Category Archives: Illinois

Plat of Lane/Rochelle, Illinois, 1853

Here are the first documents defining the town of Lane (later, Rochelle), Illinois. This plat, a sheet of paper roughly the size of an end-table, is held at the Ogle County Recorder’s office, and it was filed with Ogle County government on 30 July 1853 (and re-recorded in 1915). According to the process of town formation described in the source detailed here, it seems that all a landowner — in this case, Rockford businessman Robert P. Lane — had to do to create a town was to hire a surveyor to make a plat, and then to record that plat — it seems there was no requirement to gain permission of a county board or higher authority, as there often is now for new land developments. The filing of the plat was the official act that allowed the landowner/proprietor to start selling lots. As Lane did not incorporate as a governmental entity of its own until February 1861, law enforcement and other government functions were, I presume, provided by the county.

Click on each photo to see it zoomed in.

This plat covers 75 acres . The streets kept the names above until the city renamed them in 1907. For reference, the west side of plat would later be Bartholomew St. (modern-day 7th St.), the north side is Chapin St. (6th Ave.), the east side is 2nd Street, and the south boundary became Jefferson St. (now 1st Ave.).

The streets named on the map above and their modern names:

East-West streets: Holland Street is 5th Avenue, Brice Street is 4th Ave., Palmer Street is Lincoln Ave., and Walnut Street is 2nd Avenue.

North-South streets: Lafayette Street is 6th Street, Washington is now Lincoln Highway (except south of Lincoln Ave., where it’s still Washington), Main remains Main, and Flagg St. is 3rd Street.

Detail of the plat showing Cherry Avenue (unnamed, bisecting blocks 13 & 18) and, above that, Brice Street (now 4th Ave.), running E-W. For N-S streets, there’s Washington (now Lincoln Hwy) on the left, Main in the center, and Flagg (now 3rd St.) to the east. 2nd street would be the east boundary of this plat.

Note the graphic blandishment of the town name, made in an era well before computer graphics were available.

“No. 9921 191500009921 [document number in the recorder’s office]
Filed July 30th A.D. 1853. Re-Recorded June 30th 1915.”

This lower-right corner of the plat shows the only landmark reference to locating the plat on the ground: “Stone 14-8-5-inches in demension’s [sic] bearing from the S.E. corner of the S.E. 1/4 of the S.W 1/4, Sec 24 T40-R1E of 3 P.M. n. 46 [degrees] 50′ E 66 3/4 links distant.” [Some of my interpretation of this handwriting may be different from what others might read here.]

Notes and observations:

•  These blocks and lots are still used as legal descriptions of properties today. For example, according to Ogle County GIS, the Rochelle Municipal Utilities building at the southeast corner of Lincoln Highway and 4th Avenue is sited on lots 6, 5, and part of lot 4, block 13. Rochelle City Hall is on lots 1, 2, and 3 of block 6.

• Outside dimensions of the plat are 1,980 feet (north-south) by 1,650 feet (east-west), for a total area of 3,267,000 square feet, which, at 43,560 square feet per acre, would be 75 acres. Most roads are 66 feet wide. Most lots are 66 feet wide by 123.75 feet deep (lot size 8,167.5 sq feet or 0.1875 acre), followed by an alley of 16.5 feet. There’s at least 50 feet between railroad tracks and the nearest plots.

• The Walters article describes some towns being designed with smaller “in-lots” and larger “out-lots,” the in-lots being more valuable as they were closer to the town center, presumably the future business district. The article also states that “by the 1850s the railroad station replaced the square as town center,” and this seems to describe Lane/Rochelle. This could explain why the lots on Cherry Avenue are smaller — they were meant to be the locations of businesses.

•  While most of the streets marked on this plat remain today, 3rd and 6th streets not crossing the railroad tracks, and Dewey Avenue is an east-west alley splitting the lots in the 18th block. Certain other changes to the plat have been marked by later handwriting.

