Early Settlers of Downs, Illinois

Henry Jacoby took up a claim here about the same time, and was for years a neighbor of Downs. These early adventurers did not find all the conveniences here which would make life pleasant. The hunting was better than now, but all those things which are now thought to be necessaries were wanting. Money was so scarce that it was hardly talked of as a commodity. In place of the short-horns and Berkshires, which you see now in every pasture and feed-yard in this magnificent county, were the black, brindle, piebald, polled, streaked and speckled cattle which, for want of a name, we usually call natives. They were as uneven in quality as variegated in colors, and lacked all the finer beef-qualities for which their successors, the short-horns, are so famous. They answered the purposes for which they were wanted, however, perhaps full as well, perhaps better, than the present popular breed would have done. The working cattle were lively, and endured fatigue and heat well ; and even after they were fatted, they stood the long drives, which the then system of marketing demanded, much better than the cattle of the present day would. They could hardly have been called handsome, but they were in all ways the main help and chief profit of the farmer. As much can hardly be said of the wind-splitting prairie-rooters that were the only hogs then known in these parts. But then, they were hogs, and did not like to be trifled with. They lived on roots and nuts, and could outrun a horse. When the farmer went to feed them, he put the corn where he was sure the contrary fellows would find it; and if he had tried to call them with that long, sonorous, half-shout and half-groan now in use to bring hogs to their feed, the chances are decidedly that he would have scared them out of the timber, and might never have seen them. But they were handy to drive, as men had to drive hogs in those days. The breeds of hogs which farmer now raise and feed never would have stood the trips to Chicago and Galena that those ” timber hogs ” did.

Thomas Toverca came here from Randolph, about 1830. A short notice is given of him in the accompanying history of that township. He was one of those characters that the rapid march of civilization is fast abolishing. He had served under Gov. Edwards in the early Indian difficulties in this part of the State; and in the expedition to which he was attached, an engagement had taken place at the crossing of the Wabash River. Later, they were driven from Old Town Timber, at the place where the early white settlers, a few years afterward, found such fine blue-grass pasture, and were followed until they crossed the Illinois River, near Ottawa. Mr. Toverca was a rough, uncouth man, of no early culture, but was an ardent believer in the truths of religion, and was an exhorter of considerable power. After living a short time with his old friend Randolph, he took up a claim in Section 7, here in Downs, and resided here until 1861. He then moved to Iowa, and died at Oskaloosa.

R. F. Dickerson, of Empire, tells of getting up an exciting reaction at one of Toverca’s meetings, by getting a dog and cat to fighting out doors while the meeting was in progress in the schoolhouse.

John Price came here from Kentucky, in 1830, but did not then locate here. In 1834, he entered the land on Section 4, which, in 1836, he made his home, and upon which he still lives. This first, he entered at Vandalia, and later, he entered land at. Danville, making, in all, nearly seven hundred acres, which he purchased at the Government price. His neighborhood was called Priceville, and still popularly retains the name, although the station and post office are called Downs. In 1871, Mr. and Mrs. Price celebrated their golden wedding in a most pleasant and long-to-be-remembered entertainment. He has always been a public-spirited man, and has taken an active part in township affairs. He was proprietor of the little village, and has taken a lively interest in its welfare. The aged couple, who have enjoyed almost sixty years of married life, look back on the trials and privations of those early years with few regrets. Of their eight children, four are still living. Gillum Station, in Old Town, was named after one of his daughters, Mrs. Mary Gillum Condon.

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William Weaver came here from Washington County in the fall of 1832, and settled on the township line between Downs and Old Town. He was a preacher of the Anti-Mission Baptists, and used to hold religious meetings in the schoolhouses. He brought sixty head of cattle with him when he came here, and commenced at once to improve his farm. Of thirteen children, twelve grew up to maturity, though only two yet reside in town-his youngest son and the wife of A. P. Craig. Mr. Weaver died in 1838, of congestive chills.

His son, Joseph B. Weaver, who was born the year before his father came here to live, is a man of more than ordinary intelligence. He lives at Downs Station, and has shown a lively interest in the affairs of his township, both political and educational. He served three years in the Ninety-fourth Regiment, and is greatly respected in the community in which he lives.

