Early Customs


The latchstring is out.

The following excerpt from Jesse Green’s memoir shows the changes that appear in a frontier society as the population increases:

“I think it may truthfully be said, that in no sphere, or stage of progressive civilization and advancement is the Scriptural Injunction obeyed with a fuller realization of its import and importance, than in the early settlement of a New Country. Namely, “do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.”

Circumstances all combine to make each and every one feel his dependence upon others and consequently this injunction is obeyed not merely as a duty but as a pleasure, as this dependence is felt in so many different ways. A cabin has to be built requiring the assistance at the entire neighborhood, harvesting will not admit of delay and a neighborhood joins teams in order to do it to better advantage, and a hundred and one little acts of kindness are rendered and gladly reciprocated through a higher and more exalted motive than we usually see in older settled countries, but with increased prosperity or wealth men become more selfish, and selfishness begets strife, and strife puts the big man on top with the little one whineing at his heels. Such seems to me, to be the tendency of the age in which we live. It is fast coming, and now is to an alarming extent, that man’s worth is measured by his dollars and cents. No man of ordinary means can think of filling any high office of honor and trust, the moneyed man has got on top, and the others qualifications of honor, honesty and fitness in every respect avail not against dollars and cents.

It used to be the custom of the country that no matter who chanced to reach your home at night, the stranger was made perfectly welcome to share your scanty fare “without money and without price”.  In the morning the guest offering to settle his bill for entertainment, usually the only charge was “go and do likewise.”

This generous and hospitable spirit prevailed for a number of years in the infancy of this new, great and prosperous country. We had no pennies, nothing less than six and a fourth cent pieces (five and ten cent pieces came later) and sixpence then was more readily given in making change than a penny is today. With greater immigration from all parts this generous and hospitable disposition began gradually to die out and we begin to see the big sign swinging high in the air announcing entertainment  the latch string now pulled in, free entertainment was no longer expected and from this time on a more selfish and acquisitive disposition began to take root and grow among all classes of society.

And here commenced the race for money making gradually all seemed to enter vs with each other first to see who could get the most land, and then to see who could raise the most wheat, the most corn, the most cattle and the most hogs. It required great production of everything raised, or grown in those days, to bring a little money, pork was sold at $l.50 per hundred, wheat when hauled to Chicago our only market except in a small way at the mill, would not bring over 40 to 50 cents requiring a week to make the trip with ox teams, and in order to raise their tax money, the settlers could not afford to put up at Hotels, but were obliged to carry their own grub, which the hardy women knew well how to prepare for such a trip and they were obliged to camp out. Tax money bothered the pioneers for a number of years. They did not require much of either gold or silver for anything else as all seemed to understand the rule of barter, and it supplied most of their wants or needs.”

Excerpts from the Dayton News Reel school paper

drawing of skin

From the third edition of the Dayton News Reel, January 24, 1955

Editor: Richard Jackson
Ass’t Editor: Richard Charlier

Five new pupils have enrolled in the school during this six-week period. Two in the Primary room, two in the Intermediate room and one in the Grammar room. Our enrollment is now seventy-one.

Although the Christmas season has both come and gone, we trust that the spirit of “peace and good-will toward men” will continue throughout the new year. What excitement there was before Christmas! Painting windows, decorating, making posters, learning songs, parties, and practicing for our program. It meant lots of work, but we enjoyed it. We were especially happy over the fine appreciative audience which turned out for our program. And wasn’t it thoughtful of Mr. Clifford to take pictures? We wish to take this opportunity to express our sincerest thanks to everyone who helped in making our program a success.

The Third and Fourth Grades made a picture book of Ways to Travel. Linda Harmon had the most pictures in the third grade and Rita Krug had the most in the fourth grade.

Gerald Pinske drew a picture of deep sea diving showing the reasons for the struggles in their work.

In sixth grade health each drew the lungs and the cross section of skin. They look nice in the room. [see above]

Jimmy Mathias brought a muskrat pelt for us to see. He has caught several fur bearing animals this winter and is selling the pelts to Sears Store.

Keith Kossow brought kumquats to school. This is a small fruit about the size of a pecan. The entire fruit is edible, coloring is like an orange and the rind is sweeter than the pulp. Florida is the only place in the United States where they are grown. Keith received them from relatives in Florida.

