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Full text of "Elsah History"

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ELSAH HISTORY 



Number One 



Fall, 1971 



About Historic Elsah 



Historic Elsah Foundation has had a long begin - 
ning, first as a garden club, then, finding its direc- 
tion in the preservation and enhancement of the his- 
toric qualities of the village, as Historic Elsah. In 
that phase, there was a period of hesitation, during 
which it was found that meetings did not attract mem- 
bers, who were busy with many other activities. 
An opportunity for an annual house tour was missed, 
during the summer of 1970, because of the involve- 
ment of members in other projects. 

But the need for an organization was too apparent 
to allow the idea to lie fallow for long, and during the 
winter of 1970-71, a revision of the organization was 
was designed by a group of interested members. As 
a result, this past summer "Foundation" was added 
to our name, and we became a not for profit corpor- 
ation under Illinois law. Currently we are applying 
to the IRS for status as an organization contributions 
to which arc tax deductible. We hope this will come 
about in the near future. Our acceptance as such an 
organization depends in part on the predominance of 
our educational activities, of which this newsletter 
is one. 

In a meeting in August, the following directors 
were appointed: Alma Barnes, Edith Belote, Cyrus 
A. Bunting, Josephine Copeland, Pat Farmer, Char- 
les Hosmer, Inge Mack, Barbara Swett, and Paul Wil- 
liams. An attempt was made to draw directors from 
various groups with an interest in the village, and 
this balance will be maintained, and we hope improv- 
ed, at such time as directors are replaced. For the 
first year, Charles Hosmer will act as president, 
Paul Williams as vice president and editor, Edith Be- 
lote as secretary, and Jo Copeland as treasurer. 
Members wishing to read the by-laws or articles of 
incorporation may apply to any of the directors to do 
so. 

What the future holds is not yet clear, and will 
depend both on our dedication and the amount of sup- 
port we are able to muster. There is much to do. 



Elsah is an unusual historic community, abounding 
with educational opportunities, and in places badly 
in need of preservation. 

As it turns out, our new headquarters is also 
our first preservation project. Since the village gov- 
ernment has moved its headquarters to the old Elsah 
school, which has been renamed the Village of Elsah 
Civic Center, the Village Hall has been made avail- 
able for lease on extremely generous terms. But we 
are also responsible for its upkeep, and must take 
this assignment very seriously. The Hall is one of 
those buildings absolutely necessary to the historic 
appearance of the village. And it needs much restor- 
ation, including (with Village Board approval) stra- 
ightening, bracing, reroofing, resheathing, paint- 
ing, rewiring, and work on the interior. To accom- 
plish this work, we will need much support. 

We have already consulted with an architect well 
versed in preservation projects, and have gained 
from him a much clearer idea of what needs to be 
done. Right now, we are inquiring into the costs of 
the work. ■ 

We hope that our program is not all work or all 
education. The annual Christmas party, which has 
proved to be such a success in the past, will be con- 
tinued. We are also planning slide shows, an old 
movie night, and an annual historic trip. We hope 
that previous members will respond to our new call 
for annual dues, and that many new members will 
join with us. Dues are still $2 per year for indivi- 
duals, $3 for families. Sustaining memberships 
are $10 or more. While the newsletter is included 
with individual and family memberships, sustain- 
ing members are also given free all leaflets pub- 
lished. A form for joining or renewing will be found 
inserted in this newsletter. It can be sent with dues 
to P. O. Box 117, Elsah, Illinois, 62028, or given 
to any of the directors. Please join with us. We 
need everyone's support. 



ELSAH HISTORY, published quarterly in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter issues by Histor- 
ic Elsah Foundation, Paul O. Williams, editor. Subscription is with membership. Send to P. O. 
Box 117, Elsah, Illinois 62028. Rates: individual, $2; family, $3; sustaining, $10 or more. Sam- 
ple copies available on request. 



r 



Elsah History 



Fall, 1971 



Elsah Quarry 



As part of its new oral history program, HEF 
is interviewing elder Elsah citizens about their 
experiences in its history. The first to appear in 
a newsletter is one with Dewey McDow, who was 
born and raised in Elsah, who built the bungelow 
he still lives in, in Elsah, in the early 20's, and 
who is in retirement after many years work on the 
railroad. The Western Whiting Mill operated a 
quarry in Elsah from 1903 to 1928. Mr. McDow work- 
ed there during the earlier years of its operation, and 
gives his recollections in the following interview: 

Interviewer: Did you ever work in the Elsah quarry? 
Mr. McDow: Yes, sir. 
Int. : When was that? 

D. M. : We did that work when we was kids going to 
school in the summertime. Didn't have nothing to do. 
In summertime in them days there was nothing to do. 
Int. : What did you do? 

D. M. : Break rocks with a sledge hammer. 
Int. : That's hot work. 

D. M.: Yeah. We got fifteen cents an hour for it. 
Ten hours a day. A dollar and a half a day. I fired 
two boilers down there. Had about five or six engines 
on them, twelve hours a night for two dollars. Two 
big boilers. You had your head in the fire box all 
night long to keep them going. 
Int. : Did you use coal? 
D. M. : Yeah, coal. 

