The Hazards of Winter Travel

snowdrifts

After the Fox river bridge at Dayton was washed out in the 1870s, traffic between Dayton and Rutland was difficult. There were two places where the river could be forded during low water and there were times in the winter when the ice was firm enough to allow crossing. The ice was uncertain, however, and could not be counted upon. The only other option was to go around by Ottawa and cross on the bridge there.

Dayton was isolated even further when heavy snow made the roads impassable. To make matters worse, when the snow melted, the mud was an equal obstacle to travel.

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, January 8, 1881, p. 8, col. 3
Dayton, Jan. 5. – The river is now being crossed at this place on the ice.

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, February 19, 1881, p. 8, col. 1
Dayton, Feb. 16. – The “thaw” of last week was unable to start the ice at this place, with the exception of that on the rapids above the woolen factory, which moved down and broke up our ice bridge. We are thus left without any means of communication with the other shore. The great snow storm on last Friday and Saturday has given a new impulse to sleighing and the “merry sleigh bells” are again heard all over the land. East and west lanes and the roads are, however, most of them, impassable on account of deep snow drifts. The thermometer at this place last Monday morning recorded 14 degrees below zero.

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, March 19, 1881, pp. 4-5, cols. 6 & 1
The “beautiful snow,” as far as sleighing is concerned, has departed for the last time this winter we trust. The streets and roads are left in a terrible condition, being in places almost impassable on account of the water, slush, snow and mud. The lane from Dayton to the main road to Ottawa has been blocked with snow for about five weeks, so that all travel is by the way of Mr. Olmstead’s. The thaw and light showers have not raised the water in Fox river at this place to a very noticeable degree. The ice is still in the river, and has probably become so softened that it will do no serious damage to dams or bridges.

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, June 4, 1881, p. 8, col. 2
Dayton, June 2d, 1881
The river is falling slowly, and is now being crossed at both fords. Fishermen and sportsmen are here in great numbers. The Earlville people seem to have struck a “boom” and are turning out en masse for a good time fishing and camping out.

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, February 6, 1886, p. 7, cols. 3-4
The river is all frozen over solid and teams are crossing below the paper mill.

The Dayton bridge had been out since the early 1870s and not until 1885 was a plan for its replacement finally put into action. It still took two years before it opened. (For the story of the Great Dayton Bridge Affair, click here.)

The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, April 2, 1887, p. 4, col. 6
From Dayton
Dayton, Ill, April 1st, 1887. – Our bridge is finished at last and open for public travel. It is a very fine three span iron bridge, the neatest one on the river, and is a fine addition to our village. Of course every one will use it now that it is constructed, and it was noticed that about one of the first to use it was one who had fought the hardest.

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