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Thursday, December 29, 2016

James T. Bacon (1830 - 1895)

In the early winter of 1834, citizens of the village Hannibal, New York were stirring about the prospect of moving west.

James Bacon, who was just a toddler, did not understand the great fuss of the "western enthusiasts" who included his uncle Hudson Bacon.

By February 1835, a small group of men, including Hudson Bacon, and led by John Bullen, Jr., formed an investment companythe Western Emigration Company. The goal was to establish a "colony" in which its members would aid one another and "mutually share profits and losses in the enterprise."

This was the start of James Bacon's noteworthy and tragic life.

The settlers sent a small group ahead to explore sites. In June 1835, a claim was made on the north side of Pike Creek in today's Kenosha, Wisconsin.

About fifteen families from Hannibal and Troy, New York arrived in the new settlement via the Erie Canal and Great Lakes. Among the settlers was five-year old James Bacon and his father, Peter Bacon, mother Clarinda Trowbridge Bacon, and sister Jane.

The Bacon family were one of the first settlers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. They witnessed the great surge of emigration to Kenosha and Lake Counties in the 1830s and 1840s. Ships arrived daily with passengers both American and foreign born. Like the vast majority of settlers, the Bacon family took up farming.

In late 1850, twenty-year old James Bacon purchased property in Lake County, Illinois, striking out on his own as a farmer.

Isaac Winter and Samuel Miller at the site of their 1830s mill pond, Newport Township Section 33.
This mill site was down the road from James Bacon's homestead.
(Browe School History, Lake County Discovery Museum)

Soon after settling in Lake County, James became acquainted with Frances "Fanny" Hinkston, the sister of prominent Lake County citizen, Lorenzo Hinkston. (read previous post on Fanny Hinkston).

James and Fanny wed on May 10, 1855.

In April 1856, James purchased 80 acres from Tryphena Bingham north of Yorkhouse Road and west of Delany Road in Newport Township (part of today's Waukegan Savanna Forest Preserve). Newlyweds, James and Fanny, settled there. In October, James purchased 19 acres in Warren Township from DeWitt Spaulding.

1861 map showing James T. Bacon's property (highlighted left of center) where he and Fanny lived.
Allen Spalding's property (below right) is where Fanny Hinkston lived with her sister's family 
before marrying Bacon. York House School where Fanny taught is also highlighted.
(1861 Lake County plat map)

The first tragedy in James's life occurred on April 15, 1858, when Fanny died. She was only twenty-seven. Her ornate tombstone at Union Cemetery is a living witness to James's grief. After his wife's untimely death, James continued to farm the Newport Township property, but also spent time with his family in Kenosha.

By the fall of 1863, James had re-married. He and his new wife, Maria C., made their home in the same house he had shared with Fanny.

The Civil War was raging, but James did not enlist until January 14, 1864. Nathaniel Vose of Newport Township recruited him into Company I of the 17th Illinois Cavalry.

While he was away at war, James's mother died, and his health began to decline. On May 31, 1865, he mustered out of military service due to illness.

There was one bright spot the summer he returned homehis wife gave birth to a baby boy, Elliott Parker Bacon, born July 8.

James's happiness again was interrupted when his wife Maria died on January 16, 1872. She was buried at the Spaulding Corner Cemetery (today's Union Cemetery), on Grand Avenue in Waukegan.

Grave marker for Maria C. Bacon (1833-1872), second wife of James T. Bacon. 
Union Cemetery, Waukegan, Illinois.

Following Maria's death, James made his way to Indiana where his father was living. There he met the widow, Mary Pugh Freligh (1839 - 1917).

James married Mary in 1875, and the couple returned to Lake County with James's son Elliott, and Mary's children, Hattie and Charles. The family settled in Wadsworth, and a son, Joseph Blaine Bacon, was born on August 28, 1877.

Five years later, James and Maria sold their property and moved the family to Thayer County, Nebraska. James continued in farming, but appeared to suffer greatly from "paralysis contracted" since his military service.

The last ten years of James's life were difficult as he struggled with poor health.

In 1886, James was considered an "invalid" (probably due to the paralysis) and admitted to the Western Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Soldiers' homes were established to care for the great number of Civil War veterans, who had returned from the war missing an arm or leg, or suffering from wounds that would not heal, or post traumatic stress disorder (which was entirely misunderstood). These homes were a great relief to families who could no longer care for their veteran.

