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Please Don't Quote Me

By Caralee Aschenbrenner


FROM APPROXIMATELY 1840 through the middle 1850’s, Grand Detour experienced an enviable growth, not only in population but in industry and businesses. It was the most bustling town in Ogle County. Its factories were grinding out everything from cheese to flour to steel moldboard plows, “invented” and perfected by one of its residents, John Deere who in 1839 had gone into partnership with the town’s first settler and entrepreneur, Leonard Andrus.

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The year 1848 was a landmark year because it was then that John Deere withdrew from the Grand Detour Plow Factory to move production to Moline, Illinois where the water power was greater and the transportation more efficient ... Both railroads and boats. (Moline, by the way, means Milltown, a appropriate name for an industrial center).

Although in business together since ‘39 a contract signed in 1846, a three-year one read “... contract is for a co-partnership for the art of blacksmithing, plough-making and all things thereto belonging ...”

Their first year they’d made four hundred plows, a little more than one and a half day. There were three forges and eleven employees. The partnership struggled because of their debt, slow production and sales. They hauled the plows for consignment to area merchants. It was determined finally to take in a partner, or more, whose money could assist in carrying the business forward. It was at the end of their contract, however, too much was at stake, perhaps, and Deere withdrew from the company.

Andrus paid him $1,000 for his half. It was 1848, the time of their final jobs.

For a time, Leonard Andrus ran the plow factory by himself but as business improved the workload became too much for him to handle alone so he again took in a partner, Amos Bosworth, his brother-in-law. During the 1850’s they entered their steel plow in fairs and exhibits where it took many prizes—silver cups, premiums, ribbons for being the best plow in Illinois—the State Fair and the prestigious Chicago’s Mechanic Fair, etc. The fame of the “new” plow was growing. The years passed into the Civil War and in 1862 Amos Bosworth, a Lt. Colonel, (in the army?) died, leaving Andrus to guide the business alone. Again, it was too much for one. Theron Cummins was asked to become co-partner which was successful until 1867 when Andrus died.

Cummins took on H.T. Noble as a partner and just two years after Leonard Andrus’ death the Grand Detour Plow Factory moved to Dixon, 1869. It was a blow to the little village that had spawned that earth-shaking (earth plowing?!) idea, the steel plow, an invention that, doubtless, inspired other agricultural improvements.


JOHN DEERE - Founder of Deere Plow Works, Moline

The reason the move was made to Dixon was that it had a railroad, two in fact. It was ironic that railroads were why the move was made. In the 1840’s when the first railroads were encroaching upon the area Grand Detour wanted nothing to do with them. While other towns or would-be towns, knew the railroads would come, they used every trick in the book to lure them to their site ... A couple houses at a crossroads was excuse enough to bid to become a market on the rail line. Grand Detour did not want a railroad, get this, because it would have to share the business with other stops up and down the line. Even though they were a successful market, an industrial center, they were obviously just a little too shaky in self-confidence characteristics to think they would still be primary in the marketplace with that new mode of transportation. They DID NOT want a railroad. Word was, too, that they’d priced their land too high and the railroad wouldn’t pay the price, all part of the plan, presumably. The rails instead came from Rockford to Dixon, by-passing Grand Detour. The plow factory moved to the southwest corner of Dixon to a neighborhood known as Dement Town. It was named for a local entrepreneur, John Dement, an early settler who had been an officer in the 1832 Black Hawk War ... Known throughout as the Colonel, Dement invested in thousands of acres of land in northern Illinois, even into Carroll county. He was a tireless promoter and when the Illinois Central Railroad was coming northward, he enticed them to put their depot at Dement Town where hotels, stores, trades, grew and then the plow factory would come. The people of Dixon were not happy that the Colonel had a grip on the trade and traffic down there in Dement Town and not in the City. What’s done was done. Property sold well down in that corner, you can bet.

The Chicago Northwestern Railroad came in, too, east and west, forming a “Y” with the I.C. in which Grand Detour Plow works used the site where Dement had begun a plow factory awhile back. An arrow points to the factory with the name painted on it. It’s from a nineteenth century map.

Many adjustments were made through the years, the steel plow having inspired ideas and improvements with plows and other implements. Everyone had an invention.

