Putnam County


A life of continuous and well directed activity has brought to Orange A. Averill a well merited measure of success and he is now owner of a well appointed hardware store in Hennepin, from which he derives a good income, owing to his honorable methods and his earnest desire to please his patrons. He was born August 3, 1843, in an old house that formerly stood upon the site of the present home of 0. B. Davis. His father, Nathaniel Averill, familiarly known all over this part of the state as Uncle Nat, was born at Alfred, Maine, June 1, 1819, and died in Princeton, November 29, 1905. He came to Hennepin in 1836, casting in his lot with the early settlers who were reclaiming the region from the influences of the rule of the Indians and converting it into uses of civilization. Locating in Hennepin he followed the trade of wagon and carriage making, which he had previously learned, devoting his energies to that pursuit until 1848, when he removed to a farm across the line in Bureau county. He also made trunks and coffins in those early days, and was regarded as the best woodworker in this part of the state. He would go into the forest and get out his own timber, bring it home, dry it out and work it up into wagons and buggies. Some of the vehicles which he built were in use forty years, being splendidly made. He also made the blinds for the windows of the Union Grove church in 1840 and today those blinds are still doing service. They were made of butternut wood, and have been utilized for two-thirds of a century. He was closely associated with many interesting events connected with the pioneer history of the county. At one time, in company with Isaac Cecil, father of Jasper Cecil, whose sketch appears elsewhere in this work, he found a nest of wild goose eggs in a tree. He climbed the tree, put the six eggs in his shirt, climbed down, took the eggs home and put them under a setting hen. They were hatched and grew to be large geese, but one day wandered away with some wild geese that came flying past, their native instincts thus being asserted.

In early manhood Nathaniel Averill was married in Granville, Illinois, to Miss Nancy Rice, a native of Maine, who died in Hennepin when her son Orange was but a year and a half old. The father afterward wedded Amelia Nickerson, who came with her parents to Putnam county, Illinois, at a very early day. She is still living in Princeton, one of the honored pioneer women of this part of the state, and she can remember when there were five hundred Indians encamped just across the river from Hennepin. It was in 1848 that Nathaniel Averill removed with his family to a farm of two hundred acres in Bureau county. Of this about two acres had been cleared, while the remainder was covered with heavy timber. Upon the place was a large log house with a double fire place, built by a man of the name of Nevis, one of the early settlers of the county. The house was a story and a half in height and was considered a mansion for those times. A house today as large as that and built of the same kind of timber would cost ten thousand dollars. Nathaniel Averill, with the assistance of his son Orange, cleared and developed that farm and the father there made his home until 1888, when he left the farm and retired to Princeton, where he passed away November 29, 1905. His widow still owns the farm, the estate having never yet been divided. Mr. Averill belonged to what is known today as the Christian church. In politics he was a whig until the dissolution of the party, and later he became a stanch republican. For many years he was regarded as the most popular man in Leepertown township, and held office there for over twenty years, acting as supervisor, assessor, township clerk and school treasurer all at one time. He was greatly interested in everything pertaining to the progress and development of his community, and he was instrumental in forcing the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Company to pay its taxes, and forced the company, while he was assessor, to pay as it does today sixty per cent of the taxes of Leepertown township. He was a man of marked individuality and of strong and sterling characteristics, of unquestioned honesty of purpose and most faithful in his friendships.

Orange A. Averill was the only child born of his father's first marriage. By the second marriage there were five children: Mrs. Helen Howe, who with her two children lives in Princeton; Caroline, the wife of James Reeves, of Waco, Nebraska: Lucy, who is living in Peoria, Illinois; Marcella, who was injured in a runaway accident and died soon afterward; and Charles 0., who is living on the old home farm.

Orange A. Averill remained at home until August 7, 1861, when at the age of eighteen years he left the parental roof and began earning his own living by working as a farm hand by the month. In 1862 he went to Chicago, intending to enlist in the army, but on account of his youth his father prevented this. He was not only too young but was also under size. However, in 1863 he enlisted for three months' service as a member of Company B, One Hundred and Thirty-ninth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, and on the expiration of that term he re-enlisted in the same regiment for another three months' service. In 1864 he became a member of Company E, One Hundred and Forty-eighth Illinois Infantry, for one year's service or until the close of the war, and was mustered out October 28, 1865. He went as far south as Chattanooga, Tennessee, but was never in any pitched battles, although he participated in several skirmishes. He enlisted as a private, but became corporal before his term expired, and while at Springfield, Illinois, had entire charge of the company, being the only member who had seen service or knew anything about drilling. He was a faithful soldier, and the government now grants him a pension of twelve dollars per month. He belongs to Hennepin post, No. 231, G. A. R., in which he has held all of the offices.

At the time he joined the army Mr. Averill was learning the blacksmith's trade, which he completed after his return from the war. He then followed the business for thirty-seven and a half years. Ten years ago he secured a small stock of hardware, investing a capital not over eighty dollars. Today he carries a complete line of hardware, tools and tinware, his stock being worth at least three thousand dollars. He has enlarged his store room from time to time but now finds it hardly adequate for the increased line of goods which he carries. His trade has constantly grown and his business is today very profitable. He is now treasurer and one of the stockholders of the Mutual Telephone Company and is collector and agent for the National Co-operative Burial Association.

In 1870 Mr. Averill was married to Miss Helena Deck, a native of Pennsylvania and a daughter of Adam Deck, deceased, who came to Hennepin in 1848. Mr. and Mrs. Averill now have one daughter, Nancy Florence, who was educated in the Hennepin schools and for four years held a position in the office of the Toledo, Peoria & Warsaw Railroad at Peoria. She is now at home with her parents and gives music lessons, being a fine musician. She is also a seamstress of acknowledged ability.

Mr. Averill, since age conferred upon him the right of franchise, has been a supporter of the republican party and has served as city alderman and as city clerk. Few men in this part of the state have a wider acquaintance or are more favorably known than Orange A. Averill, who was born in the city which is yet his home and which has been his place of residence throughout the greater part of his life. He relates many interesting reminiscences of pioneer times. He tells that on one occasion, when the family were living upon the farm in Bureau county, the year 1849 being memorable for the highest water ever known, a man running a mill one of the oldest in the county saw something coming down stream. He called the settlers together and with pike poles they succeeded in landing a Mississippi catfish that had come down from above and was making its way to the Illinois river. They took it ashore, two men over six feet tall carrying it on their shoulders with a pole through the gills, and the tail of the fish dragged on the ground. It weighed about one hundred and forty pounds. Mr. Averill's memory compasses the period when the great majority of the homes were log cabins and when the work of clearing and developing the land had scarcely been begun. The years have wrought many changes, and he rejoices in what has been accomplished and at all times has borne his full share in the work of progress in his community.

Source: Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois authored by John Spencer Burt and W. E. Hawthorne in 1907, page 356.

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