Abigail Nichols, one of the earliest settlers to Dover, was born one year after the conclusion of the War of 1812 and died just a few months shy of the end of World War I. She was born May 25, 1816 into a prominent family in Braintree, Vt. She was a daughter of Lyman and Ruth Kidder. Her father was a well-known attorney and for sixteen years a member of the Vermont legislature. Her brother, Jefferson P. Kidder, was Lieutenant Governor of Vermont and was later appointed by Abraham Lincoln to serve as associate justice of the Supreme Court of the Dakota Territory. Her nephew, Lyman Kidder Bass was a partner of Grover Cleveland at Buffalo, N.Y., and served in Congress. Her son, M.K. Nichols served in the legislature of Kansas.
Abigail received her education in the Brookfield seminary, and on August 19, 1838, when she was 22-years-old, she married Theodore W. Nichols. Theodore’s father served as pastor for 52 years at the First Congregational Church at Braintree, and later served for two years as pastor at the Dover Congregational Church.
Dover itself was first laid out in 1838 by Sylvester Brigham, located on the divide between Main and East Bureau. Two years prior, John B. Lapsley of Breckenridge, Kentucky platted the town of Livingston, which in later years was called Lapsley’s addition to Dover.
An article promoting one of the first Dover Days, written by Louis Zearing, and published in the Bureau County Republican September 3, 1908, writes of the town, “The first year the view from the dividing ridge was supremely beautiful; to the east the prairies seemed illimitable. In June, it was a boundless flower garden, showing every variety conceivable. The first settlements were confined exclusively to the timber, for it did not at that time enter into sober calculation that the great prairies would ever be settled.”
Almost immediately after their marriage, Abigail and her husband started for the newly platted town of Dover “by way of the Great Lakes” as one account of early Dover states. The trip from Chicago was made by wagon and took one week. The couple finally arrived in Dover around November, 1838, at around the same time as Isaac Delano and his family. A building, later owned by Louis Mohler, was erected the following summer to celebrate Abigail and Theodore’s wedding reception.
Upon their arrival, Theodore immediately began building their brick home just south of the parsonage of the Congregational Church. He was a brick and stone mason by trade and was later described as a man who could “build a good chimney or repair an old one.”
The home was 2 ½ stories high, with a second-story staircase and a three-story stairwell. It had 14” walls, foot wide window sills, and had “opposing” brick. The front walk was made of slabs, 8’ long, 5” thick, and 4’ wide- all hauled in by ox cart. The home was finally completed in 1842.
Theodore and Isaac Delano became partners in the firm of Delano & Nichols and opened Dover’s first store, initially supplied with the stock of goods brought with them from the east coast.
Zearing writes, “(Delano & Nichols) dealt exclusively in dry goods and groceries, and the prairie being sparsely settled their patronage was largely from the Bureau timber. It was seldom any complaint was made about the price of their goods, though calico such as is now sold for five cents per yard, sold for twenty-five cents, and coffee and other articles proportionately high. They used to pay the generous price of three cents a dozen for eggs, and five and six cents a pound for butter… Notwithstanding the high price of goods and the low price for farm produce, the firm of Delano & Nichols was a blessing to the community.”
Delano & Nichols instituted in their store the first religious services in December 1838. The Rev. Owen Lovejoy preached the first sermon, and frequently afterwards, Sylvester Brigham preached, and Theodore too read sermons to parishioners in his store.
Delano and Nichols are also credited with choosing the site for the Dover cemetery with the land being donated by Brigham.
Theodore, and a few others, were also involved in the creation of Dover Park, formerly known as the Common. Previously, Dover residents facing the Common suffered for years from the constant dust raised by horse teams using the roads across the Common, and from having their front yards used too frequently as a cow pasture. Around the late 1880s to early 1890s, the park was laid out, plowed, grass seed spread, and trees were planted in rows, with the park serving as the site for Dover Days, first begun in 1906.
Zearing described Theodore as “a good churchman, of studious and industrious habits, a man of intense application to business. I shall never forget his counsel to me in my boyhood days.”
The Congregational Church of Dover, an offshoot of Hampshire Colony Church in Princeton, was organized in 1838. Zearing wrote, “The record of the church has been marvelous, the beacon of light of the prairie, a God-loving and God-serving people, always known to antagonize slavery, rum and other evils.”
