Located practically in the center of Grundy County, Mazon Township and the city bearing the same name have also combined to form a center of commercial and agricultural activity. From earliest times this section has had an important part in the history of the county; here have occurred incidents which furnish all the elements of romance; here is to be found material for a work of fiction and adventure. From the days when the sturdy pioneers for weeks at a time subsisted largely upon a diet of fried slippery elm bark, to the present, when Mazonites enjoy every attainable luxury, the progress and development of this locality has been consistent and sure.
Mazon the Indian Name for Nettle
During the early days the plant known as the nettle was to be found in great numbers on the rich timber bottoms of this section, and the early settlers and Indians used its tough fibre for twine and coarse thread. Accordingly the stream, a branch of which crosses a corner of the township, was named the Mazon, this being the Indian name for nettle, and from this the township and city were named. The general surface of Mazon Township is exceedingly level, there being at first hardly enough variation to afford drainage for the surplus water, but the ingenuity of man has overcome this obstacle, as it has so many others, and the good, strong black muck of the soil has made as good land as there is to be found in the county. Six water-courses, running about a mile apart, in a general parallel course, mark the township, Waupecan Creek, Johnny Run, Murray Sluice and the west fork of the Mazon, Brewster’s Sluice ten or twelve miles long, and Wood’s Run, all now insignificant streams, although during the early days, when augmented by the spring rains and freshets, they often overflowed their banks and united, forming a broad lake from six inches to two feet deep.
The principal bodies of timber, which were to be found along these streams, were known as Wauponsee Grove, Johnny Grove and Owen’s Spring, on Section 24, but these tracts have been largely cleared. The agriculturists devote the major portion of their attention to the raising of corn, although stock-raising is also carried on extensively, and a part of the grain grown is fed to the cattle.
Early Prospectors and Settlers
A.K. Owen, who began the first settlement of the Township of Mazon in 1833, came into the present locality of Grundy County in company with John Hogoboom, Dr. L.S. Robbins, and others, on a prospecting expedition, and to them the county is indebted largely for its early development. He chose a site on the west fork of the Mazon Creek, a little below old Mason Village, in the spring and summer of 1833, and in the following year came James McCarty, who took up his residence upon Wauponsee’s small corn patch consisting of three or four acres, located on section 5. Jesse Newport came next, from Belmont County, Ohio, and secured a tract on the southwest corner of section 6, and during the same fall James C. Spores built a cabin on the east half of the southeast quarter of Section 5. In the spring of 1835 James P. Ewing came to Mazon and built his cabin on the northeast quarter of section 6, but the land was too swampy, his crops did not flourish, and, becoming discouraged, after two or three years (during which time he also followed at times the trade of shoemaker) he sold his land to Jesse Newport. John L. Pickering, who bought out Spores, was a Quaker from Belmont County, was one of the early office holders of the county, where he lived for many years, and the marriage of his daughter Sarah to Gales Austin, by Justice Jacob Claypool, is said to have been the first wedding celebrated in Mazon Township.
About the same time that Mr. Ewing arrived came John Ridgway, purchasing land on the northwest quarter of Section 5, where he erected a log cabin. He was followed by David Spencer, and in the fall of 1835 came a lawyer, Augustus H. Owen, from New York, the first of his profession in the county. Finding no demand for his services, the latter removed to Ottawa, and subsequently met an accidental death by drowning in Rock River.
During the summer of 1835, there arrived in Mazon Township, J.C. Murray, of Oswego County, N. Y, who subsequently became the grandfather of L.R. Murray, the substantial merchant and talented editor and poet of Mazon. J.C. Murray was a brother-in-law of A.K. Owen, upon whose representations he came to Mazon, in order to secure opportunities for homemaking for his growing children. After forty-nine days on the water he reached Chicago, with his two new wagons filled with household effects, but with no teams, and accordingly left his family at that point and continued on alone to Owen’s home. The brothers-in-law, with Mr. Owen’s team brought the family in from Chicago, and when Mr. Owen went to Hennepin, Mr. Murray rented the farm for a while, but later went to the old Chicago and Bloomington trail, near the Murray Sluice, on Section 33, his cabin being known as the “Half Way House,” as it was situated about an equal distance from either end of the road, sixty-eight miles. One of the early houses to be built out on the prairie in Mazon Township, it had no floor save the bare earth, and a blanket was used for a door until a board could be found which was sawed and spliced.
