History of Piper City

Nowhere, other than in Central Illinois, was the early phenomenon of the prairie more in evidence. We can only guess whether the hearts of the early settlers swelled at the magnificence of the "encircling vastness" or quailed in fear at the trackless and heretofore almost unpenetrated wilderness.

The first pioneers who pressed into Illinois followed the streams and portages and only the state surveyors and a few Indians had crisscrossed the inland area around what is now known as Piper City at the time of the coming of the first settlers.

The first to come were Mr. and Mrs. John R. Lewis and Mr. and Mrs. Mark Parsons, in 1856. The Lewises arrived first, and the Parsons only a day later. From Mr. Lewis' obituary we learn that there was no other house to be seen anywhere and that one could ride 30 miles north without coming across a settlement.

Another man, S. Standish, arrived in 1856, but there is little recorded of him other than his arrival. Perhaps he did not stay long. Piper City was extremely fortunate, however, to have two settlers of the caliber of Lewis and Parsons and their families.

Both men lived to be what was considered then a "ripe old age" and both filled many positions of trust and importance in the community. Parsons was 76 when he died in 1899, and Lewis died in 1901 at the age of 73. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis moved to Chicago in 1871, where he sold real estate, but returned in 1878, and they lived here for the rest of their lives.

Lewis, especially, was a man of boundless energy and of high intelligence. He had more education than most men of his day. Born in Herkimer County, New York, from Welsh stock, he attended Whitestown Seminary for three years and taught school for three winters before emigrating to Illinois.

In 1850 he decided to go west and migrated to Naperville, Illinois, where he farmed and taught school until 1855. In 1851 he married Delia O. Johnson, a native of Vermont. Together they came to this area in 1856. Their son, born August 4, 1857, was the second baby born in the community. The first birth was Hattie B. Bartlett in June of 1857.

Mr. and Mrs. Parsons had the third child born here when their son Jesse arrived August 26, also in the year of 1857.

Mark Parsons was born in Sunderland, Vermont, and in 1846 married Jane Crossett. In 1847 they moved to Will County, Illinois, and in 1856 settled about five miles south of what is now Piper City. After nine years they moved to about one mile south of town and just 100 years ago from our centennial year — in 1869 — they moved into town where he ran a store for several years.

He was caretaker of the Presbyterian Church and his punctuality and fidelity left a lasting impression on the early church-goers. He was recalled as having paced back and forth in the vestibule with watch in hand, awaiting the exact moment to ring the bell for church services.

It was also his unhappy duty to climb to the church belfry and toll the bell with a wooden mallet at the time of the death of any citizen. The townspeople would stop what they were doing and count the number of times the bell was tolled and
in that way could sometimes surmise whose death had occurred, for the bell was tolled once for each year of life.
But the beginning of our history lies in the prairie, and if we are to understand and appreciate our heritage we must understand and appreciate the wild implacable land that beckoned with the siren song of unbelievable fertility and yet threatened darkly of swamps, reptiles, wild animals, and loneliness.

The men who dreamed dreams of the future of this land saw it crisscrossed with railroads, dotted with little villages springing up so that the grain from the fertile fields could be shipped to market, and the things needed for trade could be brought in over the railroad.

The coming of what is now called the Toledo, Peoria, and Western Railroad in 1857 was a momentous occasion, but one fraught with some surprise. The railroad was built in a line almost due east and west across the north edge of Township 26. A long side track was laid on the north half of Section 2. At this time there were no settlers near the railroad, and a little to the west of the side track there was a big slough that completely cut off all communications from the west. East of the side track there were no settlers within the boundary of the Pan Handle. (Although Ford County was not yet formed, this term applies to the northern part of what later became the County, and in shape does indeed resemble the handle of a pan.) The motive of the railway company in building the side track in such a place was beyond the comprehension of any of the settlers, but it was soon learned that there was to be a town there, called Brenton.
A landmark long familiar to people of this area was the "old hotel" that was razed with little note or fanfare in 1962. Sometimes called the "Old Brenton House" it was the first good, wooden structure to be built on the virgin prairie in 1858 or '59 by Lyne Starling.

