by Ellen Eliza (Preston) Downing

In 1846 when I first saw the light of day, the Prairie settlement was ten years old from the making of the first claim and the building of the first house, which was also the first in what is now Mt. Carroll Township. The first houses were of logs, but, in 1850 to which my memory goes back, there were many frame houses and barns; lumber for the building of which perhaps was obtained from a saw mill built on Plum River in 1836. Savanna was the principal trading point, though many trips were made to Galena by the settlers as late as 1850. Mt. Carroll was a village and had obtained the county seat, and built the old Stone Court House. The merchant was Mr. Tompkins. His stock was dry goods and groceries, some furniture. There was no church; services being held in the Court House or in the residence of Rev. Calvin Grey, which had an audience room attached. The Prairie settlement mostly consisted of large families. There were more people within a radius of two miles in 1850 than have ever lived there since. This year the commodious brick house of Mr. John O’Neal was built.

For some years previous to 1850 the large frame residence of Mr. Lewis Bliss and Mr. Benjamin Church had been a hotel. (Transcriber’s note: This property was in Mt. Carroll Township Section 11, across the road from the Preston house by the pond. Today, in 2004, it is a farmer’s field.) A sign was in front, also a well with trough for horses for the accommodation of travelers. Many emigrant wagons each propelled by two or more yokes of oxen accompanied by herds of cattle, coops of chickens on backs of wagons, men, boys and dogs walking driving the oxen and herds. The wagons contained the families and household goods.

One day a large train went by with much fine looking stock including a little Shetland pony ridden by a little boy. These people appeared to have wealth. Their covered wagons were drawn by horses.

The gold rush to California commencing in 1849 made up a large part of this emigrant travel which lasted for several years. Iowa was being settled and vast prairies of Illinois were untouched by plough. We drove across open prairie to reach the different towns or settlements. I do not remember seeing a habitation between Como (Whiteside Co) and Green River (Bureau Co) where we stopped for dinner on a trip to Bureau Co. Several from this locality were among the "Forty-niners." Robert O’Neal was one, also a Mr. Langworthy who had taught our school and also held office in Savanna. On his return he published a book describing his travels. He brought a black girl home with him who was probably the pioneer colored resident of this township

In 1850 or ’51 Mr. Bliss ceased keeping travelers and Mr. O’Neal assumed the task. Our log house stood near the corner where four roads met. One went north to the top of the hill; then northwest to the mill perhaps two miles distant. This was an attractive walk for the children and older people also, - the last half being through timber. This road was closed many years ago. The road to Savanna was mostly through timber. The bridge over Plum River was carried away with every raise in the river. There were ferry boats on streams which could not be forded or bridged.

A line of steam-boats went up and down the Mississippi. There were a number of casualties during those years, caused by boiler explosions and collisions, sometimes with great loss of life. There was much river travel. Many pioneers arrived by water to Savanna, their goods being taken from there by teams to their destination. Savanna had been the trading point since 1837 as far as Rock River, from Rockford to Prophetstown. Many families arrived during that year.

The log house of Samuel Preston Sr. was in 1836 and 1837 the only habitation along the road for many miles. It became necessary to accommodate travelers and his house was enlarged for this purpose. The first settlers of Elkhorn Grove, the Humphries, the Knox, the Etons, Garners from Cherry Grove and others going to Savanna for supplies staid there over night. The house was half a mile north of the present Savanna State road, the road at that time going past it. When the drawing of section lines was completed, the road was changed to its present location and Mr. Lewis Bliss took care of the traveling public. About 1852 he sold his farm to Elijah Sterns. A large barn across the road from the Bliss hotel in the South west corner formed a part of the premises and was a land mark in those days. A large tree stood four miles west of this corner, on the Savanna road and was known as the four-mile tree. After a few years it was cut down and the remains was known as the four-mile stump.

News from the outside world in 1850 and previously came to us in The Dollar Newspaper - price one dollar per year. I do not know where published, probably at Galena. The print of a silver dollar formed a part of its Superscription. The Hagerstown Almanac and Dr. Janes Medical Almanac were yearly visitors. Dr. Janes medicines were much used in families. The only lights obtainable were from tallow candles and from lard burned in tin lamps. The wicks were made at home of canton flannel. The lamps made very good light. Snuffers were necessary to remove the charred wicks.

