HE CAME FROM BACK EAST, Vermont, where he had a spell of growing up in New York state.
The illustration of Leonard Andrus here is from Volume 2, Memories of Yesteryear, a Lee County Historical Society publication. Apologies for its dark copy.
But he returned to Vermont where he studied two years at Middlebury College. He left school when his father, a farmer, died, he having had “successful ability in that way of life.” The young man was of generations of New England ancestry and like many of his era contracted the itchy foot to Go West, at that time meaning the Midwest. Which was the frontier still the 1820’s and ‘30’s. One report states that our adventurer came to Illinois in 1827 but this is not certain. What he saw, however, planted a seed in his mind that grew with the years.
When back in New England he tried the mercantile trade, meeting with but “fair success.” He spent some time in Constantine, Michigan, where it is presumed he had relatives; but in 1833 struck out for the Ohio River, his objective being St. Louis, Missouri where he’d set up in business. First he detoured to northern Illinois. It literally was a detour.
He arrived at Dixon’s Ferry on the Rock River in 1834, hired two Indians and a canoe to take him upriver to view the prospects of the valleys and hills all around of which he’d already heard considerable. About ten miles up the canoe arrived at a Big Bend where the waters doubled back on themselves. He was awed at the water power that could be exploited to turn mills, sawmills and gristmills. He stepped ashore and claimed the property. Plans for a manufacturing site crowded his head.
He returned Back East to recruit, saying first of all that there were no more “Indian troubles,” the Black Hawk War two years before had removed the Native American to the west of the Mississippi River.
He also painted a picture of the fertile soil, the water power and the possibilities to begin a new settlement, a settlement that would support blacksmiths, plow makers, wagon and carriage factories, coopers, tinners, carpenters as well as farmers. The potential was endless. And it needed several working together to achieve it. There at the Big Bend which the French trappers/traders before them had called Grande de Tour.
Those sturdy Frenchmen had known the site for decades ... As far back as the late 1700’s, perhaps, into the early 1800’s. Their names appeared on the ledgers of the American Fur Company and among the last of them was Pierre le Porte, whose territory was probably from the rise of the Rock River north of Janesville, Wisconsin to the mouth of the winding river at its confluence with the Mississippi near today’s Rock Island, where a large Indian city was located. It was a long but rich river in which to harvest the pelts so much in demand.
Pierre le Porte was active there until around 1825 when, like others of his kind, moved onto the far Far West when settlement nudged at their elbows. He is thought to have been swallowed up in the vast reaches of the Rocky Mountains.
His great grandson, however, Frank Stevens, became a noted newspaper editor, Sycamore, Illinois, and notable author of early, early northwest Illinois history such as an in-depth study of the Black Hawk War. A valuable contribution to that chapter in our interesting story.
Le Porte was succeeded by Stephen Mack, an Easterner, too, who used the peninsula as camp, beginning probably in 1827. He, with his Pottowatomie wife, Honenega had their fur trading station to accommodate both the native Americans and the “whites” all along the Rock and its environs but they weren’t there long because, number one, his wife wanted to live closer to her family and friends and two, the Indians gradually lessened their trade with Mack because he wouldn’t sell them whiskey. They then moved north to near present day Rockton to what became Macktown where the Pecatonica River empties into the Rock. A replica of that village exists there today, a place where re-enactments of that unique chapter in northern Illinois history displays the times of fur trading days, mountain men; a colorful, educational story. Check.
The grand de tour had been well-known for years in Nature’s sense and then in 1834 became famous in the manufacturing sense. Our Eastern friend becoming the first permanent resident of the place bringing with him then several industrious people about to become a part of a vast change in agricultural history. He had returned to Vermont to Royalton actually, to finalize business there and to recruit a group to Go West. Hardworking, responsible, foresighted, their exodus must have had considerable effect, negatively, on that Vermont neighborhood. Their arrival here was to our advantage.
Building log cabins and getting settled-in was the initial duty, establishing their businesses included but by 1836 a few wives and families had come West also. On the Fourth of July, 1836, a picnic was planned to celebrate Independence and their progress.
There were seventeen men and three women and besides the usual oratory, song and food, the town well was dug, just one of their joint efforts. One man liked to tell an important feature of the day for years afterward ... Eating his first bite of Illinois potatoes! Pleasant memories of small things can become a welcome habit.
Miss Sarah Bosworth, a Vermont native too, took a tour of the West in 1837, stopping for a time in Green Bay, Wisconsin and when returning home decided to detour to the Grand de Tour!! She found “society so good and life so gay” that she remained for the winter. In June of 1838 she married the first permanent settler of the village. Their lives together were filled with one notable event after another. Did they realize it?
By 1837 a company was formed to begin the immense task of building the mill. But first the dam, millrace and sawmill must be completed. Sawmills were foremost because dimensioned lumber had to be cut to put up frame buildings plus the mill itself.
Log cabins were temporary. Anecdotes abounded about their convenience and inconvenience ... Twenty-five people “living” in a two room cabin ... cabins were never larger than fourteen to eighteen feet long on a side because of the height of the trees. One couple, too weary to set up beds in their new cabin, slept on the floor on carpets and “comfortables” to waken in the morning with a large rattlesnake slithering across their makeshift bedstead. The bride’s first duty was to rid the house of the unwelcome guest! That was early life in Illinois.
The Vermonters and what other arrivals that had come formed the “Hydraulic Company,” certainly then an impressive modern name in those days before IBM or U.S. Steel.
By 1839 the gristmill was completed, too, though many “agonizing delays” had occurred. (No machinery then, remember!) The Fourth of July that year was to feature the christening of the gristmill. But it wouldn’t start! An entire year was taken up with righting the wrong.
Meanwhile, the settlement at the Big Bend was drawing notice for its industry and number of tradesmen, storekeepers and laborers it had. When the subject of our sketch, with a co-partner announced that they would organize the “Grand Detour Plow Works” a great shout went up. Maybe.
The name and its product quickly became famous and sought after, the reason being that an “invention” had put a steel moldboard on the plow, heretofore wood or iron from which the thick, fertile soil of the Illinois prairie would “scour,” or clean.
The most well-known name at the bend from the thirties through sixties was its first permanent settler, Leonard Andrus, a man who got things done.
Born in 1805 in Cornwall, Vermont, he learned that perseverance, thinking ahead and organizing energetic men with him built America by short steps into big ones. Success meant connecting the dots because doing things alone, in the end, was slow process.
John Deere, however, in hearing the prospects of the Illinois country came by himself. One reference said that he bought his tools on credit. When he got to the grand detour he was welcomed for his expertise at the forge. There was said to have been no other blacksmith within forty miles. And Leonard Andrus, apparently, had planned to assist him in his work. Deere had gone to Royalton, Vermont because it was the hub for a number of stage coach lines therefore working as a blacksmith making horseshoes, repairing coaches, wagons for the stage lines might well mean a good trade. But according to him, he wasn’t “seeing enough profit.” So the glowing praise Andrus put on Illinois country might make a difference.
Andrus had talked the area’s major stage coach line, Frink and Walker, into running a route between Dixon and Grand Detour thus giving some extra work for Deere who needed it. Especially since he was always tinkering with moldboards using up time and material excessively some felt, Andrus was the man of the hour for getting things done.