Tazewell’s unincorporated communities: Dillon

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As we continue our series on Tazewell County’s unincorporated communities, this week we go to Dillon Township for a visit to one of the county’s oldest communities: the village of Dillon.

The village and the township of Dillon bear the name of the Dillon family, who, as we have told before in this column space, were among the very first pioneers to arrive in the future Tazewell County during the years immediately after Illinois became a state in 1818. That year North Carolina native Nathan Dillon (1793-1868) brought his family overland from Ohio to Sangamon County, first dwelling on Sugar Creek south of Springfield. Dillon then struck out north, arriving in the future Tazewell County in 1823 and putting down roots in Section 1 of what later became Dillon Township.

Nathan Dillon has traditionally been called Tazewell County’s first white settler, but he arrived here a year after William Blanchard (1797-1883) of Fondulac Township and long after the French fur traders of Opa Post in Creve Coeur. The confusion over who was the first settler arose from the haste with which Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history was compiled and edited – Chapman didn’t learn that Blanchard preceded Dillon until the printing of his book was underway, so Chapman’s book at first states that Dillon was the earliest, then later on corrects and apologizes for that error.

That error made it into John Drury’s 1954 “This is Tazewell County,” which includes this brief description of the village of Dillon on page 95:

“Another pioneer village of Tazewell County is Dillon, which today has a population of 60. It was platted in 1836 and at first was called Liberty. Dillon is the only community in Dillon Township, with a present population of 602. The first settler of the township, Nathan Dillon, was also the first settler of Tazewell County (sic). He arrived in 1821 (sic) and laid out a farm just north of the Mackinaw River.”

Situated on Springfield Road at the northern boundary of Dillon Township, the village of Dillon consists of about 30 homes in Section 3 of the township, a few miles to the west of where Nathan Dillon had built his homestead. According to late local historian Fred Soady, Dillon started out as a stage coach stop and a post office along Springfield Road, being known simply as Mackinaw Settlement from 1826 to 1828. Though formally platted as “Liberty” on June 18, 1836, people in the area preferred to call the village by the name of the Dillon family who were so numerous in the area, so Liberty was renamed and replatted as Dillon.

The unincorporated village of Dillon, seat of Dillon Township, was originally platted as “Liberty” in 1836. Shown here is a copy of the original plat of Liberty, recorded June 18, 1836. IMAGE COURTESY THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Plat of Dillon from the 1871 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.” Note that it is identical to the 1836 plat of Liberty.

The original plat of Liberty was a neat grid of north-south and east-west streets: Farm, Locust, and Cherry streets run east-west, while Walnut, Main, and Apple streets run north-south. The plat of Dillon that was published in the 1873 Tazewell County atlas has the same layout of lots and streets, but the 1873 plat only identifies the north-south streets (with the same names as the 1836 plat of Liberty) and leaves the east-west streets unnamed. Dillon today has three east-west streets (Townline Road, Peach Street, and Washington Street) and three north-south streets (Springfield Road, Apple Street, and Peach Street). Peach Street starts at Springfield Road as an east-west street but curves northward – on the west side of Springfield Road, Peach Street becomes Dillon Road.

Plat of Dillon from the 1891 Tazewell County Atlas.

Plat of Dillon from the 1910 Tazewell County Atlas.

Plat of Dillon from the 1929 Tazewell County Atlas.

The plat of Dillon in the 1891 Tazewell County atlas shows that the village then had a school, general store, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable, and a Methodist Episcopal church. According to Soady, Dillon had a post office until 1901. By 1910 the village had added another blacksmith shop, lost its post office, but otherwise had not changed – but the 1929 plat of Dillon shows only the Methodist Episcopal church. The Methodist church isn’t there any longer, but today there is a congregation of the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.) denomination called New Hope Fellowship at 20639 Peach St. in Dillon.

Dillon is also the seat of township government. The township hall, which serves as the only polling place for the township, is located at 10680 Peach St. in Dillon.

The villages of Dillon and Danforth (Tullamore) are shown in this detail of an 1864 wall plat map of Tazewell County.

Dillon is shown near the northern border of Dillon Township in this detail of a map from the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

Dillon is shown at the northern border of Dillon Township in the detail of a map from the 1891 Tazewell County Atlas.

Dillon is shown at the northern border of Dillon Township in the detail of a map from the 1910 Tazewell County Atlas.

