Stark County, Illinois and Its People: A Record of Settlement
Organization, Progress and Achievement, (1916)

Chapter VII 


Transcribed by Gaile Thomas.

     This township is one of the northern tier. It embraces Congressional Township 14, Range 6, and therefore has an area of thirty-six square miles. On the north it is bounded by Bureau County; on the east by Osceola Township; on the south by Toulon Township, and on the west by the County of Henry. The surface is generally level or gently undulating and is well watered. The west fork of the Spoon River flows diagonally across the township from northwest to southeast; Jack Creek touches the southwest corner, and there are a few minor streams. The soil is fertile and some of the finest farms in the county are in this to township. Originally there was some native timber along the water courses and artificial groves have been planted around some of the houses upon the prairie. The township has some valuable coal deposits, but they have never been fully developed.
     In a preceding chapter mention was made of the land warrants filed on Stark County lands by veterans of the War of 1812. During the years 1817-18 more than three score military claims were filed upon lands in what is now Elmira Township.

     Godfrey Reemer located a claim in Section 1;
     James Thomas, Robert Hall, A. F. Spencer and William Shepherd, Section 3;
     Reuben Close, Section 4;
     John Hughes and Charles Armstrong, Section 5;
     William Walsh, Section 6;
     John Fleming, Section 7;
     David Armstead and A. O. Smith, Section 8;
     John Martin and Henry Atkins, Section 9;
     James Patterson, Richard Gates, Charles Smith and Frederick Jenkins, Section 11;
     Richard Howard, Henry Shannon, Moses Sears and Ephraim Small, Section 13;
     Michael Conway, Aaron Burbank and two men named Roberts and Stenhert, Section 17;
     Daniel Gaskel, Section 19;
     Isaac Smith, Section 20:
     William Thompson, John Barnett, Section 21;
     Elias Hughes, Section 22;
     Malbry Palmer and John Potter, Section 23;
     John Jones, Section 24;
     Benjamin Barrett, Thomas McFadden and John Wood, Section 26;
     James D. Wells, John Crowell and Henry Davenport, Section 27;
     Bela Dexter, Section 28;
     Francis Lincoln, James Tiner and Bird Lavender, Section 29;
     Bradford Willis and Stephen Benjamin, Section 30;
     Charles Board and Henry Cruser, Section 31;
     John Timberlake and W. S. Tompkins, Section 32;
     Timothy Weston, Lewis Bronson and John Whitlock, Section 33;
     Robert Goodwin and Lewis Green, Section 34;
     Richard Scott, John Davis, John Giers and Seward Walters, Section 35;
     James Joyce, Conrad Sarr, William Sears and H. Edwards, Section 36.

     The first settlement in the township was not made, however, until in December, 1835. Maj. Robert Moore, who conducted a ferry across the Illinois River at Peoria, had obtained a map showing which lands had been patented under the military bounty act and which were subject to entry. His object was to encourage immigration to that part of the county, with a view to building up a town, of which he was to be the proprietor. In December, 1835, he led thither a party of prospective settlers, among whom were James Buswell, Isaac Spencer, Thomas Watts, Giles A. Dana and the Pratts, all from Vermont. They selected lands and began the work of establishing their homes upon the frontier. The following June came William Hall and his wife, Robert and Mary Hall, Archibald and Charles Vandyke, Myrtle G. Brace, E. S. Brodhead and several members of a family named Davis. The first of the Sturms family had located at Seeley’s Point as early as 1834. Other members of the family came later and located claims along the south side of Osceola Grove, in what is now Elmira Township. Mrs. Shallenberger describes the Sturms as “regular frontiersmen, every one ‘mighty hunters;’ of tall stature, combining strength and activity in an unusual degree. Wearing an Indian garb of fringed buckskins, their feet encased in moccasins, with bowie knife in the belt and rifle on the shoulder; no wonder many a newcomer started from them in affright, supposing they had encountered genuine ‘scalpers.’ But these men were by no means as savage as they seemed, but had hearts to which friend or stranger never appealed in vain.”
On June 17, 1837, the Turnbull and Oliver families left their “Bonnie Scotland” to seek homes in America. After a voyage of six weeks they reached Quebec, and nearly six weeks more were consumed in the journey to Chicago. From there they went to Joliet, where they found two vacant cabins, which they were permitted to occupy, the settlers there showing them every kindness. But they were anxious to enter lands of their own. At Joliet they met a man named Parker, who owned a quarter section of land in what is now Stark County, and John Turnbull set out on foot to meet Parker at Wyoming, his intention being to purchase the land. He did not buy Parker’s land, however, but, after looking around through the new settlement, purchased forty acres from John and Thomas Lyle, in Osceola Grove, upon which there was a small cabin, with the understanding that if Mr. Oliver came on the Lyles would sell him the adjoining forty acres. On February 14, 1838, John Turnbull and Andrew Oliver, with their families, took possession of their new purchases. That was the beginning of the “Scotch Colony” in Elmira. Says Mrs. Shallenberger: “The four families, consisting of eight Lyles and thirteen of the Turnbulls and Olivers, contrived to live until spring opened, in one room, and that one 16 by 18 feet. That they succeeded in doing this harmoniously, so that the survivors can now look back through the mists of nearly forty years, and make merry over the experiences of that first winter in Osceola, is creditable to all concerned.”
     Letters from the Turnbulls and Olivers to friends and relatives in Scotland soon brought others from that country, and the Murrays, the Grieves, the Armstrongs, the McDonalds, McRaes, Murchisons, Finlaysons and McLennans joined the Scottish settlement in Stark County. They patiently endured the hardships and inconveniences of frontier civilization, and with that industry and determination that have always been such dominant characteristics of the Scotch people they built up a neighborhood that is remarkable for its thrift and independence.
     In 1837 a post office was established where the village of Osceola is now situated. It was named “Elmira” by Oliver Whitaker, after his old home in New York, and when township organization went into effect in 1853 the name was conferred on the township.
The population of the township in 1910, according to the United States census, was 884, and in 1914 the property was appraised at $758,198 for taxation---a valuation of over eight hundred dollars for each man, woman and child residing in the township. Elmira has seven schoolhouses, valued at $10,600, and employs nine teachers in the public schools.

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Updated June 6, 2007