History of Grundy County Illinois

Robert Cavelier de La Salle was a native of Rouen, born in 1643. The son of a wealthy family, he was well educated, it is believed with the intention of becoming a priest. But the dull routine of a priest’s or teacher’s life and task illy accorded with his strong personality, pride, will and ambition, and at the age of 23, in the year 1666, he sailed for Canada, to seek fortune in the New World. We find him there as the proprietor of an estate and trading post, near Montreal. In 1669 we find him setting out on an exploring expedition into the Indian country, westward; entering the wilderness he passes from our sight for nearly two years, in which time he discovers the Ohio River, crosses the country until he touches the Illinois River, and returns to Montreal. After some time passed, we find him in the winter of 1679-80 passing down the Illinois River, on his way to Mississippi, which Joliet and Marquette had visited, and they, upon their return to Canada, had ascended the Illinois in 1673, and so passed through this county. We need not follow the wandering or adventures of La Salle further; Parkman has well portrayed these, and to his work we can add nothing. La Salle is due the credit of establishing the first colony upon the Illinois, and through his efforts this country became known. He deserved a better fate than to die, as he did, by the hand of an assassin and villain.

Shaboneh, was in the battle of the Thames – was one of Tecumseh’s aids, and near that chieftain when he fell; what he saw here of the pale faces convinced him that they were the destined ruler of the red men; he would not war against destiny; he became the firm friend of the whites ever after, loosing no opportunity to warn them, when danger threatened them, from the Indians. When the tribe went west he remained upon a small farm in Norman township. He died July 17, 1859, at the age of 84 years, honored and respected by all. His remains sleep in the cemetery at Morris, and if ever the spirit of Indian reaches the “happy hunting ground,” that of Shaboneh will. We are glad to learn that steps are being taken to raise a monument to the memory of the noble chief. His name and deeds deserve to live to latest times.

Hew out the rock, and rear above his tomb the polished stone, And let it be inscribed thereon, here lies the noblest of God’s handiwork. An Honest Man.

Beside him sleeps his squaw, Wiomex Oquawka, who was drowned while crossing the Mazon, Nov. 30, 1864, and his little grand-daughter, Mary Okamo, drowned at the same time. His daughter, Mary, also lies beside the old chief; she died May 14, 1860. He left several other children, but their fate or history I have been unable to learn.

The first funeral was that of his son, William, a lad of 16 years, who died of fever, in the year 1835. The father, after placing the body on a scaffold, out of doors, to prevent dogs or wolves getting to it, left his sick family and walked several miles to get help from the neighbors to bury his son. Three of them, Jacob and Perry A. Claypool and Wm. Robb, returned with him. They found a canoe in Mazon near by and sawed this in two, nailed boards across the end and placed the body in, then covered it, and thus was the first coffin constructed in the county; they dug a grave, and placed a chain around the coffin to “snake” it to its final resting place. The oxen were young and had not been worked for some time – had grown wild – and they made a nearly successful attempt to run away. After considerable effort the coffin reached its destination, and the last rite was rendered the dead child. A strange scene was this pioneer funeral, wanting much of the solemnities that attend the sepulture of today.

The first wedding is believed to be that of James J. Halsey and Nancy Marquiss. The first child born was James B. Hoge, May 6, 1835, and the second was John Claypool.

The second settler was Wm. Hoge, who located on Sec. 25, T. 34, R. 6, in the fall of 1831, and the third is believed to have been Zacariah Walley, who came in 1833. The same year Henry Cryder, Salmon Rutherford, Wm. H. Perkins, Nathaniel H. Tabler and Col. Sayers built each a cabin, but they were not occupied until the succeeding year.

In 1834 there were a number came. James McKeon and John Beard Sr., his father-in-law; A.K. Owens, John Faylor; Geo. W. Armstrong, a Mr. Grove, the family of the Claypools, consisting of Jacob, the father, and Perry A. and L.W., sons; the Collins and Hoge families, J.P. Chapin, Chas. Paver, Jacob Spores, Dr. L.S. Robbins, Datus Kent, David Bunch, Timothy Harrom, James and Wm. Robb, Wm. Brown, Wm. Eubanks, John Snowhill, Jesse Newport, Mr. Adkins, John Hogaboon, John Cragg, Edward Holland, Rodney House, John and Thomas Peacock, all came this year.

