Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Mill on Mill Street

Many of us who live in Naperville don’t give much thought to how Mill Street was named since it seems self-explanatory. On further reflection, however, you start to wonder. What kind of mill? Where exactly was it?

When Joseph Naper headed out to Illinois, he always intended to found a colony rather than a single family homestead. He brought with him on his schooner the iron works for a saw mill and building the mill was one of the settlers’ first projects, completed by the following spring.

Log cabins and log houses were considered temporary dwellings, a quick way to get shelter, but hardly fitting abodes for New Englanders. Proper clapboard houses were planned from the beginning and a saw mill was needed to saw the lumber to build them.

Naper’s home, which was a log house at first, was built on the corner of Jefferson and Mill Streets. It’s an empty lot right now, but soon it will be a park with garden plants indicating where the house, cistern, privy and other features were. Beneath the garden, the land will lie undisturbed for future archeological excavation.

The land slopes away from the home site down to the DuPage River where the mill was built to harness the river for powering the machinery. Folks look at the meandering DuPage today and wonder “how could that little stream cut logs?”

As you can see by the map, the settlers dammed up the river to create a mill pond so they could control the water. The water turned the wheel, the wheel activated belts and gears, the gears operated the saw blade, and lumber was cut to build houses for the settlers.

The few log homes that the pioneers started with were either used as outbuildings or were swallowed up by new construction built around them. When the Naper Settlement outdoor museum wanted to display an early settler’s log home, they couldn’t find one left intact in the area and had to import a log house from another county.

The Other Mill on Mill Street

A grist mill for grinding grain was also constructed in Naper’s Settlement. It was built soon after the saw mill but apparently there was some serious concern as to how they were to create such a thing since they had no mill stones for grinding.

Robert Nelson Murray, who was a teenager at the time, tells us that the grist mill was built due to the efforts of Christopher Paine. Paine, who was homesteading in the area before the Naper group arrived, was apparently a prairie-style MacGyver since “To him the whole settlement looked for devising ways and means to accomplish ends.”

“He laid the case before Mr. Paine. He scratched his head and ‘his jaws wagged with increased rapidity while he kept up an incessant expectoration,’ (says Mr. Murray), and exclaimed ‘By Jinks, I can
make them’(the stones. He then selected two good bowlders from the grove, and hammered and pecked on them till he had fashioned them
into upper and nether mill stones.”

The mill was used communally by all the settlers and was powered not by the river but by each farmer’s oxen, the same ones they used to pull the wagon of wheat or corn to the mill.

What happened to Christopher Paine’s mill stones is unknown, but if you go to Pioneer Park on Washington Streets, you’ll find Bailey Hobson’s stones from his grist mill which was just downriver.

Eventually both grist mills as well as the saw mill ceased operation. The mill pond receded and the DuPage River was allowed to flow naturally again. Its major application now is to support ducks and the occasional canoe!

Where History Is Happening

Links to some upcoming local events:

Annual Fort De Chartres Rendezvous
Saturday and Sunday
June 4 and 5, 2011
9 am - 5 pm
One of the largest in rendezvous events in the country occurs annually at this historic fort. 18th century crafts, food, music, 1000's of historically dressed participants, flintlock musket and rifle competition, cannon and mortar competition, traders and more.
Small parking fee
For more information call 618-284-7230

Passenger Train Historical Society Spring Picnic

June 10, 11 & 12th, 2011
Illinois Railway Museum in Union
Activities include: Passenger train photographs, slide shows on Friday evening, Picnic lunch Saturday afternoon on Museum grounds, Ride and visit the historical cars, exhibits and displays of passenger train history at the Illinois Railway Museum, Attend Railroadiana Train Show in nearby St. Charles, IL on Saturday and Sunday, Field trip via car pool on Saturday afternoon to the BNSF mainline near Naperville, IL for trackside views of the Amtrak’s Southwest Chiefs, California Zephyrs and Metra commuter trains, Historic discussions about passenger trains throughout the event.
RSVP requested

Midsommer Celebration at Erlander Museum
Saturday, June 18, 2011
9:00 am - 4:00 pm.
Location: Erlander Museum, 404 S. Third Street, Rockford, IL
Midsummer FunCome and enjoy a fun filled day with us as we celebrate the Swedish tradition of Midsummer (Midsommar). You will enjoy great foods like open-face and meatball sandwiches, hotdogs, strawberries and ice cream, coffee cake, Swedish pankakes and more. Numerous vendors will be displaying their talents and selling their wares. Our Swedish Historical park across the street from the museum will have continuous activities for children of all ages, including the game of Kubb throughout the day.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How to Make History Come to Life

When Kate decided to write a book about the founders of Naperville for children, her first thought was to present the history as a narrative, like a DuPage County, Illinois version of “Little House on the Prairie.”

