Polk Township History, Macoupin County IL
©2002 Jim Frank
History of Polk Township
Macoupin County IL
Researched and written in 1978 and revised 2002 by Jim Frank
The Macoupin County Historical Society
Polk Township, one of the twenty-six townships that make up Macoupin County, is located in the southern central part of the county. It is bounded on the north by Bird Township, on the east by Brushy Mound Township, on the south by Hilyard Township, and on the west by Chesterfield Township. The township comprises the congressional township of 9, range 8, west of the third Principle Meridian. No information can be found giving the reason the township was named Polk. Before the county organized township governments in 1872, this area, congressional township 9, range 8, was known as the Polk voting precinct. It is supposed the township was named after President James K. Polk, who was President of the United States 1845-1849. Other townships have been named after a prominent earlier settler living in that township, but nobody by the name of Polk can be found as having ever lived in this township.
Polk Township is one of the most scenic townships in the county. The township is broken by the principle stream, the Macoupin creek, which flows diagonally through the township. Other tributaries found in the township include the Hurricane creek, Dry Branch, Kent's Branch, and May's Branch. In early days, there were also several shallow lakes along the Macoupin, however most have since been drained for farming purposes after the arrival of the white settlers. The land surrounding these streams and lakes were mostly timber broken occasionally by patches of prairie.
The Macoupin creek valley was a major hunting ground for the Indians. The numerous mounds and bluffs that line the creek valley were used as camp sites by the Indians. Large Indian gravesites have been found on the bluffs on the south side of the creek in section 20. Others have been found on the bluff on the north side of the creek near Bullard's Lake, the hill northeast of the creek in section 23 and 24, and on the ridge separating the Hurricane and Macoupin creek.
Wild game consisting of rabbits, squirrels, ratcoons, prairie chickens, and waterfowl were plentiful. The wild deer and wild turkeys were numerous. There were many black wolves and they were a threat to the livestock of the early settlers. At one time buffalo and elk also roamed in this area, and according to Indian tradition, a severe snow fell to a great depth about 1760 and the deep snow lay on the earth several months. The herds of buffalo and elk that roamed this area at that time being trapped by the deep and lingering snow, eventually starved to death and the bleached bones of these animals were found in numerous locations when the first white settlers arrived. This area had primarily been the hunting grounds of the Peoria and the Cahokia Indians, however, most of the Indians living and hunting here had been driven out of this area by the time of the arrival of the white settlement. Settlement of this township started in earnest to take place around 1820. A few Indians still returned and hunted along the Macoupin creek as late as 1830. However in the winter of 1830-31, snow began falling December 15 and fell without stopping for five days and reached a level of several feet on the flat and in some places was a much as fifteen feet deep. It began to melt in mid-February and took two months to melt off. The snow wiped out the entire wild turkey population and almost all of the deer population and the Indians never returned to hunt after that.
That following fall, an exceptional early freeze in August 1831 nearly ruined the corn crop before it was mature. The following spring the settlers had to send to southern Illinois and Kentucky for seed corn, paying for it on delivery $3.00 a bushel.
At one time, ages ago, several adjoining lakes covered the Long Lake bottom in the Macoupin creek valley. These marshy lakes reached from Beaver Dam westward several miles and the area were abound in fish, geese and wild ducks. When the settlers arrived, there was a small shallow lake at Beaver Dam, another larger lake to be later called Long Lake west of Beaver Dam, another lake a litter farther west which is still there and is now called Bullard Lake, and two smaller lakes to the south-west. With the exception of Bullard Lake, the lakes along the Macoupin creek have been drained and turned into crop ground.
During the extreme drought of the early 1930's, Bullard Lake completely dried up. During the summer of 1934, the landowner planted and grew a crop of corn in the lakebed.
A few years ago while some bulldozing was being done to clear brush in section 19, an Indian home site and mound on the bluff overlooking these lakes was unearthed and this site dated back to a time before the Cahokia Mounds were built (mid-Mississippi period). An ear of corn, centuries old, buried in the ashes of a fire pit was also unearthed, but once being exposed to the air, the corn soon deteriorated. It was also on this same farm that a young man in 1880 while working on the farm as a hired laborer, found a large stone carved Indian ceremonial pipe that had been brought to this area from South America. This newly found pipe, dated back to the Mayan Indian culture of Central America.
An early account of local history tell us that at one time a ruling chief of an Indian tribe that lived on this same bluff died and the Indians carried rock from a quarry some distance away and built a tomb to in-tomb the chief. One of the early settlers while residing on the farm there, dug a well and used the stone from this tomb to rock the well and had enough rock left over from the tomb to use in other building purposes.
The first known pioneer settlement was made in Polk township when Elisha Kelly, an eighteen year old bachelor, came from North Carolina in 1817 and built a crude cabin besides a spring near the Macoupin creek somewhere north of Plainview in section 28. He was a hunter, explorer, and trapper, and roamed great distances over unsettled country.
