Oakwood History

Foreword (Includes Original Foreword)

Oakwood was born of the railroad, when there were only 37 states. It grew and prospered as the railroad did. It became a coal mining center in the 1890’s. It served through two World Wars proudly. It suffered through the Great Depression of the thirties and watched the decline of the railroads in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Instead of becoming stagnant as many ‘railroad towns’ have, our little village drew a second breath in the 1960’s when Interstate 74 put an exit here. That decade saw a great leap in population growth in Oakwood’s history. At the 125 year anniversary the village was growing at the rate of about 6 people per year. The 125 year anniversary book suggested a new addition to the village might be coming.

The 125th anniversary book was written by: Don Claypool, Charles and Betty Montgomery, Gene Meganhardt, Don Richter, and Dorothy Mattis. With a special thank you to the Montgomery’s who spent thousands of hours over ten years viewing microfilm of old newspapers. Barbara Cloypool handled selling ads and Porter’s Printing handled typing. Ruth Cox and Linda Johnson The for telephoning. As well as several additional authors.

The book acknowledges the organization committee who had the task of organizing the Silver Centennial Celebration on July 4, 1995. They included Don Porter, Dick Warner, Leo Downing, Sue Richter, and Georgia Hawker.

I’m hoping to include much of the Silver Centennial Information and add information for the additional 25 years with help from the Vermilion County Historical Society.

To the early pioneers the area was marshland and thick prairie grass with only the “California Ridge” high and dry enough to travel on. The ridge is several miles north of the village and runs into Champaign County. It got it’s name from the pioneers who used it (and others like it) to travel west on. It is a terminal moraine formed during the ice ages by a glacier. A glacier pushed dirt and rock ahead of it, stopping and receding leaving a ridge behind it.

Indians were the first people in the area. They have been in the area at least 10,000 years. The Piankeshaws had a large village where Danville is now. There was an Indian Burial Mound near the south east corner of the township near the Salt Works. In the southern part of the village was an old Indian Camp Ground. Today it is called the Trailer Court. Around 1800, the encroachment of civilization from the east forced the Pottawatomies and the Kickapoos to move into the area. This pushed the Piankeshaws to the west of the Missouri.

The first people in the area were Indians, the Kickapoo and the Pottawatomies. The Pottawatomies campground was located where the Lake Bluff trailer park is located today. The Indians discovered the Salt Mines. Fur trappers began to settle in the area. Later Army Government Surveyors found the salt mines.

People began to settle in Oakwood in 1824 to work the mines.

John W. Vance leased the salt mines from the state which lasted for 7 years. The landmark Salt Kettle that was previously located on Rt# 150 is now located at the rest area on I-74 near Oakwood.

In 1870 & 1871 the IB&W from Indianapolis to Bloomington came through and Oakwood was platted at the court house, the date was April 14, 1870.

Nothing remains of the salt mines today as a more profitable commodity was discovered, the coal mines.

THE SALT WORKS
Fur trappers began to come through our area. The army came with government surveyors. They soon learned from Indian guides of the salines on the Vermilion River. This was an important discovery as the nearest salt mines were in Kentucky and salt had to be shipped up the Wabash at great expense. On the 31st of October, 1819, Captain Blackman, Remember Blackman, George Beckwith, Seymour Treat, Peter Allen, and Francis Whitcomb arrived at the Salt Works. This was along the north bank of the Salt fork River just above its junction with the Middlefork, today this
would be in the southeast corner of Oakwood Township. when the men arrived, they found some shallow wells lined with bark where the Indians had made salt for years. They found game abundant. The forests were filled with deer and the prairies with turkey and prairie hens. Wolves were numerous, even an occasional cougar came prowling around. There were two kinds of rattlesnakes, large and small, black snakes, copper heads and grass snakes. The Vermilion river was a beautiful stream of clear water, taking its rise on the “Grand Prairie” and flowing southeast some 50 miles to the Wabash. One report claimed that fish sometimes grew to 15 or 20 pounds.
After arriving, the men set about digging wells 15 to 20 feet deep. They found the salty water below a layer of coal and copperas stone.* They boiled off the water in a kettle they had brought along. More kettles were brought in until they had 20. They could not buy the property as it was in section 16 and the State of Illinois had designated all section 16’s to go to school districts. They then leased the property from the state. In 1824, John W. Vance obtained possession of the Salt Works and brought in 24 large iron kettles. Soon after, the kettles were increased to 80. It took 100
gallons of water to make a bushel of salt. All roads led to the Salt Works, some coming from as far as 100 miles. Unfortunately, salt of good quality was found on the Kanawha River and a port was built at Chicago which allowed the shipment of salt from back east. The competition was too much
and the Salt Works folded. For years one single old lady called “Mother Blass” by her neighbors, lived at the Salt Works and boiled off enough salt to get by. Nothing remains of the Salt Works today as man went after a more profitable commodity, coal! Even the river beds were moved by the
miners. Most of the kettles have disappeared. One of the large kettles sets at the rest stop east of Oakwood on 1-74. Another is at the Vermilion County Museum in Danville.

