Dayton, Illinois, USA
© Candace Wilmot
The village of Dayton was established by John Green, who came with a party from Licking County, Ohio, to La Salle County, Illinois, in 1829. My goal is to trace all the residents of the village from 1829 to 1900, and identify all the family linkages. Due to the limited opportunity to meet prospective spouses, all of the early families intermarried, so the study is as much genealogical as historical. John Green is my great-great-grandfather, so much of the history of Dayton is the history of my family. I have had the good fortune to inherit the family archives of a great aunt who was very interested in the history of Dayton.
Dayton is located on the Fox River, about 4 miles above where the Fox flows into the Illinois River at Ottawa. The original settlers were looking for a good mill site and found it at the rapids of the Fox. The village is on the west bank of the river, in the river valley, with the higher prairie ground beyond the village to the west. Dayton is located in Dayton Township in La Salle County, Illinois.
Some of the most productive farmland in the United States surrounds the village of Dayton. There is also a seam of coal running under the village, along the river. In the 19th century, most of the village residents worked in one or more of the local industries, though many also farmed nearby.
There were twenty-four in the original group of settlers from Ohio in 1829. Census data gives approximate sizes:
- 1840: Population 70.
- 1850: Population 85.
- 1860: Population 120.
- 1870: Population 173.
- 1880: Population 220.
- 1900: Population 150.
The drop between 1880 and 1900 represents the arrival of electricity, which made Dayton’s businesses, which relied on water power, obsolete.
During the Black Hawk War in 1832 there were a number of Indian attacks in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. The May 21, 1832 attack and massacre of fifteen settlers on Indian Creek, eleven miles from Dayton, caused great alarm. The residents of Dayton fled to the fort at Ottawa, where they remained for some days before returning home. There is an account by Barbara Green of the flight, telling how they almost left two little boys behind, and how the littlest girl had to be carried all the way, as she was too small to keep up.
In 1836 construction began on the Illinois-Michigan canal, which would connect the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. John Green, using a crew of Irish workers, built the feeder canal which ran four miles from Dayton to Ottawa, bringing water from the Fox River to the canal. It was this feeder canal which also provided water power to the businesses along the river at Dayton.
In 1849 a group from Dayton, headed by Jesse Green, son of John, travelled overland to the California gold mines. They left on April 2, arriving at the gold fields on September 2. They worked at mining with some success, although never making a big strike. Most of them returned to Illinois after a year or two in the gold fields.
During the Civil War, Dayton did its share. There are 8 Civil War veterans buried in the Dayton Cemetery. Further work needs to be done to determine other Dayton participation in the war.
There were a number of industries along the river, run by the water power. The woolen mill was the major industry, but there was also a horse collar factory, a paper mill, a brick mill, a grist and a saw mill. There was a hotel, catering to fishing parties who came from a distance to fish in the Fox River. There was always a store, which sold the products of the woolen mill, and also groceries and general merchandise.
The woolen mill saw its business flourish during the Civil War, supplying blankets and cloth to the army. However, after overextending in the 1860s, the woolen mill failed in 1874. As the major industry of Dayton, it affected most of the people living there.
When the Fox River dam washed out in 1904 and flooded all of the buildings along the river, all but the old woolen mill were torn down. The advent of electricity had previously put most of them out of business, and Dayton eventually became a village where nearly everyone looked to Ottawa for employment.
In the 1830s and 40s, there were several itinerant preachers in the northern Illinois area and services were held in private homes on an irregular basis. After the arrival of the railroad, when travel was easier, Dayton had visiting preachers, usually once or twice a month. They would use the school house, as there was no church building. There were established churches in Ottawa, and some Dayton people would have attended them.
Many members of the Green family were Universalists. By studying the persons performing marriages of Dayton people, more religious affiliations may be identified, but many opted for civil, rather than religious, ceremonies.
As a frontier settlement, community life was restricted to those living nearby. The 4th of July celebration in Dayton in 1840 was marked by the reading of the Declaration of Independence, an oration, and a dinner, following which many toasts were given (and reported in the local newspaper). Quilting parties, harvest gatherings, cabin raisings, all were the result of the pioneer feeling of interdependence and the need to rely on one’s neighbors. It was customary to offer hospitality to anyone who chanced to arrive at your home at night.
