The earliest factual history of our property can be traced back to when settlers arrived in Illinois from eastern parts of the United States. In our
area, many of the first arrivals came from Pennsylvania. Some staked claims to the land, then bought the land when the U.S. began selling it to
private individuals. The earliest records of what occurred on or near our house starts with three men who decided to build a saw mill in the
The Davis Mill
Our home is located in Rock Run Township in Stephenson County, Illinois. As fate would have it, we happen to be very near one of the earliest
settlements in the township. Although it probably wasn't much of a settlement when constructed, the Davis Mill was one of the more
important construction projects of the late-1830s. When settlers arrived from the eastern U.S., most needed wood, and the Davis Mill was the
place to get it. The mill was constructed in 1837 by a business venture made up of three men named Stackhouse, Carrier, and Albert Flower.
This landmark shows up in several early maps and surveys. According to The History of Stephenson County (M.H. Tilden, 1880), the first birth
to the white settlers of Rock Run Township was alleged to have been the child of Albert Flower, born at the saw mill.
With the mill came the need for transportation, and we have seen several maps showing old roads which follow the general path of the current
Farm School Road. This road is the northern border of our property, and would have passed by the Davis Mill at Rock Run Creek. If the mill
existed today, we could probably see it from our front porch. The roads back then were rough and rustic, based on what we learned from
Phillip Kiester's book Stephenson County Roads (1955). In excellent detail, Kiester described how Stephenson County commissioners planned
and laid out roads in the 1830s. Most roads linked up the various trade routes, mills, and early settlements of that period. Some of these early
roads passed through, or very near, our property.
The Davis Mill was one of four on Rock Run Creek, each appearing on maps at about the same time. With no railroads nearby, the mills were
important to the early settlers as they began new lives in the Northwestern Illinois wilderness. Therefore, the county commissioners focused
on connecting roads to the mills.
A full map of Stephenson County roads was compiled by Philip Kiester, based on various records available from the 1830s. Below is an excerpt
of that map in what is now Rock Run Township.
Using U.S. land transfer records, we know that Horatio Davis and his son, John Andres Davis, purchased land from the U.S. Government in the
mid-1840s that now makes up our property. Most of our 15 acres is located on a 40-acre tract purchased by Horatio Davis in 1846. A small
portion of our land was part of a 40-acre tract purchased by John Davis in 1847. Both men paid $1.25 per acre. The U.S. Government
documented the transfers of land with Land Patents. Using land patent records, shown below is the ownership of Section 27 of Rock Run
Township as it was around 1850. The year of each owner's purchase from U.S. Government is noted.
Then and now, the 1850-ish ownership would have looked like this in Section 27:
In total, Horatio Davis bought 560 acres from the U.S. Government in 1847 and 1848, spread across four sections of Rock Run Township.
Another of Horatio's sons, Samuel Jefferson Davis, purchased 80 acres in 1849. Along with John’s 40 acres, by 1850 the Davis family owned
680 acres in Rock Run Township.
Back then, land was surveyed into 640-acre square-mile sections, which were further divided into 160-acre quarter sections and 40-acre
sixteenth-sections. These original surveyed parcels did not take into account the geography of the land, such as waterways, hills or ridges. And
since there were very few roads in our area in the 1840s, the land parcels didn’t reflect roadways. Over time, however, land owners would
eventually divide their land into parcels that made more sense for the land’s topography and roads.
For example, the Horatio Davis land where our house sits today would later be divided into a 74-acre parcel with a northern boundary along
the jog in Farm School Road. This boundary makes more sense, given that Farm School Road would have cut the corner off the John Davis 40-
acre square. Road builders probably chose a diagonal path for Farm School Road to avoid a difficult crossing of Rock Run Creek. It’s not evident
in the satellite image, but the creek cuts deeply through the land north of Farm School Road. Both the 1843 surveyor’s map and Phillip
Kiester's map show the existence of a road which appears to closely follow the present-day Farm School Road, so maybe the township road
builders chose to cross the creek at an already-established ford. Today’s engineers might have stuck to section lines and built a high bridge
over the creek, but in the 1800s the road’s path took the easiest route across.
Davis Mill received its name from Horatio Gates Davis, who purchased the
mill shortly after he moved here from Pennsylvania. The road linking Davis
Mill with Salisbury Mill to the south probably passed through our property.
The present-day Farm School Road still maintains some of the shape of the
old east-west road through Davis Mill. As Philip Kiester describes in his
book, most of these old roads disappeared after the railroads arrived, and
after the land was surveyed and divided into townships and square-mile
sections. However, certain parts of the old roads were incorporated into
When Horatio Davis purchased the saw mill in 1838, he paid $4,000 for
what was probably a somewhat speculative investment in a developing part
of the Midwest. From 1836 to 1853, Stephenson County welcomed 10,000
new residents. All of them needed a place to live, and wood was the most
common building material. However, the mill was not operational when
Horatio made his investment, as the dam had not yet been constructed.
But once completed, the mill became an important business in the
community. Enough traffic passed by the Davis Mill that in 1841, it became
the first regular post office in the township.
The mill's prosperity, however, would end about 20 years after its
construction. The first railroad through Rock Run Township arrived in 1857,
and with it came abundant supplies of more affordable lumber. The
railroad's path missed Davis Mill by about one mile, which spelled the end
of the mill's importance for both lumber and postal services.
By then, the land in Stephenson County had been surveyed into townships
and sections. On August 19, 1843, surveyor of public lands Silas Reed
signed off on the final survey of Rock Run Township. The land was divided
mostly into 36-square-mile townships, whose lines had already been
surveyed in 1839. The townships were subdivided into square-mile sections
|Above: Excerpt, Stephenson County Roads (Philip Kiester). It's not
clear in the book if all of these roads were actually constructed. The
author's research appears to be based on records of meetings where
township commissioners were authorized to plan the roads. In the
book, he laments the fact that not all roads were included in
surveyor's illustrations of townships and sections. We suspect that
the easiest path for horse-drawn wagons to descend down to the
Davis Mill and climb out of the Rock Creek valley would be straight
across our property.
The original Rock Run Township survey map illustrated many land features, such as ponds, roads, and fields, and it also noted the few houses
which dotted the countryside then. An excerpt of the 1843 survey of Rock Run Township (below) shows Section 27 where we live today.
Although the mill is shown as "Davis Mill" on the survey map, an updated History of Stephenson County (Addison L. Fulwider, 1910) would
refer to the mill as "Rock Run Mill". The book indicates that the mill doubled as a post office until 1847, when the post office was moved closer
to Rock City. Ten years later, the mill's useful life was effectively over.