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.

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