By Kathi Kresol
Susan Ilsley was very concerned on the evening of June 3, 1858. The torrential rains that started to fall around 5 p.m. that day were still raging by 10 p.m. She knew her husband Horatio was also worried though, of course he didn’t show it. As a pastor, he was always the first to calm everyone else’s fears.
The couple considered themselves lucky to live in a two story home made from brick. It was the fact that it was built right on the banks of the North Kinninick Creek that had them concerned. Horatio had discussed his fears about the family’s safety with Susan and the couple made plans to spend the night with friends that lived up the road further from the creek. But two of their neighbors stopped in for a chat and mentioned that creek had actually dropped a few inches. The men calmed Horatio’s fears and continued on to their own homes.
The couple made the decision to remain in their home and wait out the storm. They gathered their family into the living room for evening prayers. Horatio began by giving thanks for the safe return home of their oldest son Horatio Junior. The 17-year old had a job at a bank in Milwaukee and was home for the first time in almost a year. Horatio also asked God for protection for the members of his congregation that lived in the houses nearest the waterways.
The Ilsley’s were from Maine originally but moved to Dixon fi rst before settling in Roscoe. Reverend Ilsley was a pastor at the Congregational Church in Roscoe and well liked in the little community. He was 48 years old in 1858. Horatio told many that knew him that he felt very blessed. He had his wonderful Susan and the children were all very bright and healthy. Horatio had impressed many of his congregation with his generosity, his faith and his courage. He had suffered a severe accident that would have killed a lesser man. The fact that one of his legs was amputated due to the accident didn’t seem to slow him down at all.
As the rain continued to fall that stormy June evening, Horatio couldn’t know that upstream from his little house a bad situation was about to turn deadly. When the railroad was put in, the company formed a culvert over a creek by building up the bank. The water had backed up in the creek to form a lake that continued to grow as the rain fell. Eventually the culvert gave way taking 150 feet of the bank with it. This caused a great wave of water to crash down the creek, overflowing its banks and grabbing debris in its wake.
Susan put the children to bed right before the culvert broke. Horatio was down in his study when he heard the first roar. He had no idea the culvert had broken and was confused to what the sound was at first. He was standing in the hallway when the wall of the back of the house began to crumble. The last sound he heard was his wife’s scream.
The water hit the house with such an impact it wiped the house from its foundation and carried it down stream. The water tumbled the house over and over, crushing it and sweeping the debris along with it. Horatio felt himself swept up by the water and knew instantly what happened. His last thought before losing consciousness was to turn his and his family’s lives to God’s will.
Horatio woke later and found himself still in the raging waters. There was debris from several houses tangled up with trees and brush along the banks. Horatio was able to grab one of the tree branches as he was swept by.
He would cling to that tree for two hours before being rescued. A group of his neighbors spotted him in the tree. They tied a rope to one brave man who swam to save Horatio. Horatio’s strength failed just as the man reached him and he dropped from the branch. The man almost lost his own life as he scrambled to save Horatio. Later Horatio would state that he wished the man had failed in his rescue.
Horatio lost his entire family that night. All eight of his children and his wife were carried away by the rushing waters. His family of four girls and four boys ranging from the oldest, Horatio, who was 17, to baby Charles, who was just 6 months old, were gone. Susan and the children are buried together in the Roscoe Cemetery on the other side of town from where the house once stood. The site of all the small white tombstones next to the memorial gives one pause, especially when one notices that they contain the same death date.
Horatio left the area and returned to Maine. He married a woman named Ellen and had a daughter named Henrietta. According to his obituary from 1890, Horatio never lost his faith in God and remained “warm-hearted, and a good minister.”
Kathi Kresol has been researching the history of this area for over a decade. She shares the stories she discovers in her articles for the Rock River Times, in her books, and during the events she hosts. Read more of Kathi’s stories on her website www.hauntedrockford.com. R.