The first county governments mandated by
the Illinois Constitution of 1818 consisted of a Board of Commissioners because the earliest settlers in Illinois came from the South and preferred the commission form of government.

As more New Englanders - or "blue-bellied Yankees" - settled in the northern part of the state, they demanded the Township form of government.

They were accustomed to getting together, electing their officers, and making policy decisions close to home. In 1848 the Yankees succeeded in amending the State constitution to provide that a county could switch to Township government by popular election.

The area soon to be known as New Trier Township had a population of 473 when it chose to organize its government. The residents were a mix of farmers who had emigrated from Germany and entrepreneurial types who saw opportunities to start businesses, build fine homes, and raise their families in this developing part of Illinois. In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain wrote that Chicago was "... a city where they are always rubbing the lamp, and fetching up the genii, and contriving and achieving new impossibilities." His description also fit the area that was just a long buggy ride north of the growing metropolis.

From its beginning, New Trier has been a fractional Township: It deviates from the standard six-mile square because part of the Township is in Lake Michigan. The southern boundary was originally what is now Central Street in Evanston. The northern boundary was the county line (Lake Cook Road). The western boundary followed what we know today as Harms Road and Sunset Ridge Road. Back then it was a swampy peat bog that often burned for weeks at a time, sending clouds of black smoke over the marsh-like Skokie swamp.

Having chosen the Township form of governing, the residents had to elect officers and formalize their duties. On the first Tuesday in April 1850, a group of men (women couldn’t vote) assembled in response to a notice circulated throughout the area by the Clerk of Cook County. They met at the Wayside Inn, the home of John Garland. As the first order of business they chose Jesse Mattison as Moderator, John Garland as Clerk, and Thomas Russell as Assistant Clerk. The Minutes of that meeting, written in a beautiful handwriting by the Clerk and still stored in the Township archives, reads:

The Moderator having proclaimed the Polls Open, the election commenced. At the close of the polls, the ballots being counted. Mr. James Hartrey was elected supervisor, John Garland, was elected Town Clerk; Mr. Andrew Hood and Mr. Hanson H. Taylor were elected Justices of the Peace; Mr. Michael Gormley, the Assessor; Mr. John Lowerman, the Collector Anton Snyder the Overseer of the Poor. Michael Dietrich Michael Gormley and Jas. Hartrey Commissioners of Highways. Frederick Uday and Charles Ludwick Constables William H. Garland John Lowerman and George Dietrich Overseers of Highways John Wanger and John Coonrod Poundmasters.

New Trier Township now had officials but no money. The record reads: "April 17, 1850 the Board of Auditors met at the Town Clerk’s office and arranged for the following notice to be posted."

Whereas a written statement signed by Joseph [sic] Hartrey superintendent, John Garland town clerk, Andrew Hood and Anson H Taylor justices of the peace and the following free holders whose names are these: John Betdhassy, Mathias Booney, John Coonrod, John Veerer, Lawon Hall, Diet Taylor, Peter Harms, Marcus Gormley, C. F. Uthey, Jacob Ludwick, Chas. Ludwick, and Michel Dietrich has been filed in my office showing that it is as they believe necessary for the interest of said Town that a special town meeting be holden you are therefore hereby notified to meet at the house of John Garland in said town on the second day of May next at 9 o’clock in the morning and when convened to act on the following articles to wit:

First to choose a moderator to preside at the meeting
Second to vote a sufficient tax to purchase book for the town
Third to vote tax sufficient to pay town officers
Fourth to make regulations concerning cattle, horses, hogs etc.
Given under hand at New Trier this 20th day of April 1850 John Garland clerk

The minutes of Township meetings were handwritten by the Clerk and kept in a bound volume. When one book was filled, money was appropriated for another. To this date, Township Minutes dating from 1850 to the present are kept in books stored in the Township office.

The record of the Town Meeting of May 2, 1850 states:

$150 be raised to pay town officers and purchase book and stationary [sic] and other things needful for said town. That cattle, horses and hogs shall be allowed to run at large and if they get into a lawful enclosure the owners of said creatures shall pay what damage they shall commit. The fence shall be five feet high staked and ... the three under rails to be four inches apart. Bulls to run at large liable to the above penalty. That a stud horse over 2 years old shall not run at large. All rams and sheep and lambs shall be allowed to run at large liable to the above penalty.

Meetings were called to plan roads, build bridges, appoint new officials and pay bills. Officials were paid one dollar a day for performing their duties.

Read the next chapter - Early Settlers & Early Settlements

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