Tazewell’s unincorporated communities: Groveland

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

One of the oldest unincorporated communities in Tazewell County is the village of Groveland, located between Pekin and Morton in Groveland Township. Groveland’s beginnings are coeval with the founding of Tazewell County in 1827, but the village proper, in Sections 26 and 27 of Groveland Township, was first laid out by Isaac Roberts on May 30, 1836.

Notable persons in American history with a connection to Groveland include the abolitionist and feminist writer Eliza Farnham (1815-1864), whose biography “Life in Prairie Land” is available in the Pekin Public Library’s main collection. Another early feminist with a link to Groveland was Catherine Amanda Coburn (1839-1913), an activist in the women’s suffrage movement and a pioneer settler of the Oregon Territory.

The village of Groveland is shown in this detail from an 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County.

The early history of Groveland, and of the township that is named after it, is told in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 475-486. (Other details of Groveland’s early history are scattered throughout Chapman’s book.) Chapman’s account is replete with colorful anecdotes of the township’s pioneers. Following are several excerpts from Chapman’s history of Groveland Township:

“This township received its name from the village of Groveland, and it from the beautiful groves in the neighborhood. A visit to the township at this late day shows it to have been very appropriately christened. The first settler to locate here was James Scott. He built his cabin in the timber on section 35, as early as 1827. Others who came in shortly afterwards were Milton Shurtleff, John O’Brien, Daniel and John Mooberry, John Anderson, Joseph Landes, Benjamin Dobsone, Alexander Caldwell and George Dupree. The only ones of these pioneers now living are John Mooberry, Joseph Landes and John O’Brien. The first school in the township was taught by John McGinnis, in a little log cabin built for that purpose on the southwest quarter of sec. 11, in the winter of 1834-35. Some claim that Mathew Kingman was the first ‘master.’

“Mrs. James Scott, wife of the first settler, gave each new comer into the settlement a hen with her chickens. This was her mode of welcoming them to their new homes. Austin Harding, when a lad of ten, remembers well the circumstances attending the gift of his hen and chickens. With a light heart he carried them home from Mrs. Scott’s, but the hen managed to get out of her place of confinement, the chickens scattered, and his present, which was so highly prized, was lost to him. The good motherly Mrs. Scott, however, replaced it by another hen and her brood. James Scott moved to El Paso in 1859, where, in 1860, he died. George, son of Joseph Landes, bought the original Scott farm, being the southeast corner of section 35 (not 33, as has been recorded) in 1858, of Mr. Elijah Brown, Mr. Scott’s son-in-law, who accompanied Mr. S. to El Paso. . . .

Groveland’s size noticeably increased in the nine years since the 1864 wall plat map, as seen in this detail of the Groveland Township map from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

“Alexander McKnight had a horse mill here, where the settlers could get all kinds of grain ground, but the bolting had to be done by hand. This mill was located on section 1, Elm Grove township, three-quarters of a mile from the south line of Groveland. There was another mill in Elm Grove, driven by tread-wheel power, using horses or oxen. Bolting was also done by hand here. Both mills did good work. The latter, Mr. Shipman’s mill, was running in 1830, how long previous, not known. A negro by the name of Mose was the miller. . . .

“The streams of the township are the South, Middle and North forks of Lick creek, named from the Deer licks of salt springs. At the lick on the Middle Fork, Mr. B. J. Montgomery found the skeleton of two large bucks, that had locked their horns together, and unable to separate themselves died. He kept these horns for many years. . . .

“The oldest house in Groveland is owned by Thomas Hancock, section 27. Some twenty years ago it was moved from the bottoms near Wesley City, and is said to be over fifty years old. It is made of logs and looks quite pioneer-like, as also the present owner, who believes in old-time ways and customs, and has never been on a railway car. Although he does not believe in sewing machines and many other modern improvements, yet we see he has a modern mowing machine. Still he is of that liberal turn of mind which leaves every one, without let or hindrance, to enjoy his own chosen ways.

“The first sermon, it is said, was preached in 1834, by Rev. Neele Johnson, but Joseph Landes tells us he heard Rev. Wm. Brown preach a sermon in 1831, on a farm on section 25, near where the cemetery now is. The first church organization was by Mormons, in 1831 or ’32. There are five churches now in the township. . . .”

Springfield Road runs north-south through the middle of Groveland, dividing the village into two equal halves in this 1910 plat map.

Those other four churches, as Chapman recorded, were the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, Zion’s Church of the Evangelical Association of North America, and the Mennonite Church. The village of Groveland today is the home of Groveland Missionary Church, at 5043 E. Queenwood Road, a congregation established in 1898 at a site a block west of its present location. In 1911 the congregation bought the former Groveland Methodist Church building and relocated there, where it has been ever since. Eastward out at 5324 E. Queenwood Road is Groveland Bible Church, a congregation of the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches. Heartland Christian Fellowship is at 18603 Springfield Road. The Old Towne Grove Chapel at 18856 Springfield Road is also available for services and weddings.