Copperas stone was a reddish brown and sometimes caused the river to run that color and was the reason the Indians named the Vermilion River.


OLD TOWNS IN OAKWOOD TOWNSHIP
The earliest towns were river towns. The next wave of towns were “Road Towns”. In the 1830’s the State of Illinois began to lay out State Roads. In time, people bean to realize that it would be an advantage to have a town on a well traveled road and several were tried. Rossville which was at
the junction of two of these old “State Roads”, the Chicago Road and the Attica Road, is one of the The first wave of towns were “Railroad Towns”. When a new railroad came through our county several new villages would pop up along it. Most of the towns in Vermilion County today are few “Road Villages” to survive. The third village in Oakwood Township was Mt. Pleasant. It was platted in 1830, 3 miles northeast of Oakwood, at the top of Johnson Hill, just west of the Johnson Hill and Michael “Railroad Towns”.
cemeteries. Mount Pleasant was a river town that lived only a short time.
Platted in 1838, Newtown was the next village, three and one half miles north of Oakwood. Newtown was different. It was alone out on the prairie, two miles from the river and four miles north of the old Danville to Urbana State Road and years ahead of the railroad. For these reasons Newtown never really grew but it has survived. Newtown got a post office called “Pilot” in 1851 and at times Newtown was called Pilot. Robert G. Foster was the mail contractor and he carried the mail from Danville, via Denmark, to Newtown, Higgensville, Marysville, (old name for Potomac) and Conkeytown was a a river town one and one half miles south of Muncie. Beckwith ‘s History of back to Danville. Vermilion County, 1879, says Conkeytown began in 1851 and it does not appear on the 1850
Vermilion County map. The following article from the Danville Press, printed in 1917, tells a very colorful story.


OLD CONKEYTOWN AN HISTORIC PLACE
Once a Battle Ground -Now Only a Landmark With Four Houses Left
(Special to the Press-1917)
Conkeytown, Ill., March 21-Nestled in the lap of the hills of Salt Creek three miles southwest of Muncie, are four houses which mark the remains of Conkeytown, which was, in the early forties, the leading roadside inn of Eastern Illinois. It was there at Mat Smith’s Cafe and large dance hall that
many famous battles were fought between the Cannons, Hays and Phelps. All three families had reputations for fighters, and the records, as kept in the brains of old timers, some fierce battles.
Uncle Jack Cromwell, Sani Meade and a few of the other “Old Timers” of the early days, love to sit and tell of Jim Knox who stood behind a mule and let it kick him in the chest and never bat an eye.


HOW IT STARTED
Conkeytown was laid out in 1839 by Jeff Conkey who came from the vicinity of Homer. He was a shrewd financier for that day and age and saw the possibilities of a town near the center of that locality. It was not long after he began the operation of his store that Bill Denman came along and
started a blacksmith shop. Then came the Cannons and started a grist mill on the banks of the Little Salt Fork. There was a post office and general store of Jeff Conkey’s. Things went along lovely until Matt Smith, one of Danville’s leading sports, arrived and decided to build a dance hall, wine
room and restaurant combined with a few rooms for rent. The town was named Conkeytown, and its fame soon spread. It was the “Metropolis” for all the boys for miles around and many interesting stories are told. Uncle Jack Cromwell and Ben Meade were sitting recently around their famous old wood “heater” puffing away at their briar pipes loaded with “Old Kentucky burley” related the following story of the famous little city.
Here is Uncle Jack’s story “Prior to the war this was out their differences with fists and vouched by the old scout Ben Meade.


