The Espenscheids
While Glen and Grace Mullican eased into retirement and the Stavers built a new house on the 74-acre property, a man name Harry
Espenscheid began amassing a large chunk of land in Rock Run Township. His land acquisitions began in the 1960s, after he had owned
Northwest Construction (Rockford, Illinois) for a number of years. Born in Danville, Illinois in 1912, Harry graduated from Dartmouth University
and spent most of 1935 and 1936 traveling through Europe on a bicycle. When he returned, his love of horses brought him to a Wyoming
ranch, where he met his wife, Dorothy. After serving as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he and Dorothy moved to
Rockford and bought Northwest Construction.

The Espenscheid's fortunes changed in the 1960s, when they owned and lived on a 350-acre farm south of Rockford on Perryville Road. The
Commonwealth Edison electric utility wanted to acquire about 2/3s of this property, and obtained it for a handsome price. In a mini-biography
written by the Rock Run Historical Society, Harry discussed this farm and its sale. To avoid capital gains taxes, the Espenscheids reinvested in
land around Rockford, as well as Rock Run Township. The attraction to Rock Run Township surely had to be its horse-friendly terrain and
reasonable proximity to Rockford.

Once he began buying land in the 1960s, Harry Espenscheid didn't stop until he had amassed over 1,500 acres in Rock Run Township. The most
impressive part of this land accumulation is that all of the land was contiguous. Plat book records suggest that it took Harry about 15 years to
accumulate his land, and no single purchase was more than about 200 acres. Most of the land was centered around Rock Run Creek, and he
owned land on both sides of the creek for a stretch of nearly 4 miles.

In his mini-biography, Harry mentioned that after the sale of his farm to Commonwealth Edison, he developed an illness called "land fever".
This affliction led him to buy land in several states, as well as increasing his holdings in Rock Run Township. Sometime in the 1960s, he and
many of his Rock Run neighbors were approached by the Boise Cascade company to sell their land for a
private lake development. Rock Run
Creek would have been the water source for the lake. Their offer for the Espensheid land was about twice its market value. Harry was tempted
to accept their offer, but one landowner, Capitola Jonas, would not sell. After a year and a half of trying, Boise Cascade finally gave up and
developed what is now Lake Summerset, two miles north of Davis.

Harry may still have had lake dreams, as Illinois governor Richard Ogilvie signed a bill in 1971 to develop a feasibility study for a lake in
proximity to our home. It's unclear what became of this study, but a lake was not to be. The Espensheids continued to acquire more land
around Rock Run Creek throughout the 1970s
. With many of their neighbors already geared up to sell to Boise Cascade, the Espenscheids were
able to negotiate purchases which extended their land holdings up and down Rock Run Creek.


Regardless of Harry's plans, farm real estate ownership can span generations, and in many parts of the world, what he did would have taken a
couple of lifetimes. But based on what we know about him, Harry was probably the kind of guy who could make things happen. Leaving behind
a Dartmouth degree to travel abroad on a bicycle during the Great Depression obviously required an adventuresome spirit. His accounts of his
travels through Europe and the Middle East in the 1930s were documented with a diary he kept during his travels, as well as letters to his
hometown newspaper, the Danville Commercial-News. Later in life, after his business pursuits evolved, he donated land for parks and forest
preserves in
Danville, Rockford, and Rock Run Township.  

The Espenscheid years were a period in which our house was rented, or maybe even vacant at times. What we've seen in the basement, attics
and walls would suggest a host of critters lived well inside the house for long periods - well enough that we wonder if nobody lived here for
awhile after the Stavers sold the property.
1968 Stephenson County plat map - Espenscheid owns approx. 660 acres.
1971 Stephenson County plat map - Espenscheid owns 1,114 acres.
1977 Stephenson County plat map - Espenscheid owns approx. 1,455 acres.
1977 Stephenson County plat map - Espenscheid owns 1,449 acres.
1980 Stephenson County plat map - Espenscheid owns 1,536 acres.
Left: Harry "Espy" Espenscheid's Dartmouth yearbook photo. His post-graduate
travels on a bicycle were highlighted in the
Dartmouth alumni magazine, as well
as
Adventure Cyclist magazine. One of his travel partners, Fred Birchmore, wrote
"
Around the World on a Bicycle" which described his adventures with Harry.
Left: Espenscheid Park in Danville, Illinois. Harry developed
Alzheimer's disease late in his life, but gave generously to the
communities in which he lived. In his
2011 obituary, his family
asked not for flowers, but for donations to "your favorite
charity."
Right: We wonder if this feasibility study had anything to do with Harry's land purchases in Rock
Run Township. We don't know exactly what location the Illinois Department of Conservation had in
mind for a conservation lake, but if another Lake Le-Aqua-Na was their goal, then a dam at the site
of the old Davis Mill would have made the most sense.

After this bill was signed in November 1971, Harry bought land further upstream Rock Run Creek.
By the time he was finished, he owned what was perhaps the most important piece of land for a
state park: the timber property which is now the Espenscheid Woods forest preserve. Like the
Davis Mill builders, the Illinois Department of Conversation probably would have preferred to build
a dam where the earth had already done most of the work for them.

Whether Harry bought more land along Rock Run Creek to protect it from the State of Illinois or
profit by selling it for a state park is unclear. Either way, the state park never happened, and the
Espensheid's ultimately left their legacy by donating the prettiest piece of their land holdings for
the enjoyment of the public.
Left: This photo of Harry Espensheid in Mongolia was used to promote
a speaking engagement in Decatur in 1938. His world travels took him
to China and Mongolia in the summer of 1937. He was able to exit Asia
just as Japan was invading those two countries.