Marshall County

1976 Deep Are the Roots

Richland Township

[Page 67]

An interesting old home is located in Section 16, Richland Township. The house was built before the Civil War. It has been changed little since its construction.

Originally William Kunkle designed the house so the hired help had living quarters on the north side. The south and central sections were the sections occupied by Mr. Kunkle, his wife, a daughter of Timothy Owen, and their four children; Lincoln, Egnes, Nellie and Jennie.

William's daughter, Nellie, married George Kunkle and moved to a farm north of the home pictured. They reared a family of three and today the heirs of these three children own the farm. It is operated by R. Eugene and sons today; great-grandson and great-great-grandsons of William Kunkle.

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and much talked about fact of that period that from the Roderick Ovren plow came the great improvement of the plow of this country which followed closely upon the installation of his plow. At the first Illinois State Fair, held at Peoria, I think it was in 1857, Roderick Owen was in the contest with his center draft plow, as he denominated it when it was awarded the first premium, the principal features of its merits being its total elimination of side draft and its exceeding all other plows in lightness of draft, by twenty-five per cent and I hold it a logical proposition to assune, today, that the same comparison would hold in this year of cur Lord 1912 between the R. Owen plow and any other plow yet produced, as no other has yet materialized but is hanpered indefinitely by the defect of side draft. Notwithstanding the fact that the plows of the present day are generally considered at a high state of perfection and exploited by their makers as perfect, the simple fact yet remains that the slogan of side draft is still heard throughout the land. And Roderick Owen is the only man, so far as the record sayeth, who has succeeded in eliminating that vexations feature totally from the plow.

"About 1845, Roderick Owen moved from Lacon to Bureau County, Illinois where he established a plant for manufacturing his plows on an extensive scale. His plows always carried off first colors at all state and county fairs wherever on exhibition and were in first demand while on the market. When another genius arises and gives to this great agricultural country a perfect plow, a plow unhampered by a scintilla of superfluous draft, the plow that will navigate with the slightest need of a holder, we will throw up our hats and exclaim, 'Shades of Roderick Owen.'

"I have in my possession one of his old advertising bills, dated 1852 which reads in part:

"Roderick Owen is manufacturing at his old stand near Tiskilwa, Bureau County, Illinois, a large assortment of the only real horizontal and perpendicular center draft plows that are made East or West, North or South. His plows are warranted to do the same amount of work with from twenty to fifty per cent less power than any other plow requiring only from 225 to 300 pounds draft as tested by the dynamometer & etc."

D. D. Owen,
Lacon, Illinois
December, 1912

[Page 71]

Strawn House – 1839
Richland Township

John Strawn was a pioneer settler who came into the undeveloped Illinois River Valley from Somerset County, Pennsylvania. He came to the Valley by way of Hennepin, the patriarch of a fleet of three Conestoga wagons, arriving in the vicinity of Lacon in September, 1829.

He had previously visited the area in 1828, traveling out to the Illinois country by horseback to look over the land.

At his death on July 4, 1872 at the age of 81, he owned 3,500 acres of prime farmland, all of it lying on the eastern bluffs of the River and most of it in what later was named Richland Township. When Strawn and his family arrived here, the land he sought lay in the domain of Putnam County.

Directly aiding Strawn in his accumulation of Illinois land was his appointment in 1832 by Governor Reynolds to the rank of colonelship. The instructions that accompanied the appointment authorized him to organize the area between Strawn's Land or Columbia (later renamed Lacon) and the thriving little place of Hennepin situated 20 miles upstream.

The organization was for the protection from Black Hawk's marauding forces. Strawn, in addition to the prestige of a military title, received parcels of land in payment for his services. However, he saw no battle duty. He conducted drill on the court house lawns at Lacon and Hennepin.

The story has been handed down among his descendants that Colonel Strawn took his tasks of drilling the men seriously. He is supposed to put together his own uniform which included a Napoleon-type three cornered hat and which he wore when he drilled the farmers and organized them into companies and assigned the families to the nearest stockade.