Int. : Did that come on the railroad or by river? 
D. M. : Shipped it in on the railroad. Slack coal. 
Yes, sir. 

Int. : I've heard that Walter Cresswell worked there. 
D. M. : He was foreman in the quarry there. 
Int. : Do you remember anything about blasting down 
there? 

D. M.: Yes. Willie Rister used to run that steam 
drill for years, he did. Bring the bits up here to the 
blacksmith shop and sharpen them. The drill bits. 
Int.: Was that Tonkinson's? 
D. M. : Tonkinson's blacksmith shop. 
Int. : He had charge of the blasting? 
D. M.: Willie Rister drilled the holes and Walter 
Cresswell loaded them. Put dynamite down there. 
Some they lit the fuses, and some they used batter- 
ies. Pull a battery up and let it go. 
Int. : I bet that made a roar. 

D. M. : Yeah. It sure did. I've seen it throw rocks 
right over the top of this hill over here in the early 
days. 

Int. : Did they ever hit anything with them? 
D. M. : No. They never hit anything that I know of. 
They'd come over here and light in the streets or some 



thing like that. 

Int. : How'd the people like that? 
D. M. : Well, they couldn't do nothing about it. In 
them days they was working there for a living. You 
know. Nothing else to do in them days. You know a 
dollar and a half a day was a lot of money in them 
days. Fifty years ago. 
Int. : How often did they blast? 

D. M. : Two or three times a day. Have some great 
big rocks three or four times bigger than that stove, 
and put two or three sticks of dynamite on there and 
put some mud on top of it, then put a fuse on it, and 
light her off and get away. Maybe ten or fifteen at a 
time. Somebody would just touch a match to it and 
light it and that powder would go right down to it. 
Give you a chance. The fuse was made to burn a foot 
a minute, or something like that. 
Int. : How did they do the drilling? 

D. M.: They'd start from the top and work down, then 
shoot off eighteen feet or so at a time. You've seen 
where those trees are growing halfway up the side of 
the quarry? Well, that's where they stopped when they 
quit working. 

Int. : Then the drill bits were eighteen feet long? 
D. M.: No, they'd start off with a short one, you see, 
then when it run out they'd take it off and put a longer 
one in, you see. Then they'd shoot off a ledge, maybe 
ten foot back— shoot it right off. In Grafton, at one 
time they drilled by hand. Just stand there and keep 
turning, put a little water in, and turn. 
Int. : Did they use a machine in Elsah? 
D. M. : Oh, yes. They had a steam drill here. Pipe 
steam up on the top of that bluff. Then when air come 
in they had one of these air hammers. 
Int. : Then you broke up the smaller pieces with a 
sledge hammer? 

D. M. : Yeah. Until they were about the size of a loaf 
of bread. If they were too big they wouldn't go through 
the crusher. 

Int. : Did that crush them into powder? 
D. M. No, just crush it into gravel. Then they'd run 
it through a big screen and different sizes would go in 
different bins. They had dust, then quarter inch, half 
inch, and three quarters. They used it for concrete, 
just the way they do the rock from Grafton quarry to- 
day. Just crushed it the same way. There was too 
much flint in it, though. Flint don't make good con- 
crete, you know. 

Int. : So that helped to close down the quarry? 
D. M. : Yes, that's right. The state wouldn't pass it. 
Int. : Did they make whitewash with it? 
D. M. : Well, they made whiting, or putty, out of it, 
and stuff like that. And that was all shipped out on 
the railroad. 

Int. : Did they ship any at all on the river? 
D. M. : No. 

Int. : Were most of the men that worked in the quarry 
from Elsah? 

D. M. : Everybody was from Elsah. 
Int. : Did any men move to Elsah to work there? 
-D. M. : Ch, yeah, everybody moved here because it 






Fall, 1971 



Elsah History 



Page Three 



was handy and they had no roads in here, really, in 
them days. 

Int. : Then they moved out when the quarry closed? 
D. M. : Yeah. Some of them did. Some worked at 
Grafton or around Grafton. You know there was no- 



thing to do here then. 

Int. : Thank you very much for talking with me about 

the old days in the quarry. 

D. M. : You're welcome. 




Elsah workers pose in the quarry. The quarry building in the background was originally built as the Knapp 
and Goodrich flour mill in 1857. Later it was the home of Enos Doron's celebrated Silver Moon flour before 
being converted for quarry uses by the Western Whiting Company. Picture courtesy of Mrs. Walter Cresswell. 