Dillon is shown at the northern border of Dillon Township in the detail of a map from the 1929 Tazewell County Atlas.

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The founding of Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

After Illinois achieved statehood, new settlers poured into central Illinois throughout the 1820s, making new homes for themselves in and around Fort Clark (Peoria) or clearing land for farms along the eastern shores and bluffs of Peoria Lake and the Mackinaw River basin. Those were the years that saw the arrival of Tazewell County pioneers William Blanchard, Nathan Dillon, and William Holland.

Another of those early settlers was an Ohio resident named Jonathan Tharp (1794-1844), who built a log cabin on a ridge above the Illinois River in 1824 at a spot that is today the foot of Broadway in Pekin. Tharp’s cabin was the seed that would sound sprout and grow into the city of Pekin.

The result of the wave of immigration of those years was that in 1825, a mere seven years after statehood, the State Legislature erected a new county, named for the Peoria tribe of the Illiniwek who had once dwelt in that place.

Tazewell County came along almost on the heels of Peoria County’s founding. As we have often recalled in this column, Tazewell County was established in 1827. It was Illinois’ 38th county – the 23rd county since statehood. At the time, Tazewell County was officially a part of Sangamon County, but was in fact under the governmental administration of Peoria County.

This detail from a map printed in the State of Illinois’ 1991 booklet, “Origin and Evolution of Illinois Counties,” shows the original boundaries of Tazewell County as established by the State Legislature in 1827 and 1829. The village of Mackinaw was chosen as the first county seat because it was then near the geographical center of the county.

The original plan was to name the new county “Mackinaw,” after the tributary of the Illinois River that flowed through it (a Kickapoo chief named Mackinaw or Machina also lived with his people in Tazewell County in those years). However, one of the county’s prominent pioneers, Gideon H. Rupert (1799-1877), a Virginia native, intervened to have the proposed bill to establish the county amended, so the new county would instead be named for U.S. Senator Littleton W. Tazewell of Virginia. The first county seat was still named Mackinaw, though.

Following is the account of the founding of Tazewell County as found in Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” pages 207-209 (emphasis added):

“Tazewell county was organized by an act of the Legislature January 31st, 1827, with the following boundaries: Beginning at the northeast corner of township twenty, north of the base line, and range three east of the third principal meridian, thence north on said line to the north line of township twenty-eight north, thence west to the middle of the Illinois river, thence down said river to the north line of township twenty north, thence east to the place of beginning.

“In the act organizing the county January 31, 1827, an error occurred in describing the boundaries. This error was corrected by an act re-establishing the boundaries, passed January 22, 1829.

“The territory comprising the county of Tazewell formed part of the counties at the dates named in the several subdivisions of the State prior to the organization of the county, as follows:

“1809 — At this date Illinois Territory was organized, and was subdivided into the counties of Randolph and St. Clair. Tazewell was included in the county of St. Clair.

“1812 — Tazewell formed part of the county of Madison.

“1814 — Tazewell was included in the counties of Madison and Edwards: west of the third principal meridian in Madison, east of the meridian in Edwards.

“1816 — Tazewell was included within the boundaries of Madison and Crawford counties: east of the meridian in Crawford, west in Madison.

“1817 — Tazewell formed part of the counties of Bond and Crawford: west of the meridian in Bond, east in Crawford.

“1819 — Tazewell was included in Clark and Bond counties: west of the meridian in Bond, east in Clark.

“1821 — Tazewell formed part of Fayette and Sangamon counties: west of the meridian in Sangamon, east in Fayette.

“1827 — Tazewell organized January 31st: boundary defective.

“1829 — Tazewell boundaries defined, and error in law of 1827 corrected as above given. County originally created from territory then comprising part of the counties of Sangamon and Fayette:
west of the third principal meridian taken from Sangamon, east of the meridian, comprising 24 townships, taken from Fayette.

“1830 — McLean county was formed by taking off the three ranges east of the meridian and range one west of the meridian.

“1839 — Logan county was created, taking off three townships on the south.

“1841 — The counties of Mason and Woodford were organized, and Tazewell reduced to its present boundaries.

“The commissioners to locate the county seat were Thos. M. Neale, Wm. L. D. Ewing and Job Fletcher. They were by the act of organization required to meet on the third Monday of March, 1827, or within five days thereafter, at the house of Wm. Orendorff, for the purpose of locating the county seat, which, when located, was to be called ‘Mackinaw.’ Until county buildings were erected the courts were required to be held at the house of Wm. Orendorff. Election for county officers at the house of said Wm. Orendorff on the second Monday of April, 1827.