“Prior to the war this was a great metropolis. There was no railroads here then and men fought and not notes. There was the Cannon boys, relatives of Congressman Cannon, the Hayes boys and the Phelps. Everyone of these men were giants and loved to fight. Conkeytown began to grow famous as soon as Matt Smith started his emporium. He brought in a few girls from Cincinnati and their shows brought the boys to town every evening. Jim Knox was the best fighter in the gang and also the best looking of the bunch. The girls were all for him and this caused a lot of rivalry and jealousy. I remember once he bared his chest and gave anyone a chance to hit him and bet they couldn’t knock him down. Well, one of the men hurled a spittoon at
him and hit him on the breast hotly. It didn’t phase him; another time Jim allowed a mule to kick him in the chest and then reached down, gave the leg a jerk and broke it. He was a giant and during the war licked six rebels in a hand to hand fight. “Our mail carrier was a woman, Miss Bantz, and it was she that brought us the news that Lincoln was elected President and war was declared against the south.


A SAD, SAD, THING
“Prior to the war Bill Denman and General Black were both Republicans but after it closed and they returned home both turned Democrats. General Black ran for congress against Joe Cannon and was beaten and Denman left this part of the country, as all of us were red hot Republicans of the Lincoln type. The Toledo Blade was the leading paper those days and certainly whooped it up for Lincoln.


CANNON FIGHTERS

“Jim, John and Al Cannon were the greatest fighters of the whole lone of notables. I remember James came to town one day just before the Fourth of July. He was deeply in love with one of the singers and so was Bill Hayes. They had a fight and Cannon punched Hayes pretty badly, then to make it worse, he hired a surrey paying $10 for it, went to the girls house and paraded her to Danville on the Fourth of July. Surreys those days were not very common and were the leading vehicles. Much as the automobiles now.


HAPPY DAYS
“About the happiest days of my life I spent on the banks of the Salt Fork listening to the churning of the Burr wheels in the mill and the babble of water as it went over the wheel. Of course, these old landmarks are gone now, just recently been tore down, but Conkey’s Store and Smith’s Cafe are still remembered by we old timers. “When the war broke out Conkeytown was a recruiting station and many a brave lad went from there. James Knox fell at Gettysburg with five bullet wounds in his breast. The three Cannon boys fought with Grant from Shiloh to Appomattox, and the Hayes boys saw service with Thomas at Chickamunga. If Thomas had had thousand soldiers like those Hayes boys he could have whipped
80,000 rebels; those lads were stickers and not afraid of the devil. There was a lot of hard feeling between those lads before the war, but after it closed and they returned home they forgot their differences and retired to the farm and made good citizens. Some of them got converted and made
Smith close his dance hall. We could buy whiskey in the good old days for 250 a gallon and it was real stuff, not very much like the stuff you get now, but when the boys got liquored up on it, say, gosh, a mighty, they fought like a buzz saw going through a ten inch log, just ripped things up from
the bark to the center. “When the Big Four was built all the people moved from Conkeytown to Fithian and Muncie and the famous little town was soon forgotten; but the men who built the city will never be forgotten. General Black, Joe Cannon, Jim Knox, Sam Meade and Bill Fithian are all heroes of the early days”. With this he puffed his old briar pipe and the blue smoke wafted away to the ceiling and Uncle Jack closed his eyes to dream of the “good old days of 49” when it was man for man, and
dog for dog. All that remains of Conkeytown is four houses. The old mill has been torn down, but the dam still stands just at the brink of the sloping hill where Mat Smith’s famous pavilion stood. Conkey’s old store, with its low porches and wide walk in front is used for a barn. On the front of the old building in big red letters nearly faded by the elements are the words, “Conkeytown”. Ten miles to Danville and on the hillside just south of the store in a graveyard where slumber the heroes who used to make the times merry, and the little church where Jim Knox and Jim Cannon were
converted still stands and to the rear of it, is the grave of Rev. Thomas Fulton who used to preach the gospel to the boys and urge them to quit “dancin’ and drinkin”. According to the old men “he was a good scrapper and could knock more tanglefoot whiskey out of a man with one lick than a horse could pull out of a well in. five hours , wnich surely made him a
wonderful power for good. The years come and go, the spring breezes are crooning their lullabies through the trees, but the memories of the old men love to go back and revel in the good old days of Conkeytown.