Starling was a young man who had emigrated from New York and became a large land owner in both Brenton and Pella Townships.

An old Ford County history suggests that he may have been emulating his cousin, Michael L. Sullivant, who in 1854 began to buy land northwest of what was later the town of Paxton. Sullivant's holdings became known as "the largest corn farm in the World under one man's management." Later, he sold much of his land to Hiram Sibley.

The history reports that early settlers were encouraged to see Starling's hotel as a mark of progress in the new land. And well they should have, for when the old hotel was coming down, many expressed admiration for the care and precision of the pioneer builder. Walnut and oak were used throughout the structure and the foundation was of flat limestone rock.

The sills were scored and hewn by hand with a board axe and foot adze. Two by sixes were used throughout, and all corners were re-enforced with six by sixes and storm braced by four by sixes. The sills were morticed and pinned, and solid sheeting one and one-quarter inch thick was used under the weather-boarding.

There were nine rooms, with four fireplaces — two upstairs, and two down.

The front door was of Colonial design made of poplar wood, and had panes of glass around the side and top.

The old hotel stood for over a century with very little repair or upkeep and was so well constructed that it could probably have stood for another century.

After its usefulness as a hotel was gone, the structure was moved to a spot a quarter of a mile north of its first location and was used as a farm home until the 1930's.

In the early days the hotel was a stopping-off place for travelers and pioneers who came to this territory by railroad (and that was almost everybody, in those days).

The railroad breathed life into the old hotel in its early days when the nearest trading centers were Chatsworth, seven miles to the west, and Gilman, ten miles to the east.

A small center of trade developed around the railroad spur or side track. A small grain terminal developed, and it was believed that a town would grow up in this location. The spot was called "Brenton" and later "Old Brenton."
But less than a decade after Brenton House was built, Dr. William Piper, of Philadelphia, and Samuel Cross, of Chicago — both large land owners — contracted with County Surveyor, H. J. Howe, in 1867, to plat the village that later was named Piper City, for Dr. Piper. This spot was two miles west of Brenton and the new location was at first called New Brenton.

Very soon the first general store was opened by John Allen and W. C. Jones. John R. Lewis served as the first postmaster, receiving and dispensing mail from his residence.

Dr. Piper and his nephew, John A. Montelius, also opened a general store and built a grain elevator. Houses were built and the community began to grow. Incorporation papers were signed in 1869.

Following the Civil War there was a land rush and land buyers came pouring into town, getting off with every train that stopped, many of them coming from the east after reading pamphlets put out by the railroad companies telling of the great opportunities awaiting them on the virgin prairies. These pamphlets were circulated in foreign countries and many foreign emigrants began arriving, too.

The railroads had bought vast holdings of land, and their purpose was to get the country settled as quickly as possible. Their informative pamphlets traced step by step a bright future for prairie farmers.
John R. Lewis was uniquely able by intelligence and aptitude to handle land sales. He was a surveyor and had as good an understanding of law as most. He later was admitted to the bar, but never actively practiced law as it was not his "greatest interest."

Lewis became land agent for the Illinois Central in 1866 and was quite efficient in dealing with the men who came in feverish excitement to vie for a "stake" in this new community.

An old newspaper article refers to Lewis as the "master spirit of the land situation", and in truth he sold more than any other agent in Ford County.

For some it was the opening of a new world, and many did make their fortunes in the new land; but it was not always as easy as the pamphlets circulated in the east would make one believe.
George H. Thompson, who settled in Lyman Township, writes in the Ford County Atlas — 1884:

"The years 1857-58-59 were hard times for the new settlers on the Illinois Central lands. Crops were short, and the people all pretty poor. They often received relief from their wives' relatives in the East, but the yearly interest on the lands purchased from the railroad company could not be met, and many fearing they would lose their little homes were troubled. S. K. Marston, the only man who had a respectable suit of clothes to wear to Chicago, was sent to interview the land officials of the company.

