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COURT OF CLAIMS.
The County being now organized, immigrants poured in as fast as ox-teams could bring them, but as the Government surveyor had not yet made his appearance, each man could only choose prairie or timber solely, stake out his “claim” or plow around it if he had a plow to do it with, put up his cabın and consider himself at home, although, according to Henry Clay, the whole mass formed "a lawless band of squatters."
The human disposition being the same then as now, it became necessary to provide some mode of proving and recording those claims, as a security against those disposed to “jump.” Accordingly, the settlers formed themselves into an association for mutual protection, organizing a sort of “Court of Claims.” In pursuance of this object, the territory was divided into “claim districts." Each district was then sub divided into sub-districts, in each of which three Commissioners were appointed to record claims and hear and determine all contests in that regard. These claims, when recorded, became evidence of title. It does not appear that these Claim Commissioners had much to do with what is now McHenry County, but so well did they perform their duty in the Lake precincts that but little trouble arose and that was easily and quietly adjusted. The survey of the land comprised in the county proceeded from the third principal meridian eastward, reaching the west range (5) in 1838, and finishing Lake County four years later, when these courts of claims, being no longer needed, ceased to exist.
These immigrants were a neighborly set, coming, as they sometimes did, in strings of six to eight covered wagons, the inmates of which were seeking to better their condition by putting to some use the immense waste of timber and prairie stretching away on every side as far as the range of human vision. The difficulty of choice was increased by the extent of unoccupied beautiful country, still they could not wander on forever; they must have land, water and timber, the last all-important to them, as the first thing to be provided was shelter. The spot having been selected and claims satisfactorily adjusted, they formed themselves into a co-operative society for the purpose of house-building, putting up the first house for him who seemed to them to stand the most in need of shelter. Thus, in a short time, all were provided with such dwellings at the materials at hand afforded.
Mills, log school-houses and villages soon made their appearance, and if unlike in that respect to those who, in December, 1620, left the Mayflower for the bleak coast of New England, they brought no minister with them, that necessary element of civilized society was not long behind, preaching in barns, schools and private houses to audiences more attentive if less fashionable than now, and finding beneath every “shake” roof a hearty welcome to the table and no less hearty one to the “ shake down” for the night, unless the host was provided with that rarity in those days, a spare bed.
Their rate of taxation was one per cent. on the following schedule: Slaves or indentured or registered negro or mulatto servants, stock in trade, horses, mules, asses, and neat cattle above three years of age, swine, lumber, and one horse wagons, clocks, watches, etc., but never a bit of bank or railroad stock, piano or silver ware. The tax of 1837 realized $370.86.
Among the curiosities of ancient legislation is a tavern license of 1837, the license costing eight dollars, and that the landlord might not swindle his thirsty customers, the Board established the following prices for liquors : Brandy, rum or gin, pints, 25 cents; wine, 374; whisky, 12); beer or cider, the same ; meals, 371 ; lodging, 121; while a span of horses could chew hay all night, for 25 cents. Those were halcyon times, but we have no record that the men and women of that day were all drunkards, the secret of which may have been that the shilling for the pint of whisky was as difficult to get at that day as it is to obtain enough to pay for the same quantity now. They had one advantage of us in that they were in the most blissful ignorance of the “crooked.”
DIVISION OF THE COUNTY.
The Legislature of 1838–9 passed an act dividing the then County of McHenry into two unequal parts, the present county to retain Ranges 5, 6, 7, 8, and the west third of Range 9, the remainder to constitute the new county which was to be called Lake. In pursuance of the authority given by this act, in 1839, the new county was organized, since which time each county has its own history.
LOCATING COUNTY SEAT. The object in view in dividing Range 9, so as to leave one-third of it in this county appears to heve been that McHenry might still be the county seat, but being so much to one side the people became dissatisfied, and the Legislature, during the session of 1842–3, passed an act authorizing the people to select a new site for the county seat.