E. H. Wall came here from Kentucky, in 183:3; and settled in the Priceville neighborhood, in Section 5. He bad for a number of years been a devoted member of the \I. E. Church, and was for ten years a class-leader there. When he came to the new home, he brought his religion with him, and exercised a decided influence for good. When he was quite young, Rev. Peter Cartwright had made a visit to his father’s house, and had made a strong impression on the young man’s mind. He often had occasion to exercise a good influence for the keeping of the Sabbath, and was one of the first to get a schoolhouse built where schools and meetings could be held. His life was an example of fervent piety, and the exercise of noble aspirations. About 1853, he moved to Section ,i4, and remained there until he died from the effects of a cancer that for fifteen years had slowly spread, withstanding all efforts to stay its progress.

William Bishop, who settled in the same neighborhood, and kept the “Six-mile House” across the line in Old Town Township, entered the land where his son Henry now lives, in Downs, in 1838. Henry C. has a fine farm, and is a prosperous farmer.

Rev. R. D. Taylor came to Old Town Timber in 1836. He had been educated at Princeton College, Kentucky. a school of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and came here before his ordination. partially because he believed it to be an important field and one needing laborers, and partly because he did not believe in the institution of slavery, and wanted to get away from it. He commenced to preach here, and was ordained by the Mackinaw Presbytery in 1833. He went to work with a will, and preached and taught school. His circuit extended from the Mackinaw to Salt Creek. He lived on the east half of the southeast quarter of Section 3, and used to hold services in the house of ‘Mr. Manning; and later, in the Union Church, built on the north east quarter of Section 2, by the Methodists and Presbyterians jointly. While he was preaching, one Sabbath, his house took fire and burned up, with all its contents. He was just expatiating on the mercy of God, and had just remarked that, no matter what calamity comes to us, the goodness and mercy of God are plainly discernible, even in calamity, when the alarm of fire was sounded, which proved to be his home.

He was an excellent school-teacher, and many of the older citizens of Downs received their finishing at his hands. Hon. John Cusey, Wiatt Adams, P. B. Price, Mrs. Condon, J. B. Weaver, Asa Savidge, and many others, were among his graduates. He moved from here to De Witt County, and thence to Le Roy, where he still lives, still laboring in the Master’s vineyard; though, for several years, he has not held regular pastoral relation. He is believed to be the first regularly-educated minister who labored here, and his record and labors here show how much good can be done by an earnest, devoted life, when seconded by the aid which education gives.

For more than forty years he has given his labors to the cause of religion, and, as he believes every Christian minister’s duty is, has saved enough, and only enough, to make him and his wife comfortable, if he is spared here beyond the time his strength of body and mind will permit him to labor. He has no complaint to make, and few regrets. His later years seem peaceful and lit up with a spirit of unclouded joy.

Mr. Isaac Peasley came from Virginia to this county in 1834, and remained for two years a renter on Jesse Funk’s land, and, in 1836, came out onto the prairie and put up a cabin on Section 19, two miles from the timber, a little west of where his son, Sylvester, now lives. When the neighbors came out from Randolph’s Grove, to help him put up his house, they made light of his judgment in coming out so far from the Grove, and offered to give him all the land he could see. They were sure he never could live there-a statement he almost thought verified when the ‘° sudden change” struck his prairie home, the December following. He moved across the road, a few years later, onto Section 30, and remained there till he died, in 1861.

His son; Sylvester, commenced to make a farm at his present residence, in Section 20, in 1847. In his younger days, he did not enjoy many educational advantages, as his time was given to helping his father care for the family, but a well-stored mind shows that he has not let slip any advantages that were in his reach. He is an ordained minister of the Baptist denomination, and continued to preach until a bronchial affection compelled him to discontinue it.

He has given much attention to the raising and feeding of stock, and has, by hard work, good judgment and excellent business habits, acquired a fair portion of this world’s goods.. Like all the early settlers, he was obliged to make Chicago his market when it seemed about all the load of grain was worth to get there. He early made cattle-raising his principal business. He has always taken an interest in the affairs of the town and of the schools. He was elected the first Supervisor, and, for the last eleven years, he has been continuously the Supervisor; and, for the last two years, Chairman of the Board. – He owns 300 acres of land, which is being well worked. In 1876, he built a large and well-arranged residence on his farm, really the finest one in Downs. It is 34×48, two stories high, with large, airy rooms, and well arranged for the comfort of the family and the delight of his friends. The cellars are nicely plastered and frost-proof, and, indeed, all its appointments are excellent.