"Arrangements were made to get the payments extended, and some seed wheat was forwarded and loaned to those who needed, and by economizing in all things, using peas and rye for coffee, red root for tea, sorghum for sweetening, and then patching up old clothes, they bridged over these bad years."
John R. Lewis set down some of his early recollections:

"The spring of 1857 was noted for the large influx of new settlers, and carpenters who came on to build their houses for them, among the latter I remember Elisha and Nathaniel Sherman, of Onarga, and Mr. Needham. These three had others helping them, and it was with difficulty that they found boarding places. Among the first of the new settlers who came were Messrs. Samuel and Michael Cross. These began putting up a house on the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 4, Township 26, Mr. Needham superintending the work.

"They boarded with John R. Lewis and traveled four miles morning and evening to and from work. Soon after these came, which was in April, it was discovered that a house was being built on the northeast quarter of northeast quarter of Section 20, for a family from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, named McKinney. The next house to be built was for Ira Z. Congdon on the northeast corner of Section 32. Mr. Congdon came from near New London, Connecticut, along with what was known as the "Connecticut settlers," mention of whom will be made hereafter.

"A little to the west of Mr. Congdon, on the same section, Mr. Wallace W. Wicks commenced improving a farm, but did not build on it. Mr. Aaron Schofield built on the west half of the southwest quarter of Section 30, and at the same time Mr. Conrad Volp put up a house on the southeast quarter of Section 10. He came from near Albany, New York, and brought with him his three youngest sons, George, Henry and Christopher, the oldest, Charles, having come out the summer before and taken up his abode with A. J. Bartlett.

"All these settlers were near each other, but a few began to arrive and take up land in the northern townships, which seemed to us at that time quite a long way off. The first of these was Mr. Robert Hall, who came from New York State. He had purchased a large tract of land from the I. C. Railroad Company, and built his house on the southwest corner of Section 28, Township 27, and soon after a young man from near Boston, Massachusetts, put in an appearance, and commenced to build a small house on Section 22. He had no family and "kept bach." His name was Henry Atwood. A little later in the summer, Mr. Joseph Davis, from Ohio, settled on the northwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 6, Township 26. Most of these settlers arrived in time to break up some land and put it into corn."
Mr. Lewis continued:

"I will now go back to the time the Connecticut settlement, of which I have spoken, was organized.

"During the winter of 1855-56, an organization was was affected by a few citizens in and around New London in the State of Connecticut, under the name of the Working Man's Settlement Association with the following named persons as members:

"W. A. Babcock, President; R. A. Hungerford, Secretary; S. K. Marston, Treasurer; M. E. Morgan, E. Marston, B. F. Field, Urbane Havens, Ira Z. Congdon, R. R. Piersons, Rev. P. J. Williams, George B. Clark, J. H. Lester, S. P. Avery, W. H. Bently, Sidney A. Morgan, Theophilus Morgan, B. N. Marston, William Applery, James S. Maxon, C. A. Marston, E. F. Havens, W. S. Larkin, Gil R. LaPlace, D. T. Hutchinson, James Miller, Robert Eccelston, U. S. Bossie, H. C. Dennis, E. C. Morgan, John lsham.

"In September, 1856, the first permanent settlers belonging to the colony arrived. While passing through Chicago, they purchased 100,000 feet of lumber for building purposes, and had it shipped to Onarga, to which place they all were bound.

"In April and May, 1857, all these settlers moved onto their lands in the Pan Handle, and began making improvements.

"Some time in June, it was suggested by E. F. Havens that we all take baskets on the Fourth of July, go to School Section Grove, have a good time, and properly celebrate the birthday of our national liberty. All were pleased with the idea, and each one did his best to make it a success.

"The eventful day at last arrived, and we all assembled at the grove. When the baskets were opened, Mrs. M. F. Chenney created quite a sensation by producing an immense pan of pork and beans. Others brought roast turkey, chickens, frosted cakes and other delicacies, but all these fine dishes were given the cold shoulder, each one longing for a dish of the dear old familiar, homely, baked beans.

