Stephenson County, Illinois Genealogy
Organization of the County of Stephenson
Thirty-seven was a momentous year for Stephenson county, as on March fourth of that year the Legislature, assembled at Vandalia, passed an enabling act authorizing the organization of the county, defining its bounds and naming the commissioners into whose hands the responsibility was entrusted. An election was held the first Monday in May in the house of William Baker in which James W. Fowler, Thomas W. Turner and Orleans Daggett acted as judges and Benjamin Goddard acted as clerk. One hundred twenty-one votes were cast electing William Kirkpatrick, sheriff; Lorenzo Lee, coroner; Orestes H. Wright, recorder and commissioners' clerk, while Lemuel W. Streator, Isaac S. Forbes and Julius Smith constituted the first board of county commissioners, and Frederick D. Buckley, county surveyor. The commissioners' court convened the eighth of May, the officers qualified and then proceeded to divide the county into election districts. During the proceedings the first arrest was made, the offence being drunkenness; there being no jail the only place of confinement was William Baker's root-house where the offender was incarcerated until thoroughly sober when he was allowed to go free.
Six electoral precincts were laid off as follows; Rock Run occupied the northeast corner of the county, with Silver Creek in the southeast; Waddams occupied a seven mile strip along the west side of the county, while down through the center, beginning at the north, lay Brewster, Center and Freeport precincts.
The enabling act also authorized Vance L. Davidson, Isaac Chambers and Miner York to act as commissioners to locate the county seat. Then the fun began in true western style. Various localities laid claim to having the most salubrious climate, the best water supply, the finest roads-to build-and best shipping facilities. Cedarville's claim to central location had its weight but Cedarville consisted of a wide expanse of prairie, an unlimited amount of sky, and a name. As for Freeport, it could be said that it already had an established settlement, there being several dwellings, a blacksmith shop, a store, a hotel, a saloon and everything necessary to the health and comfort of county legislators. It is said the liberality and business acumen of William Baker carried the day. He not only agreed to donate a site for the county Temple of Justice but was to give each of the commissioners a lot as well. On June 12th the commissioners signed the report making Freeport the county seat. However the decision may have been made, events have demonstrated that they made no mistake. The growth and substantial wealth of the city have proven that as men of foresight and wisdom their judgment has stood the test of time.
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