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What is now Anchor, Town 24, Range 6 east of the Third Principal Meridian, is the easternmost of the middle tier of townships of McLean County, being bounded on the east by Ford County, and is just about midway between Indian Grove on the north and Cheney's Grove on the south, Burr Oak Grove on the east and Old Town Timber on the west. During most of its history it has been a part of Cropsey, and, of course, its history is much blended with that. The reader is referred, therefore, to Cropsey for many things which the writer does not deem best to repeat here.
The first man to commence any farm operations here was William T. Stackpole, Esq., of Fairbury, then residing at Pekin, Tazewell County, carrying on a large grain and produce business on the Illinois River, then the only line of transportation known to this part of the State. Mr. Stackpole commenced here in May, 1855, coming across the country from Pekin, with three teams, to commence spring work on the large tract of land which he had recently purchased, aggregating 2,320 acres. Of the remembrances of that occasion, Mr. S. writes, under date of March 22, 1879, with a justifiable enthusiasm which twenty years of absorbing business operations, complicated by a series of business misfortunes which would have driven many men crazy, has not blotted from his
memory: “In addition to the points furnished you for the history of Anchor Township, I cannot forbear referring to the peculiar natural beauty of that prairie (the very heart of the “Grand Prairie’ of Illinois), in a state of nature, as I saw it on that May morning in 1855, when I went, with my men, to begin what we call'improvements,' necessary for our use, and again—say on September 1—when its rich vegetation had reached its fulfillment. Not even a furrow of its virgin soil nor even a spadeful of its earth (except by United States Surveyors) had ever been turned by man; nor even, I think, so much as a shanty ever erected, by white man or Indian, within its bounds. Every foot of its soil was prairie except the small grove (about two acres) on the southwest quarter of Section 5, now owned by David Stuart, then known as 'Cunningham's Bunch. The wide, open prairies were shunned by the early settlers, and their first occupation and cultivation were surrounded by serious difficulties in some respects. The wild natural beauty of the landscape, relieved and set off by the groves of woodland in the distance, was fully equal to any representation or description I have ever seen or read. The comparison, so often made, of the appearance of the distant groves to islands in the distance, was recognized as most just."
Mr. Stackpole had entered or purchased, in the years 1853 and 1854, 2,320 acres of land, described as follows: Three-quarters of Section 17, three-quarters of the south half of Section 18, all of Section 20, the north half of Section 29, the north half of Section 28, the southeast quarter of Section 28 and the southwest quarter of Section 27.
As stated above, he was engaged in large business operations at Pekin, Ill., and had purchased this with a view to make it his home and his business, retiring from the arduous and uncertain exactions of trade, which was already undermining his health. His operations here are sometimes referred to as “Stackpole's folly," a term which will scarcely be applied to it when the full facts are taken into account.
In May, 1855, with three teams, he came by way of Bloomington, where he loaded with lumber, and put up with Ephraim Myers, at Cheney's Grove. The next morning, he made a survey, put up temporary buildings and commenced breaking prairie. Up to that time, no person had broken prairie with horses; it was supposed that it could not be done, and when he told them that he was going to do the work with horses which, it was supposed, could only be done with three or four yoke of oxen, he was laughed at, and people began to talk of “Stackpole's folly.” The “red root," which was the great and only impediment to breaking prairie—a hardy plant, of prairie growth, whose top was but slightly discernible in the grass, but whose large, firm root, running deep into the ground, was firm as a rock against any common plow-could only be overcome by the steady, stolid pull of well-trained cattle. Mr. S. had discovered that the root, to be killed, need not be cut off by the plow, but that a hit by the plow was sufficient to destroy its vitality and cause it to die; hence, he knew that he could plow with horses, and did. Men came from Cheney's Grove to see him fail in his plowing; they came, saw, but he conquered.
He purchased a boat-load of lumber in Chicago, which he brought on one of his boats to Joliet, thence by railroad to Lexington, and drew it across the country to his farm. The first summer, he built the large farm-house which has been, until this year, occupied by Dr. Sabin, and which was, at that time, the largest and finest farm-house in McLean County. The rattlesnakes, greenheads and mosquitoes were the most troublesome enemies the new farmer had. The stable was kept dark to protect the horses from the attacks of the latter, but it did not protect them from the former, as one of these sinuous descendants of the first tempter got into the manger, at one time,
a dog in the manager," would neither eat nor let the horse eat till he was removed. Deer, at this date, were still so numerous that herds of from five to fifty were often seen.
