Although Jacob Willhour, our 3X great grandfather settled in Olney/Dundas, Illinois, after 1860, his brothers, Samuel, Peter, and Christian, lived for a few years in the McLean/Livingston County area known as Belle Prairie. Their sister, Ann, lived in Bloomington. She stayed there all of her life. Sometime after Christian’s death in 1862, Samuel and Peter moved to the Norwich, Kansas area.
They lived around the Fairview Methodist Church and the village of Potosi, which doesn’t exist anymore. A stone marker lays at the intersection of two country roads about 5 miles south of Fairbury, Illinois, marking the place where the village once stood.
Before Samuel and Peter left for Kansas, Jacob’s daughter, Sarah, was introduced to Isaac Walton and they eventually married. Isaac was the brother of Benjamin Walton, one of the first settlers in the Belle Prairie area. Isaac eventually deeded his four 80’s on Buckeye Prairie to the people renting from him. The heirs of John Wesley Wilhour, our 2X great grandfather, were among them.
The following story was found on the Internet on the freepages.genealogy.com website.
Settlement on the Prairie, 1854–1860
It was early in 1854 when two young men from Franklin County, Ohio settled on the northern edge of the McLean-Livingston County line. One was David S. Crum and the other was Benjamin Walton; they were brothers-in-law. Mr. Crum had married Mary Ann Walton on January 27, 1851 in Ohio, while Mr. Walton had married Rebecca Crum, also in Ohio.
David Crum obtained land patents from the U.S. Government in section seventeen and built a home there. He became a leader and outstanding citizen in the community where he spent the remaining fifty-eight years of his life. His brother, John Crum, also came to Illinois. He made his home at Pleasant Hill (a.k.a. Selma) in McLean County.2
Benjamin Walton bought two lots and a forty-acre tract from Elijah Deboard in 1854. Elijah had received a patent grant from the government on October 1, 1852. Ben Walton also received U.S. patent grants for more acreage in section eighteen. He bought an adjoining forty acres in section eighteen from Thomas Davis in 1859.3
Walton also received patent grants in section nineteen (McLean County), just south of section eighteen where he lived. He also obtained land to the west in sections thirteen and twenty-four in Township 25 N., Range 5 E. (later named Lawndale Twp. in McLean Co.).4 His extensive holdings became known as the “Walton Pasture.”
The Walton home was on a hill near the present home built by Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Weeks. John Cassedy, who settled on land in section eighteen, Twp. 25 N., Range 5 E. (now Lawndale Twp.) in 1855, mentioned there were no homes within miles of him, but he could see the tops of homes at Pleasant Hill and the top of Ben Walton’s home to the east.5
More of Ben Walton’s family joined him in Illinois. His brother, William, and his sister, Frances, were with him in 1860. Another sister, Lucinda, and a younger brother, Isaac, were with the Crum family in 1860.6
Between them was the John Austin family. They had left Virginia in 1850, spent five years in Ohio, and then went to Missouri. They moved from there to Pleasant Hill on the Mackinaw River and arrived in Belle Prairie Twp. in 1859. 7 They rented land for a few years.
It was not long before the Waltons and the Crums were joined by others who were brave enough to settle on the prairie. Arrivals from Pennsylvania included Horatius Abbey, a widower with children, Perry and Amelia; B. F. Fitch and wife, Eliza (Abbey). The Abbeys and Fitches settled in section ten about 1856. About the same time John Morris (1856), Samuel and Peter Wilhour, Maria Stickler, George Coen, Samuel Hays, John Shean, Aaron Becker (1859) and Aaron Putnam (1863) came to Belle Prairie Township. Elizabeth McCullough and Abner Carter were from New York. From Ohio were George Warrick (1857) who came to section nine, Isaac Spencer, Henry Warrick (1856) who had spent two years in Woodford County. Martin Popejoy, an Illinois native, also moved to Belle Prairie Township in this period.8
Across the county line in the southern half of Township 25 N., Range 6 E., Jeremiah Pratt had obtained a patent land grant from the U.S. Government for land in section twenty, adjacent to the south side of Crum’s land.9 Pratt was a merchant in Plainfield, Will County, Illinois. He sold his land soon after he received it and never moved to the area.
