Alva Dunlap

Founder of Dunlap, Illinois

Alva Dunlap was born on October 26, 1805 at Canajoharie, Montgomery County, New York.  He was the son of Smith Dunlap and Eleanor (Lane) Dunlap. He was the second child and first son. He had eight brothers and sisters. It is believed that Alva had very little formal schooling.

 At some point, the family moved from Montgomery County to Oneida County (present day Oswego County) New York.  Alva married Miss Mary Knight on February 17, 1829. Mary Knight was born in Windham County, Connecticut.

 As early as 1834, Alva began exploring the west, and made at least two trips to Illinois, looking for suitable land. In 1837, he chose the northwest quarter of Section 14, in what is now Radnor Township, Peoria County, Illinois. He built a little frame house, 16’ x 24’ in 1837 on his newly acquired land. The next year, 1838, he brought his family to Illinois. They were living in Sandy Creek, New York and left Sackets Harbor, New York on August 11, 1838 on a schooner of about 100 tons, bound for Chicago, Illinois via the Great Lakes. They arrived in Chicago and proceeded in wagons to their new homestead, arriving on October 11, 1838. Accompanying him were his wife Mary and five children, Burleigh, Byron, Marshall Ney, Frances Marie and Gilbert Lane 1st, his parents, Smith and Eleanor Dunlap, his sister Ellen Dunlap and his brother Napoleon Dunlap. He left his mother and sister Ellen with another sister who was already residing in Chicago, Polly Dunlap Pierce, during that first winter.

Alva and Mary had six more children: William Knight, Hortense Isabella, Andrew Jackson, Mary Elizabeth, Gilbert Lane 2nd, and Mary Eleanor, after they moved to Illinois.

 Alva farmed his land and worked as a surveyor in the 1840’s. He also owned a waterpower sawmill on a branch of the Kickapoo Creek adjoining his property. He eventually owned 840 acres. He had the first reaper in Radnor Township, perhaps even Peoria County, built for him by his brother-in-law George Greenwood, a millwright in Peoria. The prototype was McCormick’s first reaper.

 About 1860, Alva began building a brick home about a half-mile north of his original homestead. It was a very handsome brick residence that stood until 1966. 

 By 1871, Alva was a prominent landowner in Radnor Township and a staunch supporter of the Peoria and Rock Island Railway Company, which was extending its tracks from Peoria. Family legend says that he donated the right-of-way through his land to the railroad, and helped the railroad secure the right-of-way from other farmers. At the same time, he set aside 40 acres of his land on Section 11 for a village, and asked that the town he was laying out be named for him. The Village of Dunlap was laid out on June 11, 1871.  It is located 15 miles northwest of Peoria, Illinois. The village grew fairly quickly, and in a few years had 300 residents.

 Alva served the community in a number of positions. He was Township Supervisor for 20 years, was active in agricultural matters (as was his father Smith Dunlap in his newly adopted home) and was a Commissioner of the Workhouse (Peoria County). He owned a number of books when he came to Illinois and added to his collection on his frequent trips east.  About 1882 he began a lending service from his library and it is estimated that he eventually had a library of 300 books. He was a charter member of the Old Settlers Union of Peoria County.

Alva laid out a cemetery on his farm for burial of family members and is buried there. There are 24 graves in total. The cemetery is fairly well kept but seldom visited. The Dunlap family no longer owns the farm.

There’s no evidence that Alva practiced any religion. When his wife Mary died on April 2, 1880, Alva telegraphed Reverend A. S. Gardiner at Lena, Illinois. He was a Presbyterian minister who had served the Presbyterian Church in Radnor Township from 1866-1871. Reverend Gardiner performed the service for Mrs. Dunlap  and his remarks were recorded. Alva had the remarks published and sent to a number of family members.

Alva Dunlap died June 2, 1889 at his home. He was survived by six of his children. A special train was sent from Peoria to carry the mourners to Dunlap to serve their last respects to this prominent pioneer.  Included were a number of Old Settlers.

 Submitted by: Theresa Dunlap Day, descendant of Alva Dunlap’s brother, Napoleon Dunlap.

March 2007