The skeleton of a buffalo (an American bison) was found by Mr. S. on the farm, and his neighbors at Cheney's Grove also found some. Since the very earliest recorded events, extending back into the early part of the eighteenth century, the bison was never known to live upon these prairies east of the Mississippi. How long that skeleton, which Mr. S. still retains, had lain upon this prairie it will be difficult to tell with any degree of certainty. For two or three years prairie wolves were very trouble
All these minor objections shrunk into insignificance, however, compared with the terrible fires. No real loss of human life occurred here, but losses of property were
In one fall, Mr. S. lost several hundred tons of hay. The high grass, often, at that time, growing to the height of eight feet, gave a fine opportunity for the spread of the devouring element. He brought out the first reaper which was ever used in these parts. The following year he put up a board fence around a half section. Like all his building, this was done in first-rate style. The posts were sawed and then charred in fire. The fence stood well for sixteen years. He stocked his farm with several hundred head of cattle and a thousand sheep. In 1859, he had eleven hundred acres in grain, largely in wheat, which proved that year a bad failure. Thus far, every thing on his farm had proved reasonably successful. But business reverses followed his labors at Pekin, and, in ten years from the time he made his first purchase at Anchor, all his property had been sacrificed at less than half its value to meet the demands against him.
The low water on the Illinois River, in 1856, gave him his first severe loss. The revulsion of 1857, when wheat fell in Chicago from $1.18 to 60 cents in
twenty days, and nearly every bank in the country closed its doors, following quick upon the suspension of the “Ohio Life and Trust Company,” left him poorer by thousands of dollars. The peculiarity of this case was that during this decline in Chicago, wheat remained firm in Liverpool. The failure of the banks placed it beyond the power of commerce to move the wheat forward. The system then in vogue placed it out of the power of men to send forward crops without the aid of the banks. Jim Fisk, Jr., had not then invented his famous scheme for "moving crops."
The disasters of the first year of the war finished what the former uncontrollable events had commenced, and the year 1863 saw Mr. Stack pole's land closed out under mortgages at ruinous prices and himself left penniless. It will be seen that it was not Stackpole's folly that ruined him. Mr. S. has, of late years, given much attention to the study of opening the water ways of the country, and has invented a plan by which the bars which accumulate at the mouths of our great rivers can be removed and communication kept open for the largest class of vessels. He is a man of large information and of radical views, a strong and vigorous thinker, and in many respects a remark
That success may crown his present labors is said not more in his own than in his country's behalf.
Topographically, Anchor lies in peculiar shape. The high ridge which extends through Lawndale and nearly covers Cropsey, runs across the northern line. The Mackinaw heads in the eastern line of the town, running north through the eastern tier of sections, and west through the northern tier. A high ridge, not unlike the one across its northern line, runs nearly along the southern, dividing the head waters of the Mackinaw from the creek at Saybrook. From the eastern part of this, a high ridge runs north through half of the township, leaving two extensive valleys, which are rich and fertile, on either side of it. There is, on the east side of Section 12, a lake of some forty acres, and, besides this, a few small ponds. The name Anchor was given to it by George R. Buck, the then Supervisor—why, is not easy to tell.
The oldest resident now living in town is John Sharpless. He came from Indiana with a family consisting of wife and five children, and worked a farm two years at Indian Grove. He made an arrangement, as he supposed, to work a piece for Capt. Johnson, at the Mackinaw timber, for the year 1863; but a misunderstanding occurred, and he left. It was late for renting, and the only chance he could get was a half-section of the Stack pole land on Section 18, and, very much against his will, he was obliged to take a prairie farm. He liked it so much better than he expected, that he lives near the same place, on Section 29, now. There was a farm lying near by that had been cropped in 1861, but had lain idle in 1862. The proprietor offered to take one-fifth grain rent for it, but he could not find any one to take. Sharpless gave the usual rent, one-third. There were plenty of deer and wolves at this time, but he did not give much attention to them. He found his time fully occupied on the farm.
After working the land two years, he bought of Jones, where he lives. Sharpless was and is an ardent believer in the Democratic party, and tells how he felt when he attended the first election in this town and put in his day for the good of the cause ; but it proved an up-hill business ; for when the votes were all in and duly counted out, there were three Democratic votes to thirty Republicans. He has lived in the town to see it go the other way, however, and feels better.
Dr. Sabin, the same year, or the one following, purchased the portion of the Stackpole property upon which the dwelling-house stood, and has continued to live there until the present year. He has practiced his profession over this part of the country, and is greatly respected by his neighbors around him.
A. R. Jones, familiarly known as Abe Jones all over the county, commenced here his great farming and cattle-feeding enterprise in 1865.
The demands of the great army of the Union, together with a lively inflation of the currency, had for two years before made cattle-feeding the great rage in McLean County, and almost every farmer in the county had got rich by it. Jones had made some money and wanted to make more; he bought some 3,000 acres of land, comprising Section 27, three-quarters of Section 28, five-eighths of Section 29, 520 acres in Section 24, half of Section 15, half of Section 10, one-quarter of Section 14, one-quarter of Section 34 and eighty acres in Section 26; a considerable portion of this was the Stackpole land.
