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Friday, June 25, 2010

Major Frank Peats 17th Illinois Infantry

For the museum's upcoming "Lincoln and the Gatling Gun" exhibit, collections staff selected a number of objects, including a shell jacket and presentation sword belonging to Major Frank Peats of the 17th Illinois Infantry.
Frank Peats, circa 1860. Oil on canvas. Dunn Museum 63.1.3
Frank Peats (1834 - 1895), settled in Rockford, Illinois in 1855. Previously he had lived in Chicago and Aurora with his family. In Rockford, he worked as a painter and house repairer. When the War Between the States broke out, Peats enlisted with the 17th Illinois (Company B), mustering into service on July 3, 1861.

He was quickly promoted to captain after the resignation of an officer. In April 1862, he received a promotion to major.

In late 1863, Peats was detached from his regiment in order to recruit soldiers in Galesburg, IL. This assignment lasted until March 1864, but it is unclear if Peats mustered out of service at that time. After the war, around 1870, Peats became the Sheriff of Winnebago County, Illinois.

Invoice for 50 bushels of coal used at the 17th Illinois' recruiting office in Galesburg, IL. Dunn Museum 94.5.320

Frank Peats' shell jacket, circa 1863. Dunn Museum 63.1.7

Invitation  for Frank Peats and his wife Bessie to attend the Grand Army of the Republic's birthday party for Lincoln, 1867. Dunn Museum 94.5.11

The museum's Frank Peats Collection consists mainly of documentation relating to Peats' duties as a major with the 17th Illinois Infantry, and as the regiment's recruiting officer. Also included are a portrait of Peats, shell jacket and presentation sword, family diaries and letters, and documents from his time as Sheriff of Winnebago County, Illinois.

Detail of Frank Peats' Civil War presentation sword, Dunn Museum 63.1.1

The Peats items had been in the possession of his daughter, Mabel Peats Bloodgood of Oak Park, Illinois, and sold to a collector who then donated the materials to the museum in 1963. Though Peats did not live in Lake County, the museum's founder, Robert Vogel, actively collected Civil War materials, sometimes accepting items without a local connection.

The "Lincoln and the Gatling Gun" exhibit will be on display through September 12, 2010. Museum staff have begun planning "Civil War High Tech" to open February 5, 2011. The exhibit will mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

To research the Frank Peats Collection please contact the Dunn Museum's curators at 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Besley Brewery of Waukegan

There has been a tradition of brewing in Lake County since 1851.

In that year, Antoni Schieb, George Brownwell and Fredrich Hangebrauch purchased an acre of land along the Plank Road (Belvidere Street) in Waukegan to start a brewery. Schieb's Brewery was in operation for one year, when it sold the land and improvements to Charles Scoffin of Racine, Wisconsin. At the time, Scoffin was a co-owner of the Gnadt and Green City Brewery of Racine. Like its predecessor, Waukegan's Scoffin and Green Brewery lasted only one year.

Portrait of William Besley (1808-1897) by J. Derome, circa 1887. Besley founded the Besley Brewing Company in Waukegan in 1853. Dunn Museum 62.3.8 

The run of bad luck ended when William Besley purchased the brewery. Besley (1808-1897) was born in Berkshire County, England where he learned the maltster's trade. He immigrated to Oakland County, Michigan in 1835, where he was a hotelier and worked as a maltster for a brewery.

In 1853, he came to Waukegan with the opportunity to purchase his own brewery. Besley enlarged the small, Scoffin and Green Brewery, and incorporated it as Besley's Waukegan Brewery. His sons would eventually join him in the business.

By the mid-1860s, the brewery's ales and porters had become so popular that more buildings were needed. Besley purchased land at Lake and Utica Streets along the Waukegan River, and contructed an ice house, malt mill, hop jack, storage cooler, barrel storage, cooper's building and main office.
Original location of the Besley Brewery, Belvidere Street, Waukegan. View circa 1880. Dunn Museum.

The original brewery on Belvidere Street was converted into a bottling house. Federal Law prohibited the brewing and bottling processes to be done in the same building. William Besley is shown in the photograph (above) in his carriage in front of the brewery on Belvidere Street. He was known for always having a white horse.

In addition to their porter and ales, the Brewery's yeast was popular with locals. Pails of yeast could be purchased for pennies at local stores to make buckwheat pancakes and baked goods.

Advertisement for Besley Brewery's "Good Yeast" available at Cory & Son's Store in Waukegan. Waukegan Weekly Gazette, December 15, 1855.  

Besley's Home Brew bottle from 1908. Dunn Museum 70.109.11. 

The thick plaster adhering to the bottle (above) suggests it was found inside a wall. This may be evidence of the long tradition of sealing beer bottles in the walls of new homes.

