Friday, September 23, 2016

Illinois Prairie Years

In the last post, we looked at Patrick Brown, the oldest child of Timothy and Hannah Kelly Brown while he lived in Ohio.  In this post, we will continue to follow the story of Patrick. 

The David Brown letter1, (see image below), states that Patrick and his family lived in the Chicago area for some time.  There is a
Bottom of Page 3 of the David Brown Letter
(click to enlarge)
Patrick Brown, laborer, living at the southwest corner of Barber and Jefferson Streets in the 1864 Chicago City Directory; but, a positive identification is difficult because of the common name.  I don’t know when he left Ohio, ( it was sometime after October 1863); however, by July 3, 1865, Patrick Brown, his
1865 Illinois State Census
(click to enlarge)
wife, Anne Burns, and six children, ages one to eleven, are living in McLean County, Illinois.  The Illinois State Census for Bellflower Township in McLean County for 18652, (see image right), names heads of households, and provides values of agricultural activities for each person enumerated.  All persons enumerated in the district, except Patrick, show farm activity, perhaps, indicating that Patrick was a recent arrival to the community.

Belleflower [Bellflower/Bell Flower] Township is located in the south east corner of McLean County at the end of a glacial moraine, the
Townships of McLean County
(click to enlarge)
Bloomington Moraine.3   The glacial left an unbroken prairie with a deep layer of top soil over a gravel bed with virtually no trees making it very desirable farm land.  In fact, Belleflower has been identified as the “finest township of land in the State; and perhaps, the finest in any State.”4   It is easy to see why this area was appealing to a farmer like Patrick. 

Patrick was able to acquire land in Belleflower Township, township 22.  In August of 1869, Patrick purchased the northwest quarter of Section 12 in Township 22, Range 6,5 consisting of 160 acres.  This property is shown in red on the map of Belleflower Township at
1874 Map of Belleflower Twp., McLean Co., IL
(click to enlarge)
the left
.   In May, 1878, Patrick sold this property back to Ira Colby, from whom he purchased it, and, was able to purchase a larger tract of land in Section 14 in Belleflower Township.  This property consisted of the northeast quarter of the section and one-half of the northwest section east of the railroad right of way.6  It is shown in green on the map.  In February, 1882, Patrick sold the property in Section 14 to his new son-in-law, James Cox.  At that time, he purchased a smaller piece of property of just 80 acres.  This property was located on the north one-half of the southwest quarter of Section 2, in Township 22, the blue section on the map.  Patrick held this property until 1887 when it was sold to Eli Wood.7  

This last property is interesting because the deed references a school house on the property.  (See image of Warranty Deed below
Schoolhouse Deed
(click to enlarge)
.)  The warranty deed states that part of the property is
reserved for the, “. . . present school house site on said land as long as the same shall be used for school purposes.”  This schoolhouse was referred to as Old No. 1.  In 1875, school district 1 was split and the schoolhouse was moved three-fourths mile south to the land that, in 1882, was owned by Patrick. It was described as a “cozy little house, painted white, [that] could be seen for some distance on the open prairie, which suggested the name Prairie Cottage School.” It was used until 1902.8    

 Patrick’s family continued to grow.  Three daughters were born to Patrick and Ann while they lived in Illinois: Elizabeth born July 1865; Emily/Julia born October 1868; and, Hannah born May 
1870 US Census, Belleflower Twp., McLean Co., IL
(click to enlarge)
1872.9   About 1875 Patrick’s mother, Hannah, and George and James Roach, the sons of his sister, Johanna Brown Roach, came to live with the family after the children were orphaned.  In 1878, another orphaned nephew, William H. Brown, son of Patrick’s brother
1880 US Census
(click to enlarge)
John, joined the family.  Brother John died in 1873 as the result of a train accident.  John’s wife, Ellen, a sister of Patrick’s wife, Ann, died in 1878.  (More about Johanna Brown Roach and John Brown in future posts.)  The 1870 and 1880 US Census records10 show the members of the family living with Patrick during those years. 