Mr. Peasley has a fine herd of short-horns, numbering about twenty-five, among which are several very fine animals, showing the same good care in selection and excellent judgment in breeding which are seen in all his affairs. He is justly esteemed one of Downs’ best citizens, such a one as McLean County knows how to use in her public affairs. W. W. Peasley has a fine farm of 375 acres on Section 29. The buildings are excellent, and the grounds beautifully adorned with evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubbery. The beautiful lawn and neatly-trimmed hedges indicate the home of refinement and comfort. The Sabbath-school Conventions are usually held on his grounds, and it would be difficult to find a more delightful place for these annual convocations. Ebenezer Craig came to Downs and took up land near the northern line of the township, in 1834. He moved to Empire Township two years later, and returned to Downs in 1840, where he resided till his death in 1854.

His son, A. P. Craig, continued to reside on the homestead, making it into a good farm. He married a daughter of Mr. Weaver, and had ten children born to him, nearly all of whom made their homes near by. He was a man of intelligence and probity, dying, respected and esteemed by all who knew him, in 1874. He owned about 600 acres of land, most of which was in this township. His business was principally cattle raising and feeding.

One of the most successful farmers in Downs, according to the testimony of all his neighbors, is Mr. Henry Welch, who came here from Indiana, in 1835, and took up land at Diamond Grove, where he still resides.

He was a driving, energetic man, and permitted nothing to distract his attention from his farming, except that during the first few years he was obliged to team and work around wherever he could earn enough to give him a start. He has, for years, been a large stock-raiser and feeder of cattle, bogs, horses and sheep. His experience in the latter was more successful than the average, except that he was never able to get bold of a herd of sheep that worse than useless dogs would not destroy by the score on every occasion. His losses from dogs have been discouraging. He has a fine farm where he resides, and a large farm in West Township. In cattle raising and feeding, he has no superior, though he never has driven so large a business as the Funk’s and some others, he has, nevertheless, been a decided success. Mr. Welch is the father of eight children, most of whom have grown up around him to enjoy the advantages of his excellent example, his thrift and good management.

Hon. John Cusey came to McLean County with his father- and brother in 1836, and was for several years engaged in working at his trade, that of a cabinet-maker and carpenter. At different times he has run nearly all the saw-mills erected on this stream. and was engaged in building several of the earlier houses, which were built in this town and in Bloomington. He framed and built the first framed house built in Downs-that now owned by Joseph Kershaw, on Section 21. It was built on Section 11, November, 1842. In 1843, it was moved to Section 1, in Randolph, and, a few years after, moved back to Section 21, in Downs, where it now stands. To move houses in those days was not so great an undertaking. They put a pair of false sills under them, chambered off like sleigh-runners, and made a bee, getting together a few prairie-breaking teams of cattle, and made short work of drawing it a few miles. After this working around for several years, he, in 1845, entered the northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 6, Town 21, Range . He sold as good a team as he ever owned to get money to enter this, as he supposed; forty; but, when he got to Danville, he found that it was what was known as a fractional corner, and contained fifty-six acres; he deposited his fortune there and came back home to raise enough to pay for the tract. He lived there twenty-three years, and then moved farther east, on Section 5, where he now lives.

For many years, he was in the employ of Jesse Funk as his clerk, going with him to buy and weigh his purchases. Funk could buy more hogs than any man in the country. He placed the most implicit confidence in Cusey, a confidence which it is almost unnecessary to say never was violated in the slightest. It was Funk who gave Cusey the title of ” Deacon ” against the latter’s protest, for Cusey is a Methodist, and does not recognize the Congregational title; but his employer excused it by explaining to Mr. Cusey that people around where be went to buy bogs would not be suspicious of him when they learned that he kept a deacon for his companion and clerk. The ” Deacon ” never thought of demanding increased salary to support the pomp and circumstance of this titular dignity.