When preaching was to be in a school house - service was announced to commence at "Early Candle light". The audience was expected to bring a few candles in candle sticks with them.

Lanterns were of perforated tin with place inside for a piece of candle. There were globe lamps, with globe of ground glass, for burning lard, these were a luxury.

Kerosene lamps appeared in the sixties and it was thought nothing could ever be any better. Lights became better in town streets and churches and the need of having the hymns lined for congregational singing was lessened. A good fire in a fireplace helped to light a room and brought comfort and cheerfulness also.

Travelers carried their money with them sometimes in large sums. One farm was paid for in twenty dollar gold pieces brought from Pennsylvania.

Most families had cook stoves in 1850. Previous to that the cooking was done in fireplaces provided with cranes upon which to hang kettles. The first stoves had elevated ovens. Matches were a new invention at this time. They stood perpendicular in their pasteboard boxes with the phosphorous preparation spread over them. When a match was wanted it was broken loose from the others.

Envelopes had not been in use long and they were not self sealers. A box of small round wafers had to accompany them. Previous to the coming of envelopes, letters were written on foolscap paper leaving a space blank for the address. Then it was folded a certain way and fastened together with sealing wax. That method was in use as late as 1848. A letter from a forty-niner which came to our house in 1850 from California was sealed in this way.

Writing was done with quill pens made at home or by the school master, this being a part of his accomplishment. Steel pens came into use about 1854. School books were McGuffey’s Readers and Speller, Mitchels Geographies with atlas, Daviess Arithmetics and Algebra.

Our schoolhouse was the former small frame residence of Lewis Bliss near the corner where the roads met. It could not have been more centrally located. There were few desks, seats were rough benches. The teachers in this improvised school house were Mr. Langworthy, Mr. Northrup, Miss Mary Hall, Miss Sarah A Woodruff and Miss Chadwick. Teachers boarded around a week at a time with each family. There had been other terms of school previous to this one held in residences.

While emigrant wagons were mostly propelled by oxen at this time, horses were in general use for farming and teaming. Prairie was broken by oxen - several yokes on a breaking plow.

There had been much malaria caused by turning over the soil.

There were many quack doctors - no medical certificate being required then or for many years after. Any one could hang out a sign claiming the title. Distilled liquors were as easily obtainable as any thing else. No license was required for either making or selling. There were no saloons and very little drunkenness. Drinks were sold over a bar in hotels and country taverns. Drinking was not popular with the best citizens.

About 1852 the first schoolhouse was built one fourth mile south of the corner. Then the improvised school house became a residence again. Many families lived there successively, mostly new arrivals.

The new school house was unplastered during the first summer, and furnished with benches without desks. These were made fairly comfortable by turning our faces to the wall and using the baseboards to support our feet. Before the winter term the walls were plastered and we were deprived of our foot rests, much to our disappointment. Desks were furnished which were promptly ornamented with jackknives.

The Mt. Carroll Seminary had been subscribed to and launched as a joint stock enterprise and was likely to be a failure financially, when it was sold by those holding a controlling interest to the Misses Wood and Gregory, who had been employed as teachers.

The school books which they introduced gradually came into use all over the county. Saunders Readers and Spellers, Clarks Grammers, Stoddards Arithmatics and Algebra’s held sway for many years in this immediate vicinity. Under the new management of the Seminary they were thrown out and also from town and country schools.

About 1853 a teacher J. C. Thomas by name from Cazenovia, New York was employed to teach the winter school. He brought new ideas some of which were his own. He was an expert in shorthand, and introduced phonetic readers and spellers into the classes for younger pupils. Those who had been advanced to third reader were put back into first, which was very humiliating. He declared that it would not be twenty-five years until all printing was done in phonetics. The radio and the flying machine would have been a safer forecast.

His writing for his own use was all done in short hand. He remained two winters and one summer then was employed as head of the Savanna schools. He had some pupils there in stenography. He was a hard worker in his eccentric way, and took pride in being fanatical. His punishments were cruel and unreasonable. One family of children, the youngest only six who had walked nearly two miles through deep snow, were immediately sent home for arriving late.

