Fox River Floods

old dam built by state of Illinois                                                 Old dam built by State of Illinois

Although the records are not complete it seems to be pretty well established that there have been great floods on the Fox River in 1849, 1857, 1872, 1882 and 1902. Of all the floods, however, the one of 1857 seems to have been the most pronounced. Heavy rain on February 6, 1857, melted the accumulated snow and broke up the ice. All the bridges from Batavia to Ottawa were washed out and several dams upstream gave way.

There seems to have been many more floods in the days of the early settlement of the Fox River valley than in later years, although there were plenty of forested areas then while now there is practically no timber. In the early records frequent mention is found to washing out of dams and bridges year after year. The explanation for this is very likely due to the fact that originally the bridges were low wooden structures and the dams were crude affairs whose main reliance for stability consisted of logs across the channel. These were insecure affairs and high water floated them away. Most of the early bridges were built by private subscription and at great sacrifice of time and money to the pioneer settlers. Often they were no sooner erected than a freshet would wash them away.

Pioneers looking for homesteads were impressed by the beauties of the valley, the abundance of clear water supplied by the river and the opportunities for securing water power from this stream. One of the first thoughts of the early settler was to start a saw or grist mill, the former to cut timber for buildings for family and cattle, and the latter in order to feed both himself and his stock. Otherwise, long journeys over trackless forest and prairie were required before the early family could have flour or meal. The history of the early settlements in the Fox River valley shows that practically the first thing done in every case, after building a house, was to build a dam and put up a water-wheel-driven mill. These dams were very crude timber structures, built of logs and slabs, and generally washed out or were seriously damaged by high water.

The first dam at Dayton was built in 1830 by John Green and was erected to furnish power for a grist-mill. It is claimed that this mill was the first one in the State to be operated by water power.

The second dam built by the State in 1839 was about fourteen feet high and was constructed of stone with a wooden crest. This dam was built to divert water to the feeder of the Illinois and Michigan canal. The head of the feeder was located about half a mile north of Dayton, where the State constructed the dam. In addition to its use as a feeder for the Illinois and Michigan Canal, a reservation was made between the Canal Commissioners and the owners of the mill property at Dayton that the latter were to have the use of one-fourth the supply created by the improvement, “the same shall be drawn out of said feeder within seven-eighths of a mile from the head of the guard lock” under direction of the Canal Commissioners. This gave the required power for manufacturing interests, but with the passing of the dam and power in 1902 when the dam washed out yet again, all manufacturing in Dayton was abandoned.


From the State of Illinois Rivers and Lakes Commission, Report of Survey and Proposed Improvement of the Fox River, 1915

It was the law!

scales

If you were living in Dayton in 1845, it would be against the law:

To plant or cultivate castor beans without a good and sufficient fence;

To take up a stray animal and use it prior to advertising it, unless it be to milk cows and the like, for the benefit and preservation of such animals;

To charge for passage on a toll bridge to any public messenger or juror when going to or returning from court;

To bet on a card, dice, or any other kind of game;

To charge more that six percent interest on a loan;

For any sheriff or jailer to confine persons committed for crimes in the same room;

To sell any goods or merchandise without a license;

To have more than one ear mark or brand, or one the same as the ear mark or brand of your neighbor’s;

To marry under the age of 17 (male) or 14 (female);

For a notary public to refuse to pass on his books, papers, and other documents to his successor;

To refuse to support one’s parents, if sufficient resource is available;

To remove or pull down any barrier on a public road closing it for the purpose of repairs, except for carriers of the US Mail;

To hire a carriage driver known to be a drunkard;

For a carriage driver on any public highway to allow his horses to run;

To charge to view a performance of juggling, tightrope walking, wax figures, circus riding or the like, without a permit;

To run steamboat races;

To cut any black walnut tree without the permission of the owner;

For married women to write a will.

La Salle County Fair – 1870

 

curculio catcher

In 1870, a reader of the Prairie Farmer magazine submitted an account of the La Salle county fair, which mentioned the Dayton Woolen mill among the other exhibits.

After running down the list of animals (horses, cattle, swine, sheep, and poultry) and mentioning fruits and preserves, the cloth and needlework exhibits, and the races,  the correspondent got down to what really interested him – farm tools and machinery. He reported agricultural implements, too numerous to mention, were ranged on the ground. Nathan Woolsey, of Waltham township exhibited something new in fences, being an iron post and board fence, the post in two parts, the part that enters the ground being of cast iron, shaped like a lance head, and two feet long, in the top of which is a bar of wrought iron about 1 1/2 inches by 3/8 inches thick, to which the boards are fastened by bolts. An excellent invention for the prairie, he thought.

However, the attention of all was centered first and last on Dr. Hull’s curculio catcher, exhibited by J. E. Porter, of the Eagle Works, Ottawa. The plum curculio was a beetle that attacked plums, peaches and other deciduous fruits. It ruined the fruit and various methods were tried to get them off the trees. At one point a bounty of $20 for 5000 was offered.

The difficulty of removing them by hand led to various schemes to shake them out of the branches, called jarring. Striking the tree limbs with heavy sticks was fairly effective, as the beetles would fold their legs and fall to the ground when disturbed. However, when on the ground the curculio would roll up into a small ball which was hard to find and remove.

The curculio catcher, illustrated above, solved this problem by catching the beetles before they hit the ground. It is easy to see why this exhibit would have attracted the attention that it did.

Although modern chemical poisons have made the elimination of these pests easier, they have also made the process much less colorful.

To read the full account of the 1870 fair, including the reference to the Dayton Woolen mill, see this.