The winter of 1829-1830, when the Green party had just arrived in Illinois, was a difficult one. Even though John Green had arranged with William Clark to plant a crop of winter wheat, they had no mill to grind it into flour. Small amounts could be ground by hand, in a coffee grinder, but this was tedious and time consuming. Jesse Green recounted in his memoir one way they tried to deal with the problem.
Soon after our arrival here father sent a team down to a mill in Tazewell County for flour and got what was supposed to be sufficient to last until we could grind some of our own wheat, but he did not take into consideration our increased appetites, which we thought had nearly doubled. Then Uncle Samuel Grove and I took a grist of frostbitten corn to Mr. Covil’s ox-mill below Ottawa on the south side of the river. We were ferried across the Illinois River just above the mouth of the Fox, by two daughters of Dr. David Walker who ran the ferry in the absence of their father. We followed an Indian trail, not a wagon track was visible. Probably owing to the fact that our corn had been caught by an early frost before reaching maturity, we did not succeed very well in grinding it in the Ox-mill, and we returned home with a good portion of our grist unground. Some time later we took another grist up to Mission Point where Rev. Jesse Walker had a similar mill in connection with his mission and school for the civilization and education of the rising generation of our Indian friends and neighbors, but his mill did not prove to be any more successful in grinding our soft corn than Mr. Covil’s mill.
They must have been very relieved when their own mill was built the following spring.
The mill illustrated above is the type of the Dayton mill, but in Illinois the mill was built of wood, not of stone.
One of the original Dayton millstones
The reason the Green party settled at what became Dayton was the presence of the rapids of the Fox river. They were looking for a mill site and liked the look of this spot. They had brought the mill irons and the millwright with them from Ohio, but the mill stones were a local product, created from boulders found along the river bank. The mill was the first order of business upon arriving, and Jesse Green remembered its first day of operation:
On the morning of the 4th day of July 1830 the first wheat was ground by water power in the northern portion of Illinois. We did not at this time have a bolt for separating the flour from the bran but we thought that graham flour was good enough to celebrate that Natal day with a double purpose that will never be forgotten by the latest survivor of the memorable event. It marked the first and greatest step in the alleviation of the hardships and suffering of the early settlers, and they soon all had plenty of graham flour and corn dodgers. Up to this time we were obliged to grind our grain in a coffee mill, or pound it in a mortar improvised by burning out a hole in the top of a stump, and attaching an iron wedge to a handle to use as a pestle which was operated in a manner similar to the old fashioned well sweep.
In one of the many upgrades and improvements to the mill, the original millstones were removed, but not discarded. They are today to be found in Shabbona park, near Earlville.
In 1837, John Green and William Stadden, who owned the land on either side of the Fox river at Dayton, were granted permission from the state to build a toll bridge. They had to complete the bridge within 5 years and could place a toll gate at either end to collect a toll, the amount of which was set by the county commissioners’ court.
By 1854, the bridge needed replacement and a subscription was taken up to build a free bridge. The toll was dropped to encourage those living on the east side of the river to patronize the businesses in Dayton.
In 1857, there was a severe ice jam in the Fox River between Dayton and Ottawa and the free bridge at Dayton was carried away. Jesse and David Green took on the job of rebuilding and in December of that year, the following announcement appeared in the Ottawa paper:
The free bridge across Fox River at Dayton is now completed, and persons living on the east side will again have the privilege of patronizing our new Grist and Flouring Mill, which is capable of grinding from 50 to 60 bushels per hour. As the undersigned have expended their means very liberally in erecting such a Mill and Bridge as the growing wants of the country require, they hope to receive a liberal share of public patronage. Persons coming from a distance will find good warm stabling in connection with the above Mill, free of charge, and their public house has passed into other hands, and bids fair to do justice to the inner man at reasonable rates. Please give us a call. J. & D. Green1
In 1875, the bridge washed out again and for the next ten years, there was only a precarious ford to cross the river. The county agreed to pay one-half of the cost of a new bridge, leaving Dayton and Rutland to pay one-fourth each. In 1885, although Dayton was ready to pay their share, Rutland opposed the bridge, because they had recently been taxed for a bridge at Marseilles. Dayton offered to pay part of Rutland’s share, but it was some time before the bridge proposal was passed by the Rutland voters. The bridge was not finished until April 1887, and lasted until it collapsed in 1940.
- The Ottawa [Illinois] Free Trader, December 12, 1857, p. 3, col. 6
Drawing of Bran Duster from patent application
No one could accuse David Green of not being up-to-date. Left in charge of the Green businesses in Dayton while his father and brother went to California to seek gold, he refurbished the grist mill and installed a newly invented piece of machinery. In February of 1849, Frost & Monroe, a Michigan company, got a patent for a machine called a Bran Duster. By November of that year, one of these newfangled machines was installed in the mill at Dayton, as reported to the Prairie Farmer by one of its correspondents:
At Ottawa, on my return, I saw a machine, called a Bran Duster, patented by Messrs. Frost & Monroe, for the purpose of taking the flour out of bran after the latter has passed through the mill. It is said to gather five barrels of flour from the bran of a hundred. One is put up at Dayton, La Salle county. The cost I did not learn.1
- Prairie Farmer, November 1, 1849, p 22
In the early days of the settlement of northern Illinois, one of the most pressing needs was for a grist mill. When the Greens built their first grist mill, in 1830, it was one of the few places where people could have their grain ground. People came from as much as fifty miles away, and because of the distance and the number of people waiting for their turn, they sometimes had to wait in line for several days. The hardships of those early days made good telling in later years, as shown by this excerpt from the Earlville Gazette of February 8, 1868
Recollections of the Early Settlement of the Town of Earl, by Charles H. Sutphen
The first two winters we were here it was very difficult to get grinding, Green’s mill, at Dayton, being the only one within fifty or one hundred miles, and this mill occasionally froze up in the winter; the mill would be so crowded sometimes in the winter, that parties going to mill would have to wait sometimes two and three days for their grist. I have laid by the hopper some two nights in succession, in the coldest of weather, waiting for my turn. If you left your post, some one might slip a grist in ahead of yours; but this was soon remedied by the erection of mills on the Big Vermillion, and Dr. Woodworth’s, at Marseilles.