Pioneers of Whiteside County
We’ve chosen only a few interesting facts about Lyndon, IL in this section. The early settlers came here with high hopes when they set out west for a new life – this new life was one they would make themselves on the frontier. They constructed their own homes, cleared the land to farm, raised their families, built their own schools, participated in the industrial revolution, and even formed their own county and city governments. At one time, Lyndon was on its way to becoming a major city in the county. Through a series or highs and lows however, this did not pan out, but the spirit of its founding peoples remain. Today, Lyndon’s promise can still be imagined as its story is far from over.
Lyndon was settled early in comparison to other townships in Whiteside County. The first settlers arrived in 1835 from the east (New York) – ready to make their claim on the frontier. The families of Chauncey G. Woodruff, Adam R. Hamilton, William Dudley, Liberty Walker, and Ephraim R. Hubbard made their claims here in what is now known as Lyndon Township. They traveled about a thousand miles with teams, and on the road for 30 days. After arriving at Lyndon they were compelled to camp out until their cabins were built, sleeping on the ground, with prairie rattlesnakes, called by the Indians “Massasaugas”, for neighbors. Previous to their departure from New York, Mr. Dudley had taken the precaution to forward a cask of pork, which in addition to the flour and corn meal obtained in Chicago, constituted their commissary stores during the summer and part of the fall at their prairie homes. The party arrived at Lyndon, August 5, 1835.
Makeshift cabins were erected and were made of treebark and hay until they could replace them later with cabins and houses. Crowding did not seem to a problem in those days as the number of people living together to make it through the winters was staggering – a 14 x 14 foot cabin housed 14 people at the time. Nevertheless, these were not permanent conditions and the early settlers of Lyndon had much to do, and so they did.
In 1836, a larger number of settlers arrived and progress toward civilization was fast as they platted the area that was to become Lyndon Township in 1836-1837. The community was platted and it included 19 blocks. Education was important to the early settlers of Lyndon and within a year after arriving, they already had a cabin built for the purpose of educating the children. Miss Lovica B. Hamilton was the first teacher. Later, a school-house was built in the platted section of the township in 1840 and it was the first school-house in the county to offer subjects more advanced than the regular fundamentals. Lewis Jessup was the first teacher and he taught 75-90 students each year for 3 years when it first opened. Students from all over the county attended “The Academy” as it was called.
During the 1850’s and later, there was a literary group called “Our Society” in Lyndon. Interest was high and participants were required to compose offerings which were read at the semi-monthly meetings. The society collected a library of about 200 volumes which was a very large number for this newly settled country.
In 1838, the first attempt was made to utilize the water power from the Rock River and so a mill-race was excavated and a large sawmill was erected. Throughout the years, the river has played an important role in the development of the Village of Lyndon. Clamming, farming, flour mills, ice houses, blacksmithing, in addition to paper and saw mills all played an important role in the early settlement of Lyndon.
Not much is written about the co-habitats of the Lyndon area tribes, but the early settlers encountered more Indians than most of the other early arrivals in other townships. In 1835-1836, it is estimated that as many as 2,000 Indians were camped in the timber between Lyndon and Prophetstown. An interesting account is told in the book “History of Whiteside County” by Charles Bent, where he writes:
In the fall of that year, while Mr. Woodruff was engaged in repairing a boat on the Rock River, a large party of these Indians came to the bank near where he was at work. They had killed a fine buck, and as soon as they had halted, built a fire, cut the deer in two in the middle, and without removing the skin put the part with the head on into a kettle and cooked it without salt or seasoning. After it was cooked to their notion the part was taken out and placed ready for those who were to partake of the feast, a chop stick being the ticket to dinner. During the time this was being done, a party of young Indians in a tent nearby kept up a continual chant, and a little at one side, a squaw sat on the river bank and wailed incessantly. Mr. Woodruff afterwards ascertained that this chanting and wailing was caused by the death of the squaw’s child. The young Indians and the squaw were not invited to the feast. The howling of the choir in the tent, and the wailing of the bereaved mother, were of the most approved style of Indian funeral ceremonies. When the work on the boat was completed, an effort was made to secure the services of the Indians in assisting to turn the boat over, and launching it, and they could only be induced to do so upon the promise of Asa Crook, who was then present, to treat them well with whiskey for the service. Being naturally intemperate they went to work, and the boat was soon in the stream. On second thought Mr. Crook wisely concluded it would not be safe to let the savages have the fire-water, as they never failed to get intoxicated, and refused to redeem his promise. This so maddened the Indians that they went to the neighboring corn field, loaded their canoes with corn and pumpkins, and with the booty went down the river.”
