Fancy Grove

One of the earliest but least known settlements in Sangamon County was the community of Fancy Grove. Located along the headwaters of Fancy Creek about three miles southwest of Williamsville, Fancy Grove was unique in that most of its residents consisted of families from the state of New York.

One of those residents, Stephen Stillman, is credited with naming both the Grove and  Fancy Creek. Rather than being a platted town or village, Fancy Grove was a collection of farms. The Stillman family — consisting of the mother, Abigail, along with her sons, Stephen and Isaiah, and a daughter — arrived in Sangamon County in the spring of 1820, when it was a part of Madison County. James Stewart, who was married to Roxanna Stillman, arrived in Sangamon County in 1819, but joined the Stillmans upon their arrival.

Another large family from New York, the Phelps family, also arrived in Fancy Grove in 1820. Stephen Phelps had served as a judge in his native state and migrated west with his sons and daughters to the Illinois frontier. One son, Alexis, purchased land just south of the Grove.

The last family group consisted of three men who were related through marriage: Charles Boyd, John Dixon and Oliver Kellogg. Boyd and Kellogg were married to sisters of John Dixon, and Dixon was married to a sister of Boyd’s. Boyd and Dixon were tailors in New York City who struck out for Illinois in 1820.

A few businesses along with a post office were established in the early 1820s. William Hamilton and Enoch March brought in a load of store goods in 1821 and sold them to Myron Phelps in 1822. Phelps ran the store for a few years. Matthew Harburt built a cabin for customers to stay in while waiting their turn at the mill and a horse mill. (A horse mill was an early type of mill used to grind corn into meal and sometimes wheat into flour. The owner would take a percentage of the ground corn as his fee. The customers often had to supply their own horses, which were used to turn the grindstones. Most of the early horse mills were rude affairs put together using stones that happened to be in the area. The output of these mills was slow, and sometimes a person had to wait a day or more to get his turn at the mill.)

William Proctor, a son-in-law of Judge Phelps, built a tannery. The post office, which was known as Fancy Grove, was conducted in the home of Stephen Stillman, who served as postmaster.

For no particular reason, the community began to break up around 1825. The Phelps family moved across the Illinois River and settled in Lewistown. Many members of the Stillman family relocated to Peoria, along with John Dixon, who served as the first county clerk for Peoria County. Dixon later bought a ferry and founded the town of Dixon. Charles Boyd and Oliver Kellogg also moved north and settled in other parts of the state.

Matthew Harburt took down his mill and moved it into McLean County. Some members, such as James Stewart, remained and farmed the land for many years afterward.

Contributor: Curtis Mann (originally published in Historico, the newsletter of the Sangamon County Historical Society, in 2004)bridge

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4 Responses to Fancy Grove

  1. Christine Bauer says:

    Is there list of all the New York travelers who originally came together to Sangamon and Fancy Creek? I am trying to learn with whom David Smith and family traveled from New York and their route. David arrived around 1821 with wife Elizabeth, 2 sons Halsey and Albertson and daughter Mary. Albertson fought in the Black Hawks War.

    Thank you!

  2. James E. Dixon says:

    I note in your article you refer to the Boyds, the Dixons and the Kelloggs as being a family group related by marriage. This may be a clarification for you:
    John Dixon married Rebecca Sherwood in New York City in 1808. Both were from Rye, New York, originally.
    Charles Boyd married Elizabeth Dixon, John Dixon’s sister, and the Dixons and Boyds traveled from NY together in 1820.
    Oliver Kellogg married Sara Sherwood, Rebecca Sherwood Dixon’s sister in Fancy Grove in 1822.

    Sara Sherwood did not come to Illinois with her sister Rebecca when she and John came in 1820 with the Boyds, but Oliver Kellogg came to Fancy Grove in 1820 at the same time as the Dixons and the Boyds……so I surmised that Rebecca liked Oliver Kellogg and saw him as a “good match” for her sister so sent to Rye, New York to have her sister come to Illinois for the ‘match’.

    The Kelloggs were the first to come north from Fort Clark/Peoria. They settled in Kellogg’s Grove near the present town of Pearl City, a village just a few miles southwest of Freeport. Oliver had blazed the ‘Kellogg Trail’ from Peoria to Galena. But there was hostile action around Kelloggs Grove in the Black Hawk War, so following that raid by the Sauk (Sac) tribe in 1832 Sara and Oliver moved closer to her sister in Dixon’s Ferry. They settled in Buffalo Grove which is at the west edge of what is now Polo, Illinois.

    The John Dixon got the federal mail contract for Peoria to Galena and in 1829 moved to a spot on Kelloggs Trail a couple of miles southwest of what is now Princeton to be closer to the middle of the mail route. The Rock River was the greatest obstruction to travel between Peoria and Galena. It was traveled heavily in the spring and fall by families going up to Galena to work the lead mines along the Illinois – Wisconsin line, and then descending to Peoria as winter approached and mining stopped. (It is said around here that this migration pattern was like that of the ‘sucker’, a small fish like the catfish who migrated annually in Illinois rivers, resulting in the term ‘Sucker State’.) So Dixon soon decided to move up to the Rock River and not only be central to his mail route, but also to run a ferry for the pioneers/miners needing to cross there.

    In 1830 John and Rebecca moved their family to the spot now called Dixon’s Ferry, and the Boyds, Charles and Elizabeth Dixon Boyd, moved into the cabin John had built near what became Princeton. It became known as Boyd’s Grove. For a brief time, therefore, the three related families were the only settlers between Peoria and Galena.

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