In 1888, James was transferred to the Northwestern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (now the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center). It is unclear how long James remained at this facility.

Historic buildings of the former Northwestern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Soldiers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where James T. Bacon lived. (Photo by James Rosenthal from the website)

James Bacon's deteriorating health became public knowledge when on May 31, 1895, the Lake County Clerk issued a "command" to the County Sheriff George H. Brown to "summon James T. Bacon if he shall be found in your County," to appear before the court.

Mary Bacon filed an application for the appointment of a conservator for the care and management of her husband's real and personal property.
Notice regarding James T. Bacon published in the Waukegan Gazette, June 1, 1895. 

James Bacon appeared in court in Waukegan on June 15, 1895. His attorney made the following statement: "James T. Bacon... is of sound mind and fully able, fit and competent to properly manage and control his properties."

The court determined that Bacon was a "distracted person." This terminology was commonly used to describe mental illness. Charles A. Partridge was appointed as Bacon's principal conservator. Partridge was also a Civil War veteran, having served with the 96th Illinois.

James returned to the soldier's home in Milwaukee where he died on December 22, 1895. The cause of death was meningoencephalitis, a condition caused by a virus, bacteria or parasite.

Entry for James T. Bacon in U.S. Burial Register Military Posts and National Cemeteries.

James Bacon was buried at the Spaulding Corner Cemetery with his first two wives, Fanny and Maria.

Mary J. Bacon died in Waukegan in 1917 and was buried in Indiana.

James T. Bacon's gravemarker at Union Cemetery, Waukegan, Illinois with recognition
of his service in the 17th Illinois Cavalry.

Special thanks to Ann Darrow, Waukegan Historical Society, for her Bacon Family genealogy, and Al Westerman for land purchase research. 

Lake County Recorder of Deeds, Waukegan, Illinois.
Newport Township Browe School History, 1918. Lake County Discovery Museum.
Waukegan Township York House School History, 1918. Lake County Discovery Museum.
1861 Lake County plat map, L. Gast Bro. & Co. Lith., St. Louis, Missouri.
The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin, Western Historical Company, 1879.
Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War, Brian Matthew Jordan, 2015.
Lake County Court Probate records, James T. Bacon, 1895.
"James T. Bacon" U.S. Burial Register Military Posts and National Cemeteries, 1862 - 1960, 
Veterans Affairs National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers:
"Union Cemetery"

Thursday, August 11, 2016

One-Room School Teacher, Fanny Hinkston

A picture is worth a thousand words.

In the case of Frances "Fanny" Hinkston, her photo was my starting point for uncovering a forgotten life.
Fanny Hinkston Bacon (1831 - 1858)
Photo circa 1855. Collections of Lake County Discovery Museum

It was difficult to research Fanny due in part to her short life, and that women's lives tended not to include activities that made it into the public record, since they were not allowed to vote or hold office. If not for this photoso carefully placed by students in the York House School history (written in 1918) and preserved in the museum's collectionswe may never have known of Fanny's existence.

Fanny Hinkston was born in New York in 1831. The date of her arrival in Lake County is unknown, but her relations were here as early as 1836. One of the county's most distinguished settlersLorenzo Hinkston (1819-1905)was most likely Fanny's brother. Lorenzo settled in Waukegan Township in 1836 in the company of Leonard Spaulding.

According to the York House School history, Miss Fanny was its teacher in 1849. This would have been during the spring/summer school term. It was generally believed that female teachers could not handle large farm boys, so they taught during the spring/summer term when boys were needed most on the farm and did not attend school.

The one-room York House schoolhouse was located in Waukegan Township on the southeast corner of today's Greenbay Road and Yorkhouse Road (near Bairstow Avenue).

York House School as it looked in 1855. (LCDM Collection)
The plain rectangular building with no embellishments was typical of Midwestern one-room schoolhouses.
The school was first built in the early 1840s as a log cabin. This frame structure may have been 
built by the time Fanny Hinkston taught there in 1849.

In October 1850, Fanny was residing a couple of miles south of the schoolhouse with Hannah Hinkston Spaulding (Spalding) and her children. Hannah was the wife of Allen Spaulding and sister of Lorenzo Hinkston. Although no online family histories connect Frances "Fanny" Hinkston to Hannah and Lorenzo, it is believed they were siblings.

