Historical Tidbits

  • Lincoln and the Old White Oak Trail

    During the 1850’s, Abraham Lincoln semiannually traveled the Old White Oak Trail from Metamora to Bloomington.  These semiannual trips were necessary because of his legal defense work on the Eighth Circuit Court. About two miles south of the Mackinaw River crossing at Wyatt’s Ford there was a cluster of farm homes at the intersection of the White Oak Trail and an east-to-west Indian trail referred to at the time as the “Kappa Road”.  About one-quarter mile east of this major intersection was the home of the Reuben Brown’s. Just west of the intersection was the home of the John Benson’s, and about one-half mile further west the home of the Abraham Carlock’s.  Brown and Benson were Whigs, but Abraham Carlock was known as the Old Democrat.  One might guess that Lincoln would have been inclined to stay the night with the Brown’s or the Benson’s, rather than staying with the Old Democrat.  But such is not the case. Lincoln, the Whig, did sometimes spend the night with his political opponent, the Old Democrat.

    It is believed that Lincoln’s last trip on the Old White Oak Trail was late in 1859 during his first campaign for the U.S. Presidency.  On that last night near White Oak Grove, Lincoln spent the night with Whigs, the Reuben Brown’s.

  • Early Settlers

    Try to transport yourself back to the late 1820’s.  Earlier this day in the 1820’s you had passed through the “block house” village of Blooming Grove and this evening you are camped at the edge of White Oak Grove along the Old White Oak Trail near the Mackinaw River.  The several Indian tribes that had frequently camped in this area had moved into northwest Illinois only a year or two earlier.  From Blooming Grove to White Oak, the only way you could see over the prairie grass was to be on horseback.

    Tonight in your White Oak camp you are contemplating where you want to lay claim to farmland.  Should you lay claim to land near The Grove where fuel and building timber are readily available?  Should you lay claim to land near The Grove where the dirt is lighter, well-drained, and tillable, or lay claim out on the prairie where the soil is heavy and not well-drained, and cannot be plowed with your cast-iron plow?  Should you stay close to the existing trails or claim land out on the prairie where no trails exist?

    It should be no surprise that early land records show settlers buying farmland from the U.S. Government near the groves and near the old trails.  It was not until about 1850, after the invention of the steel plow, that the early settlers near the groves began to move out onto the prairie and first turn the prairie sod.  Unplowed prairie sod still existed in the 1860’s.

  • Village of Oak Grove

    While Oak Grove was not officially platted as a village until 1879, there was a cluster of farmhouses along this stretch of the Old White Oak Trail when Lincoln passed semiannually in the 1850’s.  Perhaps when Lincoln passed it was not a village by today’s standards, but in the 1850’s six farmhouses in the same mile was a town center.

    By 1886 the Village of Oak Grove had grown to include 20 residences, 3 general stores, a post office, a hotel, a cobbler and meat market, a town hall, a feed mill, 2 blacksmith shops, a restaurant, and a carpenter/wagon shop.  Oak Grove was the commerce center for northwest McLean County and the southeast section of Woodford County along the Mackinaw River.

    In 1886 and 1887 the Lake Erie and Western Railroad surveyed and constructed a railroad line from Bloomington to Peoria.  The railroad bypassed Oak Grove by one mile.  The reasons for bypassing the existing population center by only a mile warrants another Tidbits.  If the L.E. & W. would not come to Oak Grove, then Oak Grove would move to the railroad, and move it did.  In the winter of 1887 – 1888, houses and stores were dragged down the hill to create a new village near Carlock Station.   John Carlock, Mahala Carlock Gaddis, and David Smith worked together to plat the new Village of Carlock.

  • The Groves

    White settlers began moving into what would later become McLean County in the 1820’s.  Townships existed pursuant to the Northwest Ordinance adopted by the Continental Congress, but the townships were not identified by name until 1858.

    The early settlers described where they were living in terms of the nearby grove of trees.  Early settlers in northwest McLean County settled near the groves because of readily available fuel and building material, and because cast-iron plows would not scour in the heavy prairie sod.  Travel between the groves were along abandoned Indian trails, (many of which continue to be used today).

    White Oak Grove was one of the larger groves.  It stretched for about twelve miles east to west, along both sides of the Mackinaw River, and was about eight miles wide from the north to the south.  Today this grove lies almost entirely in Woodford County. Upriver toward the east was referred to as “East White Oak”.  Downriver to the west was often referred to as “Lower Oak Grove”.  Early settlers in the area often referred to their location as “White Oak”, or “The Grove”, or “Oak Grove”.

    Prior to the civil War, when early settlers referred to “White Oak”, they were likely referring to the general area of the very large White Oak Grove, rather than to the Village of Oak Grove or the small White Oak Township in McLean County.

  • FBI Investigates Rev. King

    Rev. Joseph King was instrumental in organizing the Carlock Mennonite Church in 1914 and served as the church’s first pastor.  Most members of the new Carlock Mennonite congregation were previously members of the North Danvers Mennonite Church, which congregation had its original roots in the Rock Creek Amish Mennonite Church.  Rev. King was a grandson of an elder of the original Rock Creek Amish congregation and his parents, aunts, and uncles were leaders of the North Danvers congregation.

