About ten miles west of Sparland on Route 17, Section 17, LaPrairle Township is the farm owned by Mrs. Hester Allen of Lacon.
The beautiful old Victorian home on the farm is believed to have been built by Zeniphon Wilmot in the l850's. In 1847, Mr. Wilmot came to LaPrairie and purchased the farm. He began to improve the land, putting up buildings and planting trees. He maintained a large fruit orchard as well as operating a nursery. The many old cedars remaining near the house today are remnants of the once thriving business.
In 1902 the land and buildings were purchased by Mrs. Allen's parents, the Charles Collins. Until her marriage to the late Joseph Allen, Hester lived on the farm with her parents.
The present tenants of the farm are the John Ratcliff family.
Levi Holmes Farm
Levi Holmes came to Peoria County, Illinois in l843 from Herkimier County, New York. In 1844 he married Lucinda Hansell who had come to Peoria County from Boston. After their marriage, Levi and Lucinda came to Marshall County and farmed in what later became LaPrairie Township. In 1847 they bought 160 acres of land grant property located in Section 2, and built their heme there near the southwest corner of the quarter section. Eight children were born to them, four died of diptheria as infants, the remaining four being Morris, Milan, Ada and William. When the children were small, Lucinda would put them in a large "hog's head" (wooden barrel) for safekeeping while she did the family washing, lest they wander off and become lost in the tall prairie grass. That same prairie grass was the cause of much concern when prairie fires raged through it, threatening the buildings of the early settlers. On one such occasion, Levi started a backfire to protect his buildings. The fire spread to a neighbor's haystack and burned it. Levi was sued for $400.00, a large sum in those days.
In later years, Lucinda often told the family about the many red deer and wild turkey she saw in the fertile prairie acres near the farm.
The first town meeting was held April 2 in 1850. Levi was chosen clerk of the meeting and was elected as the first assessor. The township was given the name of Fairfield at that meeting and went by that name until it was learned that another county in the state already had the name of Fairfield; the name was changed to LaPrairie in 1850.
One year the corn froze to the ground in July. Grain was hauled to town, often Peoria, by team and wagon. If the load became mired in mud along the way, there was little one could do except wait until another man with a good strong team of horses came along to help pull the load out of the mud, perhaps several days later.
Levi died in 1864 leaving Lucinda with the young family. In 1865 she married John McGillick. They had one son, George. Milan was twelve years old when his father died and he had to earn his own living from that time. He herded cattle for neighbors riding an Indian pony with no bridle. He recalled driving herds of cattle to market when the snow was so deep the tops of the fence posts were buried. He helped drive hogs to market "on the hoof." He remembered many encounters with rattlesnakes which were plentiful at that time.
In 1878, Milan married Mary Ann Marshall, and two years later built a home near the northeast corner of the original farm, several years later raising and enlarging the house to its present two stories. There they spent the rest of their years, raising a family of six; Alfred, Bessie, Harry, who is still living in Vancouver, Washington, Grace, Charles, and Irene of Lacon.
Milan enjoyed raising a garden, small fruit and apple orchard, and evergreens. Rarely a spring went by without a few new trees being set in the orchard or building lots. His wife shared his love of growing things. They lived to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in the home they loved, but the following spring Mrs. Holmes died, followed by Grace in 1940, and Milan in 1943. Irene, present owner, who had lived with her folks, continued to live there until 1958. She now resides in Lacon, Illinois. Since then renters have lived on the farm. Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Livingston (Connie Gray, granddaughter of Milan and Mary Ann Holmes) presently reside there.
The original buildings are all gone where Levi and Lucinda built their home. Lucinda left her home about 1910 to live with her youngest son and wife. It was left vacant for that time. Lucinda died in 1914.
Miss Irene Holmes
The "Old Root House," long a landmark in LaPrairie Township, stands along the Old Galena Trail at the corner where it intersects with the Marshall -Peoria County line road (Section 33), two miles east of Lawn Ridge.
Historically, it stands on property deeded to Erastus C. Root in 1836. Erastus C. Root had come with his father, Jeriel Root, and brother, Lucas Root, from Roxbury, New York, via Ross County, Ohio. They arrived in Ohio by covered wagon in 1817 and remained there until 1830. In October 1830 their covered wagon train of ten wagons of pioneers crossed the Illinois on a ferry, landing at Peoria, Illinois, and then proceeded to Hallock, Illinois. His family later became the sole residents of Chillicothe, where they lived until buying the LaPrairie farm in 1836.