As a measure of safety, snowballing is not permitted on the school grounds, or in the roads immediately adjoining.

A huge creature was developed during the noon hour recently when the snow was ideal for packing. It constantly changed shape, we never knew what “IT” was but a good time was had by all.

The grammar room is again practicing regularly on symphonette band work. Three part harmony is being used using chimes and xylophone.

P. T. C. meeting
The P. T. Club met at the school house on January 4 for the regular meeting. Business meeting was conducted by Mrs. Eltrevoog, president. The new film strip machine was demonstrated by Allan Holm. Mr. Clifford showed the colored slides of the programs given by the school [some of which can be seen here] and Mrs. Hadley showed beautiful colored slides of a trip made to the western part of our country. Refreshments were served by Mrs. Holm, Mrs. McGrogan and Mrs. Hackler.

General News

Mr. King Gash has a 1950 Chevrolet.

The Reynolds family is occupying the flat recently occupied by the Charlier family. There are five in the family. The two boys are new pupils in the Dayton School.

Mr. and Mrs. Don Ocean visited at the Garrett Arwood home on Januray 16.

The past week was semester examination week at Ottawa High School. Several of the former Dayton pupils took this opportunity to visit the school. We were happy to see Robert Ohme, Richard Pinske, Robert Walleck and Candace Clifford.

Attendance at school has been very regular in spite of colds and other sickness in the community. There were 13 in Mrs. Swanson’s room, 10 in Mrs. Bless’s room and 14 in Mrs. Trent’s room who were neither absent nor tardy during the third six-week period which ended January 14.

Mr. Dominic DeBernardi was host at a party given for the community on December 23 at the Club House. A large group of children and adults was present. Films were shown and refreshments served. Mrs. Mathews and Mrs. Gash assisted with the party.

The Anatomy of a Paper Mill

The above survey was made for F. D. Sweetser in November of 1892, preparatory to his selling the paper mill to the Columbia Paper Company. The paper mill lay between the feeder and the west side of the Fox river, south of the bridge. The main body of the factory consisted of the machine room, the beater room, and the bleach room, with the boiler room at the back. The plat shows the water diverted from the feeder to power the machinery and then returned to the river. The lime house appears just north of the main building.

The paper was made from straw and made a low-grade wrapping paper. In 1886 the paper mill was turning out about six tons of this paper per 24 hours. Although the river provided the power the mill needed, it could also bring trouble. In February 1887 the river flooded and the mill was closed for several weeks until repairs could be made. The flood also washed away all the straw that was stockpiled to last out the winter.

At the time of its sale in 1893 to the Columbia Paper Company, the mill was Dayton’s chief industry. Unfortunately, the new owner closed the mill and the heyday of industrial Dayton was nearly at an end.

Dayton Was Once an Industrial Center

by C. C. Tisler


Off the beaten path of the paved road, the hamlet of Dayton at one time was one of the thriving industrial centers of the county in an age when water-power operated mills produced flour, lumber and other products. Steam power then had not penetrated Illinois, and electric power was still a century away.

The electric power was there in the foaming water which poured through the mill races, but it had not been harnessed to bring light and power to any one either at the site where it was developed or many miles away.

So when the pioneers came into La Salle county 115 years ago, or even before, one of the first things they sought was waterpower where a grist mill could be operated. That was the case at Dayton, where the mill on the swift Fox river at one time ground the grist for settlers for 100 miles away. It was the only water power operated mill at one time in all northern Illinois.

The trade of mill wright was then an important one and the construction of dams was a necessary item of business in pioneer life.

State Built Dam

Eventually, the state of Illinois, as part of the construction of the Illinois-Michigan canal, built a dam in the Fox river at Dayton to supply water for the canal at Ottawa. The water was carried through a feeder, parts of which are still in existence in Ottawa and south of Dayton on the west bank of the Fox river. It is still state property and is in the state park system.

Three-quarters of a century ago, Dayton was still a thriving town

One of the flourishing industries of the hamlet was the Fox River Horse Collar Manufacturing company. The officers were John Read, president; A. F. Dunavan secretary and treasurer; John Read, A. F. Dunavan, H. B. Irey, David L. Grove and N. Brunk, directors. They were wholesale manufacturers, their advertisements sais, of the celebrated Pennypacker Horse Collar; also very good grade of horse collars and leather team nets.

