Early Industry of Dry Grove, Illinois

The first settlers at Dry Grove had to endure the usual hardships for lack of mills, shops, and such other enterprises of a public character that are always necessary for the happiness and enjoyment of any community. The lack of milling facilities was felt more keenly, perhaps, than the want of any other single thin,_. The great distances which it was necessary- to traverse in order to reach even a water-mill were enough to discourage the most determined. During the deep snow of 1830 and 1831, all were compelled to provide for themselves. The particulars of this ever-to-be remembered winter have been so often rehearsed that it is needless to dwell upon them here. It seems that this taught all to be prepared to make their own meal. The usual sight of the front yard included a mortar and sweep for the pounding of corn. As nearly all families lived in the woods, a mortar was generally made by chopping down a tree, cutting the stump off so as to make it level, and then burning a basin from the top. In this the corn was put, and pounded by a heavy pole with an iron wedge in the end, and swung from the upper end of a sweep similar to the kind often seen used in drawing water from a well. These were common all over this country, and were made so by such times as occurred during the winter of 1830 and 1831.

The first to erect a mill of any kind within the present limits of Dry Grove Township was Matthew Harbard. This was a horse-power “corn-cracker.” It was on the Daniel Munsell place. Here the farmers brought their corn and had it ground. They had no sieves. The manner of separating the bulls from the meal was varied and often unique. It was useless to bring wheat to these mills, for they ” could not do the subject justice.” It is said that sometimes wheat was ground in a coffee-mill, if the family happened to be so fortunate as to own one. Those were the mills that were nailed to the wall. The nest mill was built where King’s mill now stands. It occupied the old red building which still stands on the same spot. This was a saw-mill, and was not erected until long after the early settlement. At a still more recent date, Mr. King built a large flouring mill, with three sets of buhrs, at the same place. For some time he did a large business. A few years ago, he took out his machinery and moved it to Kansas. The building and the apparatus for sawing stood unused all the time. But we learn that Mr. King has recently returned, and expects soon to have the mill running again.

The first blacksmith-shop was operated, at an early date, by James Gilson, on his brother’s farm on the north side of Dry Grove. He discontinued the shop and left the country after a short time. He was considered a first-class smith. Old Mr. Mason had a large family of boys. A story is told by Mr. Hinshaw illustrating the remarkable success Mr. Mason had in bringing up a number of hands to help him subdue the wilderness and make it “blossom as the rose.” Mr. Hinshaw says that in passing through the Grove he came upon Mr. Mason and nine sons, who were all chopping on one log. The father had taken his station at the butt of the log, and arranged his sons in the order of their ages on the log with him. The oldest was nest the father, and the youngest at the top of the tree. These were all large enough to do good work, and enjoyed themselves in a race to see who would be the soonest done. What a number of ages that man must have had ! And what a serious time they must have had when they all began to grind!


Le Baron, William., Jr. & Co. The History of McLean County, Illinois: portraits of early settlers and prominent men. Chicago. W. Le Baron, Jr., 1879.

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