In 1849, William Sheets, Thomas Scott Morgan and the Kyger brothers, Daniel and Henry T. commenced the construction of the first steam flour mill in Vermilion County at Georgetown, Illinois. All of these men were related by blood or marriage. The mother of the Kyger brothers was Mary (Sheets) Kyger, wife of John Kyger. She was also sister of William Sheets. William Sheets married Elizabeth Kyger and Thomas S. Morgan married her sister Brooky Kyger. The Kyger sisters were the aunts of Daniel and Henry T. Kyger.
Building this mill was a large undertaking and several thousand man hours went into the project. Some men sold their share and Nathaniel Henderson and his son were taken into the partnership. The mill was finished in 1850 by Daniel Kyger, Thomas S. Morgan and Nathaniel Henderson and his son at a cost of about $6000.
The mill was quite large, 40 x 50, with three run of stone. The first story was built of timbers 14" square, the second story of timbers 12" square, the third story timbers were 10" square, and the fourth floor had 8" square timbers. The framing was under the direction of Nathaniel Henderson. The siding was of black walnut and the flooring of black oak. The insidework, millwrighting, etc. was in charge of Martin Moudy of Springfield.
The steam power drove the pin cog and wooden gear. At one point in setting up the machinery, the millwright was unable to figure out how to assemble the machinery. At this point Morgan asked young Daniel Kyger if he could set up the machinery. Daniel was 21 years old at the time. Daniel replied that he thought that he could and he proceeded to set up the steam machinery.
The three pair of millstones were each four feet in diameter. Two were for wheat and one for corn.
When the day arrived, in 1850, when the mill was completed and the machinery was to be tried out the news spread throughout Georgetown and most of the county. It was dark by the time the last minute adjustments were completed and the boiler was fired. People crowded the mill to see the building and the machinery. A lot of boys crowded into the engine room to see the most interesting part of all the mill, the steam engine. The man firing the boiler got up too much steam and the relief valve suddenly started popping off steam. Many boys got knocked down and run over as the crowd made a wild break for the door.
The mill was an instant success and drew customers from miles around. Much of the flour was shipped on flatboats to New Orleans. The flatboat would be sold in New Orleans for lumber and the man that took the flatboat downstream would return as far as possible by steamboat.
There were many curiosities about the old mill. The greatest of them all was Morgan himself, who could laugh a customer into and out of the mill again without any resting place.
Many stories have been told about the old mill, some are as follows:
One day a man doing repairs fell off the roof of the mill. He fell on the back of one of the hogs that were kept to eat waste grain from the mill. The man walked away but the hog had a broken back.
The mill consumed a lot of water and a cistern was dug to store water to assure a steady supply for the boiler. The cistern was close to the door of the engine room and was nearly ten feet across.
At the time the mill first opened steam power was new in Vermilion County and many people were afraid of the steam engine, with all of the heat and noise. One day a negro came to the mill and the men noticed that he was afraid of the noise from the engine room. They decided to have some fun out of him and told him that they had engine trouble and needed help to lift the engine. He took his place near the engine as the men pretended to get ready to lift it. At the moment that the signal to lift was given one man pulled the steam whistle and the negro made a wild break for safety and jumped the cistern near the door, as the men doubled up laughing. After getting over his fright, the man came back and peeping around the door he said, "Thought you would scare me, did you?"
At a time when Thomas Morgan was short of bed room space they decided to let his two oldest boys, Achilles and Sylvester, sleep in the office room of the mill. All went well and the boys enjoyed staying up late in Georgetown and going to bed when they wanted to. One night Achilles heard a noise late in the night and woke up Sylvester to ask him what it was. They decided it was someone trying to break into the mill and they made a hurried trip home through a light snow that had fallen while they were asleep. They failed to worry their father about the burglar and on their return to the mill the next morning they found that their tracks were the only ones made in the fresh snow. Their father laughed at the boys being scared by rats. Sylvester didn't get over his scare easily and refused to go back to the mill to sleep after that.
The old mill changed ownership and names many times. In 1854, Daniel Kyger and Nathaniel Henderson and sons went to Danville to start erection of the Danville Steam Flour Mill. In 1857, Thomas S. Morgan sold his interest and went west to Hickory County, Missouri. Other owners have been M.M. Wright, C.B. Spang and Star among others. By 1970, the old mill had been just a memory for many years and a used car lot was on the ground where the mill once stood.
Posted: 23 Sep 2009