History of Union Grove Township
From Bent-Wilson History Book, 1877
Posted by Dana Fellows
Union Grove township was originally a portion of Union Precinct and derives its name from the grove of timber in that township and Mt. Pleasant, which the original settlers named "Union Grove." The township was organized by the Board of County Commissioners in 1852, after the county adopted the "Township Organization laws." The topography of the township is varied. The eastern part is marked by a chain of gentle bluffs and small groves of timber the northern, central and south-eastern portions is undulating and level prairie; extending through the western part is a narrow body of low land, known as swamp land, in which are the famous Union Grove Peat Beds. The "cattails," as the body of land is called, is bordered by bluffs on either side, sparsely covered with timber, and by drainage have been mostly reclaimed, and now present the fairest meadows in the county. The peat beds furnish an inexhaustible and excellent quality of peat. The peat deposits are fully described in the geological article. Valuable stone quarries are worked in the eastern part of the township at near Unionville, and in the Cattail bluffs. The township is watered by Rock Creek, Cattail Creek, and small brooks. Good wells are easily secured. The soil is fertile, producing large crops, principally corn, the farmers being generally engaged in the production of that crop, hay and stock raising. Formerly large crops of wheat were produced, but now the yield is uncertain, and the business not so lucrative. The first settlers secured excellent crops of winter wheat but now none is produced.
Among the pioneers of Union Grove previous to 1840, were: J.T. Atkinson and family, Daniel B. Young and family, Henry Ustick, Sr., and family, Ira Burch and family, Elisha Hubbart and family, John Richards and family, Stephen Jeffers and family, George Garlick and family, J. L. Powell, Benedict Brown, Joseph Town, Elijah Town, Benjamin Burns, J. A. Robertson, John Kent, Porteus Robertson, Silas Mitchell, James Terrell, John A King, J.J. Kellogg, M. L. Atkinson.
The first cabin was built in Union Grove in the spring of 1836, by Joshua T. Atkinson, and his daughter, Anna E., was the first white child born in the present township. She was born in November, 1836. The first death is not now certainly known, but is thought to be that of Payson Ustick. The first person interred in the burying ground near Edward Vennum’s was Joseph Town. The first marriage celebrated in the township, was that of Frank Peck and Eliza Brown, J. T. Atkinson, J. P., officiating.
Union Grove Precinct was named by Jonathan Haines, Henry Boyer, and J. T. Atkinson. The claim where Unionville now stands was made by J. T. Atkinson, J. W. Stakes selecting the Morrison side of the creek, the two gentlemen being in a kind of partnership in the "settlement business." This division of claims was made by Messrs. Atkinson and Stakes in June, 1836, their claims having been the year previous.
Miss Mary Jeffers taught the first school. It was in a double log cabin occupied. by Henry Boyer, in what is now Mt. Pleasant, but being the school the people of Unionville sent their children to. This was in the summer of 1840. The same year a small frame school house was erected at Unionville, and Miss Augusta Foster, now Mrs. Hubbard, of Moline, employed as teacher. The building is now occupied by Chas. Chesley as a dwelling house. The shingles were rived out and put in place by John Kent and John L. Powell. J. A. Robertson, B. Burns, and I. A. Maxwell, put up the frame. This was a pretentious school house in those days, and the first public school in the township.
Union Grove was very early in her history supplied with gospel privileges. The settlers were first provided with the itinerant and mission services, and the labor of the local preachers. Soon after Unionville came into existence several churches were organized; with the exception of the Wesleyan Society the history of the Unionville churches will be found under the head of church history in the article on Morrison, The Wesleyans had a church edifice, and until a few years ago it was one of the old Unionville landmarks. There is no church building at present in Union Grove township, the people generally attending church services at Morrison.
In 1839 John A. Robertson and Benjamin Burns built a saw-mill at Unionville, and converted a great amount of the timber of the country into lumber. Messrs. Robertson and Burns, and Mr. Kent when afterwards in their employ, "batched" it in a log cabin built on the hillside. This was probably the first residence in Unionville. The milling interests started in this small way was the. nucleus of the village.