Groveland’s businesses include Woody’s Family Restaurant at 18706 Springfield Road, Kuchie’s Corner at 4980 Edgewater Drive, The Treasure Barn at 17963 Springfield Road, Moyer Electronics at 5058 Edgewater Drive, Casey’s General Store at 19416 Springfield Road, and Tri-County Cleaning Systems at 18881 Springfield Road.

Groveland as it appeared on the Groveland Township plat map from 1891.

With a population of about 1,400 people, Groveland has the legal right to become an incorporated village if the residents so choose – by state law, a community must have at least 600 persons to incorporate as a village governed by its own elected village board. However, Groveland has always been unincorporated, and therefore is served by the county and township governments. The Groveland Township Office is located in Groveland at 173 Washington St., which is also the location of the Groveland Community Library. Groveland has its own U.S. Post Office at 18769 Springfield Road.

In this 1929 plat map, Groveland is little changed from 1910.

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Eliza Farnham’s ‘Life in Prairie Land’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This column usually features resources from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection. These are items that remain in the library and may not be checked out. But this week we’ll turn our attention to a book in the library’s regular collection – a biographical narrative titled “Life in Prairie Land,” published in 1846 by an early feminist and abolitionist writer from New York State named Eliza W. Farnham.

The book describes Farnham’s experiences living in Illinois during the 1830s, a period when most of the state was a part of America’s wild frontier. Her book’s relevance to the history of Tazewell County and Pekin may be discerned from the following passage on page 24, in which Farnham tells the story of her arrival in central Illinois in 1836:

“We worried on through the flood of water that was pouring down the bed of the Illinois and submerging its banks, till the night of the fifth day brought us to the landing place of our friends in the town of Pokerton. It was at that time the county seat of one of the largest and wealthiest counties in the state. Its name is faintly descriptive of its inhabitants in a double sense: one of their favorite recreations being a game at cards, which is indicated by the first two syllables of this name. . . .”

The county to which Farnham referred is none other than Tazewell County, and “Pokerton” is the disdainful monicker that Farnham invented for Pekin. It’s clear from the way Farnham describes Pekin and its residents that she was greatly unimpressed by Pekin, which was then hardly more than an undeveloped frontier village.

"Life in Prairie Land" (1846), by Eliza W. Farnham, reprinted in 1988 by University of Illinois Press, tells of the author's experiences while living in Tazewell County during the 1830s.

“Life in Prairie Land” (1846), by Eliza W. Farnham, reprinted in 1988 by University of Illinois Press, tells of the author’s experiences while living in Tazewell County during the 1830s.

Born Eliza Wood Burhans (but later called Eliza Woodson) on Nov. 17, 1815, at Rensselaerville, N.Y., she was the fourth of five children of Cornelius and Mary (Wood) Burhans. Farnham, still unmarried when she came to Tazewell County, had left New York to live with her sister Mary for a while. Mary and her husband, John M. Roberts, an abolitionist involved in the Underground Railroad, settled near Groveland in 1831, on a homestead that they named Prairie Lodge. Another likely reason Eliza moved to Groveland was to be near a young man she’d met back East, Thomas Jefferson Farnham, a Vermont lawyer who had purchased land near Groveland in the summer of 1835. Eliza and Thomas married on July 12, 1836, settling in Tremont, which became the county seat that very year. (Remarkably, she never mentions Tremont by name in her book, not even using an alias of her own invention.)

The Farnhams lived in Tazewell County until the spring of 1839. While here, Eliza experienced the double sorrow of the death of her sister Mary in July 1838, followed two weeks later by the death of her own firstborn child during an epidemic. In her book, Farnham tells of her meditations on her bereavement that in time led her to move from her youthful atheist views to “a religious state of mind.”

The Farnhams brief stay in Tazewell County ended when Thomas organized a trip to Oregon, exploring the possibility of leading a group of settlers to the Pacific Northwest. Eliza stayed behind in Groveland and Peoria while her husband led the expedition. Upon his return in August 1840, the couple moved back to New York. So ended her experiences of “Life in Prairie Land.”

Farnham would go on to write several articles and books, and in particular was an advocate of feminism (she held that women were morally and biologically superior to men). She also became matron of the women’s half of Sing Sing Prison in Mount Pleasant, N.Y., where she implemented a series of reforms that were oriented toward rehabilitation of the inmates. Due to strong opposition to her reforms, she resigned her position in 1848.

That same year, her husband Thomas died in San Francisco, Calif., which necessitated her own move to California to settle his estate. Those years in California were unhappy ones – she suffered the loss of two of her children, and her second marriage in 1852 to William Fitzpatrick ended with her divorcing him in 1856. Farnham returned to New York for a few years, promoting her feminist views, then moved back to California for a while, then back to the East to advocate for the abolition of slavery. In 1863, as a volunteer nurse at Gettysburg, she contracted tuberculosis. She died Dec. 15, 1864, in New York City and was buried in the Quaker Cemetery at Milton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

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