The county is largely prairie, although it exhibits a great variety of soil and surface. There are several townships in which there is not a stick of timber (except as introduced by cultivation), yet considerable bodies of timber are found along the streams, and in isolated groves which were early called “islands.” In the early settlement of the county, and of the Northwest generally, the settlers were very careful to select locations adjacent to some grove, and to secure a timber lot was deemed indispensable to settlement. It was then supposed that the prairie land two or three miles from timber would be always open to the range of cattle. The prairie is generally of the kind called high or rolling, and many of the low portions were called “sloughs,” as they contained water except in the dry season. There is, however, very little of actual swamp land (although considerable was returned as such) in the county, and at present scarcely an acre that is not enclosed. The system of drainage by tiles is coming largely into use, which is making the “sloughs” the most valuable portions of the land.
The county is well watered, except in the eastern townships, which are the highest part of the county. A considerable stream is the Des Planes, 1)We give what we believe the correct spelling of the name, although it is often spelled O’PIain. We suppose the word to be of French origin, and that the meaning is the river of planes, or button-woods, which resemble the European plane tree. or as it is often called, the Aux Planes, which rises far to the north (in Wisconsin) and passing through Lake and Cook Counties, enters this county on Section 24, Township 37 North, Range 10 East, or the town of Dupage, and passes on through the towns of Lockport (Township 36 North, Range 10 East), and Joliet (Township 35 North, Range 10 East), a corner of Troy, and through Channahon (Township 34 North, Range 9 East), into the edge of Grundy County, where it is united to the Kankakee, and with it forms the Illinois. Just before leaving the county, it is united with the Du Page, a beautiful stream of about the same size and naturally the fullest in dry seasons, which rises in the northern part of Du Page County, where it is fed by copious springs, and enters this county in the town of Dupage by two branches – East and West Du Page – is united on Section 7 of the township, passes through the towns of Wheatland, Plainfield and Troy, and unites with the Des Planes in the town of Channahon. This union of the two rivers (by the way) is what gives rise to the name Channahon, that word being the Pottawatomie word for “meeting of the waters.” The name was given to it by Judge Peck, one of the early settlers in that locality, of whom mention is made elsewhere. The Kankakee, which is the largest, perhaps larger than the Du Page and Des Planes united, enters the county at the southeast corner of Township 32, Range 10, and dividing it unequally, passes into Township 32, Range 9, then into Township 33, Range 9, which forms the town of Wilmington, near the southeast corner, and, passing through the town diagonally, goes into Grundy County near the northeast corner of the town. A smaller stream, known as Hickory Creek, and which on some old maps was put down as Joliet River, which rises in Cook County, enters the town of Frankfort (Township 35, Range 12 East), passes through it and New Lenox (Township 35, Range 11), and empties into the Des Planes in the town of Joliet, just below the city. Of these streams, the Du Page, the Des Planes and the Kankakee afford good water-powers, which have been more or less improved as will be elsewhere noted. Hickory Creek has also a good water-power at times. Besides these there are minor streams of much value as water-courses. The most considerable are Forked Creek, which enters the Kankakee in the town of Wilmington; Prairie Creek, which enters the Kankakee from the northeast in the township of Wilmington; Jackson Creek, which enters the Des Planes from the east in the town of Channahon; Spring Creek, which enters Hickory in the town of Joliet; the Lilly-cache 2)This name is often spelled Lillycash, which we suppose to be incorrect as there is no unusual amount of cash on its banks so far as we know. The word cache is French and means a hole or hiding place, the name given by traders and Indians to the places where they often hid corn and other things., which enters the Du Page in the town of Plainfield; Horse Creek, which enters the Kankakee in the town of Reed, and Rock Run, which enters the Des Planes in the town of Troy. These last mentioned streams and several others for which we have no names, are considerable streams in times of high water, sometimes becoming impassable where not bridged, but in dry seasons become mere brooks or dry up altogether. The Lilly-cache, however, being fed by springs which are permanent, is always a beautiful little stream. In the extreme eastern part of the county in the town of Washington (Township 33, Range 15), there is a small lake or pond called Eagle Lake, covering perhaps, a half quarter of land, and surrounded by a considerable tract of marsh. The Des Planes River below Joliet Mound, expands to a considerable width, and is called Joliet Lake. The county also, especially along the water-courses, abounds in springs of good water.