In 1835, James and John M. Miller, Richard Griggs, James P. Ewing, John Ridgeway, Sylvester Crook, and many others came. The first dry goods store was opened by Sylvester Crook, the first blacksmith shop by Edward Hollands, and the first shoemaker was James P. Ewing, all in 1835.

Early in the spring of 1834, an old bachelor, James McCarty, took possession of some bottom land near Wauponseh Grove, and formerly occupied by the old chief; here he camped out and raised a crop of corn with a hoe. In the fall he built a cabin of the corn fodder, in which he passed the winter. Whatever became of him is not known. Poor old bachelor! Alone in the western wilderness, around him played the papooses of the red skins, which must have made his dark but doubly drear, by the reflection, that none of his children would ever reap the harvest or inherit the farm he left. In course of time, he must have died – men will – and then no wife to wear black for him, or mourn his untimely taking off; to regret that the poor man could never hoe corn any more, or build another fodder house. Poor old bachelor!

Grundy County was named in honor of Felix Grundy, the Tennessee lawyer. On the 24th of May, 1841, the first election of county officers was held. The only voting place in the county was at Columbus Pinney’s tavern, better known as Castle Dangerous, three miles west of Morris; there were, according to the poll list, 148 votes cast; this was a very exciting election, there being numerous candidates in the field. The result of the election was, Isaac Hoge, sheriff, who failed to qualify, and Leander Leclere acted until, at a subsequent election, Wm. E. Armstrong was elected; James Nagle, Clerk of County Commissioners Court; Henry Cryder, Jacob Claypool, and James McKeon, County Commissioners; L.W. Claypool, Recorder; Leander Leclere, Coroner; Joshua Collins, Probate Justice; Sydney Dunton, Treasurer; and Leander Newport, Surveyor. The judges of election were John Beard, Sr., Perry A. Claypool and Salmon Rutherford; the clerks were James Nagle and Leander Leclere. The first permanent post office was established at Morris in 1841; L.W. Claypool was the first postmaster.

The first term of the Circuit Court was held at the log cabin of Mr. Armstrong, in June, 1841. Theophalaus W. Smith, Judge of the 7th Judicial Circuit, presided. There was but one case on the docket and that was dismissed by agreement of parties. The Grand Jury had nothing to investigate and were discharged. Judge Caton held the next term of the Circuit Court, and was succeeded by Richard M. White. There was no jail of any kind in the county until 1846. Jacob Claypool and George H. Kiersted were appointed a committee in Dec., 1845, to prepare plans and specifications and to let the contract for a jail. Their plan was a novel one. It consisted of hole in the ground, 14×14 feet, and 12 feet deep, surmounted by a cabin, the whole to be of hewn timber, floor, sides and top. In the center of the floor of the upper room was a trap door used for ingress and egress; the trap was made of cross bars of iron at right angles, forming a lattice work to admit light, of a mild type, and air. Dominick McGrath was the contractor, at the sum of $202.60.

