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Politics/History Portion of Strevell House Application for National Register

Prior to the European settlers arriving in Livingston County, the area was inhabited at different times by the Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Ottawa, and Illini Native American tribes. In 1828, the Kickapoo tribe moved from Leroy, Illinois, to a site three miles south of Fairbury. Two important Native American foot trails met where the Kickapoo village was located south of Fairbury. The Sauk and Kickapoo trail ran southeast from Ottawa to Danville. South of Fairbury, the Kickapoo trail branched off from the main course and ran east to Indiana.

In 1830, the Kickapoo tribe moved ten miles east to what was later named Oliver's Grove three miles south of Chatsworth. The tribe likely chose to move east so the village would still be located on the Kickapoo trail to Indiana. About 650 members of the Kickapoo tribe lived in 97 wigwams with a council house.

In the 1830s, new settlers assumed that valuable land had trees on it and was near a creek or river. Because Livingston County was mostly swamp with few trees and waterways, it was one of the last counties in Illinois to be settled. In 1830, the Valentine Darnall family became the first white settlers in Livingston County. Mr. Valentine chose timber land on Indian Creek south of Fairbury to make his farm. Because Mr. Darnall arrived at about the same time the Kickapoo were moving to Chatsworth, he had interactions with the tribe. The Kickapoo gave the Darnall family some beans they had grown. These beans helped the Darnall family survive the terrible winter of 1830-1831.

In 1832, the McDowell family settled on timber land on Indian Creek north of Fairbury. Franklin Oliver also arrived in 1832 and he settled on timber and a creek three miles south of Chatsworth. Franklin Oliver inadvertently camped in the Kickapoo village. Mr. Franklin became friends with the Kickapoo tribe living near him. When the Black Hawk War broke out, the Kickapoo Chief told Mr. Franklin he could stay on his farm, but the other settlers should temporarily move to Indiana until the war was over. About a dozen settlers moved back to Indiana until the war was over. When the Black Hawk War ended in 1832, this Kickapoo tribe was forced to leave the state of Illinois. Today, branches of the Kickapoo tribe live in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico.

Very few additional settlers came to Livingston County. In 1837, Livingston County was formed with Pontiac being designated as the county seat of government. Pontiac was named after Chief Pontiac (1714-1769) from the Ottawa tribe. Chief Pontiac led Native American forces against the British in several battles. He was assassinated in 1769 near Cahokia by a Peoria tribe warrior.

Congress passed the 1850 Script Act which created a stampede of new settlers to Livingston County. Congress granted military veterans free land for their previous military service. Most of these soldiers fought in the War of 1812 and had no interest in moving to the swampland of Livingston County. These veterans sold their land rights for about 30 cents an acre, well below the official federal government price of $2.50 per acre. From about 1853 until 1860, most of the land in Livingston County was claimed.

This flood of new settlers made Pontiac a booming town. In 1853, Zelus H. Nettleton, a carpenter, moved his family from Constantine, Michigan, to Pontiac. In Constantine, Zelus built two houses with very distinct architectural features. In 1847, he built a Greek Revival home at 260 South Washington Street that is National Register property 100006782. Zelus also built a Carpenter Gothic style home at 185 West Third Street.

Zelus bought the southeast corner of Block 27 in Pontiac in 1855. He then constructed a house at 401 W. Livingston in Pontiac that has many of the same Carpenter Gothic style features of the house he built in Constantine, Michigan.

Young New York lawyer, Jason W. Strevell, moved to Pontiac in 1855. In 1856, the village of Pontiac was incorporated and both Zelus Nettleton and Jason Strevell were elected to be members of the first Pontiac Board of Trustees. Jason Strevell practice law and ran one of the first businesses in Pontiac, a hardware store. Mr. Nettleton and Mr. Strevell helped Pontiac establish its first cemetery, the Southside Cemetery. Unfortunately, Zelus Nettleton died in 1857. Jason Strevell married his widow in 1858 and moved into her home at 401 West Livingston Street. Mr. Strevell also significantly enlarged the house to accommodate his family of three children.

Mr. Strevell joined the Young Men’s Literary Association of Pontiac. This group tried at least twice to have Abraham Lincoln come to Pontiac and be a guest speaker. Mr. Lincoln finally agreed to travel to Pontiac on January 27, 1860, and deliver a lecture at the Presbyterian Church. Since Mr. Lincoln’s train to Bloomington did not leave until 1 a.m., Mr. Strevell invited him to spend the afternoon and evening at his home at 401 West Livingston Street. During the course of that evening, Mr. Strevell measured Mr. Lincoln’s height as six feet four inches in the doorway of his home. Jason Strevell and Abraham Lincoln became life-long friends after this experience.

Mr. Strevell then attended the 1860 Decatur Republican State Wigwam Convention and voted to nominate Abraham Lincoln for President. After Mr. Lincoln became President, he appointed him to serve at the Customs House in New Orleans. Mr. Strevell served briefly in New Orleans, but returned to Pontiac because of the annual yellow fever epidemics in New Orleans. Mr. Lincoln invited Mr. and Mrs. Strevell to visit him at his home in Washington, but they never took Mr. Lincoln up on his offer.

Jason Strevell was then elected to serve two terms in the Illinois House of Representatives. He then served one term in the Illinois State Senate. Mr. Strevell’s most important legislative accomplishment was selecting Pontiac as the location of the new Boy’s State Reformatory. That institution later became the Pontiac Correctional Center and has been Pontiac’s largest employer for over 150 years.

In 1876, Mr. Strevell was selected to be a member of the Electoral College for the 1876 presidential election, one of the most contentious presidential elections in U.S. history. In 1879, the Strevell family moved to Miles City, Montana. Mr. Strevell became a Montana Probate Judge in 1888 and also created many business enterprises. Mr. Strevell died in Miles City in 1903. Mr. Strevell had a net worth of $6.24 million in today’s dollars.