|Benton County lies in the north-western portion of the
on the Illinois on the west, and being the third county south from the
north line. It is one of the largest of the ninety two counties of the
State, being 23x18, or containing 414 square miles of the finest and
fertile prairie land in the State; nor is there to be found a finer
of land of this same character in the North American Continent than
same fertile rolling plains--a vast expanse of prairie land dotted over
here and there by an occasional natural grove, and a small quantity of
timber land along the streams. Through the center of the county, from
to west, passes a ridge from which the land gradually slopes northward
and southward to the extreme limits; thus, the streams on the north of
this, flowing to the Illinois, those on the south to the Wabash, and
gradual fall of the creeks and brooks with the rolling surface between,
makes its drainage complete, so that scarcely an acre of land exists in
Benton County but is susceptible of perfect drainage.
The soil is a rich black loam underlaid with yellow
clay, which, near
the streams, gives place to a gravel subsoil. It is unexcelled in the
of corn, oats, wheat, and all kinds of vegetables. The present year,
she has produced 4,270,000 bushels of oats, an average of over 50
per acre, and the yield of corn is, at least, 20 per cent greater. All
the grasses do remarkably well, especially is this true of clover and
Some thirty-five or forty years ago Benton County
farmers had to make
annual trips to Chicago, with their produce in exchange for the
provisions. These journals were made with ox teams and consumed about a
fortnight of time. Later LaFayette afforded a much nearer market, while
at the present day a farmer can not live in Benton County ten miles
from a railway station and a market for his grain. (See map.) This one
market has, in less than forty years, given place, to, at least
local markets with ten miles from the farthest farmer, with increased
for the larger markets of Chicago and Indianapolis, from which it is
Nearly forty miles of free gravel road have been built
in the past two
years, with a prospect of many more miles soon. One feature of all the
highways, worthy of note, is their unusual width.
Educational advantages are of the best -- a good school
house in every
school district, a school term of more than half the year, with high
in the largest towns. Churches of all denominations are distributed
the county in goodly number.
The First Settlements: Benton County is a
comparatively new county,
its settlement having been postponed on account of no railroads, and
distance from a market. The southern portion, the vicinity of Pine and
Mud Creeks, and near the groves were the portions of the county first
The first comers selected lands near the timber, when possible, land
plentiful and man by nature a social being, later settlers made homes
to those already started. In consequence of this, and the fact that
tracts of the unoccupied land had passed into the hands of speculators,
the northern and central parts were destined to wait until a much later
The first house after the organization of the county,
1840, was that
of Peter Jennings, about three miles east of Oxford.
Judge David McConnell, Basil Justus and Thos. Atkinson,
and settled near Oak Grove, which proved to be the foundation of the
Parish Grove had attractions a little later, which led
and John Robinson to improve farms in that vicinity.
Thos. Finney was the first to come as far north as
Hickory Grove, near
the present site of Fowler.
Cattle raising was the most profitable industry in the
central and northern
portions, and this was carried on most largely in the highest ground --
the lowland being abandoned as useless -- called by the settlers, "the
lost land," but we see what changes tile has made in the low grounds,
the soil on almost every square foot of ground yields with large
almost any seed the farmer chooses to sow. The fine grass that the land
affords makes the cattle industry a favorite one still. Stock of all
is well improved, especially is this true of cattle, there being one of
the finest herds of Herford cattle of the United States and probably of
the world, to be found near Fowler.
The first mill began its work at Oxford, in 1865,
proving a failure,
it was discontinued in a short time, but is now in operation.
The first resident ministers in the county, were Evan
John Sargent, Christian; and Daniel Vines, Universalist. Some sermons
preached here before this time, by non-residents, Rev. J. A. Carnahan,
Revs. Homer and Cozad, being earnest workers from a distance.
The first physician was Dr. Theophilus Stemble, who
resided in Oak Grove.
He was soon followed by Drs. Wright, Blades, Boon, Barnes, Sleeper,
James F. Parker, Jacob Benedict and Danl. Mills, were
the first resident
lawyers, they, too, having settled near Oak Grove.
A little log cabin south of the present site of Oxford,
was the scene
of the first school. Hartley T. Howard, the first teacher, held this as
well as nearly every office of the county, a task which was not a hard
one, as the number of voters did not exceed a few hundred.
Aaron Wood was the first to open a store in the county.
He was soon
followed by Carnahan & Earl, Barns & Baily, and others, all at
A Masonic Lodge was instituted in '55.
For nearly twenty years there was but one post office --
that at Oxford,
but as the settlement pushed farther northward, another was established
at Aydelott, and to both of these mail was brought once a week, until
'71 2, the completion of the railways caused many small stations to
up along their lines.
Political History: July 28th, 1840, a Board of
consisting of Amos White, Thos. Lewis, and John A. Robinson, held its
meetings at the residence of Basil Justice, in Oak Grove. The result of
this meeting was the division of the county into three Commissioners'
each district to constitute a civil township. The three districts were,
viz: Parish Grove, Pine and Oak Grove. A later division than this
in eleven townships instead of the three original ones.
The time of the first election was arranged to be Aug.
8th, and the
places for the opening of the polls in Parish Grove Township was the
of Robt. Alexander; in Pine, Amos White's; and in Oak Grove, Basil
Inspectors of the election were Samuel Robertson, John Wallace, and
The assessor for the first year was Henry Robertson;
were John Sheetz, Wm. Carson, Robt. Alexander, Solomon Burch and Wm.
The Board next met in September and appointed Milton
Treasury, David McConnell, Seminary Trustee; Henry Robertson,
of the Three Precinct Fund; and Ezekiel H. Davis, Collector of the
and County Revenue.
A tax of thirty-five cents on each $100 of taxable
property was levied
for county purposes, and fifty cents on each poll.