Mr. Cusey has always taken an interest in politics. Following his father’s strong anti slavery bent, he became a Republican, and has held strongly to that party since its beginning. He has eight times been elected Assessor and twice Supervisor. In the latter position, he displayed the strong, clear, good sense which is the leading point in his character in so marked a degree, that, in 1872, he was selected by the Republicans as their candidate far the Senate, and he was elected the first Senator from McLean County after it became a district alone.

During the time of his service in the State Senate, the revision of the laws of the State was perfected, and, with untiring zeal, he exerted a large influence on the side of rugged justice, strict accountability of officials, and more prompt enforcement of law against all violators.

Whether the people of McLean County know it or not, the writer knows that no Senator from that county ever goes to Springfield that he does not awaken a kind of undefined suspicion on the part of the others that there is lurking about him sundry embryo raids on the treasury or ill-concealed demands for appropriations which must be opposed and defeated. Mr. Cusey was not free from the suspicion which the locality attaches o her representatives. He was, fortunately, able to do much to not only relieve himself, but those who follow him, from the unjust and disagreeable imputation. On the whole, his term of service in the Senate, while a laborious, was a very successful one. Being at a time when the ” Farmers’ movement” was at its height, he was, from his occupation, his uncommon good sense and loyalty both to the interests of the farmers and to his own convictions, enabled to do many things to satisfy them that all legislation is not in the interest of monopolies and lawyers.

The peculiarity of his name-his own family and his brothers being, so far as he knows, the only persons bearing the name in America-was the subject of many a remark, and a mistake while he was in the Senate. There sat in the Senate during the three winters that Mr. Cusey was there, Col. Thomas S. Casey, who was, in all things except in his unbounded good nature, the very opposite of John Casey. Tall, handsome, full built, with a full share of the dash which a short year’s service which bad given him the title he so gracefully wore, a lawyer of excellent abilities, and the acknowledged leader of the Democracy of the Senate, which was in minority one session, and by union with the Independents and the Haines became a majority the following one, as proud of his name as of his person, it is not strange that the frequent confounding of the names of these two radical opponents should produce amusing mistakes and be the cause of almost endless explanation. It also afforded an easy way out of an unfortunate or unpopular vote. Nearly everything which the present generation learn of their Representatives they get from telegrams in the daily papers, and the frequent mistakes which telegraphic operators make in names is notorious. If Casey introduced a bill to protect the financial interests of owners of valuable horses, Casey was published in his Egyptian home as ” giving his valuable legal mind to fixing the legal status of colt and sire.” When Casey introduced a bill to protect the Downs sheep from the ravages of dogs, Casey’s constituents were congratulated by the local press on the fact that their Senator was finally aroused to the most important farmers’ interest of the day. Many laughable incidents arose from these matters, among which was the introduction of a bill by Col. Casey, as he jocosely said, to protect his fair name, for changing the name of Senator Cusey. One of the “Mistakes of the Telegraphers,” which the writer is certain never has been in print, but which he is personally able to vouch for, was this The person who held the not very pleasant position of night operator at the Springfield office that winter, and who had, probably, a thousand times clicked off the names of these two worthy Senators, had heard so much said about the confusion he was innocently making that he came to the Senate chamber, one afternoon, to look at them, in order, perhaps, to familiarize himself with their appearance. Calling to his aid an officer of the Senate, be asked to have Col. Casey pointed out to him. After taking a good look at the leader of the Democracy, and remarking that he was a splendid fellow, and suggesting a “pity he drinks,” said, inquiringly, “Now, which is Cusey?” The broad grin which followed was the first intimation he had that he had not simply been making the mistake of spelling.

Senator Cusey, since he retired from the Senate, has devoted his time to farming. He was married to Miss Bishop, a daughter of Jacob Bishop, of Randolph, in 1843, who has had nine children, seven of whom are now living.

S. T. Richardson came to Downs and took up a piece of land just south of Diamond Grove, along the Kickapoo, in 1839. He was a brother-in-law of Henry Welch, and came here to bring their mother, Mrs. Welch. He worked a small farm, but his time was much given to teaming. Pekin, in Tazewell County, was the nearest river point to all this country, and much of their farm produce went there after the completion of the Illinois Canal, though Mr. Richardson and others went frequently to Chicago. In going to Chicago, with cattle, they had the first station at Smith’s Grove, neat at Eppard’s Point, then at Babcock’s Grove, called Wolf Grove. There was then a long stretch before they reached the timber on the Mazon.