Unionville was laid out in 1841 by Henry Boyer, Henry Ustick, Sr., John A. Robertson, and M. L. Atkinson. Benjamin Burns was one of the proprietors of the town, which became a place of considerable importance, having several stores, shops, churches, schools, postoffice, etc., and was doing a large business, with promise of having a town of considerable size, when the railroad passed to one side, and Morrison sprang up. The stores, churches and many of the dwelling houses, with the principal portion of the citizens, moved over the creek. Unionville occupies a beautiful location and was finely laid out, and but for the circumstances mentioned might have become one of the most beautiful as well as substantial towns in the county.
In 1847 there was a Library Association in Unionville with a membership of over fifty and a considerable amount of property. On the books of the commissioners’ Court of the county the names of the Trustees were recorded September 18,1847, as Henry Ustick, L. L.Hoag, Edward Vennum, W. C. Snyder, and J. A. Robertson.
The only grist mill now in the township of Union Grove is that known as Annan’s Mill, situated on Rock Creek, at Unionville. The mill was built in 1858-’59 by William Annan and John A. Robertson, the work being commenced in the former year, and completed in all of its appointments just before Christmas in the latter, so that some grists were ground before New Year’s. The building is of stone, two and a half stories high, besides the basement, and in size thirty-two by forty-two feet. It is one of the most substantial structures in the county, and has three run of large stone, and one of small size, called a pony stone, the former being four feet in diameter, and the latter thirty-four inches, and is used principally for grinding shorts, buckwheat, etc., saving a great deal of power. The mill has a capacity of grinding from ten to sixteen bushels of wheat per hour, equal to two barrels of flour per hour, but as it is used now exclusively as a custom or grist mill, its full capacity is not exerted. The present dam is a frame one, and was built in 1862, by Mr. Annan, the one used before that time being made mainly of brush. Mr. Annan came to Unionville in 1849, and purchased an interest in the saw mill, which then stood on the site of the present grist mill, and carried on the business in connection with John A. Robertson as partner, until timber became so scarce that it would not pay to run it longer, and it was torn down, and the grist mill erected. Shortly after the grist mill was built, Mr. Annan bought Mr. Robertson’s interest, and since that time has been the sole owner.
The township has seven school districts, in each of which there is a good school building, well furnished with seats and apparatus. The township school fund is also large. The school building located at Unionville, in District No. 1, is a fine wooden structure, two stories high, standing on an eminence overlooking a wide extent of territory, and was erected in 1854-’55, conjointly by the town and school district. At the town meeting in the spring of the former year, it was voted to raise six hundred dollars by tax to erect the structure, provided the district would raise nine hundred dollars. To this the district agreed, and the building was erected, the lower story being used for school purposes, and the upper one for those of the town. In 1856 the town sold its interest in the building to the school district, and from thenceforward it has been devoted to the uses of the school. Within its walls many of the citizens of Unionville, and the surrounding country, received their early education. It has always had a full attendance of scholars, and been presided over by able, experienced teachers. The Directors have spared no pains to make the school complete in all of its appointments. Columbus Vennum is the present Principal.
The first township meeting in Union Grove was held at the house of John A. Robertson, April 6, 1852, in Unionville. Stephen Jeffers was Moderator, and J. N. Vennum, Clerk. D. B. Young, W. C. Snyder, B. Burns, Stephen Jeffers, and Luther Gibbs, were appointed a committee on by-laws. A tax of one cent on each hundred dollars of taxable property was voted for the purpose of purchasing a book for the town. John A. Robertson, John Kent, and Luther Gibbs, were elected Overseers of Highways. The meeting adopted a resolution prohibiting hogs from running at large, and elected the following officers: Supervisor, Wm. C. Snyder; Town Clerk, A. P. Young; Assessor, Benj. Bums; Collector, Allen Graves; Overseer of the Poor, Jacob Baker; Commissioners of highways, John A. Robertson, Edward Vennum, Stephen Jeffers; Constables: A. A. Richmond, J. N. Vennum; Justices of the Peace, D. B. Young, Reed Wilbur. At the regular meeting, April 11, 1853, the committee chosen at the previous annual meeting to draft by-laws, presented the following preamble and resolution: "WHEREAS, The by-laws passed by your town meeting (though said not to be valid in law) have proved all sufficient for the promotion of peace and good will between neighbors, therefore, Resolved, That we pass no other by-laws or restrictions whatever, but abide by the ancient land marks." At the same meeting $35 was voted to pay officers and other incidental expenses of the town for the current year. April 5, 1854, by a vote of twenty-one to two, the town decided to raise by taxation $600 to build a house for the use of the town, at or near Unionville, provided School District No. 1 raise by taxation or other $900, to be used conjointly with the town funds, the upper story to be used by the town for town purposes, and the lower story by the School District for school purposes. In 1855 a tax of $275 was levied to build a bridge across creek at Unionville. In 1856 the citizens of the town voted in favor of selling the township’s interest in the town house to the School District. In 1864, a vote of 40 to 2, the town voted a tax for the purpose of paying bounties soldiers, and in 1865 a further tax for bounties was voted by 32 to 1. In 1865 the township paid soldiers a bounty of $100, and levied a tax of three-eighths of one per cent, to pay war indebtedness. In 1869 Messrs. J. T. Atkinson, John Kent, and Edward Vennum, were appointed to take charge of the burial ground of the township, donated by Mr. Brown, and to keep the same in repair. In 1870 the citizens of the township adopted resolutions instructing their Supervisor to oppose any appropriations for the new poor house; and also instructing him to advocate the plan of each town caring for its own poor.
