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History of Kemper, Presented by Mrs. Monroe Elliott, October 19, 1975
Col. William L. Ruyle settled on land in Township 9, Range 10, purchased from Simon Woodroe in 1852, at which time there was not much improvement. The barn was built in 1858, the house in 1872. Ruyle Township was named in honor of Col. William L. Ruhle, who was interested in forming a governing constitution and through him and several others this was done. He was born October 18, 1825, the son of Henry and Elizabeth Tuyle, near Nashville, Tennessee. At an early date they came to Illinois and resided in Macoupin County until their deaths. To this union were born Lucinda, Thomas B., Elizabeth, William L., and Iantha Jane. The Col. Ruyle was educated in schools of Macoupin County. In the fall of 1849 he went to California to mine gold, remaining two years. When he returned he purchased this farm of Simon Woodroe. He married Mary Jane, daughter of Lewis and Elizabeth Elliott, in 1855. To them were born eight children, one dying in infancy, Henry, Elizabeth, Anna, Laura, Lewis, Lucinda and Edgar, the youngest. Edgar married Elioza Johnson in 1892 and remained on the farm in which he was born until he retired from farming in 1918 when his son Chester, who married May Boker, took over the farming. Edgar also had two other children, Imo and Murtle. Chester remained on this farm until 1939 when he sold the place to T.S. Chapman and bought the John Fink farm to which they moved and lived until his death in 1952.
In 1877 a committee, with William L. Ruyle as chairman, held a special meeting, in compliance with a request requiring a board to divide Jersey County into townships. After submitting it to the people it was voted upon and Ruhle Township was to contain fractional Township 9, Range 10. Lewis Elliott was first supervisor. The first judges of election were Orin Palmer, Henry Ryan, and William L. Ruyle.
In 1919 the justice of the peace, J.A. Smith, constable, J.M. Kitzmiller, town clerk, J.H. McKernan, and school treasurer, Thomas B. Ruyle. The supervisor at that time was Joseph L. Tober.
The town was known as Palmers Prairie for awhile, then they called the school and cemetery Delaware, thinking that the town might be situated near them, but William H. Kemper settled here in 1870 and gave the railroad the right of way through his property on condition that the town be named Kemper, which it was.
John Huitt of Virginia settled here in 1816, one of the first, then others, among them William Palmer from Vermont in 1829. Elias Palmer came in 1836. Here Mrs. Elias Palmer died in June, 1859 and is buried in Delaware Cemetery, now called the Kemper Cemetery.
William H. Kemper purchased the land on which most of Kemper stands in 1847. He built the Kemper house in 1869, as the barn had been previously built in 1850. The family lived here until 1875 when they sold the place to Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Kemper. She then sold the place in 1913 to George W. Ruyle, who in 1919 sold it to D.B. Elliott and, when his son Monroe returned from France March 2, 1919, he presented the place to him as a wedding gift. On March 19, 1919 we moved into it after our marriage and resided there as our home, where I am presently living. To the best of my knowledge it remains just as it was when built, with the exception of the bathroom and closing in the back porch.
In 1920 the barn was destroyed by lightning. A short time later Monroe Elliott bought the barn from the Olive Palmer place just across the street from us and J.W. Robinson then of Medora, moved it for us with a tractor to the place where the old barn had stood. That barn is now torn down.
Orin Palmer, who came here from Vermont in 1871, went into the first business, building an elevator and buying and shipping grain, then as there was not store here he put in a stock of groceries in a 30 by 60 foot building he had constructed to conduct his business. In 1872 he sold his stock of groceries to Ruyle and Elliott who moved it to a building which they had erected. In 1872 he added the lumber and agricultural lines to his business. He shipped grain to St. Louis and Alton and mills in Northern Illinois. He also handled fat hogs and agricultural implements. His business in a year ran from 25 to 50 thousand dollars. He was the principal business man of Kemper.
A large stockyard was built south of the depot and divided into pens where farmers oculd place their stock after driving it into town. Then around midnight a late train would stop and the stock would be loaded and shipped to St. Louis.
George B. Harlan came here from Chesterfield in 1871, built a store building and ahouse in the north part of town. While he was building his family lived in a barn on a neighboring place. Then he started in the grocery business and his family moved into the house on the street just east of the store. They claimed they had the first telephone in town. They rigged up tin cans and wire and ran it from the house to the store, several hundred feet, and they could call Mr. Harlan home for his meals. At that time a merchant had to go on the train to St. Louis to buy groceries or supplies, then they were shipped by freight. When a farmer came to town with wagon and team they always had a job of hauling freight from depot to store, whatever it migtht be. Otherwise a wheelbarrow was used. One morning Mr. Harlan got on the five oclock train to go to St. Louis to buy a stock of goods in the winter and he wore his overcoat. About halfway there he felt something in his pocket and discovered the childrens pet crow, as that was its favorite sleeping place. When he got to St. Louis he gave it to the first person who would take it. When he came home on the ten oclock train that night the children were heartbroken over their loss.