•  The “G & C.U R.R.” marked on this plat is the Galena and Chicago Union Rail Road, also sometimes called The Dixon Air-Line or the Chicago, Fulton & Iowa line, was under construction during 1853, according to Yesterday and Today: A History of the Chicago and North Western Railway System (page 22). The 1878 History of Ogle County states that the “final survey” of the railroad was made in the spring of 1853, and that “several different routes were projected with the evident purpose of inducing competition among the landowners in order to cheapen the right of way” (page 513). I would like to do further research to find out the precise chronology of when Lane proprietor Robert P. Lane first heard of the railroad’s route and when he bought land and ordered the plat survey. Lane filed his plat and, it seems, started selling lots when the railroad was under construction but before it was operational.

•  This rail line first opened from Turner Junction (West Chicago) to Lane on 10 January 1854, connecting Chicago with Ogle County (pages 22 and 27; the 1878 source gives the date of completion as 14 January (page 513).  The Galena & Chicago Union railroad later became the Chicago & North Western RR and exists today as the Union Pacific line. Note also that the second line to come through Rochelle, today’s BNSF line, is present on the 1872 Krause map and it cut through blocks 26 through 30 on the plat above.

•  The railroad arriving in southeast Ogle County changed the business conditions for the local farmers, according to the 1878 Ogle County History: “Chicago was the principal grain market for this section until about 1852 when a load was occasionally drawn to Rockford, Peru and St Charles. The greater part was taken to Chicago, however, until the railroads came and gave them a market here at Hickory Grove. There were few horses used until about 1843 or 1844 and it usually consumed six days to get a load of wheat to market.” And while the railroad was being built, “there was a great influx of people, all anxious to reap the advantages and embrace the opportunities for money-making that were sure to be developed here by the new railroad.  The old Lane Hotel … was built that Summer by Horace Coon … and when the railroad was completed arrangements were made for a grand banquet in the hall over the hotel.”

• It’s not clear that Lane proprietor Robert P. Lane ever lived in Rochelle before or after buying the land and constructing the plat survey of this town. The 1878 Ogle County History names several settlers, including Willard Flagg, Sheldon Bartholomew, Horace Coon, Harmon Minkler, and Mills Stewart, who seemed to have been living in this area, as they had applied for land patents, well before 1853. I wonder how these land owners felt about a town being platted near their farms by someone from outside of town. Perhaps they didn’t mind — Sheldon’s widow, Charlotte Bartholomew Powell, did sell land to R.P. Lane that made up part of the town plat.

Founding of Illinois towns

This publication, “Selling Location: Illinois Town Advertisements, 1835-1837,” by William D. Walters, Jr. (found here), explains several aspects of how towns were established in Illinois. While the town of Lane was platted in 1853, later than the towns discussed in this article, I’m assuming (until I learn otherwise) that much of what’s said of these early towns also applied to Lane/Rochelle.

After reading the notes below, I’ve started thinking that the founding of Lane was less a locally driven effort by civic-minded landowners, and more of a money-making scheme initiated by a out-of-town investor. Not that such a beginning is illegitimate by any means, but it may not have been any more high-minded than the establishment of any contemporary housing development.

Some notes follow:

• “The creating and selling of new towns was a curious process. Usually the seller was offering nothing more than empty ground and the buyer was being asked to pay substantially more than he would for land of identical quality a few miles away. The simple truth is that the person offering the site was really offering little more than a set of arguments about future geography. These arguments were the seller’s attempt to prove that this particular location was destined to be unlike its neighbors. In turn, the buyer was not just buying a place to erect a house or store, as these could be found in existing places; he or she was purchasing a chance to rapidly multiply money by altering future geography. Buying and selling were both forms of speculation.” (PDF page 4)

• “The forces behind the boom of 1836 were as much psychological as economic.
Heady economic times create a quick rises in property values. This rapid
increase in land values feeds the forces that created it and increasingly alters the
way people view real estate. The wave of town founding that swept over Illinois
was a direct result of a perception that the best way to make money was to invest
in land, and quickest–if the riskiest–way to make money in land was to divide
open land into city lots.” (PDF page 5)

• “In Illinois the legal requirements [to create a new town] were specific, but
neither complicated nor locationally restrictive. Simply put, anyone could create a town anywhere he or she owned land. The law called the owner of the land a
proprietor. It was the same term contemporaries used for anyone who owned a
store, mill, or factory. Once a proprietor, or group of proprietors, had gained title
to the land their first step in was to secure the services of a surveyor. Fortunately
there was an abundance of such men. During the previous two decades, the
federal government had divided most of southern and central Illinois into
townships and ranges, and then had subdivided these into square mile sections.
This process of land division had required training dozens of young men in the
use of the compass, transit, level, and chain. When the work for national
government was over, many tucked away their surveyor’s tools and held them
ready for future employment. Any person with such tools and skills could be
called on to lay out a town. However, the person most commonly employed was
the county surveyor or his official deputy.” (PDF page 6)