In fiction, character development, dialog, conflict resolution and narrative arc are all important elements of the story. In history, the facts about dates, places, clothing and customs have to be accurate. To create a successful historical narrative, the writer needs both.

Joseph Naper was the organizing force behind Naperville, bringing several families with him from New York and Ohio. One of those families was that of his sister Amy and her husband John. Ruth by Lake and Prairie is the journey as seen through the eyes of their daughter Ruth.

Trying to discover the personalities of Ruth, Amy and John was difficult. No photographs or paintings have been identified of them, nor did they leave any diaries. John, however, was one of the first settlers of Ashtabula, Ohio and so he is mentioned in the earliest histories of the area.

The 1878 History of Ashtabula, Ohio said said he was a “school teacher and hired man.” In the Portrait and Biographical Record of Cook and DuPage Counties, the entry on Robert Nelson Murray talks says his father was a “a talented man, and taught music, as well as school.”

Kate started with these small details to put together a portrait of John Murray and his times. She researched what a school teacher in 1809 would teach and with what sort of materials, as well as what it meant to teach music at that time. While few of the actual facts wound up being relevant in the book, they did help form the description of John’s character.

Particularly interesting to Kate was learning about Shape Note Singing, a practice that was extremely popular in the early 1800’s and most likely the sort of music that John taught. Shape Note Singing was developed to simplify musical notations to make it easier to sight-read music, with the shape of the note indicating the pitch rather than it’s location on a staff.

Entire congregations could then sing the hymns in four-part harmony rather than just listening to a trained choir. Singers sat in a hollow square formation, each side of the square being one of the voice parts, so they could hear each other harmonizing.

Shape Note Singing continues to this day. While it started in New England, Shape Note Singing lives on most strongly in the Appalachians where the English, Scottish and Irish settlers remained relatively isolated. You can go to several online locations to get an idea of how it may have sounded when John Murray was leading the song.

May Is History Month in Naperville and Kate Will Be Speaking at Library Event

During her book research, Kate gathered up many fun facts like the Shape Note Singing information above. She'll share all the neat things she learned on Wednesday, May 11 illustrated with slides of maps, photos, engravings and other visuals. You are invited to this free event to learn a little about DuPage County's early settlers and what the world was like in Illinois in 1831.

From the Naperville Library website:

Meet Naperville author Kate Gingold as she discusses her children’s book Ruth by Lake and Prairie. This is the true story of the families that settled on the land that would become Naperville, Illinois. The story follows Ruth, Joseph Naper’s niece, as she travels from her home in Ohio to her new home in Illinois. For eighteen months, Kate collected facts from sources all over the world via car, mail, and the Internet to learn more about life in 1831 America, Great Lakes sailing ships, and the families who made the journey.

This presentation will walk through the research process, shows how to make a “story” out of history, and gives factual tidbits about our city. The book won an award from the Illinois State Historical Society in 2008.

No registration is required.
This program is presented in partnership with Kate Gingold.
Wednesday, May 11
7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Nichols Library
Community Room

Where History Is Happening

Links to Upcoming Local Events

Civil War Days
Sat. & Sun., May 21 & 22, 2011
10 a.m.- 4 p.m

More than 300 Civil War re-enactors camp on site, providing a living historical view of the past. When the bugle sounds each day at 2:30 p.m., troops from the North and the South will charge into battle with rifles at the ready and cannons booming. Afterward, you can see the work of the Civil War surgeons as they demonstrate 19th century medical techniques.
Interact with famous personages of the past who step from the pages of history books, such as President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, the Generals and many more.
The family-friendly event features food, fun and shopping on "Sutler's Row" for traditional Civil War-era reproduction products and in the Museum Store for Civil War books and merchandise.
$12 adults, $8 youth (4-17)
Advance tickets: $10 adults, $7 youth are available beginning May 9.

The Civil War and Du Page County: A Local Perspective
April 16, 2011- September 1, 2012.
Weekdays • 8:30 am-4:30 pm
Weekends • Noon-4 pm

This exhibit commemorates the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War by reflecting on the relationship between the soldiers and their families and friends during this time of dramatic change and hardship. Letters, photos and documents from the Museum’s archives are featured as well as many artifacts from the permanent collection.
View a slideshow of the exhibit opening

Naperville Cemetery Walk
Saturday, May 7
2-3:15 p.m.

Learn about 19th century mourning customs and superstitions from Naper Settlement’s Museum Educators. Then walk through Naperville Cemetery to take a glimpse back in time. Learn about some of the early settlers of Naperville, see their headstones and explore the different symbols and their meanings used in the creation of these unique artifacts and, in some cases, works of art. For ages teen to adult. (Some historical material may be too graphic for younger audiences.) The walk begins at the Naper Settlement Visitor Center, 523 S. Webster St., Naperville. Tickets are $10 per person; $8 for Naperville Heritage Society Sustaining members. Call (630) 420-6010.