The following have been the town officers of Union Grove from its organization in 1852 , to the present:
Supervisor:-1852-’53, William C. Snyder; 1854, Henry Boyer; 1855, John Kent; 1856-’57, Charles J. Goodwin; 1858, Daniel B. Young; 1859-’65, Joshua T. Atkinson; 1866-’67, Edward V. Lapham; 1868, Henry C. Fellows; 1869-’71, G. L. Hough; 1872-’74, James 0. A. Bennett; 1875- 77, Robert E. Logan.
Town Clerk: 1852-'54, Aaron P. Young; 1855, A. A. Hulett; 1856, B.H. Benton; 1857-59, Wm. B. Baker; 1860’-62, E. G. Topping; 1863, B. K. Jackson; 1864, A. P. Young; 1865, W. F. Twining; 1866.-’67, E. G. Topping; 1868-’72, S. R. Hall; 1873, E.G. Topping; 1874, 5, R. Hall; 1876, M. D. Strunk; 1876-’77, S.R. Hall.
Assessors: 1852, Benj. Burns; 1853, Jacob Baker; 1854-’55, Allen Graves; 1856-’57, B. A. Pollard; 1858-’60, Wm. Topping; 1861, Edward Vennum; 1862, J. 0. A. Bennett; 1863-.’67, A. A. Hulett; 1868-70, A. B. Gibbs; 1871, Edward Vennuin; 1872, A. B. Gibbs; 1873, A. M. Teller; 1874-’77, A. B. Gibbs.
Collectors: 1852, Allen Graves; 1853-55, A. A. Richmond; 1856, A. A. Hulett; 1857-’58, J. A. Fisher; 1858-’60, B. A. Pollard; 1861-’62,,..W. H. Pollard; 1863, B. G. Topping; 1864-’67, Wm. Lane; 1868, A. B. Tripp; 1869, E. G. Topping; 1870-’72, M. J. Phinney; 1873, J. H. Hulett; 1874, B. L. Able; 1874-77, B. Bonebrake.
Justices of the Peace:-1852, D. B. Young, Reed Wilbur; 1856, E. V. Laphain, D. B. Young; 1857, Win. Lane; 1860, Win. Lane, B. V. Lapham; 1862, E. A. Pollard; 1864, N. S. Green, E. V. Lapham; 1867, E. A. Pollard; 1868, J. V. Jackson, E. A. Pollard; 1872, J. Y. Jackson, Win. Topping; 1877, A. A. Hulett, Frank Goodell.
The Assessor’s book of Union Grove township for 1877, shows 14,525 acres of improved land, and 7,988 acres of unimproved; improved lots, 20; unimproved, 22. The total assessed value of all lands is $334,715. No. of horses, 397; cattle, 1,385; mules and asses, 18; sheep, 178; hogs, 1,926; carriages and wagons, 121; sewing and knitting macbines, 90; melodeons and organs, 29. Value of personal property, $53,983; railroad property, $26,141; assessed value of all property, $422,844.
The population of Union Grove in 1870 was 1,070, of which number 903 were of native birth, and 167 of foreign birth. The estimated population of the township in 1870 is 1,200.. Popular vote in November 1876, 247.
Union Grove is ninety-six feet above low water mark in Lake Michigan, and six hundred and forty-five feet above the level of the sea, taking the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad track as the point of elevation.