The First Courts: -- The first term of the Benton
convened Nov. 4th, 1840, at the residence of Basil Justus, with Hon.
Maylor, Judge; David McConnell and Nathan Terwillinger, Associate
Basil Justus, Clerk; and Henry Robertson, Sheriff.
Aaron Wood, Lewis E. Smith, Benj. Timmons, John Wallace,
Wm. P. Carson, Wm. Smith, Jr.; Saml. Robertson, John Frost, Wm. Foster,
Wm. Wakeman, Thos. McConnell, Robt. Pollock, L. & B. Williams,
the first grand jury.
Daniel Mace, John Pettit, Wm. Jenners, Robt. Chandler,
and Zebulon Baird, were the first practicing lawyers in this court.
In '43 Wm. Will, Samuel Milroy, Geo. Wolfer and William
Coon were appointed
Commissioners to locate a county seat. The site selected being at the
northern point of Oak Grove, where Oxford now stands. The building
to do duty as a Court House, temporarily, was a story and a half frame,
20x40 feet, and was placed in the Court House square. A few years later
this was removed to give place to a brick building, which was completed
in '55, at a cost of $10,000. Here for nearly thirty years the County
was held. During this time, however, the northern and central parts of
the county had became more thickly populated, and the county seat being
so far to the southward, objections arose and the subject of removing
to a more nearly central position was agitated. A heated contest
in the Commissioners receiving a petition, signed by more than
of the voters in the county, and asking for the removal of the county
to Fowler, the center of the county, while Oxford was but three miles
the southern and eight miles from the eastern boundary lines. In
'73, the Board of Commissioners issued the preliminary orders for the
The corner stone for the new Court House was laid in
'74. It was completed
and occupied early in '75. The building is constructed of red brick
free-stone facings, the cost of which was some $60,000, $40,000 of the
amount being donated by Mr. M. Fowler, of LaFayette, in whose honor the
town was named.
The first jail in the county was situated in the
of Oxford. It was built of heavy hewed logs, and held but one prisoner,
he setting fire to the building and narrowly escaping with his life. A
brick jail soon replaced this one, and it, together with the Court
square, was deeded to the town of Oxford, upon the removal of the
seat to Fowler.
A contract for a new jail in Fowler, was let in '76; the
was $25,000. It was a fine stone building which stood for a little less
than four years, being then, in '80, destroyed by fire. It was
rebuilt and repaired at a cost of $7,791.50.
The list of the present county officers, ('88), is as
Judge, Peter H. Ward; Prosecutor, Ralph W. Marshall; Clerk, George I.
Sheriff, John R. Douglass; Auditor, J. A. McKnight; Treasurer, Chas.
Recorder, Geo. W. Pagget; Surveyor, Robt. Harrell; Superintendent, B.
Johnson; Commissioners, Wm. Bennett, James Darby, and J. M. Wilson.
Railways have been no small factor in the
progress of Benton
County, she deriving benefit from four different lines at present.
The T., P. & W. runs east and west, about two miles
north of its
The Lake Erie and Western line was completed in '72. Its
course is east
and west across the southern portion of the county.
The same year, the Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis and
was built. It follows the line of the L. E. & W. as far as
thence it passes centrally through to the extreme north-western corner
of the county.
The Chicago and Indiana Coal Road runs north and south
across the county,
two miles east of the central point. It crosses the C., I., St. L.
C. at Swanington, and the L. E. & W. at Oxford.
The Press: The first paper in Benton County was
the Oxford Evening
Mail, Republican in politics, and originated by J. W. Jackson, in '55.
It afterwards passed into the hands of Simon F. Carter, made neutral in
politics and was discontinued in less than a year.
The Chronotype, in '60, by M. V. B. Cowan, was
the next, and
was brought to an end by war excitements.
In '65, J. R. Lucas started the Oxford Tribune
as a Republican
paper. It passed to Alonzo Cowgill, in '70.
1871 saw the advent of the Benton County Herald,
edited by D.
The Benton Democrat originated in June of '75.
W. B. Maddox being
editor and proprietor.
The Boswell Leader was started by C. Galt, about
the same time.
These have all met the same fate, either of being
discontinued, or passing
into other hands with a change of name. The Oxford Tribune
retaining its original name. The present county papers are: Fowler --
Wallace & Leffen, editors; The Review, Democratic in
by D. J. Eastburn; The Nutshell, neutral as to politics, by
Mitchell; The Oxford Tribune, by John P. Carr; The Boswell
by Willard F. Culley; and the Wadena Pickett, by John W. Swan.
The former county seat, is pleasantly located near Oak
Grove, on the
L. E. & W. railroad, in the south-eastern part of the county. It
for many years not only the capital, but was also the only town and
center in the county. Its population in '80 was 750 and it has had some
considerable growth since that time.
The Oxford Academy, established in 1865, was at one time
quite an important
institution, but it has since been made part of the common school
and the building is used for the union schools of the town.
There are four churches in Oxford, the Presbyterian,
Was laid out on the C., I., St. L. & C. railroad, in
'71, by Mr.
Moses Fowler. It is in the geographical center of the county, and on
highest point of land between LaFayette and Chicago. In the census of
the population was some 1,100 -- since that time some 500 or 600 have
added. The town contains some fine buildings, a bank, one of the best
factories in the State, a grain elevator which receives and ships
quantities of grain, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Christian, and
Baptist churches, a good graded and high school.
The remaining towns on the L. E. & W. railroad, are
Chase, Boswell, Talbot, and Ambia; on the C., I., St. L. & C.,
Earl Park, and Raub; on the C. & I. C., Swanington, East Fowler,
and Wadena, all of which are thriving little towns and do a large grain
The county contains four banks, one at Fowler, Oxford,
Ambia, and seven tile factories.