Lee County
Newspaper Articles

BARN RAISING
The "Old Days" Events

In the early days Wilson's Mills had a reputation for turning out fine flour which spread all over northern Illinois, and he was a Palmyra man. It saved the northwestern part of the state future hardshipsof trips to Chicago.

Joseph Wilson, an old Brandywine miller, and a Quaker, settled on Elkhorn creek, operated his mill on that creek excepting at times when the creek was dry, then Aurora on Fox river was their milling town. This mill was constructed by the neighbors who turned out in a body and built it -a rough log affair. Winter wheat generally was ground.

After the death by drowning in Elkhorn creek, of Daniel Obrist, while seining,his brother, Abram, built a very much needd saw mill on Elkhorn creek and here flooring, timbers, door and window frames and siding were sawed out, thus saving the farmers tremendous labor. The first siding from this mill was usedto build the first frame barn in the township, on the Ben Stewart place. Barn raisings were very common in those days. The entire neighborhood turned out invariably. Plenty to eat was provided by the women; plenty of Fred Dutcher's corn whiskey was provided by the men; and when completed, the barn was baptized by breaking another bottle over it either by Reuben Eastwood or Abner Moon, whose vigorous lung power had provided them with voices to echo the proper speech.

Blacksmith shops were numerous the country over, especially along the Chicago road which passed through this township. A man named Smith opened the first shop. James Carley followed soon afterwards. The latter's shop stood a little west of Mrs. John Lawrence's house. A very talented but besotted man named Beach was his assistant. John Lord's shop, a little way out from the milk factory, was started in 1841. Twelve years later his son, John L. Lord, succeeded to the business and for years Lord's wagons were scattered all over the north side of the grove Charles Columbia operated one in a log house just opposite Reuben Eastwood;s home. This subsequently was moved across Sugar creek to the Columbia farm and was carried on by Dana Columbia, a brother, for many years. Four early shops found they way into Palmyra.

Before passing the subject of manufacturing, I must copy a few words which tell of the man Beach, who assisted James Carley: "this Beach belonged to a highly respectable family in the east, and had received an excellent business education. He kept Carley's books which were models of neatness. He also blew the bellows and fetched whiskey from Dixon. Old settlers will ever remember this mass of rags and pimples, his head crowned with a dilapidated old stovepipe, always filled with old greasy newspapers which he greedily devoured when he had leisure."

The early manufacturing efforts made in Palmyra must not be dismissed without reverting to E.B. Bush's efforts. He was the most impractical man in the world. He built a saw mill. Had he paused there, all might have been well, but he proposed too much. He also built an oil mill for the manufacture of castor and linseed oil. To obtain grist for the latter he induced the farmers to raise large acres of castor oil beans and flaxseed, promising to pay a dollar a bushel for them. The crop was tremendous. There was not money enough in the county to pay for it. Then the matter of thresing was not adapted to flax. When the horses were put on to trample the straw, the seed was crushed and spoiled and the straw invariably coiled itself into ropes and tethered the horses into a stationary position. Thus the flax and oil branch of the business failed utterly. When the bean crop came on, bush had no money and the crop rotted. Thus early the manufacturing languished. Subsequently Bush sold a claim, invested his money in medical books; tried to become a doctor; killed most of his patients, and disappeared.

Of the Palmyra boys, many reached fame and fortune. Of the number, the Page boys, sons of John H., undoubtedly lead.

George H. Page was born May 16, 1836, in Palmyra township. Sooon after the outbreak of the war he obtained a clerkship in the war department at Washington, D.C. Charles A. Page wsa born in Palmyra, May 22, 1838. He attained a clerkship in the Fifth Auditor's office. Later in the war he became the New York Tribune's war correspondent. In 1886 George H., Charles A, and David S. Page went to Switzerland and established a condensed milk factory. They profited enormously. Later, George H. returned to Dixon, purchased the beautiful Governor Charters estate of Hazelwood, the Doctor Everett, Big Elm farm and the Woodruff farm up the river. Through his instrumentality a system of good roads were built. He built the immense Anglo-Swiss condensed milk factory, now the Bordens and arranged all of his affairs to live again in Dixon where all the scenes of his childhood were enacted. But while in New York City he caught a bad cold. Pneumonia set in and he died. Over in the old Palmyra cemetery resides the graves of his father, mother and all his brothers, he was laid to rest close to these childhood scenes which he had hoped to enjoy so much. His plans for the future of Dixon were many. His death cut them off.

While not a Palmyra boy yet Charles H. Hughes came from Palmyra, and Charles H. Hughes was one of the biggest men ever produced inLee county. While Mayor of Dixon, the system of public improvements was commenced. He bought the Hazelwood estate and while it was his, he brought to it a very high degree of beauty. Later he was made a representative in the legislature; then a senator and that position he held at this death. He was a man of commanding ability. His plans for civic improvements were comprenhesive and practical. He conceived big things; he accomplished big things; and he became the biggest man among men. After a days work nothing interested him much as to retire for the evening to his log cabin on beautiful Hazelwood and by the blasing knot fire plan out something more for Hazelwood and Dixon.

Solomon Hicks Bethea, son of William W. Bethea became a lawyer, a legislator in the Illinois gneeral assembly, a United States Attorney and a Judge of the United States District Court for Chicago.

Dixon Evening Telegraph January 19, 1949


Back Home