• “The surveyor began the process of town founding by placing a stone or a stake
at a carefully measured location. If the new town was to have a public square,
the stone would usually be placed at one corner of the square. If there was to be
no square, then the stone would often be placed at the corner of the “in-lots” of
the town or at some other prominent place. From this stone, lots, streets, alleys,
and would be measured off and marked with stakes. Clusters of such stakes,
with no visible buildings, were often the subject of frontier humor. The town plan would then be transferred onto a diagram of the new town, which was called a plat. By the mid 1830s the whole process had come to be called “town platting” and the verb “to plat,” meaning to establish, was in common use. On the plat, numbers were assigned to each lot and block. These numbers are still in use today in the legal identification of land. Town plats had much in common, but were not identical. A few continued the old New England tradition of designing a town with small “in-lots” and larger “out-lots” was rapidly going out of style [sic]. Most of the new Illinois towns were subdivided only into a single size lot, usually a rectangle about fifty by two hundred feet. In addition to lots, which were usually intended for private sale, the surveyor would often create a public square, and perhaps other tracts of land to be held in common. Streets would be named and dedicated to public use.” (PDF page 7; numbered page 4)

• “How much did it cost to lay out a town? State law permitted surveyors to charge twenty-five cents a lot and to add an additional four cents a lot for recording the plat. Therefore, a two hundred-lot town could be surveyed for about sixty dollars, roughly what a fit man with a good job could expect to earn for two months of labor. If lots sold, additions could be quickly added. Certainly the expense of surveying the town must have usually been less than the cost of attracting settlers to the town.” (PDF page 7; numbered page 4)

•  “Each town had to be given a name. A great deal of silliness has been written
about town naming. Sometimes proprietors did indeed select the names of
former home towns and sometimes they used their own last names.” (PDF page 7; numbered page 4) This latter use of the proprietor’s name seems to have been the case for Lane, established by Robert P. Lane of Rockford.

• “After having surveyed the site and selected a name, the next step was to take
the plat to the county seat and have it copied into the official book, called Deed
Record. At this time streets, alleys, and squares were officially dedicated to
common use; and the plat was officially recorded. The fact that the platting date
was usually different from the recording date and both of these were always very
different from a much later date when the town might be been incorporated has
sometimes led to confusion about the date a town was created. The surveyor
also made additional copies of the plat, which were given to the proprietor. Plats
are frequently mentioned in town advertisements. Copies were often nailed up in
public places, especially courthouses and hotels. At least one plat would have to
be available at the townsite on the day of the sale.” (PDF page 9, numbered 6)

•  “Fines were imposed for platting a town in other than the prescribed manner, but were no restrictions on the number, size, or shape of lots. Yet, there is a striking similarity in the general features of town design. Where they were not restricted by topography, the plats usually established an orthogonal grid of streets usually arranged around one or more central squares. These squares were sometimes given fanciful names, but most were simply labeled “Public Square.” In a pre-railroad age, squares were important because they defined the town center and therefore identified the highest value lots, By the 1850s the railroad station replaced the square as town center, and fewer towns were designed around squares (Walters 1980, Walters 2001, Price 1968).” (PDF page 9, numbered 6) The plat of Lane has no town square but it does record the location of the Galena and Chicago Union railroad surveyed and being constructed at the time the plat was filed, 30 July 1853 (see 1878 History of Ogle, page 513).

• “After the original platting, there was no limit to the number of additions that could be made to the towns. Proprietors frequently retained land beyond the town boundaries and this could be quickly subdivided. If a town appeared to be
successful, additions were often made within months of the original survey. It is
important to understand that, because there were no restrictions on town
spacing, a rival town might at any time be platted within few hundred yards from
any new place. There are a number of examples where this was done. Such
paired towns seem most often to have been created by separate groups of
speculators trying to take advantage of a common perceived advantage. Almost
never did both places survive. To understand which towns survived, it is critical to keep in mind that it was not enough for a new town to have a good location; the town had to have a better location than its competitors and it had to be more
successfully promoted.” (PDF page 10, numbered page 7).