A year later, a brother John Kelly and his father arrived and Elisha Kelly moved on to a valley he had discovered in Sangamon County while roaming the countryside and founded where Springfield now stands. A year later John along with their father joined Elisha at the new home site in Sangamon.
The next settlement was made in 1825 when the families of Daniel Deadrick, Irvin Smith , Shadrich Redich, and Abraham Smith located on a ridge along Macoupin creek in section 26 and 27 near the junction where the Dry Fork enters the Macoupin creek. This area is where the railroad now crosses the Macoupin creek about a mile south of Macoupin Station. They lived here only a few short years before moving on elsewhere in the county.
Shortly after arrival at this site in 1825, a son William Deadrick, was born to the Deadrick family and had the distinction of being the first birth in the township.
The next year in 1826, the James Hall family settled just east of where Macoupin Station is now. They settled on the east side of the creek at a place called Hall's Spring.
Peter Wagoner and William Rhodes came from Madison County in 1829 and selected sites on the north side of the prairie south of the Macoupin Creek in section 28 and built cabins to shelter their families. They returned the following spring in1830 with their families and settled here permanently. Peter Wagoner was a veteran of the Indian War in 1812 when the Indians had been driven from this part of Illinois.
Other early settlers who located in the township were the Raffurty family who came in 1833, Donald Elliot in 1831, Elias Dorman in1834, George Rhodes in1833, S. F. Rhodes and Daniel Hayward in1838, S. A. Pepperdine in1830, Matthew Gillespie in1834, and D. R. Johnston in 1836. Between 1842 and 1857, other who settled here included Ed Duckles, E. B. Eldred, Isaish Rhoads, Edmund Rhoads, John Housley, Cant Candler, James Witt, and John Yowell. There were many others who settled here and entered land from the Government during this period of time.
The first earlier settlers that came into the township were coming from Madison County settlements and from Kentucky, Tennessee, and from other southeastern Appalachia States. These emigrants were native to living in areas of forest and woodland typical of previous homes in Appalachia and settled along creeks with a water supply and forest to furnish wood for building, fences and heating. Much of their food subsisted from hunting and fishing. With little market for crops or livestock they only famed small patches of cleared land to raise enough wheat, corn, and oats for family consumption of flour and corn meal and to feed a milk cow or oxen and to fatten a few hogs used for family use. Livestock were usually allowed to roam free to forage as much as possible in the wild.
Around 1840 a new influx of settlers were coming into the area from the northeastern states of Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. The rich prairie lands of Illinois were preferred by these settlers as the soil here was not rocky as was in the states they left. The always-consuming task of picking up rocks from the fields was not necessary here. These people tended to be better educated and were more business inclined and were willing to work more industrious than the more easy going southern settlers. At times each group of people ridiculed the other but in time all eventually learned to live and work together. Intermarriage between the two groups soon ended strife. The southerners referred to the new comers as Yankees and considered them as snobs. The Yankees in turn considered the Appalachia people as uneducated, brawling, crude and lazy.
The original land entered from the government was purchased at a price of $1.25 an acre. The land was purchased in tracts of 40, 80, and 160 acre plats. The land could be bought on a contract paying one-fourth down and one-fourth each remaining year of the contract. Thus a man could pay as he progressed at improving the property and realizing income from the property. No interest was charged.
The first land entries in Polk Township were made by James Mason who entered 80 acres in section 6 on November 9, 1831. The next entries made by families that had moved here earlier were made by Robert Halliday who entered 40 acres in section 20 on February 28, 1834, and Peter Wagoner who entered 160 acres in the N.E. quarter of section 33 on February 28,1834.
Other land entered with the government between 1833 and 1840 included: Harris Alexander, in sec. 34, 1836; Steith Otwell, in sec. 1, 1835; Thomas Barnett, in sec. 11, 1837; Nathanial Burnham, in sec.25, 1839; Orson Caswell, in sec.1, 1839; Wm. Challacomb, in sec I, 1840; Enoch Chapman, in sec.32, 1834; Winston Cheatman, in sec. 26, 1836; James Chesnut, in sec. 1, 1834; John Clark in sec. 13, 1834; John Daniel, in sec. 10, 1834; Johnathon Davis, in sec. 11, 1836; Harvey Dranner, in sec. 28, 1835; Charles Drennan, in sec. 28, 1835; Norman Gates, in sec. 2, 1834; Wm. Gillespie, in sec. 19 and 24, 1835; Mary Gilmore, in sec. 20, 1836; James Hall, in sec. 23, 1833; Zach Harris, in sec. 25, 1840; John Henry, in sec. 26 and 27, 1835; Thomas Kendall, in sec. 10, 1834; Bennett Knowland, in sec. 10, 1836; Washington Laxton, in sec. 1832; John Mahurin, in sec. 13 and 29, 1835; Samuel Mahurin, in sec. 20, 1835; Stephen Mahurin, in sec. 7, 1836; Robert Pervance, in sec. 2 and11, 1836; Zach Piggott, in sec. 19, 1838; James Price, in sec. 35, 1835; Alexander Pruitt, in sec. 35, 1834; Soloman Pruitt, in sec. 34, 1835; Wm. Pruitt, in sec. 34, 1835; Jesse Rhoads, in sec. 28, 1833; Wm. Rhoads, in sec. 28 and 33, 1834; Barnabas Rhodes, in sec. 28, 30, 32, 1835; Wm. R. Rhodes, in sec. 33, 1834; George Sanford, in sec. 35, 1836; John Sappington, in sec, 21, 1835; Preston Sappington, in sec. 21, 1835; Friscel Starkweather, in sec. 22 and 23, 1837; John Staton, in sec. 29 and 32, 1834; Thomas Wood, in sec. 32 and 35, 1834; Not everybody who entered land at this time moved here to live. Some entered the land as speculation to be sold later.