"There were 110 persons present, men, women and children, and everyone seemed surprised that there were so many people near them, and rejoiced in the feeling that they were not alone in the boundless wilderness."

And boundless it must have seemed to the pioneer. He set his course by such things as a grassy knoll, a lone tree growing on the prairie, or a grove of trees if he was lucky to have such a landmark on his course of travel. No wonder travel of the early settlers pretty much followed the paths made much earlier by the buffalo herds and other wild animals, holding for the most part to the highest ground.

The wetness and impassability of the land in this area in the 1850's is reflected in accounts of how settlers to the south of us followed a route
from Danville to Paxton, to Oliver's Grove south of Chatsworth, to Pontiac, to Ottawa, and finally, to Chicago. This circuitous route was used partly from consideration of the rivers and terrain, and also because of the accessibility or lack of it, of accommodations along the way. Sometimes just the building of a home would change the route.
In 1853, a group of men decided to drive some 300 head of cattle from Ten Mile Grove in Patton Township to market in Chicago. They decided not to go the old trail by way of Ottawa and took the more direct route by way of Kankakee. Arriving at the Kankakee River, they undertook to ford it. A mile up the river was a bridge, but the owners of the cattle, in order to save the toll, had directed the young men to avoid crossing at the bridge. The cattle plunged into the river and soon the entire drove was swimming in a circle in the middle of the river. In a short time they would certainly have drowned, but dashing in on horseback, the men separated a large ox from the drove, and swimming their horses, they directed this leader of the herd across the river. Looking back, they discovered the rest swimming after them, and soon the entire lot were grazing on the north bank of the river.

Arriving in the city of Chicago, they found they had overstocked the market by such a large drove, and were obliged to bring 100 head back again.
There are many indications in early writings that the prairie was both friend and foe to the early settlers. This description of the prairie is given in "Illinois 1837":

"The grass which covers the prairies in great abundance is tall, and coarse in appearance. In the early stages of its growth, it resembles young wheat; and in this state furnishes succulent and rich food for cattle. Cattle and horses, that have lived unsheltered and without fodder through the winter and in the spring, scarcely able to mount a hillock through leanness and weakness, when feeding on this grass, are transformed to a healthy and sleek appearance, as if by a charm.

"From May to October, the prairies are covered with tall grass and flower-producing weeds. In June and July, they seem like an ocean of flowers of various hues waving to the breezes which sweep over them. The numerous tall flowering shrubs and vegetables which grow luxuriantly over these plains, present a striking and delightful appearance."

Badgers and wolves were among the unwelcome wild animals that abounded in the swamps and they seemed especially thick around what is now called Sand Ridge, but was referred to then as Mount Thunder.

Miss Nora O'Mara can recall her family tell of the wolves coming right up to the houses and sometimes at night they would look in the windows at the candle-lit room. Her grandfather, Peter Gallahue, arrived here in March, 1869.

Another hazard that beset the early settlers were the prairie rattlers that infested the swamps until cultivation drove them out. The men killed them with shovels, hoes, pitchforks or anything that came to hand. The men wore high boots for protection and they often wrapped the legs of their horses to protect them from this danger.

On the other hand, wild game and wild fowl for the table were always in abundance, right at the doorstop. Prairie chicken, quail, wild geese and ducks were so plentiful that hunters came from as far away as Chicago for the sport of hunting here.

In the early days deer roamed the area, but according to John R. Lewis' History of the Pan Handle, a great prairie fire occurred in September, 1856, and burned for months. This fire swept from the Illinois Central tracks west to Indian timber and north to the Kankakee River. He credits this fire with causing ponds and basins where there were none before, and reported the deer were never so plentiful after that.
From the beginning, our pioneer ancestors seemed to feel a deep need to establish churches and to gather together for prayer meetings and to seek the comfort and divine guidance of God.