As affording an illustration of the accidents that were all too frequent during the pioneer days the death of Mr. Murray by drowning in Johnny Run, in June, 1844, is recorded. Having been impaneled for the Grand Jury, in session at Morris, Mr. Murray was the guest of Mr. Armstrong, the well known pioneer boniface, and when the latter found himself without meat for the morning meal, Mr. Murray volunteered to go to his home and get several pieces of smoked meat. He returned to his home in safety, but on his return missed the ford, probably because of a freshet, and was drowned. This was but one of the accidents which so frequently occurred at an early day, but they were not confined to Mazon Township. Each locality experienced such occurrences. Nor in other ways was Mazon greatly different from its sister townships. The nearest postoffice was first at Ottawa, then Dresden, and later at Morris; while the nearest mills were those at Dayton, Wilmington and Milford, or Millington, and these were often inaccessible on account of the frequent overflowing of the streams. Numerous incidents regarding these days have come down to us through the pioneers, and while many of these have to do with experiences that bordered on and often invaded the tragic, still there is to be found a strain of humor in all.
It was thought during the early days that the advent of the canal would have no appreciable effect upon the traffic of the Bloomington and Chicago road, but this traffic gradually died out. Charles Huston, who had come from Syracuse, N. Y., in 1845, in 1848 purchased land of McKeen, and laid out forty acres in streets, squares and lots. A store was started by a Mr. Hall, of Ottawa, was subsequently sold to William B. Royal, and when business became poor a co-operative company was formed, but this also failed, passed into private hands, and went out of existence in a fire in 1854. A building was later erected by a temperance society, which rented the under part for a store, but this met with little success, as the industrial activity was moved to the “center,” or Centerville as was the old name. The coming of the Pekin, St. Louis & Chicago Railroad stimulated business, but moved it to the vicinity of the depot, at Mazon, which was for a time prefixed by “New” to distinguish it from the original Mazon. The new village was originally platted as Mazonville, but is now known as Mazon. The old site is still the home of seven residences, the schoolhouse, and what was known as the “common.” Near it is Condon’s Tile Factory, built since the removal of the business life to the site of the depot.
A venture which is worthy of mention, as it did much to assist in the growth of the village, was the creamery which was established at the Miller cheese factory in 1880 and in the following winter was brought to the village and located in a building of its own. This business was built up to a considerable extent, until it had a capacity of 1,100 pounds of butter per day, and in the neighborhood of thirty thousand dollars was expended annually for milk alone. However changing conditions made it unprofitable, and it has passed out of existence.
Today the visitor to Mazon leaving either a Santa Fe or Big Four train sees spread before him a deluxe edition of an Illinois village. Every one of the 125 houses of the village is neat appearing, while many are artistic and several pretentious. If there is poverty in Mazon it is cleverly hidden, for its people look happy and prosperous, its buildings are substantial, its streets well kept and its affairs in an ideal condition. Surrounding the village are many acres of as rich land as can be found not only in Grundy County, but any other section of the state, and its corn and stock shipments are exceedingly heavy, but are taken up under a separate chapter.
Public Spirit Shown
Mazon was organized as a village in 1876 and now has a population of about five hundred. It was incorporated under the general state law in 1895. The aim of the village is not to unduly inflate its population, or to bring to it residents who might prove undesirable, but to develop inside resources and maintain a high standard in every respect. It possesses a number of men of more than ordinary spirit, among whom are: William Carter, J.F. Burleigh, now deceased, F.A. Murray, L.R. Murray, Isham Brothers, Walker Brothers, Misner Brothers, F.H. Clapp, A.J. Campbell, Mr. Sproul, and others. These men were instrumental in organizing the Grundy County Agricultural Association and in building and maintaining the present Fair Grounds and buildings which are admittedly the best in this part of the state. These men have given aid and loyal support to the home bank, organizing it into a national institution when occasion demanded. An opera house provides a place of entertainment, a moving picture performance being given there every Saturday night, while theatrical companies are brought to it from time to time. Lecture courses are also held in this house and it has an auditorium of which a much larger place than Mazon might be proud. Masonic Hall was erected in 1893 by A.J. Campbell, and in conjunction with him, O.H. Fuller, Z. Isham, George Preston, now deceased, and Matthew Johnson, called in a friendly way, “The Big Four,” built the Mazon Opera House.