He was tall and thin with piercing black eyes and Roman nose, wore a black alpaca duster. When outside, he never walked, made flying leaps over fences and "ran across lots" to his destination. Many fists big and little were shook behind his back when at a safe distance on account of unjust punishments. The pupils numbered from 60 to 70 in winter. His sister was employed here after him and also in Savanna for several terms.

Other teachers after the Thomases were - Stephen Libbie of Corno (Como), Miss Chase of Polo, afterward wife of Colonel Waterbury of Civil War, Mr. Crosby a Civil Engineer who was employed building the railroad here - now the "Milwaukee", D. T. Wilson from New York, afterward of Abington Seminary Ill, who came during the Civil War, Hattie J O’Neal was employed almost constantly for several years and afterward in the schools of Mt. Carroll, Lanark, Savanna, Thomson and Leaf River.

My recollection is that Miss Witt was the first Superintendent of the graded schools in Mt. Carroll. She was succeeded by L. C. Hays and three assistants. School was in the basement of the old Methodist Church - afterward Cole’s Opera House - now demolished. Mr. Hays married Adeline Sterns of our Prairie Settlement. He was afterward a member of the Legislature from Chicago for several terms.

During those years previous to the Civil War, Mr. English was editor of the "Home Intelligencer" which I think was Mt. Carroll’s first newspaper. His failing health obliged him to give up the enterprise and return east.

The ferrule was a favorite weapon of punishment with early pedagogues. If the hand of the culprit was jerked back a strike on the elbow would sufficiently straighten his arm. Mr. Crosby kept a very large one of black walnut and used it in one instance, at least, with such effect that he came nearly having to answer to the Courts. Even in those days when teachers were given almost unlimited license with rod and ferrule. He may have been an efficient engineer but was out of place in the school room. His ferrule disappeared mysteriously.

Mr. Thomas tried an experiment with a boy he kept after school for punishment which he did not repeat. He said: "Now I will give you your choice: I will whip you, or you may whip me". To his surprise the boy promptly said that he preferred to whip him, which he did with all the strength his arm could muster. The weapon was the usual ferrule. The teacher told the story himself.

The Hanover Woolen mill was much patronized here in the Sixties. Wool was sent there to be carded and spun and sometimes woven into blankets and cloth. Their agents also sold their manufactured goods here.

From 1854 and during the Civil War, The New York Tribune - Horace Greeley publisher, was our principal medium of obtaining news and came to us weekly. Some of Charles Read’s novels were running as serials "Very Hard Cash" and others. Also Mr. Dicken’s "American Notes" gathered from his travels in this country. Some of his uncomplimentary remarks about Americans were editorially struck out. Mr. Greeley published some articles of his own on cooking which were amusing.

In summer when pastures became bare the cows were allowed to graze on the highways and unfenced timber. A bell was put on the leader and the others followed. They usually (like chickens) came home at night, but sometimes they decided to remain, and had to be found and persuaded home by a boy and dog.

Cows were very neighborly in town streets in 1856 and later - their town owners allowing them to hunt their living through Summer. Sidewalks, the few there were, were of boards. Churches were better attended than now. The County seat was removed from Savanna to Mt. Carroll in 1843 by a majority of 41 votes out of a total vote of 421. The Stone Court house was built in 1844.

Mr. Samuel Bailiss owned the present County Farm. After selling it to the County, he went to Nebraska where he became owner of much of the land on which Omaha is built. His sale of lots brought him much wealth. He had laid out a town where the Fairground now is. A Post Office named Richmond was kept there for a time by Mr. Charles Hawley. This was in 1840. The Railroad would have gone through it. So also would the cyclone of 1898. The name was changed to Panama by the Post Office department as the State had another Richmond. It cost about 25 cents to get a letter. The patronage was so small that it was abandoned in 1841.

During the first years of pioneer life the settlers hauled wheat to Chicago in wagons with ox teams. My father told me that his wagon and teams became mired in the slough which is now Oak Park on one of these trips. When the railroad reached Freeport, that became the market for produce. Many loads of hogs butchered, dressed and frozen were sent there from here to be sold.

The first settlers were from New England and New York principally. A few years later they came from Pennsylvania and Maryland to town and country. Churches were built in many country places, and their quarterly meetings attracted a large gathering.

