HISTORY
OF
MENARD & MASON COUNTIES, ILLINOIS
1879

Chicago: O.L. Baskin & Co., Historical Publishers
186 Dearborn Street
Chicago

THE SETTLEMENT

Transcribed by: Ellen Booth.

Page 357

One of the first settlements in Menard County was made in what is now Sugar Grove Precinct. In 1819, the same year that the Clarys settled in Clary’s Grove, James Meadows settled on the eastern side of Sugar Grove timber on the place owned by J. Alkire. He came from Ohio, and located first in the vicinity of Alton, in 1818, and the next season came to this place. He remained here until 1823, when he sold out to Leonard Alkire, and removed to the west side of the grove, where he lived until a few years before his death, which occurred in the village of Greenview in 1869. This last settlement was on the place now owned by H.H. Marbold, a banker of Greenview, and one of the prominent men of the neighborhood. Mr. Meadows was a millwright, and built a mill on this place, which accommodated the neighbors for a period of about eight years. It was of the tread-wheel pattern, and is more particularly mentioned in the history of Greenview. There are but two representatives of the Meadows family now living, viz., Alexander Meadows, living in the village of. Greenview and Mrs. O.P. Bracken. Jacob Boyer came with Meadows and their first night in this region they encamped at a spring on the present farm of Milem Alkire, near Sugar Grove Cemetery. The next morning, being struck with the beauty of the surroundings, and the abundance of pure water afforded by the spring, Mr. Boyer remarked, “this is my future home,” and proceeded at once to stake off his claim. Meadows moved on to the place as noticed above (the Jack Alkire place), where he, too, located at a fine spring. Boyer also sold out to Leonard Alkire, upon his removal to the country in 1823. A few days after the settlement of Meadows and Boyer, the Blanes came to Sugar Grover. There were four brothers, viz., Robert, William, John and George, their mother and a sister. They were from the “Gim of the Say,” and, being the first Irishmen in the neighborhood, Irish Grove, a part of which is in this precinct, received its name from them. William died in an early day: John soon returned to Ireland, and remained there some twenty-five years, then came back to this settlement. He raised quite a large family, most of whom are still living in the county. Robert and the sister removed to Wisconsin, leaving George and his mother on the place of their original settlement. This place they sold to Leonard Alkire in 1823, and moved to the opposite side of the grove, in what is now Greenview Precinct, where they both finally died. The Blanes were well educated and George, in the early time, held many offices of trust and honor. He was an Old-Line Whig, and afterward Republican in politics. In 1820, Roland Grant came to Sugar Grove, and brought with him a number of sheep, the first of these animals introduced in this section of Illinois. He was from Ohio here, but originally from Kentucky, and when the Alkires came a few years later, sold out to them and removed to Island Grove, in Sangamon County. William Grant, a brother, came with him, and also sold his claim to Alkire, and moved away with his brother.

As in the different settlements of Menard County, many of the pioneers of Sugar Grove were from Virginia and Kentucky. The following Kentuckians came here among the early settlers: Leonard Alkire and family, William Engle, Lemuel Offille, the Hugheses, Westley Whipp, Samuel McNabb, the Pentecosts, John and George Stone, a man named Parsons, Matthew Bracken, William Douglas, and perhaps a number of others. The Alkires and Engles came from Ohio here, but were from Kentucky to the Buckeye State, and originally from Virginia to Kentucky. William Engle came in the spring of 1823, raised a crop and then went back to Ohio, and brought out the family of Leonard Alkire. Mr. Engle was a bachelor at this time, But soon after the arrival of the Alkires, he married the daughter of Leonard Alkire. He was a prominent and leading man in the community for a period of nearly fifty years; he died in March 1870. He took an active part in organizing the county of Menard, was one of the first County Commissioners, represented the county in the Legislature, and was the first merchant in the territory now embraced in Sugar Grove, Greenview and Indian Creek. Was liberal in his views, an ardent supporter of Christianity, and a zealous advocate of education.

As stated, he married a daughter of Leonard Alkire, and their first winter was passed in a small cabin near the village. He then built a cabin where his son, John Engle, now lives. His widow, is still living on the same place, and is an active old lady for her years. The mother of William Engle (a widow at the time), came to the settlement about ten years after her son. She was a genuine pioneer lady, large and stout almost as a man, kind and benevolent to all, and a great nurse and friend in cases of sickness. William Engle has eight children still living; one daughter in Lincoln, a son in Decatur and the remainder of the family (including his widow) in this county.

