The first years of settlement of the Fox River Valley in the middle 1830s were challenging. Kane County was created and then quickly carved up without any formal government survey. Quadrangular townships were not created in their modern form until 1848. Instead, precincts with vague boundaries were established for purposes of voting and setting up the first government. Geneva was in the Sandusky Precinct, and to the west was Orange Precinct in what was in 1836 western Kane County. By 1837 Orange Precinct was mostly in the new DeKalb County created that year by cutting in half the newborn Kane.
Among the first Genevans were many pioneers who had been through the creative process of organizing brand new settlements before. Included were sheriffs, judges, county commissioners, justices of the peace, school founders, and voters in their previous new settlements. Some moved on from Geneva and did all this yet again further west. For example, James Brown had been both a township supervisor and constable back in Ohio. Then he settled in Indiana before coming to Geneva.
The name “Sandusky” likely had been chosen by two of the candidates for the title of First Geneva Settlers, James and Mary Brown. If so, Angus Ross and his daughter Mary likely were behind the toponymic effort. In about 1812, James Brown and a large clan of Rosses lived across Deer Creek from each other in Madison County, Ohio. James Brown married Mary Ross there in February 1824. The Angus Ross family settled in what is now DuPage County on the west branch of the Dupage River near the intersection of modern Routes 38 and 59, just 4 miles SE of Geneva. The Rosses, Browns, Haights, Corys, and many other “first Genevans” came to Illinois from Fountain County, Indiana.
When Mary Ross Brown died in October 1896 at age 87, the Geneva Republican reported that as a child of five years, she had been in the blockhouse in August 1813 at Fort Sandusky, Ohio (actually the name had been changed by then to Fort Stephenson). There U.S. forces, including her father Angus Ross, held off a much larger attacking force of British regulars and their Native allies.
Kane County, named for one of Illinois’ most ardent pro-slavery advocates, Elijah Kent Kane, was birthed via a partition from LaSalle County. Kane abutted Cook County to the east, the latter named for Daniel Pope Cook. Cook, like Kent, was one of the framers of Illinois’ first Constitution in 1818. Cook was a vehement opponent of slavery and was instrumental in preserving Illinois Territory’s prohibition of slavery that dated to the Ordinance of 1787. Cook and his allies narrowly thwarted Kane’s attempt to flaunt Article 6 of the Ordinance of 1787 passed on July 13th, 1787. This “Julyteenth” date is crucial as the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1865 outlawing slavery throughout the U.S., quotes verbatim from Article 6.
Geneva has three buildings listed on the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). Two were built as residences but later repurposed. Charles B. Wells house is one of the homes repurposed into a hospital and then into shops. The Bristol Farmhouse that may have started as two identical structures became a factory. James Brown donated the stone for Augustus Conant’s Unitarian Church, Geneva’s third HABS structure that both remains and retains its original purpose.
The memory of many remarkable early Genevans, like the Browns, have faded into the mists of history. The physical artifacts associated with them are also rapidly disappearing. The Bristol Farmhouse should not be another example.