Among Fanny's pupils were Hannah's daughter, Mary (1842 - 1910), and their neighbor (and relative) Emily Hinkston (1844-1931), daughter of Eber Hinkston, Jr.
Emily Hinkston Moulton started attending the York House School 
when she was five years old in 1849. She is pictured here about 1865.
(LCDM Collection)

Fanny's other pupils included: Thomas, Jerry and Oliver Brown; John, Charles and Elisa Miller; Minerva Buell, Mary Emmons, Augusta Phillips, Lily Putnam, and Mary White.

According to historian, Wayne E. Fuller, in the one-room schools, it was said that "no school, no matter how well equipped, was better than its teacher." The teacher was a one-person show, setting a good moral example for the students, in addition to teaching Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, and taking on janitorial and administrative duties.

During her time as a teacher, Fanny met farmer James Bacon. The Bacon family had moved from New York to Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin (just over the stateline).

On May 10, 1855, Fanny Hinkston married James T. Bacon, the son of Peter and Clarinda Bacon.

Three years later, in April 1858, Fanny died. There is no record of the cause of death, but she may have died in childbirth. Fanny's obituary stated that she was the sister of "L. Hinkston." This is more than likely Lorenzo Hinkston.
Tombstone of "Fanny wife of James T. Bacon" at Union Cemetery, Waukegan. 
(Photo by Pence on

At just twenty-seven years old, Fanny's hopes and dreams for a life with James had come to an end. Her family's grief is reflected in the symbolism on her tombstone: a weeping willow tree for their sadness, and a tree stump for her life cut short.

The story of James T. Bacon's life after the loss of Fanny will be discussed in a future post.

~ ~ ~


  • Waukegan Township York House School History, 1918. Lake County Discovery Museum. 
  • One-Room Schools of the Middle West: an Illustrated History by Wayne E. Fuller. University Press of Kansas, 1994.
  • 1850 U.S. Census. 
  • Illinois, Marriage Index. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Mother Rudd's Temperance Tavern

The historic Mother Rudd House stands on the corner of Old Grand Avenue and Kilbourne Road in Gurnee. The building is a testament to Lake County's settlement period and the county's role in the national Temperance Movement.

Mother Rudd House, Gurnee, Illinois. Built in 1843.
Photo courtesy of Warren Township Historical Society. 
Wealthy Buell Harvey Rudd (1793 - 1880), endearingly known as "Mother Rudd," was Lake County's first woman innkeeper, a temperance supporter, and one of the county's best known citizens. She founded the O'Plain House (today's Mother Rudd House), as a temperance tavern in 1843.

Temperance taverns developed in the 19th century out of the Temperance Movement, which initially railed against hard liquor, but soon advocated abstinence from all alcohol.

This social movement was mostly made up of women, who saw the ills of menfolk drinking whiskey, rum and hard cider at all hours of the day. Drinking hard liquor was culturally accepted and widespread, but by the late 1830s, temperance taverns were established as an alternative to public bars where alcohol was served.

The Temperance Movement, which had its start in New England in the early 1800s, was transplanted to the Midwest by settlers. Among those newly settled Lake Countians were Wealthy and Jonathan Harvey.

Wealthy and Jonathan had married in 1813 in the prosperous whaling port of New London, Connecticut. They lived in Litchfield, Herkimer County, New York, and later in Summit County, Ohio before coming to O'Plain (now Gurnee) with their 10 surviving children, aged 6 to 29.

It is generally believed that Jonathan and Wealthy Harvey arrived in O'Plain around 1842, following Wealthy's brothers, Horatio and Abel Buell.

The settlement of O'Plain was appealing due to its location at the intersection of the Milwaukee Road, and the Fox Lake and Little Fort Road (now Grand Avenue). Innkeepers, grocers, and blacksmiths converged at this point to provide services to travelers and the influx of settlers.

Milwaukee Road and Grand Avenue intersecting at the iron bridge
over the Des Plaines River, circa 1900. Mother Rudd House in distance.
In 1843, the Harveys purchased 77 acres from Isaiah Marsh at today's Kilbourne Road and Old Grand Avenue. (Kilbourne Road had originally been part of the Milwaukee Road). Along with having acreage to farm, the property included a settlement house built by the New York Land Company, which provided temporary housing to settlers.

