Grist Mill


Early Settlement – Location – Water Power – Mills – Factories


Early in the fall of 1829, while Chicago was yet a fort, and Northern Illinois had but ceased to be a hunting ground where the Indians chased the buffalo, one of those bold and sturdy pioneers, to whose enterprise and daring the west owes so much of her greatness, penetrated to that region which French missionaries had described with enthusiasm, at the head of steamboat navigation on the Illinois, the junction of that river with the Fox, where was located the beautiful Indian village of the Ottawas. He saw the land that it was pleasant, and reflecting on the heavy tide of emigration, which, like the star of empire, westward took its way, his judgment told him that very soon the onward rushing tide must overflow this enchanting region. It was a fertile land, abounding in gently undulating prairies, in fine water courses, beautiful groves of timber, and what was of more importance still, it was the head of steamboat navigation on the Illinois river. Soon the swelling commerce of the northern lakes must find an outlet through the Illinois to the Mississippi river, and at this point must be the junction of the river and the grand connecting canal. He was a man whose training had been among mills, and machinery, and water power, and one main object of his quest was a good mill-site in some such promising region as this. The search was not long. Pursuing the windings of the Fox a few miles above its confluence with the Illinois, he found all his heart could desire. — Here, by the closely approaching bluffs on either side, the stream is contracted into a narrow channel, and a short, sharp rapid affords in a distance of a few hundred rods, a fall of 20 feet. His mind “grasped the situation” at a glance, and here for the future, for weal or woe, he decided to plant his stake. He returned to his young family in Ohio, and recounting to them his adventures and discoveries, prepared to direct their faces westward; and before the ice and snow of the succeeding winter had disappeared beneath the rays of the vernal sun, JOHN GREEN and his family were on their way to Illinois.
Arriving early in the season, while the winds were still bleak and piercing, the first care was to erect a cabin. This was the work of but a few days. His next care was to stake off his possessions, and as there was none to dispute his “claim”, it may be imagined he took more than a village lot, as the curious may discover today by looking up the numerous broad acres still covered by the patent of John Green.


And now commenced the real business in hand – the erection of his mill. The tide of emigration, as he anticipated, had followed closely on his heels, and already there was a cry for bread, or, rather, for flour, where of to make bread. But before a flouring mill could be erected, he must have lumber, and to get this he must have a saw mill. By July he had one in operation. It was rude enough in structure, but to the untutored natives it loomed a mighty “institution.” People came  30 and 50 miles to get lumber, and aside from his own wants, Mr. Green soon found himself full of business.


This, however, did not prevent him from pushing, with native energy, his bolder project of erecting a flouring mill. In less than a year this also was in operation. It was in truth, as in name, the “Pioneer Mill” of Northern Illinois. From the east beyond the Indiana line, from the north, south, and west to the Mississippi, to the distance of 150 miles, people came to the “Pioneer Mill” with Green's milltheir grists. The mill and its locality became noted, and presently a village grew up around it, which in a year or two was platted off into streets and lots, and in honor of one of the most beautiful towns in his native state, Mr. G. gave it the name of Dayton.
The old mill did a good business; but as the country filled up with industrious farmers, and wheat and corn were largely cultivated, the demand upon it exceeded its capacity, and in a few years it had to be torn down to make room for a larger. This second mill, in a few years, again proved inadequate to the wants of the country, and was replaced by a third, still larger; and in 1855 this third mill was torn down to give place to the large and splendid new mill which now covers the site.


Mr. Green’s, however, was not the only mill erected in all those years at Dayton. When, in 1836, the state commenced the construction of the Illinois and Michigan canal, and the shrewd speculators at Peru had outwitted those at Ottawa, in having the canal terminate at the former instead of the latter place, it was found necessary to have a feeder from Fox river, and the onlyStadden mills point from which it could be taken was at the falls owned by Mr. Green. The state agreed, for half the water, to construct a navigable feeder to Mr. Green’s mill property. As this feeder skirted along the eastern edge of Dayton, it afforded eligible sites for half a dozen of mills, and in 1837 Wm. Stadden, then and for some years subsequently an honored and influential member of the state senate, representing La Salle and half a dozen other counties, also erected a flouring mill at Dayton. It was a good mill, and profitably run during the life of Mr. Stadden, and for several years after his death by his sons; but in 1853, having become the property of the Greens, was dismantled and its best machinery removed to the other mill. The building, however, and part of the machinery, are still there, and we may remark, in passing, that for some enterprising man, with a moderate capital and adept at the business, the west affords no site more eligible than this for a paper mill. The Greens would have had one in operation before now, had they not too many other irons in the fire, as we shall see presently.1

1. Ottawa, Illinois, Free Trader, February 11, 1865, p. 2, cols 3-5

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.