HISTORY OF PRAIRIE GROVE
by Frank R. Snook, a resident
Over one hundred and fifty years ago the first settlers began
to build their homes in the area that we now call Prairie
Grove. 'What was at the heart of these early days? Things like
the taste of bread right out of the oven when you were good
and hungry. The smell of newly plowed earth. A horse munching
oats and bending its head to be rubbed. The way the late, flat
sun sent long slants of light across the prairie grass. Memory
has made it too simple. It is easy to forget the aching
muscles, all the work and sweat and monotony." It is the work
and sweat of these settlers that has made Prairie Grove.
The first white man to settle in the area was George
Stickney. He built the first house in the township in
December, 1835. It was a log building and contained no iron of
any description in its construction, wooden pins being made to
take the place of nails. The first death in what is now
occurred when George Stickney's little son died. His remains
were the first placed in the Holcombville Cemetery. At his
funeral, the first religious services were held.
In 1836, Benjamin McOmber arrived in the township. Miss A.
McOmber was the first teacher. She taught in a log school
house which was built in 1839. She was paid $1.25 per week to
teach school to five students. The seats in this building were
placed near the wall and ran in a single row clear around the
room. The children were compelled to sit facing the wall.
Samuel Terwilliger settled in 1836. His son, Jerome, was the
first white child born in the township. Jerome made the
township his home till 1876, when he died on the same spot of
ground he was born.
Among the next settlers were William and Cameron Goff who
settled here in October, 1837. The Goffs were responsible for
naming the township
1840, however, it was learned that there was already a post
office named Brooklyn in the state. The people of the township
called a private meeting, unknown to William and Cameron Goff,
and by a vote changed the name of the township to Nunda. The
name Nunda came from the New York State birthplace of another
first settler, Col. William Huffman.
William and Lavilla Huffman arrived in
in the autumn of 1838 and settled on a tract 1/2 mile south of
that Village. Remaining there one year and not being satisfied
with the soil, Col. Huffman abandoned his claim and purchased
another in Nunda. He purchased this property from Dewitt Brady
at a cost of $1,000. He lived here until his death December
P.M. Huffman, the son of Colonel and Lavilla Huffman, was
March 5, 1821.
For twenty years he ran a threshing machine for the
neighboring farmers and attended to his own farm of 255 acres
and fourteen cows. His farming was interrupted by the Civil
War. A biography of P.M. Huffman gives the following account
of his Civil War experiences:
"On a retreat after the battle of Guntown, his regiment was
three days without rations. Pursued by an overwhelming force,
tired and almost exhausted from continued fighting and loss of
sleep, the boys were almost ready to give up in despair. None
exerted a greater influence in encouraging and keeping up
their enthusiasm than Lieutenant Huffman, and to him belongs
great credit. After the defeat at Guntown had become complete
and the men were flying in all directions, the Lieutenant came
upon a soldier and a darky who were wrangling over the
possession of a mule. The shoulder straps of the Lieutenant
gave him prominence in settling the dispute and to equalize
their circulation he said, 'Boys, I'll take care of the mule.'
Hastily mounting the long eared "Bucephalus" he gave order for
them to 'cast anchor.' By this time the enemy were close upon
them, and the balls were whistling in air entirely too
familiar for comfort. Realizing that it was a time for the
execution of some rapid movements he drove his heels into the
donkey's flanks and with a shout that would have done credit
to a chief, dashed away upon what proved to be a 'bucking
expedition. ' His ride was lively, but brief, as the form of a
Lieutenant was seen flying through the air and alighting
hurriedly about ten paces in advance of the mule. The scene
was ridiculous even to the foe who were spectators of the
catastrophe, and he was allowed to make his escape. When the
campaign closed and his term of service had expired,
Lieutenant Huffman with the other members of his regiment was
given an honorable discharge, which event occurred at
Ill. Aug. 16, 1865."
