Dekalb County is located in the North Central part of the State of Illinois with the gentle Kishwaukee River flowing north and south through its borders along with several other small streams.
The County contains eighteen townships, six hundred forty eight square miles. The territory now embraced in this county, prior to the Spring of 1835, was in the possession of the Pottowatamies of the Prairie. Whether any white man had looked upon the surpassing beauty of its island groves and fertile prairies, until about the time of the defeat of GEN. STILLMAN’s army by the Indians, on the Kishwaukee River, near the Northwest corner of this county, in 1832, is uncertain. There were several Indian villages, under subordinate chief, within the limits of this county. One was near Kingston township, one near Ohio Grove, in the town of Cortland, one near the town of Dekalb, one near Squaw Grove township, and near the grove in the town of Shabbona, was the village of Shabbona, named after one of the head chiefs of the Pottawatamie nation. From this place, after the surrender of GENERAL HULL, Fort Mackinaw, and the Chicago Massacre, SHABBONA and his braves, accompanied by WABANSIA and his warriors, went to join the forces of TECUMSEH and the PROPHET, in aid of the British arms against the United States in the war of 1812. In the Spring of 1835, word was that the Indians were about to remove west of the Mississippi and no further attempt was made to restrain the immigration of the whites, and they poured into the country in great numbers.
On the 5th of September, 1835, at the shanty of HARMON MILLER, then standing on the east bank of the Kishwaukee River, nearly opposite the then residence of WM. A. MILLER, in the town of Kingston, a settler’s meeting was called, for the purpose of making such laws as was thought best, to govern themselves thereby. LEVI LEE was chosen to preside over this august assemblage, and CAPT. ELI BARNES was appointed Secretary. At last, ripe for immediate action, a committee was selected to draft and present to the meeting a constitution and by-laws by which the settlers upon the public lands should be governed. After some little deliberation back of the shanty, around the stump of a big white oak, which served as a writing desk, said committee reported a preamble, constitution and by-laws, which for simplicity, brevity and adaptation to necessity, it would be hard for any modern legislature to beat. The common sense, law and logic, as well as patriotism, contained in this constitution and by-laws, were instantaneously recognized to be the very things demanded by the crisis, and were adopted.
In 1836, the county of Kane, embracing the entire territory now including Dekalb, was organized. CAPT. ELI BARNES representing the interests of the Kishwaukee country, was re-elected on the Board of County Commissioners; but the settlers in the Kishwaukee country still felt that they were too far from the county seat. In the winter of 1836-7, and on the 4th day of March, 1837, a bill was passed, through the influence of the HON. HENRY MADDEN, to create the county of Dekalb, from the west half of the county of Kane.
Tho the county has no great grandeur, it is rich in the soil of rolling prairie lands and welcomed the settlers to the open countryside. In the year 1837, the Commissioners appointed by the Legislature, in October, met at the house of MR. FREDERIC LOVE to fix the County seat. Three competing points were reviewed during the Commissioners three days of travel and the county seat was then “determined by setting a long pole upon the green prairie, placed on it a streaming flag, and declared it to be the location for the County seat of the new County of Dekalb, where the Court House now stands.” “CAPTAIN ELI BARNES now advanced, and christened the new town by the name of ORANGE.”
The county machinery was now fairly set in order, by 1838, but, to complete the dignity of the new county, it was necessary that a term of the Circuit Court should be held, for the trial of civil and criminal suits; and at the February term of the Commissioners’ Court, it was ordered, that, as no court-house was yet provided, the first term of the Circuit Court should be held at RUFUS COLTON’s residence, and the next term of the County Commissioner’s Court, should be held at the residence of RILEY HALL in Sycamore precinct.
The total County tax levied on the first year of its existence as a County, was $216.50, but MR. JAMES PHILLIPS, the deputy Sheriff who was also Collector, reported that after a hard winter’s work in collecting, he had been able to get together and pay into the Treasury only $84.37.
The year 1839 was memorable as one of great suffering among the new settlers, from sickness, but the citizens in the vicinity of the County seat found time to build a new Court House. The survey lines ordered by the County Commissioners, had been brought down from the neighborhood of Rockford, where some Government surveying had already been done, and the village was staked out. From the time the village was laid out, its original name of Orange was dropped, and Sycamore adopted by common consent. The village having been laid out, the Commissioners proceeded to sell lots at public auction, and with the proceeds to contract for building a Court House and Jail. The proceeds of the sale constituted a little fund out of which, some of the materials for the Court House were purchased. Those most interested in the matter, then took teams and drove to all the saw-mills in the country round, and begged or bought, or traded for the necessary lumber. By the time fixed for the June session of the Circuit Court, a two story building twenty feet by thirty had been enclosed and was ready for occupancy. When the Court repaired to the new Court House, it was found that the occupancy, was rather more than its condition warranted. It had a frame, a roof, and some siding upon it, but there were no doors nor windows, and the only floor was some loose boards covering one half of the upper story.
The year 1840 found the County increasing in population, if not in wealth. Most of the settlers were from the Southern States, and other citizens of Northern origin. The County Treasury was generally empty. County orders were issued for all expenses, and they were at a great discount, but as they were receivable for taxes, little else could be collected and no money went into the Treasury.
At the County seat, a little village was being built up. It now contained twelve houses. The Mansion House kept by CAPTAIN BARNES, was the great center of population.
School Trustees for the Northern townships seem to have been elected at some previous time, for it is recorded that FREDERICK WATKINS and ANDREW MILES, former trustees of township forty-two, range three, resigned and DANIEL CRONKHITE was appointed in their places. Trustees of school lands were also appointed for Townships thirty-seven, thirty-eight, and forty-one, in range five.
On January 3, of this year, another act had been passed by the Legislature “permanently to locate the seat of justice for the County of Dekalb. The election held in August 1840 permanently established Sycamore.”
Free History Books
At the turn of the 19th century, publishers created a business around the compiling of county histories and getting people to subscribe (purchase) these histories, by also including a biography of them or their family. The following are the one for DeKalb County.
By Henry Lamson Boies and published in 1868. Since the county had been established only 30 years prior, there was limited history to present. However, because this was written so soon after the founding, much of the information presented could be seen as primary information, since it was contemporaneous with the event, especially the Civil War information.
Published in 1885 it contains full-page portraits and biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county : together with portraits and biographies of all the governors of Illinois, and of the presidents of the United States : also containing a history of the county, from its earliest settlement to the present time.
Volume 1 of 2 written by Prof. Lewis M. Gross. This contains the history of the county up to 1907 and biographical sketches of leading citizens.
Volume 2 of 2 written by Prof. Lewis M. Gross. This continues the biographical sketches of leading citizens from volume 1.