Many towns burned for the want of fire protection. There were no furnaces, no bathrooms. Hotels had warm rooms only where they had stoves or fireplaces. A common living room was provided for women guests, heated by stove and the bar-room for men. Wood was the only fuel. The old Seminary was heated with wood stoves. Coal did not arrive here till brought by the railroads. School houses were heated by box stoves surmounted by a drum, which at least kept the head warm. Chilblains from frosted feet was a common affliction in spite of the home made woolen hose.

But the country still had its vast forests of virgin timber and unexplored coal mines. Our lakes and rivers were unpolluted and teeming with fish.

A band of Indians were camped on the Mississippi low lands south of us one winter for the purpose of hunting and fishing when those lands were as nature made them. Perhaps it was their old hunting ground or that of their ancestors. They made frequent visits to residents in this locality.

The first editions of "Uncle Tom’s Cabin" were printed in large type with many illustrations. The volume was nearly as large as a family bible and cost five dollars. "Dred" in two volumes and "Ida May" were much read books in the anti slavery agitation period previous to the Civil War.

The "New York Ledger" devoted almost entirely to the publishing of love stories made interesting reading in the absence of better fiction and was said to be a gold mine for its proprietor. "Widow Bedott" was one of the humorous books of that period.

Few recreations were permitted. Dancing was frowned upon and denounced from the pulpit. Cards were the invention of the Evil One - though our elders seemed to know how to use them. Attendance at a Circus was depravity itself and all or any of these vices were cause for expulsion from Protestant churches if indulged in. The pendulum appears to have swung the other way now. Circuses, in the absence of railroads traveled the highways in wagons from one town to another. If there were animals, the elephants and camels were driven. The elephants hungry for green food, stripped cherry trees with their trunks, of leaves and green fruit until clubbed along by their keepers.

In the early fifties a large army of seventeen year locusts arrived to contest the possession of the country with the white settlers. They made much noise and divested the trees of their foliage. There was a superstition that W on their wings presaged war before their next visitation. I have never seen one without the W and the wars we have had.

The Fremont and Buchanan Campaign in 1856 was a season of much enthusiasm especially in the new born Republican party. A large mass meeting was held in the grove west of Mt. Carroll, with Cassius M. Clay of Kentucky, cousin of Henry Clay, as orator. This son of a slave state was escorted by a long procession of teams with banners, floats and martial music, and much cheering. Hurrah for Fremont and Jessie (his wife) was heard on every side. A much larger mass meeting was held at Freeport attended by a large delegation from Mt. Carroll.

My father was one of many others who drove from here to Freeport and was present at the Lincoln and Douglas Debate in 1858.

When the Racine and Mississippi Railroad, now the Milwaukee, was being built about 1854 there were Irishmen lying asleep in the fence corners, over come by something besides work. One of them became very active one evening and went dashing through houses wherever he saw a light, frightening women and children. He said a couple of men were chasing him and trying to kill him. He was taken to the O’Neal house where they tried to detain him but he eluded them, and a few days after his body was found in Plum River.

The railroad was built by money derived from the sale of farm mortgages along the right of way, then sold by the promoters leaving the stock-holders with nothing but their worthless stock and millions of dollars of obligations.

The case dragged along in the courts for a few years when the U. S. Supreme Court decided in favor of the farmers. Only a few were benefited as most of them had settled the fraudulent claims. It was several years before cars were running on those tracks and later still before we had a direct road to Chicago.

There was an epidemic of mad dogs about 1858; A child in York Township was bitten and died. Others were bitten. A madstone was said to have been applied in some cases. A number of dogs were seen to have rabies and were killed. Much fear of stray dogs was felt by children for several years.

In 1850 men wore satin vests and cravats for neckties; the latter had to be pressed as often as worn. There were still some stocks left as relics of a former fashion, made of satin over buckram, each enclosing a steel spring which came together in the back making it self-fastening. A bow in front completed it. White ones were worn at weddings. Gloves for hard service were made of buckskin which was very plentiful. Venison was brought in by hunters as late as 1850; and dried venison was a part of the food supply. A large bear was killed this year not far from the settlement and one of the paws was left at our house.

About 1852 a neighborhood fish scein was made. Each family interested, making a section at home. I think white carpet work was the material used which was doubled and twisted on a spinning wheel. A shuttle was used in the tying. Spinning wheels were in many homes.