OLD OAKWOOD
There have been many small villages and “wide spots in the road” in Oakwood Township that we will not go into here. One worth mentioning is the Village of Oakwood. NO, NOT OUR OAKWOOD! This village was not platted in the courthouse. It probably started in 1868, the same
year the township was formed out of the north part of Vance and south part of Pilot. The only record of it in the courthouse is when John and Henrietta McFarland for 50v sold a burying ground to the Village of Oakwood on May 29, 1869. This was signed for by G. A. Fox, son-in-law of Henry Oakwood, Sr. The physical description of this parcel of land is approximately one and one quarter mile south of Muncie. The cemetery is still there. It has burials dating back to 1838. It has often been called Dalbey Cemetery. The sign in front of it now says McFarland Cemetery. It is only 1/4
mile south of the old state road and less than 1/2 mile northeast of the old town of Conkeytown. It is not known if someone was trying to start a town along the old State Road or they were simply renaming Conkeytown. We may never know as the I. B. & W. Railroad sounded the death knell for both.



It is difficult to fix an exact date on the start of the Glenburn Coal Mine. different publications give the date between 1850 and 1865. Although some individulas may have been digging coal there by 1850, the latter date would seem more likely. Charles M Swallow, a Danville Attorney purchased about 300 acres there in 1885. This property extended on down to the Middle fork River and included an old mill last called the Swift Mill. It is not known if Charles M Swallow ever ran the mill, but he did start a creamery, open the coal mine and began a town about 1885. He named the town Glenburn after a small town in his native Pennsylvania. The creamery failed and he turned it into a feed mill. he only sold coal locally at first but later decided to go on a larger scale. The Oakwood Correspondent to the Danville News of March 12, 1891 reported that the Swallow Branch of the Big Four Railroad was to be built from Oakwood to Glenburn. The 1895 Atlas shows this railroad leaving the Big Four tracks at the east edge of Oakwood, going north 3/4 of a mile then east one mile and again turning north through rugged country, through a hollow and past an old log cabin, across a branch to a solid wall of rock. Here the rock was blasted by dynamite to make the famous “Rock Cut” and the railroad continued for nearly another half mile. In 1894 the C&EI Railroad built a line from Rossville, through Henning and on down through OAkwood Township crossing the Big Four one mile and a half west of Oakwood. Three quarters of a mile north of that crossing, the C&EI built a spur running east to join the Swallow Line of the Big Four. Now there post office, near Newtown, was moved here and became known as the Glenburn Post Office. There were reportedly 125 hours in the village, nearly double that of Oakwood. Charles M Swallow melting post of races and nationalities. There were French, Irish, African Americans, Dutch, German, and Scandinavians plus those up on Missionfield Road that was called “Belgium Row”. The old spring and watering trough was at the center of town and fist fights were the Saturday night amusement. The Oakwood correspondent described Glenburn as a rough and tumble town with the streets overrun by dogs. Occasionally a group of miners would come to Oakwood on a Saturday night. The local merchants would lock up and go home. When the miners could find nothing else to do. The would usually beat up on each other for entertainment and then go home. Robert M. Rogers, grandfather of Harrison Rogers, was Justice of PEace at Glenburn and was probably a busy man.