Peter Wagoner built the first house on the prairie, and from this settlement originated the name "Wagoner's Prairie", which the prairie surrounding the Plainview locality came to be called. This area south of the Macoupin creek in early days was also known as North Bend because of the fact the prairie bent to the north in this area.
In 1835, William Rhodes entered 80 acres in section 33 and built the next house on the prairie in this area. By now numerous families were arriving and taking residence in the township. Many were to live here several years before taking the endeavor to enter the land they were living on. By the late 1830's, a steel plow had been developed that could break and plow clean the tough prairie sod and soon settlement of the prairie was in preference to the woodland.
The early settlers were limited in marketing any crops, livestock, or products derived from the operation of their farms. Before the arrival of the railroad, Alton was the nearest market. It took nearly three days to haul by ox driven wagon a load of grain to be marketed. A load of corn would not pay for a barrel of salt. To take a load to St. Louis took a week. Dressed Pork would bring $1.35 to $1.40 per hundred weight and a load of dressed pork would bring about $14.00. Often herds of cattle, hogs or groves of turkeys were driven overland on foot to Alton to be sold, the journey taking several days to accomplish.
The first sermon preached in Polk Township was by William Jones, who preached at the home of Daniel Deadrick in 1826. Reverend Jones was a Baptist minister and came to preach from near Upper Alton. The first person baptized was Racheal Smith, at a place where the Dry Fork unites with the Macoupin close to the Deadrich, Smith, and Redich settlement. This took place also in 1826.
P. C. Rafferty was the first resident minister. He was a clergyman of the Baptist denomination and began preaching in the township about 1852.
The United Baptist erected the first church building in Polk Township in section 35 in 1871. The membership had organized around 1830 and met in individual homes until they erected a church across the township line in section 1 in Hilyard Township. Then in 1871 they erected a new church in section 35 in Polk Township at a cost of $2000. In 1870 this church listed a membership of seventy-five members. In 1917 after a fire destroyed the church, the membership in disagreement split when a new church called East Liberty Union Baptist Church was erected in section 25. A part of the membership in dispute then transferred to the Plainview Baptist Church Association and attended church in Plainview. About 1926, a tornado demolished the new East Liberty Baptist Church. The church was not rebuilt and the congregation disbanded and became members of other churches.
The Long Point Methodist Church was at the north edge of the township in section 2 and stood west of the Long Point School. Long Point was referred to as the area making up a long strip of land lying between Hurricane Creek and Kent's Branch. The Long Point community area was also known at one time as Kent's Community. The Long Point Cemetery is located across the road from the church in Bird Township. The church congregation was a branch of the Chesterfield Methodist Episcopal Church and pastors from that church filled the pulpit. Church services were held alternately at the Long Point schoolhouse and the Hazelwood school until a church was built west of the Long Point school sometime between 1885 and 1890.
The church ceased to operate in the late 1930's and in 1945 the building was sold. Many of the pews were taken to the Rural Methodist Church east of Carlinville and the remaining were sold to the Masonic Lodge in Chesterfield. The roof was removed and the walls were cut into sections and moved to Chesterfield where the building was reconstructed into a machine shop at the south edge of the village.
The Church of Christ was organized before 1896 and met in the old Oak Ridge schoolhouse at the top of the hill above Macoupin Station in section 23. The school had been called Oak Ridge because it sat in a grove of oak trees on the ridge of land between the Macoupin and Hurricane creeks. The small congregation did not have a resident minister, and a minister came by train one weekend each month and held services while present on Saturday night, Sunday and again Sunday night.
Later a new Oak Ridge schoolhouse was built in section 15, and more in the center of the school district. Mr. W. E. Sanders donated one acre of ground across the road from the old school, and the building was moved across the road, remodeled and used by the congregation as a church until about 1925. By then the membership had decreased in number until it was no longer feasible to operate as a body and the church disbanded. For many years after the church disbanded, the building was rented by the township from the Sanders family and used as a town hall and polling place for Polk Township.
