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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
D. M. : Yeah. Until they were about the size of a loaf
of bread. If they were too big they wouldn't go through
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
Int. : Did they ship any at all on the river?
D. M. : No.
Int. : Were most of the men that worked in the quarry
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
was handy and they had no roads in here, really, in
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.
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
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-
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-
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.
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
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,