The Early Settlers

written by C.E. Carroll


[This essay was written ca. 1955 by one of the original members of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.]


Desplaines2The Black Hawk War was largely responsible for the settlement of Lake County and consequently for that of Libertyville. When Black Hawk, with his Sacs and Foxes, took the warpath in 1832 and started up the Rock River, there were very few troops in the area. There was no garrison at Ft. Dearborn ( Chicago) and only small forces at Ft. Howard ( Green Bay) and at Ft. Winnebago ( Portage), so President Jackson had to send troops from the east under General Scott. 

"Time was of the essence" and the best army the General could assemble on short notice was a mixed lot of New England boys and some cadets from West Point. He loaded these onto steamboats at Buffalo and headed for Chicago. He had one force on board he had not reckoned on, the Asiatic Cholera. Many of the soldiers died before they reached Chicago and the remainder, both sick and well, were confined to quarters for some time after their arrival.

When the convalescent remnant was finally released they were marched, by easy stages, up through the Des Plaines and Fox River valleys looking for Black Hawk. They never found him, but they did receive word when they reached the Winnebago village at the present site of Beloit, that the Indians had been met and defeated by the forces of General Atkinson (The Old White Beaver) who had come in from Green Bay. The war was over.

The New England boys saw no service but they did see, as they marched up through this northern Illinois country in early summer, some of the most beautiful and fertile farmland they had ever beheld. It was gently rolling for the most part, timbered only in spots, well supplied with lakes and water courses and almost free from the rocks that so sorely beset the New England farmer as he tilled his thin-soiled hillsides. It is not strange that they were impressed by all of thisand that they carried the memoryof this fine land back home with them,in the following year.

In the meantime, the Treaty of Chicago had been concluded in whichit was stipulated thatall of the lands in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin still remaining in Indian hands shouldbe cededto the Federal Governmentbythe Fall of 1836 and would then be thrown openfor settlement. This land was unsurveyed, but was believedto be about 5,000,000 acres.

Many of the New England soldiers decided that they would return and take up homesteads. Many others persuaded friends and relativesto join with them. Therewere certain bold spirits,as there always have been, who decided not to wait for the Indian title to be extinguished but to move in earlier, make their selections and "squat," as the term was, on a choice spot, in the hope that the Government would recognize their claims when the land was formally opened and permit them to buyat theland office price, $1.25 per acre. There were manywho did this and some of them came to Libertyville or nearby.

The first to come into what is now Lake County was Captain Daniel Wright, who settled closeto the river, about a mile and a half south of the present Half Day. He was soon followedby Hiram Kennicott and Asahel Talcott in 1834. By the end of 1835 there were several others who had located along the Indian trail, that later became Milwaukee Avenue, all the way up to the present village of Gurnee.

The land along the trail on the west side of the river was mostly open prairie, but right at the presentsite of Libertyvillethere was a fine grove of oak trees running back to the lake. In this grove and just about where Cook Memorial Library now stands was a log cabin occupied by George Vardin with his wife and daughter. Vardin was an Englishman, described as "a man of culture," but beyond that we know nothing about him for he moved away in 1835 going further west, it was said. The Vardins were here when Walter Morse, a blacksmith, came up the trail from Kennicott's Mill in 1835 looking for a likely place to open a shop.

Vardin was probably the first to settle here though we do not know exactly when nor whence he came. Morse did not stay either; probably did not think the place would ever amount to much. William Cooley came in the same year and settled on the east side of the trail just north of the present Appley Avenue. He farmed there for a few years and also engaged in breaking and selling oxen to other settlers.

Elconah Tingley came about this time too and took up land at the south end of Adler Park. His land ran across the river, as nearly all of the early claims did, and Elconah started a brick yard on the east bank where there is a fine deposit of clay and his brick soon found ready market among the neighbors.

Tobias Wynkoop settled above the present Buckley Road and took up land that extended beyond the Bull Creek crossing. In fact, Tobias claimed all of the prairie to the west as far as he could see, for he was a man of large ideas, but he was not able to finance so large a tract, even at $1.25 an acre when the time came to pay up, and he had to be content with a much smaller farm. He was a very colorful character and many stories of his exploits are still told. His nephew, Archimedes, lived in the village for a time and was quite prominent in public affairs. He later became the editor of Lake County's first newspaper, "The Little Fort Porcupine."