The mine played out about 1898. One source says the tipple burned in 1896. The tracks were taken up about 1899. Most of the miners left. A few stayed and walked miles to work in other area mines. At least five of the houses were moved to Oakwood. The store was purchased by Oliver M. (Ollie) VanAllen. He ran the store for many years. Three of his daughters then ran the store until it closed in the 1950’s. They were Bea, Dorothy and Margaret, who was the last to pass away January 30, 1995.

Glenburn



It is difficult to fix an exact date on the start of the Glenburn Coal Mine. different publications give the date between 1850 and 1865. Although some individulas may have been digging coal there by 1850, the latter date would seem more likely. Charles M Swallow, a Danville Attorney purchased about 300 acres there in 1885. This property extended on down to the Middle fork River and included an old mill last called the Swift Mill. It is not known if Charles M Swallow ever ran the mill, but he did start a creamery, open the coal mine and began a town about 1885. He named the town Glenburn after a small town in his native Pennsylvania. The creamery failed and he turned it into a feed mill. he only sold coal locally at first but later decided to go on a larger scale. The Oakwood Correspondent to the Danville News of March 12, 1891 reported that the Swallow Branch of the Big Four Railroad was to be built from Oakwood to Glenburn. The 1895 Atlas shows this railroad leaving the Big Four tracks at the east edge of Oakwood, going north 3/4 of a mile then east one mile and again turning north through rugged country, through a hollow and past an old log cabin, across a branch to a solid wall of rock. Here the rock was blasted by dynamite to make the famous “Rock Cut” and the railroad continued for nearly another half mile. In 1894 the C&EI Railroad built a line from Rossville, through Henning and on down through OAkwood Township crossing the Big Four one mile and a half west of Oakwood. Three quarters of a mile north of that crossing, the C&EI built a spur running east to join the Swallow Line of the Big Four. Now there post office, near Newtown, was moved here and became known as the Glenburn Post Office. There were reportedly 125 hours in the village, nearly double that of Oakwood. Charles M Swallow melting post of races and nationalities. There were French, Irish, African Americans, Dutch, German, and Scandinavians plus those up on Missionfield Road that was called “Belgium Row”. The old spring and watering trough was at the center of town and fist fights were the Saturday night amusement. The Oakwood correspondent described Glenburn as a rough and tumble town with the streets overrun by dogs. Occasionally a group of miners would come to Oakwood on a Saturday night. The local merchants would lock up and go home. When the miners could find nothing else to do. The would usually beat up on each other for entertainment and then go home. Robert M. Rogers, grandfather of Harrison Rogers, was Justice of PEace at Glenburn and was probably a busy man.

The mine played out about 1898. One source says the tipple burned in 1896. The tracks were taken up about 1899. Most of the miners left. A few stayed and walked miles to work in other area mines. At least five of the houses were moved to Oakwood. The store was purchased by Oliver M. (Ollie) VanAllen. He ran the store for many years. Three of his daughters then ran the store until it closed in the 1950’s. They were Bea, Dorothy and Margaret, who was the last to pass away January 30, 1995.



It is difficult to fix an exact date on the start of the Glenburn Coal Mine. different publications give the date between 1850 and 1865. Although some individulas may have been digging coal there by 1850, the latter date would seem more likely. Charles M Swallow, a Danville Attorney purchased about 300 acres there in 1885. This property extended on down to the Middle fork River and included an old mill last called the Swift Mill. It is not known if Charles M Swallow ever ran the mill, but he did start a creamery, open the coal mine and began a town about 1885. He named the town Glenburn after a small town in his native Pennsylvania. The creamery failed and he turned it into a feed mill. he only sold coal locally at first but later decided to go on a larger scale. The Oakwood Correspondent to the Danville News of March 12, 1891 reported that the Swallow Branch of the Big Four Railroad was to be built from Oakwood to Glenburn. The 1895 Atlas shows this railroad leaving the Big Four tracks at the east edge of Oakwood, going north 3/4 of a mile then east one mile and again turning north through rugged country, through a hollow and past an old log cabin, across a branch to a solid wall of rock. Here the rock was blasted by dynamite to make the famous “Rock Cut” and the railroad continued for nearly another half mile. In 1894 the C&EI Railroad built a line from Rossville, through Henning and on down through OAkwood Township crossing the Big Four one mile and a half west of Oakwood. Three quarters of a mile north of that crossing, the C&EI built a spur running east to join the Swallow Line of the Big Four. Now there post office, near Newtown, was moved here and became known as the Glenburn Post Office. There were reportedly 125 hours in the village, nearly double that of Oakwood. Charles M Swallow melting post of races and nationalities. There were French, Irish, African Americans, Dutch, German, and Scandinavians plus those up on Missionfield Road that was called “Belgium Row”. The old spring and watering trough was at the center of town and fist fights were the Saturday night amusement. The Oakwood correspondent described Glenburn as a rough and tumble town with the streets overrun by dogs. Occasionally a group of miners would come to Oakwood on a Saturday night. The local merchants would lock up and go home. When the miners could find nothing else to do. The would usually beat up on each other for entertainment and then go home. Robert M. Rogers, grandfather of Harrison Rogers, was Justice of PEace at Glenburn and was probably a busy man.