Business and Professional Men
The leading business and professional men of Mazon are as follows: A.J. Bundy, grocer; A.J. Campbell, druggist; J.H. Campbell, dentist; F.H. Clapp, secretary Grundy County Fair Association and president First National Bank; Charley Clements, butcher; James Condon, tile and brick manufacturer; William Drake, proprietor Cottage Hotel; John Miller, manager Public Telephone; Dr. H.B. Gilbourne, physician; W.J. Grinnell, liveryman; T.F. Kelly, proprietor of elevator; Joseph H. Massie; restaurant; L.R. Murray, general merchandise; D.S. Small, postmaster; S.E. Strickland, general merchandise; Frank E. Davis, baker; George O. Wheeler, retired farmer; L.F. Worley, physician; George Phillips, cigars and soft drinks; Mazon Hardware Co., Stevens & Jewett, proprietors; James Bray, restaurant; Dr. Dale Costello, dentist; Economy Implement Co., Isham & Strong, proprietors; C.J. Larson, tailor; O.W. Weston, agricultural implements and repairing; Chris Hansen, blacksmith; F. Haag, harness making; Manning Jewell, barber, and T.F. Kelley and Son handle grain, feed and seeds.
The Cottage Hotel, surrounded by beautiful forest trees, is one of the striking features of Mazon, and although it is the only hotel there, its accommodations are such that none other is needed. The history of this hotel is as follows: A hotel conducted by Charles W. Huston at the original Mazon, was moved to the new village about 1875, but it was destroyed by fire in 1888. It was rebuilt by Mitchell Isham at a cost of $4,500, and after several changes during which it was leased by Viner Bros., the present proprietor, William Drake, became the proprietor nine years ago. It is a very comfortable hostelry, well equipped, and its genial host and estimable wife are important factors in the life of Mazon. Mrs. Drake is a member of the old Isham family which has been such an important one in this part of the county.
Mazon is lighted by both gas and electricity supplied by the Public Service Company, the municipality having found it more economical to contract with this concern than to manufacture its own product. This method is followed by all the villages of Grundy County and many of the surrounding counties. Some of the streets are paved and concrete sidewalks have been laid, both of which add to the beauty of Mazon and the comfort of its people. It is claimed that over one-half of the householders of Mazon own pianos and that there are over fifty automobiles in the township.
Mazon is not a manufacturing center, but owing to its shipping facilities there are two large elevators and a lumber yard located here, all of which do a large business. The Mazon Farmers Elevator Company handles grain, seeds, lumber, coal and building material. It is an incorporated company, with a capital stock of $22,000 and operates additional plants at Booth Station in Mazon Township, and at Gorman, just outside the township. The lumber company is now owned by the Mazon Farmers Elevator Company, but for some years was operated under the name of I. N. R. Beatty Lumber Company. The beginning of this business lay in the formation of two separate concerns, one by Murray & Fuller, the Mr. Murray being the father of Mr. L.R. Murray of Morris, and the other by M.S. Dewey. These two concerns were absorbed by the Alexander Lumber Company, and it in turn became the property of the I. N. R. Beatty Lumber Company of Morris.
The Masonic Lodge of Mazon was organized November 7, 1893, with ninety-five members, as the Mazon Lodge No. 826, A. F. & A. M.
The Knights of Pythias of Mason were organized in 1893 with thirty-eight charter members and continued to hold meetings until the lodge had eighty or more members, but finally it was disbanded.
The Modern Woodmen of America was organized at Mazon, May 2, 1891, as Woodbine Camp No. 789, and now is in a flourishing condition, having 150 members.
The Royal Neighbors of Mazon were organized as St. Valentine Camp No. 526 with twenty-seven charter members, February 22, 1896. The camp now contains seventy members.
The Eastern Star was organized at Mazon as Kittie McKindley Order on April 16, 1909, with twenty-five charter member. At present there are 100 members.
The Knights of the Globe was an order organized at Mazon with thirty-five members, but disbanded in 1889, with a membership of thirty.
The Odd Fellows were organized in 1883 with a fair membership, but disbanded in 1890. A social organization known as The Cousins Club, grew out of meetings of members of the old Isham family. Because of intermarriage some of the forty-five present members are not direct descendants of the founder, but all are in some way connected with the family.
The postoffice at Mazon was established at Mazon in 1871, with a Mr. McAfee as postmaster. This was when it was still called Centerville. O.W. Weston held the office for a number of years, and he was followed by M. Isham, Charles Isham, Charles Huston, A.J. Campbell, Frank Randall, H.E. Pomeroy. The present incumbent of the office is D.S. Small, and he has two rural routes from his office.
