The first settlements of this county were made in or on the fringe of groves. The first business of the commissioners was to lay out Lee County into election precincts:
Precinct № One was known as Gap Grove precinct, and it comprised the territory
known today as the township of Palmyra.Precinct № Two was called Dixon.Precinct № Three was called Franklin.Precinct № Four was called Melugin.Precinct № Five was called Inlet.Precinct № Six was called Winnebago, and it took in the territory now comprising Marion, East Grove, Hamilton and Harmon.
We found some settlements named Melugin's Grove, Guthrie's Grove, Franklin Grove, Inlet Grove, Twin Grove, Paw Paw Grove, Palestine Grove, Gap Grove, etc. For that same reason, the sections of Lee County dotted with groves were settled before the beautiful prairie country, which generally offered much better soil. Of course, the wealth of timber for fuel was the settler's first consideration, so the groves were selected.
The Black Hawk War brought thousands of men from all over the state to Lee County, then Jo Daviess County, and made strong friendships for the locality and John Dixon. Among the number were two men who had much to do with Melugia's Grove, Zachariah Melugin and his brother-in-law, John K. Robison.
Through the influence of Mr. Dixon, Zachariah Melugin settled at the grove, subsequently given his name and at that point became the second village in Lee County to be settled.
In 1832 Mr. Melugin lived near Springfield. When the Black Hawk war broke out in 1832, he was on Rock Island and enlisted on the arrival of the troops at the mouth of Rock River. The country around Dixon's Ferry pleased him so well that after settling his affairs back at Springfield, he returned to Dixon's Ferry in 1833.
Believing the new stage road between Galena and Chicago would open many possibilities, Mr. Melugin, at the suggestion of Mr. Dixon, selected the grove, twenty miles distant, for a stage station, and when on Jan. 1, 1834, the first stage traveled the route, Mr. Melugin took passage and stopped off at the grove and built his log cabin on what afterward became the northeast quarter of section 4. The Indians were numerous but friendly, and without molestation, he kept house all alone the first winter. The long evenings were generally spent visiting with the Indians who called.
In the spring, his sister, Mary, came from Sangamon County and lived with him until Oct. 12, 1834, when, at Ottawa, he was married to Mary Ross of Ross's Grove in DeKalb County.
During that summer of 1834, Miss Melugin was alone many days amid Indians who dubbed her a ''brave squaw.'' The spring from which water was procured for the stage house was eighty rods (1 Rod = 5.5 Yards) or 1/4 mile away in the timber, but never was she annoyed by Indians. That spring played an important part in another particular. There were no churns, so to be busy when going to the spring, the empty pail was balanced on her head while with both hands, the cream was shaken in a coffee pot until the butter ''came."
During this summer, Miss Melugin paid a visit to Mrs. Dixon at Dixon's Ferry. There she met John K. Robison. He had served in the Black Hawk War from Hancock County, although he enlisted at the mouth of Rock River, and at the close of the war, he remained with the Dixon family as a teacher for the children. On Sept. 10, 1835, Miss Melugin and Mr. Robison were married at the home of Zachariah Melugin by the Reverend Harris, a Methodist circuit rider. That was the first wedding ceremony performed at Melugin's Grove.
Mr. Robison built his house half a mile from Melugin's of unhewed logs, chinked with pieces of wood and plastered over with a mortar made of clay. The shakes used for a roof were made of split trees^, the same as the floor. The shelves for pans and dishes in this house were made by boring holes in the logs, driving in long pins and laying a board across the pins.
In this house, the ménage (members of a household) was exactly as in every other pioneer cabin. The fireplace warmed the room and served for a cooking stove; bread was baked in iron kettles with iron covers, the kettle was placed on one side of the fireplace and covered with coals and hot ashes; potatoes were roasted also in those same ashes. Gourds played a very prominent part in the array of cooking utensils. They were used for baskets, basins, cups, dippers, soap dishes, etc. Hollow trees, sawed, were used for well curbs, beehives and storage receptacles for housing grain. Troughs hollowed from trees were used to contain sugar sap, and during a rain storm, they were used to catch water under the eaves and to store it, and they were used for milk pans. Sometimes the troughs were used as cradles to rock the babies to sleep. The husband made butter bowls, ladles, rolling pins, brooms, etc., from wood with the rudest implements. So, too, the husband mended his own harness and cobbled the household shoes. In the absence of clocks and watches, certain marks on the doors or side of the house indicated the time of day, and the position of the Big Dipper indicated the same by night. The well or the water trough reflected the features for hair-dressing and shaving, and with but one change of clothing for each, the same was washed and ironed while the child slept. And such indeed was the house and the manner of housekeeping with that same John K. and Mrs. Robison.
