Coloma Township
From Bent-Wilson History Book, 1877
Posted by Dana Fellows


The first permanent settlement in the territory now embraced in Coloma township was made by Edward Atkins, a native of Ireland, and Isaac Merrill, a native of Connecticut, early in 1837 - Mr. Merrill being the prior settler. Before the close of the year they were joined by Noah Merrill and Daniel Brooks, and Atkins, who was an energetic, enterprising man, had begun the erection of a large frame house intended for a hotel. November 6, 1838, a son - Nelson B., now a resident of Sterling - was born to Noah Merrill, believed to have been the first white child who began existence in Coloma. In February, 1839, there were living in what is now Coloma Township, Edward Atkins, Isaac Merrill, Noah Merrill, Daniel Brooks, Ira Sillaman, Zerah M. Chapman, A B Wheeler, W W Durant, now of Albany, Samuel B Cushing, John J Cushing and Frank Cushing. Herman Emmons and L H Woodsworth came into the settlement this year. W W Durant had a small store, the first in this vicinity. In 1837 Edward Atkins, A B Wheeler, Isaac Merrill and Daniel Brooks laid out the town of Rapids City on a scale commensurate with its imaginary future grandeur, hopes never to be realized. It was a mile square, occupying the tract on which Rock Falls now stands. The State had entered upon the extensive but insane system internal improvements by which canals and railroads were to be built to every hamlet, and under which paper towns multiplied almost as rapidly as frogs in Egypt. Every man began to consider his humble cabin the nucleus of a great commercial emporium, and in his dreams he saw the day when extensive warehouses and vast manufactories should crowd each other along the banks of the neighboring brook, when some yet to be built canal should bear on its bosom the wealth of an empire, and when over the projected lines of railroad should be borne a mighty tide of traffic. It was not for a moment considered that an uninhabited country could not in the nature of things require a large amount of articles from abroad and that it could produce very little to send away. The wild schemes daily increased in number. A reckless system of finance based on nothing and professing to create values where none existed, was relied on to raise funds and provide for the expense of these needless constructions, until at last the end came - bankruptcy - easily foreseen by prudence and moderate sagacity. This part of the State was to share in the blessings of free communication with the rest of the world, and as, if the rapids were removed, something that courtesy might consent to call a boat might navigate Rock River as far as Dixon, and as such obstructions were easily turned by a canal, and as, moreover, a canal besides being a good thing gave a chance for fat contracts, it was resolved to construct one around the rapids at this point. The contract was let in 1839 to Ethan Nichols. Mr. Nichols dying the same year his brother and Sanger and Galbreath, who had been contractors on the Illinois and Michigan Canal, took charge of the contract. L H Woodsworth, who came in 1839, was engineer in charge, having previously practiced his profession in he East. Work was commenced. Sanger and Nichols opened a large store, and for a time all went well and the desert seemed to be about to "bud and blossom as the rose." About $40,000 was expended - a large sum for those times. The store did a heavy business. The canal was nearly half completed, and the future seemed radiant with hope, when the gaudy bubble burst and rudely dissipated the gorgeous mirage. The State was bankrupt, loaded with debts of which the most sanguine could not see a possibility of payment. Work ceased, and the only memorials of the project are its history, an unsightly ditch, and some heaps of broken stone.
In October 1839 death made his first visit to the settlement, bearing beyond the dark river Mrs. W W Durant. A marriage had been solemnized previous to this time, William Hawkins and Luna Brooks being the contracting parties.
