Genealogy Trails Calhoun County, Illinois

Calhoun County, IL, Established January 10, 1825
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Source: archive.com
"History of Calhoun County and its people up to the year 1910"
by: Carpenter, George Wilbur

History of Calhoun Industries

THE FIRST ORCHARDS

There is some doubt as to where the first orchards of the county were planted. John Lammy in his history says that Judge Ebenezer Smith started a small orchard in the year 1819 on his farm about eight miles south of the present site of Hardin. During the past year, a Graduate Student from the University of Chicago wrote his Master's Thesis on the Calhoun apple industry, and in this thesis he says that the first orchard was planted on the farm now operated by Robert and Albert Meyer, at Deer Plain. Another account, written by Mrs. Caroline Dewey, tells of the first orchard as having been planted in the early 40's.
She says:

"Just south of us on the place now owned by C. W. Squiers, then owned by a man named Nailor, was an apple orchard, and I do not recall where there was another one in the county. I am informed that some of the old trees are to be seen standing there yet (1903), silent witnesses to the confiscation of lots of their luscious fruits; the original agitators of the warfare that some day in the future, was to be fought between the lumbering interests on one side and the combined interests of horticulture and agriculture on the other side. That orchard was the index of the future greatness of the apple in this county. In the settlement of that warfare, the lumbering interests were banished forever from the county, and the apple crowned king."

It is possible that the orchard mentioned by Mrs. Dewey was the first in that community, and that she did not happen to know about the other orchards which were located south of Hardin or at Deer Plain. Regardless of where the first orchard was planted, we know that many trees were planted before the Civil War, and by 1875 the orchard industry had grown to be very important.

THE MAKING OF BRICK

There were a number of industries that had some local importance at different times in the history of the county. One of the most interesting of these was the making of brick in Point Precinct in the early 80's and 90's. A reporter of the Chicago Inter Ocean visited these works in 1891 and gives us the following description:

"At a place in Point Precinct called Winneburg, is the Thomas Pressed Brick Company. Just as I reached the works, the "Dick Clyde" (a steamboat) was backing out into the current towing barges of pressed bricks, out of which were to be made the St. Louis Water Works. Five years ago, eastern capitalist found that about a small coal mine known as Thomas', there was to be found five excellent varieties of clay strata. A company was organized and there sprang into existence one of the finest brick works in the country. On account of the choice of shades and the execellence of the quality, an eastern market has been gained whose orders are now larger than can be filled."

For several years after the above account was written, the industry flourished, and then began to decline. This was probably due to a lack of a sufficient quantity of clay to supply the huge demands.

COAL MINES

A coal mine was started in Point Precinct, near Golden Eagle, as early as 1840. In the year 1882 a mine was being operated in the same neighborhood. But at no time was the mining operations carried on on a large scale. : Near Golden Eagle one can still see the small deserted village, once the home of the miners of the neighborhood. At several other places in Point Precinct, mines were opened, but were never successful because the coal was not present in sufficient quantities.

ATTEMPT TO MANUFACTURE SALT AT GILEAD

Near Gilead is located what is now known as the Great Salt Spring. In 1835, R. S. Quigley took possession of the spring with a view of utilizing it in the manufacture of salt. He erected a huge frame building and brought machinery from Ohio. In order to get a greater water supply, he bored to a depth of 250 feet. The method of boring, as described by a, man who lived near the spring, is as follows :
"A platform wheel was built and placed on a shaft in an inclined position. A yoke of steers were placed upon it and tied by the heads. The wheel was then started and the steers would keep tramping. This kept the wheel fuming horizontally and that furnished the power that did the boring."

At the depth of 250 feet, Quigley struck water that contained little salt but much sulphur. This made the whole affair useless, and Quigley abandoned the place and moved away.

THE CORN MILLS

Although milling was not done on a large scale, still it was very important from the standpoint of the settler. The first mill in the county was owned by John Shaw and was located at Gilead. The next mill of any importance was the one built by John Metz, in 1828, at the present site of Brussels. Both of these mills were operated by horsepower.

In 1829, Jacob Crader, Sr., built a water power mill at Gave Spring Hollow, near the present site of Oak Grove. The Indian Creek mill was built in the same year by Samuel Crader and was also operated by waterpower.

The importance of the mills to the settler is told by C. C. Squiers, a pioneer settler:
"There were two or three corn crackers (sometimes called grist mills) and most of them were run by water power, if the ponds did not dry up, which, however they did in the late summer and fall. Then the settlers had some disagreeable experiences. Many a poor man who had a family to provide for would shell a little corn, put it in a sack, throw over his shoulder, and carry it from three to five miles to one of these corn crackers, only to learn after his arrival there that there was no water in the pond and the mill had shut down. The next thing the man would ask the miller, 'Have you any meal on hand that you can swap for some corn?' Of course the miller would swap and take corn, if he had any meal to spare, but likely as not he could not accommodate the man. In that case the man perhaps could do no better than take his corn to a temporary mortar and pound his corn so that he would have an imitation of meal."
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