All the larger streams abound in fish of the kinds known in common language as pike, buffalo, red horse, bass, sunfish, etc., etc. In the times of Indian occupation they were favorite resorts of the natives for fishing and trapping, and abounded in muskrats, mink, otter, beaver, etc., some of which still remain for the delectation of amateur trappers. The muskrat still tells the weather prophet whether we are to have a mild or hard Winter, and is almost as reliable as the moon. This region furnished large supplies in the early days for the fur traders. The various kinds of water-fowl are still abundant and furnish “sport” for those whose hearts and consciences will allow them ruthlessly to take the life of God’s beautiful creatures. The prairies also abound in the native hens and quails, the destruction of which has been restrained by game laws. In the early settlement of the county, deer were very abundant and an occasional one is seen still, but they have mostly gone with the Indian. Prairie wolves were also very abundant in the early day, and a source of much vexation and damage, and are not yet extinct. Buffaloes, no doubt, once roamed in vast herds over Will County, but had disappeared before settlement. The timber which filled the native groves and bordered the streams consisted of the various varieties of oak, black walnut, hickory, elm, hard and soft maple, button-wood and iron-wood. Of these and others there was a large and vigorous growth of fine trees on the first settlement of the county, most of which in a few years fell before the ax of the settler for the purpose of building log houses, rail fences, fire-wood, etc., and, as soon as saw-mills were built, for lumber. There were also numerous groves of the wild crab-apple, the fruit of which was tolerable for sauce, when we could get nothing better, and when in blossom the trees were a sight which cannot be excelled in beauty. Wild plums were also abundant and good, and wild grapes festooned the trees and furnished a fruit which was fair in quality and made good wine. The present growth of timber has mostly grown up within the memory of the older settlers. The scarcity of timber has now been amply compensated by the discovery of coal and the substitution of other material for fences, as well as the bringing in at low rates of the products of the great pines of Michigan and Wisconsin. For building purposes, a substitute has also been found in our abundant quarries, and also in the manufacture of brick, the material for which are found in abundance within our own borders. The bluffs and bottoms of the streams – notably of the Des Planes – furnish a limitless supply of the most beautiful limestone. The quarries of this county and Cook, on the line of this river, have become known the United States over. The southwest corner of the county – embracing portions of the towns of Wilmington and Reed, which is a rich, level prairie – is included in the coal-fields of Illinois, which furnishes, at cheap rates, the coal needed for our manufactures and our firesides. The extent of the Wilmington coal-field is not large, but it furnishes a large supply of valuable coal. The area is estimated at twenty square miles, and the thickness of the vein averages, it is thought, three and a quarter feet. This, according to the usual mode of reckoning, would give sixty-six million tons. This corner of the county is honey-combed with shafts, the depth of which varies from twenty to seventy feet. Hundreds of thousands of tons are annually sent to market. This industry has built up a considerable city in the township of Reed, of the name of Braidwood, the name of which has figured somewhat in our recent history. To show the different overlying and underlying strata in this locality we give a section of the Eagle shaft as we find it in the geological survey of the State:
Soil and drift, 22 feet, 6 inches.
Sandstone (water-bearing), 24 feet.
Clay shale (soap-stone), 27 feet, 6 inches.
Coal, 2 ft., 10 in. to 3 ft. 10 in.
Coarse, porous, water-bearing sandstone, 12 feet.
Fire-clay, 3 feet.
Coarse sandstone, 6 feet.
Greenish fire-clay, 15 feet.
This boring below the coal was made in the hope of finding a second bed of coal, which, as yet, has not been found.