Shortly after their arrival, Wealthy and Jonathan set about building a new home for their family with accommodations for travelers, across the road from the settlement house. It is probable that part of the original settlement house was used in the new structure.

When planning the new frame structure, a carpenter offered to build it for free if the couple paid for the doors at a rate of $1 for the first door, $2 for the second door, $4 for the third door, and so on. Initially, the Harveys thought this was a good deal until a friend calculated that the last door (there would be 22) would cost them $2,097,152!

O'Plain was not a dry community, and Wealthy took a stand against her alcohol-serving tavern neighbors, by opening her temperance tavernthe O'Plain House. A nearby public bar with one of the worst reputations was Barney Hick's "California Exchange." Hick's place was so raucous that the one-room school situated across the street had to be re-located because "people resented having their children forced to see the drunken men who frequented the tavern."

"Woman's Holy War" an allegorical political cartoon representing the Temperance Movement.The Saint Joan of Arc-styled leader is part of a group of "holy women" destroying barrels of alcohol. (Published by Currier & Ives, New York, 1874. Library of Congress online)
Sadly, on January 22, 1845, Jonathan Harvey passed away. He was 55 years old. After her husband's death, Wealthy dressed in black as was the custom, and after two years of mourning, she could've added a touch of color. 

On November 14, 1856, Wealthy married Erastus Rudd. Rudd farmed the land while Wealthy ran the Temperance tavern, which became known as "Mother Rudd's."

From the start, Mother Rudd's O'Plain Tavern was a place for the community to come together, and was used as a Town Hall for local elections and meetings. At Christmas, Wealthy offered customers elaborate dinners that included oysters and pastries, and entertainment such as sleighing parties.

Intersection of the old Milwaukee Road/today's Kilbourne Road (left) 
and Grand Avenue, showing Mother Rudd House at right. Circa 1910.
Courtesy of Warren Township Historical Society.
During the Civil War, the Rudd's were strong Union supporters. Local legend states that the Rudd's barn, and possibly the tavern's basement, were used to hide runaway slaves.

In June 1870, Erastus Rudd died of dropsy (edema). After her second husband's death, Wealthy dressed in black for the rest of her life, adding a white lace cap on her head after an appropriate length of mourning.

Now in her late seventies, Wealthy discontinued operating her home as a tavern. She lived there until her own death on August 8, 1880.

Wealthy's daughter, Nancy Harvey Mutaw, re-opened the house as an inn, continuing her mother's legacy. According to the Warren Township Historical Society, Nancy operated the inn until about 1894. She died in 1915.

Nancy Harvey Mutaw (1830 - 1915),
daughter of "Mother Rudd," circa 1890. online
After Nancy's death, the property was sold to the McCann family, who for a time, had a candy store on the front porch.

After a series of owners, in 1984, the Village of Gurnee purchased the historic building and three acres. An agreement was made to partner with the Warren Township Historical Society in the restoration and operation of the house. For over 30 years, the Society has exhibited its historical collections and given tours and programs at the Mother Rudd House, while the Village continues to maintain the building and grounds.

For more information on touring the Mother Rudd House contact the Warren Township Historical Society

~ ~ ~


A History of Lake County, Illinois, John J. Halsey, 1912.
A History of Warren Township, Edward S. Lawson, 1974.
Warren Township Historical Society, Gurnee, Illinois.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Historic Minto Home, 1857 - 2016

Nearly everyday I drive past the Minto homestead on Deep Lake Road in Antioch Township. I have spent years researching and acquainting myself with this historic family of Scottish immigrants through the letters, diaries and objects preserved by the Lake County Discovery Museum.

The Minto home on Deep Lake Road with original 1857 house (center two-story structure) 
and additions. (LCDM 93.45.44).

The Minto family were some of the earliest Scottish settlers to Lake County, Illinois.

In the spring of 1840, David Minto, Jane Johnstone Minto, their sons William, John and Robert, and Jane's sister Margaret Johnstone, left Scotland for the United States. They sailed out of Liverpool, England on the ship Fairfield, arriving in New York on May 16th

David Minto and family, including Margaret Johnstone, on Fairfield's manifest.
Note the signature of the ship's master William L. Lyons at bottom right.
( New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, "David Minto," [database on-line])

The family lived for three years in a Quaker settlement in Canandaigua, New York, where son, David J. Minto was born in 1841. That same year, cousin George White of Annan, Scotland joined them, and in September married Margaret.

