When roads were first made in this country they went by the most direct routes from one point to another, without regard to section lines. Travel was seldom guided by any roadway, the traveler steering for some landmark, such as the cutoff for the crossing of the Iroquois river, indicated by a gap in the timber at what is now known as the Strole bridge, or else the lone trees standing northwest of where the town of Brook is now located. The “north timber” and Pilot Grove also showed prominently from the prairie.
But, as the country settled up, roads began to be located, usually on established lines, such as section or quarter-section lines. After a time, as the travel was confined to lanes, the roads in the spring of the year would become almost impassable, and it was thought at the time that one of the great drawbacks to the improvement of this whole region was the admitted fact that we could never have any permanently good roads on account of not having, within easy reach, any material, such as gravel or stone, with which to construct good roads.
At this time (1910) Newton county stands in the front rank for the number of miles of good stone roads within its borders. And although it has cost a large sum of money to make these roads, they have added much to the comfort and pleasure of life. After they are once built, no one would have them removed for many times their cost. The number of miles of good, finished stone roads is as follows :
|Jefferson township||36 miles|
|Grant township||33 miles|
|Iroquois township||28 miles|
|Beaver township||23 miles|
|McClellan township||8 miles|
|Lake township||8 miles|
|Lincoln township||14 miles|
This makes a total of 150 miles at an average cost of about two thousand dollars per mile. The old prairie roads in the fall of the year were, however, the model roads, and we will never have anything again to equal them for easy traveling. There was a yielding of the sod, so that a horse would not tire as he does on a hard road. Horses brought here in a lame condition, or with tender feet, would get entirely sound again in time.
Prior to the year 1853, at which time the railroad between Indianapolis and Lafayette was completed, and the Illinois Central began to run trains between Chicago and Kankakee, there would be in the fall of each year an immense amount of travel on the roads between Lafayette and Chicago, mostly farmers’ teams hauling wheat to Chicago or coming back loaded with salt and groceries of all kinds, either for their own use or for the merchants who had purchased stocks of goods east and shipped the same to Chicago by way of the lakes. To accommodate this travel, camping-places, and, in several instances, “taverns,” as they were then called, had been established a few miles apart all the way between Lafayette and Chicago.
After leaving Lafayette the first would be Oxford, at that time the county-seat of Benton county. Parish Grove was the next point 5 then Sumner’s Grove, between Mud Pine and Sugar Creek; then Bunkum, at which point there were two taverns, one on each side of the Iroquois river. The next was the Buck Horn tavern, located near where the present town of Donovan, Illinois, stands. This was kept for many years by the father of J ohn Donovan, the latter now living at Watseka, Illinois, and one of its most prominent citizens. The next tavern was at the crossing of Beaver Creek, and the next was known as the Big Spring, about halfway between Beaver Creek and Momence. Then, on to Momence, at the crossing of the Kankakee river. The next general stopping-place was called Yellow Head Point, said to be named after an Indian who lived there, by the name of Yellow Head. The next point on the road was Blue Island, and then came Chicago, a distance of about one hundred and thirty miles from Lafayette and taking six to eight days to make the trip.
I think it was in February, 1858, that John Darroch, John Smart, Daniel Ash, Elias Atkinson, myself, and possibly one or two others, each with a wagon loaded with twenty-five or thirty bushels of shelled corn in sacks, started from Morocco for Kankakee to dispose of the grain and bring back merchandise. The roads had been frozen enough to bear up our loads, but the weather had turned warm and the roads thawed quite rapidly during the day. When we reached the Kankakee river at Aroma (now Waldron) we could not cross below the dam. Above the dam the river was frozen over, but it was doubtful if the ice would bear up the team and load together. So we led the teams over and pulled the loads across by hand, and arrived at Kankakee some time after dark, putting up there for the night.
The next morning we disposed of our corn at twenty-four cents per bushel, laid in our supplies, and in the afternoon started for home. Owing to the fact that the warm weather had continued and it was considered unsafe to cross the Kankakee on the ice, we returned by way of Momence, where there was a bridge across the river. We spent our second night there. The next morning after breakfast we struck out for home. Elias Atkinson, however, had got up early and started out a couple of hours ahead of the rest of us. We had made but a few miles, however, when we caught up with him. He had started across a slough and had stopped on a big cake of ice — was afraid to go ahead and could not turn around to come back. So there he stood, waiting for the rest of the company to come up and relieve him, which we did, and he remained with the crowd the rest of the day.
We stopped to feed and eat our midday meal at what was known then as the outlet of Beaver Lake. In a wet time, Beaver Lake would overflow and the water run down through the willow prairie, emptying into Beaver Creek near the state line.
After dinner (I can not say just what it consisted of, but I have it stored away in my memory as one of the best meals I had tasted for a long time) we started for home, reaching there about night of the third day. At that time it was not thought the trip was anything strange or remarkable, but it is a fair illustration of the conditions under which this county began its history.
Source: Ade, John. Newton County: a collection of historical facts and personal recollections concerning Newton County, Indiana, from 1853 to 1911. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., c1911.