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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a single‑story log cabin. It is the Charters House in Dixon, Illinois.]

Alexander Charters House, Dixon, Built 1837.

 p128  Cabin on the Rock River

On the rustic, pine-shaded estate of the late Charles R. Walgreen at Dixon there stands an ancient, we-preserved log cabin that is one of the noteworthy historic landmarks of northern Illinois and the Rock River country. It has been there for over a century and is associated with more famous people of the state and nation than perhaps any other dwelling in that part of Illinois. And this association continues, for it now serves as the kitchen and dining room of the Walgreen guest house where well-known social and artistic personages are entertained.

Throughout the scenic and historic Rock River country this dwelling is known as the Governor Charters cabin. It dates from the earliest beginnings of white civilization in northern Illinois and stands as a lone survivor of many log dwellings that once dotted the wilderness in pioneer days. Near it is situated a venerable barn, built a year later than the cabin, and both cabin and barn have been restored by the Walgreen family and converted into living quarters which are veritable museums of pioneer Americana.

The estate, called "Hazelwood," on which the cabin stands is not of recent origin. On the contrary, estate and cabin came into being at the same time, and from the very beginning the estate was called Hazelwood. It is one of the oldest and best known of the many estates that in later years grew up on both banks of the picturesque Rock River.

The one‑story log cabin, now partly covered by morning-glory vines and arched over by stately evergreens, was built in 1837 by Samuel M. Charters, brother of the man who afterward made it famous. At that time the Rock River country was just subsiding from the Black Hawk War scare and John Dixon was operating a ferry at the place where later the city of Dixon was to be established. At the request of his brother, who waited in New York, Samuel Charters came west in 1837, laid claim to 640 acres of land just north of what was later to become Dixon, and built this log cabin.

A year later the brother arrived. He was Alexander Charters, who became known in Illinois history as "Governor" Charters. Since the 640‑acre tract was laid claim to in his name, he immediately settled on his land, living in the log cabin built for him by Samuel. Planning to set up an estate, he called his tract Hazelwood and began to improve it.

Alexander Charters won the friendship of the early settlers at Dixon's Ferry and the surrounding countryside. They liked him because of his hearty ways, his hospitality, his intelligence, and his education.  p129 Not long afterward Alexander built a big frame manor house a short distance from the cabin and in this house he entertained and lived the remainder of his days. As the proprietor of an estate and manor house, he was affectionately called "Governor" Charters.

From a historical sketch, "One Hundred Years at Hazelwood," written by the late Frank E. Stevens when the Walgreens observed the one-hundredth anniversary of the estate in 1937, we learn that among the famous people entertained at Hazelwood by "Governor" Charters were Abraham Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas, William Cullen Bryant, General Philip Kearney, Margaret Fuller, John Quincy Adams, and Bayard Taylor.

"Governor" Charters died at Hazelwood in 1878 at the age of seventy-eight. Later the estate was acquired by Charles H. Hughes, banker and state senator. Subsequently, the old manor house was destroyed in a fire. But the log cabin and the barn remained. Then, in 1929, the estate and buildings were bought by Charles R. Walgreen, who, as a youth in Dixon, had admired the grounds of Hazelwood when he and his companions were fishing in the Rock River.

When the Walgreens acquired this historic estate, it was badly run down. But under the careful supervision of Mrs. Walgreen, who is a competent horticulturist as well as an antiquarian and student of Illinois history, the estate was restored and is now one of the beauty spots of the Rock River Valley.

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Page updated: 10 Dec 07