Annual Gathering of Kendall’s Early Settlers.
Originally Published in the Kendall County Record, August 13, 1890.
Edited and Compiled by Elmer Dickson.
The old settlers of Kendall County met “under the most favorable auspices,” as President Willett said in his address of welcome at the picnic on the Fair Grounds last Thursday. The day was all that could be desired, being cool and clear in the morning, making it delightful for driving for those who came a distance. The numerous flags displayed throughout the village reminded our citizens that it was a holiday.
By the middle of the forenoon the crowd began to gather on the grounds, and at eleven o’clock, the hour for the exercises began. A fair audience was assembled at the seats around the speaker’s stand and was called to order by the Honorable Reuben W. Willett, President of the society. A fervent prayer was offered by Reverend A. Robbins, pastor of the Yorkville Baptist Church, and it was an affecting sight to see the venerable heads bowed in reverence as in eloquent language the good man thanked God for the sterling qualities of the pioneers who have made this country what it is. Some men are noted for one thing and some for another. Brother Robbins is noted for his excellent prayers.
The next thing on the program was to have been music by the Boy’s Drum Corps, but by some hook or crook the boys were not there, and there was no music of any kind during the day.
The address of welcome to the old settlers, by Mr. Reuben Willett, was then delivered by that gentleman, in the following words:
“Members of the Old Settler’s Society, Ladies and Gentlemen:
In welcoming you to the enjoyments and recreations of this occasion, I feel that we meet under the most favorable circumstances. While not realizing to the fullest extent the abundance that his fields indicated a few weeks ago, the husbandman’s efforts for the season will be sufficiently crowned to carry him well through another year, and the enhanced price of his products will make good, to a considerable extent, the shortage of bushels.
The general health of our people is good. We are free from the fear of epidemics from without and dissensions within. Happily, we are free from the contentions and excitements incident to a Presidential campaign, being equally removed from that of the recent past and that of the future. We are greeted on all sides with the hum of industry from shop and field. Very few of our people are not employed or non-producing; the ringing blows of the smith, the buzzing of the saw and hammer strokes of t he carpenter are heard in the shops, while from the field comes the ceaseless hum of the stream thresher, while from one end of the earth to the other, the tireless steam trains bring to the merchant and dealer the products of other climes.
Truly, “Peace hath its victories, no less than war,” showing that each and all of us are trying as best we may to solve the problem of life.
Under surroundings and circumstances so auspicious, I feel that it is good for us to meet on this pleasant occasion, laying, for the time being, our political differences, our religious opinions, and our personal feelings by, when they run counter to those of our fellows, and live over again the years that have passed, recounting again the vicissitudes and privations of pioneer life, “of hair breath escapes by flood and field,” to make our comparisons between then and now, to renew old friendships, and make new ones. To recall sadly those of “blessed memory,” who, in the years that have passed, have met with us on these occasions, and who will meet with us no more, for the report of necrologist on this occasion will reveal to us that, in the short year that has intervened since the last meeting, many old settlers, have passed away from us. It will be well for us to emulate their sterling integrity, their generous hospitality, shunning, so far as we may, their many vices, ever remembering the brave men and their no less fearless companions, who braved the hardships and vicissitudes of a frontier life, that we, their successors might enjoy to the fullest extend, the fruition of their ambition and their enterprise.
And now finally for the purpose of obtaining all the possible enjoyment out of the few hours that we shall remain together, allow me to say to you, one and all, a hearty welcome to such enjoyment and recreation as time and place affords.”
In response to the above by old settlers, John Armstrong of Sheridan, who settled here in 1829, stepped upon the platform. He didn’t come to the picnic to make a speech, but thought the much talked of hardships and privations of the pioneers of this county were more imaginary than real. To be sure, they lived in log cabins, but the latch strings always hung our. No traveler in those days was turned away tired or hungry. The people were more hospitable then than now. He said they had enough to eat, corn bread was plenty, fish were abundant, and an occasional deer supplied the tables. The gentleman was followed in his speech by John Litsey, Esquire, of Yorkville, and Honorable Lott Scofield of Big Grove Township. Each of whom had something appropriate and interesting to say. Following their speeches the audience was dismissed for a couple of hours for dinner, for which the early breakfasts and long drives had prepared an excellent appetite. The crowd was soon separated into various family and neighborhood groups, the baskets brought from the carriages and wagons and the real business of the day commenced. Everyone knows there is nothing that is good to eat that the people of Kendall County don’t have, so it is useless to attempt to describe the dinner, of which there was plenty and more to spare. Dinner was heartily enjoyed by the hungry throng while many an incident of early life was rehearsed by the old-timers.
At two o’clock the crowd again assembled at the speaker’s stand and listened to a poem by Honorable Perry Armstrong of Grundy County, which the gentleman had written for the occasion, the character of which was such as to delight all who heard it. Long live neighbor Armstrong!
The necrolocial report was read by the secretary. After the reading of the report, an address was delivered by a former resident of Kendall County, A. J. Thurber, of Marseilles, which wound up the speech making for the day.
The business of the Society was then looked after. Milton E. Cornell was elected President for the ensuing year and John A. Newell Secretary. A resolution was passed changing the time of holding the annual picnic to the month of June, as follows: Resolved that the old settler’s reunion and basket picnic of Kendall County, after this year, be held on the third Thursday of June, annually.
A game of baseball between the Plano and NaAuSay clubs was one of the attractions during the afternoon. The Plano boys looked very nice in their uniforms and played a fair game, while the general work of the NaAuSay club was very loose. The gentleman in the red shirt, however, pitched a good game; with proper support the result of the contest would have been quite different,
O. D. Sweetman had a refreshment stand on the grounds.
William Green Gaskill of Seward took a day off and was there with his family.
