In the late 1880s it was reported in a Savanna newspaper that “considerable excitement prevailed at the recent prospecting. Chadwick people are jubilant over the fact that the surveyors and engineers are at their pretty little hamlet. They expect a large impetus in their development due to this unexpected incident.”
Just previously the “Freeport Daily Journal” had printed that “light veins of coal have been found and well drillers have been at work. The machinery will be at Chadwick this week.”
Coal in Carroll County, you ask? As it happens, coal wasn’t the only mineral that excitement grew over in our past. Fortunately, perhaps, the riches to be discovered had to do with the surface soil that was our agricultural inheritance — and future, not anything under it.
Only a few years before this, the Honorable Judge James Shaw, he, much respected attorney and a trained, scholarly geologist, had written extensively about the geologic facts of the Northwest of Illinois for its county histories, both in Carroll and Stephenson counties and others. He had warned that though coal deposits and shales had been variously discovered, companies had been formed and a large amount of money expended, no large deposits would ever be found. Such search was useless.
The “place” of the coal mines was actually two, one near Savanna and the other in Section 35, Carroll Township, or more widely known, “Beers Tomlinson’s farm,” the Junior Tomlinson, the son of the father of the same name, an early settler and veteran of the War of 1812, was a leader among men.
Section 2 in York Township was included in this operation, as well, near “Daggert’s Station.”
In some sources it claimed that the coal or coal shales were either six inches or twenty-five inches thick and covered a hundred acres. How many holes were bored to discover these number it doesn’t say!
Despite the drilling of about a year’s time, the project was abandoned. Chadwick’s excitement dimmed. Images of train car after train car filled with coal or shale was wiped off the canvasses of hopes and dreams. Life continued in the routines of the everyday. The “pretty little hamlet,” inspiration for it came from the railroad coming through in 1886, but now the mining prospects had come to naught. And investors’ profits came to aught!
Of course, this area being so close to the lead mines of Jo Daviess County, exploration for that mineral had been attempted in many places. Only small amounts had been found. The one-time Cave at the former Smith Park, the rear/back part of the present day Point Rock Park, Mt. Carroll, had been considerably dug over with hopes of a lead strike. A vertical shaft or tunnel however deep, rapidly filled up with water in many places, preventing mineral being found. It was useless to try.
The lead fields in Carroll County were not as crowded as in Jo Daviess so seekers did attempt to find the valuable mineral in Carroll especially at the “Still House Forty Mine,” aptly named because a “business” distilled liquor down near the creek that had passed through Mt. Carroll by the 1840s. Of course, it was not known if it was the lead or the liquor that drew the lead seekers to the “Still House Forty Mine.” It was in the northwest quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 3, Carroll Township.
At about the turn-of-the century, 1900, some gentlemen from St. Paul, Minnesota came to Woodland Township northeast of Savanna and began poking around in Sections 19 and 30. There was much speculation about what the objective was and then one day it was put out that they were seeking iron ore. Iron in Carroll County?
What would become of the beautiful Plum River Valley? The gents leased several tracts to hold them for possible mining. It was thought that there were large amounts of ore. Rumors grew everyday. It would be carried from the site by wagon to a railroad branch line built from Savanna where if it assayed high, it might go to Chicago. Plans weren’t finalized yet. High, low quality of iron ore was argued as to being the content of the iron mines. There were rumors that some valuable metal lay beneath the vein of iron. What? The prospectors had to go deeper. But then that common problem stalled proceedings ... Water filling the shafts just as it had at the “coal mine.”
Again a mineral mine had to be abandoned because of the water levels. The distant site of those “iron diggins’” was pointed out to me years ago by the late Dorothy Guentner on a “tour” of the Polsgrove vicinity. Dorothy certainly knew the neighborhood as she did so much other of Carroll County history ... And the dress she wore that day!!
The “coalite mine” as told in the beginning from 1888-1890 to other mineral tales beyond and into the twentieth century, were short periods of incidents to make the county history quite unique. There is very little written about them.
Old newspaper files may hold much more but failing eyesight prevents a search.
In 1903 some “mining” DID occur successfully in fact. It was in the same area where the “coal mine” was to be explored. This time it was shale deposits or as we call it a PAINT mine. Yes, a PAINT MINE. Modern methods of the twentieth century helped developed it.