Just as any family grows, the members also mature and leave home to create lives of their own.  The first of the children to leave home was Patrick when he married Ann Radigan in January 1880.  The oldest daughter, Mary Ann, married James Cox in January 1881.  Two other daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth married in 1884.  Two additional sons, John B. and David O. left for Nebraska sometime around 1883.  But, probably the most devastating change for Patrick was the death of his wife, Ann, on December 24, 1878 at the age of just 47.  Ann’s sister, Ellen had died of cancer in Columbus, Ohio in April, 1878.  Patrick had gone to Columbus to assist his brother’s family and returned with one of the children, William H.  How tragic that Ann, too, would have been taken by cancer in the same year.  

The death register11 for McLean County, (see image below left), shows that Ann had been ill for approximately ten weeks.  She was treated by Dr. Hugh Ross of Gibson City in Ford County, which was just a couple of miles east of Belleflower Township, McLean
Death Register, Ann Burns Brown, McLean Co., IL
(click to enlarge)
County.  Although the death was not reported until the following January, Ann was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Bloomington, a distance of nearly 40 miles from the Belleflower farm, on December 26, just two days after she died.  It must have been very important to the
Tombstone - St. Mary's
family that she be buried in a
Catholic cemetery.  McLean County and Belleflower Township are well supplied with railroads which would have been used for transportation; but, travel at that specific time was probably very difficult.  The Pantagraph, Bloomington’s newspaper, ran an article on December 25, 1878 giving an account of snow and severe cold that was delaying rail transportation.12   

Travel to Blooomington, (Bloomington is the county seat of McLean County), in those years would have been difficult even in the best of weather and was an item of news in the local paper when a person from “out of town” was visiting.  On March 15, 1882, The Pantagraph published a note that, “Mr. Patrick Brown, a prominent citizen of Belleflower, was in town yesterday.”   Patrick was mentioned in the paper at other times, also.  In May, 1880, Patrick was named as the defendant in a lawsuit brought by Frederick Schonberger from Ford County.  (The verdict was for the plaintiff for $430.00.)  Patrick was mentioned in the paper for the real estate transactions mentioned above.  He was also mentioned when he hosted the weddings at his home for his three daughters, Mary Ann, Sarah and Elizabeth.   There was a train accident in 1876, and, finally there was post on May 23, 1883 under the heading “Belleflower” news that, “Old Mrs. Brown, Patrick Brown’s mother, is sick with dropsy, but is some better.”13

This is probably about the time Patrick left Illinois.  Patrick had lived in McLean County about twenty years.  His family was dwindling, his wife and mother were gone, the children were setting out on their own, getting married or moving to other states.  Patrick likely felt a need to do something different; and, so he subsequently moved to Nebraska with two of his sons.  That is where we will pick up the story of Patrick Brown in the next post.

1.       Brown, David Earl, Kewanee, IL, 11 May 1943, Letter to Esther _____, Columbus, OH.  Letter contains genealogical information for the Brown Family from County Limerick.

2.       Illinois State Census, 1865, Patrick Brown, Bellflower, McLean, Illinois, p. 184, State Library, Springfield, IL, from, FHL microfilm 972.76.  available online at:

3.       Retreating glaciers left large deposits of silt and gravel at the end of the moraine creating an undulating terrain.  McLean County is situated on a prairie where there are prevailing winds from the south west in the summer and north winds from the Great Lakes in the winter.  When the winds hit the “hills” of the glacial moraine, wind speeds increase forming a wind tunnel.   Local entrepreneurs have taken advantage of this weather phenomenon and created a “wind farm” consisting of 240 wind turbines.  Twin Groves Wind Farm became operational in 2008.  A short video explains more about the operation.    

4.       History of McLean County Illinois, Wm LeBaron, Jr., & Co., Chicago, IL., 1879, p. 189.  The history also states that the ground was of such a nature that it could be “broken with a team of two horses, while in other portions of the county a team of four and even of six oxen has been required for the purpose.”  Available online at:

5.       McLean Co, IL, Deed Book, Book 85, page 215.  Ira Colby, Emma Colby, Ceiclia Roberts, Samuel Roberts to Patrick Brown for $4,680 dated 30 Aug 1869.  There was a mortgage recorded for this property.

6.        McLean Co., IL, Deed Book, Book 113, page 364.  Patrick Brown and Ann Brown to Ira Colby for $5,600 dated 11 May 1878.  The original mortgage was released.

