Take a ride in the southern part of DeKalb County and you will see some of the most beautiful land around. The rolling hills and groves of trees make it a most desirable area for gatherings.
In the early days, a popular location for these gatherings was in the Clinton Township area. The area known as Johnson’s Grove, then later Pritchard’s Grove, was a 100-acre area that is just as beautiful today as it was in the 1800s.
The grove was originally called Johnson’s Grove for the Oliver P. Johnson family who set up residence in 1835. Living with the Indians proved to be a challenge for the Johnsons and in 1838 they sold their claim to Ethan A. Pritchard. Then, the grove officially became known as Pritchard’s Grove.
A Fourth of July Republican rally was held in 1856 at the grove, which became a 36-year run of celebrations and fireworks. More and more events were held in the grove as more people recognized the beauty of the area. The most notable group was the Old Settlers’ Association. This group started in 1877 as a simple picnic to honor the early settlers of the area and grew into a county-wide reunion at the grove.
The Old Settlers’ picnic drew a large crowd. In 1878, 5,000 people attended. Yearly, a formal address was given, followed by speeches of all kinds and a procession. Bands, glee clubs, merry-go-round rides, dancing, and even baseball games filled the morning along with the ever-popular picnic lunch. Later in the day, a parade of old soldiers was an important part of the program. The celebration usually continued until the late afternoon.
An Old Settlers’ Annual was published each year with a list of the pioneers who had died during the year. This picnic became an important social occasion to celebrate with family and friends, old and new.
The last Old Settlers’ picnic at Pritchard’s Grove was held in 1901. The following year, the picnic moved to Norton’s Grove, near Shabbona.
Information provided by the Joiner History Room, DeKalb County Archives