In the spring of 1843, the Mintos headed west. (George and Margaret would remain in New York an additional year). The Mintos traveled via the Great Lakes, landing at Southport (now Kenosha), and continuing to Lake County, Illinois by ox cart. There, David Minto purchased land east of Loon Lake along today's Deep Lake Road in Antioch Township.

The land was heavily forested, affording David plenty of timber to build a log house and barn. These structures were built on the west side of Deep Lake Road, north of Grass Lake Road. David and Jane's daughter, Jannet, was born in this log house in 1844.

Jane Johnstone Minto with her children, Robert, William, Jannet and David, 
circa 1855 (LCDM 93.45.75).

On March 31, 1844, cousin Andrew White (also living near Loon Lake) wrote to his brother George White (still in New York), and mentioned "David Minto has been rather poorly, but is better again."

David's health did not improve, and just six years after settling in Lake County, David Minto died on March 17, 1849, aged 45. He left a widow and five children (the oldest being twelve).

With her sister and cousins living nearby, Jane was supported in this tragic loss.

Deed for 40 acres purchased by Jane Minto, September 1, 1849. (LCDM 93.45.113).

By 1857, Jane Minto built her family a new home a short distance from the original log house, which they then used as a granary.

Floor plan of the Minto home showing the original house outlined in red and its additions. 
By Katherine V. Minto, 1964. (LCDM 93.45). 

In 1869, Jane's son, Civil War veteran David J. Minto, married Susannah Dale Smith from neighboring Millburn. The newlyweds settled into the home with Jane. 

David Minto and Susie Smith were married on May 20, 1869, 
and lived in the Minto home. (LCDM 93.45.52 and Private Collection). 

The first addition was made for the newlyweds by taking part of another home from the neighborhood and adding it to the north side of the house (Dining room, Bedroom, Kitchen and Back Room as shown on floor plan).

In 1905, when David and Susie's son, David Harold Minto (known as Harold) married Mildred Holloway, a bedroom was added on the south side of the house.

Eventually, Harold and Mildred lived in the north half of the house, while David and Susie, their daughter Una Jean, and Hannah Smith (Susie's sister) lived in the south portion of the home.

David J. and son were partners in the family farm. They raised sheep, purebred Shorthorn cattle and Clydesdale horses. 

Susie Smith Minto's garden at the southeast corner of the house, circa 1905. (LCDM 93.45.77)

Minto family pictured at their home in 1898. Seated: Susie and David, 
standing Harold and Una Jean and kittens. (LCDM 93.45.91).

Susie Minto died in 1914 and David in 1915. In 1920, Una Jean left to become a missionary in Angola, West Africa. 

David Harold and his daughter Ruth, were the last Mintos to live in the home. Harold died in 1963, and the old home was vacated, and property sold. 

Sadly, in the early morning hours of Friday, March 4, 2016, the Minto home (undergoing renovations, but unoccupied) was destroyed by fire. I was heartbroken when I drove past that morning to find the ashes of the Minto's home. 

Remains of the Minto Home after the fire, May 4, 2016. (D. Dretske)

The Minto family lived on the property for 120 years from 1843 to 1963. It was remarkable that the 1857 home remained intact for so many years after the family's departure. 

Thankfully, the stories of this Scottish-American family will continue to be told, because of the foresight of David and Susie's granddaughters, Katherine Vida Minto and Lura Jean Minto Johaningsmeier, who donated the family's personal belongings to the Lake County Discovery Museum.

For more on this family, check out my previous post Susie Smith's Romance with Richard Thain and the Illinois Digital Archives where the Lake County Discovery Museum's photos and letters from the Minto Family Papers are hosted.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Benton Township Families

When Samuel S. Cole and Grace B. Baird married on May 27, 1859, they united two families, who were early immigrants to Lake County, Illinois and Benton Township.

James Cole and Nancy Swetnum Cole left Ireland to emigrate with their children to America in 1837. They landed at Quebec, Canada and proceeded to Rochester, New York where they remained for two months before moving to Chicago.

