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Champaign County, Illinois

History of Somer Township

The boundaries of Somer township are the same as those of congressional township 20, range 9. Its proximity to the towns of Urbana and Champaign gives it an advantage in the way of accessible markets, and makes the township especially desirable for residence purposes. The Salt Fork rises in the northern part of the township, and flowing southward gives an ample supply of water for stock purposes. The greater portion of the township was prairie, and was unsettled up to a comparatively recent date, but in the timber in the southern part a number of early settlements were made.

As early as January, 1829, Sarah Coe entered land, the west half of the southeast quarter of section 27. The honor of making the first settlement seems to be conceded to Matthias Rhinehart. He came from Ohio in the year 1827, and at that date began the improvement of the farm where A. M. Fanley now lives in section 26. The house of his son-in-law, Walter Rhoads, was afterwards built on the same eighty acres of land; and these two houses were for several years the only ones which occupied that section. Elias Kirby, who was also a native of the state of Ohio, settled in the township at about the same time with Rhinehart. His son is still a resident of this part of the county.

On the farm which Richard Allen now owns one Levi Moore made one of the earliest improvements in the township. This farm was at the head of the grove, and for many years was the only improvement which had been made that far north--the prairie north and east of it stretching away to a great distance without an inhabitant or a sign of civilization. Moore sold his small improvement to Lewis Adkins, whose daughter is now the wife of James L. Somers. Adkins made improvements to a considerable extent, and lived there a number of years. In the same year with Moore (1828) came Phillip Stanford; he made a settlement on section 27 where William D. Roberts now lives.

The settlements seemed to have remained much in the condition stated above for two or three years, for the best authorities agree in dating the arrival of the next settlers about the year 1832. One of those to come in at that time was William Corray; he was from Ohio, and made one of the first improvements on section 35. On this same section, where Thomas Brownfield now lives, John Brownfield, from the state of Pennsylvania, built a cabin, and began bringing a small tract of land under cultivation. The Brownfield family arrived in the county on the 25th of October, 1832. John Brownfield was a man of some prominence and ability; for many years he filled the office of county commissioner and judge. He has left a number of descendants in the county, several of whom still reside in the immediate vicinity of where he made his settlement. His sons, William, Joseph, and Thomas Brownfield are now residents of Somer township.

Mrs. Sarah Coe, who has been mentioned as entering land in January, 1829, lived in a log building which stood a quarter of a mile west of the present house of William D. Roberts. John Whittaker was one of the men who came in 1832; he was a Kentuckian and settled where Lewis R. Byrley now lives, in section 28. A man who went by the name of "Lack" Howard was one of the early settlers, and was the first to begin improving the farm in section 35, where William Clements now resides. Whittaker's improvement on section 28 was sold at an early day to Jacob Heater.

In the year 1832 the following persons were living in the township and went to the Black Hawk war; Walter Rhoads, Martin Rhinehart (son of Matthias Rhinehart), Jacob Heater, Robert Trickle, and Joshua Trickle. After the Black Hawk war all apprehension of disturbance by the Indians was quieted, and settlements began to be made more rapidly. It is not important to follow in detail the settlement of the various families which now began to arrive.

James L. Somers, now one of the leading citizens of the township, became a resident of it in 1841, and remembers as living within its boundaries at that date the following: Lewis Adkins, who died on land now belonging to Richard Allen; William Adams on section 29; Jacob Heater, at the Byrley place in section 28; Walter Rhodes, Matthias Rhinehart, Martin Rhinehart, L. Manan, on section 26; John Brownfield and his sons Benjamin and John who were then married and had families, and other sons who at that time had no families, on section 35; James Clements, who lived where his widow now resides on section 35; Zephaniah Dunn on section 36; and George Emberling and William Hill, who lived on rented land.

Weightman Somers came to the township in 1840 and settled on section 22, where his son, John L. Somers, now lives, and opposite where another son, James L. Somers, resides. The name of the township was given in honor of this family. On section 35 Elisha Corray was the first to make an improvement, coming to the farm he now occupies in 1848. His father, Isaiah Corray, had settled with the family at St. Joseph township, in 1834. The next improvement on section 25 was made by McDaniel Fitzgerald. On section 36 William Johnson was an early settler, and has lived on his present farm since 1848 or 1849.

The township remained thinly settled till about the time of the construction of the Illinois Central railroad. Previous to that date, however, James York and Stephen Hawkins had made settlements north of Richard Allen's farm, and were the first to settle in that part of the township away from the timber. Calvin R. Moorhouse came in the year 1853; Armstead M. Fanley in 1852; William D. Roberts settled where he now lives in April of the same year; Richard Allen, a native of the state of New York, removed from Ohio to his present farm in 1858; Dr. Henry A. Haley came from Massachusetts and settled on his present farm in 1857; and in a period covered by a few years came a number of other settlers, among whom were Samuel F. Elliott, who came to the county from Ohio in 1858; Andrew and Henry Dyson; Samuel, John P., Robert and H. C. Stewart; James B. Anderson; James and William Stephens; Benjamin Prather; John O. Beatty and Thomas Beatty; the Funkhousers; William Heller and Fred Myers. Among others now living in the township are James Cavanaugh, born in Ireland, and who came to Champaign county in 1852; G. W. Pitman, a. native of Ohio, who came to the county in 1856; S. K. Dunn, a native of Kentucky, who has been in the county since 1833; J. W. Bell, also from Kentucky, who came to the county in 1855; Lewis Irle, from Germany, who came in 1853; W. W. Young, from Ohio, 1840; Peter Morehead, from Ohio, 1856: Solon Good, from Ohio, 1857; and Louis Stalder, who was born in Switzerland, and came to the county in 1856.

The first brick house erected in the township was built by James Young about the year 1840. It stands on section 29, and is now owned by William Brown. This was the only brick house in the township for several years, till the erection of the one now occupied by Lewis R. Byrley on section 28, which was built by Richard Merritt. The first school was kept in a log cabin, on land formerly belonging to John Brownfield, near the burying ground in that part of the township. The first teacher was a man named Holmes.


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