The election was held the August following, and Centerville (now Woodstock) having the majority, the County Commissioners' Court in September following, by proclamation, declared the seat of justice removed to that place, which was done on the 23d of September, 1844, and the Legislature, at its next session, changed the name to that which it now bears.
The court house, built in 1844, stood a little south of the center of the public square, and subserved the ends of justice, till the night of the 4th of July, 1858, when it was destroyed by fire. The present fine building having been erected, in 1857, at a cost of $40,000.
The first highway run through the county was the State road running from the Indiana State line through Lockport, Naperville, Du Page, Warrenville, Dundee, Woodstock and thence to Madison. The act passed the Legislature in 1837 and the road was located by William Smith, of Will, I. M. Warren, of Cook, and Zeba S. Beardsley, of McHenry County.
Cook County having preferred a claim against McHenry for expenses incurred by Cook, on account of MicHenry, previous to the creation of the latter county, and Lake being in a similar manner indebted to McHenry, by act of the Legislature, in 1843, a Commissioner was appointed to inquire into and adjust the matter, when it was found that this county was indebted to Cook in the sum of $750, and Joseph Wood, of Lake, with J. H. Johnson, of McHenry, having ascertained that Lake owed us precisely the same sum, the matter was settled by Lake paying Cook. In these days such a strange coincidence would be deemed worthy of examination by a committee.
In 1840, the census showed that from 1837, when the first vote was cast, and from which the population was estimated at 500, the population had increased to 2,578, and the county contained thirteen mills and manufacturing establishments.
The nearest market being Chicago, and the only means of reaching that muddy town being by wagon, hauled, for the most part, by oxen over the execrable prairie roads, the trip occupying three days at the shortest, and the prices of all kinds of produce being what would, at this day, be thought too insignificant to pay for planting, sowing or feeding, it is no wonder that the seller frequently returned from market no richer than he went. Thirty to forty cents a bushel for wheat, and that was the only article that they were sure of selling at any price, would scarcely pay, even though the produce of that cerial was as high as forty-five bushels to the acre. Twenty teams in line thus going to market with their only staple was no uncommon sight.
At the first election (1838) for. Member of the Legislature, the Whig and Democratic parties put their candidates in the field, but the Democratic party being then greatly in the ascendant, Dr. Richard Murphy, the Democratic nominee, distanced Giles Spring, of the other party. The district, at that time, consisted of Cook, Will, Du Page and McHenry Counties, and the first representative from this county, after the division, was Hon. Wm. M. Jackson, also a Democrat and still living at Union, in the township of Coral.
The Circuit Court of McHenry County held its first session at the county seat, on May 10th, 1838, John Pearson, of the Seventh Judicial Circuit, presiding. The first State's Attorney was Alonzo Huntington; Sheriff, Henry B. Steele; Clerk, A. B. Wynkoop; and the first Grand Jury consisted of the
following named gentlemen, several of whom are still living: Andrew S. Wells, C. H. Bartlett, Martin Shields, Phineas Sherman, Thomas McClure, Rufus Saules, Linley S. Wood, Christy G. Wheeler, John Deggins, Moody B. Barley, Christopher Walkup, Isaac H. Loyd, Jeremiah Porter, Willard Jones, Leonard Gage, Daniel Winters, Richard Steele, Alden Harvey, Luke Hale, Amos Diamond, Aaron Randall, Elisha Clark, R. R. Crosby, and Charles Bartlett, who was Foreman.
The Petit Jurors were as follows: Wm. Easton, Dr. J. H. Foster, John "A. Mills, Theron Parsons, Abijah S. Bernard, Samuel Walker, Russell Diggins, Samuel Terwilliger, E. F. Farnum, Timothy B. Titcomb, John Herrick, John Hicks, Erastus Houghton, Nelson Darling, John McOmber, Eli W. Brigham, Uriah Cottle, Abraham Vincent, Burley Hunt and Wm. Irwin.