Brooms in those days were made from young hickory trees about three inches through, peeling off the bark, then with a pocket knife, the men-folks commenced on the end of the stick intended for the brush part and peeled the stick in narrow strips or splints about a sixteenth of an inch thick and about eighteen inches long. The heart of the stick would not peel, which was cut off, leaving a stick about three inches long in the center of these splints. The splints being dropped back over this stick commenced on the handle end and stripped splints toward those already made and long enough to cover them. When the stick was stripped, the splints were all tied together around the stick left in the center of the splints, and the rest of the handle was stripped to complete the broom.
Flint and steel were used to kindle fire, but ''borrowing fire'' when learned, was much more common and much easier when there were neighbors from whom to borrow.
The nearest grain and livestock market for Melugin was Chicago; going and coming back seldom took less than seven days. In a muddy season, the time consumed was more. The nearest gristmill then was Green's mill near Ottawa. A woolen mill there scutched and carded wool into rolls fit for spinning back at home by the women.
John K. Robison brought the first currant bushes to the grove from Nauvoo; he carried them on horseback. The day's fashion was for husband and wife to ride the same horse when they went a distance together, the man sitting ahead and the wife behind.
Mr. Robison was not only the first teacher in Lee County, both at Dixon and Melugin, but he was the first justice of the peace at Melugin. He taught school in his own house until the first schoolhouse was built in 1837; at that time, he had eight pupils.
The first church, Methodist, was organized in 1837 at the house of Zachariah Melugin and Rev. S. R. Beggs became the first pastor, a circuit rider. Until about 1850, church services were held in the schoolhouse, then a church was built. Later, in 1860, another building was erected, which was moved to Compton and was considerably larger.
The first tailor to locate at Melugin was Henry Vroman. The first postmaster was Abram V. Christeance, the first constable. Charles Morgan and his son were the first merchants and kept millinery. Doctor Bissell was the first physician. Cornelius Christeance was the first white child born, John Melugin and W.W. Gilmore followed, all born in the year 1835.
A post office opened on May 18, 1841; it was named Melugin Grove after the village's first settler, Zachariah Melugin.
Church services were held at private houses when the circuit rider appeared until church buildings or schoolhouses were built In the Grove. The first church to be organized was the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1837, at the house of Melugin. The first Sunday school was organized in 1847 or 1848 by Reverend Haney of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Zachariah Melugin being from Sangamon County and in the Black Hawk War became intimately acquainted with Abraham Lincoln. When Mr. Melugin returned there, Lincoln visited him at his father's home.
So near as I can learn, A. V. Christeance was the next settler here at Melugin. He took a claim in 1835, the month of June, on the south side of the stage road and used his house as a tavern. He and Mrs. Christeance traveled with an ox team from Schenectady County. New York. By the time they reached Melugin, Mrs. Christeance was so tired she declared she would go no further. That spot happened to be the Grove. Their son, Cornelius, born in 1835, was the first white child born there.
Indians were numerous, and they often covered the tavern floor, sleeping. The prophet, Joe Smith, who seems to have been a familiar figure in Lee County history, stopped there on one occasion.
Although Mr. Christeance would be gone a week or ten days at a time, to market, in Chicago, Mrs. Christeance never was molested by Indians nor by members of the ''Banditti of the Prairie,'' who, then unknown, stopped many times at their tavern.
John Gilmore came along at about the same time as Mr. Guthrie in 1834. These gentlemen selected their claims and returned Mr. Gilmore to his family and Mr. Guthrie to settle business affairs. Mr. Gilmore paid Melugin $50 for part of his claim, the northeast quarter of section 3, while Guthrie took up a claim further east, known as Guthrie's Grove and later as Little Melugin Grove.
The trip of the Gilmore family was almost identical to that of the Christeance family. Only the Gilmores came west in a wagon drawn by horses. About three miles east from Melugin's house, the horses gave out; they could travel no further. It was June 4, 1835. Mrs. Gilmore and her five children had been riding; Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Guthrie had been walking beside the team. The rain had been falling steadily all day. After a consultation, it was decided that Mr. and Mrs. Gilmore and the children should push forward to Melugin's house, three miles west. Mr. Guthrie remained with the team. Late that night, the Melugin house was reached by the tired and bedraggled (dirty and disheveled) Gilmores. The following day help was sent back to Guthrie, and he and the team were conveyed easily to the Melugin home. Mr. Guthrie, too had been a Black Hawk soldier.
Very soon, Mr. Gilmore had built a log cabin twelve feet square, with a puncheon floor, shakes for a roof, held in place by weight poles. A stick-and-mud fireplace and a door were added, and the Gilmores were permanent. In this house, W.W. Gilmore was born on November 8, 1835.