“All that part of Fayette lying east and north of Tazewell was attached to Tazewell for county purposes.

“In the year 1825 the Legislature created Peoria county, and attached to it for all county purposes all of the territory north of town 20 and west of the third principal meridian, thus including all the present county of Tazewell. Nathan Dillon, William Holland and Joseph Smith were chosen County Commissioners for the new county. The former two resided in this county. They held their first meeting at Peoria March 8, 1825.

“When the population of Tazewell was thought to be sufficiently large to regularly organize, an election was held in April, 1827, and Benjamin Briggs, George Hittle, and James Lotta were chosen County Commissioners. The Commissioners at once proceeded to hold a meeting and consummate the organization. This they did at the house of William Orendorff, April 10, 1827. . . .

“The county at this time was very large; even in 1829, when a new boundary was formed, it contained 79 townships. It has been divided for the formation of other counties so often that it has finally been reduced to 19 townships.

“The county was named in honor of Hon. John Tazewell (sic – Littleton), United States Senator from the State of Virginia. There is a county in that State which also bears the same name, these being the only two in the United States.”

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Settlers pour into Peoria and Tazewell counties

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, March 2, at 11 a.m., the Pekin Public Library will present the third video in its Illinois Bicentennial Series in the Community Room. The video that will be shown is 34 minutes in length and is entitled, “Farming in Tazewell County During the ’30s and ’40s,” presented by Tom Finson. Like last month’s Finson video, it includes vintage film footage from around the county. Admission is free and the public is invited.

For the pioneer settlers of central Illinois, farming wasn’t merely a business, but was crucial for a settler family’s survival. Our column this week recall the first of the post-War of 1812 settlers in our area.

The summer before Illinois was admitted as the 21st state of the Union in 1818, a territorial census counted 40,258 souls living in the soon-to-be state – but the new state’s population rapidly increased over the next decade. Up to that time, American settlers in Illinois had come chiefly from southern states and had settled almost exclusively in southern Illinois.

But with the dawn of statehood a new wave of migration arrived, in which settlers from southern Illinois began to move north, joined by newcomers from states north of the Ohio River. These new arrivals to central Illinois came up the Illinois River or overland from southern Illinois to Fort Clark (Peoria) and its environs – and as we shall see, these newcomers included William Blanchard and Nathan Dillon, names prominent in early Tazewell County history.

As we saw previously, American soldiers built Fort Clark in 1813 on the ruins of the old French village of La Ville de Maillet, which Capt. Thomas Craig had burned the year before during an Illinois militia campaign meant to warn the Indians of Peoria Lake not to ally with Britain during the War of 1812 (but which likely had the opposite effect).

In relating the story of Craig’s burning of the French village, S. DeWitt Drown’s “Peoria Directory for 1844” says (italics as in original), “Capt. Craig excused himself for this act of devastation, by accusing the French of being in league with the Indians, with whom the United States were at war; but more especially, by alledging (sic) that his boats were fired upon from the town, while lying at anchor before it. All this the French have ever denied, and charge Capt. Craig with unprovoked, malignant cruelty.”

Craig’s accusation that the French Americans of Peoria Lake were in league with Indians hostile to the U.S. was based on the fact that the French not only lived peaceably with the tribes of the area, but even sometimes intermarried with them. But the tribes of Peoria Lake had declined to join Tecumseh’s confederacy and were considered to be friendly until the unprovoked attacks of Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards and Capt. Craig.

The destruction of La Ville de Maillet essentially ended the French phase of the European settlement of central Illinois – afterwards only the French fur traders of Opa Post at the present site of Creve Coeur were left in the area. The early historians of Peoria and Tazewell counties tended to disparage the early French settlers of central Illinois, even to the point of claiming that they weren’t really settlers at all. For example, Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County” described the men and women of Opa Post in this way:

“These French traders cannot be classed as settlers, at least in the light we wish to view the meaning of that term. They made no improvements; they cultivated no land; they established none of those bulwarks of civilization brought hither a half century ago by the sturdy pioneer. On the other hand, however, they associated with the natives; they adopted their ways, habits and customs; they intermarried and in every way, almost, became as one of them.”

