By Hampden, Lisbon correspondent to the Kendall
Published in two parts, June 23 and June 30, 1870.
Edited and compiled by Elmer Dickson
In 1836, Horace Moore and his two sons were dividing their labors between putting up the first house in Lisbon, and breaking up their lands. During the same year, Mr. Levi Hills built a log tavern a little westward, which, in years afterward gave place to the stately and permanent stone house of the Hon. Henry Sherrill. This new settlement now called for a road. The great thoroughfares from Chicago, westward, lay to the north two miles. In due form, a highway was laid out, extending from Joliet, passing the log tavern and intersecting the Chicago Road at Holderman's Grove. Settlers looking for homes visited the new enterprise. Both the inn and the farmhouse were not infrequently taxed to the last spare bed. What guests they entertained, what table accommodations and dormitory arrangements resorted to, are not forgotten now. This generous full hearted hospitality spread the fame of the new village. The log tavern was a familiar name on the Atlantic seaboard. It became a prominent point in western travel. Lines of coaches had to multiply to meet the increasing demand. The great highway of tourists and businessmen lay through Lisbon. Fifteen daily stages drove up to the door of the prairie tavern. Six ponderous coaches paused at the dinner hour and crowds of hungry passengers sat down to its table. Men of distinction often sought rest and refreshment under its genial roof. The Hon. Martin VanBuren, senators from Washington, United States officials, officers holding important military trusts and commanding positions answered its bell and enjoyed its savory viands.
Public business had so increased that a post office was demanded and initial steps in acquiring one were taken. Then came the important question, what would be its name? The "Prairie Tavern" had answered all immediate demands during the formative state of the rising village. Now however, it was to be linked to the outside world and be enrolled in alphabetical order. It would soon find its way into the archives of the national government. These "high considerations" led Mr. Levi Hills prompted by his practical good sense, to select the terse, vigorous, brusque name, Lisbon. The application to the Post Office Department at Washington, DC was headed, "Lisbon, LaSalle Co., ILL." Letters missive duly authenticated by large waxen seals, and marked "Official Business." Established the new post office, and installed "mine host," (Levi Hills) postmaster. The prairie tavern was a new link in the great mail system of the United States.
The tide of population set in towards this new and growing center of thrift and enterprise. Lands were taken up, foundations laid, and homes arose in neighboring proximity. Ready hands never failed to aid the stranger who came to settle in, and around Lisbon.
Enterprise progressed and the ambitious village grew, when the importance and necessity of education absorbed the public mind. The only thing lacking was a school building. There were no funds for such a purpose and no law yet enacted by which to create them. Public meetings were called. Measures adopted, and the emergency met in the accustomed business spirit of the people.
During the deliberations out of which the new schoolhouse grew, Miss Elizabeth Bushnell (now Mrs. A. J. Ford) gathered the children together in a granary. There she began teaching and has the high honor of being the pioneer educator of Lisbon.
In the meantime, active measures were in operation, materials collecting, the site selected, and workmen engaged. In the spring of 1838, the frame of the first schoolhouse was erected. By autumn, the pride of the village, the new schoolhouse was finished and standing on the public square. It must have been an imposing building in those days. Its dimensions were 20 by 30 feet with a commanding height. There were three large windows on each side of the building.
The interior was plain but substantial. The teacher's desk was constructed so that when the teacher was sitting on the board or shelf like arrangement, nothing of the teacher's personage was visible to the anxious scholars but the top of the head. If the teacher was moderate in size, the view was even less distinct. If the teacher was short, his diminutive proportions sunk out of sight as he sat behind the desk and occupied the little shelf provided for his comfort.
Around the building, fastened to the wall, ran a shellfire seat and a long tier of desks, which, in turn gave opportunity for another stretch of seats for little scholars. Back-less benches constructed with an auger and axe of simplest workmanship occupied the center of the room. These benches were especially contrived to teach self-denial and "mortify the flesh" and all that "pertained thereto." The unanimous testimony of the alumni confirms the complete success of their "alma mater" in this weary effort.
Ruttan's system of ventilation was not only unknown in those days, but unneeded in our new schoolhouse. Drafts of pure, sweet air, filtered by a sweep of 3000 miles, direct from the Arctic world, gave bloom to the face and spirit and health to youth. The architecture was of the order that admitted it freely. The warming apparatus was divided into two departments. We will do what the teacher did not, pass lightly over the first, and only notice the second.
The stove had passed its youth and vigor, and declining under the infirmities of age, had retired from active life, when benevolence gave it, both to adorn and warm the new school house. By an unfortunate accident, years before, it had sustained a severe fracture, which marred its beauty and impaired its graceful symmetry. In its new position, a hitherto unknown vice was discovered. It became a great eyesore to the teacher, for in conjunction with decrepitude and infirm age, it had contracted the habit of an inveterate smoker. It lacked firmness also, and was found to waver in the discharge of duty. To brace up against this weakness, a few kind and sympathizing bricks lent very material aid to the cripple, and in lieu of the lost member, added strength and support.
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