McLean Co., IL, Deed Book, Book 108, page 480.  Lucinda G. Bent to Patrick Brown for $5,000 dated 5 Feb 1878.  A mortgage was also recorded on this property.

7.       McLean Co., IL, Deed Book, Book 123, page 601.  Patrick Brown to James Cox for $8,000 dated 10 Feb 1882.  Buyer to assume mortgage

McLean Co., IL, Deed Book, Book 126, page 364.  S.H. Jennings to Patrick Brown for $3,050 dated 16 Feb 1882.  Mortgage to Martha Smith for $1,600.

McLean Co., IL, Deed Book, Book 145, page 107.  Patrick Brown, widower, to Eli Woodfor $3,200 dated 7 Feb 1887.

8.       Brigham, William B., The Story of McLean County And Its Schools, Bloomington, IL, p 119.  Available online at:

9.       Birth information was taken from the 1900 US Census for all three girls.  Church records are not available for baptisms of Elizabeth, Emily and Hannah in Illinois.  Holy Trinity, Bloomington, does not have records for these girls.   Records in other parishes do not start early enough.  The History of St. Patrick’s Parish, Merna, Illinois in 1929, by Margaret Larkin Kinsella states that masses were often said in the homes of area parishioners during the 1860s and early 1870s until a church could be built in 1876; and, even then, it did not have a resident priest until 1883.  Merna is located east of Bloomington and about 20 miles west of Belleflower.   The history is available online at: 

10.   1870 U.S. Census, Bellflower, McLean, Illinois; Roll: M593_258; Page 29A; Family History Library Film: 545758. Indexed as Patrick “Brower.”

1880 U.S. Census, Bell Flower, McLean, Illinois; roll: 231; Family History Film: 1254231; Page 626B; Enumeration District: 184; image: 0136

Both available online through

11.   Death Register, Ann Brown, died 24 Dec 1878, County Cerk’s Office, McLean County, IL, accessed 17 Sep 2009, Bloomington, McLean, IL.  Death notification for McLean County, Illinois was not mandatory until 1916.  Some random death certificates do exist before that time.

Image of tombstone
      Photo from Find-A-Grave.  The tombstone is quite large, over five feet tall.   

12.   “Rough on Railroads, The Polar Wave  - How its Breakers Affected the People and the Lines.”  The Pantagraph, Bloomington, IL.  Available online through 

13.   The Pantagraph, the local Bloomington newspaper, carried news of not only Bloomington, but, the surrounding communities and, indeed, around the world.  Notices of the information given above were from various editions dating from 1876 to 1883.  In September 1881, a news items from Dublin, Ireland was included telling a story about the Brown’s home place in County Limerick.  “DUBLIN, September 14 – In a railway accident at Patrick’s Well, County Limerick, fifty persons were injured.”  I can only imagine their reaction to that information. The following story was printed on page three of the February 10, 1876 copy.  “A man named Patrick Brown was struck by the pilot [what we call a ‘cow catcher’] of an engine on a train bound south, on Tuesday morning, on the Gilman, Clinton & Springfield road, near Belleflower, as he sat on the ties.  He was probably drunk.  His skull was fractured and he was injured internally, and will doubtless die.”  The track runs directly through Patrick’s property in section 12 (the red section of the map).  Obviously, Patrick did not die, but, after the death of his brother, John, in 1873 from a train accident, he really should have known better than to sit on the track.  The paper made no further mention of the accident, his injuries, or his recovery.


  1. Once again, I am so impressed with the variety of sources and the citations. I aspire to be you.

  2. Thank-you Mary Ann for your excellent work. I enjoyed this and appreciate your dedicated, competent work. Thanks for sharing with us.

  3. I am so happy to have found your blog! Patrick Brown and Annie Radigan are my great-great grandparents and while I've come across much of this info before in my own ancestry search, your details are fantastic. I look forward to reading more. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for this blog! Patrick Brown and Annie Radigan are my great-great grandparents and while I've come across much of this info in my own search, you have filled in many gaps and provided a lot of great detail/sources. I look forward to your next post!

    1. Bridget, thanks for coming to the blog! Sorry for the delay in responding - we have been on vacation. I do have some additional interesting information for Patrick that will be published in the next installment. I'd love to hear your information about Patrick and family also! Please respond at