The only work to be had at that time was twenty miles away at Ross Grove in DeKalb County, and the payment for it was made in provisions. To this point, Mr. Gilmore and William Guthrie walked back and forth eastward to work the first of the week.
During one of these absences that winter, near Christmas, the mud and stick chimney took fire and, if permitted to run, would consume the house very soon. In her stocking feet, Mrs. Gilmore rushed to and from the now frozen spring, twenty rods away, carrying water; but she made no headway. The nine-year-old son, A. P. Gilmore, was sent a mile distant through the woods, at midnight, to the house of Mr. Christeance for help. The fire was put out, but the damage to the building had been considerable. That perilous night was stormy and bitter cold, but the pioneer woman of Lee County feared nothing.
Later, Mr. Gilmore added to his house and opened a tavern and stage house. All who did so prospered, and Mr. Gilmore was no exception to the rule. The Galena-Chicago highway became a thoroughfare as important for those days as the great Northwestern is today for our community.
In the fall of 1836, William Guthrie married Miss Ross of Ross Grove, where he had worked most of the winter before. Mr. Gilmore made a great event of it for his old friend Guthrie. Mr. Gilmore hooked up his best yoke of oxen, took his wife and the younger children, Mr. Guthrie and two lady friends and by constant urging, the oxen made the trip that day. The Rosses were great people in those days, and Mr. Guthrie made a great catch, so that wedding day was one of the greatest days the township of Paw Paw in DeKalb County ever saw.
Troy Grove was a place of consequence those days, and it was sometimes the custom to go there for provisions. On one of those trips, Mr. Gilmore met a Methodist preacher named Lummery. The latter was invited to come to Melugin Grove and hold a meeting. Accordingly, in six weeks, the succeeding round of the circuit, the preacher came and held services in the Gilmore cabin, which every soul at Melugin attended and still there was room to spare. A church and a class were organized, and ever since that early date, the church and the class have continued without interruption.
Among those early settlers was O. P. Johnson, who settled at the grove's west end and opened a tavern. He married Elizabeth Ross, one of the historic Ross family of DeKalb County.
Ezra Berry was another of the 1835 pioneers to settle at the grove. He married Miss Eleanor Melugin, the sister of Zachariah.
Some have said the first schoolhouse was built on the farm of Mr. Christeance in 1838. An investigation has proved conclusively the year was 1837 and that Zachariah Melugin was the first teacher succeeding Mr. Robison. Mr. Melugin was a man of superior intellect and ability. So early as the year 1836 or 1837, he composed a poem published in the Rock River Register, the first paper published on Rock River. He died in 1842, and his widow married William Atkinson.
The first funeral in Brooklyn Township was that of a Mr. Little, a Scotchman, whose body was the first to be buried in the cemetery.
Melugin's Grove became a place of importance for a little community.
A Masonic lodge was organized at the house of O.P. Johnson in 1858, of which John C. Corbus was the first master; John Gilmore was the first senior warden; S. H. Finley, first junior warden; Jonathan N. Hyde, senior deacon; Oliver P. Johnson, junior deacon; J. R. Bisbee, secretary; William Guthrie, treasurer; and Robert Ritchie.
In those halcyon days (a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful) Judge R.S. Farrand taught school at Melugin, and it was from Melugin that he came to Dixon to act as deputy sheriff under Jonathan N. Hills, elected from Melugin. Jonathan N. Hyde was elected clerk of the circuit court from Melugin, and Melugin, under Doctor Corbus and others of the old guard, became master of the political game and reigned over county politics more or less.
Until 1873 Melugin's Grove prospered. Then the Kinyon railroad went through Brooklyn Township, about a mile to the south, and Joel Compton platted the town of Compton, a mile away, and all the glamour and tradition of the old grove and the stage route and stage coach days disappeared.
Compton was founded in 1875 and named after Joel Compton.
One by one, the folks at Melugin's Grove moved their houses to Compton. This kind of move happened all over the midwest when the railroads came through.
Love for the old place was strong, and the ties were hard to break, but the last had to give way. To this day, the population of prosperous Compton are descendants of the old Melugin's Grove stock and so closely intermarried that nearly every family is related to every other family. The sturdy old times established fortunes that the younger ones of today enjoy.
Compton today is a bright, wide-awake, beautifully built and more beautifully kept little village of about three hundred and fifty people. It seems as though every resident of the place owns an automobile. It contains a garage, 80 feet long and 40 feet wide, operated by Sam Argraves, a son of one of the old settlers. There is scarcely an hour of the day this garage is not filled. There is not a town lot, but it has its cement sidewalk. The Illinois Northern Utilities gives it day and night electric light and power service.