In 1844 Mr. Richard Arey came to Coloma and took charge of the property formerly owned by Atkins, whose interest had been purchased by James E Cooley, of New York, in 1843. This property included an undivided interest in the valuable waterfront on which the manufactories of Rock Falls are now located. With the bursting of the internal improvement bubble, and the widespread ruin consequent thereon, business stagnation and hard times came, stores were closed, public works suspended, and for a time but little progress was made; when prosperity again visited the banks of Rock River, business enthroned herself on the north Side the stream. During the winter of 1844 about thirty Winnebago Indians camped in the vicinity. They are described as very filthy and most persevering beggars. The next spring they went north, never to return the last of the rd men who made this pleasant land their home, and since that time Indians have seldom visited this region. From this date neither a store nor shop of any kind was found within the borders of Coloma until 1867. Until 1857 there was no way of crossing the river except by fording, although several attempts had been made to establish a ferry above the rapids which had resulted in failure. In 1845 the first school was taught. In 1846 the first school house was fitted up, funds being raised by subscriptions; it was used for the next ten years. In 1856 a new schoolhouse was finished, and a bridge built by subscription nearly completed, a few plants being left out to prevent its use until paid for. As some of the subscriptions were payable only on its completion, they could not be collected, and it being carried away by a freshet in February 1857, it was never opened for travel. In the same year, after the destruction of the bridge, B G Wheeler, a banker of Sterling; started a ferry above the rapids, but as it was not adequate to the wants of the public, being frequently out of order from the breaking of the chain by which it was driven, James A Patterson started another below the rapids. By act of the Legislature dated February 12, 1857, Whiteside County was empowered to borrow $2,000 to replace bridges over Rock River lost by floods or which might be carried away during the present or next ensuing month. This was intended to aid in replacing this bridge, but the money was never raised. No bridge was again built until 1863, when the Sterling Bridge Co. erected one under a Legislative charter. In 1868 the Rock River attempted to declare its independence, and carried away a part of the bridge, which was soon replaced. A Post Office, called Rapids, was established about 1847, with Artemus Worthington as Postmaster, and a mail route on the south side of the river from Dixon to Prophetstown was also established, but after a short time it was discontinued.
This township was organized in 1852. The first town meeting and election to perfect the organization was held April 6 1852 at the home of Richard Arey. A hog law was enacted condemning these much coveted yet very troublesome brutes to close confinement, and $5.00 was voted for incidental expenses. In 1854 it was voted that a fence to be lawful must be four and one-half feet high. In 1855 $50 was voted for incidental expenses and $300 for highways. In 1856 the railroad was completed from Chicago to Sterling, thus rendering the country more accessible. In 1857 the plat of Rapids City was entirely vacated. The township did not, however, settle up rapidly, the county map of 1858 giving the names of but thirty-one residents, and showing the sites of two school houses. The location of roads was much the same as at present. Nothing of special interest appears in the records for the next three or four years. The discussions at the annual meetings were not very fully reported, or were very short and confined to few topics. There is plenty of evidence that cattle were becoming more numerous and also that hogs, sheep, horses and mules constituted a part of the worldly goods of the people, and that they were not a little troublesome. The pound and the pound master were early established institutions and required a vast amount of legislation, and entailed some expense on the community. The location of the pound appears to have been a very difficult task, as it was often moved, and we should say that it was a very perishable structure as it required an almost yearly appropriation to repair it or to build a new one. We are happy to say that no charges of bribery or corruption in connection with it have come to our knowledge, but newspapers were scarce in those days and lawyers not plenty, which may account for this want of social enterprise. In 1856 $25 was voted for town expenses, and neat cattle were declared not "legal commoners" after December 1st; sheep not at any time. In 1859 a fence "shall be considered lawful fence that shall be judged by the fence