After Lieutenant Huffman's discharge, he returned to his home
and resumed the occupation of farming. During the year that he
was fighting, it should be pointed out that Mrs. Huffman
assumed the entire charge of the farm. It was reported that
she managed her husband's affairs at home with "profit and
Another Civil war veteran from
Township was George W. Ames. He fought in the battles of Black
Snake Gap, Resaca, and the Atlanta Campaign. George came to
as a boy of twelve--one of five children of Henry and Mary
Cooper Ames. Henry Ames died in 1857 and George was sent to
live with Daniel Kingsley, a farmer in Lake County. He then
came to this county where he found employment on the Darius C.
Reynolds farm, Terra Cotta, Nunda Township and stayed there
During the first year of the Civil War, George enlisted on
September 11, 1861, at age 17, at
Kane County. After seeing considerable action, George was
imprisoned in Georgia. As a little girl of 8, Vera McMillan
was horrified and at the same time fascinated by his
description of prisoners grabbing a white dog and eating it.
At the time of his honorable discharge from the army on April
22, 1865, he had wasted away to 84 pounds.
After the war, George returned to
County to once again work on the Darius Reynold's farm. In
1870, he married Eliza, whose parents, Sam and Jane McMillan
had purchased the Reynold's Farm. George and Eliza had four
children: William , born
August 14, 1871;
Thomas, born December 17, 1872; Mary, born January 10, 1875;
and Lizzie, born May 3, 1879. After their parents passed on,
the four children stayed on the farm for many years. Eliza
died in 1915 and Thomas in 1931. When Thomas died in 1931, he
left an inheritance of more than a million dollars to the
Crystal Lake Public Library.
Eliza McMillan Ames was the daughter of Samuel McMillan who
was born in
November 7, 1815. About 1837, at the age of 22 years, he came
to Plainfield, Will County, Illinois but two years later
County. Here, on November 28, 1843, in
Nunda Township, he
was married to Jane Ann Wilson, who was born in
July 19, 1823, the daughter of Andrew and Ann Jane (Fall)
Wilson. After his marriage, in the spring of 1844, he settled
on a tract of 80 acres of Government land to which he made
additions until he was the owner of 200 acres .
In addition to farming, Samuel McMillan and his brother James
built the first saw mill in
Township. It served as a saw mill until 1863 when it was
converted to a grist mill.
A reminder of the McMillan family remains with the James
McMillan house on the West side of Route 31 opposite Terra
Cotta Industries. The home is of interest architecturally
because of the mason-architect who constructed it--Andrew
Jackson "Jack" Simon who introduced cobblestone architecture
to this area. In this house, he used a cobblestone foundation.
The house is a brick Greek Revival and the name James McMillan
and the date 1851 appear over the door.
Traveling further north on Route 31 are other evidences of
the McMillan family. On the east side, on
is a private residence with a sign District 44 above the door.
Terra Cotta School was one of over 134 one room schools that
provided the major source of education for children in the
county. The McMillan family donated the land for this school
and served as directors. When most of the other one room
schools were incorporated into city school districts, this
little school remained unto itself until the late 1950'5.
Two of the teachers employed by the District 44 School were
Florence and Mabel Knox. Their grandfather was John Knox who
was born in Ireland in 1819. He came to the United States as a
young man and settled in McHenry County, where he became a
farmer. He was married to Mary Noonan. John Knox and his wife
had the following children: Ella Bolger, Anna Doherty,
Elizabeth Conway, Mary, Alice, John, Michael, Thomas and
Edward. He farmed his 160 acres of land until his death in
of John and Mary Knox, Robert, was described as follows:
"He was a jovial Irishman who lived on top of the hill and
owned the only threshing machine in the area. He moved his
machine with a Fordson tractor from farm to farm along
Rd. He would start threshing at the north end of Irish Prairie
one year and work south until all the farmers had their grain
harvested and the following year he would start at the south
end and work his way north. I remember well the sound of the
steel wheels rolling over the hard gravel road. This was a
sound of joy to all the children, for threshing time was a
happy time. The operation itself was fascinating, but more
than that, Robert Knox was the spirit of fun arid laughter and
he loved everyone, especially the children. And to add more
joy to all this, as each farmer finished his harvest he would
provide beer for the men, and pop for the kids. This was a
luxury during those depression years that was a highlight of
our summer school vacation."