Chapman’s comments reveal that his disparaging appraisal of the French fur traders was due not only to disdain for the social class and lifestyle of a fur trader, but also the pervasive racist bias against Native Americans that spread westward with American expansion. Other influences included the age-old enmity between England and France that stemmed from the medieval Hundred Year’s War, with religious estrangement and animosity between Protestants and Catholics also thrown into the mix.

Those same attitudes toward the Indians and the French were also exhibited by Charles Ballance in his 1870 “History of Peoria.” In his history, Ballance argues at length that the French Americans of La Ville de Maillet were culturally and socially greatly inferior to the Americans of British origin who supplanted them, finding fault with the style of the homes they built and even denying the reports of the village’s former inhabitants that their settlement included a wine cellar and a Catholic church or chapel. Maybe behind Ballance’s common ethnic, racial, and social disdain for the Indians and French, there was an uneasy conscience over the fact that the city of Peoria of Ballance’s day only existed because the French settlement had been wiped out in 1812.

The construction of Fort Clark at the site of the French village in 1813 planted the seed of the present city of Peoria, for a new village quickly grew up around the fort (the site is today Liberty Park on the Peoria Riverfront, at Liberty and Water streets). According to Chapman, the fort itself burned down five years later. But in 1819, one year after Illinois statehood, the pioneer founders of Peoria arrived: Joseph Fulton, Abner Eads, William Blanchard (1797-1883), and four other men, who had traveled by keelboat and on horseback.

The next few years saw the arrivals of even more settlers. In 1825 the state legislature created Peoria County, which originally covered a large area of central and northern Illinois, including the future Cook County and the soon-to-be formed Tazewell County. Ten years later, Peoria was officially incorporated as a town, and by 1845 Peoria was large enough to incorporate as a city.

Three years after William Blanchard’s arrival at Fort Clark, he and a few companions crossed Peoria Lake to present-day Fon du Lac Township in Tazewell County, building a dwelling and growing crops south of the future Woodford County border. Here is how Chapman told the story of Blanchard’s earliest pioneer activities:

“Wm. Blanchard, Jr., is a native of Vermont, where he was born in 1797; left that State when seven years of age, and with his parents went to Washington Co., N. Y., where his father, William, died. When seventeen years of age he enlisted in the regular army, and took an active part in the war of 1812, serving five years, when he, with Charles Sargeant, Theodore Sargeant and David Barnes, veterans of the war, started West, coming to Detroit, Mich., thence to Ft. Wayne, whence they journeyed in a canoe to Vincennes, thence to St. Louis. From there they came up the Illinois in a keel boat manned by a fishing crew, and commanded by a man named Warner, and landed at Ft. Clark, now Peoria, in the spring of 1819.

“Crossing the river to what is known as the bottom lands they found a cleared spot, and with such tools as they could arrange from wood put in a patch of corn and potatoes. This land is now embodied in Fond du Lac township. Looking farther down the stream they found, in 1822, an old French field of about ten acres, on which they erected a rude habitation, and soon this soil was filled with a growth of blooming corn and potatoes. This was the first settlement between Ft. Clark and Chicago, and was the first dwelling erected. The site is now covered by the fine farm of Jacob Ames.”

In this map detail from an 1873 atlas of Tazewell County, the farm of Jacob Ames —
designated on the map as land owned by “Rachael Ames” — is shown in Sections 11 and 12 of Fondulac Township, around the area of Grosenbach Road. William Blanchard’s “rude habitation” is said to have been built in 1822 on land that later was included in the farm of Jacob Ames.

One year before Blanchard came to the future Tazewell County, North Carolina native Nathan Dillon (1793-1868) brought his family overland from Ohio to Sangamon County, first dwelling on Sugar Creek south of Springfield. Dillon then struck out north, arriving in the future Tazewell County in 1823.

Dillon has traditionally been called Tazewell County’s first white settler, but he arrived here a year after Blanchard and long after the Frenchmen of Opa Post. The confusion arose from the haste with which Chapman’s 1879 Tazewell County history was compiled and edited – Chapman didn’t learn that Blanchard preceded Dillon until the printing of his book was underway, so Chapman’s book at first states that Dillon was the earliest, then later on corrects and apologizes for that error. The monument at Dillon’s grave erroneously pronouncing him the county’s first white settler stems from Chapman’s mistake.

But regardless who was first, Blanchard and Dillon both possessed pioneering courage and grit, paving the way for many others who were soon to follow.

Next week we’ll review the story of the creation of Tazewell County.

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