Beautiful homes predominate. It supports one of the best hotels in the state under the management of Mr. Card. The Compton Mercantile Company store, owned by Joseph Kaufman, Edward A. Bennett and John L. Clapp, is one of the commodious stores of the county. It carries a big stock and transacts an enormous annual business.
John Archer, just across the way, enjoys a splendid business.
W. H. Dishong is the hardware man. H. A. Bernardin has as fine a furniture store as you will find outside of a big city.
The First National Bank enjoys a splendid business.
But the important enterprise of Compton is the Chandler Hospital. This institution, built by a young physician named Dr. A. W. Chandler, has sprung into national fame, and Doctor Chandler has become one of the most noted surgeons in the country. Patients from the Atlantic to the Pacific have come to the Chandler Hospital for treatment. In a little town, with but one railroad. Doctor Chandler, by sheer ability, has made himself and his hospital famous. In his work, Mrs. Chandler has been a tremendous help. She is one of the most superior women one can find. When in Ms earlier years it became necessary to have the services of one skillful and helpful enough to administer anesthetics, Mrs. Chandler stepped into the breach and supplied the Doctor's greatest need. As a surgeon's support and counselor, Mrs. Chandler has no superior. More delightful, intellectual, attractive and companionable people than Doctor and Mrs. Chandler are not to be found.
Recently they purchased in Dixon one of the most beautiful homes in Lee County, situated on the bank of Rock River. Here during the summer months, they delight in entertaining their friends.
Chandler Hospital is one of the big institutions of Lee County, and for the successful amelioration of human suffering, it outranks any institution in the land. The institution has a reputation extending far and wide. Nothing in Lee County has so extensive a reputation, and it is doubtful if any other spot in northern Illinois is as well known.
Compton and West Brooklyn are splendid grain markets; at least 750,000 bushels are marketed annually.
When in 1873, the Kinyon road was built through Brooklyn Township, the people voted to bond the town for $50,000 to help build it. The bonds were issued and sold, and because of the non-performance of promises made by promoters of the road, payment of the bonds was contested for years; but in the end, the courts ruled for the bonds and, with a compromise, they were paid.
Between West Brooklyn platted on section 8 and Compton platted on section 11, a fierce rivalry existed from the first and only until recent years has the old feud died down. Compton was platted by Joel Compton on his farm. West Brooklyn was platted by Demas L. Harris, O. P. Johnson and R. N. Woods. Believing that the factional warfare would ruin both places, Andrew J. Carnahan conceived the plan of building on his farm, the northeast quarter of section 9, midway between the rivals, another town and on June 19, 1873, he platted Carnahan and built thereon a grain elevator. But the other two places prospered and survived, and after serious financial losses, Mr. Carnahan abandoned his plat. The unused big elevator stands today, a monument to recall the fiercest town site fights that Lee County witnessed. The first church, Methodist, was organized in 1837 at the house of Zachariah Melugin and Rev. S. R. Beggs became the first pastor, a circuit rider. Until about the year 1850, church services were held in the schoolhouse. Then, a church was built. Later, in 1860, another church building was erected, moved to Compton, and considerably enlarged.
The United Brethren occupy the other church.
There was a Masonic lodge in Compton.
Mr. John W. Banks, the supervisor of Brooklyn, operates the only grain elevator in Compton. The place is a famous grain center, and Mr. Banks has marketed as high as 400,000 bushels of grain in a year.
The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy is the only road running through Compton. For a time, it was expected the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul would extend its north and south branches through Compton, but for reasons best known to railroads, it ran a mile to the east and, established the Roxbury station and built an elevator. There are no stores in Roxbury, Wyoming Township, but a large amount of grain that found its way to Compton is now marketed at Roxbury.
Compton installed a complete water and sewer system. Its fire protection facilities are as nearly perfect as possible. The Yocum telephone system has its central office in Compton.
Clemons & Clemons do a brisk business in blacksmithing, wagon making and general repairing.
Mr. Harvey A. Cook tells me as high as forty thousand dollars has been received by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy road at that station for freight in a year.
Compton and West Brooklyn are amidst one of the best farming sections. Lands run in value about two hundred dollars per acre. There is a voting precinct at each place. When Mr. Compton platted this village, he reserved a ground block for park purposes where he planted trees. In this, he erected a pagoda, and the Compton band gives summer concerts there.
The residences are kept up beautifully, and there are many of them. Doctor Carnahan, the venerable first physician of the place, still resides at Compton, retired. Back in the dawn of things at Melugin Grove, he practiced.
Many retired farmers live there; while others have gone to Dixon, others decline to break old home ties, and all of them are wealthy.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.