Mr. Armstrong built the first hotel, on the present site of the Hopkins House. It was called the Grundy Hotel; was burned in the winter of 1851. Mr. Armstrong also erected a frame house upon the corner of the square where the Court House now stands, which was used as a Court House. Mr. Claypool, the Recorder, built a small frame house on the present site of his fine block, west of the Court House, and opened his office there, and thus the county presented the anomalous condition, with full machinery of county government in operation, without a county seat, as the commissioners appointed failed to agree on a suitable location. The act that created the county appointed Rullef S. Durwyea, Ward B. Burnett and Wm. E. Armstrong commissioners, to act in conjunction with the Canal Commissioners, to locate the county seat, and also required it to be located on canal land. The Canal Commissioners were looking solely to the interests of the canal, while the other members of the committee had the interests of the county at heart. In 1842, Isaac N. Morris, of Quincy, Illinois, was appointed to succeed General Thornton as Canal Commissioner, and when the committee met on the 12th of April succeeding his appointment, Mr. Morris cast his vote with that of the county members of the committee, and secured the location of the county seat upon Section 9, Township 33, Range 7. During the delay and disagreement of the committee, a town had been laid off on the Southeast one-fourth of Section 4, and this is now a part of the city. Thus, after so much trouble, was a county seat established and a post office secured. And now behold the County of Grundy organized, with a county seat and all the machinery of a county government in full operation. At the December term of the County Court of 1849, which, in 1845, succeeded the County Commissioners’ Court, commissioners were appointed to lay off the county into towns under the township organization. They divided the county into 13 towns, and submitted their report March 2d, 1850. Their report was accepted and adopted, except as regards the name of two of the towns: what is now Erienna was “Fair View” and Goodfarm was “Dover”. In 1860 the town of Felix was organized, and named in honor of Felix Grundy, the Tennessee lawyer, for whom the county was named; and thus, although the county contains but 12 Congressional townships, there are 14 towns therein, being as follows: Aux Sauble, Saratoga, Nettle Creek, Erienna, Morris, Felix, Wauponsee, Norman, Vienna, Mazon, Braceville, Greenfield, Goodfarm and Highland.

Illinois, today, ranks fourth in commercial and agricultural importance among the sisterhood of States, and of counties composing her, Grundy county is placed tenth upon a scale of valuation. Grundy county lies in the northeastern part of the State, in the great and fertile valley of the Illinois river, at once in the finest agricultural portion, and also in the richest coal region. Grundy is bounded by Kendall county on the north; by Will and Kankakee on the east; by Livingston south, and by La Salle on the west. Its commercial facilities are unsurpassed, having direct communication by railroad and by water with Chicago, the great market of the West, and also with the Mississippi and the Great West beyond. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroad passes through the northern part of the county, and the Chicago & Alton railroad crosses the southeastern corner, while the Illinois & Michigan Canal passes through the northern part, and the Chicago, Pekin & South Western R. R. crosses near the center of the southern part of the county.

Grundy County is today chiefly agricultural, and by a glance at its geological history we can readily understand how this is so. Two-thirds of the county is slightly rolling prairie, and the remainder creek banks, well timbered, and rich river bottoms. The great valley of the Illinois river, once formed the outlet of Lake Michigan. This is apparent, not only from the breadth of the valley, to the formation of which the present stream is entirely inadequate, but also by the depth of the excavations, which extend many feet in hard limestone rock. The valley, moreover, could not have been excavated by any other agency of which we have knowledge, save water; although it may have been greatly enlarged by the joint action of ice and water, perhaps, during a period of submergence, and afterward filled by the artificial material called drift, which now, to a great extent, occupies it. Regarding the formation of the surface soil, we can give no fuller or more complete description that is contained in a report prepared by Prof. Leo Lesquereux, for the geological survey of Illinois concerning the formation of prairies. It is an axiom of general application in geological science, that there is an intimate relation existing between the physical geography, and the geological history, of every portion of the earth’s surface. All matter, from the minutest globule revealed to the eye of man by the microscope, to the grandest world which revolves in the regions of space around the great central sun of the universe, is alike subject to the control of unchanging laws, and through these laws, are each and all made subservient to the great end for which they exist.

With these ideas in mind, it is easily understood why the soil of Grundy county so well repays the labor expended upon it. The prairie that constitutes so large a portion of the county is old prairie, and has lain for centuries waiting for man’s hand to turn its vast wealth of virgin productiveness to account. We give herewith some statistics from the census returns of 1870. Grundy county contains 275,000 acres of land, comprising twelve townships. Of this there is nearly 200,000 acres improved. The total valuation of the county was $10,628,165. There was raised in the county:

295,971 bushels of corn; 269,332 bushels of oats; 21, 850 bushels of wheat; 4,930 bushels of rye;

774 bushels of barley; 51,451 bushels of potatoes; 37,116 tons of hay; 16,775 pounds of wool;

438,309 pounds of butter; 7,264 head of horses; 6,770 head of milch cows; 3,845 head of sheep;

8,269 head of hogs

The manufacturers of the county employed a capital of $132,300, and the value of their product was $278,598, by no means an inconsiderable item.

