History of the Lacon Woolen Mill, Lacon IL

Transcribed by Nancy Piper

Photo donated by Dawn Coen

Lacon Woolen Mill

Another enterprise of which Lacon is deservedly proud in its Woolen Mill, where are made the celebrated and widely known Prairie State shawls. So far as known, it is the first establishment of the kind west of the Alleganies, and such is the excellence of their manufacture that they successfully complete in style and finish with the best Eastern-made goods. Their annual production is about 30,000 shawls of various patterns and styles, as well as a large quantity of piece goods.

The project originated in a letter upon the subject of manufactures written by Spencer Ellsworth of the Chicago Tribune, which attracted the attention of William F. Sague and John Grieves, out of which grew a correspondence leading to a meeting of a half dozen citizens and the appointment of William Fisher and Mr. Ellsworth as a committee to meet and confer with those gentlemen. Their report was considered so favorable that a company was organized and incorporated with a nominal capital of $100,000, afterward increased to $123,000. Books of subscription were opened and a Board of Directors chosen, consisting of Archibald Riddell, Andrew Smith, Robert Pringle, John Grieves, William Fisher, D. E. Thomas and Spencer Ellsworth. D. E. Thomas was chosen President, and Spencer Ellsworth, Secretary. During the winter the capital subscription was worked up until $50,000 was raised, when the buildings were put under contract and finished that summer. They furnish employment to some sixty-five persons, and with little intermission the mill has run continuously since its erection.  -- -- Record of Olden Times by Spencer Ellsworth, 1880

Lacon Woolen Mill

We must not omit mention of the woolen mill industry of which the citizens of Lacon are justly proud, and they may well be, for if we except probably a brick yard or two it is the only manufacturing establishment in Marshall county.

About 1862 Spencer Ellsworth, then editor of the Lacon Journal, wrote for the Chicago Tribune an article on manufactures, which came to the attention of two gentlemen who were interested in woolen manufactures, and they opened a correspondence on the subject with him. The correspondence led to a meeting of the citizens and William Fisher and Mr. Ellsworth were appointed a committee to meet the gentlemenm and the outcome was that a company was organized and incorporated under the name of the Lacon Woolen Mill Company, with a capital of one hundred thousand dollars. D. E. Thomas was chosen president and Spencer Ellsworth secretary. During the winter books were opened and fifty thousand dollars worth of stock subscribed for, and the next summer the necessary buildings were built and the machinery installed, and Mr. Grieves employed to superintend it.

The mill was run for several years quite successfully in making a certain kind of shawl, which found a large demand, also certain kinds of piece goos were made that gave excellent satisfaction, the mill giving employment to about seventy-five persons, but during the hard times of 1896 to 1898 the business fell off and the mill was closed down.

It remained closed for about three years, when it was bought by Mr. Grieves and was again run by Grieves & Son, and was doing a good business, when it took fire and was burned to the ground in the spring of 1901. It was a sad loss to the Messrs. Grieves, as the insurance was light and they were not able to rebuild. However, a popular subscription was stared that fall, the building rebuilt and somewhat enlarged, new and up-to-date machinery installed the next summer, and it was turned over to the Messrs. Grieves. It was too good a thing for Lacon to lose. - Past and Present of Marshall County, 1907, by John Spencer Burt, Page 37

(The mill closed its doors in 1968.  - Does anyone have an exact date - or a news article about the closing?)

August 14, 2000 - State of Illinois News Release

Ryan Commends City of Lacon for Brownfield Cleanup Efforts

LACON -- Governor George H. Ryan today commended the City of Lacon for its environmental efforts to clean up contamination on the riverfront caused by the Grieves Woolen Mill.

"Through its continued efforts to improve the quality of life for area residents, this city has shown that even our smaller communities can leverage the resources to restore abandoned and polluted sites to become productive," Governor Ryan said. "Because of the dedication and commitment of Lacon officials and state legislators, what has been an eyesore for three decades is now on the path to becoming a tourist site," he added.

Ryan visited the former site of the Grieves Woolen Mill accompanied by Mayor Donald Hodge, County Board Chair Tom Weak, Lacon City Council members and state and local officials. The governor emphasized his administration's commitment to assisting communities in restoring their brownfield sites. Brownfields are created by abandoned and polluted industrial or commercial properties.

Lacon was awarded a $120,000 brownfield redevelopment grant through the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in January 1999 to complete an environmental investigation and cleanup plan of the four-acre site. In May 1999, Lacon became one of six Illinois cities eligible for a $500,000 low-interest loan. The loan was granted to Illinois EPA through a U.S. EPA pilot Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund.

Governor Ryan also noted Lacon submitted a preliminary application to be among the first to take advantage of the new Illinois FIRST Brownfields Redevelopment Loan Program, which will provide up to $1 million per site to pay for actual cleanup costs.

"Lacon is among 21 communities so far that have received redevelopment grants for site investigation and cleanup planning. The low-interest loans under Governor Ryan's Illinois FIRST program will help many communities proceed with the next step," said Illinois EPA Director Tom Skinner.

Lacon also received a $59,008 Conservation 2000 Ecosystem Program grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Lacon used $250,000 of its local Tax Increment Financing money to remove debris and building rubble from the site in 1997. Illinois EPA performed an initial assessment of the site for the city in 1996.

Once the environmental hazards are removed, potential uses of the scenic site along the Illinois River banks include a green area, residential area, retail stores and restaurants. The site is adjacent to an existing public river access, a marina and shops.

Grieves Woolen Mill operated from 1865 to 1968, processing raw wool into felts and other wool products. The dye and wastes from processing were discharged into the Illinois River. Cinders and ashes from the two dye incinerators, as well as from the coal-burning power plant, were spread across the site. Lacon shared the experience of taking on the brownfield project by hosting a meeting of local small cities in June. (IGNN - Illinois Government News Network)

State of Illinois Coalition Makes $425,000 Loan to Clean Up the Lacon Woolen Mill Property

On July 3, 2003, the State of Illinois Coalition loaned $425,000 to the City of Lacon, Illinois to assist with cleanup costs associated with the Lacon Woolen Mill property. This loan was made possible through a $3.5 million EPA Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) grant awarded to the State of Illinois Coalition in 1999. Between 1865 and 1968, raw wool was processed on this 17-acre former mill property. The city leveraged more than $630,000 in state and local funding for assessment activities, which revealed contamination in the form of controlled substances, volatile organic compounds, and pesticides. Cleanup of the Lacon Woolen Mill property was completed in October 2004. Plans for the property include assisted living townhomes and greenspace.

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