In the fall of 1999, the old derelict building was donated by the current property owners to the Macoupin County Historical Society which were desiring an old country church to move onto the Historical Society grounds in Carlinville to be preserved as past history of the county. Volunteers of the Historical Society worked diligently in moving the building into Carlinville and in restoring the building back into a church.
In the early 1900's, non-denominational community prayer meeting were held in the Hazelwood schoolhouse in section 8. These meeting were held on Wednesday nights and were led by residences of the community. Later local Methodist members used the school house and services were held alternately between the Hazelwood school house and the Long Point school house.
The first school house in the township was built in section 6 in 1839. That same year, Ebenezer P. Upham taught this first school. The first female teacher to teach in Polk was Miss Virginia Bement, who taught in 1842.
The first couples married in the township were James Halben and Matilda Hall, Henry Miller and Catherine Wagoner, William Grimes and Nancy Wagoner, George Keller and Elizabeth Raffurty. The marriages occurred between 1827 and 1836.
By early 1830's, members of the Illinois Legislature were making grand plans of internal improvements in the state of Illinois without consideration how funds would or could be raised to pay for these planned improvements. The proposal was to build numerous shipping canals, highways and railroads at various places about Illinois. At first, emphasis was to build canals, particularly to build a canal to connect Chicago to the Illinois River. The theory of railroads were just coming active and the scheme then came to include the building of railroads along with the planning of internal improvements.
In 1835, a proposed railroad linking Springfield to Alton via Carlinville was surveyed. The State commissioned a General Mitchell, a surveying engineer from Pennsylvania to survey this route. The path of this railroad was to pass through the southeastern portion of Polk. Railroad construction was a new idea and was very primitive at this time. The planned road consisted of ties just laid on the ground without foundation and the rails were made of wood with a metal strip of iron attached to the top of the rails.
Following the report of the survey of the planned railroad, Ross Houck and his father-in-law Jacob Gonterman both of Madison County purchased eighty acres in section 28 on the proposed route and proceeded to have the town of Steubinville plotted on forty acres. Shortly after plotting the town they sold one-third interest in the property to Jefferson Wetherford who at that time was the elected Sheriff of Macoupin County.
The following advertisement was printed in the Alton Telegraph newspaper on April 6, 1836
SALE OF LOTS IN THE TOWN OF STEUBENVILLE
The town of Steubenville is situated in Macoupin County, 13 miles from Carlinville, 22 miles from Alton, 30 miles from Carrollton, and 28 miles from Edwardsville.
Steubenville is located in a high rolling prairie immediately joining first rate timber and inexhaustible quarries of rock, and may be supplied with the very best building materials without cost. The railroad from Springfield to Alton will run through this place, it being situated on the first high ground, and exactly where the road from Alton to Springfield will enter into the broken ground and the wide bottom of the Macoupin Creek, it must be a place of deposit for the railroad cars going and returning. Likewise the main road from Carlinville to Alton runs through this place. It having all the above advantages and being situated in one of the most fertile and populous parts of the county, having first rate water privileges for every kind of machinery within one mile of the place. It will be perceived that Steubenville is distained at no very distant period to become one of the most flourishing inland towns in the state.
The beauty and advantageous location of this town must insure it a rapid progress in improvement. Merchants and mechanics will find it to their interest to purchase. A plat of the lots and town at anytime can be seen at the clerk's office of Macoupin County or at the residence of either of the proprietors. Indisputable titles will be given.
The sale of lots will take place at the town of Stuebenville on Saturday the 16th of April next. Terms: One half in twelve and one half in eighteen months with approved security.
J. C. Gonterman
Later in 1836 the state of Illinois was struck by a financial crisis and plans for internal improvements were dropped. Therefore this railroad was not built.
Abstracts show that only fifteen lots in Steubenville were ever sold. By 1842, lots were no longer offered for sale, and the property with the exception of the few sold lots, was sold to Elisha Dorman as farmland. It is thought that at one time, a general store did unsuccessfully operate at the site of Steubenville.
The first early settlers traveled as far as Carrollton or Edwardsville to have grain milled and later to Tegard's mill east of Carlinville. Around the year 1850, Stephen Marshall erected the only grist mill in Polk Township. It was a water-powered mill projecting over the Macoupin creek in section 28.
The Sangamon-Alton railroad was started in 1849 and completed in 1852. Work started at Alton and progressed towards Springfield. Irish emigrants that were coming into this country did most of the construction work. At this time a large influx of Irish were immigrating to this country escaping the potato famine of 1848-49 in Ireland.
During the time of this major Irish migration into the United States, a devastating cholera epidemic spread across the country and especially in this area. Many of the settlers living in the county were immune to cholera that had plagued earlier settlers, but the newly arrived Irish emigrants were not immune and many died during the acute cholera epidemic while the road was being built through Polk township. The men would become sick, die and be buried all in the same day. Most of these men were young, single, and new arrivals.