The Knox and McMillan properties are now owned by Terra Cotta
Industries. In 1885 William D. Gates acquired the McMillan
property. A part of the old mill was thoroughly refitted and
remodeled and by means of slat floors and steam pipes
furnished three fine drying floors, while the basement was
used for a large tempering bin which also gave ample space for
machinery. The part of the old mill containing the millstones
was left intact to be used for grinding Terra Cotta flour for
the use of fine arts and modeling. Adjoining this was a dry
house of larger proportions which was also supplied with steam
pipes for drying. Next to this were the kilns. Adjoining the
main building was a new engine house with its massive steel
boiler and engine ready for work whenever water power was
insufficient or when there were extra demands .
At first only tile was manufactured, then brick was included
and eventually ornamental material and finally the famous "Tecco"
ceramics. Among these ceramics, is the Lincoln-Douglas Debate
frieze. It was placed in Lincoln Hall at the
Illinois in 1917, along with smaller plaques
showing other scenes in the life of Abraham Lincoln.
Mr. Gates built his home on a hill overlooking the factory.
His home and a depot three quarters of a mile from the factory
were made of Terra Cotta material. Mr. Gates died in 1935.
Terra Cotta Industries was not the only business to flourish
Nunda Township. In
1850, the County began to offer a bounty of $15 for each
wolf's scalp that had been taken within the limits of the
county. This was a bonanza for the hunters . Not only was the
county scoured in search of valuable prey, but adjoining
counties were robbed of wolves, which were brought alive
across the line into this county where they were killed and
the bounty claimed on the scalps. Nunda Township
"distinguished" itself by one of its citizens building a wolf
den and raising the cubs which he had captured until they
became six months old. He then scalped them and claimed his
reward under the law.
A small business district was established within
Township which became known as the village of Barreville. The
Village was never honored with a plat but was simply a
collection of houses and businesses that grew around a store
built by Thomas Combs.
A Barreville post office was begun in 1864. It was originally
located in Bryant's Corners in 1854. Russell Stanton was the
Postmaster. It was moved to Barreville in 1864.
Barreville grist mill was built in 1857 by Thomas Ferguson at
a cost of about $4000. He ran the mill until his death in
1865. The property was then sold to the Patterson Brothers who
ran it until 1873. Gus and Frank Patterson also owned a store.
The store was described as being large and well stocked.
The Patterson home was sold to Charles Herrendeen of
1903. This sale was described in a
September 10, 1903 newspaper account as "one of the largest transactions
in farm property ever to occur in
Township." Mr. Herrendeen purchased the 316 acre farm to use
as his country home. He also intended to raise horses and
is not the only state in which the runner can be developed."
Mr. Herrendeen must have taken an active part in the running
of the farm as he "believed in getting right down next to the
soil. His son and heir, a bright little chap of three is
generally found around with his dad and both of them in their
The Herrendeen Farm was the scene of a crime on
"One of the most daring holdups occurred in Crystal Lake when
H. C. Herrendeen was accosted by a man right in the yard of
her home and between $40 and $50 were taken from her purse.
After a struggle, Mrs. Herrendeen's fur coat was torn and she
received a blow on the back of her head."
The Herrendeens sold the farm to Royce Parker in the 1940s.
The home was bought by Richard and Kit Davies in the 1960s.
Both Kit and Richard Davies have been active in the Village
since its incorporation in 1973. Kit has served on the School
Board and Plan Commission and Richard Davies is currently a
member of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The history of Prairie Grove is probably not very different
from the history of other midwestern towns. What makes Prairie
Grove unique are names like Stickney, Huffman,
McMillan, Knox, Patterson and Gates. I have enjoyed getting to
know them and hope that they would approve of what we've done
with the Prairie Grove that they began 150 years ago.
Critchfield, Richard, Those Days: An American Album,
Dell Publishing Co., 1986.
The historical facts in this paper were obtained from
interviews and from histories, biographies, and newspaper
articles provided by the McHenry County Historical Society.