Sunday, April 30, 2017

The cost of baking a cake

Have you ever considered the cost of baking a cake? Eggs, yeast, and chiefly flour is involved. And nowadays you can get all those ingredients at your nearest grocer or super center for just a few dollars. But it wasn't always that way....

In the mid 19th century Flour wasn't available off a supermarket shelf in convenient packaged sizes. Back then you had to grow your own wheat or buy the grain from someone else. Then you would take it to a specialized facility that would slowly grind that grain down to flour. This facility was known as a Grist Mill.  There was a time when there was a mill every few miles to serve the needs of what was a largely agrarian society, but as progress was made in shipping and in storage they slowly died off one by one until there are only a few survivors left.

In 1847 near Franklin Grove, IL. Joseph Emmert and Christian Lahman traveled from Maryland looking for the perfect spot to build a mill. Now two things are required for a good mill. An abundance of local materials for construction and a water source to drive the wheel that turns the gears and the millstone. They found such a site and began building their mill just half a mile away from the water source.

But in those days they didn't have tractors or bulldozers to dig the channel needed to bring the water to the mill. It all had to be dug out either by hand or with teams of horse driven plows and excavators. After weeks of back breaking work the channel was completed and water soon flowed over the great wheel, and the mill began operation.

Capable of producing both corn meal and wheat flour this mill was one of the largest in Lee county at the time. And even though it changed owners several times the mill ran successfully until the late 1890's when their water source started drying up and so the mill was closed and abandoned.

This might have been the end of the story but fast forward a century and a group of volunteers decided to not only save the mill but to keep it's story and original purpose alive. A group of volunteers assembled and built a completely new mill very near the site of the original structure. Turning it not only into a working grist mill, but also one where visitors can go inside and see for themselves just how their ancestors toiled for their daily bread. Because of their efforts, today the Franklin Creek mill is the only completely water driven mill in the entire state.

So when you stop off at the store for the ingredients to bake a cake for little Jimmy's birthday stop for a moment and reflect on how far we have come in terms of  ease and convenience.

The mill is open for tours every Saturday and Sunday from the 1st of April thru the 1st of October and on occasional Friday's. The hours are from 12 noon to 4 pm.  If you ever find yourself bored of Tv or just want to take a drive on a summer afternoon, consider a trip over to Lee county and Franklin Creek.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Farms and Barns in Lee county

I attended a photo workshop up in Lee county over the weekend and afterwards drove around looking for interesting things to photograph. I found quite a few things which I'm happy to share with you today.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

A little piece of Holland

On a recent outing we ventured up to the city of Fulton. Settled in 1835 and originally called Bakers Ferry after the first settler. That changed in 1838 when the city was renamed after Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat. Officially chartered in 1859 Fulton became a transfer point between the upper and lower Mississippi. People from many nations settled here bu the predominant ones were from the Netherlands.

To celebrate their Dutch heritage and taking advantage of a series of dikes that had been built to combat extensive flooding during high river levels it was decided that an authentic Dutch windmill would be constructed and in 1998 a contract was signed to construct the windmill in the Netherlands by craftsmen who had been building these same typed for centuries. It was built in sections and then shipped from the Netherlands to Fulton to be assembled on site by a team of Dutch millwrights who traveled to oversee the construction.

The type of windmill chosen is known as a "Beltmolen" meaning that it is built into the side of a levee or dike and the style and colors are in keeping with windmills that operate in the Netherlands today. When the base was constructed the bricks used came from two 100 year old buildings from Holland. Once finished it stood 45 feet high and the arms or "Sails" spread out 72 feet and on May 5th, 2001 the mill was dedicated and run for the first time. The mill is completely authentic and operational even to the point where actual grinding is done and the resulting flour sold at the cultural center across the street.

The mill's open from May thru October and is well worth your drive to see a piece of authentic working Dutch technology.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

They called him "Nachusa"

In the spring of 1830 a man and his family moved from Springfield, IL. to a lonely spot along the Rock river where there was but one solitary cabin. At 46 years of age his hair was already snowy white from years of hardship and toil and as he unloaded his wagon that chilly April morning a drunken indian rushed at him with a spear. But the man stood his ground fearlessly and the drunkard was held back by clearer headed companions. For his display of bravery that day the Indians named him "Nachusa" which in their language meant white hair. That man was John Dixon.

Dixon was, at the time, the holder of a contract to deliver mail between Fort Clark (Peoria) and Galena and the reason he uprooted his family and came here was the previous ferryman's had fallen down on the job of transporting the mail stage across the river. not to mention the 15-20 wagons that crossed every day on their way to the lead mines of Galena.

The original cabin was only 18 feet square, far too small for Dixon and his family so with the help of his son James he built a second structure, two stories high, with a long connecting hallway in between. One cabin was used for him and his family, the other was used for servants and travelers. Eventually the structure was lengthened to 90 feet and he turns the long hallway into a trading post, bartering with the Indians for furs, and trading with the local frontiersmen that wandered thru.

During the Blackhawk war Dixon's reputation as being fair and honest with the natives paid off  and his trading post was never raided or attacked. During the war the army built a blockhouse on the opposite bank of the river and Dixon made a profit selling beef to the government for the troops. Amongst the soldiers stationed there were no less personages than Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.

After the war Dixon prospered, helping form churches, businesses, and a great hotel was constructed which was called Nachusa House in his honor. The city started growing and in 1840 through Dixon's efforts the land grant office was moved from galena to Dixon, further inducements for people to settle there. He donated land so a court house could be built and later donated land for a public park. When the town selected it's first mayor he was the obvious choice to fill the role.

Yet for all his good works his prosperity was not to last. In 1843 misfortune struck when he entrusted over 11,000 dollars to a state contractor for the building of a railroad line that would connect Dixon with the rest of the state. But the man gambled the money away. Appalled, Dixon paid back the money out of his own pocket. His riverside cabin burned to the ground in 1845 and in 1847 his wife of many years passed away.

John Dixon died in 1876 at the age of 92. When the people heard the man they had once called "Father Dixon" was dead they draped the entire court house in black bunting. Ten thousand people attended his funeral service.

 Today, Dixon is a thriving, vibrant city that straddles the Rock river. If John Dixon were alive today he might not recognize the bustling town from the humble beginnings when he first arrived. But then again, he just might at that.  My thanks to Laurie Anderson for providing one of the photo's.