Early Mills of Downs, Illinois

There were several mills put up on the stream; none Of them lasted a great while, though. The difficulty was to get a dam which would stand the pressure of spring freshets and the rainy season.

John Rice had a mill which, by constructing a long ” race,” had about seven feet fall. It was built about 1840, and had the old-fashioned “flutter” wheel and gate. Hon. John Cusey run this mill for some time. He says that he has sawed as high as four thousand feet in twenty-four hours, though this was far above the average capacity of the mill. It was customary to saw logs for the half, or small lots for 50 cents per hundred feet. Much of the lumber went to build Bloomington, and some of the houses stand there yet. In the absence of pine, which now forms every portion of the houses built, the buildings were made entirely of hard wood-home-sawed lumber. The clapboards and casings were of black-walnut, the frame of oak, hewn out, and the joints, braces, etc., sawed. No ” balloon” buildings were built in those days. The floors were ash, and the lath either basswood or oak, split with an as by laying the pieces on a plank, so that the entire board would hang together when put on the wall, and separated to the required distances by driving wedges in until they were nailed. The shingles were of oak or black-walnut, shaved. Such shingles. if properly laid, would last forty years, or until they were, like the ” Deacon’s Masterpiece,” worn out.

Severe Stringfield had a grist-mill further down stream, near the southwest corner of Section a. It was built about 1831. It was about. 16×20, one story high, and had a water-head of about five and one-half feet. The stones were home-made, being eut out of the bowlders found here on the prairie. They were little more than two feet in diameter, and did very good service. The lower one, since it. has ceased to do service as a ” nether mill-store,” is serving its generation as a door-step for H. C. Bishop’s house. What service it will next see is not for the historian to undertake to say. Elder Elijah Veatch put up a mill, about 1840, on the same stream ; and some genius, whose name even has departed from memory, started a pottery about the same time. It was not a success, however. It was on Section 17, on the Jacoby branch. The township took its name from Lawson Downs, who came here from White County-though originally from Tennessee-in 1829, and took up a claim at “Diamond Grove,” on Section 6, some years before the land here came into market. He afterward entered this land, and left it to his children. He was here during the deep snow, and endured the hardships of that terrible winter, when he had to dig his sheep out of the snow, hunting them as the boys do ground-squirrels, by their holes. He served, under Capt. Covell, of Bloomington, in the Black Hawk war for thirty days. He was married, in 1836, to Sarah Welch, by whom nine sons were born, six of whom grew up to manhood. His life was devoted to farming, and received the reward which industry and frugality brought to those who turned the wild places into firms. He died in 1860, at the age of fifty-one, honored and respected by his neighbors.


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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