The majority of these victims were buried on a hillside east of the railroad in section 13 and some were buried in the northeast corner of the Waggoner Cemetery in section 6 in Hilyard Township. Others were just buried along the banks of the railroad. During the epidemic, the majority of the men were living in a construction tent camp along the railroad in section 13. It is believed that approximately two hundred workers died and the majority are buried there. Wood crosses marked many of the graves, but over the years these deteriorated or were destroyed by grass fires. Nothing remains today to tell where these graves are.
At the time of this cholera epidemic, ten percent of the population of nearby Carlinville died during this epidemic.
The railroad was built through the eastern and southern part of the township. It entered the township in section 12 and exited through section 34.
About the time the railroad was being constructed, a store and a small community started up along the route of the railroad in section 23.
W.E. Sanders and his wife operated a general store in a building known locally as the "Beanery". The building had been built and used as a storage warehouse during the construction of the railroad. The store was in the front part of the building and they resided in the back portion. Mrs. Sanders usually ran the store while Mr. Sanders worked in the timber as a timber man. The Macoupin creek bottomland through which the railroad was being constructed was heavily forested with large oak and hardwood trees and local men were hired to cut and hew rail ties for the railroad.
Later about 1885, the Sanders family erected and operated their store in the large brick structure that still stands and is known as Macoupin Station. At one time the railroad had a huge water tower at Macoupin Station where the steam locomotives could replenish their boilers. Mr. Sanders would pump water from the Macoupin creek into the tower until one day a spark from a locomotive set the structure on fire and the wood water tower burned to the ground. The railroad company built a new water tower a few miles up the track at what is called Rinaker Lake just south-west of Carlinville because the trains that had been taking on water at Macoupin Station was having difficulty making the grade from the bottomland from a full stop after loading with water.
Macoupin Station in the past had a covered waiting platform along the tracks for embarking passengers. There was also a scale house, stockyards for loading livestock onto the train, and a milk loading dock.
After the brick store was built, a Mr. Rhoads operated a feed and grain business from the old "Beanery" building and shipped grain out of Macoupin Station. At another time, one other small general store operated across the road just north of the Sander's store, but that did not remain in operation for a very long period of time.
A post office was established at Macoupin Station April 11, 1866. It was discontinued August 19, 1869, and re-established December 20, 1869. On May 14, 1883, the post office name was changed from Macoupin Station to Macoupin. Years later in 1951 the post office was discontinued and became a part of R.F.D. Plainview.
During the late 1800's a cluster of cabins sprang up along the road near where the Starr farmstead is now in section 29 west of the Halliday Bridge and not too far from where the site of Steubenville was. This community was referred to as Stringtown, Springtown, and Dogtown. All these building are gone now.
Tragedy struck twice in the spring of 1882 when James and William Rhoads, sons of Edmund Rhoads, lost their life while trying to reach their hogs which were marooned by the flooding Macoupin creek. They built a raft and tried to float to the hogs to release them, but the raft was wrecked and one of the boys injured. Although the boys were good swimmers, the other brother would not desert his injured brother and they climbed a tree on the Brayford land (in creek bottom across from Beaver Dam Park) some distance from the banks of the flooding stream. Word soon spread and a crowd of neighbors and people gathered at the creek bank but all rescue attempts proved impossible because of large waves that kept upsetting attempts in a rowboat from reaching the boys. A wagon bed was tied to a rope and attempts to float the wagon bed to the boys were not successful either as the waves also kept upsetting the wagon bed. A heavier river type rowboat was sent up from Alton by a special train but arrived too late. During the night the temperature dropped to near zero and the boys slowly froze and expired. One of the boys fell into about six feet of water and the other was found frozen to death still in the tree.
A month later during another flood, on March 22, 1882, Peter Baushman, his wife and twelve-year-old daughter was attempting to cross the flooded Macoupin in a canoe. About half way across, the daughter in some manner lost her balance and fell overboard. Her mother sprang to catch her and in doing the canoe was upset, throwing them all into the water. The current carried the mother and daughter down stream and they were drowned. Mr. Baushman being nearly blind, could not see them, and could not render any help, but managed to swim ashore. The bodies of the unfortunate mother and daughter were found about two hours later after the accident. (The Carlinville newspapers carried the name as Peter Baushman while the Bunker Hill newspaper listed the husband and father's name as Timothy Beckman.)
At one time Hurricane creek flowed into the Macoupin west of Beaver Dam Lake. Sometime long ago in past history, probably during a flood, the eroding creek cut a new channel through the narrow ridge of land dividing the two creeks and now the Hurricane creek empties into the Macoupin northeast of Macoupin Station.