In 1898 Jasper Smith moved here from Girard, Illinois, buying out his brother, Jacob E. Smith. They were both natives of Maryland. He conducted the general store here and was also the postmaster from 1898 until 1925 when he moved to Alton, selling out to the Dehner Brothers of Alton. He had general merchandise, selling everything from nails, hardware, china, shoes, groceries, yard goods, mens jackets and so forth. He sold sugar and salt by the pound; it came in large wooden barrels. Kraut and pickles also came in big six, eight or ten gallon wooden kegs. He also ran a grocery wagon out through the country to pick up eggs and poultry in exchange for groceries. The wagon had compartments built in for canned goods, sewing thread, buttons, etc. for sale. A large rack on top for egg cases and poultry coops. He first had a team of horses to pull the wagon, then got a truck. One time they brough in several cases of eggs and by the time they got in that evening, several leghorn chickens hatched out. The children were thrilled to death and had them for pets. I think they had to die of old age. The store was owned by I.O.O.F. Lodge and had a large upper story of two rooms, one for suppers of all kinds for the community and the other room was where the R.N.A., M.W.A. and I.O.O.F. Lodge and other programs at different times met as we had no other place to have them. Then about 1930 the store burnt down and the Baptist Church here bought a building in Chesterfield and moved it over here to be used as a community building, where the store had stood.
The first post office was established in 1871 with W. H. Kemper as the postmaster. He was succeeded by G. B. Harlan, then George C. Robinson who had the post office in 1883 in his store, which he had purchased from G. B. Harlan and he conducted a general store. He was succeeded by J.F. Still and brothers. Then a number of years later, Eugene Smith had the post office in the old Harlan building which he sold the business to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Roberts and she became the postmistress. When the new highway came through here, they had to move their home so they built a store near their home in the east part of town and moved the stock of goods over there nearer the highway.
The elevator operated by Orin Palmer in 1870 was sold to G.W. Ruyle about 1907. At this time the Kemper store, operated by J.A. Smith, was moved from its original position east near the railroad and used for lumber when it came by the car load. It had been purchased by G.W. Ruhle for this purpose. A new store was built then by the I.O.O.F. Lodge where the previous store stood and a basement was put under it. The lodge halls and kitchen for church and community affairs were upstairs over the store.
In 1898 until 1902 we had a photographers studio in the east part of town, operated and owned by a Mr. Porter. A great many people had their pictures taken there. Later on quite often traveling photographers drove through the country taking pictures, especially of family groups and they did quite well.
At one time as early as 1900 Walter Clower was a barber here. Later Sam Lyons and Ben Ketchum were barbers here, both at the same time. Farmers Institute was held two years to be best of my knowledge, on October, 1916 and again in November, 1917. A large crowd of neighbroing communities attended. Exhibits of farm produce, culinary products, cakes, pies, canned goods, pickles, etc. and cattle, horses, hogs, pultry, fancy work were shown. Prizes were given for all exhibits.
In 1900 Thomas Kirklan operated as a wagon maker, repairing wagon and buggy wheels for a number of years. At the same time EdWalker shod horses; he was an expert horseshoer and all the farmers of the vicinity came here to use his services. About 1919 Henry Prince became our last blacksmith here and was the last to operate as such. The old building was then torn down.
The farmers and people of Kemper met and organized a telephone company in the early 1900s. It was a privately owned company for several years, then sold out to the Medora and Chesterfield Company. We now belong to the Continental Telephone Company of Illinois. Our first operator was Mary Peak, then Mrs. Ben Elliott, then Misses Bertie and Dora Frank. Our last operator was Mrs. Lillian Maple from 1928 until 1947.
Copied from Medora Messenger in January, 1904, The citizens in our community chose sides and had a rabbit hunt. T.B. Ruyle was one captain and Ed Burger was the other, the latter being the winner. The losing side had an elaborate banquet held in Kirklands Opoera House in Kemper. Two hundred were present. Oysters and other refreshments were served. Several hundred rabbits were packed in barrels and shipped to St. Louis.