Even before any of the churches were organized, the Protestant settlers met together in the homes for "Bible discussion."

Sunday school in the northern township was held at the homes of Archibald McKinney, Robert Hall and others. Mr. Hall was superintendent and Mr. McKinney taught the Bible class. He was considered the spiritual leader and was like a pastor to many.

As a rule Sunday was strictly observed by the entire settlement and it was a rare thing to see anyone doing any work on that day according to the 1884 Atlas.

The United Presbyterian Church was organized on May 14, 1867 with a membership of 32. William Thompson, who came here from Monmouth in 1863, was considered the pioneer of the United Presbyterian Church. R. N. Thompson and James W. Holmes were the first elders. This little church thrived for many years but disbanded in 1922.

This church is not to be confused with the present United Presbyterian Church which when organized in 1862 was the Brenton Presbyterian Church and later became the First Presbyterian Church of Piper City. In 1958, upon the national merger of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. with the United Presbyterian Church, the Piper City church became the First United Presbyterian Church of Piper City.

Organized September 19, 1862, it is the oldest Piper City church still in existence. The first ruling elders were Archibald McKinney, Robert Hall and M. H. Hall. John McKinney and Henry Atwood were made deacons at the first meeting.
Elizabeth Pope Brown at the time of the dedication of the new kitchen and dining room of the Presbyterian Church in 1908, wrote of some of her early recollections:

"The new kitchen and dining room should be considered living monuments to the struggles and sacrifices of the early pioneers; our dear fathers and mothers whose prayers were heard, and who formed that small body gathered in a prayer meeting in dear old Father McKinney's home. This large family with ours (Pope's) would fill our small rooms. I cannot remember the date of that first gathering in prayer, neither does it matter — early in '58 — perhaps in '57 — or it might have been earlier.

I well know we had been on the prairie long enough to be very hungry for someone to propound the gospel truths. The few who gathered were very willing to listen to Father McKinney in his wholehearted, good spirited way, lay out the way of salvation, and to me it was the first awakening of a bright and beautiful life."

Perhaps her letter speaks for the Christians of all faiths who served God and each other as best they could in a strange and new environment.

In 1904 the Second Presbyterian Church of South Brenton was organized with 32 members. It was located six miles southwest of Piper City. The first elders were Jacob Ehresman, Frank Stadler and Elmer Huttenburg. It was dissolved in 1925.

Rev. W. C. Neely was the first pastor of the Presbyterian Church and began his duties here May 1, 1868 and served for 20 years. Under his pastorate in 1873, the first church was erected with a mortgage of $625. This church was remodeled and a kitchen and dining room added in 1908. On January 22, 1913, it burned to the ground with very little saved other than a piano, organ and a few chairs.

On April 19, 1914, just a little over a year later, the fine brick church standing today, was dedicated. This church had a fine pipe organ, stained glass windows, a belfry and a bell, several Sunday School rooms as well as a kitchen and dining room.

Although the mortgage on the first church was only paid off with money from the fire insurance, the disaster of the fire so challenged and united this congregation that when the new church was built it was mortgage free. The Ladies Aid pledged $3,000 to be paid in two years and raised $2,000 the first year.

Mission work has been an important part of the Presbyterian church's outreach and under the pastorate of Rev. Samuel Johnson, the church gave as much to missions as to its own budget. It was under Rev. W. Z. Allen that the Presbyterians began the support of Miss Lena Fay Froese, who served as a missionary in India, arriving there the day before Christmas, 1920. She was there until her retirement from the mission field in 1958. At first the Piper City church furnished her whole support, but during the depression years of the 1930's a church in Pasadena, California, helped with her support.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in October 1867 and among the first members were Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, Mr. and Mrs. D. E. Middleton, Dr. and Mrs. Burchard and Mr. and Mrs. George Spera.

The Piper City Circuit at this time embraced Piper City; Mount Zion School, seven miles southwest; Mount Thunder School, seven miles northeast. Mount Thunder soon became known as Sand Ridge.

