The history of Hollis Township is one of agriculture, mining and the Illinois River.
Just how important the mining was is reflected in this note from "The Atlas Map of Peoria County, 1873": Along the bluff on the line of the Toledo, Peoria and Warsaw Railroad is some the most valuable coal mines in the state. (emphasis added) (The railroad later replaced Warsaw with Western in its name and was commonly referred to as the TP&W.)
Hollis Township can date its origin to 1849 when an election established township government for the area formerly known as the Lafayette Precinct of the Northwest Territory. The first annual meeting was held on April 2, 1850 at which time it was named for Denzil Hollis, an early settler who came to the area from England in 1832.
The naming of the township was not just honorary as Mr. Hollis was charged with being the overseer of the poor, a township function still in place today (known now as general assistance). He later served as overseer of the roads. He died in 1856 and was buried near his home. Because the burial site was not well maintained over the years, a contingent of local residents, led by Wilbur Stranz, Raymond Junker and John Gerdes, took steps in 1964 to remove Mr. Hollis' remains with reburial in the Maple Ridge Cemetery.
Before White Settlers/Indian Tribes and Names
The history of Hollis Township did not begin with the first white settlers. However, little or no written record is available detailing the time before 1832. If general patterns are accurate, it is likely that the Kickapoo and Potawatomi Indian tribes were in the Peoria area in the 18th century.
In Hollis, the Potawatomi were likely the dominant Indians. The seemingly abrupt change from Indian culture to that of the white settlers occurred in 1832 because of an order by the Illinois governor in that year that Indians should be removed from the state.
Many of the Potawatomi eventually settled in Oklahoma and Kansas. Some later returned to the southern Great Lakes.
The name, Potawatomi, was once thought to mean "men of the place of the fire." However, later investigation has shown that this name was the result of miscommunication between an early French diplomat and his Huron Indian guides. Even though the Potawatomi originally called themselves the Neshnabek, the incorrect name stuck.
The Potawatomi tribe spoke the Algonquain language and were primarily hunters and fishermen. The Potawatomi, along with the Ottawa (Odawa) and Chippewa (Ojibwa), formed the Anishinabek peoples.
In Kingston Mines (adjacent to Hollis Township) evidence has been found of a Mississippian culture during pre-Columbian times.
The origin of an Indian word, Tuscarora, to define a population center in Hollis Township has never been discovered. The Tuscarora Indians were native to the eastern portion of the United States, primarily in North Carolina and New York. The word means, "hemp gatherer." It is likely that an early white settler in Hollis came from the east or was familiar with "Tuscarora" and used it without any direct connection to the tribe.
Maple Ridge Cemetery is, by far, the largest of the five documented cemeteries in Hollis Township. It is located close to the LaMarsh Baptist Church near the corner of Maple Ridge and Harkers Corners roads.
The other four cemeteries that have been identified include:
- Goodwin - only one stone remaining when discovered in 1972.
- Hendrick - in section 6 near the corner of Lancaster and Harkers Corners roads.
- Hollis - recently cleared and now maintained located on the bluff near the current US Route 24 and Illinois Route 9 intersection.
- Jones Family - on Wheeler Road in section 16.
The Coal Mining Business
The cemeteries are silent reminders of the energy the European settlers brought to the area we now call Hollis Township. That energy was best reflected in the mining operations that started in 1832 when the first mine was opened on LaMarsh Creek. Coal from that mine was hauled by oxen to Egman Lake (later named Kingston Lake) where it was loaded on boats for St. Louis.
At one point, there were four commercial mines operating and numerous private mines. The four mines carried the names of Crescent Mines 1 and 2 and Newsam Brothers Mines 5 and 6. One of the private mines was located near today's route 9 and 24 intersection. In 1853, William Stackpole set out 15,000 apple trees at that location, giving it the name we know today: Orchard Mines.
The most dramatic mine-related event was a tragedy that struck on Feb 20, 1929. During that era, a train delivered workers from Peoria to the mines in Hollis Township. It had stops in South Peoria, Bartonville, Tuscarora (earlier known as Bismark), Hollis and finally Pekin. In the winter of 1929, that train derailed near Tuscarora, killing six and injuring 150, thirty very seriously. Working the mines was dangerous enough being injured or killed getting to the mines was probably not something the miners considered until 1929.
The mines located in Hollis Township and Peoria County also provided foundations for the road beds in the area. But it was not shale.
Shale is a naturally occurring sedimentary rock that was originally clay; it splits readily into layers. While there are thin layers of red shale (or claystone) in Illinois, nearly all the shale near the surface in Peoria County is gray to black in color. Most shale returns to clay upon exposure to moisture, so it is unlikely that shale was used for roads.
More likely was the use of “red dog” on the roads. Red dog is burned shale and clay recovered from waste (gob) piles of abandoned coal mines. When waste piles containing coal are subjected to repeated wetting and drying, they often catch fire by spontaneous combustion. Heat from these fires bakes shale or clay like a brick, resulting in a hard and resistant material usable on roads. Using the material for such purposes has been a good way to get rid of gob piles which are eyesores and environmental nuisances.
(Information provided John Nelson of the Illinois State Geological Survey.)
Tuscarora can be found on maps, but it was never formally laid out. Other areas were platted, including Hollis (laid out on Sept. 8, 1868), Kingston (Nov. 15, 1838) and Mapleton (May 18, 1868). Mapleton's population was up to 100 by 1880. Today, it is the only incorporated town in the township.
As the population of Hollis Township developed, and families formed, the need for schools became apparent. John Tharp, the first white settler in Hollis Township (mentioned earlier), became a teacher at Hollis School. Hollis was one of five schools that has existed in the township. The five include:
- Hollis School, District 40
- Maple Ridge School, District 41
- Mapleton School, District 42
- Martin School, District 43
- Wheeler School, District 44
Wheeler and Hollis Schools later merged to form the current Hollis Consolidated School District 328.
Martin School still exists as a residence at the corner of Tuscarora Rd and Cameron Lane.
Hollis School was torn down after the new facility was built. The original school site is now the location of the Tuscarora Fire Department, (corner of Tuscarora and Lafayette roads).
The original Wheeler School was located near the intersection of US Route 24 and Cameron Lane; it burned in the 1980s. The second Wheeler School was located near Powell Road off Route 24 and became part of the Illini Bluffs School District.
The Mapleton School also became part of the Illinis Bluffs School District. Its most recent building was purchased in 2001 by the Hollis Park District and now houses recreational programs.
Some Peeks Into The Past
Some details from the earlier days of the township can give us a glimpse of those who preceded us:
- Moses Perdue had the first vineyard in the area (1832) and the first cook stove (1848)
- The LaMarsh Baptist Church traces its history to Oct. 27, 1838 when it was organized. The first meetings were held in homes before a house of worship was constructed in 1849 at a cost of $1,000.
- Moses Dusenbury was the first to have a hand grist mill. He died when he fell off a cliff on the west branch of the LaMarsh Creek while riding his blind horse.
- At a town meeting in 1856, a resolution to prohibit the running at large of swine and sheep failed to pass - too expensive to build fencing.
- In 1863, a new post office at Harkers Corners was established.
- In the 1830s, land was selling for $3 an acre.
- In 1935, a teacher in Maple Ridge School signed a contract for $65/month for an 8-month school year. (Dismissal by May 1 was common among rural schools, allowing the students to help with summer farm work.)
Hollis Township today is a reflection of this intriguing past from shaft coal mines to farming to raising and educating children. And finally, to laying to rest those who gave us roads and names and a history.
Thanks to Larry Stranz and his family for providing much of the historical material for this brief history of Hollis Township.