Leonard Alkire, as already stated, was a native Virginian, but immigrated to Kentucky, or was taken there by his parents, more properly speaking, when very young. Arriving at man’s estate, and taking to himself a wife, he removed to Ohio, where he resided until his removal to Illinois, in 1828. While a resident of Ohio, he followed, to some extent, the buying-up of cattle and driving them to Eastern markets; a business at that day exposed to considerable danger. On one of his trips home, after having disposed of his drove, he traveled on horseback at the rate of eighty miles a day, carrying the cash, mostly in silver, received for his cattle, in his saddle-gags. “In swimming the Ohio River,” says a local writer, “perched upon his hands and feet on the top of his saddle, his sturdy and fleet roadster stemming the rapid current with great power and speed, when nearing the opposite shore, suddenly went down; but with a terrible struggle for life finally succeeded in landing his precious freight on terra firma, when Mr. Alkire made the discovery this his saddle-bags (filled with silver) had drifted back by force of the current, remained suspended by the stirrups, the whole weight resting on the hocks of the noble animal and cramping his movements, thus jeopardizing his life as well as the life and hard-earned treasures of his master.” Hearing frequent stories of the beauty and richness of the “Far West,” as Illinois was then, he made a trip of inspection to this country. Alone and on horseback, he explored this then almost unbroken wilderness. His route led him to Sugar Grove. Entering it upon the south side, and upon obtaining a favorable view of the surrounding country, he stopped his horse and “viewed the landscape o”er.” When fully comprehending the scene, he shouted out at the top of his voice, “Hurrah for old Kentuck, the garden spot of the world!” He soon came upon the cabin of James Meadows, already referred to, and being highly pleased with the surrounding country, he finally struck a bargain with Mr. Meadows, buying his claim. He returned home, sold his farm in Ohio, and the following year removed to Illinois, locating in this precinct, where the remainder of his life was spent. John Alkire, his father, came a few years later. He had removed from Virginia to Kentucky in an early day, during the bloody wars then with the Indians, which gave rise to the appellation the State still bears, that of the “Dark and Bloody Ground,” and, like all the other pioneers of the time, he bore an active part in those wars. He died here, and was buried in what is called the Blane Graveyard. Leonard Alkire built the first brick house in the then county of Sangamon (now Menard) in 1828, just fifty-one years ago. It is still standing, though a more elegant and modern brick has been reared upon the farm where this original brick house was erected. Three daughters and two sons are still living in this county, a son in Denver and one in Missouri. To his son Milem Alkire, we are indebted for much of the early history of this precinct, as well as to John Engle and Jesse England. Without their aid, and that of Alexander Meadows, our history of Sugar Grove, the early part of it at least, would have been rather meager. William Alkire of Greenview, is a brother to Leonard, and is also an old settler of this section. Leonard Alkire died in 1877. The following will show the energy and public spirit of the man: About 1828-30, he was appointed Road Supervisor of his district, by the Sangamon County Commissioners, which was then larger than Menard County at the present day, and ordered to open a public road from near the mouth of Salt Creek to Havana, on the Illinois River. A serious difficulty to travel at the time was the Crane Creek Swamp. He called together all the able-bodied men, and proceeded to the place with wagon, tools, provisions, etc., and set to work making rails in the forest and hauling them to the swamp. Then he would cut down a large quantity of the swamp grass, which grew in great abundance and luxuriance. With this he would spread a thick bed on which to lay the rails. After laying down the rails he would place long poles across the ends of them, which would be secured by driving forked limbs astride of them, to prevent the water from floating them off. Then put on more grass, covering it finally with two or three inches of sand. He thus built a road over the swamp, which lasted many years without repair.

Lemuel Offille and the Hugheses came among the early settlers and about the same time. James Hughes was a Christian preacher, and one of the first of that denomination in this part of the country. A son, Daniel T. Hughes, now living in the village of Greenview, is also a Christian preacher, James Hughes’ family moved into Greenview in 1839, he having died several years previously. Hugh D. Hughes, his son, was one of the first residents of the village of Sweetwater, and one of the builders of the mill at that place, as noticed in the history of the village. Offille and Hugheses came to this settlement from Indiana, but, as stated, were originally from Kentucky. One of Offille’s daughters married Hugh D. Hughes. Offille died some years ago, and none of his family, as we believe, are here now. Westley Whipp came about the time of the “deep snow.” He married a daughter of Leonard Alkire, and died several years ago, and is buried in Sugar Grove Cemetery. Two sons are living in Petersburg. Samuel McNabb was a brother-in-law of John Jenison and came previous to 1824, and has been dead some time. Pentecost and his sons, William, John and George, came in 1824-25. The old gentleman’s first name is not remembered; all of them are gone from the neighborhood. John Stone came about the “deep snow,” and had several sons, viz., William, James, Stephen, Henry, Boyd and Oliver. James lives in Greenview Precinct, the others in Sugar Grove. Henry lives on the old homestead with his father, who is still living. George Stone, a brother to John Stone, was an early settler, but is long since dead. A man named Parsons was a brother-in-law to the Stones, and came to the county about the same time. He had two sons, William and Joseph, the former of which is dead, as well as the old gentleman, but Joseph is living, and is the mail carrier between Greenview and Sweetwater. William Douglas was here as early as 1831-32 and settled in Irish Grove, and still living. Matthew Bracken came in 1824-25, afterward sold out to Nicholas Propst, and removed to Woodford County, where he died. A man named McKinney ranks among the old settlers, but there could be very little learned in regard to him. He, with several others, had been to a horse-race, one day, and on their way home got up a little race of their own, when McKinney was thrown from his horse and injured to such an extent that he died from the effects soon after.