    In 1917 Rev. King, in his role as the pastor the Carlock Mennonite Church, came under the investigation of the FBI.  World War I had been declared and Rev. King was stressing in his Carlock sermons the Mennonite stand against military service.

    The FBI described Rev. King’s sermons as “pro-German activity”.  The FBI severely reprimanded Rev. King and demanded his consent not to speak so harshly against the U.S. government.  After a few weeks, Rev. King forgot the warnings and returned to his strong opposition to the war.  But the FBI was watching and soon returned to Carlock for a second round of reprimands.  Our best information is that this is the last incident of the FBI monitoring a Carlock sermon.

  • Carlock Township High School

    The CTHS building originally served as a church.

    In 1889 the congregation of the Lower White Oak Christian Church sold its church building to a Mennonite Congregation in Congerville for $400 and built a frame church in the new Village of Carlock.  In 1914 the Carlock Christian Church moved its church building across the alley to the north and built an impressive brick church on the current site.

    In 1915 the old frame Carlock Christian Church building was sold to the new high school district for $500.  The church building was moved to just east of the Carlock Grade School, (where the school’s asphalt parking lot exists today).  The church building was expanded (at a cost of $4,800) and served as the CTHS until consolidation with Unit 5 in 1948.  Thirty-one senior classes (1918 – 1948) graduated from this high school.

    Note: After consolidation with Unit 5, the old CTHS building continued to serve as extra classrooms for the Carlock Grade School, until this old church building was razed in 1956.  This author attended second grade in the old CTHS building in1954.  Our classroom was in what my mother (CTHS class of 1942) tells me was originally the CTHS “English Room”.

  • Palm Sunday, April 9, 1965

    This day, General Lee surrendered his Army of North Virginia to General Grant at Appomattox, Virginia.  Most people consider this event to be the end of the Civil War, but other Confederate armies remained in the field and major battles were yet to be fought.

    Simultaneously with the Appomattox surrender, the last major sieges of the Civil War were beginning at Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely near Mobile. The White Oak Boys (Co. E., 94th Illinois Volunteer Infantry) were at Mobile and were assigned control of the Confederate prisoners after the capitulation of Spanish Fort.

    On April 17, Kate Wright of White Oak wrote to her future husband, George Kirkpatrick, who was stationed at Spanish Fort near Mobile.  She commented on the assassination of President Lincoln and expressed her hope that his replacement will treat the leaders of the Confederacy unmercifully.  On April 28, George responded to Kate that the White Oak Boys were “thunder-struck” by the assassination and hoping to be mustered out soon.

    Note:  As best we can determine, the last Civil War soldier to die from White Oak was John Harley.  Harley died on April 2 in Nashville, one week prior to Appomattox.  Harley’s family traveled to Nashville to bring him home for burial in Denman Cemetery.

  • Elephants in Carlock

    The Village of Carlock originated in 1887 and 1888 near the newly constructed Lake Erie and Western Railroad.  A favorite pastime of Carlock residents was to walk to the Carlock Station to see the trains stop and watch the passengers load and unload.  In the summer months the big circus trains would stop early in the morning as they traveled between Bloomington and Peoria.  On one occasion the train riders were delayed for a lengthy time, requiring the elephants to be taken from the train to graze along the right-of-way in the center of Carlock.

  • Community Chautauqua

    Carlock hosted an annual Community Chautauqua from 1921 through 1931.  The Carlock Chautauquas were organized from 1921 to 1927 by a producer based in Chicago.  From 1927 to 1931 the producer was based in
    Indianapolis.  The Chautauqua producer was responsible for advertising, erecting the big tent and stage, as well as hiring the professional musicians, actors, and speakers.  Each year, Carlock citizens formed a committee that raised the up-front money to be paid to the producer before the tent flaps were raised for the first show.  The producer and the community sponsors shared in the profits.

    The Chautauquas were five-day events each summer.  The actual dates of the event depended on the producer’s tour schedule.  Programs involved both afternoon and evening performances each of the five days.  There was also a Junior Chautauqua program earlier in each of the days.

    The program for the first Carlock Chautauqua in 1921 included lectures, plays, concerts, and novelty entertainment suitable for the entire family.  The lectures were on the subjects of “The Daughter of Job”, “The Red Conspiracy”, “Buried Alive”, and “Historic Illinois”.  Musicians ranged from Schildkret’s Orchestra, the Dixie Jubilee Singers, and Gilbert Wilson from a New York opera company.  Lockhart and Lassies provided “a program of song and novelty music full of scotch, fun, and life”.

    The big Chautauqua tent was erected each year in the schoolyard north of the Carlock Grade School and High School.

  • February 22, 1917

    Today the grand hotel at Mackinac Sulphur Springs was destroyed by fire.  The blaze reportedly began with a defective flue in an adjoining log cabin and then spread to the hotel.

    The Mackinac Sulphur Springs, located at the edge of White Oak Grove two miles north of Carlock, was a famous summer resort and spa.  Visitors came to enjoy the healing waters, or enjoy a Sunday afternoon band concert.  In addition to the hotel, services included an ice house, grocery store, and horse stable.  A jitney bus service was available from the Carlock train station to the hotel.