viewers to be sufficient to protect the growing crops;" $50 was voted for town expenses. In 1862 but 23 votes were polled. Through the war Coloma bore her share of the burdens and many of her sons were among those who rose to defend the Union, and jeopardized their lives in the high places of the field. In 1865 it was voted to raise a tax for paying the bounties to volunteers, by a vote of 24 to 5. In 1867 a new era dawned upon Coloma. A P Smith moved into the township, purchased lands, laid out the town of Rock Falls, built a race, and awakened a spirit of progress and improvements which has since built up a thriving village on this long neglected site. July 26 1869 at a special town meeting it was voted to subscribe $50,000 to the capital stock of the Chicago & Rock River Railroad Co., by a vote of 123 to 4. This year $80 was voted for township expenses, and J A Patterson, K. Woodford and L H Woodworth were appointed a committee to purchase grounds for a cemetery. The previous year $200 had been appropriated for the purpose. They were instructed to purchase two acres of a certain lot if the title should prove good. In 1872 the Chicago & Rock River Railroad was completed, and it virtually passed into the hands of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co., which now operates it as a branch line. This year there were three tickets for township offices in the field and a heavy vote was polled - 172 ballots being cast. In 1873 it was charged that township bonds in aid of the Chicago & Rock & Rock River Railroad had been unlawfully issued, and a committee was appointed to fight the claims. At the annual meeting in 1874 the committee reported that they had engaged Messrs. Bennett & Sackett to attend to the case on the part of the town; $380 was voted for township expenses at this meeting. January 28 1875 a special town meeting was held to consider the railroad bond matter, and it was resolved to enjoin the tax for the payment of the bonds. At the annual town meeting for 1875 $950 was voted for township expenses - $300 of which was appropriated to fight the bondholders with. The question of compromising the bond cases was considered and steps instituted in that direction. At a special town meeting January 21 1876 the Supervisor and Town Clerk were instructed to sign and indemnifying bond and procure an injunction on railroad bond tax. At the annual meeting in 1876 $1,000 was voted with which to carry on the bond cases. September 11 1876 at a special meeting it was resolved by a vote of 251 to 1 to issue $25,000 worth of bonds running until 1886 and bearing ten per cent interest, to raise money to pay interest on railway bonds and costs. These bonds were issued and sold, and the township had then outstanding; Railroad bonds to amount of $47,500; township bonds $25,000 - total indebtedness $72,500. The total expense of the bond cases were reported as $1,169.30
This township was originally a part of Portland Precinct. It was then included in Rapids precinct, and was known by that name until organized as a town in 1852. For the name Coloma no reason can be assigned. It was suggested by a gentleman who had been to California and returned.
The following is a list of township officers:
Supervisor: 1852, Richard Arey; 1853 L H Woodworth; 1854 A W Worthington; 1855-57 Sidney Barber; 1858-59 Frank Cushing; 1860 - 67 L L Emmons; 1868 Jas. A Patterson; 1869-70 L L Emmons; 1871-73 M R Adams; 1874-77 H F Batchellor.
Town Clerks: 1852 L H Woodworth; 1853 D F Batcheller; 1854 A W Worthington; 1855-57 Herman Bassett; 1858-67 J D Arey; 1868 Richard Arey; 1869-70 A S Goodell; 1871 J D Davis; 1872-73 James McDonald; 1874 C E Doty; 1875-77 Henry P Price.
Assessors: 1852 L H Woodworth; 1853 D F Batcheller; 1854-55 Richard Arey; 1856-69 L L Emmons; 1860 Herman Bassett; 1861-64 L H Woodworth; 1865 J M Wilbur; 1866-67 J W Nims; 1868 John Enderton; 1869 J W Nims; 1870-71 A C Hapgood; 1872 L H Woodworth; 1873 J W Nims; 1874 C H Payson; 1875-77 J W Nims
Collector: 1852 A F R Emmons; 18533 Sidney Barber; 1854 Samuel Emmons; 1855 John Enderton; 1856-57 Henry Aument; 1858 E H Barber; 1859 H F Batcheller; 1860-62 Richard Arey; 1863-65 J W Nims; 1866 Richard Arey; 1867-68 N C Sturtevant; 1869-70 Julius Smith; 1871 Chas. Labron; 1872 John D Davis; 1873-76 Theo. P Lukens; 1877 Timothy Burdick
Justice of th Peace: 1852 Frank Cushing, Samuel Emmons; 1853 Richard Arey; 1854 Josiah Sturtevant; 1856 C C King: 1857 L H Woodsworth; 1858 Alonzo Golder; 1859 Samuel Emmons; 1860 L H Woodworth, Frank Cushing; 1863 G W Hall, Richard Arey; 1864 L H Woodworth; 1865 Richard Arey; 1866 J M Wilbur, L H Woodworth; 1867 J D Arey, L H Woodworth; 1869 J D Arey; 1870 J M Scott, H P Price; 1872 C G Glenn, T C Loomis; 1873 J D Davis, A S Goodell; 1874 R L Hamilton; 1876 James Pettigrew; 1877 J A Kline, James Pettigrew.

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