In 1869, the La Salle County Old Settlers Association was formed. Membership was limited to those people who had been in La Salle County by 1839. Many Dayton people were leading members and meetings were held yearly. The meetings would last the entire day, with speeches in the morning, followed by a break for picnic lunches, and then the principal oration.
Much of the community life revolved around the school and the general store, where the Dayton Literary Society kept its circulating library. By the 1870s, there were regular meetings of the Literary Society and the Library Association, along with the concerts of the Musical Union. The schoolchildren put on programs at the end of term and the plays, debates, and entertainments of the Literary Society were well attended.
There is a cemetery in Dayton, which was originally the village cemetery. When a burial took place there in 1955, the grounds were overgrown with weeds and the need to maintain the cemetery was apparent. The Dayton Cemetery Association was formed in 1956 and continues to the present. I am the historian of the association and took on the project of getting as complete a list as possible of the burials. I combined all the various readings of the cemetery taken from 1957 onward, then read the Ottawa newspaper and the La Salle County death registers for mention of persons buried in the Dayton Cemetery. There were undoubtedly older burials which will never be known, but 218 have been identified, with photographs, death certificates, obituaries, and tombstone photographs, where available. The cemetery is still in use, although new burials are now restricted to persons related to someone already buried in the cemetery.
There was a school in Dayton from the 1840s to the mid 20th century, when the school district was consolidated with a neighboring district.
Travel and Migration
The original settlers of Dayton came from Licking County, Ohio. Many of them had come to Ohio from Virginia. Other families from Licking County came to Dayton in the 1830s and 1840s. Many of the Irish who came to work on the Illinois-Michigan canal remained in the area. By 1850 there were a number of workers at the woolen mill who came from England and Scotland, often by way of the eastern woolen mills in Rhode Island and Connecticut. Later arrivals came from many of the eastern states. A few miles away there was a large contingent of French people from Alsace, some of whom came to Dayton.
Travel was difficult in the early days. There were few roads, and those few were in poor condition. The deep snows in winter were welcomed, as it made sleighing easy. In 1878, the Ottawa, Oswego and Fox River Valley Railroad was run through Dayton on a line between Aurora and Ottawa. This greatly improved passenger traffic and also allowed the shipping of the products of the various industries.
Families and Notable People
John Green was the leader of the original party that settled Dayton. He established the woolen mill, which was later run by two of his sons, Jesse and David. Two of his sons-in-law, C. B. Hess and H. B. Williams, ran the brick factory, another son, Isaac, ran the home farm, and other family connections farmed the land around Dayton. The Green farm is still in the family.
Surnames which appear with some frequency in the study: Green, Grove, Dunavan, Trumbo, Hite, Breese, Brown, Channel, Hippard, Hoag, Lohr, Luce, Makinson, Stadden, Timmons.
One of my projects is to track each lot in the plat of the original town of Dayton, listing each change of ownership. I have the information from all the deeds listed in the tract book for Dayton lots, which provides a complete chain of title for some of the lots, but much work remains to be done in probate, tax sales, and other sources to complete the others.
Baldwin, Elmer. History of La Salle County. [Chicago?]: [publisher not Identified], 1877.
Kett, H.F., & Co., Chicago, The Past & Present of La Salle County, Illinois. Chicago: H.F. Kett, 1877.
History of La Salle County. Chicago: Inter-State Pub., 1886.
Lewis Publishing Company. Biographical and Genealogical Record of La Salle County, Illinois. Chicago: Lewis Pub., 1900.
Hoffman, U. J. History of La Salle County, Illinois. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub., 1906.
O'Byrne, M. C. History of LaSalle County, Illinois. Chicago; New York: Lewis Pub., 1924.
United States and Illinois:
- Federal and State Censuses 1830 – 1940
- Agricultural Censuses 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
- Manufacturing Census 1880
- Industrial Census 1860, 1870
La Salle County:
- Birth Registers 1877 – 20th Century
- Marriage Registers and Applications 1831 – 20th Century
- Death Registers and Certificates 1877 – 20th Century
- Court Records 1831 – 20th Century
Deeds 1831 – present
Wills and Probates 1831 – 20th Century
Naturalization and Related Records
Tax Records 1831 – 20th Century
Land Ownership and Plat Maps
Funeral Home Records
Green Family Private Papers
The author of this work retains all rights and must be credited when the material is displayed or shared. Any use of the material for commercial purposes requires the written consent of the author, as does any use of a significant portion of the material for purposes other than individual private research.