He has a good farm, of 200 acres, on Section 18, and is enjoying the well-earned rewards of a laborious, honest and well-spent life. He is highly esteemed, as such men always must be. With his fine family of children, and some grandchildren, to enjoy the good example of a faithful life, he does not much regret the trials and discouragements of his early career. He now resides in Bloomington.

In the early days, postal facilities were always of less interest than at the present. Few families took the papers, and the correspondence of an entire neighborhood, like this around Diamond and Old Town, would not amount to as much as that of a school girl now. They depended largely on sending letters by some one going to, or returning from, the new home. Twenty-five cents fbr a letter was too much for frequent correspondence, and it was not unusual for a letter to remain in the office for weeks, especially along about tax-paying time, before the required “two bits ” could be spared.

The earliest post office for this part of the county, was at Gov. Moore’s, though soon after that, one was established at Lytleville, and one at Le Roy, though, in point of convenience, Bloomington was better than either. About 1556, Downs Post Office was established, and was kept at the house of -Mr. Peasley until the railroad was built, and was then transferred to Downs Station, without a change of name.

Besides the good farms alluded to in the accounts of early settlement, Downs has a number of fine farms and thrifty farmers.

J. W. Kershaw owns 510 acres in Sections 21,22 and 28. He has been largely engaged in raising and feeding, and buying for feeding cattle, and has made this business a success. He has a nice house, and probably the largest, best-arranged, and best barn in town. His farm is well adapted to stock-raising, and the orchards good.

Wyatt Adams has a fine farm of 210 acres on Sections 16 and 17, about two miles south of Downs Station. He has farmed this land 34 years, and there is nothing to indicate that the land is run out. He has a pleasant house, which seems, to the passer-by, to be the home of comfort and well-directed industry. He has raised a family of eleven children, and is naturally proud of them. Who wouldn’t be? for there is luck in odd numbers, and most of the early settlers of Downs brought up crops of nine, ten, or twelve. Eleven was not, by any means, a common number. Solomon Mason has 200 DD 712 HISTORY OF McLEAN COUNTY.

acres in Section 18. It is a good farm, and Mr. Mason is nicely fixed to enjoy the frugal luxuries of a rural home.

Henry Wagner has a comfortable home and his farm of 275 acres, in Section 17. He has been a successful farmer, but has never branched out largely into the cattle business, like some of his neighbors. Everything about him bears the indication of thrift and well-directed industry.

Nelson McDaniels has been a successful stock farmer for thirty years. His farm is now in splendid condition.

Eber Hornor came onto his present farm of 300 acres, directly north of Rev. Sylvester Peasley’s, in 1852, from Indiana. He bought of Mr. Dennis. The farm had been worked several years, and shows a careful, thrifty manager. He never has dealt much in cattle. George M. Wilson has a good farm on Section 8 (31, 3), with a nice residence, and everything about the place looks tidy and well kept. He has not made a specialty of of any particular branch of farming, but has been more than ordinarily successful.

Jobn McConnell has a fine farm of half- a section in Sections 35 and 2 (21, 3). He has a good house, built two years ago, 26×30, two stories high, with three well proportioned rooms in each store, nicely furnished, with large kitchen and summer kitchen in the rear. The grounds are neatly adorned with evergreens and shrubbery.

The barn, recently built, is large and roomy; about 40×60, and painted. A fine pair of twin boys, Eddie and Willie, now twelve years old, are one of the chief attractions of this beautiful country home. Mr. McConnell has lived here twenty years, and is a respected and honored citizen.

Cornelius and Byron Covey, father and son, have good farms about one mile north of McConnell’s, and are excellent farmers.

Very few of the farmers of Downs have been led into unfortunate speculations to their financial detriment. Those who have gone heavily into buying, feeding and shipping cattle, during the years of gradual decline of prices of cattle, have inevitably suffered, and some have been bankrupted. During those years while prices were receding, of course large ventures could hardly fail to bring large losses ; but most of the farmers have cautiously kept their business within their control.


Le Baron, William., Jr. & Co. The History of McLean County, Illinois: portraits of early settlers and prominent men. Chicago. W. Le Baron, Jr., 1879.

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