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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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Historical controversy over Genoa’s founding

By Barry Schrader.................................February 9, 2010

Records were spotty back in the 1830s and 1840s, when the early pioneers settled in what is now DeKalb County, and the lack of formal documents has caused a “history mystery” surrounding the founding of Genoa.
The city already has organized a committee to lead the celebration of its 175th anniversary, and the entrance signs at the town’s edge say it was founded in 1835.
But if you look into other history books published around DeKalb County over the years, the founding date is listed as 1836. Historians at the Joiner History Room in Sycamore confirmed that the date should be 1836.
But two books published in Genoa for its 150th observance tell a different story. The writer, Sheila Larson, researched and compiled two publications for the sesquicentennial, and Sandy Lyons from the Kishwaukee Valley Heritage Society was good enough to loan them to me while I was writing this week’s column. Their titles are, “Genoa, Illinois, A History of its Township,” and “Biographical Sketches of Genoa Township Pioneer Families, DeKalb County, Illinois.”

James Moore shown in this photo claimed he was born in December 1835 in the Madison family cabin where Genoa is located today.

To digress, I got in the middle of this controversy when an old friend, Dolly Bruder, asked me to attend a committee meeting at Genoa City Hall in January and bring any books or documentation I could find about the town’s founding. Dolly was our advertising manager at the weekly Genoa Republican back in the mid-1960s, when Kay and I owned it. She had replaced Sharon Holmes (now DeKalb County Clerk), who had a baby and decided to stay home for a while. Just for old times sake, I should mention that Jackie Bennett and Jewel Latchford also worked part-time in our newspaper office then, just after Gerry Hayward had left to sell advertising for the Daily Chronicle. Also, Al Alsup should be included here for running the commercial printing operation at the time.
Getting back to the controversy, I took three books to the meeting, “The Past and Present of DeKalb County, Illinois” published in 1907 by Professor Lewis M. Gross; “From Oxen to Jets” a county history edited by Harriet Wilson Davy and published by the county board of supervisors in 1963; and “The History of DeKalb County, Illinois” published in 1868 by Henry Boies. All three of those books list Genoa’s founding as 1836, but with no explanation why.
Larson bases her facts on the testimony of James Harrington Moore, who said he was born Dec. 29, 1835, in Genoa Township. He claimed to be the first white child born in the township and in DeKalb County. In the Genoa Republican-Journal issue of Jan. 8, 1901, Moore was quoted as saying the county historian, George Congdon, presented Moore with a medal for being the first white baby in the county. Moore further stated that “he based his statements on a complete memorandum kept by his mother, Sylvia Madison Moore, in the early days.”
The first white settlers to arrive in the Genoa area in May 1835 were the Thomas and Sarah Matteson (aka Madison) family. Sylvia was one of the adult children of Thomas and Sarah and was married to Voranus Moore in 1832 back in Ohio.
I could go on quoting facts from the other books, but isn’t it time to call in the History Detectives from PBS? In case they don’t find this subject of interest to a nationwide TV audience, the next person I thought of was Tom Oestreicher, noted author and a history teacher at Genoa-Kingston High School. So I asked him about assigning his history students an extra-credit project of researching the town’s history and seeing what they conclude. He is taking it under advisement. So watch for more chapters in the continuing saga of the contradictory history of Genoa and its early inhabitants.
Now if the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District can get the Miller cabin reassembled at its future Genoa location this spring, wouldn’t that be a neat place to announce the students’ findings during its rededication?

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barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115