The Cole's son, Samuel S. Cole,
was born in County Cork, Ireland on July 25, 1820.
Photographed circa 1880, LCDM

Among the items the Coles brought with them to America was a wooden couch. The reason for bringing such a large piece of furniture across the Atlantic with them from Ireland is unknown, but it is remarkable that it stayed in the family until it was donated to the Lake County Discovery Museum in 1963.

Partial view of 8-foot long wooden couch
brought from Ireland by the Cole Family in 1837.
LCDM 63.22.
About 1840, James Cole sold his land in Chicago and moved the family to Lake County, Illinois, settling in Shields Township along Greenbay Road.

Another unusual artifact that came down through the generations
a bear trap used by the Coles while living in Shields Township, circa 1840. 
LCDM 62.62.15

In April 1856, Samuel Cole and his father sold their combined farms (201 acres) to the Lake Forest Association. This organization was created by Chicago Presbyterians to establish a Presbyterian college, which today is known as Lake Forest College.

The Coles took their profits from the sale and moved to Benton Township. Samuel purchased land on the west side of Sheridan Road at the intersection of today's Shiloh Boulevard in Zion.

In Benton Township, the Coles became acquainted with the Baird family, who had settled there several years previously.

John Baird and Jean Wilson Baird immigrated from Glasgow, Scotland to the United States with their three children, traveling on the Commodore, and arriving at New York on July 3, 1849.

Passenger list for the Commodore showing the Baird family.
Source: New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 (online)
From New York, the Bairds most likely traveled via the Erie Canal before taking a ship around the Great Lakes to Southport (now Kenosha) Wisconsin, and settling in Lake County, Illinois. Like many Scottish immigrants before him, John Baird had worked in the textile industry, but chose to take up the plow in America.

The Baird farm was near today's Galilee Avenue and 33rd Street in Zion.

Scottish immigrant, Jean Wilson Baird (1810-1896)
Photographed circa 1893. LCDM

The Baird's daughter, Grace Baird Cole, who was
born in Glasgow, Scotland on September 22, 1837. 
Photographed circa 1880, LCDM
Shortly after settling in Benton Township, John Baird sent a letter to his brother-in-law Thomas Wilson, who was living in New York City. Baird was trying to encourage Wilson to settle in Lake County.

In a letter dated November 19, 1849, Baird regales about the quality of farm land and the loveliness of Benton Township: "I am very well pleased with this district of country it is so hilly... the water is good & plenty... to dig down for it if you dig in low ground you will get it in a few feet & if you dig in higher ground you have to go farther down but then the water is colder & purer." (Original letter in the collections of the Chicago History Museum). Thomas Wilson did re-settle his family in Benton Township not long thereafter.

With the Cole and Baird properties relatively close to one another, Samuel Cole and Grace Braid found opportunities to meet through farming activities and Methodist meetings. Within three years of the Coles arriving in the neighborhood, Samuel and Grace were married.

Samuel and Grace had six children: Mary Jane Ferguson (Robert Ferguson), James S. Cole who died in infancy, Samuel N. Cole, Grace N. Ferry (Hiram W. Ferry), Eva E. Carman (Owen Carman), and John J. Cole who died at the age of 26.

Samuel and Grace Cole's residence as photographed in 1881.
The house was located on the west side of Sheridan Road at today's
Shiloh Boulevard in Zion. LCDM 62.62.
The Cole farm consisted of 220 acres, a beautiful brick house on Sheridan Road and out buildings. According to Cole's biographical sketch: "All of the surroundings plainly indicate the thrift of the owner, who is regarded as one of the enterprising, public-spirited and representative men of the community."

Samuel died in July 1895, and left portions of his property to each of his children. Grace died in 1915. Both Samuel and Grace are buried at Lake Mound Cemetery in Zion.

Samuel and Grace's granddaughter, Elsie Ferguson Bairstow, donated the photographs and objects featured in this post (and other items) to the Lake County Discovery Museum in the early 1960s to ensure that her family's immigrant history would be preserved and shared with future generations.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

96th Illinois Captain Blodgett's Roster

Asiel Z. Blodgett of Waukegan understood the importance of being a good leader. During the Civil War, he served as the main recruiter and Captain of Company D, 96th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He prided himself on knowing each of the men in his command.
Asiel Z. Blodgett, print from a glass negative taken in Waukegan, circa 1875. (LCDM 2011.0.86)

While at Wartrace, Tennessee in the summer of 1863, he was given a challenge. An officer from another company asked, "Captain Blodgett, I am curious to know whether or not you have memorized your roster."