• “It must also be remembered that land was abundant, and town lots comprised
only a fraction of total real estate sales. In 1836 any buyer with cash in hand
could take the conservative approach and ride to the nearest federal Land Office.
By paying a dollar twenty-five cents per acre the buyer could purchase a section
of Illinois farm land that was already acknowledged to be among the best in the
world. Many writers advised this approach. Letters from the 1830s suggest to
friends that they avoid the risk of town lots and invest in agricultural land. By
opting to purchase town lots, customers knew they were taking the bigger risk.
Many sellers were open about the risk of town lots. Several advertisements invite
speculators to attend their auctions. Town lot buying was always a gamble, but it
was not usually an uncalculated toss of the dice.” (PDF page 14, numbered page 11).

• “Many town site advertisers requested that that their notices be copied in eastern papers. This practice of reprinting advertisements bred a form of local humor, discussed later, in which the canny Sucker State native journeys to the East where he unloads large numbers of valueless Illinois lots on unsuspecting
citizens of Philadelphia or New York. Like the stories of men armed with sticks
being stationed at the limits of East Coast cities to beat back the hoards of
settlers who were trying to leave for the Midwest, humor was more important
than truth. However, substantial numbers of Illinois town lots were put up for sale in out-of-state cities. Lots in Illinois could be purchased in many cities in other states. For example, visitors to Gowdey Coffee House in Nashville, Tennessee, could see maps of lots for sale in Peoria, Rome, or Charleston, Illinois (National Banner and Nashville Whig, 27 January 1837, p. 3).” (PDF 14, #11)

• “New Illinois towns had much in common. Visually they were simply clusters of
small buildings with minimum foundations and little public infrastructure. Most
structures were small, made of unpainted wood, and devoid of non-essentials.
Houses were often indistinguishable from commercial buildings. Advertisers
offered buildings that might serve as houses or “tavern stands.” The towns bore
little resemblance to the Lincoln Log recreations, so beloved of grade school
teachers and Depression-era re-creators. There were many log structures.
Cleveland, on the Rock River in Henry County, was laid out in April of 1836 and
the first buildings were erected in the following summer. One was described as a
double log house, or “dog-trott,” with one half used for a dwelling and the other
for a store (History of Henry County 1877, p. 531). However, sawmills were being
built in large numbers and sawn-boards were quickly available. As soon as
possible, shivering citizens nailed planks onto the sides of their log cabins. After
a few years un-sided urban log structures were uncommon. One of the leading
authorities on log construction once told me that he had rarely examined a log
building that had not been covered with boards soon after it was built and that
logs of many such structures generally showed few signs of long exposure. Log
structures were mixed with other modes of hasty construction. The first house in
Andover, Henry County, was built in 1837 and described as a “cottonwood board
shanty” (History of Henry County 1877, p. 139). From the earliest dates, frame
houses were very common. Such houses are specifically mentioned in the
advertisements for Brussels and Valasco. The advertisement for the town of
Monroe noted that the proprietors were also seeking buyers for both frame and
log houses. Sometimes proprietors would try to attract residents by offering to
construct houses at the new townsite. At Virginia, in what would later become
Cass County, proprietors told buyers that some houses would be built and sold
with the lots on which they stood. The first structure actually built in Virginia was a story and a half frame building (Perrin, p. 80). Although brickyards were
occasionally mentioned in town advertisements, and stone was used in selected
area, these materials were too labor intensive to be common for anything other
than important public buildings.” (PDF 15, #12).

• “Boom years like 1836 were dangerous for both those who bought and those who sold. The risk to buyers was obvious and many soon quickly realized that some auctions were little more than playgrounds for the morally challenged. Sellers were also badly hurt. Good sellers were quick to sense that the time to boom land had come. They could focus attention on the potential of a place. They often excelled at stoking speculative flame. Yet, only the most astute could properly predict the time when the bubble was going to burst. We know that they
frequently worked with borrowed money. It took money to buy land, to lay out
towns, to attract buyers, and to promote the new places. This money was at risk.
When Illinois liberalized its bankruptcy law in 1841, many who had once been
financial leaders were forced to take advantages of the provisions. As always,
the problem with booms lies not so much in knowing when to follow the crowd,
but in knowing when to make the lonely decision to abandon the frenzy.” (PDF 20, #17).