Through the valleys of the three principal streams, alluvial deposits constantly occur. In the Kankakee Valley, these are mostly in the form of sandy ridges, similar to those found on the shores of Lake Michigan. In the valley of the Des Planes, are found extensive beds of limestone gravel and sand. The most noted of these is the Joliet Mound, one fourth of a mile long and two or three hundred feet wide, and sixty feet high. This is composed of gravel and boulders lying upon a bed of blue clay six feet in thickness. The early explorers imagined this to be the work of the mound-builders, but its composition and that of neighboring ridges and bluffs show very clearly its alluvial origin. The symmetry of the mound which was once so striking, and which led to the belief that it was of artificial origin, has been in part destroyed, first, by the canal, and subsequently by the “Joliet Mound Tile Company,” which has exported its gravel, and made use of its clay in the manufacture of tile and brick. All along the valley on either side and above and below it are ridges of gravel, and a still larger mound, known as Mound Flat Head, presents the same appearance on its western side, a bold, gravelly bluff some sixty feet high.
Quarries of limestone of different varieties, and of more or less value, are found in the valley of the Des Plaines from the northern line of the county to the Joliet Mound. These furnish a supply of stone for building and flagging that is practically inexhaustible. The particulars respecting the various workings will be given in the township histories. There is also a good limestone quarry at Twelve-Mile Grove, in the town of Wilton, but its distance from rail-roads, has prevented its being worked, except for the wants of the immediate neighborhood. Good stone is also found on Jackson Creek and on the Du Page. Some of these varieties of limestone furnish the right material for lime, which is largely manufactured, especially in Joliet. Peat has been found in small patches in the eastern part of the county, but there are no extensive beds.
Specimens of copper have been found, and iron nodules are found in the shale overlying the coal; and it is found in the form of pyrites in the lime-stone; but there are no important deposits of either metal. Indications of petroleum have been found in a boring upon the island at Wilmington, and in the Des Planes River, near its mouth. Considerable oil fever was generated at the time, and some money thrown away in boring for oil.
A sandstone quarry has been opened between the Kankakee and the feeder on Section 6, in the town of Wilmington, and also one on Section 20, just across the Du Page, near its mouth. There are also fine beds of molding sand in the town of Channahon. This sandstone quarry, a few years since, promised to become a valuable property. It was opened by a company, of whom our citizen, M. Haley, was one, and large quantities were sent to Chicago to aid in the rebuilding of the city. The Sherman House, and other extensive blocks are built of it. Quite a town grew up about the locality, but, for some reason or other, it is not now worked, and the town of Shermanville is deserted. The opening of the quarry showed, after the removal of the surface soil, two feet of molding sand, two feet of fire sand, eight feet of sandstone and clay, and then twenty-five feet or more of bluish sandstone. This was considered to be what Chicago especially needed – something that would not burn. But its beauty, we have heard was impaired by containing traces of iron, which soon gave it a rusty appearance; and Chicago doesn’t like to be thought rusty, and abandoned its use.
Artesian wells have been sunk in Joliet and Lockport, and the number in Joliet is not less than twelve. From most of these, a steady and copious flow of water is obtained, and very clear and pure, except that some of them contain a little sulfur. It is believed that in almost any part of the county a flow of water could be obtained at less than six hundred feet. Water was obtained in Joliet at less than five hundred feet. The drilling of one of these wells showed 220 feet of limestone, 80 feet of soap and slate stone, 110 feet of sandstone, bearing the water. When the first one was successfully accomplished in Joliet, a great number of our citizens assembled to witness the flow. So deeply interested, it is said, did some become, that they actually drank more or less of the crystal fluid, a thing which some had not done before for many years, thus renewing the experiences of their youth.
Source: LeBaron, William, Jr. History of Will County, Illinois. Chicago: William LeBaron, Jr. & Co. 1878.
Footnotes: [ + ]
|1.||↑||We give what we believe the correct spelling of the name, although it is often spelled O’PIain. We suppose the word to be of French origin, and that the meaning is the river of planes, or button-woods, which resemble the European plane tree.|
|2.||↑||This name is often spelled Lillycash, which we suppose to be incorrect as there is no unusual amount of cash on its banks so far as we know. The word cache is French and means a hole or hiding place, the name given by traders and Indians to the places where they often hid corn and other things.|