Coal Fields

We come next to speak of the coal fields of the county, a full description of which is beyond the limits of this work. The coal measures are the grand repositories of mineral wealth, by far the most important and valuable at present known within the limits of the State. They furnish an inexhaustible store of mineral fuel, in addition to the valuable deposits of iron ore, potter’s clay, fire clay and building stone, which abound in the same localities. The coal bearing strata of Illinois covers more than two-thirds of the entire surface of the State, comprising a larger area of coal lands than can be found within the boundaries of any other State in the Union. Yet it is by no means certain that coal seams of sufficient thickness to be worked with profit can be found everywhere within this area. Throughout Grundy county, so far as demonstrated, the measures contain a single seam, averaging about three feet in thickness, and varying in depth from 30 to 160 feet. This seam furnishes one of the best, if not the best, quality of coal to be found in Northern Illinois. It is very bright, hard and compact; quite free from pyrites, fracture partly conchoidal, layers thick and intersected by thin vertical plates of carbonate of lime, furnishing a fine quality of steam and grate coal, which is largely in demand in Chicago. Engineers using this coal assert it equal to any in use. Its proximity to Chicago renders this seam doubly important, as this is probably the nearest point where workable coal of this quality can be found on any direct line of railroad communicating with that city. Another advantage possessed by this county is that the coal strata is so near the surface that the coal can be taken out at comparatively small cost. When we contemplate this immense deposit and attempt to realize its immense value, we may be excused for indulging in what, to the non-speculative mind, appears a vision. Taking the usual mining estimate of the productive capacity of a coal seam, which gives one million tons of coal to the square mile for every workable foot in thickness, we find that a seam three feet in thickness, the average thickness of the beds underlying Grundy County, would be estimated to yield three million tons of coal to every square mile or section of land under which it extends.

The coal beds are usually underlaid by a bed of fire clay which varies in thickness from a few inches to ten and twelve feet. This was undoubtedly the soil and sub-soil on which grew the vegetation that formed the coal, and it is often penetrated by the rootlets of the ancient carboniferous trees, whose trunks and branches have contributed to form the coal. As this clay is often quite pure, it forms a valuable material for the manufacture of fire-brick and pottery, and is sometimes fully equal in value to the coal seam which it underlies. The best fire clay contains from 60 to 70 percent of silica, from 25 to 35 percent of alumina, sometimes 1 or 2 percent of oxyde of iron __ime or magnesia, and from 5 to 10 percent of water. There are several large brickyards in the county using both the clay that overlies the coal beds and also that from beneath, and an excellent quality of brick can be produced. There are also beds of potter’s clay in the county, and some years ago there was a large establishment engaged in the manufacture of domestic earthenware, drain tile and sewer pipe.

Building Stone

We come now to speak of the supply of stone in the county.  For some time it was supposed that Grundy county was lacking in any reliable stone for building purposes, but recent developments have disproved this, and shown that there are inexhaustible quantities of the very best quality. It was supposed that the sandstone all belonged to the St. Peter’s strata, but the Aux Sauble stone is clearly of different composition, and has evidently been thrown up between the coal and limestone. It lies upon the northern edge of the coal fields, dips southward and passes under the coal south of the river, and is the No. 7 sandstone of Bradley & Worthen. It contains many spherical concretions, large and small, and very few fossils, yet both Bradley & Worthen are in error regarding this as a building stone, as they condemn it, whereas it has proved most satisfactory as such. In 1845, while taking soundings for the foundations of the canal aqueduct across the Aux Sauble, this stone was observed and commented upon by Mr. Thomas Henry, the engineer in charge of the prospecting party, he remarked to the men with him, that some younger man than himself would realize a fortune out of that stone. Mr. M. Haley, one of the party hearing the remark, cherished the idea, and the present indications are that Henry was indeed a prophet. The stone remained untouched until after the great Chicago fire of 1871, when it was demonstrated so forcibly, that some other material than limestone must be found for building purposes that would resist the action of fire. A company was formed, known as Sherman, Haley & Co., and work commenced upon this strata of stone at Kankakee. A small opening was made upon the Aux Sauble by McNellis, Adams & Hamlin, in the summer of 1872. The Kankakee stone was found to contain too much oxyde of iron for building purposes, as it discolored the stone upon exposure to the atmosphere, and the quarries were abandoned. The company broke up, and Mr. Haley took the machinery and moved it to Aux Sauble; formed a new company, Reed, White, McMeekan & Haley, and began to develop the McNellis quarry. The stone is overlaid by thin shale, intermixed with boulders, large and small, to a depth of some ten feet. These occur occasionally in the ledges. There are now two quarries in active operation. The McNellis, of which Mr. M. Haley is lessee, and another upon the west side of the Aux Sauble creek, worked by Earnshaw & Co.