The history of the press of Mazon is interesting. The Mazon Register was founded in 1892 by Walter Dunlap, the present proprietor and editor. This journal is an independent weekly with a circulation of about one thousand. Alvah Weston and R.D. Fuller, two bright young journalists assist Editor Dunlap in making the paper a newsy organ that is in great demand in this neighborhood. Mazon also has a weekly trade journal, the Mercantile Co-Operator, established by L.R. Murray in March, 1913. It is designed for the retail merchants operating on the co-operative plan, and is endorsed by twelve wholesale houses, representing 4,000 merchants in a dozen states.
The dead of Mazon Township have been well cared for from the beginning of the history of this locality. The first cemetery was the old Murray cemetery which was begun in 1836, near the old Moyer homestead. Following this a cemetery was opened at the original Mazon in 1840. The Wheeler cemetery, a little beyond the last mentioned, had its sod turned for the first grave in about 1845. This cemetery is on the present homestead of George Wheeler, and is admittedly one of the best cared for country graveyards in the state, and the best in Grundy County. A sum amounting to $3,000 was raised through the efforts of a number interested in thus honoring the dead, and the revenue from it is used to save from neglect the place where lie some of the pioneers of Mazon Township. As early as 1865, burials took place in what is now the Mazon cemetery, but it was not opened for public use until 1870. About 1885 it was incorporated as the Mazon Cemetery Association, and at this writing there are contracts let for the erection of a substantial mausoleum by the same company which built the one at Morris. About one hundred have been buried in the Mazon cemetery, and the grounds are beautifully kept, showing that the dead are not forgotten.
The first Methodist religious meeting in Mazon Township was held in 1844, and in 1847, the society was moved to the original Mazon. The little house in which services were held was destroyed by fire somewhat later than 1850. A church edifice was built, and dedicated in the fall of 1855. In 1876, a board of trustees was appointed to build a church at Mazon, but it was not completed until the latter part of 1878. It cost $3,500. The Rev. R. J. Vandervoort is the present pastor, and the church has 115 members. The church building was moved to its present site in 1895.
The Congregational Grove Society was organized with seventeen members on May 6, 1864. After holding service at different residences, the society bought a lot in 1870, upon which a church was built in 1871. In the meanwhile, during 1888, the Congregationalists at Mazon had organized, and in October, 1891, the two congregations united as the Park Street Congregational Church with forty-two members. The present edifice cost $4,000 and there are 125 members or this church.
The Primitive Methodists organized a society in 1877, and held services until 1888, when they disbanded. The building was used as a schoolhouse and for other purposes, now being a cabinetmaker’s establishment.
There is no doubt but that the first schoolhouse of Mazon Township was built in 1837 on Section 24. At that time it was regarded as the finest schoolhouse in the surrounding country and the best cabin in the settlement, square in structure, it was built of logs, and its windows contained six panes of glass, an unusual luxury during those days. In spite of these windows the light was dim, and so close beneath, supported by pegs, were rough puncheons used as desks. The slab benches in front of these crude desks had no backs and so the pupils could sit on them either facing the desk or the teacher as the occasion might demand. The floor of this first schoolhouse was made of riven planks and as it lay reasonably still when the bare feet of the little children trod upon it, it was regarded with great admiration by the community. The teacher of this first school was a Mr. Axtell.
Naturally, this first school was succeeded by others, and today Mazon is proud of the fact of having as fine country and grammar schools as can be found in the county, while the Mazon High School ranks with that at Morris. The schools of Mazon are treated of at length in another chapter. The Mazon Township High School was organized in 1904, and the present substantial building was erected in 1913, at a cost of $10,000. Prof. C.C. Shields is at its head, and has three teachers under him, while there are four grade teachers in the grammar schools.
The supervisors who have served Mazon Township, on the county board, since 1850 have been: Charles Huston, 1850; Henry Cassingham, 1851-1853; Edwin Lesslie, 1854-1855; Abraham Carter, 1856; A.P. Fellingham, 1857; Amos Clover, 1858-1859; William B. Marsh, 1860; A.P. Fellingham, 1861; George Carpenter, 1862; J.F. Burleigh, 1863-1866; S.H. Dewey, 1867-1869; Volney Parker, 1870-1874; George Riddle, 1875; Volney Parker, 1876-1877; S.H. Dewey, 1878-1880; Oren Gibson, 1881-1884; George E. Wheeler, 1885-1886; John K. Ely, 1887-1888; George E. Wheeler, 1889-1898; Simon Davies, 1899-1900; W.H. Carter, 1901-1908; I.N. Misner, 1909-1914.