History of White Oak, Illinois
The township of White Oak is one of the most interesting in McLean County; it is the smallest in area-containing a little over seventeen sections of land-being a trifle less than half a Congressional township. Its population, in 1870, was 532, 9 less than shown by the census of 1860. At the present time, its population is probably about the same as in 1870; but as most of the other towns in this county have gained largely, it is doubtless true that White Oak now contains fewer inhabitants than any other town in McLean County. It has remained about stationary ever since its land was all taken up, about the year 1860.
White Oak Grove, from which the town derives its name, is a very large tract of timber lying on both sides of the Mackinaw River, nearly twelve miles in length from east to west and from four to eight from north to south. Very little of the Grove lies in this township-barely a few hundred acres-the balance being in the towns of Kansas and Montgomery, Woodford County.
White Oak Grove contains quite a number of romantic spots. There are several picturesque views, more striking, perhaps, than any others in this part of the State a little north of the township line, in Kansas, may be found very high ridges, giving fine scenery, while even from the high prairie rolls in White Oak, beautiful views are visible. Indian Point, a little west. of the Carlock farm, is an historical spot, the favorite camping place of the Indians. The Indian trail was plainly to be seen when the first settlers arrived, and is still visible on the bluffs of the Mackinaw, a little below Forneyville. This trail came from the Wabash, touched the north side of Cheney’s Grove; from there to Money Creek, not far from Towanda; from there to Indian Point; thence to the Mackinaw, below Forneyville, and so on to Fort Clark, now Peoria. There were other trails, but this one was very distinct and often traveled by the Indians.
The history of the township of White Oak is almost inseparable from that of the whole Grove, and we shall once in awhile find ourselves on the Woodford County- side of the line without being aware of what we are doing. The northern part of the Congressional township, of six miles square, forms the township of Kansas, in Woodford County. while the southern portion is White Oak, in McLean County; and the county line between the two townships is such a jagged “struck-by-lightning” sort of an affair, that we shall certainly be pardoned if we are on the wrong side occasionally.
The early settlers regarded White Oak Grove as one settlement, the later divisions having been brought about in 1841 and subsequently, rather violently, or, perhaps we should say, without the actual consent of those most interested.
When the county of Woodford was formed, in 1841, there was great interest along the border of the new county. The territory was all in McLean, but it was denied by the latter county as well as by the persons who were engineering the movement for the new county of Woodford. There is no doubt that all the district south of the Mackinaw River belonged naturally to McLean County, while nearly all its residents would have preferred to remain. In arranging the division, however, it was found necessary to adopt a line other than the river. We have two different accounts of the reasons for making such a broken line as the boundary became. One is that the McLean County managers, being Whigs, did not wish to endanger the small Whig majority of the county, and allowed several Democratic families to remain in Woodford, taking just enough Whigs to leave that party in the majority in McLean. The. other story is that, in making the division, the Democratic families preferred to remain in Woodford, which was likely to be of their own faith, while the Whig came as willingly into the Whig county of McLean. Certain it is, however, that the residents of Kansas Township have not remained satisfied with the county in which they live. Most of them, with those inhabitants of Montgomery who live south of the Mackinaw, are in sympathy with McLean. They trade mostly at Danvers, Hudson or Bloomington. In time of high water, they cannot cross the river to reach Metamora, their county seat., without considerable trouble, though since the erection of a bridge at Forneyville, in Montgomery, and one in the northern part of Kansas, they are much better accommodated than formerly.
A majority of the legal voters of the town of Kansas petitioned the Woodford County Board of Supervisors, September 13, 1873, to be annexed to McLean County, giving good reasons for the change. Woodford County was not willing this should he done, though McLean County would no doubt agree to the proposition at any time.
If a railroad is ever built through this township from Bloomington to Eureka, as has at times seemed probable, it will render it easy for many of the inhabitants in Woodford, who reside south of the Mackinaw, to travel conveniently toward their county seat, while the White Oak people can much more readily reach Bloomington.
Within the last few years, the village of Oak Grove is starting up in the central part of White Oak. We find there now the Town Hall, built in the early part of 1878; the post office, two stores, a hotel, a wagon-shop, two blacksmith-shops, a physician, and about twelve families are residing there. All this has happened within the last three or four years, and the indications are very favorable for the building of quite a nice little village, either with or without a railroad. The only wonder is that a village has not been commenced here earlier, as the wants of the surrounding country will easily sustain quite a town. There is no trading-place of any importance nearer than eight or ten miles, and the roads are often so bad that the necessities of a farming community require towns much nearer together than we have had them in the past. Oak Grove may be regarded as a permanent town. It will draw to itself most of the elements from the rich surrounding country that go toward the formation of a village, and will become a town of considerable importance.
Were we writing the history of the towns of Danvers and Montgomery as well as of White Oak, we should give a sketch of the Rock Creek Agricultural Society, whose remarkable success in establishing a well-attended fair, away from any town or village, has attracted a good deal of attention. These fair-grounds are southwest of the town of White Oak a few miles, but the citizens of this town take an interest in the institution.