• “The towns of 1836 had interesting post-boom histories. One of three things could happen to a new town: rapid abandonment, survival followed by later removal to a new location, or lasting success. A rough rule of thumb is that one third of platted towns were abandoned without ever having been occupied, one third were briefly occupied and later abandoned, and the remaining third have
survived. The odds of survival were greater when only one town was established
in a given area, especially when that town was an early and undisputed county
seat. Towns with many near neighbors were more likely to fail. In many places
proprietors quickly gave up and asked that the plat be vacated. In theory,
vacating the plat legally ended the history of the town and was a valuable tool
because it removed the administrative and financial confusion created by
surveyed but unoccupied towns. In the simplest sense the verb “to vacate”
means to abolish something that that had been legally established. Most often
vacation was done by an act of the state legislature. The usual procedure was for
the town’s owner to sign a statement certifying that he was still owner of all of thetown’s lots and that he wished the town to be vacated. If lots had been sold, the plat could be vacated provided any additional owners also signed the document. The act of vacation was then recorded in the appropriate county. In the years following 1837, legislative acts vacating large numbers of towns were common. Often, the rapid vacation of a town plat is evidence that it was what
contemporaries called a “paper town,” one with never had occupants, and often
one where no lots had ever been sold. However, this is not always the case.
Other town-founders and lot owners did not bother with vacation. They simply
walked away from their property and left local authorities to deal with the
consequences. The legacy of thousands of lots left over from the boom took many years to resolve. Such problems were compounded by large numbers of bankruptcies during the late 1830s and early 1840s. The collective solution to these problems was the tax sale. A large number of town lots, even those in thriving places, were eventually sold for taxes.” (PDF 21, #18)

1840 Survey of Flagg Township, Ogle County, Illinois

The image below is of a survey titled “Township 40 North of the baseline Range 1 East of the 3rd Principal Meridian” in Ogle County. This township was labeled this for its location in the Rectangular Survey System (explanatory PDF here). The survey shown below is part of a book held at the Ogle County Recorder’s Office and labeled “Government Field Notes” — these notes seem to be a kind of rough draft for the formal survey of the township survey dated 14 Dec. 1841 (accessible here as part of the Illinois Federal Township Plats). The formal survey seems rewritten but looks very much like this map below.

Click on photos and then click on “View Full Size” to see these images magnified.

1840-1 survey of Township 40 North, 1 East of the 3rd Principal Meridian. This was later named Flagg Township. Map found in volume labeled Government Field Notes held at Ogle County Recorder’s Office, Oregon, Illinois.

Here is the same map, showing the area that would become modern-day Rochelle. The downtown is in the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Sec. 24 — basically, it’s that part of Section 24 between the “79.90” and the “640a”:

Detail of Flagg Township map. The words cut off at the right site of this picture say “Variation” and “West boundary–7° 57 [partial word]” and “all the other lines 7° 10”

Some observations:

• Since the final survey is dated 14 Dec. 1841, the information on the map must have been collected before December 1841, and, so this map would seem to be the most detailed information available on what this land looked like before there were major infrastructure changes. The fields marked on the maps perhaps could be identified as belonging to particular early settlers, as described in histories such as the 1878 History of Ogle County .

• It’s my understanding that while some these early settlers may be living on and making claims to buy this land by 1841, no one would have been able to buy the land itself (from the federal government’s land patent system) until these township surveys were completed.

• This township was named Flagg Township at the first township meeting held 2 April 1850, perhaps after early settler in Section 25, Willard P. Flagg. It may be his claim that contains the field located in the northeast corner of Section 25.

•  The land that would become downtown Rochelle — in the southwest corner of section 24 in this map of Flagg Township — seems surrounded by water-logged soils referred to variously as “wet land,” “wet prairie,” “very wet prairie,” “swamp,” “slough,” and “marsh.” The fields in Section 24 and 25 and the “Road from Rockford to Ottawa” seem to be in the (from my personal observations) modestly elevated land between the wetlands marked in light blue. Thus, the reason Rochelle is where it is and is not, say, a mile southwest, has to do with elevation and drainage issues.