The Kemper I.O.O.F. Lodge was first organized in Fieldon, but not having sufficient numbers to support it properly, was removed to Kemper in 1880. At that time officers were h.W. Young, N.G., Thomas Kirkland, V.V.O., W.T. Whitfield, secretary and J.F. Still, treasurer.
On March 3, 1870 Orin and Elias Palmer and Luther Dodge drew up a constitution to be considered at a meeting held March 7, and they organized a church as the Delaware Church. The first members were Elias Palmer, Mrs. Phebe Palmer, Laura Palmer, Martha Palmer, Mrs. Anna Twitchell, Mrs. Harriet S. Store. On January 4, 1875, Mrs. Orin Palmer became clerk, Elias and Dennis Palmer, deacons; Laura Palmer, D.G. Twitchell, trustees. The first preacher was Rev. H.D. Platt, then R.M. Hall, E. Lumus, then William Harlan. They filled the pulpit until a regular preacher arrived in 1875. William Harlan of Chesterfield was what we would call a circuit rider. He preached wherever he was needed throughout the country. He rode horseback and carried a lantern in order to get through the dense woods at night. He was the great grandfather of Mrs. Austin Cope of Jerseyville and Mrs. Dave Rigsby of Chesterfield. They had various ministers until 1884, then O.B. Vess took charge. At this time meetings were all held in the old schoolhouse. Then they appointed a building committee of J.C. Dannell, Dennis and Orin Palmer and they voted to build a church at a cost of thirty-five hundred dollars. William Palmer had left five hundred dollars for that purpose.
On December 25, 1879, the church burned down, the fire being started by the Christmas tree. They rebuilt in 1881 at a cost of $2,500. The building committee was J.C. Dannell, Dennis Palmer, Milo Stowe and V.L. Dodge. The seating capacity of the new church was 300. Membership at that time was 69. It was a beautiful little church with a gallery and two (2) Sunday School rooms, a coal furnace and a nice basement with a kitchen where they had public dinners and suppers. I attended Sunday School there from 1900 to 1907. In 1924 the church was sold to the Presbyterians at Summerville because there wer eno longer enough members to support it. They wrecked the church and took the lumber to Summerville, where they erected a very nice church, complete with basement.
In an old record book found at this time, the Sunday School attendance was recorded in 1887 as being all the way from 11 to 68. No offering was taken. They paid their janitor 25 cents per Sunday. Once a month they took up a collection to pay him. One time they collected $1.26, so they gave it all to him. Maybe there were five (5) Sundays in that month. In the winter he had to build a fire in the furnace also. Today we might call that a labor of love.
Cemetery was called Delaware
The first record I find of our cemetery was December 16, 1882. A constitution and association had previously been formed and anyone who wished to belong paid $5.00. They voted to pay the Sexton $3.00 per year for mowing, the Trustees to decide how often it should be done. If they needed a grave dug at any time, whoever needed it should pay the Sexton themselves. At this meeting they levied another tax of $2.00 per member. The first President was Orin Palmer; Trustees Lawrence Johnson, Charlie Danniell and Dennis Palm;er Secretary Charles Ruyle; Treasurer G.D. Twitchell; Sexton Milo Stowe.
On December 10, 1887, a meeting was held at James Still and Bros. Store and Sam Lyone was elected to serve as Sexton until 1889, his fee to be $5.00 for digging and filling the grave and getting everything ready for a burial, and keeping all graves refilled for a reasonable length of time, the $5.00 to be paid by the party employing the Sexton. He also agreed to keep the cemetery mowed and clean. By motion of Leonard Ketchum, the Trustees were instructed to keep a suitable amount of sheep in the cemetery to kill out wild grass. A cemetery lot at this time cost $5.00. On February 26, 1920, a meeting was held in I.O.O.F. Hall for the purpose of organizing a new cemetery association, conforming with the State Law. At this time they raised the price of lots to $25.00. In 1922 the Sexton was allowed $10.00 for his services. In 1929, Phil Martin was allowed $15.00 for his services and, later in the same year ,was raised to $20.00 for mowing. In 1939 they paid $25.00. In 1940 they paid $30.00 for mowing. In 1944 they paid $75.00. In 1955 they paid $100.00 for 4 months. In 1963 they voted to pay $15.00 per mowing. The name of the cemetery was changed to Kemper in later years.
Ruyle Township had three (3) schools, Oakland, Hawkins Prairie and Kemper School, known first as the Delaware School, then later Kemper. On early days some of the early settlers wanted to build the town north of Kemper near where they built the school, but after the railroad went through Kemper, the town was built here, where the depot was constructed.
