Following the Black Hawk war settlers began to pour into Illinois. Where before single families had come and settled here and there in spots they considered most favorable, now colonies of three, four and sometimes a dozen families, sometimes connected by blood or marriage, but often made up of old neighbors from their eastern home that were prompted to come by the glowing accounts of the fine climate and exhaustless fertility of the soil.
When they wrote back that crops, thought to be almost miraculous, could be raised year after year, without manuring the ground, it was a revelation to the farmers of Vermont and New Hampshire, whose entire crop depended upon a fertilizer. And though they hardly credited all the stories told, yet they went on the old adage, "Where there is so much smoke there must be some fire," and were surprised that the truth had been told.
They in turn wrote back and their accounts, if anything, outdid the former ones, and there was a constantly increasing immigration. Up to 1836 the attention of the immigrants had been turned to secure farms, though where necessary a small town with store, blacksmith shop and generally a schoolhouse and church clustered in one spot. In the wild cat money times of 1836 and 1837 the spirit of speculation was rife in the land and towns sprang up on paper in every direction; that is, a piece of land was laid off in streets, alleys, lots, etc., and a beautiful drawing of them made as they were expected to be when fully developed. Upon these drawings would be located fine squares, large buildings used for almost every conceivable purpose; even manufacturing establishments would be shown and other desirable things. The idea that was intended to be conveyed was that all these things were there as represented, when the truth was that they only existed in the imagination, and there was nothing on the site of the "city" unless there might be a cabin or two.
There was a large traffic in these town lots, the eastern states were flooded with the handsomely drawn plots and the glowing descriptions of the advantages of these towns and what they were sure to be in the future tempted hundreds to buy lots at higher prices than the whole "city" was worth.
It helped, however, to boom things and called attention to the new country, and settlers poured into the state for, according to the prospectus of the agents, everybody was going to get rich; but the financial troubles of 1837 and 1838 came on and there was a rude awakening, men who thought they were rich found they were little better than paupers, and the many beautiful cities that had looked so well and promised so much were most of them plowed up and converted into cornfields.
There were no less than ten of these towns in what is now Marshall county and more than double that number in the rest of Putnam county, nearly all of them being laid out in 1836. The settlers in Marshall county on the west side of the river being very few at that time, nearly all the towns in it were on the eastern side; but we will say more of the towns in later chapters, the fact being that this digression about the towns and the speculations of those years had much to do with the eventual dividing up of Putnam county, for the hawking of the town lots all over the east called attention to the country and served to largely increase the influx of actual settlers.
By 1837 there were large settlements in the extreme western and northwestern part of Putnam county and the settlers, who found it very inconvenient at times to go to Hennepin to do all their business, began to agitate the question of a new county, and it culminated in setting off Bureau county, containing about one-half the territory which was set off by act of the legislature in 1837 and the county seat established at Princeton. Bureau county took more than one-half of the territory of Putnam county, coming down to township 14 and extending four townships north, but not crossing the Illinois river.
The cutting off of Bureau county left Hennepin, the county seat, in the extreme northeastern part of the county, with less than two townships east and nothing but the Illinois' river on the west. On the south the county was two townships deep and eight townships wide.
The county west of the Illinois river was very sparsely settled except in the extreme west, where considerable settlement had been made in the neighborhood of Spoon river.
As early as 1836 a petition was sent to the legislature, which was well received, and an act was passed during the winter of 1836 and 1837 to set off the county of Coffee, which was to be composed of six townships from Putnam county, two from Knox and one from Henry, to be called Coffee county. To give the act force it was provided that it must be ratified by a majority vote in Knox and Henry counties. The vote did not carry and the act became void.
In 1838 the matter was taken up again by the Spoon river residents, who were tired of going some thirty-five or forty miles to the county seat and possibly finding the Illinois river impassable when they arrived there.
On the 16th of January, 1839, another bill was introduced by Colonel W. H. Henderson, the representative of the district, to establish the county of Stark. After considerable discussion and several amendments the act was approved, March 2, 1839. The bill cut off six townships from Putnam county and two townships from Knox county. To give the act force the voters of the Knox county townships were to assent to the division, which they appear to have done.
In the meantime that part of Putnam county now comprised in Marshall county had been filling with settlers, especially along the river on both sides. On the east side a considerable settlement had been formed around Columbia (now Lacon), and a number of enterprising business men had settled in the town and near it, and had given it quite an impetus. Henry, also seven miles above on the river but on the west side, had made considerable progress and there was quite a sprinkling of farmers scattered along under and on the bluffs. Three or four miles west, the country which has since become Marshall county, had about 1,500 population, which was rapidly increasing.
On December 10, 1838, Colonel Henderson, the member of the legislature, presented a petition, which was largely signed, to form a new county from the southern part of Putnam county. There does not appear at this time to have been much opposition, even the people in the northern part of the county, in the neighborhood of Hennepin, fearing to lose the county seat, gave it a tacit approval. Two days afterward a bill answering the "prayers of the petitioners" was introduced into the house. As the bill only proposed to cut off territory from Putnam county and as no particular opposition was made to it by Putnam county, the bill became a law January 19, 1839.
The county as then constituted consisted of four full townships on each side of the river, with four fractional townships, two of them covering an area of about one-half a township each and the other two quite small.
Before the session of the legislature was over a bill was introduced and passed, adding to the counties of Marshall and Putnam the townships known as 29, 30, 31, and 32, range 1 east, but with the proviso that it must be ratified by the voters of La Salle county, from which county the territory was to be taken. The requisite vote was not forthcoming from La Salle county and the act became void.
Four years later, however, the matter was again introduced, and on March 1, 1843, the two townships, 29 and 30, range 1 east, by an act which set off these two townships to Marshall county alone, the people living in the townships acquiescing.
In the winter of 1839 the legislature appointed a commission, consisting of William Ogle of Putnam, D. C. Salisbury of Bureau, and Campbell Wakefield of McLean counties, to locate a county seat, their instructions being to "faithfully take into consideration the convenience of the people, the situation of the settlements with an eye to the future population and eligibility of the place," also "if selection was made of any town already laid off the proprietors should be required to donate a quantity of lots equal to twenty acres of land or a sum of $5,000 in lieu thereof, for the purpose of erecting public buildings."
There were only two towns laid out in Marshall county at the time, Henry, which contained only some half a dozen cabins, a few people and not much else; besides, the town was laid out upon a school Secand was under the control of the school trustees. Lacon (the name was changed by act of the legislature from Columbia in 1837) had become quite a town by this time and was in a flourishing condition, having a population probably of about 200 people.
As Henry was owned by the school authorities and the few inhabitants could not fill the condition, the commission, which had been instructed to make the county seat, by their report made April 6, 1839, located the county seat at Lacon, and Marshall county with the location of the county seat became a full-fledged county.
Extracted from Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois, authored by John Spencer Burt and W. E. Hawthorne, published in 1907, pages 16-18.