Apparently, a small log cabin thirteen feet square served as the home until it was replaced in 1837 by another log cabin eighteen feet square and one and a half stories high.
Lucas Root, a brother, bought this part of the farm from Erastus C. Root in 1842. Apparently, the log cabin was torn down and the original part of the present house was built in l85l. It was well constructed of brick, two stories with seven rooms and was heated with stoves. No major changes were made until 1914.
Lucas transferred the title of this property to his son, Jeriel, in 1878, who retained ownership until it became the property of his two sons, Linus and Norris, in 1902. In 1914 Linus became the sole owner. At that time he made a major remodeling of the house. Several rooms were added, new porches, a bathroom, and an acetylene generating plant was installed to provide lighting. Of course, a modem heating plant was also installed.
The Root family of seven children enjoyed a fine family relationship with their parents and contributed much to the family farming operation. All seemed well until the Depression of the early twenties made it impossible to make both ends meet financially, and it became necessary to sell the farm. The Evans's of Peoria bought the farm in 1924, but Linus continued to operate it until his retirement in 1945. This completed more than 100 years of continuous occupancy and operation of the same farm by four generations of the Root family.
The farm is still owned by Mrs. Clara Evans who gave the Root house its second remodeling in 1968. It is presently occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Harold Gill and family, who have been the farm operators for more than 25 years. The present condition of the house speaks well of their husbandry.
The Root house has been more than a landmark to passers-by. It is symbolic of the past and present. It has witnessed good times and bad times; it has watched the change from Indian trails, wagon trains, stagecoaches, automobiles, airplanes to spacecraft. It has provided "a heap of living" for many people over this period of 125 years and appears useful for much more. It is appropriate this Bicentennial year to salute the "Old Root House" as another example of our great American heritage.
Lester E. Leigh
William Smith Farm
This 160 acre farm in Section 23 of LaPrairie Township was purchased by John Davidson in 1853.
Adam Davidson, grandfather of the present owner, Mr. William Smith, received the farm in 1869.
In 1972, Mr, Smith received the Centennial Farm Award from Governor Ogilvie. The Smiths reside at 5102 Sunnybrook Drive, Peoria, Illinois.
Mr. and Mrs. William M. Smith
In 1827 there was a mail route which began in Peoria continued through North Hampton to Boyd's Grove, Milo, Providence, Bulbonas Grove, Dixon and on to Galena.
In 1833 the state road was established running from Peoria through North Hampton, Whitefield, Tiskilwa, Princeton, Dixon and Galena.
Both the trail and the coach road before 1833 followed the Blue Ridge Road. (See Marshall County map.)
Mr. Rupert Nurse
Lawn Ridge is located on the Marshall and Peoria County line in the southwest corner of LaPrairie Township. Mr. Ordway, the first postmaster, named the post office, and the name was adopted for that of the village. The first mails were carried by a small boy on a pony to and from North Hampton.
In 1880 its businesses consisted of a post office, two drug stores, one grocery store, one general store, a harness shop, two wagon shops, two shoe shops, three blacksmith shops, two restaurants, a cabinet ware store, a school, a barbershop, two hotels, a public hall, two churches, the Methodist and Union Presbyterian. Later there was a Congregational Church on the north edge of the village. Lawn Ridge also had a doctor. The Masons of the vicinity obtained their charter October 5, 1864 and were installed at once as Lawn Ridge No. 415.There were many houses in Lawn Ridge.
The Underground Railroad
Lawn Ridge has always been noted for its advanced ideas upon the subject of human freedom. The first fugitive that passed through Lawn Ridge was brought by Dr. Cutler of Princeville under a featherbed. The next was a colored man who had been pressed so closely by pursuers that to escape their clutches he had to dodge under a bridge at Farmington where he remained hidden a day and a night. A friend of the cause then brought him to Lawn Ridge, one of the few places where a fugitive slave was safe. Escaping slaves were usually brought at night but went forward by daylight as there was little danger beyond this point.
Lawn Ridge once a lively town at the crossroads is no more. The Masons have moved to Speer, Illinois. All that remains are a few houses, a tavern and a tractor repair shop.