The only fruit obtainable was dried, which was kept in the stores except that which grew wild. About 1853 there was a crop of peaches for those who had raised trees. They were preserved with sugar or dried.

Canning of fruit commenced in 1856. Before cans were obtainable wide mouthed bottles were utilized and made air tight with sealing wax. The first cans were of tin to be sealed with wax; next came self sealers of tin and soon after - glass.

The first fresh oysters came in tin cans. Perhaps, preservatives were used. They were uncooked. Ice cream came into use in the late fifties. Latch strings for door latches were of buckskin and very durable. When pushed through the door to the outside a pull on one lifted the latch.

When the fashion of hoops first reached us in 1856, there were none to be had in the stores.

Skirts heavily corded were starched stiffly and dried over a barrel. They did not keep shape very well when worn.

The first to appear in the stores were rataris in graduated lengths - shortest for the top three or four in a set. These were run into a shirred skirt. After some months of this inconvenience, some one invented the woven skirt made of wide tape and covered steel springs. Large bustles were usually a part of this outfit. The Empress Eugenia was the instigator of this infliction and all other fashions for women till the French Empire fell. The newspapers and magazines which carried illustrations were full of caricatures of women occupying the whole stage and diminutive men crowded into corners or tangled up in the wire cages struggling to get loose.

After the hoop skirt era was over, the artists had to look elsewhere for a subject.

Skating caps were worn in the Sixties by women and girls. The finest consisted of a band of beaver fur around the head, with crown of silk velvet or plush. From the back was suspended a couple of fur tails.

Shakers came in the early fifties made of woven palm leaf, and shaped like a covered wagon. A cape of thin cloth-sometimes of silk was attached and fell around the shoulders; and over the top were rows of pleating of the goods. They were worn on dress occasions until the novelty wore off; then took the place of sun-bonnets. Bonnets of white leghorn were worn by women with white runching or wreath of flowers or both around the face with wide ribbon strings arranged in bow under the chin.

Shawls were worn by men in the late 50’s and for two or three decades there after. Their use was not general. A young man was not properly equipped for winter without a large wool scarf with bright stripes across the ends one of which was thrown over the shoulder.

The Grecian Bend was a feminine folly and gave the artists another opportunity to display their talents. The Kangaroo figured largely in the cartoons. This was about 1870. Pantalets arrived here about 1850 for girls who wished to be up to date in matters of dress. They came nearly to the shoe tops, were very troublesome to the wearers who wished to take any exercise in the playground, as they needed constant attention.

Peddlers were frequent visitors at farm houses. The Irish carried Irish linen tablecloths. The tin men who had wagons exchanged a tin cup or spoon for a sack of rags. The Jews carried packs of (sometimes) imported goods on their backs twice as large as themselves. Silks, Bombazines, Irish Poplins, Satin and Persian Shawls. (Note as of September 2010: I originally read this type of material was "Barnbagines" but I have been advised the correct word is Bombazines, a twilled silk and worsted cotton blend fabric.) Their prices were about double what they expected to get if the beating down process was successful for the buyer. Two of them formed a partnership and became leading merchants in Mt. Carroll.

Peddlers preferred lodging in farm houses to hotels; a cotton handkerchief was thought adequate pay. If there was a team to feed, it was worth about two handkerchiefs.

A strange fashion of wearing the hair came about the time the Seminary was organized. It was combed up over each eye to look like immense cow licks. A woman of strong personality was made very noticeable by this arrangement.

Another method of wearing the hair, required the use of puff combs with wide rolling rims. They were inserted over the ears and pushed back to make the front hair stand out from the head and were considered very becoming. This was a reaction from the method of combing it smoothly down over the ears as is seen in the old daguerreotypes.

In 1852 hats for young girls were of white leghorn with very wide brims. These "flats" untrimmed cost three dollars. A narrow ribbon was attached to the base of the crown in front to enable the wearer to hold the wide brim down when the wind blew.

The nightly serenade of wolves from the nearby timber is a part of my first recollections. This dismal howl commenced soon after night fell and was heard frequently for several years. Deer were plentiful during the first years of the settlement. In 1836 my father saw a herd of forty near the mouth of Carroll Creek. After the deer were frightened away, quails, prairie chickens, ducks and geese were the target for the hunters’ guns.