Upon attendance at that term of court were the following named attorneys: E. W. Cassay, J. C. Newkirk, Nathan Allen, Kimball, Horace Butler, James M. Strode, Alonzo Huntington and Giles Spring.
In 1846, it was seen that the county must have a newspaper, so Mr. Josiah Dwight started the “Illinois Republican,” which, under his management, was conducted for a few years, when it suspended, and the Woodstock Democrat, first published by F. D. Austin, in 1848, shared the same fate in 1856. The year previous to the closing of the Democrat, the first number of the Woodstock Sentinel made its appearance, as a joint stock company, having been projected by Convers & Tappen, who were, at that time, the managers of the newly formed Republican party.
It appears that Convers procured the attendance of J. R. Giddings, of Ashtabula County, Ohio, at a political meeting in Woodstock, at which time, and during the speech of the Ohio statesman, the question arose as to the name of the new party, when F. J. Mansfield stretched over the speaker's head a long paper, bearing, in large type, the word “Republican.” The name was accepted, and the establishment of the Sentinel followed as the logical result of the new party organization.
In 1856, it was in the hands of Franks & Son, who sold out in the spring of the next year, to A. E. & W. E. Smith, they running it till 1866. Sapp & Richardson became its proprietors, to be, in their turn, succeeded by Wm. E. Smith, in 1869, and in 1873, G. S. Southworth became editor and proprietor. It has always been a Republican paper, and the leading one of the county.
In 1856, E. W. Smith and M. L. Joslyn started a campaign paper called the Argus, which did not long survive the election.
Next came the Woodstock Democrat, under the editorial management of F. D. Austin, but, not being well sustained, soon went under, and in 1861 the Union was issued from Phoenix Hall, and shared the fate of its predecessor. The Harvard Independent was started in 1864, which for the past few years has been in the hands of McLaughlin & Leland. Three years later the Marengo Republican was established, which has been run almost continuously by J. B. Babcock.
The New Era was established in the fall of 1873, by Ringland & Price, as a Grange paper. The latter named gentleman was connected with it but a short time, since when it has been owned and conducted at Woodstock and Nunda by its present proprietor.
Next, in order of time, follows the Plaindealer, published at McHenry, by J. Van Slyke, who commenced its publication a little more than one year ago (in 1875), and the Richmond Gazette, now in the last half of its first year (1876), was first issued by H. B. Begim, who subsequently took in G. S. Utter, when, the former dying, the latter took in Dr. S. F. Bennett, and it is now under the management of Bennett & Utter.
It will be perceived that the county is abundantly supplied with local papers, all Republican with the exception above noted. Nothing short of an intelligent, reading people could keep so many alive.
THE AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY.
This Society was organized twenty-five years ago, and bought ten acres of land a little east of town, outside the corporation. This land was bought of James B. Church, May 18, 1855. The Society then borrowed of the county one thousand dollars, giving a mortgage on the land. The land finally passed into possession of the county, the Society taking a perpetual lease for the
In February, 1869, eight acres more, on the north side, were bought of Daniel Joslyn, at $900. Finding itself still within too narrow limits, in December, 1873, a lease of five acres on the east was obtained for three years, with the privilege of purchase, and, the lease having expired, the land has been purchased for $1,000; so the Society now has twenty-three acres, with nothing to prevent indefinite expansion eastward.
The old buildings proving inadequate and inconvenient, in 1872 the present fine hall was erected, at a cost of $2,000, while for stock, ample stalls, stables, sheds and pens exist.
Three years ago, at the suggestion of the President, Mr. James Crow, an attempt was made to pay off the debt by selling life membership tickets at $120 each. About one hundred were sold, but, owing to various circumstances, there still exists a debt of about $2,000.
About one year ago, Marengo made an attempt to organize a second society in the county, but their first meeting was not so successful as to warrant any great outlay in that direction.