The Grand Detour Plow works took on another partner in 1874, a Mr. Dodge. In 1882 an ad read, “Manufacturers of sixty-six sizes and styles of plows, both iron and wood beam, sulky plows, for old ground and prairie bottoms, iron riding cultivators, shovel plows, harrows and haymakers.”

A report in the “Dixon Weekly Herald” in October of 1868 had read, “Another Plow Factory” meaning the Grad Detour arrival. But “another?” Dixon was becoming central to building agricultural implements ... “$150,000 to $200,000 business would be done! It went up from there. In 1888, however several of the factory buildings burned but rebuild took place immediately and over the next couple of decades poured out an endless stream of product.


JOHN DEERE - Founder of Deere Plow Works, Moline

Just as World War I was winding down in 1919 the “Dixon Evening Telegraph” headlined, “CASE CO. BUYS GRAND DETOUR PLOW FACTORY.”

The J.I. Case Co. had been purchasing Grand Detour plows for some time to use with their tractors. A merger had been rumored for quite awhile.

A local man was company president, W.B. Brinton with his son Bradford and Albert Leland as managers. “J.I. Case” red was now the competitor of John Deere green. The Depression came in the late 1920’s and all manufacturers were hit hard by the failure on Wall Street. In 1932 Case closed its plant in Dixon and used its factory in Racine, Wisconsin. An old ad is seen here. Anyone have a J.I. Case made at the Dixon factory?

While Deere and Co. remains at Moline, its national headquarters, Case became part of Tenneco Co. which was later bought out by International Harvestor, another ag equipment manufacturer. Following that period Case again became a separate entity. The plow business had become a complex business since it had seen one man pushing a hand-held plow. Thanks to Duane Paulsen for material used above.
As a noisy, smoky industrial town it takes a lot of imagination to think of Grand Detour when now viewing the quiet, serene landscape it is today. A drive through it on a sunny, autumn Sunday captures all its pleasant features ... Old, old houses, newer ones from the 1920’s and ‘30’s when it had become an artiest colony and antiques haven! It was a retreat for city dwellers whose second home was fitted to look quaint amongst the solitude. Well known artists of the day were seen sketching nature, the river sparkling in the background. Culture reigned where native Americans once trapped animal hides and the fing of the hammer on the anvil prevailed.
One of the most well-known celebrity to live there in “modern times” was Orson Welles, whose father, Richard, came out from Chicago to live and then buy the Sheffield Hotel, a sixty room inn and restaurant that was filled with artists or tourists or regular visitors.

Father and son Welles came to Grand Detour in 1920, bought the hotel (among others) in 1925. Orson, in season, went to Todd’s Boys School in Woodstock but lived at the Big Bend otherwise. The Sheffield Hotel burned, however, in 1928 and the Welles’ did not restore it but moved away and as far as is known, never returned.

Orson Welles became an internationally known actor, writer and director of classical drama, famous in both stage and film. More than fifty years of his life was given to his career. He died in 1985 at age seventy.

By the 1970’s that artistic chapter in the story of Grand Detour was ending. No more charming house tours, lunch at a quaint tea room, shopping at the low-ceilinged general store or antiques’ shops. The village is now a quiet little turn off Rt. 2 which IS a busy one because the John Deere Historic Site graces the village of over two hundred years of varied history. A replica and escavation of Deere’s blacksmith shop and his original home, furnished with period items (Oh, that kitchen!!!!). About seven acres have been groomed for us to catch a glimpse of history changing past. There is an annual salute to Deere’s accomplishments every summer. In 2013 it will be August 3 & 4, “Green Iron Days.” It will be the 176th Anniversary of the making of the steel plow that changed the course of World progress. Check it out.

Today we know less of Leonard Andrus, partner of John Deere, though in their era Andrus was the better known locally... “a pioneer man of influence and experience; a man who knew the important public men of the day and was one himself. Did you wonder at the pronunciation of his name as PDQ Me did? An-druss? No! In a biography it states a relative was the celebrated Bishop Andrews...” It does look OK and must have been Anglicized at some time. It was the American way to be an individual, not only in your name but accomplishment also.



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