Early History – Farnhamsburg And Stephenson, Illinois

The City of Rock Island was preceded by the Town of Farnhamsburg, the first settlement on this side of the river within the present City limits. Here the first house was built by Colonel Davenport and Russell Farnham, partners in the Indian trade, in 1826. It stood near the landing from old Fort Armstrong, about a block south of the southern approach to the present railroad bridge over Sylvan Water, and on an elevated lime stone knoll. The county road from the east ran in front of it, and turned from the Moline road to the west of the Lemuel Andrews residence-now Honorable Ben T. Cable’s residence-and down along where is now the Burlington and Milwaukee Railroad tracks, until it reached- Twenty-fourth Street, where it met old Illinois Street, now Second Avenue. The house was a noted place in the early history of Rock Island County. Here the County Government was formed, the first elections held, and the first post office established; it was the seat of the Circuit and County Courts from 1833 to 1835. In the latter year, this original seat of justice of the county was superseded by the Town of Stephenson, and a village laid out in what is now the lower part of the City of Rock Island. It was laid out by the commissioners authorized by the Legislature to establish the seat of justice for Rock Island County, and contained the old county grounds, with a portion of the county buildings. There are still standing many of the earlier buildings erected by the pioneers and here were inaugurated many of the first institutions of Rock Island. Stephenson was the cradle of Rock Island, the nursery of much of that intellectual and social life which has since expanded into the larger and intenser life of the city. The founder of the first newspaper here, in 1839, thus speaks of the old Town of Stephen-son, as it appeared to him in 1840: “The inhabitants of the town and its environs could not be surpassed, if equalled, by any city in the west, for men of intelligence-courteous and kind in everything. Our judiciary consisted of Judge Stone, who was very soon superseded by Judge Brown; our bar consisted of Joseph Knox, Joseph B. Wells, J. Wilson Drury, and H. G. Reynolds; the clerk of the court was an old bachelor, Joseph Conway, brother of Miles Conway, who, with a Mr. Cooper, composed the magistracy of the village; while our medical department was represented by Doctor Gregg alone, a man eminent in his profession. “There were three stores in the place, kept by John Meller, Lemuel Andrews and a Mr. Kauffman. Two more came afterwards, viz: Mr. Bond and Mr. Moore. There was one tinning establishment, Lee & Chamberlin’s; one saddler shop, J. M. Frizzell’s; one cabinet maker’s and one gunsmith’s shop; three taverns, Mr. Bently’s on the river bank; Buffum’s, back of the Court House Square; and the Rock Island House on Main Street, kept by VanCourt & Brothers. This was the leading hotel at that day. There was one restaurant, and one other, called a saloon for the want of a more appropriate name. One minister of the gospel (Presbyterian), Reverent Mr. Stewart, preached in a little schoolhouse back of Doctor Gregg’s residence on Main Street-our only church, lyceum and town hall. * * * The Powars family, Guarnseys and old Mr. Vandruff, who lived on the island in Rock River, and kept a ferry at the Rapids, and something for the inner man, were among the first settlers of Rock Island. There were but few places of any note above Quincy, Illinois. Where Keokuk now stands there was a trading post kept by a half-breed, who sold liquor to the Sac and Fox Indians, and engaged in towing barges over the rapids with horses, to Fort Montrose. At the east side of the Mississippi, at the head of the rapids, at a place then called Commerce, was situated a stone warehouse, where passing steamers discharged freight for the surrounding country. The Mormons had a short time previously been driven out of Missouri, and they encamped on the west bank of the river, awaiting transportation to the Illinois side to build the City of Nauvoo, and their wagons and equipages presented the appearance of an army encamped. The town of Burlington, Iowa, had but few houses. * * * Bloomington, now Muscatine, contained about six houses, and had the appearance of being a very sickly place, if I could judge from the looks of the citizens who came aboard the steamer.”; This had reference to the Summer of 1838, when the writer, Mr. C. McGrew, came up the river. In all the distance described, from Quincy to the lead mines at Galena, Stephen-son was then the most noted steamboat landing. Here for many years, travelers from the “Sangamon Country” and Fort Clark, reached the river on their way to Galena, and the mineral regions north.

 

City of Rock Island 

 

Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908