Wabokieshiek, the Prophet, half Winnebago, half Sac Indian who lived on the Rock River in a village named after him called Prophets Town (now Prophetstown, Illinois) was instrumental in persuading Black Hawk and his party to return to the east side of the Mississippi in 1832, which eventually led to the great Black Hawk war. The Prophet convinced Black Hawk that the Americans would not interfere with his followers, so long as they refrained from any offensive acts. He made a speech to the braves and warriors of Black Hawk, in which he told them they had nothing to fear and much to gain…that the American war chief would not bother them so long as they acted peaceably…that the time would come when they would be ready to pursue a different course; but that they must await reinforcements that would enable them to resist the army of the whites.
The Prophet was either duped himself, or playing upon the credulity of Black Hawk and Naopope (friend and counselor to Black Hawk; recognized as second in command). The Prophet was constantly giving them assurances of assistance from the other tribes and from their British Father at Malden. There may have been reason for expecting it from the former, but none from the latter.
Not only was the Rock River a source of some commercial traffic through the years but was also the source of a different kind of product. For many years, clamming was an important part of Lyndon’s history. Clam barges were equipped with rows of clam hooks which were dropped to the bottom to snag the clams. When brought to the surface, the clams werre cooked and and the meat out for fish bait. Shells were sold by the ton to button factories, such as the one in Sabula, Iowa. Some have indicated that there was a button factory located in Lyndon, but there is no written evidence to support this claim.
On occasion, pearls were found in the clams. There are several people in Lyndon who still have jewelry–ear rings, rings, pins–made from pearls given them by some of the clammers of another era. A small item on the front page of the “ECHO” dated August, 1919, tells of the finding of a pearl valued locally at $400, but the finders were “to journey to Chicago in the hopes of selling it for $500.”
On July 4th, 1853 a freighter loaded with coal coming from St. Louis passed by Lyndon at a time when the town was having a 4th of July celebration. During this time, the crowd began to yell that a boat was coming up the river. Soon, all had assembled to the rivers edge to watch the boat come around the bend. This was an exciting moment as it meant that there was successful navigation on the Rock River at last!
The schooner was loaded with coal bound for Sterling, IL. People watched the slow progress of the boat and grew silent, for it was obvious the barge was sinking. Up and down the river shouts for help were coming from the crowd. Help was useless because there were only a few row boats on the shore and their efforts proved futile.
The overloaded barge sank quickly before the eyes of the crowd, so fast that the crew only had time to escape without taking their belongings. One of those onboard declared he had lost a considerable amount of valuables when the barge went down. The barge lay at the bottom of the river for years, and as late as 1929, remnants could be seen when the water level was low. Fisherman through the years reported seeing the wreckage but, it is likely that the river moved it or it has since been buried in the river’s bottom forever.
Through the years there were those who attempted to find the boat to retrieve the sunken treasure reputed to be onboard. To this day, none has been recovered. What is known, however is that the last and unsuccessful effort to navigate the Rock River did leave an impediment to river traffic of a commercial nature, and a danger to smaller pleasure craft, which piled the river through the years. Treasure? No one knows for sure!
When refrigeration was unknown, the Rock River added yet another valuable product to the life of Lyndon. Before the river level lowered, and before pollution changed the character of the water, the ice would freeze clear. When the ice was a foot thick, ice saws and tongs would be used to cut the ice blocks measuring 12 x 25 inches. They were then hauled to ice houses built near the Rock River. Ice could be kept this way through the summer and sold to businesses and residents.
The Lyndon Hydraulic Manufacturing Company was organized in the spring of 1872, with a capital of $60,000. The company was formed to furnish water power to the factories. A dam was built across the river, the weir of which was about 1,180 feet long, providing a head of about eight feet, securing a power of approximately 30,000 inches of water–equal to about 4,000 horsepower. One source states that David B. Sears, who died in 1933 at the age of 95, built the dam at Lyndon in 1870- 1873. Located a little north of the village, on the North Bank, the dam proved to be at once a source of hope and disappointment, for ice jams destroyed the dam in 1881. Several attempts were made to secure financial support for reconstruction of the dam, but shortage of funds and reluctance on the part of some of the city fathers of the time, doomed the project to failure.
Old-timers recall that there were two breaks in the Lyndon dam in the early days. A large one on the south side of the river and a small one on the north side. The escaping waters made two sizes of the “ole swimmin’ hole.” The big boys swam where the big break allowed a torrent to pour through and the small boys swam in less troubled waters.
