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: 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: 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.
Above 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.

Above 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. An article in the Rockford Register Star quoted a local state representative, who said the lake would be
adjacent to Illinois Route 75.

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.