business men did not take up with the telephone idea, and when Mr. Work approached some of our prominent business men, he was told they did not want to be bothered with such a “nuisance” as a telephone in their store.
The Rushville and Beardstown and Rushville and Industry lines were operated independently for eighteen months, when they were sold to the Western Illinois Company, with headquarters at Macomb, and made a part of that system. In January, 1897, this company established a local exchange in Rushville and gave its patrons connections with all the towns in the county, and the rural subscribers of the company among the farmers were now beginning to see the advantage of the telephone and were eager to have connection with the outside world.
The demand for telephones among the farmers of Schuyler County led to the formation of the Grange Telephone Company, which was incorporated under the laws of Illinois on June 10, 1897. The first line built by the Grange Company was from Rushville to Littleton, and they have constantly extended their service until they have lines in nine of the thirteen townships of the county. These townships are Oakland, Littleton, Brooklyn, Camden, Buena Vista, Rushville, Frederick, Bainbridge and Woodstock. The company now maintains a central office in Rushville, and has about 250 miles of line in operation.
In the years 1902 and 1903 a number of independent mutual companies were organized in the county, and as they did not have access to Rushville, they started an agitation among the business men to construct a mutual city exhange that would serve as connection point for all the mutual lines of the county. This demand of the farmers for city connection led to the organization of the Rushville Telephone Company, which began business in December, 1903. The company was capitalized at $5,000 and the stock was subscribed by business men and citizens who realized the need of more adequate telephone service. The local exchange was built at a cost of about $10,000, and now has 358 city subscribers and connection with 37 rural lines, which reach to every village in the county.
The Central Union Company built their line to Rushville in January, 1897, and made it possible to reach any of the cities in the United States over their long distance connections. The local toll business is now handled through the Rushville Telephone Company switchboard.
Excerpted from Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Schuyler County, 1908, edited by Howard F. Dyson.
Transcribed by Robin Petersen for Schuyler County ILGenWeb