Later in time water flowed from a spring on each side of a point that stretches into the middle of Beaver Dam lake from the north side. The water from the spring on the east side of the point flowed toward the Hurricane creek and water from the west side towards the Macoupin creek. Beavers built a dam across the stream flowing westward toward the Macoupin creek and created a small shallow lake. Many years later, by the time white settlement arrived here, the beavers had long departed. During the hot summer months, the remains of this shallow lake would dry up and the lake became known as Dry Beaver Lake.
In the early 1890's, eighteen influential businessmen from Carlinville leased the grounds containing Dry Beaver Lake from the owner Henry Brayford and formed the Beaver Dam Lake Club. They spent $2600 to build an earthen dam on each end of the lake raising the water level to form a much larger lake. Membership erected a clubhouse and used the grounds and lake as an elite private recreational fishing and picnic association.
Henry Brayford owned 711 acres and was a coal miner by trade. He and his wife had come to Illinois from England after marriage and settled near Edwardsville in Madison county where he was engaged in the operation of a couple of successful coal mines. They later bought farmland here in Polk township containing this lake and moved here to reside. Mr. Brayford oversaw his farm operation here and commuted back and forth to Madison County to oversee his mining business there.
With the railroad running along of the edge of his property and a demand for prospective local coal, Mr. Brayford had plans of developing a coal mine on the farm. In 1899 he began the digging of a coal shaft north of the lake and at a depth of 144 feet found a vein of coal six feet in thickness. Water problems persisted while sinking the shaft, and this wet problem had to be resolved prior to the mining of the coal. However, before he could open the mine, he unexpectedly died in December of 1900, and the family dropped plans of developing the mine. One of his daughters was Mrs. Sarah Rhodes, the wife of Frank Rhodes.
Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes soon took over the property. They cancelled the lease of the lake and grounds to the Beaver Dam Lake Club and built a small two story, sixteen-room hotel and began the operation of the Beaver Dam Lake Hotel and Fishing Resort. When the lodge opened in 1901, fishing was advertised as one dollar a day and lodging was advertised at two dollars per night. Meals were served to guest and the fishing public in the Hotel.
Outdoor camping was allowed, but Mrs. Rhodes would not allow women camping as at that time it was considered improper and undignified for women to be camping out in the woods. Guest coming by train were met by a large horse-drawn coach at Macoupin Station and taxied to the Hotel, the Hotel being about a mile up the road from the Macoupin Station.
The Hotel and Resort operated for approximately thirty-five years. By this time automobiles with improved roads had become the popular mode of transportation and over-night guest had diminished. People wishing to fish were just coming for the day and were seldom staying overnight. The Hotel then closed, however fishing for a fee at the lake continued for another ten years. In 1947, the property consisting of 425 acres north of the road was sold to the State of Illinois and made into a State Park. Following World War II, the state of Illinois began purchasing and developing more recreational Parks for the advantageous use by the public. Mr. Bill Lions of Carlinville, an elected member to the Legislature in Springfield, was instrumental in inducing the State to purchase the Rhodes property containing the Beaver Dam Lake.
The State set about improving the property by again raising the dams at each end of the lake and developed a lake of 59 acres. Roads about the lake area were built, along with camping and numerous picnic areas. The top floor of the old hotel was removed and the lower part of the building was converted into a Park Ranger's cabin. The rough large fish in the lake consisting of buffalo, carp, gar, and catfish were seined and the remaining fish poisoned and killed. The lake was then restocked with game fish.
The following year, in 1948, the former fishing resort, lake and farm was opened to the general public and became known as Beaver Dam State Park. In 1955, additional land purchased to the west of the Park increased the park acreage to 737 acres. Over the years, continued improvements have been made to the Park. Seven miles of hiking trails and paths have been developed. A sizable shallow marsh lake was built to the west of the original lake. This marsh simulates the numerous marsh lakes that made up the original Macoupin creek flood plain. Approved water about the Park, electrical hookups, restrooms, and a shower room have been added for mobile and tent camping. Several picnic pavilions and a children playground have been built.
In 2001 a major Park improvement was undertaken. The old rangers cabin was sold and moved from the grounds. The snack bar and bait shop was torn down and in its place a new larger restaurant and bait shop was constructed. All major roads were resurfaced with black topping.
During 1934 to 1937 the Blacktop road was built from Carlinville to Shipman by the State. This was an experimental road as bituminous was just beginning to be used. Every half-mile of the highway had a different combination of base soil and of mixes of bituminous. The base soil was stretches of clay, topsoil of various kinds, hard pan, and various mixtures. The road was built at a cost at several times what a concrete road would have cost. The cut through the hill south of the Macoupin Creek bridge was to have been the deepest cut in the state at that time. However, the hard pan earth was too difficult to remove, as they didn't have the large bulldozers at that time as they have now, so the last eleven feet of the proposed cut could not be made. Thus, this is the reason the road rises up and down a grade instead of being a gradual grade from the bridge to the top of the upland just north of Plainview.