In 1874 the school house in Piper City was purchased and moved to the site of the present United Methodist Church. Up until this time they had been worshiping in Clark's Hall, paying an annual rent of $50. Clark's Hall was apparently used by all denominations in the early days before any of the churches were built.

During the pastorate of Rev. E. B. Bogges, in the year 1881, the old school house they had been using for a church was sold for $150 and plans ,were made to build a new church. Nicholas Sherman, Ira Hand, L. B. Kiblinger and William White were apointed to make the plans. They, with other elders of the church, proceeded to the bank and borrowed $1,200, the necessary amount to begin operations, and secured it with their note. The total cost of the new church was $2,582.66 and it was dedicated November 6, 1881.

Sand Ridge Chapel was always closely affiliated with the Piper City Methodist Church and they shared pastors for many years. The church at Ridge Chapel was built at a cost of $1,500 during the pastorate of Rev. A. M. Lumpkin who was here from 1890 to 1892.

"Sand Ridge Day" was a tradition for many years and the Piper City Journal carries this account of the 4th annual event held July 25, 1901, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Weakman:

"The lot and barn yard were filled with teams and buggies while hitching room was at a premium. The lawn was decorated with torches and Chinese lanterns. Opperman's Piper Band discoursed its sweetest strains. The program included a violin solo by Miss Estella Woodruff, songs by Jennie and Lottie Thompson and Leota DeMoure, a duet by Misses Edna Read and Mable Hill, and a reading by Ethel Read."

On June 6, 1954, the last service was held in the Ridge Chapel Church, after serving the community for over 60 years. The land on which this church stood was given by Arby Read. The first trustees of the church were John Weakman, Sr., Thomas Read, Arby Read and Henry Pettys. The first stewards were John McKinney, Charles Read, Henry Pettys and William DeMoure.

The first wedding to be solemnized in the church was that of Hill Dickey and Addie Pettys. Within a year Mr. Dickey died and his was the first funeral.
In 1941 under the pastorate of Rev. C. P. Bruner the first plans for remodeling the Piper City Methodist Church were made. In 1944 the building fund was reactivated under the pastorate of Rev. Merwyn L. Johnson. Clifford Orr was elected to go ahead with plans for remodeling after $7,659.50 was pledged.

By October 1948, $23,722 was raised, and the resulting building contained three times as much floor space as before with additional Sunday School rooms, a modern kitchen and rest rooms. The remodeled church was dedicated February 20, 1949.

Through the merger in 1940 of several branches of the Methodist church and the union of the Evangical United Brethren and Methodist Churches in 1968, the present United Methodist Church came into being.
John Sauerbier made this observation at the time of the celebration of the 75th anniversary of St. Peter's Catholic Church in November, 1962:

"If we are celebrating a 75th anniversary this month it isn't because the Faith in this area is that young, nor that the church building is that old. It was in November 1887 that the Most Reverend John Lancaster Spaulding, D.D., first Bishop of Peoria raised Piper City to the rank and dignity of a parish under the patronage of St. Peter. He appointed Reverend D. L. Crowe as our first pastor, and gave us St. John's in Cullom as a mission of Piper City."

Father Fanning of Chenoa was the nearest in the earliest days to serve families in this area. A few years later Sts. Peter and Paul's parish of Chatsworth came into existence and its pastors, in effect, served Piper City's Catholic families.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was first offered up on the second floor of what is now the City Grocery, or Clark's Hall as it was called then.

In 1880 Matthew Soran went to Chicago and purchased the site for the Catholic Church from Samuel Cross. Because he was anxious to have his family worship closer to home, he made a gift of the site to the church. He also purchased the lumber for the church building in Chicago and secured it by his own note until such time as the church could pay it off.

The first Catholic Church, a wooden structure 66 by 32 feet, was built in 1881.

The story is told that the one who was the largest subscriber to the church fund would have the privilege of naming the church and that Peter Gallahue earned this privilege. It is not surprising that the new church was named, "St. Peter's."

