Richmond Township Early History
For Richmond Township’s early history, the life of the first settler, the Honorable William A. McConnell, was followed. He came in 1837 and built a log house, 16 feet by 18 feet. How long it took him, working alone, to cut his trees and put them in place is unknown. He was a strong young man of Scotch and English descent, although his father was a native of Pennsylvania; and VVilliam McConnell had spent his winters in school and his summers on the farm until he was 20. After that he learned the carpentry trade and worked in that line for seven years. In his biography in the 1885 HISTORY OF MCHENRY COUNTY he says he came to Richmond Township in 1836, and that he had no neighbors closer than McHenry and Geneva, in each of these places there being two families. In 1838, he returned to Lycoming, Pennsylvania and there married Elizabeth Bodine, a girl a year younger than himself. Their first son was born in 1839.
A mill had been started on the Nippersink the year before, and there were neighbors much nearer than Geneva and McHenry now. He had laid claim to his land—480 acres-before going back to Pennsylvania for his bride, and when it came on the market in 1840 (at the end of the required time by the Blackhawk Treaty) he bought it from the government. Another son, John, was born in 1842; and before his coming, the Montelona schoolhouse was built, in 1841 on the corner of their farm, west of Richmond. Also within this time, the town of Richmond had attained enough growth to be granted a post office and William McConnell was named by President Van Buren as the first postmaster.
In 1844, he was elected a commissioner of McHenry County and served two terms of three years each. This was the same year that the township saw its first marriage, within the township limits, when Laura Warner married Andrew Kennedy.
All that time-he had not been living in the county 10 years—he had been adding to his land holdings and other responsibilities had come his way also. He was an Associate Judge of McHenry County, a position he was to hold for 16 years. He also served several years as supervisor for his township, and was on the Board Equalizers for one term.
The village of Richmond had been laid out in 1844, and that same year the town was named, the privilege of giving it a name being the prize awarded to the man who climbed the highest at the raising of the new mill. Like so many other local names, he chose one remembered from his childhood in Vermont, so Isaac Reed named the village Richmond. The mill which was being built then was 35 feet by 40 feet and two-and a-half-stories high. The section where the village growth began was taken from the government by Charles Noyce, whose house—a log structure about 20 feet by 24 feet-was the first residence in the village of Richmond.
By the middle 1840s, there were two mills, a flour mill and a sawmill, a wagonmaker, a blacksmith, a hotel, a doctor and a lawyer. The “settled east” was still trying to recover from the panic of 1837; the government had at last established its own treasury in Washington, with sub-treasuries in other areas. (It did not last. The experiment was given up the next year, but when it was resumed in 1846, it was here to stay.) Other businesses were starting or growing in the local area. William McConnell had opened the first cheese factory, not in Richmond proper, but a half-mile west. It is said to have been the first cheese factory in the county. Solon Mills, which had built the second school in the township, also continued to grow. More of these people rated themselves farmers at that time, rather than considering themselves whatever their avocation was.
Early in the 1850s, the McConnells built a house across the road from their log house and moved into it. They had three boys and undoubtedly needed more room. Also, one presumes, there were more people coming to the house to see Mr. McConnell on business; for the railroads were crossing the township, the Kenosha and Rockford crossing Section 6 from the northeast to the southwest and the Elgin and State Line, coming in from the south side of the township and “on to Richmond” where it bore to the west, leaving the state about a third of a mile west of the east line of Section 5. There were about seven-and a-half-miles of track and a small depot in the township. The first train crossed the Nippersink on November 26, 1855. William McConnell was one of the directors of the railroad.
Besides being a railroad director, he served a term in the state legislature, exact years omitted; he continued being active both in local civic affairs and church affairs, having been a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church for 53 years and a class leader for almost 40. He joined the first temperance group organized in McHenry County. He was concerned with his sons’ welfare and he says that he gave each son a farm in 1872. They do not mention the gift in their biographies in the 1885 history. By that time, all three were grown. A. B., who married Hattie S. Potter, lived near Woodstock on a farm of 333 acres of choice land with a large residence and three barns. They had lost one son but had two living as well as three daughters, and he had been a township trustee and road commissioner several times.
His brothers were also married, John to Mary Frothingham, they had two children, a girl and a boy, Bertha and Charles; George to Susan Cushman, they had five: Cora, May, Frank, Harry, and William. Both of these families lived in Richmond Township.
In 1872, he built a new house on the site of the log cabin, after-living-in-the-house across the road for 20 years. There are still McConnells in the county but none in the Richmond directory, but the town and township we cannot help but believe would still please Mr. McConnell if he could look down and see them today.