Enoch B. Smith came to the settlement in Irish Grove in 1821, and Josiah B. Smith, a nephew, came in 1824. The latter was an old Whig, and took an active part in politics. Enoch Smith settled in the south end of Irish Grove, and a son, Jordan Smith, settled in the same vicinity. Enoch Smith died in 1841. Hs sons are also dead, and the entire family, except Mrs. Jesse England, who is his daughter. Jesse England also settled in Irish Grove in 1834. He married a daughter of Enoch Smith, and is still living on the place where he originally settled. His father came from Ohio to Sangamon County in 1819, and was the first white man who came north of the Sangamon River, and his daughter the first white woman.

John S. Jenison was a native of the Old Bay State, and came to Sugar Grove about 1822-23. He sold his claim to Leonard Alkire, and moved into the present precinct of Indian Creek. A son, Luther Jenison, now lives near the village of Greenview. Joseph and Samuel Powell, two brothers and brothers-in-law to Leonard Alkire came about 1825. They were from Ohio her, but natives of the Old Dominion. They raised large families, finally died here, and their families scattered and moved away, some of them to Fulton County, and some to the State of Oregon. Nicholas Propst came from Virginia, and settled in Sugar Grove prior to the “deep snow,” that epoch from which the pioneer dates so many events in his early history. He died here a number of years ago, and was an eccentric old gentleman of German descent. A cabinetmaker in the neighborhood owed him a debt, and not having the requisite funds on hand to cancel the obligation, told Propst that he would make him anything in the furniture line that he might need. Propst said he did not need anything just then, but that he would some day need a coffin, and, if he chose to do so, he might make him one. The cabinet-maker went to work on the coffin, and Propst superintended it, and had it made according to his own taste. When finished, there was still small balance due, Propst, so he had the man make a long bench to lay him out on when the time came, and he had “shuffled of the mortal coil.” Being thus far prepared for final dissolution, he went still farther, and had a tombstone cut out of a limestone rock, nicely dressed, and the single words, “Nicholas Propst,” cut in it. When he finally died, this stone marked his resting-place in the Sugar Grove graveyard, until the effacing hand of time crumbled it to pieces, without other words or letters. After his coffin was completed, he got into it to try it, and, as he said, “to see how it would fit.” He afterward told Rev. John Alkire that it scared him like h—l when he got into it.

John Wright came some time previous to 1830, and was, it is believed, from Ohio, though it is not remembered with certainty. He bought out one Samuel Alkire, a cousin to Leonard Alkire, who had settled here about 1824-25, and removed to Indiana after selling out to Wright. After living in Sugar Grove several years, Wright sold out and removed to Petersburg, and built the first bridge over the Sangamon River at that place. William Gibbs came from Baltimore, but was an Englishman. He bought out Wright when he went to Petersburg, as above stated. His oldest son lives in the village of Sweetwater. Rueben D. Black came from Ohio, and, after living here awhile, married a daughter of Leonard Alkire. He was a physician, and, at last accounts, was living in Missouri.

1819-1879

Sixty years! But a little space, as reckoned in the six thousand years since the creation of the world; even time itself is only –“a brief one, Cut from eternity’s mysterious org. And cast beneath the skies”—and yet what a vast record these sixty years have borne with them from the world. Revolutions have swept over the earth, as troubled visions sweep over the breast of dreaming sorrow. Cities have arisen and flourished for a little season, then disappeared, leaving no trace to tell where or when or how they sunk. New empires have sprung into existence, gathering in a brief time the strength of centuries, and then suddenly sunk from the wold forever. The changes and mighty events that have occurred in our own country in those years are equally astounding. The building of railroads and steamboats, and the invention of the telegraph, are but a few of these great events. Sixty years ago, when James Meadows erected a cabin in Sugar Grove, he would not have believed that today would present all the changes and improvements that it has presented, “though one had risen from the dead” to proclaim it to him. The wild prairies, and the timbered groves and dells, inhabited then by Indians, deer, wolves, panthers and other savage animals, are now vast fields of waving grain; and the farmers’ palatial dwellings are seen now where there were the hunter’s cabin and the Indian’s wigwam. All these changes are difficult of realization by others than those who have witnessed them.

