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Reflections: Looking at several of Kendall County's historical 'firsts'

The branch rail line that extends south from Montgomery through downtown Oswego and Yorkville to Millington was built in 1870. The photo shows a gas motor car called "The Dinkey" on the line in downtown Oswego in 1942. The Oswego depot, which adjoined the tracks, was demolished in the early 1970s.
The branch rail line that extends south from Montgomery through downtown Oswego and Yorkville to Millington was built in 1870. The photo shows a gas motor car called "The Dinkey" on the line in downtown Oswego in 1942. The Oswego depot, which adjoined the tracks, was demolished in the early 1970s.

This year, Illinois will celebrate its 200th birthday. The state wasn’t officially and legally created until Dec. 3, 1818, but our state will observe the entirety of 2018 as its bicentennial year.

Here in the northeast corner of the state, we’ve seen unprecedented population growth during the last quarter century, something that has drastically changed the region from its appearance 100 years ago when Illinois celebrated its centennial.

While the state will be concentrating on its own history during the past two centuries this year, the Illinois Bicentennial will also provide an opportunity to celebrate the histories of its 102 counties as well. What with all the growth we’ve experienced, we have greeted thousands of new residents in Kendall County during the past several years.

At one time, most Kendall County families either knew each other or knew of each other. But those days are long gone now. The village of Oswego alone has more residents today than lived in the entire county in 1975, and other areas of Kendall have grown commensurately.

Since we have gained so many new neighbors during the past couple of decades, and given this year’s statewide celebration, it might be a good time to revisit some Kendall County historical firsts, since knowing something about their new home might make them feel more at home in their new communities.

The first railroad through Kendall County was built in 1852, following the route of what is today the main line of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. The branch rail line passing through Oswego, Yorkville and Millington wasn’t built until 1870.

The first settler in Kendall County, according to the Rev. E.W. Hicks, an early historian, was Robert Beresford, who settled in Big Grove Township at the southern-most point of Holderman’s Grove. Beresford reportedly settled in the grove in 1826. However, a history of DuPage County written in 1857 suggests that Edmund Weed was the first settler and that Holderman’s Grove was originally called Weed’s Grove. However it happened, Beresford soon attracted a few other hardy settlers willing to move to the isolated area. The tiny settlement was known simply as “Beresford’s,” and it became one of the earliest stops on the stagecoach line between Chicago and Ottawa. Although he got here (perhaps) first, Beresford didn’t stay long, soon moving on to places with more elbowroom.

The first settler birth in Kendall County took place Dec. 1, 1831, when George M. Hollenback and his sister Amelia were born as twins. George M. was always listed as the first white child born in the county, but fair’s fair. Amelia shouldn’t get short shrift just because she was a girl. The Hollenback family lived in Big Grove Township near modern Newark.

The first settler marriage in Kendall County starred Edward Ament and Emily Ann Harris as the happy couple. Although the Black Hawk War of 1832 dampened the festivities, the couple lived a long and eventful life together.

The first county seat was located in Yorkville in 1841. However, in 1845, the voters decided to move the county seat to Oswego, where it remained until voters decided to move it back to centrally-located Yorkville in an 1859 referendum. In June 1864, the official records were removed from Oswego to Yorkville, where the seat of county government has remained.

The first murder trial took place in Kendall County in 1843, just two years after the county was established. Ansel Rider of Big Grove Township shot and wounded Owen Haymond during a drunken argument. When a mob attacked Rider’s house, he shot and killed Charles McNeil, one of the lynch mob. Rider was acquitted of murder, the jury ruling the killing was justifiable homicide in self defense.

John Schneider built the first mill in Kendall County on Blackberry Creek, near its mouth on the Fox River. At that time, the area was known as Bristol; today, it’s the north side of the city of Yorkville. Schneider built his gristmill in 1834. One of the millstones from Schneider’s mill is on display in the Yorkville Riverwalk Park just off Ill. Route 47, just across the river from the original mill site.

Mass transit came to Kendall County for the first time when the Temple Stage Line began regular passenger and mail service between Chicago and Ottawa in 1834. Dr. John Temple established the line, and the first coach was reportedly driven by John D. Caton, then a young lawyer. Caton eventually became a judge of the state supreme court, and has a Kendall County road named in honor of the farm he owned here.

The first school in Kendall County was built in the then-booming village of Pavilion in 1834. Both the school and the village of Pavilion have disappeared. Pavilion was located along Ill. Route 71, then the Chicago-Ottawa Trail, in southern Kendall County. The first teacher in the county was C.B. Alvard (sometimes spelled Alvord). Pavilion also boasted the county’s first church, the Long Grove Baptist Church. The advent of the railroad and the death of overland wagon and stagecoach travel eventually killed Pavilion.

The first – and the last – slave auction in Kendall County was held at the courthouse in Yorkville in December of 1844. The African-American in question was working for a Mr. McLaughlin, a Bureau County farmer who was on his way to Chicago with two sleighloads of dressed, frozen pork. John Boyd and his son-in-law, M.O. Throckmorton, a pair of transplanted Kentuckians, seized the black man. In accord with the Fugitive Slave Act, the black man was sold at auction. However, a group of local abolitionists prevented serious buyers from bidding, and the undoubtedly relieved fellow was sold to a leading anti-slavery resident for $1, after which he was freed and sent on his way to Chicago and, presumably, freedom.

Every place has a history, although admittedly some places have longer histories or more interesting ones than others. But the Kendall County area has popped up in written histories and other records for nearly 300 years, which ought to be long enough for anyone.

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