Many others gave generously and on July 4, 1881, the women of the church gave a dinner for the benefit of the new building which netted $240. In September of the same year they held a fair in Clark's Hall which netted $1,300.

By about 1915 the old wooden church was being outgrown by the growing parish and it was moved back off the site where parishioners continued to worship while a new brick church was being built. This church which still stands today was dedicated Tuesday, July 10, 1917. Rev. M. O'Conner was the pastor from 1916 to 1918.

After services were being held in the new church the old church was used for a time for basketball games and community activities.

St. Peter's parish had the honor of having their pastor, Rev. Aloysius Selva, raised to the rank of Monsignor while serving here. This very impressive ceremony occurred November 4, 1931, after the Right Rev. Selva had served 13 of his 14 years in Piper City. His was the longest tenure of any priest in Piper City.

Three young people from St. Peter's parish have gone into full time service to their church. They are Rev. Louis Dougherty, son of Mr. and Mrs. John B. Dougherty; Sister Elizabeth Ann of the Franciscan Sisters, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Miller, and Sister Sharon Rose, Our Lady of Victory missionary, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. L. E. Eshleman.
Both Brenton and Pella Townships, orginally were a part of Stockton, and from 1861, when Brenton was organized, up to 1870, Pella was a part of Brenton.

With its organization as a Township, Pella became the youngest of the townships in Ford County.

The 1884 Atlas says that Pella was unfavorably located for early settlements, on account of its being mostly a low, level prairie, and exceedingly wet except in the driest times of the year. The Vermillion swamps extend across the northern part of the township, the South Fork of the North Vermilion River, a slow, sluggish stream, flows across the center, and various marshes and sloughs are scattered over the township, and much of the land was long regarded as irreclaimable. But of late years many Irish families have moved in and bought the wet lands, and at once began the work of ditching and tile draining, and such other changes made as warrants the belief that Pella will soon rank as one of the best townships in the county.

The first settler of this township was Robert Hall, who bought land in Section 16 and 28; he came in 1857. The next settler was Henry Atwood, who settled on the southwest quarter of Section 22. Henry Mitchison came the same year and settled on the northwest quarter of Section 22.

The first marriage in Pella was that of Henry Atwood and Mary Wylie. She came by train from Vermont to Onarga where he met her and they were married by W. P. Pearsons in Onarga, November 16, 1859.
A part of Piper City was referred to as the slough and some of the streets were flooded almost every spring until the storm sewer was laid in 1960.

Piper City was so wet in the early days that part of it was referred to as "the slough" and many people expected to have their homes flooded every spring.

The water followed a course entering town at the southwest edge back of Mrs. Emory Harford's following an easterly course past the Standard Service Station and the Presbyterian Church and out of town at the northeast edge. This was the site where the old slaughter house used to be in the days when meat was practically all home butchered and sold direct by the butcher and his wife to their customers.

A storm sewer of 30 inch pipe was laid in 1960 and this has completely prevented the usual flooding that took place periodically before. In retrospect it is hard to understand why it wasn't done sooner.

One of the earliest tasks of the farmers was to drain the soil so that it could be farmed at all. At first small ditches were dug with teams of horses and slip scrapers and as soon as a ditch was made, tiling was begun. Many, many hours of arduous work went into the drainage of land in this area. As more and more tile drained more and more of the land, it became necessary to make the ditches bigger so that they could carry off this excess water.

In 1900 the Vermilion special drainage district had ditches cleaned and built and repaired bridges. For this they paid $3.00 per day for man and team, $1.50 and $2 for a man alone. Commissioners were L. T. Bishop, J. W. F. De Moure and William Dancey.

This way of clearing ditches and improving the drainage of the fertile soil looked rather old-fashioned after the advent of the W. F. Sternberg Company, drainage contractors in 1917.

Promoted as "big brother to agricultural interests," Mr. Sternberg's modern equipment and methods did indeed extend the productivity of the land and bring in a new era of farm prosperity.