News Notes 



Log Cabin Uncovered 

The construction of apartments at the far end of 
the Elsah Hills subdivision has resulted in the taking 
down of an old white frame house in bad condition be- 
hind the apartment site. The razing process revealed 
that inside the walls of one section of the house was a 
log cabin, which formed a core structure around which. 
as is so often the case in the rural midwest, the rest 
of the structure was built. It formed an interior of 
fourteen by sixteen feet, and was built over a native 
stone basement still in good condition. The brick and 
stone arch over the basement stairway was in fine 
shape. Almost all the logs were oak, both white and 
black. One short one was sycamore. Although the 
logs were squared, fitted, and pegged, some bark still 
adhered to the horizontal edges. Carol Belden, owner 
of the structure, has given HEF a log, with pegs in 
place, as an item for our museum. Initial specula- 
tion puts the age of the cabin at considerably more 
than a hundred years. Further investigations will 
be reported in our next newsletter. 



A Course Involving Elsah 

A half course project in research and writing 
local history, using Elsah as its material, will be 
offered for the first time this fall at Principia Col- 
lege. This will provide students a chance to do ori- 
ginal research, which might lead to publication; will 
teach research techniques, and will incidentally great- 
ly speed the rate at which new information about Elsah 
is uncovered. The present instructor is Paul Williams. 
With continued interest, the course will be offered 
each quarter. 

A Gift to HEF 

The Elsah Volunteer Emergency Corps was recent- 
ly disbanded, their work now being taken over by the 
emergency corps of Alton and Grafton, and by the 
Quarry -Elsah Volunteer Firefighters' Association. 
In closing out their funds, the Emergency Corps 
donated to several organizations, including Histor- 
ic Elsah Foundation, which received a check for 
$55. 63. We are very grateful for this gift, which 
has been put toward the publication of this news- 
letter. 



Page Four 



Elsah History 



Fall, 1971 



Publications Planned 

Elsah History the newsletter of Historic Elsah 
Foundation, gets underway with this issue. It will 
appear four times a year, with occasional supple- 
ments, and will contain news and information of the 
organization, as well as short historical articles about 
the area and reprinted materials. 

In addition, leaflets are planned. These will be 
issued as conditions permit. They will be of no pre - 
determined size, but will take their dimensions from 
the subject they cover. Thus they may range from a 
folded sheet of four pages to a considerable pamphlet. 
It is hoped that they will provide a continual flow of 
new information on subjects related to the past of the 
Elsah area. Leaflets will be free to sustaining mem- 
bers. 



constitute a considerable part of the activity in the 
town each summer. 

Professor Struever welcomes visitors and pro- 
vides guides for them at the Koster site. The foun- 
dation also welcomes and needs financial support 
from interested citizens. As the most intense prob- 
ing into the prehistoric past in our area, it certainly 
deserves the aid of all who would preserve our his- 
tory. Friends of the Koster Expedition receive news- 
letters about the progress of the dig. 

During the winter months, the Kampsville archa- 
eological museum has been transferred to Carrollton, 
under the auspices of the local chamber of commerce. 
It may be visited there. 

Museum Planned 



Acknowledgements 

We are grateful to Mr. W. Philip Cotton for 
advice on the restoration of the Village Hall. We 
are also grateful to James Schmidt for the design 
which heads the first page of this newsletter ', and 
which we will use elsewhere as a symbol of the or- 
ganization. Thanks also are due to Gene Shultz for 
printing the newsletter, and for the many valuable 
suggestions he made in the process. 

Elsah in California 

This past summer, Charles Hosmer had the op- 
portunity to interview Mr. Byron Brock in Vallejo, 
California. Mr. Brock was born in the Brock-Belote 
house, on LaSallc Street, Elsah, in 1893. His fam- 
ily moved to Washington when he was four, and re- 
turned in 1W4 for a visit. Although Mr. Brock has 
not seen Elsah since, his memories of the area were 
vivid ;is recorded on tape for our oral history collec- 
tion. He also had some old Elsah pictures, which he 
allowed us to copy. One especially, of the waterfront, 
is a valuable document. 

Another Elsah native now living in California 
is Mrs. lieulah Carpenter, granddaughter of Elsah' s 
diarist and inventor, William McNair. She has given 
much valuable information and pictures of Elsah' s 
past. 

Koster Site 



The Village of Elsah is planning to use the former 
upper room of the Elsah School, now part of the Village 
of Elsah Civic Center, as a museum for materials of 
historical interest relating to Elsah' s past. 

The new Civic Center is now being refurbished and 
repainted. On volunteer Saturdays, complete with a 
fish fry, a number of villagers contributed their time 
and muscle in interior painting and cleaning up. Our 
picture below shows Mayor Edward Keller puttying in 
the upper room in preparation for painting. 



Under the direction of Professor Stuart Struever, 
of Northwestern University, the Koster expedition, 
working near Eldred, Illinois, has progressed great- 
ly this past summer, its second full summer of opera- 
tion. Since the dig is only about a forty -five minute 
drive from Elsah, it is a good place to visit during 
the summer — next summer now. 

The Foundation for Illinois Archaeology has been 
based in Kampsville for several years. A growing or- 
ganization, it promises to enhance greatly the archaeo- 
logical knowledge of the area. At Kampsville, a mu- 
seum open to the public, as well as four field labs,