Some magnificent stone has been taken out, and they can be obtained of almost any dimensions five feet in thickness.  The stone is soft when taken from the quarries, but gradually hardens, until it is almost impossible to work it. The first building of any importance erected from the Aux Sauble stone, was what is known as White’s building, in Chicago, upon Fifth avenue, opposite the “Times” building. Many other buildings were afterward erected, among them the county jail, and Morris High School building.

The fire properties of this stone have been known for the past thirty years. It was used in erecting the first cupola in Joliet, and also in Morris, but the chief objection to its use in furnaces was the difficulty of shaping it into brick. This has, by the discovery of Mr. Haley, been entirely overcome. He found that after the stone was crushed and simply wet with water, making a mortar, that it possessed adhesive qualities of superior strength, and would resist a heat of 6,000 degrees. In April, 1877, Mr. Haley introduced this new cement to the Iron and Steel Mills of Joliet, where it proved a complete success. Mr. Haley has received a patent upon the application of this cement, and is introducing it to take the place of fire brick everywhere, which it will soon supercede, as it can be supplied at one-fourth their cost. The analysis of the stone gives: Silica, 70 to 88 ½ per cent; alumina, 6 to 12 percent; mica, 2 to 6 per cent; oxyde of iron ½ to 2 ½ percent; and from a trace to 3 percent of lime. This, it will be seen, is a much higher percentage of the elements necessary to resist heat than the best fire clay gives, and experience demonstrates that the operation of crushing and mixing the cement adds to its fire qualities. The limestone from the Waters’ quarry, in Saratoga township, furnishes a good quality of lime when burned, and also a good building stone. The depth of the Aux Sauble quarries is from 25 to 40 feet, and the thickness of the workable seams from 20 to 30 feet. That the development of these quarries is bound to effect a revolution in building material, lining of furnaces, and all places where the ordinary fire-brick are used, is clearly evident, and this new element, with her immense coal fields and rich agricultural lands, will rank Grundy county soon much higher than tenth, in scale of valuation of counties, the position she now occupies.


Morris stands above a vast forest of the carboniferous age. The graceful Lepidodendron, the giant Ulodendron, the Sigilaria, and the ancient fern, grew, invigorated by the warm, moist, and winterless climate. Covering the earth for miles, here grew the Calamites, and many others flourished, and no doubt animal life also flourished.  Many very fine specimens have been collected and preserved. Chief among these is the collection of Mr. P.A. Armstrong. A few years ago Mr. Armstrong obtained a giant specimen, the largest in the world. It was of the Ulodendron family, and was traced nearly eighty feet, and fifty-five feet taken out. This was from Buck’s coal shaft, and was found thirty feet below the surface. He also obtained large numbers of fine specimens of Lepidoadendrons, Sigilaria, Stigmaria and Caulopter. Mr. Armstrong has deposited many fine specimens in the museum at Springfield, and has one of the finest private collections in the State.

At a point some four miles southeast of Morris, upon Mazon Creek, at the out-crop of the coal measures, the stream has cut through the soapstone, or shale. Here are found deposits of ironstone nodules, which, being opened, are found to contain impressions of all the varieties of fossils that have ever been found in any other county, together with about one hundred varieties new to the scientific world. That is, without doubt, the richest field of fossil botany in the world. Among them are found large numbers of stones containing the remains of animal matter, among which are fish, worms and beetles, and two fine specimens of Salamanders.


Source: Lawrence & Thompson’s Grundy County Directory, 1877-1878



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.