In the days of the settlement of the West, many towns were named for some prominent settler or land owner. But in the case of the town of Orangeville, nobody knows for sure.
It is speculated that some of the early Pennsylvanians who arrived in that vicinity might have come from Orangeville, Pennsylvania. The town’s early history is intriguing nonetheless. Let's explore it as it is depicted in the “History of Stephenson County 1970,” a local publication in keeping with the national bicentennial observance.
In the Beginning
In 1838, three years after the founding of Freeport, Illinois, John Curtis built a small dam on Richland Creek and constructed a grist mill, a saw mill and a log cabin. However Curtis died in the early 1840s leaving his efforts idle. However, in 1846, John Bower purchased the land, had it surveyed and platted a town on the east side of the creek.
Not so strangely he named it Bowersville and brought wagon loads of lumber from Galena and Chicago to entice settlers to the village carrying his name. It is believed that the first ones to accept his invitation were Daniel Duck, origin unknown, and Daniel Riem, who came from Pennsylvania by horse and wagon with only $3 to his name. It is said he sold one of his horses for $50 to buy the land and his wagon for enough to fence the land in.The history tells us his family lived the first year in a “shanty with a leaky roof.”
The second year a neighbor gave him a log cabin which he tore down and rebuilt on his farm. By the beginning of the third year, he had finished a good house and converted the log cabin into his cabinet-making shop.
A larger and better mill, three and a half stories high, was built in 1849 at the corner of High and Mill streets. With its three-run of buhrs, it could grind 200 bushels of grain a day. That was true if Richland Creek behaved itself and did not flood the town as was known to happen in that vicinity.
The aforementioned John Bower built the first hotel. A stagecoach came to Bowersville once a week at first and twice a week later, carrying passengers and mail. Benjamin and James Musser built the first store in Orangeville. In 1854, a post office was established and the name of the village was somehow changed to “Orangeville.” William Wagenhals was the first postmaster.
A Strange Infestation
The history tells us the years 1859 to 1861 were known in Orangeville as the “pigeon years.” It explains that passenger pigeons roosted and had their hatching grounds at the north end of the township, “and in the mornings the roar could be heard for miles and sounded like the distant roar of a train or waterfall. When the birds left their roosts in the morning or returned at night, they were so numerous as to darken the sky so that it seemed a cloud was obscuring the sun. Sportsmen came from far away and camped to see and shoot them.”
In 1866, Charles Moore and his son, E.L. Moore, bought the mill and renamed it, not surprisingly, “Moore’s Mill.” The original mill was rebuilt in 1867. Subsequent owners over the years were men named Hefty and Legger. In 1902, Sylvester LaBorde took charge and in 1906, his brother Alva took over. C. W. Bennett bought the mill in 1907 and built a new dam, installed a gasoline engine and started the village’s first electric plant.
Becoming a Full-Fledged Village.
As soon as Orangeville became a village, things began to happen. Charles Moore was named president and William Wagenhals, George Erb, W.S. St. John and Jacob Kurtz were trustees. Soon the village government was building bridges, installing oil street lamps and in 1895, building a village hall on High Street. The waterworks was built in 1897, and a brick water tower went up in 1910.In 1911, C.W. Bennett installed 20 electric street lights for $500. These, we’re told, were turned off at 11 p.m.
The vigilant village board made a ruling in December 1886 that the Freeport-to-Monroe stage could not stop inside the village limits if it was carrying dynamite. Ironically, though, dynamite was to figure in mightily in the village’s destiny. The history tells us that while the contractor for the completion of the Illinois Central Railroad branch from Freeport to Madison, Wis., was grading the line in 1887, there was a strike which resulted in the hiring of a new gang.It so happened a careless workman who was “drying out the dynamite in an oven allowed it to catch fire and set off the caps. The resulting explosion of 200 pounds of dynamite and a half-ton of black powder stored nearby made the townspeople think there had been an earthquake.”
In 1887 when the railroad reached Orangeville, daily mail service had begun and a grain elevator, depot and stockyards were built making use of the rails.
An Enterprising Village
James Musser and his brother Benjamin opened a general store in 1866 which the history tells us “soon became one of the largest in northern Illinois.” In 1879 James Musser added the first banking and loan business in the back of his store. Other businesses soon to appear were a drug store, shoemaker, saddle and harness making shop, plus a gunsmith who also made watches.
The large Orangeville creamery was started in 1879 by D.A. Schoch and Harrison Bolender. The cooler could hold 180,000 pounds of butter, and it took 180 tons of ice to maintain a year-round temperature of 40 degrees. The 10 employees ran machinery which churned 1,400 pounds of butter a day. When the original owners retired, they sold it to a corporation which ran it until 1915.
For a number of years, Milferd Bolender’s coin business attained wide interest and was known nationally by collectors.
The Borden Condensed Milk Co. had a plant in Orangeville from 1917 until 1933. The quarters of that became the home of a cheese factory beginning in 1935, first by the Lakeshire Marty Co., and then after 1955, by the Lugano Cheese Co. which made pizza cheese. The factory was closed in 1968.
The first Orangeville newspaper, known as the Alert, commenced publishing in 1883, but was taken over in 1889 by The Courier. The latter was published by half-brothers, William McCall and Frederick Winter. The history tells us that McCall was the son of Brigadier General William H. McCall Sr., who served in the West during the Civil War and had “the painful duty to adjust the black caps on (Lincoln’s assassin) Booth and his accomplices before they were executed.
”William Jr. grew up in Oneco with his grandparents. His son, James E. McCall, was author and illustrator of a book he wrote about his World War II imprisonment by the Japanese.
McCall and Winter were followed on the Courier by Harry Hartzell, who sold it to Stiver Clay in 1938. The Courier soon became one of the chain of newspapers owned by Associated Publishers of Durand. For 23 years, the regathering and reporting was done by Mrs. Glen Bolender. The Courier, at the time the history was published, had become a section in the “large combined paper Scope.”
by Harriett Gustason, The Journal-Standard.
Editor Neil Gale, Ph.D.