Blodgett replied, "I am of the opinion that I have memorized it."

The officer bet Blodgett that he could not "call it correctly."

That day, Captain Blodgett was sitting in front of his tent, using the drummer boy's drum as a writing surface to make out his reports. He had set the drum on top of a camp stool, and with the challenge made, brushed aside his reports.

He wrote directly on the drum head from left to right, carefully listing every man's name from memory. All 98 men of Company D, plus the eight men who had died in the company's first year of service. Blodgett won the bet.

At the request of Lake County Historian, Bess Bower Dunn, Blodgett's son sent a copy of the "drum head roster." (above)

Shortly after making the roster, the 96th Illinois fought in the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18 - 20, 1863. The battle was the most significant Union defeat in the Western Theater of the Civil War, and had the second highest number of casualties in the war following the Battle of Gettysburg two months earlier.

The 96th's Company D lost five men (killed) and 18 wounded. Among the injured was Blodgett, who was shot in the shoulder on September 18, and though the wound hurt him greatly, he remained with the command.

Hill Two from the Vittetoe Road. Chickamauga after the battle. (Signal Corps U. S. Army)

On Sunday afternoon, September 20th, Blodgett was "thrown to the ground by the fall of a heavy tree-top which, striking his head and back, rendered him unconscious." This happened in the midst of the battle, leaving Blodgett temporarily within Rebel lines. "When the Union lines advanced in a second charge" the men removed the tree and "he was released from his perilous position."

In the confusion of battle, the drum was lost, and eventually turned over to the Quartermaster.

Blodgett recovered partially from his injuries, but reluctantly had to resign his position in August 1864. Years later, he received an official package from the U.S. War Department, and opening it found the drum head on which he had written the names of his men.

In 1939, Lake County Historian, Bess Bower Dunn, contacted one of Blodgett's sons about the story. John H. Blodgett replied with a copy of the "drum head roster" and the full account.

Blodgett's son wrote: "It occurred to me that possibly some of the relatives of the men who were with Dad are still around and if so might be interested in looking it over. If Frank Justice [sic] cares to say anything about it in his paper I would like to have you send me a copy."

Indeed, Frank Just, the editor of the Waukegan Daily Sun was very interested and ran a long article on Blodgett and the 96th Illinois.
Excerpt of article written by Athlyn Deshais on Blodgett and the 96th Illinois, Waukegan Daily Sun, 1939.

As Ms. Deshais wrote for the Daily Sun: "They are gone now, those gallant soldiers who marched and fought beneath the banner on which was inscribed the magic figures, 96.... The day of the eye-witness reminiscences belongs to the past."

For more on the life of Asiel Z. Blodgett read my April 29, 2011 post, and the 96th Illinois at the Battle of Chickamauga read my September 19, 2013 post.

"History of the 96th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry," Charles A. Partridge, editor, 1887.
Letters of John H. Blodgett to Bess Bower Dunn, 1939. Bess Dunn Collection, LCDM.
"Capt. Blodgett Honored by His Brave Soldiers," by Athlyn Deshais, Waukegan Daily Sun, 1939.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Harness Horse Racing Craze

Harness racing at McKay's race track, Waukegan, Illinois, circa 1878.
(LCDM Glass Negatives Collection)

Horse racing, specifically harness racing, was a wildly popular past-time in Lake County from the 1850s to the 1910s. The "farmer's sport" of harness racing became popular nationally in the 1700s, and by the early 1800s the first harness racing tracks were established.

In Lake County, there were three harness racing tracks: McKay's in Waukegan, the Libertyville Trotting Association, and the Lake County Fair in Libertyville.

James McKay's racetrack was built about 1852 and located where the Karcher Hotel building still stands on Washington Street in Waukegan. It was used for "trotting matches" and as the site of the first Lake County Fair.

McKay's racetrack, Waukegan, circa 1878. Note the county courthouse in the distance at center.
(LCDM Glass Negative Collection)

Chicago Tribune column on 4th of July activities at Waukegan 
in 1860, including "trotting matches" at McKay's track.
Black Weasel, owned by Mr. Arnold, won $50 in the mile heat.