The early school records were all destroyed in a fire at the courthouse. We had an older school north of where they built the one I attended, and I thought it might have been called Delaware, but do not know. The Kemper School was built in 1889 and discontinued in 1953, when it was sold at auction.
Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Pruitt now have built a modern home on the spot where it once stood. It was the only school in Ruyle Township with 2 rooms, the first 4 grades in one room and the higher 4 grades in the other room, with 2 teachers.
I could not get the record of too many teachers. I started in 1900 and my first teacher was Miss Mamie Dodge, 1 years, Miss Ella Randolph, 1 year, Miss Etta Pope, 2 years, Miss Virginia Borer, 1 year, Mr. Water Lansche, 2 years, Mr. Tom Tucker, 1 year in 1908. Then in 1914 and 1915 Mr. Austin Cope taught the 9th and 10th grades and had a nice class to graduate in 1916. Then it was discontinued, and the 8 grades were taught as before. Our last 2 teachers were Mrs. Mary Voyles in the lower grades and Mrs. Loretta Kuebrick in the upper grades. Mrs. Kuebrick took her pupils and taught in Medora in 1952, and Mrs. Voles taught her last year here as the only teacher. She went to Medora in 1953 with her pupils. The school was the center of so many of the community interests and we had many happy gatherings there.
Kemper Depot was built in 1871, with Zachary Kemper the first agent. He was agent for about 10 years and then a long line of agents followed by Mrs. Minerva Chism, who was our last agent in the early 40s. This was the only town and only railroad station in Ruyle Township. In earlier days a great deal of business was transacted over this railroad, as there was hardly any other mode of travel.
In 1914, when William Lumley from Alton was our Baptist Pastor, he was in Kemper on Saturday when about 20 men of the community were laying cement sidewalks all around the church. The ladies served dinner to them in the Hall. They were also having a shower for Brother Lumley and his family, bringing their gifts to the vestibule of the church. At 2:30 in the afternoon he was invited in to see what was there. He said for once he was speechless. He received about 20 bushel apples, 8 bushel potatoes, 2 bushel pears, 2 bushel popcorn, 1 bag of cabbage, 40 quarts of canned fruit, a bucket of lard, fish bowl and goldfish and a comforter. He had to remain in town until Monday afternoon to superintend the shipping of the goods to his home in Alton.
The men in the community worked until they had the walks all over town, to depot, to church and to most homes, doing all their own work. Early population was 100, now 51.
No doctor was ever in Kemper to my knowledge, so we had to get a doctor from Rockbridge or Medora.
In early days when roads were bad (no telephones) many times we had to go after the doctor on horseback. Most kept a horse and buggy and a man to drive him when he was called out. Dr. Miller was the Rockbridge doctor called here more often in early 1900s. He was born in Alabama, came to Illinois in 1858, attended Shitleff College in Alton and Rush Medical College in Chicago, from where he graduated. He started practicing medicine in 1869 in Rockbridge, until his death in the late 20s.
At one time, there were 3 doctors in Medora; Dr. Lane, Dr. O.P. Erwin and Dr. Walton. You could go to their office or they would come to your hosue. After they were gone younger doctors came in, but usually only one there at a time. Dr. Woods was there longest.
In February 1920, we called Dr. Woods to come, had been having a blizzard. We called about 9:00 p.m. He came on horseback, came in and said, Put my horse in the banr, Ill just go to bed until morning.
Then 10 years later in February, we called Dr. Bulger at Greenfield at 5:00 a.m. He said, The 5:00 train is just pulling out, you should have called sooner. So he got Mr. McManus, who was working on the section at that time, to bring him on the handcar, which he did. We had a son that time. The doctor went back to Greenfield on the 10:00 a.m. train. The mud was hubcap deep all the way through the bottom and completely thawed out, since it was so warm. This goes to show how the mode of living has changed.
Delaware, September 1870
A new town, to be called Delaware, situated on the Rockford, Rock Island and St. Railway, in this county, midway between Medora and Sheffield, is being laid off by W. H. Kemper. This railroad company will erect a $1,000 depot, and put in a switch 1,400 feet long inside of 60 days, and as this embryo town has as commanding and beautiful location as can be found, and is in the heart of one of the richest and most properous agriculture regions in the west. I predict it will be a flourishing village before the close of the year. Petition in circulation for a post office at Delaware, with Kemper as postmaster and Hon. A. G. Burr will urge that the prayer be granted Orrin Palmer will erect a large grain warehouse, and several store houses as the place is platted.
Contributed by Marty Crull and his volunteers.