History of Highland Illinois

Highland Township contains the highest elevation in Grundy County, hence its name. Johnny Run and Murray Sluice are the principal streams, although the Waupecan and the Mazon Rivers cross the corners.

The very early history of Highland Township is regrettably associated with the criminal history of Grundy County, for the people who took forcible possession of this locality were members of the Prairie Bandit Gang. During 1836 and 1837 these desperadoes ravaged the country, stealing horses so openly that none were safe, and as is the case with men who have no respect for property, these bandits had but little for human life, and whenever it was necessary to protect themselves, killed ruthlessly. Travelers lost not only their horses, but money and other valuables, and were fortunate to escape with their lives. Eventually, however, the permanent settlers in Grundy County and other localities drove these bandits out of the state, but not before they had terrorized hundreds, and killed many. Highland Township had many other difficulties growing out of the lawlessness of these bandits, for the stories of their crimes kept reliable men from settling here, and encouraged law breaking of all kinds.

The real settlement of the township began in 1845 or 1846 with the location here of James Martin, who came here from Indiana. Soon John and William Scott, his brothers-in-law, followed, but only remained a short period. James Funk and William Pierce both settled here before 1850. Alvin and Cushman Small came here about 1851, as did John Empie and a Mr. Kline. Paddy Lamb arrived before 1855, and was joined by a number of other Irishmen. John Weldon, although a resident of Vienna, influenced many to come to Highland Township.

The Ottawa Settlers

The settlement was small up to 1856, for at the presidential election in that year, but fifteen votes were cast. Paddy Lamb cast the only vote for Buchanan despite the efforts of the fourteen others to make him change his politics. William Slattarey, a resident of Ottawa, Illinois, moved to Highland in 1857 as one of the first that came from there and forty-six families followed, among them being William Meagher, John Ryan, Tom Ryan, Jerry Donavan, Owen Driner, Pat Cary, Will Kieff, Tom Donohue, Dennis Ryan, Mike Ahern and Tom Harty. This influx turned a strong republican town to a democratic, and it was called Ireland by some, John Coveny, Isaac Marlet, John Noonan, Vera Hill, Randolf Hill, William Colby, John Daniher, Mike Dunn, and Dave Silk were the old settlers from 1856 to 1866. Land was bought for from $6 to $10 per acre that sells for $245 per acre and some has been pushed to $300 per acre. A great many of those settlers were renters and after a few years moved to other parts, some to eastern Illinois and more to Iowa. All are well-to-do today who remained and attended to business.

The first marriage in the township was that of the parents of John Flanigan, who was born on Section 15, the first white child born here. He was married to John Sullivan’s daughter, who died and then he married James Broderick’s daughter, and now resides in Iowa. In later days many a young man came to Highland Township to select a wife. On one occasion, John Shroder, then county sheriff for eighteen years, announced to the writer that Highland raised the most perfect girls in the county, so it was no wonder the young men crowded to Highland Township to get their wives.

The first death was that of Mr. Beningham. Out of the forty-six families that moved from Ottawa only five now remain, all the others having gone to their eternal reward.

Few Churches

In 1888 a Catholic church was built on Section 4. The old Catholic church was moved to Kinsman in 1885 and in 1887 was replaced by a $3,000 church. Only one church was outside the Catholic and that was the Swedish Lutheran, in 1903.

No postoffices were ever established in Highland Township outside of Kinsman, the people now getting their mail by rural free delivery from that point.

Rich Agricultural District

This is entirely an agricultural district. From being the center of lawlessness in the ’30s, it has become, in 1914, one of the most law abiding of all the sections of Grundy County. The farmers are well-to-do, and market their produce at Kinsman and Verona. While the farms here are not as large as those in some of the other townships, they are so well cared for, that they yield handsomely, and the valuation per acre is higher in consequence. In addition to general farming, stock raising is carried on, also some dairying, all of which prove profitable to those thus engaged.


The only railroad station in Highland Township is Kinsman, which is located on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. It is a little settlement about the railroad station and the Catholic Church and the residents are principally retired farmers of the Catholic faith. A small hotel offers accommodation to those desiring it, not only from the village, but transients as well. Stock and grain from the surrounding territory are shipped from Kinsman, and from it mail is delivered over the regular rural route the postoffice there controls. Several stores deal in the commodities required by the people of Kinsman and the outlying farming community, and it ranks in importance with other villages of its size in Grundy County. There is also a bank at this point.


Highland Township has been represented on the Board of Supervisors of Grundy County by the following men: L. Putnam, 1850-51; William Pierce, 1852-1859; Philip Waite, 1860-1864; William Pierce, 1865; John S. Maxwell, 1866-1867; Henry Adams, 1868-1869; William Pierce, 1870-1872; Benjamin Waite, 1873; George L. Gilbert, 1874-1875; Thomas Ryan, 1876-1880; M.H. Lamb, 1881-1884; W.E. Conness, 1885; W.T. Daniher, 1886-1890; J.H. Kane, 1891-1892; W.T. Daniher, 1893; Thomas Ryan, 1894; J.H. Kane, 1895-1896; George Gilbert, 1897-1898; W.E. Conness, 1899-1900; Thomas Ryan, 1901-1904; D.F. Meagher, 1905-1906; Richard Carey, 1907-1908; Daniel O’Connell, 1909-1914.


Source: History of Grundy County, Munsell Publishing Company, 1914


  1. mary farley

    Dawn, yes, i think we are related. Dennis was from Tipperary area, wife Jane last name is either Quinland or Crowe my telephone number is 218 945 6821.

    • Dawn Jaminet

      Hi Mary,
      I will try and contact you in a day or two. I am very interested to what info you have. Where were you raised? My husband and I were raised in Iowa. So the Ryans from Remsen Iowa is who we knew. But they are connected to Denis and Jane for sure. Do you have photos? I have some photos of the Ryans from our area I am willing to share. How far back have you gone? Jane is kind of a mystery with her last name. I also have Crough listed as a name for her. I have to go right now…….but am anxious to chat with you! What time works for you?


    My ggrandfather Thomas Ryan was a resident of Highland township, his father Dennis Ryan and family also lived in this area. Thomas Ryan lost his wife of pneumonia at the age of 39. Thomas never remarried and raised all seven children.

    • Dawn Jaminet

      Hello Mary,
      I am in the process of researching the Ryan side of the family. Was Dennis from Tipperary Ireland? Married Jane (unsure of last name)? They had Thomas, John, Mary and William.
      Would you share what info you have? I really appreciate it all!! Pictures would be awesome as well! I am on ancestry.
      email is tjaminet@tampabay.rr.com

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