Jones lived on Section 27, and there erected a steam-mill to grind feed for his cattle, and built two large barns 28x225 feet each, two stories high, sufficient to stall 300 cattle; these he kept filled with cattle as long as he could afford it on a constantly declining market. He sold his mill to John Shorthase, who removed it to Danvers. His barns were cut up into sections and sold off. He at one time sold all his land to persons at a contract to pay twenty-five bushels of corn per acre for ten years. The parties failed to fulfill, and he had to cancel the contracts. He afterward moved to Towanda, and died in 1878. His great farming operations did not entirely use him up financially, but must have crippled him considerably.
A. S. Dart came here the same year and built a house on Section 29. John Ingram came here from Canada and bought forty acres from Jones in 1866, and Nathaniel Brinley bought the west half of Section 29, and built on it in 1867.
During these two years, the township pretty nearly all settled up. Henry Gilstrap came from White Oak Grove and settled on Section 6: he afterward moved to Kansas. Moses H. Knight, a preacher of the Christian Church, also settled on Section 6, where he afterward died, much respected by all who knew him. R. H. Arnold, from White Oak Grove, and W. H. Andersou and F. M., his brother, came from Martin township and settled on the same section. D. B. Stewart, of Chicago, purchased Section 5, upon which is situated “Cunningham's Bunch," the only natural grove in the township, and an adjoining section in Cropsey. He is largely engaged in the hay trade, running a press and shipping his hay to all parts of the country. “Side-Hill Dick," a colored man, famous in this region as the only man in existence who is taller on one side than the other, is in Mr. Stewart's employ. Mr. Stewart once sent a lot of hay to Providence, R. I., for which he failed to get any return. He thinks trusting Providence may have been a good thing at one time in the history of the country, but thinks times hare changed-in Providence.
J. T. Tanner came here in 1869, and has a fine farm in Section 8. He is the present Supervisor and has been a Justice of the Peace. He is an intelligent man. Can show as good a farm as one need see. J. C. Swatsley, for many years Town Clerk, came here from Metamora, Woodford County, where he had long been engaged in school teaching, and took up a farm in Section 11. He is a man of superior education, and his record as Clerk shows a careful man, so rarely found in the township offices, which often show a great lack of skill and care. He has an excellent farm.
Maj. J. B. T. Mann, an officer in the Mexican war, commenced to plant a nursery here on Section 4, in company with his brother W. H. Mann, Esq., of Gilmau. The hedge-plant business was a large one for a few years, and for a time the raising and selling of nursery stock was a good business.
J. B. Pierce came from Danvers to Section 28, about 1868, where he still resides. He is a man of large intelligence, and has taken a lively interest in the religious and educational affairs of his town. John N. King commenced a farm in Section 22, about the same time.
He is, as his place shows, one of the best farmers in the town. His buildings are neat and nicely painted, and his farm looks tidy and neat. The same year, John P. Worley settled on Section 14, where he still resides.
At the first town meeting held in Cropsey Township, this town was divided on the half section running through Sections 4, 9, etc., for some reason which does not now appear very plain, and on this line is the principal bridge over the Mackinaw, an iron one built by the county in 1870, the two post offices in the town, and the principal road of travel from Potosi on the north, to Saybrook on the south. There are five other bridges over this stream, and their early history is that of all bridges on Western prairie streams—having the habit of frequently going off when most wanted. Latterly, the citizens have learned by experience to build them more permanently. There is no store in town, Saybrook being the principal trading point, although those living in the northern part find Potosi a convenient point. No township debt oppresses the taxpayers of Anchor, although the record is evidence that it is not their fault that they have not now heavy railroad taxes to pay. They repeatedly voted to donate the Decatur & State Line Railroad all they asked, to build a road through the town, but the possibilities of that railroad were burned up in the Chicago fire. The citizens liv. ing in the northern portion of the town are now, under the lead of Mr. Stewart, pushing forward the enterprise known as the Clinton, Bloomington & Northeastern Railroad, with an anticipated station on Section 5.
Corn is the principal crop, and probably will remain so. The farmers feed their crop liberally to bogs; a few feed cattle. A great deal of corn is drawn to Saybrook, which is the market for this town. A few have been raising flax, with good yield, and an occasional
of wheat is raised. Oats are generally considered a good crop. Until 1877, this town and Cropsey were together in political organization. A little unfriendliness had grown up ; there did not seem to be any convenient common center for holding town meetings, and a little strife was known to exist between the north and south ends on town affairs. In 1876, a petition was presented to the Board of Supervisors, signed by many of the principal citizens, asking to have the town divided. The Board granted the petition, and at the suggestion of George R. Buck, who was then Supervisor, the new town was named Anchor. What small debts there were, were equitably divided, and the township“ property,” consisting of a record-book and Clerk's desk, were parted between them, Cropsey taking the desk and Anchor the book. Since the setting-off of Anchor, the following township officers have been elected: Supervisors, G. R. Buck and J. T. Tanner; Clerk, J. C. Swatsley; Assessors, S. P. Howell, J. C. Swatsley; Collector, A. Claypool; Justices, J. T. Tanner, C. M.