Putnam County

1907 Past and Present



Putnam county is beautiful for situation, with rolling prairies and wooded bluff lands. Aware of the richness of the fertility of the Eden of the Universe, the majestic Illinois in its meanderings sought and passed through this sequestered spot. Up and down its waters, men whose names have become famous in all-world history, have steered their barks. Upon its banks events of historic importance have transpired. Events so familiar to every student of school history that the very children can recount by the hour thrilling narratives associated with the Illinois.

When Putnam county was first occupied by the white man he found its prairies dotted with sloughs and swamps, and to traverse its borders the traveler kept to the high ground. But the hand of man has changed the face of nature. The swampy land has been tiled out and is now the most productive land available for agricultural purposes. There is now no land within the county except along the rivers and bluffs that is not absolutely redeemed. Not an acre is untillable.

Each of the four townships has its creek or creeks. Fringing these little streams are found the timber lands of hard woods. All kinds of oaks, ash, walnut, hickory, hard maple, elm, cotton-wood, lynn and cedars, poplars and willows. In the early days the farmer spent his winters in the timber cutting rails and hauling them to his farm lands for fences. Can you imagine the necessary work to produce rails enough to build a mile of fence "10 rails high and staked and ridered"? This language is Greek to modern readers. One must see a rail fence to appreciate it. The rail fence was supplanted by the post and board fence, still necessitating much labor in the timber; this was supplanted by the barbed wire and that by the woven wire. Up to within the past decade or two the universal fuel of the entire community has been wood. Much splendid material has thus been used up for fuel purposes. Much time has been spent in accumulating a pile of wood during the winter that was sawed by horse power in the spring time, split and ranked up for the family's use. A wood pile is as rare a sight now as a rail fence. Much of the timber land in the county, has been cleared off and worked up into coal props, or sawed up into railroad or mine ties, and yet there is sufficient timber remaining to beautify the landscape and to furnish post timber for farm lands. Many magnificent maple groves have been preserved for the purpose of making maple sugar and syrup.

There is no grander sight in all the realm of nature than the wooded bluffs along the Illinois when the frost has tinged the oak and maple leaves. The ride down the river from Hennepin to Putnam presents a sight of gorgeous beauty and autumnal glory beggaring description and rivaling the scenic grandeur of the Hudson.

Beginning at the northeast corner of the county and touching the physical features, natural and revised, adown the Illinois we find first on the highway leading to the river from the village of Granville what is known as the Spring Valley hill. A tortuous road winding around the bluffs down into a beautiful canyon and out onto the river bottoms. Across the river lies Spring Valley -- the place whose name is synonymous with coal-strikes and labor eruptions; a town with a very unenviable reputation in the past but much improved in latter days. At the north end of Hennepin township is a little body of water called Mud lake, a favorite resort for anglers and pioneers. Near this lake, on a beautiful level plat studded with stalwart trees trimmed high under which the luxuriant grass produces a velvety carpeting, on the very edge of the river bank, is a picnic ground known as Benedict's Grove, where school and Sunday-school children frequently congregate to enjoy the beauties of nature's handiwork.

A few miles down the river we come to Purviance's natural park. A preserve kept in its wild and original condition by Amos T. Purviance, a lover and student of nature, whose name is mentioned elsewhere as a county official for many years.

Mr. Purviance's place has become for miles around a favorite haunt for seekers of beautiful and natural scenery.

A large island divides the river just at Hennepin and about its point plies back and forth, carrying its human freight, the famous Hennepin ferry boat. Across the bottom lands from Hennepin to Bureau, about four miles away, a turnpike has been thrown up but is overflown every spring during high water season, shutting off the west side people except by boat.

The rich bottom lands of the Illinois river comprise hundreds of acres in Putnam county and are very productive, and are extensively cultivated, especially for corn. In the spring of the year the overflow covers the entire bottoms but subsides in time for cultivation. Occasionally, however, the fields are inundated after the crops are partially matured and then the "bottom farmer" finds himself out of his season's work. Thousands of tons of "ram-rod" hay are harvested in the sloughs that are too moist for cultivation. Much of the timber is cut for props and cord wood. Thus there is scarcely any territory in the county that is not productive.

A few miles below Hennepin, in Senachwine township, is a beautiful lake called Senachwine lake. It is about two and a half miles long and a third of a mile wide, and has become a favorite pleasure resort. A beautiful and natural canyon leads from the high land down to the lake. At the opening of the canyon a large hotel has been built. This resort is known as the "Undercliff." In former years it was patronized by young people during the summer time for fishing and boating but at the present time it is a favorite resort the year round where people from Chicago, St. Louis and nearby cities secure a secluded spot for rest and recuperation.

So entranced have become the people with the beautiful and magnificent scenery along the Illinois that as familiar as "America" to the school children, has become the State song, "Illinois."

By thy rivers gently flowing, Illinois, Illinois,
0'er thy prairies verdant growing, Illinois, Illinois,
Comes an echo on the breeze,
Rustling through the leafy trees,
And its mellow tones are these, Illinois, Illinois,
And its mellow tones are these, Illinois.

When you heard your country calling, Illinois, Illinois,
Where the shot and shell were falling, Illinois, Illinois,
When the southern hosts withdrew,
Pitting Gray against the Blue,
There were none more brave than you, Illinois, Illinois,
There were none more brave than you, Illinois.

Not without thy wondrous story, Illinois, Illinois,
Can be writ the Nation's glory, Illinois, Illinois,
On the record of thy years,
Abr'am Lincoln's name appears,
Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois, Illinois,
Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois.

The territory embraced in the limits of Putnam county would seem to have been designed by nature as a magnificent park. From the ancient bluffs along the river rising to the eastward to Mt. Palatine, reputed to be one of the highest points in the state, to the western limits of the county rolling away to the Mississippi, is one Edenic realm.

Granville township is mostly billowed prairie lands. In the northern portion of Hennepin township following the bend of the river is a broad and level tract known as Hennepin Prairie. The soil is rich and sandy and extremely productive. Below Hennepin to the south is another tract called Sand Prairie where the soil is very sandy and yet sufficiently mixed with black soil to make it productive.

Magnolia township is decidedly the garden spot of Central Illinois and here it was that the first settlements were made. Ox Bow Prairie derived its name from the outline of the timber that enclosed three sides of the territory bearing that name. "The Ox Bow, in olden times, was one of the best known localities in Illinois and in priority of its settlement by white people, takes rank with the first made between Peoria and the Wisconsin line. In early days the Ox Bow Prairie was as well known as Galena, Chicago, Peoria or any other point in the state. This section, by reason of its geographical position, the wonderful fertility of the soil, its fine drainage, its superior water supply, and especially because it was surrounded by timber, seemed a very Garden of Eden to the immigrant from the wooded countries of the east. In consequence of its peculiar location its settlement was rapid, and long ago it was so completely improved that not a foot of its soil was left unoccupied."

In Senachwine township, back from the bluffs stretching away toward the setting sun is another magnificent prairie possessing all the beauty and the excellence that are ascribed to the other prairies of the county, and yet having sufficient differences to give it a distinctive character.

But why elaborate, when it is known that this little garden spot, important enough to be called a county, is an integral part of the great prairie state, and without her portion cannot be written in the history of the commonwealth?

Extracted from Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois, authored by John Spencer Burt and W. E. Hawthorne, published in 1907, pages 70-72.

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