The first Summer of our new school house some barefoot boys during the noon hour, in the absence of the teacher, swung up through the trap door to explore the unfloored attic. The teacher returned sooner than they expected and stood ready with a switch which she applied to their bare extremities as they dropped from the trap to the desk below. The descent was made as rapidly as possible. The punishment was not severe but perhaps as great as the crime.

One pedagogue measured a little seven-year-old to see if he could put him into the hot stove drum to punish him for being in mischief. He decided that he could if it was necessary. The youngster looked uncertain whether to laugh or cry.

During the winters when sleighing lasted all winter, when the track had become as smooth as glass, the school boys had a long board also very smooth which would carry a string of boys and girls down the hill and over the bridge as fast as they now in their old age ride on wheels propelled by a gasoline motor.

One day the Methodist minister was approaching the school house from the South with a horse and cutter when the latter upset in a snow drift and the horse tore the shafts from the sleigh and ran. The boys were ready for him and in heading him off turned him into the school house. He got in as far as the shafts would allow, which was most of him, when the boys caught and delivered him to the minister. There were some frightened girls in the school house, also a scared Professor who leaped upon a desk and wouldn’t have been much protection but it happened no one was hurt.

There was much snow during those winters; highways drifted full - fences taken down to allow travel through fields, hard crusts formed on snow banks which covered many fences and permitted walking over them. Railroads blockaded for weeks. There were many sleighing parties to the tune of sleigh bells with an occasional upset in the snow, which was not serious unless the team ran away and forced the parties to walk home.

Our primitive school house was the scene of many gatherings. Singing schools every winter to which sleigh loads came from towns and surrounding country. The leaders of this singing class were Albert Tomlinson, Lyman Tomlinson, Richard Casselberry and others. The pupils read their music from sight. No instrument used except a tuning fork by the leader.

A gifted teacher in later years was Meade Ripley. The scene of his work was at Locust Grove where a class met every winter under his leadership. His rich tenor voice has been long remembered.

Magic Lantern shows were held in school houses - the probable reason being that no rent was asked. A ventriloquist exhibited an educated pig with his Punch & Judy show, which could play cards.

In 1860 came the tornado which destroyed the towns of Albany and Camanche with great loss of life thirty miles south of us. Those who took refuge in cellars escaped harm. A wife of a minister saved herself and children - there being no cellar - by means of an iron bound box in which they had shipped their goods. She placed the three children inside and followed them closing the cover. After the storm had passed their brick house lay in ruins around them. This family afterward became our neighbors. Our own tragic experience in the storm of
May 18, 1898 is not yet ancient history.

Not far from 1860, there was a robbery at the village of Jacobstown. An old man had several hundred dollars in gold secreted in the walls of his log house, which disappeared. His suspicion fell on some neighbors and there was investigation and much publicity. I do not think the loot was recovered or any one punished.

This locality was fortunate to have for forty years or more a competent surgeon Dr. B. P. Miller. Broken bones under his ministration were made as good as new. He frequently had the task of breaking over the results of the malpractice of other surgeons. No x-ray or plaster of Paris casts to assist him. He was very efficient in other lines of surgery.

Mr. Elijah Funck was a familiar figure in those early years; his office of County Surveyor was held for many years with out opposition and until his death. The four-horse team and wagon of Mr. George Grove made daily trips hauling flour to Savanna - perhaps for shipments on Steamboats. A stage line was between Freeport and Savanna until the Railroad was completed. A stage coach made regular trips between Mt. Carroll and Polo- was a convenience for Seminary girls from that place, and others and carried mail.

For some years northern Illinois was infested by an organized band of robbers called Bandits of The Prairie. They had their head quarters at Milledgeville. Some were captured had their trial at Savanna (the county seat at that time) and sent to the penitentiary. They made raids on the settlers, robbing and driving away their stock.

In Bureau Co. a stock buyer who was known to carry considerable money with him was probably saved from robbery by his horse. He was riding through the woods at night when his horse suddenly stopped and refused to proceed though the rider could see nothing ahead. He allowed the horse to turn into the timber, circle around and came into the road again further along. Then on looking back he saw two men standing one on each side of the road. Stock dealers drove their cattle to Chicago many times sitting on their horses all night to keep them together.