Strawn was interested in land. He saw the wealth potential in the timbered acres which ridged the Valley between Hennepin and Peoria. He chose to settle on Round Prairie some four miles inland from the island-studded River. He was also interested in convincing others of his good judgment of Illinois soil. He insisted, so it is told, that the land lying to the east of the River was superior to that lying on the west side of the county. When likely prospects came from the East with intentions of investing, Strawn became a real estate agent at once.

It is in the family lore that on one occasion he switched the wheels on the wagon which he was using to take prospective buyers out over the prairies. The switched wheels created the illusion of slightly rolling land as the wagon seemed to be traveling up a slight grade. The clever Colonel Strawn used the gentle roll to elaborate upon his sales talk.

His preference for the Richland Township lands has also been traced to the time he was a military leader. In the village across the River from Lacon was a small settlement later to be named Sparland. There was a flinty Vermonter named Franklin Ward Graves and his family squatting there. When the Graves family was told to go to a stockade south of Lacon and on the east side of the River, Graves informed Strawn he was "fixin' to raise corn, Indians or no." Strawn resented Graves and did what he could to lure prospective settlers and investors to the Lacon side of the County.

Strawn did not believe in banks and buried his money in various places. If anyone ever found those hiding places, it has never been revealed. He was awakened one night to find two men in his room. They ransacked the house, found very little silver and left in disgust, angered because they could not find as much as they were sure Strawn possessed. Family legends have it that money was secreted in the well (probably in the butter bucket) and in odd places about the barn and the blacksmith shop which he operated with his farming and real estate salesmanship.

Acknowledged as the first permanent settler of Marshall County, he was recognized as a Democrat in politics and possibly did not regard Abraham Lincoln too highly.

When Mr. Lincoln was riding the circuit of the Old Eighth Circuit between Metamora and Hennepin, he found against Strawn in a lawsuit.

Strawn built for his family a fine tall brick house in Richland Township (that is T29N, R2W). When it was completed in the mid-l840's it was considered a showplace for many years and it was widely recognized as "The Strawn House" known from Metamora to Hennepin.

Strawn imported some of the materials used in building the house but the brick he fired himself in kilns located on his property at the edge of the timber.

The door latches and the window panes were ordered from Philadelphia. Surely the window laces were from the East also.

The rafters were put together with hand-hewn walnut pegs, each about eight to ten inches long.

There were nine fireplaces in the house but they were not ornate, just serviceable. Most of them had simple rubbed wood mantels. The flooring was wide and heavy, made in Strawn's own saw mill.

The style of the house might best be described as "Philadelphia Colonial," rectangular and tall. There were no side shutters to break the bareness of the brick but the window panes were thick and leaded.

The elegant showplace of the prairies was torn down in the early 1960's after having sheltered several families for a little more than one hundred years. The plot of land on which the house stood and which could be seen for miles, is now intensely farmed.

Eleanor Bussell
(A Strawn Descendant)

[Page 74]

In Section 29 of Richland Township, Ralph Henry Strawn and his family represent the fourth and fifth generations of the Strawn family to own and operate this farm.

The land was first acqiured from the Government by Colonel John Strawn around 1830.

The Colonel's son, John William, inherited the farm and built the first dwelling which is still standing today, well over 100 years old.

Mrs. Ralph Strawn reports that older family members recalled stories of how Indians reportedly helped build the old house. Rough hewn timbers, heavy stone foundation and a large open fireplace are features that help identify its age. These friendly Indians often came to the home of John William; sometimes bringing along their own fire wood.

After John William, the farm became Ralph William Strawn' s and today is owned by Ralph William's son, Ralph Henry.

Just last year (1975), Ralph and his wife moved from the old home so it stands empty today. More modern homes of the fifth generation Strawns, Ralph's family, are nearby.

The farm is about 2-1/2 miles east of Lacon and one mile south of Route 17.

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