The bridge over Hurricane creek was considered a historical engineering marvel in its day when built because it was the first bridge in the state ever built on a curve with each of the four corners laid on a different elevation. This bridge was replaced and the sharp curve onto the bridge eliminated in 1996 when this section of the road was improved by the State.
All of the rural school districts were consolidated in 1948, thus closing all the small local rural schools. All of Polk township with the exception section 31, 32, and a part of section 33 became a part of Unit District I and students attend school in Carlinville. Those living in the three other sections mentioned attend school at Unit District 9 at Shipman and Piasa.
Previously up until the time of school consolidation, Polk Township had been divided into seven rural grade school districts. Hopewell School District 118 was in the southwestern part of the township. However the schoolhouse was across the township line in section 5 of Hilyard Township. The school was on Drew road. Dorman School District 119 had its school in section 34 on Newby road. East Liberty school district 113 had a school in section 25 on Lake Catatoga road. Earlier the East Liberty School District and the Dorman School District had been one school district called Liberty School District. Before 1870, this school was called Bushwack. As the district was divided by the Dry Fork creek, at times because of flooding, it was impossible for those living west of the creek to attend school, so in 1896 the district was divided and a school house was erected in section 34 and called Dorman. The school was called Dorman after the family who donated the tract of land on their farm for the school. The other half of the district erected a new school farther east in section 25 and the named the new school East Liberty. This building stood on the east side of Lake Catatoga road just north of the north entrance into where Lake Catatoga Subdivision is now. The old original abandoned Liberty School building was purchased by a local resident Mr. Crouch and moved to be attached to his home.
In the Oak Ridge School district 114, the first school house stood on the east side of Meredith road in section 23 at the top of the hill above Macoupin Station. After a new school was built in the district years later in section 15, the old school house was moved across the road and became a church used by the Church of Christ membership.
Hazelwood School District 117 made up a large area of the west central part of the township. The schoolhouse stood on the north side of Snell road in section 8. Raffurity School District 91 was in the northwest corner of the township. The school stood on the south side of Rinaker road in section 6. Raffurity was the first school district organized in the township. A part of the district was also in Chesterfield, Bird, and Western Mound townships.
Long Point School District 84 covered the northeastern part of the township and the schoolhouse stood besides the Long Point Methodist Church in section 2 on the south side of Rinaker road.
Following consolidation in 1948, the schools were sold at auction. The Dorman and Oak Ridge schoolhouses were made into homes. Hopewell schoolhouse when purchased was moved about a mile east to the Shipman-Carlinville Blacktop and converted into a tavern. Long Point school building was moved into Carlinville and became a dwelling. East Liberty was torn down and moved. Raffurty schoolhouse remained at its original location and was used as a hog farrowing house and farm storage building. The Hazelwood School building also remained at its original location and stands derelict and deserted.
Up until the school consolidation, very few of the township roads were improved, remaining as original dirt roads. Following the consolidation, it was necessary for the school district to run school buses on these roads to transport students. Tax funds from the township, county and state level were implemented to make the roads all weather and year round passable. That year in 1948, the voters of the township passed a road oil levy and the township expedited the oiling and improvement of the township roads, making year-round farm to market travel possible.
In 1935 during the depression, the WPA government program was founded to provide work and a source of income for the needy. A rock crusher was established at a rock quarry in section 34 at the southern edge of Polk to furnish this employment and at this time a couple of the main traveled roads in the township were thus rocked to be maintained as improved roads.
The Congress of the United States passed the Rural Electrification Act in 1935 to provide loans to bring electricity to the rural area of the country. In 1938 the first REA electrical lines of the newly organized Macoupin, Jersey, and Montgomery Power Company began reaching throughout Polk township bringing electricity to the township farms and homes, thus enabling the rural dwellers the advantage of a modern and mechanized living.
Polk Township had no villages or subdivisions in its boundaries until 1974 when John and Earl Bellm purchased 101 acres in Section 35 and 36. They built a large lake, divided the acreage into lots and named the property Lake Catatoga. They sold lots to purchasers who built weekend cabins and permanent homes around the lake. Mail is now being delivered to around ninety addresses in Lake Catatoga.
There are very few cemeteries within the boundary of Polk Township. A small cemetery is in section 21 on property of Beaver Dam State Park. It is known as the Brayford Cemetery, although the official name is the Barnes Cemetery. Since 1965, Beaver Dam Park personal has been maintaining the cemetery.
Another cemetery east of Macoupin Station in section 24 was known as the Knoles Cemetery. The cemetery was used by early settlers and is thought to have contained over one hundred graves. The cemetery was obliterated by brush and was destroyed about 1960 when a path was cleared through the timber for the construction of a power line.