By 1929, the company had grown to the place where it was recognized as the largest and most dependable drainage contracting concern in central Illinois. In its first year it had excavated 22 miles of main line open drainage ditch and in 1928 it completed 71 miles of major drainage canals, together with a large amount of smaller ditch work. By 1929 the company owned six gasoline driven dredging and ditching machines as well as other necessary equipment to complete the most exacting job in a satisfactory manner. Each operating unit was complete within itself, including camp wagons, cook houses and the usual miscellaneous equipment, that permits a complete self-sustained operation on the job, and to and from the job.

Mr. Sternberg's first wife went with him on many of these big projects throughout the central states and did the cooking for the crews of men who worked the big earth moving equipment. They built up a sizeable fortune and Mr. Sternberg was well known as a capable businessman. He was president of the State Bank for many years and was a trustee of the village board.
In 1926, he built the modern Standard Service Station which he sold two years later to George Kemnetz who still operates it today.

This was the first station to be built in Piper City for the express purpose of selling gasoline and servicing cars. The station had three "positive measure" pumps. The hydraulic lift made it quicker and more efficient to change the crank case oil and lubricate the ever growing number of cars.

By this time it was obvious the car was here to stay. It had been over 20 years since George D. Montelius had gone to Chicago and purchased a Studebaker touring car, the very first one to be owned and driven by a Piper Cityan. Bringing the car from Chicago took three days. A mechanic accompanied Mr. Montelius home with the vehicle, and also some cousins from a suburb of Chicago made the memorable trip. Having learned of the imminent arrival of this new wonder of the times, a large delegation of Piper Cityans congregated at the north end of town awaiting the arrival of Mr. Montelius and his "new buggy".

Fred Kewley was the second man to be bitten by the bug and soon the craze for motoring was catching on and it was more necessary than ever to get on with the drainage of the land and to build better roads.

Many years passed before all travel could be motorized.

The early rural mail carriers, C. B. Switzer, Adolph Liebe, Ollie Johnston and others, used a car when the weather was dry, but when it rained, they hitched up a buggy, or if it was really bad, just saddled up a good old dependable horse with which to make their appointed rounds.
Some of the primary roads were oiled periodically and even though housewives hated the splatters that showed up on children's clothes and elsewhere, they didn't complain too much because it meant the only passport into town or further, and it was generally looked upon as a necessary evil of the times. Later roads were treated with gravel or blacktopped.

Len Small's term as governor of the state of Illinois is remembered for the hard roads that were built. U.S. 24, that runs a quarter of a mile south of Piper City, was built in 1924. The decision to put the new hard road there did not meet with approval of all the people by any means.

It had been expected that the new road would follow the old Corn Belt Route along the north edge of town. The Corn Belt Route was a graded road extending from Sheldon to Burlington, Iowa, and was colorfully marked with a full sized ear of corn with green husks painted on the telephone poles. Piper City was then known as the "Corn Center of the State."

This title was not a misnomer, as Piper City in the 1920's, was one of the three largest primary grain raising sections in the state. The Farmers' Grain Company in 1928 did a daily business of $835. It was shipping 400,000 bushels of grain annually.

The same year the B. W. Cunnington Grain Company shipped 500,000 bushels of grain and both were thriving, prosperous businesses.
But to get back to the matter of where the hard road was going to go, the citizenry of Piper City was encouraged, when in 1922, the state sent its surveyors to survey the Corn Belt Route and it was reported in the Piper City Journal that it appeared to be the intention of the state to stay on the north side of the T. P. & W.

However, when the townspeople learned that U.S. 24 was going to bypass Piper City and go a quarter of a mile south of town, the businessmen were "up in arms" and W. F. Sternberg led a contingent of 75 to Kankakee where they pleaded their case to Governor Small, himself. It proved to no avail and plans proceeded as they were set. A few years later Illinois 115 did, indeed pass through the village running in a north and south direction. This road never carried the amount of traffic that passed over U.S. 24.

Extracted 12 Oct 2016 by Norma Hass

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