In December 1839, Abigail and Theodore would join the church and ever after be active in church affairs. Their home was known to always be open to church members.
From a Dover account written around 1914, “The early settlers were New England and eastern people, who valued education, religious and intellectual matters of more importance than silver and gold, and with those high ideals, founded the church and school, for they are inseparable, and soon after the village was laid out, a schoolhouse was built.”
The lumber for the school was hauled from Chicago and built in the nearby town of Livingston. It is believed to be the first schoolhouse built exclusively for school purposes in the county, and Abigail became its first teacher and would serve in that capacity for around 11 years.
The schoolhouse itself was a primitive affair, only the outside walls and floor. Abigail had about 30 pupils in attendance, some of whom included Louis Zearing of Ladd, Mrs. R.B. Foster of Chicago, Mrs. A.L. Steele of Princeton and Enos Clark of St. Louis. Her salary was $3.00 per week. In an account of Dover written by H.P. Nood, it states, “(Abigail) boarded herself and did not board among the scholars’ parents as was the custom in those days.”
A second schoolhouse was later built, and Nood wrote of his days there with fondness, “We remember the old pine desks and seats and how hard they were to sit upon, and a good place for making fly traps on the desks. The old windows were so far from the floor that the small children could not see out of them. We well remember the multiplication tables. How they were set to music with the fives as a chorus, and we would sing the tables for the opening exercises, and in that way commit the whole multiplication table to memory. We stood upon the floor to recite our lessons with our toes to a crack in the floor so that we would be in a straight line.”
Around 1850, when she had a five-year-old daughter, a four-year-old son, and was pregnant with her third child, Abigail began to practice medicine. She was for a time associated with a Dr. Pratt in his medical practice. She would go on to have two more children in the five years following. In 1885, when she was 69, she received a formal certificate from the State Board of Health stating “…The State Board of Health of the State of Illinois has received satisfactory evidence that Abigail A. Nichols of the County of Bureau in the State of Illinois has been engaged for thirty-five years in the Practice of Medicine in this State and that he is legally authorized … to continue such practice.”
Abigail was so far ahead of her time the pronouns on the certificate from the State Board of Health had yet to catch up.
Abigail would celebrate her 100th birthday at the home of her daughter, Florence Allen, in Dover. An article in the Bureau County Republican in 1916 stated, “Over 100 guests called Thursday afternoon to offer their best wishes and to express their appreciation of her friendship. Telegrams and letters from those who could not be present were read during the dinner hours.”
The article goes on to state, “The house was elaborately decorated for the occasion with roses, carnations, and spring flowers together with palms and ferns.”
Two years later, in 1918, Abigail caught the flu and died at the age of 102, reputedly the oldest person in Bureau County at the time of her death. Until a year prior, her obituary stated, “She retained full possession of her faculties and was keenly interested in what was going on in the world about her.”
The funeral services were conducted at the Congregational Church, of which she had been a member for nearly 80 years, and were attended by a large number of friends from Dover, Princeton and the vicinity. Rev. H.A. Cotton officiated at her services. The pallbearers were members of the immediate family. Miss Carrie Dunbar and Mrs. Charles Davis sang. Her remains were laid away in Pioneer Cemetery, southeast of the village, by Theodore’s side, who had died thirty years previous.
Abigail was the mother of seven children, two of whom died in infancy. Those who survived her were Almira Nichols, who ministered to her in her old age; Melancthon K. Nichols, Florence K. Allen, Edwin T. Nichols, and Augustus H. Nichols. At the time of her death, she also had seven grandchildren: Etna Nichols, E.M. Nichols, Mrs. Myra Ayers, Fred Nichols, Mrs. Florence M. Findley, Miss Miriam Nichols, and Miss Pearl Nichols, and twelve great-grandchildren, the youngest of whom was born on the day Abigail died.
One of Abigail’s granddaughters, Birdie, married Miles Fox, and had a son Virgil in 1912, who would go on to be the famed organist. Although Virgil Fox’s parents are buried in California and his grandparents were buried at Oakland Cemetery in Princeton, he chose to have his ashes interred at Pioneer Cemetery in Dover, right next to his great-grandparents, Abigail and Theodore.
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