In the early 1830s, Chief Engineer William Gooding, working to complete the Illinois and Michigan Canal, realized that this location, which is 40 feet higher than Joliet, had great water-power potential. In 1837, Gooding oversaw construction of the canal’s headquarters building here.
With the canal came an influx of workers who moved into the area and the town officially became Lockport.
Runyon was gone on business in Danville when an epidemic of smallpox broke out in the Potawatomi encampments. The Runyons closed their home to the Potawatomi out of fear of contracting the disease and, though offended, they left the family alone.
In 1849, Runyon moved to California, ending his period of local lore. Unlike the thousands of other Forty-Niners who descended on California in search of gold, Runyon settled in Sacramento County to take up his lifelong occupation, farming. He identified the fertile valley as being ideal for fruit trees, and, according to research by Waldvogel, he was the first to plant orchards in the California county.
In the latter years of his life, Runyon became involved with mining operations, and all of his ventures resulted in his becoming wealthy. He was a major contributor to the building of Christian College and Pacific Methodist College, both located in California. He died on September 8, 1876, in Santa Rosa, California, where he and his second wife, Mary Crawford Runyon, had resided since 1871.
The graves of Anna Hornbecker Runyon, Winfred Runyon and Oliver Runyon at Runyon Preserve not only retain a link to the founding of the City of Lockport but also stand testament to the precarious reality of pioneer life in the 19th century. Anna Hornbecker Runyon died at age 38, son Winfred died just shy of his second birthday and son Oliver died at age seven.
Cemetery photos courtesy of Ronald Lif / Lockport Area Genealogical & Historical Society