Doctor William Crane came from Vermont and located his claim on the west side of the trail just north of the present Cook Avenue. It extended along the road to about where the Town Hall stands and ran back to the lake. The doctor was a veteran of the War of 1812. He did not practice here but engaged in various enterprises. He built his house about where Langworthy's Store is now and for some years operated a public house or tavern. Later he ran a sawmill at the Lake Street corner and a four story flour mill back of it.

The "Mechanics Grove" people were a group of families from Washington County, New York, most of whom came in 1835 to settle in the Grove that now surrounds the Seminary of St. Mary's of the Lake, and while they did not live in our village they had many ties here and at one time built a church here. It stood just south of our present Town Hall.

The first group of these people consisted of the Solomon Nortons, Elisha Clarks, Hiram Clarks, Alfred Payne and Louis Schanck. Schanck had been in this country for several years before the others came. He had come here first in 1833 from Detroit, and had contracted with the Government to haul soldiers from Ft. Dearborn to Green Bay. He was evidently familiar with this area, for it was said that he "cut" the first wagon track on the west side of the Des Plaines.

He met these other New Yorkers when they came and guided them to the beautiful spot on which they settled. He took up a homestead himself and settled among them.

The Steeles were early settlers too. There were Richard and Ransom who took adjoining claims near the present E.J. & E.R.R. crossing in 1835, and there, on June 20th 1835, the Richard Steeles became the parents of Lake County's first white child. Of course it wasn't Lake County then, for we were still a part of Cook County.

Another Steele brother, Davis, settled in the village and built the big three-story hotel on the site of the present New Castle. This was known as the Grove House. It became a relay station on the stage route that was established in 1836, and also became widely known as a meeting place and the scene of many early day festivities.

A nephew of the Steele brothers (this was Henry B. Steele) took over the cabin left by George Vardin and became very active in civic affairs. He was Sheriff of both McHenry and Lake Counties, our first Postmaster and Clerk of the County Commissioner's Court.

The Village was then known as Vardin's Grove, named after its first settler, and on Independence Day 1836, the little band of settlers of the place held a celebration and dedicated a flagpole. There were, by this time, a number of families with children here and in planning the affair the women sought to make it as festive as possible for the youngsters by a special treat. By pooling their resources they were able to produce enough sugar, eggs and white flour for a small batch of cookies and each child received one. Thus did our youth celebrate the Nation's Birthday in this new land.

After the flag raising there were speeches and it was proposed that the settlement be given a new name now that Vardin no longer dwelt here. So in honor of the day they named it "Independence Grove," which appellation was destined to be short lived, for when application was made for the establish­ment of a Post Office, a few months later, it was learned that another office of that name already existed in the State and that a different name must be chosen. It was then that Archimedes Wynkoop came forward and suggested " Libertyville" as a fitting substitute.

It was in 1836 that our first schoolhouse was built. It was of squared logs and it stood in what is now West Cook Avenue, just about in front of the Village Hall. The logs and labor for its erection were donated, so about the only cash outlay required was for the doors and window sashes with some odds and ends of hardware, perhaps $25.00 all together. School buildings cost more nowadays.

The site had to be paid for though, and as this was in Section 16, the square mile set aside in each township to be sold for the benefit of education, the real estate values were high, as might be expected. Land in the next section might be had for $1.25 an acre, but in Section 16 it was mostly $1.75, with such choice spots as the schoolhouse lot priced at $10.00 per acre or $2.50 for the quarter acre plot.

The next year, 1837, saw the coming of several persons to Libertyville who had important roles in its future. One was Dr. Jesse H. Foster who purchased the 18 acre tract which included the present site of the Cook Memorial Library. He also bought a quarter section (160 acres) in Section 21 for a farm. He became our first practicing physician, and later, our Postmaster and Druggist. His home, on the present library grounds, at one time housed his family, the Apothecary Shop and the Post Office. A. B. Cook, the donor of the library, married Foster's daughter.

Another settler of note who came at this time was Horace Butler, a lawyer. He was our first practicing attorney. He became a member of the Legislature, member of the Constitutional Convention, Justice of the Peace, Probate Justice, Postmaster and Judge of Elections, and also found time to engage in farming and to join with his father-in-law in operating the flour mill. His name is applied to the pretty little lake on our western border, part of which he once owned. His death at an early age was a great loss to the Village for which he did so much.


Postcard images provided by the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.