Andrew J. Cropsey, also from Plainfield, was granted 1,120 acres east of Pratt in 1853. He obtained all of section twenty-two and the north 3/4 of section twenty-seven that adjoined section twenty-two on the south. He built a home near the center of section twenty-two. George Cropsey, an older brother of Andrew, received land east of Andrew.10
Andrew Cropsey’s parents and their family had moved from Chatauqua County, N.Y. to farmland in Wheatland Twp., Will Co., Illinois, north of Plainfield.11 Andrew had gone to Cincinnati from New York and he became a lawyer while there. He was married in Ohio before he joined his parents in Illinois. He stayed on the farm a few years, later, he moved into the village of Fairbury. He sold 160 acres to his uncle, A. P. Straight of Indian Grove Twp., and a tract to S. A. Stoddard; Andrew mortgaged many acres of land and rented them to tenants. His cousins, Levi and Amos Alonzo, Rufus C. and David Straight all bought land and moved to farms near Andrew’s land.12
In February 1858 at a meeting at the home of Levi Straight, the southern half of Twp. 25 N., Range 6 F., plus the six-mile square to the south (Twp. 24 N. Range 6 E.) was organized into a new political unit. A. A. Straight was chosen Moderator and A. J. Cropsey, Clerk, of the meeting. In April 1858, at the first election, A. A. Straight was elected as Supervisor; B. A. Wiggins, Clerk; J. Harkness, Assessor; J. Darr, Collector. The name of Cropsey was selected as the name of the township, in honor of A. J. Cropsey. This had to be approved by the McLean County government for no two townships could select the same name. 13
The township was divided into an eastern and a western part by a north-south line on the half section line. The road on this line went from Fairbury to Saybrook and crossed the Mackinaw River where an iron bridge was later built.
The half township of Twp. 25 N., R. 6 E. and the north half township of Twp. 25 N., R. 7 E. became Belle Prairie Township. Many of the early settlers in the area came from Kentucky and Tennessee and were Democrats. They suggested the name Douglas for Stephen A. Douglas. The people who had come from New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio were mostly Whigs. R. B. Harrington of this group suggested the name Belle Prairie, and that name was chosen. Martin Darnall was elected the first supervisor of this township.
The Panic of 1857 was followed by a depression and hard times. Fewer people were able to buy or obtain the prairie land. It was a difficult time for these settlers.
The earliest settlers received their mail at the Indian Grove post office. After the new town of Fairbury was granted a post office, the Indian Grove post office was discontinued in 1859. At that time Fairbury became the address for the settlers on the ridge.
Even though the area was sparsely settled, the need for education was realized. Cropsey Township was laid out into several school districts in 1858. Ben Walton took the contract and hauled lumber for the first school. It was built on the Livingston side of the county line just west of the present Fairview church. It was called the Freshcorn school for George Freshcorn, a farmer, preacher and carpenter, who lived across the road on a 155-acre farm. Walton put up the building. He took what pay he could get and eventually succeeded in collecting enough to bring his quota to a fair portion with that of his neighbors. 14
In 1854, a Methodist class had formed at Isam Moores’s schoolhouse in Indian Grove. The preacher lived in Pontiac. After the schoolhouse was built the preacher came from Pontiac and preached for a short time. When he was not here, local men filled in. George Freshcorn, Steven Alford and Martin Bullfinch were these men. Later, the church became part of the Fairbury circuit. This was the start of the Fairview Methodist Church.15
After several years the schoolhouse burned. It was rebuilt on the northeast corner of section 19 in McLean County and took the name of the church and community, Fairview.16
In 1859, the northeastern district of Cropsey Twp. containing 10 sections in Cropsey Twp. and 3 sections in Belle Prairie Twp. was formed into a school district. A schoolhouse was built on the northeast corner of the section one mile west of the present town of Cropsey.