The mine played out about 1898. One source says the tipple burned in 1896. The tracks were taken up about 1899. Most of the miners left. A few stayed and walked miles to work in other area mines. At least five of the houses were moved to Oakwood. The store was purchased by Oliver M. (Ollie) VanAllen. He ran the store for many years. Three of his daughters then ran the store until it closed in the 1950’s. They were Bea, Dorothy and Margaret, who was the last to pass away January 30, 1995.

Glenburn

It is difficult to fix an exact date on the start of the Glenburn Coal Mine. different publications give the date between 1850 and 1865. Although some individulas may have been digging coal there by 1850, the latter date would seem more likely. Charles M Swallow, a Danville Attorney purchased about 300 acres there in 1885. This property extended on down to the Middle fork River and included an old mill last called the Swift Mill. It is not known if Charles M Swallow ever ran the mill, but he did start a creamery, open the coal mine and began a town about 1885. He named the town Glenburn after a small town in his native Pennsylvania. The creamery failed and he turned it into a feed mill. he only sold coal locally at first but later decided to go on a larger scale. The Oakwood Correspondent to the Danville News of March 12, 1891 reported that the Swallow Branch of the Big Four Railroad was to be built from Oakwood to Glenburn. The 1895 Atlas shows this railroad leaving the Big Four tracks at the east edge of Oakwood, going north 3/4 of a mile then east one mile and again turning north through rugged country, through a hollow and past an old log cabin, across a branch to a solid wall of rock. Here the rock was blasted by dynamite to make the famous “Rock Cut” and the railroad continued for nearly another half mile. In 1894 the C&EI Railroad built a line from Rossville, through Henning and on down through OAkwood Township crossing the Big Four one mile and a half west of Oakwood. Three quarters of a mile north of that crossing, the C&EI built a spur running east to join the Swallow Line of the Big Four. Now there post office, near Newtown, was moved here and became known as the Glenburn Post Office. There were reportedly 125 hours in the village, nearly double that of Oakwood. Charles M Swallow melting post of races and nationalities. There were French, Irish, African Americans, Dutch, German, and Scandinavians plus those up on Missionfield Road that was called “Belgium Row”. The old spring and watering trough was at the center of town and fist fights were the Saturday night amusement. The Oakwood correspondent described Glenburn as a rough and tumble town with the streets overrun by dogs. Occasionally a group of miners would come to Oakwood on a Saturday night. The local merchants would lock up and go home. When the miners could find nothing else to do. The would usually beat up on each other for entertainment and then go home. Robert M. Rogers, grandfather of Harrison Rogers, was Justice of PEace at Glenburn and was probably a busy man.

The mine played out about 1898. One source says the tipple burned in 1896. The tracks were taken up about 1899. Most of the miners left. A few stayed and walked miles to work in other area mines. At least five of the houses were moved to Oakwood. The store was purchased by Oliver M. (Ollie) VanAllen. He ran the store for many years. Three of his daughters then ran the store until it closed in the 1950’s. They were Bea, Dorothy and Margaret, who was the last to pass away January 30, 1995.

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