Albany historian and journalist Helen Hanson is gone, and with her, many thoughts and memories about her lovely, historic hometown of Albany, Illinois. Helen died in 2005, but her “Albany Echoes” will still reverberate through time. Much of the history of this community was compiled by her. She left two excellent volumes about past events and early settlers to the region. Helen knew all about the town that was a fixture on the Mississippi since the 1830’s.
Helen had many other interests besides writing, such as being a well-practiced organist at the Methodist church. She also was a farm wife, a mother of five, and a master barterer. She could probably make the proverbial “silk purse out of a sow’s ear!” To squeeze a few more dollars into the budget, and so her family could get discounts on farm products, she sold Fuller Brush and Rawleigh Products. She was always busy, but still made time for frequent social engagements like her ladies’ “teas.” But, above all, she was devoted to her beloved Albany, its people and its history!
It was from Albany that Elijah Buell and his family moved up-river to create the town of Lyons, Iowa. Much of the river country was settled from the south, with people coming up the Mississippi from the East along the old Ohio. Some easterners came by way of the Great Lakes and trekked across Illinois in wagons. Edwin Corbin and a Mr. Mitchell have been credited with opening up Albany in 1835, although they weren’t “settlers.” Samuel and David Mitchell ran a horse-powered ferry to Camanche in 1840, which was later changed to steam in 1850. The Verne Swain packet boat was another important ferry of the time, and continued until the wagon bridges were built in 1892.
Many, like the folks who settled Albany, came only as far as the Mississippi and thrust down roots which have flourished for 170 years! The Slocums were among the first in Albany after the Blackhawk War, and the settlement was first called Port Newbury and later VanBuren, until the name “Albany” was permanently chosen by 1836. Erastus Allen and his family may have been the first settlers, but the Alfred Slocums could also make that claim. However, William Nevitt and his group, in 1836, were the first to hold title to the land which became Albany.