Belief in the possibility of the Rock River as a profitable source of power at Lyndon did not end completely for many years. On January 31, 1907, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in Washington to authorize the building of a dam there for production of electric power. The grant was to be issued to John J. Hurlburt, Leander Smith, and Harvey A. Green. In February of 1911, the United States Senate and House of Representatives passed the bill authorizing the construction, but by that time John J. Hurlburt had withdrawn from the petitioners.
Interest in electric railways since passed and in November of 1918, the attorney general for the state of Illinois filed a bill of complaint in the circuit court asking dissolvement of the Lyndon Hydraulic and Manufacturing Company.
In 1872, a merchant flouring mill was erected at a cost of $35,000, and became known as the Lyndon Mill. The mill was three stories high above the basement, 45 x 50 feet in size. The mill was five run of stones, but records do not indicate what the daily output was.
In 1873, a large paper mill was erected near the dam. It was a large establishment with a potential for manufacturing two tons of wrapping paper per day, using straw as the material. After the damage to the dam reduced the power output, the Lyndon Paper Mill purchased a steam engine to replace that power loss. A fire in the engine room in January of 1882, and subsequent explosions which destroyed the two revolving bleachers caused such damage that it would have to be completely rebuilt before being put into operation again.
In February of 1886 the company was reorganized and the name changed to Valley Paper Company of Lyndon. “The mill was rebuilt and started making paper again on May 1, 1886. The mill employed 35 persons if operations were normal. In July of 1894, the mill allegedly received a large contract for paper, and it seemed that the mill was headed for success. The same night, however, fire spread throughout the factory, and burned for most of the night, completely destroying the mill except for the smokestack. Though there was an insurance policy that should have covered the loss, the mill, then under the same management as the Rock Falls Paper Mill, was never rebuilt.
The Charles Young Paper Mill was built a short distance from the first paper mill. The mill was only in operation one day. On the first day, Bert McArdlie was injured as steaming paper rolleddown on the rolling drums and jammed there. He tried to free the jam with his hands, and in the process was pulled through the mill. He received severe mutilation to his face and head, and the loss of one hand. The plant was closed immediately, and never reopened.
In 1873, the Farmers’ Cooperative Manufacturing Company was organized, and built a large brick building, 160 feet long, 80 feet wide, two stories high with a stone basement. The building, completed in 1876, was designed and equipped to manufacture all kinds of farm implements. The land for the building was donated by the Lyndon Hydraulic Company in an effort to bring a new industry to Lyndon. Included in the gift were the water rights from the dam. The gift, valued at some $15,000, was made to the granges of Whiteside County. The sale of stock in the company was so slow that the grange-sponsored company did not begin manufacturing immediately.
In 1878, arrangements were made with S. D. Madin of Indianapolis to manufacture the Eureka Direct Draft Mower here. Soon a work force was established and the factory was humming with activity, with predictions that 200 mowers would be completed by the middle of the month. The failure of the dam may have been the cause for the cessation of activity in the plant, and in 1883 creditors filed suit against the factory. By 1885, the dam was a complete wreck, and the factory was tumbling in ruin
In 1873, the Victoria Flour Mill was built. It was a two and one-half story building capable of producing 75 barrels of flour and 600 bushels of feed per day. Nothing more is recorded of this operation, except that in 1880 it was sold at a chancery sale for $9,500, approximately one half of its original cost. There are examples of the Kelly pumps that were manufactured in Lyndon still around today. Little is known of this operation, but it is believed that the pumps were manufactured in the grange-sponsored cooperative factory, though the dates of the construction of the building and the dates stamped on some of the pumps are in disagreement.
The Lyndon Tile Factory was the last real manufacturing operation in Lyndon. It was established in 1912 by Joseph W. Hodges, and was located on Route 2. For many years the factory manufactured cement blocks, drainage tile, and self -sealing burial vaults, but in later years the manufacture of the vaults was discontinued. Other owners and operators of the Tile Factory were Theo Blagg & Bill White, Bill White, Donald Gorzney. Around 1966 the factory was sold to Glenn Miller of Erie, and the last owner was Robert Truckenmiller. A brief news item appearing in the August 4, 1910 issue of the “PROPHETSTOWN ECHO” announced that a contract for waterproof cement blocks was given to one A.Q. Church of Lyndon, for the building of the lawn mower factory and creamery in Prophetstown . There are no further references to this manufacture of cement blocks and the location of a plant (if any) is unknown.