William Stackpole from Pekin had obtained many acres of land on the south side of a stream that flowed into the Mackinaw in section 18 in Twp. 24 N., Range 6 E. He built a large home there that became a landmark in the community. He was one of the first to break the prairie with a plow. The two-story house with an attic and white pillars could be seen for many miles. It remained there for over 125 years.
The other settler in Twp. 24 N., Range 6 E. was the Constant place on the north side of the Mackinaw River in section 3. It was several years before people on these claims had close neighbors.
Congressional Township 24 N., Range 6 E. was sparsely settled. The 1860 Cropsey Township census lists only 25 families. Jeremiah Shade was recorded between Stackpole and Constant, but his location is unknown. Except for these people and Thomas Goff, all the other names appear to be those of residents living near the north side of the township near the Ridge.
By the time the census was taken in the summer of 1860, A. Alonzo Straight had moved to Fairbury where he was a schoolteacher. His brother, Levi Straight, had also left the farm and was a wagon maker in Fairbury. Andrew Cropsey was a lawyer in Fairbury.17
That census lists Christian Wilhour, George Freshcorn, Shaft Rhoads, all from Pennsylvania. Those from Ohio were Henderson Crabb and E. B. Coleman. New York had the largest group: Esmon Merrill, S. A. and Nathaniel Stoddard, Nelson Borquin, John Morris, Stephen Alford, Rufus C. and David Straight, James Green, Patrick Malone, Edward Ward, and the Elmores.18
Fifty-three families were listed in Belle Prairie Twp. on the 1860 census. Many of those people lived near the early settlement at Indian Grove. The names from that area include Darnall, Spence, Hieronymus, Jones, Travers,19 Carleton, Cates, Cooper, Steers, Hildreth, Scott, FitzGeral, and Windle.20
From the Fairview community the names listed in the 1860 census were Thomas Davis, Maria Stickler, Samuel Hays, Benjamin Walton, John Austin, Samuel Willhour, David Crum, Benjamin Fitch, Horatius Abbey, John L. Cox, Elhan Morris, George Warrick, Elizabeth McCullough, George Conn, Washington McCullough, John Shean, Abner Carter, Martin Popejoy, Jasper Jones, and Jesse Hanna.21
David S. Crum gave several acres of his farm for a cemetery. The date of the first burial at the Fairview Cemetery is unknown. Ruth Gray, who died August 5, 1859, was buried there. Another early marker is that of Daniel Spencer who died October 1860. Mary Ann (Walton) Crum and baby daughter died December 29, 1860 were also buried in the Fairview Cemetery.22
1 Recorder of Deeds, Livingston County Courthouse, Pontiac, IL.
2 Fairbury Blade (Fairbury, IL), July 11, 1912, Obituary of David S. Crum.
3 Deeds, Livingston County, IL, op. cit.
4 Recorder of Deeds, McLean County Courthouse, Bloomington, IL.
5 LeBaron, op.cit., 1879, pp. 642–644, & 1044.
6 Federal Census of Belle Prairie Twp., Livingston Co., IL., 1860.
7 Colfax Press (Colfax, IL), Feb. 4,1909, Obituary of Lucy Austin.
8 LeBaron, op.cit., 1878, pp. 790–793.
9 Crum obituary, op. cit.
10 Deeds, McLean County, IL, op. cit.
11 Wm.LeBaron, Jr. (ed.), History of Will County (Chicago: LeBaron & Co., 1878), p. 856.
12 LeBaron, op.cit., 1878, p.740
13 LeBaron, op.cit., 1879, p. 739.
14 LeBaron, op.cit., 1878, p. 356.
15 Fairbury Blade, (Fairbury, IL), “Fiftieth Anniversary,” October 8, 1915, Sec. 2, p. 4.
16 William B. Brigham, The Story of McLean County Schools (Bloomington, IL: 1951), p.212.
17 Census, Livingston Co., IL., 1860, op.cit.
18 Census, McLean Co., IL., 1860, op.cit.
19 This is more likely meant to be “Travis”.
20 Census, Belle Prairie Twp., Livingston Co., IL., 1860, op.cit.
21 Census, McLean & Livingston Counties, IL., 1860, op.cit.
22 Fairview Cemetery tombstone inscriptions.