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  • Dale C. Maley

History of Avoca Township

Like many states, Illinois started with townships, then moved on to cities and counties.

In the Fairbury area, there are three townships. These townships are Avoca, Indian Grove, and Belle Prairie. AvocaTownship is north of the city of Fairbury. The town of Fairbury is in Indian Grove Township. Belle Prairie Township is south of Fairbury.

The first settlement in Avoca Township was in 1830. This first settler was Isaac Jourdan and his wife. In December 1830, the William Popejoy and John Hannaman families settled nearby. In 1832, the McDowell family settled on Indian Creek north of Fairbury.

The Black Hawk War was started in early April of 1832. There were 600 Kickapoo Indians camped just south of Chatsworth at Oliver's Grove. Although the Kickapoo had been friendly to the settlers, the early pioneers were very nervous when the war started. They decided to travel by horse and wagon to Indiana during the war. The war was over by late August of 1832, and the settlers returned from Indiana.

The first child born in what is now Avoca Township was Charles A. Brooks, a son of Charles Brooks. He was born on the 1st day of July 1833. The first marriage was that of Harvey Rounsaville and Miss Ann Thompson, who were married in September 1833. They were married by William McDowell, who had just been elected a Justice of the Peace. William had never officiated a wedding before, so he was trying to figure out how to conduct the ceremony. His wife, an ardent Methodist, had no problem instructing him how to perform the ceremony.

The first sermon in Avoca Township was at the house of Squire McDowell and was preached by Rev. James Eckels in the Spring of 1833. The McDowells established the village of Avoca. The first post office was established in 1840 and was called Avoca. Nicholas Hefner was the first Postmaster. Eventually, a church and a cemetery were built in the village.

Before the first bridge was built across either Indian Creek or the Vermilion River, the McDowells and their neighbors bought a canoe in partnership. The boat was left tied to the bank of the river. If someone needed the canoe, they used it and returned it to its storage location. Some of the neighbors got upset about the usage of the canoe. To end this strife, Judge McDowell and his brother James, went to the community canoe one day. They measured their canoe portion and sawed the canoe into two pieces. They took their part home and left the other half cabled to the river bank.

The first bridge in Avoca was built over the south branch of the Vermilion River in 1844. Isaac Burgit, Road Supervisor on the west side of the river, and Judge McDowell on the east side called out the road labor and built the bridge. It was all hewed out of the neighboring forest and was a substantial structure.

The first medical doctor to locate in Avoca was Dr. C. B. Ostrander. He was a very colorful character and loved to tell tall tales. In 1854, Judge McDowell and his brothers built a steam-powered sawmill in Avoca. Their main business was sawing lumber, but they also constructed a mill for grinding corn.

Judge McDowell was the Collector of Revenues in 1844. At that time, there was a premium on wolf scalps. A man who had killed a wolf could go before a Justice of the Peace and make an affidavit to that effect. The man would then receive a State warrant or order for one dollar. These warrants could be used to pay property taxes. There were enough wolves and hunters in Avoca Township that Judge McDowell reported all Avoca property taxes were paid using these warrants. There was not enough cash collected to pay Judge McDowell the fee he was due for administrating the wolf bounty program.

When the Chicago & Paducah Railroad installed its tracks from Pontiac to Fairbury in 1872, this prompted the creation of the village of McDowell. Judge McDowell owned the land and had the town surveyed in 1873. This little village, with a population of 32, still survives today.

The new railroad also created the small village of Lodemia. The post office was established in August 1877, with Dr. C. B. Ostrander as Postmaster. A grain elevator, a church, and a country school were built there. John Bodley Sr. donated the land to build the church. The grain elevator, church, and country school all eventually burned down. Today, there is no trace of where Lodemia was located.

The only representative of the legal fraternity in Avoca Township in that era was Judge McDowell. He initially lived in Avoca but moved to Fairbury in 1860. In 1859, he was elected County Judge, an office he filled with credit. He was the Recording Steward of the Methodist Church at Avoca for twenty-five consecutive years.

When the Peoria & Oquawka Railroad helped to found the village of Fairbury, it was also the death knell for the small towns of Avoca and Lodemia. Most of the residents of these communities moved to Fairbury. Horses moved many houses from Avoca to Fairbury. A few of these houses moved from Avoca to Fairbury still stand today.

Judge McDowell also founded the city of Fairbury, Nebraska. He moved his steam-powered sawmill from Avoca to Fairbury, Nebraska. It was used to saw lumber to construct buildings in that new town.

The only reminder that there once was a village at Avoca is the Avoca Cemetery. The houses have been gone for many years, and the last church was torn down in 1935. The lumber from that church was hauled to Lake Bloomington and used to build structures there.

(Dale Maley's weekly history column is sponsored by Dr. Charlene & Doug Aaron along with Antiques & Uniques in downtown Fairbury)

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