The mill race at Lyndon had been excavated in 1838, and a large, substantial saw mill was erected. About 200 feet of hard wood and timber had been sawed, but hard times and lack of money forced the abandonment of the mill race project, and with it went the saw mill. Large scale lumbering operations did not fare well in the Lyndon area, it would seem.
The first election to determine the County Seat of Whiteside County was held on May, 1839. Votes were cast for Lyndon, Sterling, Prophetstown , Albany, Fulton and Union Grove, but no choice was made. Under the Act of the General Assembly, passed in 1839, to provide for the selection, an election was to be held every four weeks until a majority of votes was given for one place. Finally, at September’s election Lyndon received the majority of votes polled, making it the county seat. The first meeting of the County Commissioner’s Court was held in May, 1839. The first Circuit Court was held in Lyndon in April, 1840, in the unfinished home of T. C. Gould.
In 1840, Sterling made application for a re-canvas of the vote cast at the September 23, 1839 election. This was granted and at the recount, the results showed 264 votes Sterling, 253 for Lyndon and 4 for Windsor. As a result, the County Commissioners’ Court ordered that the County Seat be placed in Sterling. The first term of the Court was held in Sterling in 1841, and continued there through September of 1842. Lyndon secured a majority on the Board of Commissioners and an order was entered to move the County Seat back to Lyndon. Accordingly, the court met in Lyndon until 1846, when an order was given for the Circuit Court to meet in Sterling instead of Lyndon. Another election was held in April, 1849, which showed a majority of 68 votes in favor of Sterling. Thus it remained until 1857, when a new election was held, with the result showing a majority of 59 in favor of removal of the County Court to Morrison.
It is a matter of history that on February 11, 1840, a contract was entered into between John Roy and Augustin Smith, on the part of the people of Lyndon, and Thomas C. Gould, by which the latter would build a good substantial building 26 feet long by 17 feet wide, and one and one half stories high. The location was described as Lot 51, Block 10, in the city of Lyndon, to be used for holding courts and other public purposes whenever required, until June 1841, when the county seat was removed to Sterling. The building was built, and used for holding courts and other public purposes required, until 1841, when the county seat was removed to Sterling. NOTE: there is no Lot 51, Block 10 in Lyndon. It would seem that an error was made in the printing, according to Charles Bent, but there is no doubt that the donation of the site was on Block 10. Sometime in 1917-1918, the Whiteside County Old Settlers Association determined to erect a plaque to commemorate the location of the site of that first court house. There was, however, so much disagreement over the location of it that the project was abandoned.(This quote from Charles Bent appeared in the Whiteside County Sentinel on August 8, 1918.)
If it should prove impossible to find the exact site for placing of the tablet (to commemorate the location of the first court house), let it be placed in the most central point in Lyndon; for no one disputes the fact that it was in Lyndon that the first court was held. Narrowness and selfishness ought not to be evident in affairs of this kind. Many a town has lost a railroad or a county seat through the folly and selfishness of its leading citizens. It will hardly be disputed that Lyndon has the finest natural location of any town in the county and it is a matter of regret to many that the county seat was ever removed from it.
The Old Settlers Organization was founded in January of 1858, when several old settlers from the area met for an informal time of remembering the earlier years of the area. They organized formally as a result of this meeting.
They met until 1859 in Wallace Hall in Sterling, but had to break up their meetings early so the younger people could dance. They later decided that they would have an annual picnic after their first one was held in September of 1860.
For many years afterward, the Old Settlers Picnic was a major event in the county, with thousands attending in the earlier years. Many of the picnics were held at Hamilton Grove, then later in the Old Settlers Grounds across from the river from Lyndon. It is believed the last meeting was held in 1928 or 1929.
Learn More About Lyndon, IL
If you are interested in learning more about the beginnings of Whiteside County and the history of Lyndon, IL, there are a couple of FREE books available online or for purchase.
- “History of Whiteside County Illinois – From It’s First Settlement to Present Time” (1877). Edited by Charles Bent.
- “Lyndon” by A.D. Burkett. 1908. This book of poems gives some insight into the old days of Lyndon where it seemed everything must prosper.
- 100 Years of Lyndon History – The Sterling Daily Gazette – This newspaper article from 1935 gives a complete breakdown of Lyndon’s prominent past and peoples.
In addition, the Lyndon Historical Society has a booklet (available for purchase) that has consolidated much of the history up until the 1990’s and is highly recommended.