Mrs. John K. LeBaron [Pheobe (Ferriss) LeBaron] of Aurora came down to spend the day with old neighbors.
Mrs. Mary (Bristol) Ryall of Marseilles was on the grounds shaking hands with old friends.
Warren D. Stryker of NaAuSay Township was on the grounds, and acted as umpire during the fore part of the ball game.
Amer Brewer Cook, who came in 1838, quietly greeted old acquaintances. He is looking well, and age bears lightly on him.
Lewis G. Steward walked about very quietly for Lew, and did not even take a place on the platform. Few knew he was on the grounds.
Father Serrine, the good old Christian, once more greeted kindly the many with whom he had been associated with for years as a pioneer.
Lyell T. Aldrich was here, but he wandered about quite lonely for him. His wife did not come with him, as she was getting ready for a trip east.
Of course Smith G. Minkler was there. But he failed in his duty and didn’t bring his drum. There was not a squeak of a fife or the rattle of a drum on the grounds. Too bad!
Charley Sabin, the Yorkville photographer, is a handy man. When Umpire Stryker was called away from the game, Charley took his place and rendered decisions satisfactory to both clubs.
Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Welch and daughter Bessie, of Aurora, came with a big basket and had a grand time. What would a Kendall County gathering amount to anyway, without “Andy’s” genial smile.
Those good people who are always so kindly greeted by so many warm friends, Mrs. And Mrs. Thomas Jefferson Phillips of Newark are among the most constant attendants at these picnics and enjoy meeting the friends of their youth.
Lyman Lane, Esquire, of Bristol was undoubtedly, the oldest man on the grounds. There are older men in the county, but they were too feeble to be present. Mr. Lane is in his ninety-second year, and settled in Kendall County in 1837.
Byron A. Cotton was there. No picnic would be a success without Cotton’s candy for the children and big folks too. We don’t know how many barrels of sugar he used up, but he sold candy as fast as he could make it.
George Sleezer, Newark’s laughing Justice of the Peace, was here early in the morning happy as a man who works well, eats well, sleeps well and laughs long and loud. Mr. Sleezer is approaching the eighties, but still works hard as a mason and stone layer.
Mrs. William Keck of Nevada, Missouri, met many old friends on the ground, who knew her better when she was Mrs. Lyman Hall. She had just returned from a visit to Cincinnati, Ohio where she was with her son Frank Hall, and daughter, Miss Carrie Hall.
Mrs. Harriet Hay, who years ago lived her in the house now occupied by Dr. Hoadley, was at the picnic with her son, Isaac Hay of near Somonauk, having traveled sixteen miles coming and riding back the same distance in the evening. Aunt Harriet is a wonderfully smart lady and is 86 years of age
The ladies of the W. C. T. U. did a flourishing business at their stand, and were kept hustling to supply the demand for lemonade, ice cream and refreshments. Patrons here always got their money’s worth. Their lemonade was made of lemons, not acid.
With all the musical talent we have in Kendall County, it seems a piece of bad management that none of it materialized at the picnic. Evidently someone neglected their duty in looking after this part of the program. It was quite disappointing to the crowd, and such a way of doing business should not be repeated. Think of a big picnic with no music of any kind.
The venerable John Armstrong was telling some incident, and a bystander asked, “When was that Mr. Armstrong?” “The winter of the big snow,” was his reply. As many of us had seen big snows, the date was indefinite. “When was the winter of the big snow?” “Oh!” said Mr. Armstrong, “In 1830-1831” And he was here to see it. Few of us remember it.
They said last winter that I would never get out of the house again alive,” said Father Daniel Platt, “I was so sick and so near death’s door; but here I am, feeling first rate.” Father Platt founded Plattville in 1833, and has lived there ever since. His good wife was with him. She is one of those motherly souls you read of in the good books. Grand old people these pioneers.
That man over there shaking hands with so many, his face broken up with smiles and his eyes twinkling with fun is Sim [Simeon] Brown of Big Grove Township. His wife is here with him, and that makes Sim happy, as she has been quite an invalid for a year. Sim is seventy years old! Wouldn’t think it, would you? He doesn’t look sixty. His father, David Brown, couldn’t come with him this year. His father is 96 years old and still in good health.
Morris Post: While at the old settler’s picnic in Yorkville yesterday, Honorable Perry A. Armstrong met two “boys’ who went to school with him when the wielded the rod in the Hollenback log school in the town of Fox, Kendall County, in 1841. One was George M. Hollenback, Master in Chancery of Kendall County, and a Mr. Williams of Little Rock Township. James “Lytle” Haymond of this city (Morris, IL) was also one of his pupils at the time.
Among others we noticed on the grounds, whose services entitled them to honor as pioneers of this valley, were C. Y. Godard, John A. Newell, James Smith Cornell, W. L. VanCleve and wife, Gilbert “Denslow” Henning, John Litsey, James Shepard, George W. Harris, Joseph N. Harris, Thomas Atherton, J. N. Austin, Nathan Carr Mighell, Mrs. W. W. Marsh, John Parker, Isaac Hay, Lyman Lane, Edmund Seely, Jacob Pope, Robert McMurtrie, and Thomas Penman, all of whom came here between 1833 and 1840; Lewis Rickard, James Scofield, William Grimwood, Lott Scofield, John A. Wheeler, Rollin Wheeler, David P. Gillam, Matthew Budd, Mrs. Jacob Budd, and others who came between 1840 and 1848. There were many who were native born who are between fifty and sixty years of age.
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