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Alvah Parks’ Story

The following article was written by local historian Jari Lynn Oncken.
In the 1931-1946 Minonk Baptist Church record book there are 30 members of the William Parks family listed. Can your family top that? Many of our current church members have either known or heard of the Parks family. We are able to learn of their story and early years from Alvah Parks’ biography that he wrote back in 1939 at the urging of the Minonk News-Dispatch. Most of the details were taken from the diary he and his brother Homer kept beginning in 1868.

Alvah was born in Rensselear County, New York on October 18, 1851 and at the time of his death on June 25, 1943 at his home on 914 W. 4th Street in Minonk he was 91. This house was torn down in March of this year, 2010. During the January 1943 annual meeting at our church, just five months before his death, he was elected to a three year term as trustee, the position he held a number of times. He had been chairman of the finance committee for 40 years.

Alvah’s father William A. Parks was born on July 6, 1825 and his mother Louisa Davison Parks on December 22, 1829, both in Grafton, Rensselear County, New York. While living in New York they managed a hotel and store in Quackenhill and later in East Grafton.

In 1854 the family which then included Alvah and his brother Homer, who was born on September 14, 1847, moved to Illinois, coming by rail through Chicago and La Salle. That was the year Minonk was founded and consisted only of the Illinois Central Railroad, one house and a general store. Their first home was a shanty which sat on the farm of John P. Davison, about ten miles west of Minonk. Then in the spring of 1856 they moved into a log cabin a mile and a half north of the Jefferson school in Clayton Township. Daughter Sarah was born there on March 25, 1856. One year later William acquired the160 acre farm known as the Parks Homestead which is located in the northwest quarter of section 16 in Clayton Township. He bought several oxen to break up the prairie and lost most of them to black murrain.

In 1857 Alvah’s father was the first farmer in the area to own a new self raking reaper that was made by “Farmer and Williams” of New York. Alvah also recalled the year there was a frost every month except July with very little corn raised. There were also severe rain and wind storms which did a lot of damage.

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A public school was organized in one room of their house in 1859 and then four years later a school house was built at the cost of $500. Then on September 7, 1860 son Rufus was born. Five years later on May 15, 1865 Daniel was born and lived only 10 years. His name is included in the Parks family’s Good Shepherd stained glass window which is located on the south side of our church. The last member of the family who lived to adulthood was Sitka who was born on April 7, 1870. William was so glad the United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 that he named his daughter after its capital. Sitka was the capital of Alaska until 1900 and William Henry Seward, secretary of state under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, made the purchase for 7.2 million. During these years the Parks family attended the Baptist church services at the Jefferson School.

Rev. C. D. Merit, our first pastor, held revival meetings at the Jackson schoolhouse in 1868 and many neighborhood young people were converted and baptized and joined the Minonk First Baptist Church. Alvah, Homer and Sarah were among the group. Rufus was baptized at the Clayton Baptist Church. A few years later the family joined the Meridian Baptist Church that had been organized at the Jefferson school in 1869.

The Parks family built a new home in 1874 and before it was completed William passed away on January 27, 1875. After their father’s death from pneumonia the children finished the house and helped their mother pay off all the estate debts. During that time Louisa’s health began to deteriorate from grief over her husband’s death and all the hard work that she had done over the years.

Many harvest thrasher men boarded with the family for two and three weeks at a time as did the teachers when school was held at their home. In those days it took about eight men to run a reaper and bind and shock the grain. Alvah recalled the endless prairie full of ponds and sloughs, a few small cotton woods and willows around the sloughs, prairie fires about once a year and at great distances, here and there, a small house. On spring evenings he could hear the croaking of millions of frogs in the ponds and sloughs and the howling of prairie wolves. Then in the evening there was the crowing and cooing of prairie chickens and all totaled these sounds gave a feeling of loneliness. An abundance of mosquitoes and green head flies nearly ate up the horses.

Alvah mentioned in his biography many other family and farming experiences that are too numerous to mention. In addition to farming Alvah and his brother Homer became partners in 1883 in the Parks Bros. implement business located on the south business block in Minonk. They erected a two story brick building with William Janssen in 1896 which still stands at 420 Chestnut Street. Homer retired from the firm in 1900 and in 1910 Alvah sold the building and business to William Janssen.

On January 4, 1882 Alvah and Sarah Melchert were married at her home in Minonk. She was the daughter of Frederick Melchert, the first pastor of the Minonk German Baptist Church which was located just one block south of our church. At the December 30, 1888 annual meeting of the First Baptist Church the hand of fellowship was given to new members Alvah and Sarah Parks, Homer and Anna Parks and Mrs. Louisa Parks. Other family members followed and became active and valued members of our church.

Sarah and Alvah lived on the old homestead until 1891 when they moved into their new home located on their 15 acres at the west end and north side of 4th Street in Minonk. They were the parents of four children: Louisa, Fred, Oliver and Harvey who was killed in an airplane accident at the Parks Air College near East St. Louis in 1936. Only two descendents of Sarah and Alvah’s continue to be members of our church, Sarah Carter Hatfield of Edisto Island, South Carolina and her daughter Amanda Greenland of Minonk. Sarah is the granddaughter of Fred Parks and the daughter of Lucille Parks Carter who are both deceased.

After reading Alvah’s story we can better understand and appreciate all that our own ancestors experienced and accomplished.