Some of the Pioneers had witnessed the shower of meteors in 1832. Sumner Downing had traps set on Mt. Tom in Massachusetts and went to look at them; about two o’clock the phenomenon occurred. A resident of another county in this state (Ill) was returning from mill late at night and witnessed the unusual sight.

During the twenty years following the disappearance of the deer, the prairie chicken, the wolves and many of the quail and the primitive log cabins had been replaced by frame and brick houses, the much desired railroad had come. Farms had grown up east of us, large farm buildings were erected and windmills supplied water from wells dug by machinery on what had been dry prairie.

Then after those years of peace and progress came the Civil War and the call to arms.

Families living in or near our Prairie settlement in 1850 were those of Jonathon Cummings, Hollis Cummings, Joseph Warfield, Lewis Bliss, Samuel Preston Sr., Samuel Preston Jr., Joseph Ferrin, David Harrison, Heman Downing, Sumner Downing, John O’Neal, Robert Petty (deceased), George Stewart, Mr. Heeney, Mr. Bibbins, Stephen Kneale, Thomas Lambert, John Lambert, John Tomlinson, Albert Tomlinson, Elijah Sterns, Malan Hollingsworth, Daniel Christian, Nathan Downing, Rezin Everts, John N. Keech, Charles Hawley, Mr. Hough, Samuel Bailiss, Hiram Francis, Hezekiah Francis, Benjamin Day, John Carter, Jonathan Manning, Dennis Holmes, Thomas Kinney.

The father of Daniel Christian arrived after the family - was a Revolutionary soldier and is buried in the old Mt. Carroll Cemetery. Hezekiah Francis was the first Sheriff of Carroll Co. Sumner Downing was the second and rang the first bell in the stone Court House. Jonathan Cummings built the Cummings - Chaflain-Fulrath mill. John Carter went to California during the gold rush, then returned for his family and settled in the Imperial Valley and became owner of hundreds of acres of wheat lands.

The "sixties" and "seventies" are referred to by the present generation as pioneer days. Yet we thought we were quite civilized then, with the telegraph and railroad, comfortable houses and barns, grist mills, good bridges, a Mt. Carroll Seminary which admitted pupils of both sexes; a graded school, several churches; a new Court House, carriage manufacturers, brick kilns, three or four dry goods stores; two drug stores; two hardware stores. First National Bank, two hotels, skating pond.

Lecturers of national renown came to talk to us, among whom were Wendell Phillips, Bayard Taylor, Mrs. Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Ann Eliza Young and others.

Hotels were sometimes publicly censured by speakers for not furnishing more warm rooms for guests who were willing to pay for them. As that meant more stoves and impossible chimneys, the cold rooms had to wait for furnace heat.

The railroads excursion trains were mostly made up of flat open cars. These were brought into requisition when the Iowa State Fair was held at Clinton. The ride home after night was exceeding chilly, but was preferable to standing in present day street cars, as temporary seats were provided in the former.

"Marching Through Georgia" had just been published at this time and was sung there by an exhibitor of pianos at the Fair.

Ellen Eliza Preston Downing was born June 7, 1846 to Samuel Preston and Sarah Ann Garrett Preston in a log cabin on Preston Prairie, a rural area west of Mt. Carroll, Illinois which was named after her father and grandfather. Somewhat after her birth (probably within five years, according to Samuel Preston’s History of Carroll County), her family built and moved into the Old Grout House adjacent to a pond, along the Mt. Carroll-Savanna road, which was a landmark to travelers for generations. She married Harvey Loomer Downing, also of Preston Prairie, on December 8, 1869. They were the parents of three children, Norman (who died at two years old), Clifford, and Harvey Loomer Downing. Oil painting was her hobby and she painted many works of various subjects. She died at age 101 on January 19, 1948 at her house on Clay Street in Mt. Carroll.

Like her parents, husband, and husband’s parents, Ellen Eliza Preston Downing was interested in history and genealogy all of her life. Log Cabin Days is not dated but appears to have been written sometime between 1908 - 1920. Some parts of it are numbered, suggesting it may have been published in a Mt. Carroll newspaper, but I have no proof this occurred. This text was transcribed from Ellen Eliza Preston Downing’s original handwritten text by Erma Metz Krum and Alice Horner. All transcriber’s notes are written by Alice Horner.

Samuel Prestons
History Of Carroll County

Samuel Preston Family