UNLIKE MANY A HAMLET that grew beside the trails passing through Carroll County which evolved into village or town, or clusters of cabins huddled around mill sites becoming manufacturing cities, Bluffville did not have a plat as others did. At least as far as we know. Bluffville at one time, however, was an important landmark, the neighborhood still a wealth of positive aspects.
There is little or no mention of Bluffville in the county histories except for a brief one in the 1878 journal which says, “Bluffville never had existence as a town, its territory always constituted as part of York.”
Bluffville, however, was listed as one of the original fifteen townships in the early days of Carroll County. In 1850 when the township form of government was embraced after the three man Board of Supervisors was put away, Bluffville was one of those combined or canceled out and it became part of Harlem Precinct at the change. Other units lost their identities also—Lost Grove, Rush Creek, Enterprise, Portsmouth, Johnson Creek, Harlem and Bluffville. They were all combined into other entities. Their legal descriptions can be found on page 264 of the ‘78 History.
York took the place of Harlem because of the persistence of the Baileys who lived mostly on the east side of the long ridge of limestone bluff that ends at the site where Bluffville unofficially grew.
Millions of years ago glacial melt had caused a break in the ridge, an opening that was a convenient passageway for transit to the opposite side of the imposing bluff coming down from northern reaches.
When the new form of governing came about in 1850, Monroe Bailey made a motion to use York instead of Harlem. Then, for some strange reason, the state legislature decided it should be Argo. Bailey was stubborn enough to go back to the county board of which he was a representative from old-timey Harlem and made another motion opting for York.
In 1876 Joseph Cushman, a Thomson merchant, wrote a summary of the history of York Township in the Carroll County Mirror urging readers from all parts of the county to also write their recollections of the early days so the accomplishments of the pioneers wouldn’t be lost and the hardships they experienced not go unappreciated.
Cushman’s “sketch” listed the years many of the earliest settlers arrived here and told of the later generations now in residence, most the same families.
Joseph Cushman was to be commended for his objective, he, too, being a pioneer and some twenty years after the wilderness had passed his name appeared in the Mirror in 1877, the article saying ... “One of the oldest and prominent of men in Thomson, Joseph Cushman occupies a shop on the south side of Main Street where he manufactures the celebrated Cushman Wind Mill. He is also the inventor.”
While we may assume he was clear-headed and true to fact, we can guess that he pulled no punches either. In his summary of York Township history he stated that he wasn’t certain beyond a doubt how York got its name although it likely came from the high number of emigree’s that came from New York state settled there. Or could it have been someone who “wished to perpetuate the name of that miserable idiot, the Duke of York!” We would guess from that Mr. Cushman’s longtime political leanings!
With Bailey’s persistence, however, York won despite the nod from the state legislature wanting Argo and Cushman irked because the voters themselves were never asked. Such was the early day.
The first settler in York was a young man from Vermont, Norman D. French, who came through in the early 1830’s as part of a surveying crew. (He could have platted the town, couldn’t he?)
After the Revolutionary War a vast, almost limitless territory spread westward from Pennsylvania to the Mississippi, the Great Lakes southward to the Ohio River ... All unmarked for settlement. Many teams of surveyors trudged into the wilderness to measure and re-measure the variety of landscapes and write up the features of the region. Norman French was one of them.
Only about twenty-one, he started out for the West. Perhaps he’d go to the Galena lead mines that beckoned so many then. Or St. Louis, the gateway to the Far Far West at Rock Island, however, he joined up with a government surveying team and they began measuring the state of Illinois into townships. When they reached northern Illinois he, for some reason, was taken by the bottom lands of what would be York Township ... Perhaps the prominent bluff, broken there a million years ago by glacial melt, the convenient opening in the bluff a way to and from the inland prairies. Maybe the limestone bluff reminded him of Vermont and the fertile bottom lands would need no clearing of trees and rocks like at home. Likely, he could not have put it into words.
He’d arrived here in 1832 when he would find only a few settlers at Elkhorn Grove and two or three at Cherry Grove. By 1834 he hired on as a farm hand and told later of being lost for two days in a fog. He wandered, seeing no one until he stumbled upon the woodchoppers’ camp that became Savanna.
In the 1878 Carroll County history, he states that he made the first land claim in York in 1835, instead of 1834 as told elsewhere. His claim was just north of “Point of Bluff,” the familiar title the ridge took on as a landmark for the earliest of travelers along the Military Trail paralleling the Mississippi. And those paths inland. At the base of the bluff a short way from the point where crystal clear springs gushed from the inner body of the land to provide water for the settlers. The site was at #6761 on the map, X’d within the circle. Two X’s mark the general area of Bluffville. The map was taken from “Postal History of Carroll County” compiled by the late Dr. Curt Gronner, Morrison.
Acting president of the Old Settlers Association in 1874, Norman French addressed the crowd estimated at five hundred, that he was no public speaker. He would far rather make a new farm than to give a speech but he had, it was reported, made very appropriate remarks to suit the occasion.
Continuing, he stated that due to limited education he didn’t feel adequate for speech-making. Joseph Cushman, however, in his “sketch” remarked that French had studied mathematics and surveying to work on the surveying team that brought him to Illinois. Norman French held every office that there was in the county such as tax collector, board of supervisors, and was a state representative. If one needed a dependable, honest person to fill a job, French was that man.
French built a log cabin at the base of the bluff (present day Scenic Bluff Road) in 1837.
By spring 1836 French was breaking the fertile bottom lands of York. At the nation’s Centennial in 1876 it was reported that Norman French had harvested crops for forty years down there in York. That year, ‘36, saw the arrival of William Dyson and Russell Colvin to whose family was added the first baby born in the township. Dyson built the first house.
Cushman’s “sketch” has the interesting information in chronological order, of arrivals in those earliest of years. It is a valuable reference. And, too, interesting that so many of those pioneer family names are familiar to us today.
In 1838 a milestone in York’s history occurred with a settler, Lewis St. Ores, being first claim a homestead EAST of the bluff. That year also, Col. Beers Tomlinson, his son, Charles, and Monroe Bailey arrived to subsequently put their marks in that chapter of county history. In the following years many families came who were related to the earlier arrivals. With large families, they filled up the spaces and became the future.
“Baileyville” developed east of the bluff. Not the Baileyville of present day history northeast of Carroll, but in York. The Bailey Settlement would rival Bluffville over the hill. Heard of it? Or heard of Sandville? It would grow some years later into a bustling town sited on two rail lines.