Woolen mills also were operating in the village, and an old county directory lists Peter Coleman as one of their spinners.

The horse collar manufacturing business was first conducted by the firm of George Pennypacker and Brunk, then Dunavan became a partner and eventually sole owner with his son.

An average of 12 men a day were employed in the plant which made annually 1,500 horse collars and 50 dozen fly nets besides other articles along the same line.

Incidentally, if the business was still in existence, it probably would not now be turning out horse collars, but products for the army to keep men afloat after they had been shipwrecked, besides other similar items for the armed forces.

Tile Factory Flourished

The Dayton Tile Works also was a flourishing business in the hamlet along the Fox river many years ago. It was established 65 years ago by David Green for this [sic] sons, John and George Green. Eventually Charles bought the interest in his brother George.

But the most important business ever set up in the village was the woolen mills.

John Green in September, 1829, looked over the site of the future village and entered claim to 80 acres of land including that of the future mill site. He also purchased 160 acres in Rutland township. Two months later he was back in Dayton from his home in Ohio with his family to spend the winter.

His flour mill was put into service on July 4, 1830, and Mrs. Green baked bread from the flour for their dinner the same day.

His saw mill furnished the lumber to build the first frame house in Ottawa. A grist mill of one run of burrs was built in 1932 [sic] and one with four run of burrs in 1834. For the next two years his trade came from a distance of 100 miles. The mill was rebuilt in 1857 and stood for many years.

John Green and his sons in 1840 built the first woolen mill to run power looms in the state of Illinois. Its business flourished for a quarter of a century and supplied wool goods in Civil War days. A new mill was built in 1864.

War Time Troubles

War time financial reverses struck the firm when they bought 60,000 pounds of wool in 1864 at $1 a pound and a year later were unable to get more that 50 cents a pound for the same wool. Part of their goods in storage was destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871 with a $15,000 loss.

Settlement of financial difficulties was made through purchase of the mill by Jesse Green, who ran it from 1878 to 1882. The property then was sold to Williams and Hess, who organized a stock company to make pressed brick.

John Green also had the experience of helping to build canals in two states. In Ohio he hired 200 men to build 15 miles of the Ohio canal. In Illinois he constructed two miles of the old lateral canal or feeder between Ottawa and Dayton.

Hamlet though it is the village of Dayton like other small towns throughout the county is platted and the plat is on file with county officials.

The platting was unique in one respect. The central section of the village in Green’s addition has First, Second, and Third Prairie streets. Other streets in the village are Jackson, Lafayette, Pendelton, O’Connell, Main, Canal, Washington and Franklin. Canal street, as one might expect, is the one closest to the lateral canal east of the village and west of the Fox river.

Stones Now in Park

The mill stones with which John Green produced the first grist in all of northern Illinois on July 4, 1830, have not been lost to posterity.

They were hauled overland, probably in an ox cart, to Indian creek north of Harding, where they were used in a mill at a settlement which was wiped out by an Indian raid on May 20, 1832. The historic stones are now in front of the small buildings in county owned Shabbona park, which houses a museum of pioneer relics. An old history of Illinois, published 80 years ago, said of Dayton, “The village of Dayton, in the township of the same name and central part of the La Salle county, situated on the west bank of the Fox river four miles above Ottawa.

“It was settled in 1829 by John Green who carried on farming on an extensive scale. He also paid considerable attention to raising improved stock and some very superior Durham and Spanish breeds were brought here by him.

“The immense and unfailing water privileges on the river at Dayton bespeak for it at no distant period a place among the leading manufacturing towns in the great west.

“The water is drawn from the Fox river feeder under a 20 foot lead. It has two large flouring mills, one saw mill, one wool carding and cloth dressing establishment, and a machine shop already in operation and there is still ample power to drive 50 runs of burrs. There are two schools and two churches within a mile and a half of this place. Distance from Chicago, via Chicago and Rock Island railroad 88 miles.”

  1. From the Ottawa Republican-Times, date unknown