The pioneers of this section had the same difficulties in procuring meal and flour as the new-comer had in other localities. Sometimes a trip was made to St. Louis for such supplies as flour, salt, and sugar and coffee when the settlers could afford such luxuries. "“James Meadows made more than one trip to that city in a canoe via the Sangamon, Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. He built a mill also in 1823, which was a great convenience to the people in the Sugar Grove end of the precinct. Those in the Irish Grove end used to go to Athens to mill, and even to Springfield, until a mill was erected in the village of Sweetwater, which will again be referred to. The erection of this mill secured to this district the best of facilities for obtaining the “staff of life”. Jacob Boyer was the first blacksmith, who followed the trade for the benefit of others. Leonard Alkire kept a forge for his own benefit, as did Propst and James Meadows. Meadows was a wheelwright, but also kept a blacksmith shop, principally for his own work. Josiah B. Smith was the first Justice of the Peace in the Irish Grove end of the precinct. Who was the first in Sugar Grove we did not learn.

James McNabb taught the first school in the limits of the present precinct of Sugar Grove in a small log cabin near where Gregory Lukins now lives. He is still living, and the cabin in which he taught was erected for school purposes---the first temple of learning built in the precinct. As his old pupils look back to the days when he ruled them with rod of iron they call to mind, no doubt, Goldsmith'’ familiar lines:

“Beside yon struggling fence that skirts the way,
With blossomed furze unpredictably gay,
There, in his noisy mansion, skilled to rule,
The village master taught his little school:
A man severe he was, and stern to view,
I know him well, and every truant knew;
Well had the boding tremblers learned to trace
The day’s disaster in his morning face;
Full well they laughed with counterfeited glee
At all his jokes, for many a joke had he;
Full well the busy whisper circling round
Conveyed the dismal tidings when he frowned;
Yet he was kind, or if severe in aught,
The love he bore to learning was in fault.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Amazed the gazing rustice ranged around;
And still they gazed, and still the “wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew.”

The precinct has now six schoolhouses, including the one in the village. These schoolhouses are commodious and comfortable, and furnished with all the modern improvements. Good schools are taught during the usual school term by competent teachers, and every facility is offered to the youth of the neighborhood for obtaining an education.

The religious history of Sugar Grove is somewhat complicated, as related to us by those who have been close observers of its mission in this region. It will be more fully given in connection with the village. Rev. John Alkire and Rev. Hughes were two of the early divines of the Christian Church in the precinct; also Rev. Abner Peeler, who afterward removed to Woodford County. A Christian Church was erected at an early day near where Gregory Lukins now lives. It was built of logs with pincheon floor, clapboard roof and a stick chimney at each end of the building. This served the double purpose of church and schoolhouse until 1838, when a frame building was put up 18x20 feet, and also used for church and school purposes. About the year 1848, a brick church was bult on the site of the original house. It was quite an edifice for that day and was built upon a stone foundation. After the laying-out of the village of Sweetwater, the society moved their quarters, and built a church in the village. This building was then remodeled and changed into a dwelling house.

William Engle and Elizabeth Alkire were married in 1823 and this was the first marriage in the present bounds of Sugar Grove Precinct, or in the eastern part of Menard County. The first birth and death are no remembered. But in proof that there have been a number of both, we refer the reader to the present population, and to Sugar Grove Cemetery. In its quiet shades sleep many of the early settlers of the neighborhood, as well as those who were cut down in the bloom of youth. It has been incorporated, and is beautifully situated on an elevated piece of ground about two miles from the village; is substantially enclosed and well cared for.

William Engle kept the first store in the precinct, and the first in the eastern part of Menard County, except at Athens. He opened a store on his farm (where John Engle now lives) several years before the laying-out of Sweetwater. After the village was laid out he moved his store into the corporation, where it is again alluded to. In politics, Sugar Grove is pretty evenly divided upon the great questions of the day. At one time, Irish Grove, lying partly in this precinct and partly in Greenview, gave but one Democratic vote, but he sentiment has somewhat changed since then. The precinct taken altogether, is perhaps, Republican by a small majority. During the late war, it did its full share in furnishing troops to maintain the Union. If it had a draft at all, it was for but a very few men, as all calls were promptly filled. Our space will not admit of an extended sketch of the precinct’s war record, and we pass with the tribute, that its soldiers did their duty.


1879 Index

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