There are also a few family gravesites on individual farms scattered about the township. Two young Witt men are buried on the Witt farm in section 33. It is thought that there may be two Witt infants also buried in the same plot. Two children are buried on the Young farm in section 14. In early days it was common to bury family members in a gravesite on their own farm. In winter with impassible roads, often it was impossible to transport the deceased to a neighboring cemetery.
In very early days, there were also two small family cemeteries along Eldred road in section 6, but both of the small cemeteries have been destroyed in the past years. One of the small burial plots was known as the Raffurity cemetery. Family members of the Raffurity and Rhodes family were buried there.
At one time there was a small graveyard just up the hill above Macoupin Station that contained a small number of tombstones, but that graveyard cannot be found now. The last reported burial there was around 1912. It is possible the graveyard was located in the path where the State built the new Macoupin Station-Chesterfield road around 1970.
An old plat book of Macoupin County shows a small graveyard at the southwest corner of section 15. This old burial ground was on the east side of the road at the end of what is now Parkside road where this road ends at the north edge of Beaver Dam Park. Who or how many were buried there is unknown, as there is no evidence of a graveyard there now.
Oxen were used to farm with in the earliest days. Only the oxen had the strength to pull a sod-breaking plow. Gradually the use of oxen then gave way to farming with horses and mules. During the period of farming with horses, there were many popular breeds of horses in use and oats were one of the crops grown, as oats were needed as feed for the horses. By the late 1880's steam power was also being used on the farm. Large steam powered tractors were not only used for thrashing but also to power sawmills and other farm use. After 1900, powered tractors were becoming a common sight on the farms, and by 1930, steam engines had given way to kerosene and gasoline combustion powered tractors. The gasoline engine by 1970 was giving way to diesel powered machinery.
Over the years, the horsepower of machinery has increased, making obsolete the mechanization used by the previous generation. Today's large and powerful machinery capable of farming thousands of acres that is used in present farming operations was undreamed of in previous generations. . Weather has always played an important role in the lively hood of those residing in Polk. With the numerous creeks and tributaries in the township, flooding of bottomland often caused havoc to those farming these low lands. Many times, flooding following extremely heavy rains have wiped out a summer's effort at growing crops. During a spring flood in 1904, the record height for high floodwater was set when high water flooded over the railroad tracks and reached the steps at Macoupin Station.
Heavy windstorms and small tornadoes at times have destroyed individual homes, farmsteads, and orchards. The most disastrous tornado to strike Polk Township was on May 18, 1883 when a tornado traveling through Hilyard, Polk, Brushy Mound and Shaws Point townships left a path of destruction and death. Seven people were killed and twenty-one were seriously injured. Among those that died in Polk Township were Mrs. George Baker and two granddaughters ages twelve and fourteen. The Baker farmhouse was in section 36 south of what is now Lake Catatoga. They were instantly killed and other members in the family injured. At another farm in the same neighborhood, Mrs. Frank Rice was killed and ten other members of her family injured. On this same day, because of bizarre weather conditions in the mid-west, over one hundred tornadoes touched down in the states of Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
On May 12, 1978, a tornado touching down north of Piasa and traveling in a northeasterly direction entered Polk Township in section 30, passed through and exited in section 2, leaving a path of destruction to farmsteads and homes in its course. There were no serious injuries incurred during the storm.
Polk Township reached a peak in population around 1890 with a population of nine hundred fifty people. The population continued to decrease as individual farms increased in size swallowing up the numerous small farms. Since 1970 a surge of urban living has taken place in Polk and again the population has taken an upswing as more families who are employed elsewhere are buying wooded property and constructing homes and now reside in the township. The township population has also increased from the ninety or more residences built around Lake Catatoga.
A Rural Water District was formed in 1996 and with government help in financing, water lines were built along all the roads in the township bringing clean potable city water to the rural population by the fall of 2000.
The number of individually operated farms in the township has been on a steady decrease since 1900. In 1978 there were 121 farms listed in Polk Township. Sixty-seven farms were owner- operated and fifty-four farms were tenant operated. Now twenty- four years later, more than two-thirds of the farms in the township are rented to larger farm operators. Almost all of the farmers in the township now have off farm employment to supplement income.
Macoupin County History 1879
Here I Have Lived by Paul Angle
Prairie State Impressions of Illinois 1673-1967 by Paul Angle
World Book Encyclopedia
Macoupin County Enquirer March 8, 1952
Carlinville Democrat April 8, 1952
Carlinville Democrat March 22, 1882
Carlinville Democrat June 4, 1883
1875 Atlas & 1893-4 Plat Book Macoupin County Illinois
Illinois Place Names, Illinois Historical Society by James N. Adams
Macoupin County History Vol. I and Vol. 2 by Charles Walker
Bunker Hill Revisited by Carl L Stanton
Oral information gathered from:
William E. Witt
Mrs. Jess Sanders
Mrs. Annabel Rhodes
Mrs. Gertrude Gunter
Mrs. Frank Pressler
History index page
Macoupin County ILGenWeb Main Page
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