It was a given that county fairs needed a racetrack to draw crowds, and harness racing was a featured attraction. When the Lake County Fair moved to Libetyville the new fairgrounds included a racetrack.

From 1858 - 1881, the Lake County Fairgrounds were located at Milwaukee Avenue and Winchester Road (now Winchester House), and then at Appley Avenue (now Lake Minear) from 1882 - 1925.

Lake County Fairgrounds and racetrack on the site of today's Lake Minear, 
Libertyville, circa 1907 (LCDM M-86.1.655)

Another view of the Lake County Fairgrounds racetrack  with harness racers coming around the turn, 
about 1910. (LCDM M-86.1.646)

In 1904, a new racetrack opened called the Libertyville Trotting Association Track. It was located on 100 acres west of Garfield Avenue and south of Route 176. Locals often refer to this track as the "one-mile track," although all harness racetracks are required to be one-mile.

Libertyville Trotting Association Track in use from 1904 - 1918. This colorized postcard is from about 1914 and shows the track during its motorized race days. (LCDM M-86.1.658)

For the first several years, the Trotting Association Track featured harness racing, and then was used as a training track for harness races. By the 1910s, the popularity of automobile and motorcycle races monopolized the Libertyville track, and harness racing's popularity began to wane. In 1918, Samuel Insull purchased the property and closed the track.

One of the regionally known trotters was King Heyday (1891 - 1919), owned by Edward and Charlotte DeWolf of Waukegan. (pictured below)

Edward Dewolf with his prize trotter, King Heyday, circa 1910. 
King Heyday was foaled on August 18, 1891. (LCDM DeWolf Collection)

Edward DeWolf (1848 - 1927) was an influential businessman in Waukegan, a promoter of the Electric Railroad line, and a mayor of Waukegan (1895-97). He was a lover of history, historical preservation, nature, and a keen horseman. He and his wife, Charlotte, owned several trotting horses, but King Heyday was their favorite.

Edward P. DeWolf (1848 - 1927)

King Heyday, was bred at the J.W. Swanbrough Stock Farm on Sheridan Road in Waukegan Township. King Heyday's sire was Prairie King (pictured below) and dam Mabel H.

Prairie King (King Heyday's sire), photographed in 1890 
at the Swanbrough Stock Farm(LCDM DeWolf Collection)

The stock farm was owned and operated by John W. Swanbrough (1843 - 1924), who fought with the 96th Illinois in the Civil War. Swanbrough was a member of the Illinois Association of Horse Breeders, and served as Lake County Sheriff (1876-1886).

With the popularity of harness racing came the need to breed trotters or "standardbreds." The term appeared in 1879 based on the racing standard of a one-mile track and standard time of 2.5 minutes maximum. A horse bred to these standards was "standardbred."

Swanbrough Stock Farm catalogue, 1891
(Steenbock Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

King Heyday with Charles Heydecker, circa 1905.
Heydecker bred and owned King Heyday's dam, Mabel H. 
(LCDM DeWolf Collection)

Edward DeWolf called King Heyday: "the handsomest horse that I had ever seen" and "a horse with remarkable speed."

King Heyday took his record of 2.17 at the Milwaukee Mile. DeWolf boasted: "his mile really being in 2.13." The Milwaukee Mile was a private horse racing track established by 1876. In 1891, the property became the permanent home of the Wisconsin State Fair.

Charlotte DeWolf loved "driving" King Heyday, whom she nicknamed "Punch." She took him out every day, except Sundays, for a drive in a carriage or sleigh. (pictured below)

Charlotte DeWolf being pulled in a sleigh by her beloved King Heyday, nicknamed "Punch." 
The DeWolf's setter, Laddie, is barely visible at left. (LCDM DeWolf Collection)

According to DeWolf, King Heyday was "Charlotte's pet, and he seemed to understand and return the love she had for him."

Charlotte DeWolf with King Heyday and Laddie, circa 1915. (LCDM DeWolf Collection)

King Heyday died on December 10, 1919, and Charlotte DeWolf passed away eight days later.

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Special thanks to museum collections volunteer, Cynthia Kolanko, for her dedication to processing the Edward DeWolf Collection, and bringing King Heyday's story to light.