Brown Creek in Rock Run Township was dammed up even before 1845 which indicates the importance of that first industry in the frontier settlement of America—water power for mills; sawmills for dimensioning timber into lumber, then for grinding grain, grist mills.
Bountiful springs in Rock Grove Township, “twin” to Rock Run, helped make up the best streams in Stephenson County for mill sites.
The grind stones (buhrs) used there in section five, Rock Run, were already “second hand” in 1845 when put to use by Michael Shane who’d first put up a sawmill, then a grist mill where the pair of stones, originally from Pennsylvania where, apparently they’d also been used. Later reference stated they were already a hundred years old!
Dr. Thomas Van Valzah had purchased a claim of John Goddard on Cedar Creek over west, 1837, to put up a crude sawmill then the usual grist mill followed. Van Valzah, a Pennsylvanian was “enthusiastic” about the potential of Northwest Illinois and had urged others to Come West. It was he, too, who led his neighborhood in vying with William Baker at the ferry south on the Pec for rights to a county seat but “Tutty” won out with his “free port.”
Van Valzah’s site was identified as “Cedar Creek Mills,” later Cedarville after John Addams bought the millsite in 1845 to construct a more proper mill on the Cedar. He sold the “old” stones to Shane in Rock Run. The usual progression of ownership followed in the ensuing years.
By 1871 Andrew Stahl sold the Rock Run mill to Robert Cotherman, a miller of long experience, who in 1877 completed a vast change of character in the millsite and its environs that for about three decades became a popular recreational “pleasure ground.” It was known widely as “Cotherman’s Lake,” (as seen here) the millpond being quite formidable.
The 1880 Stephenson County history states that in addition to the mill there were sixty-three additional acres that he landscaped beautifully to make it a picnic spot and with rowboats to be rented (from a ticket booth) for floating serenely on the lake and an ice cream stand to satisfy the sweet tooth, folks were drawn from all over the Cotherman’s.
Although the mill ceased operation about 1900, Cotherman had meanwhile enlarged and deepened the lake and made other improvements for the enjoyment of neighbors and “tourists.” It was a welcome distraction from the hectic pace at the turn-of-the century!
Perhaps it had been the strict rules Mr. Cotherman had enforced as “guardian” of the millpond. One example given stated that a “courting couple” had stripped some fronds from a weeping willow from their boat and he told them they had to leave for such a deed ... “Rowdies and litterbugs” were not allowed. He then took their boat and rowed out to clear the debris from the water! But all good things come to an end.
The next owner had no time for “pleasure seekers.” In fact, he attempted to let the lake “fill in” with silt or sand so as to be able to farm over the tract.
The owner following Elmer Barker, however” Thomas Lincoln, opted to again make the site a recreational area but for duck hunting. At his purchase in 1920 and with his two sons, Seward and Robert, tried to develop the lake into a recreational grounds but was unsuccessful. We take that to mean duck hunters were not interested. The search for the lake had been a trying experience, too, because, apparently, it was “lost” which eventually people began calling by that name, “Lost Lake.”
As the generations advanced Cotherman’s Lake became Lost Lake which it remains to this day along with another identity.
There must be some aura, some spirit, some sort of energy that draws people to that site which becomes evident in subsequent events in recent times. In 1961 it again completely changed character and in a positive way, a people-way. It added another “flavor” to the melting pot that Northwest Illinois has subtilely become. Next week.