In 1871, the brewery opened an office in Chicago, indicating that the sale of Besley's brew reached beyond Lake County.
Besley Brewery on Lake and S. Utica Street, Waukegan, 1887. Dunn Museum.

A new brick brewery was constructed in 1887 at the Lake and Utica Streets site. When it was built, the building's construction date was on the facade, but later the date was changed to 1853 to reflect the year Besley began brewing in the city.

The brewery used water from Waukegan's springs, which it claimed contributed to the popular taste and gave the beverage curative properties. Local doctor, A.O. Wright wrote the brewery stating that "the nutritive qualities of the ale and porter... established for them a high place among the therapeutic agents of the day."

Besley Brewery advertisement, circa 1904. "Half & Half" was a mixture of porter and "beer" (lager). Poster of this ad is available for purchase through the Dunn Museum's Gift Shop. 

Besley also brewed beer. There is some evidence that the transition to brewing more beer occurred at the end of the 19th century with a change in immigration patterns. By the late 1800s, heavy industry along Waukegan's lakefront brought immigrants from Czechoslovakia, Italy and Germany, who preferred beer.

William Besley died in 1897. His health declined after slipping on the street and fracturing a hip. His sons continued managing the brewery after his death.

In 1905, Besley's grandson, Frank Besley, enrolled in the Seibel Institute of Technology in Chicago where he learned to use adjuncts in the brewery process. Previously, the brewery had prided itself on using the "choicest barley" and "best hops," but a shortage of barley in the 1880s forced brewers to adapt.
Page from Frank Besley's Seibel Institute notebook, 1905. Dunn Museum 62.8.39.

The brewery then made costly changes to remain competitive, but it was at the time when many Midwest towns were voting for temperance. Years before Prohibition went into effect in 1920, communities voted to go dry.

Photo postcard of William Lux (1889-1959), teamster for Besley Brewery with delivery wagon, circa 1906. Dunn Museum 2004.6.3

The Temperance Movement effected the distribution and sales of alcohol throughout the region. It forced brewers to bypass dry towns, making delivery more costly and complicated. 

About 1912, the Besleys sold the brewery to Thomas Snelling and other investors, who continued the operation. The real shock came in 1916, when pressure from temperance was just too much for the business. That spring Waukegan citizens, including women who had recently gotten the vote, voted for the town to go "dry." According to the Waukegan Daily Sun, the brewery could not operate "in a territory where it cannot sell its own product." Customers were shocked to read the headlines: "Besley Brewery is to Quit."

There would not be another brewery in Lake County until 1942 when the Zeman Brewing Company opened in Gilmer. It remained in business until 1964 when a tornado destroyed the building.

The county's first brewpub, Mickey Finn's, opened in Libertyville in 1993.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Black Hawk the Sauk Leader

As a kid in the 1970s, I loved watching Chicago Blackhawks' hockey. Those were the glory days of Bobby Hull, Stan Makita, and Tony Esposito. I was one of those crazy people jumping for joy this week when they won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years.

The Chicago Blackhawks were founded in 1926, by coffee tycoon, Major Frederic McLaughlin. He bought the Portland Rosebuds to build the core of his new team, but didn't like the name "Rose Buds." So, McLaughlin turned to local history and his own past for inspiration. In World War I, he had served with the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Division of the U.S. Army. Members of this division called themselves Black Hawks in honor of the Sauk Native American chief. McLaughlin felt this name was more fitting for the National Hockey League.

Black Hawk (1767 - 1838) was born in Saukenuk, Illinois, and died in a village on the Des Moines River, Iowa.

He was the leader of a faction of Sauk and Fox Indians. Supported by part of the two tribes, Black Hawk contested the loss of 50 million acres of territory that had supposedly been granted to the United States by tribal spokesmen in 1804. His decision to defy government orders to vacate tribal lands along the Rock River resulted in the Black Hawk War of 1832.

Henry Blodgett (1821 - 1905) wrote of the Black Hawk War in his autobiography, published in 1906:

"Early in the spring [1832], and when the whole settlement was busy ploughing and preparing the ground for their crops, rumors began to come to us that Black Hawk and his band of Sacs and Foxes, who had been moved west of the Mississippi River… was coming back into Illinois, for the purpose of making war upon the settlements."

In 1831, the Blodgett Family had left New York for a new settlement near today's Downer's Grove in Will County. (above Henry Blodget in 1850)

With the threat of war looming, Blodgett recalled that one man came to the settlers' aid:

"On the night of the tenth of May, old Aptakisic, otherwise known as Half Day, chief of one of the bands of the Pottowotamies [sic], and whom we had seen a great deal of during the winter, as he had been often at our house, came about twelve o'clock at night and gave a whoop. Father sprang out and opened the door, and he at once began to tell father that he was to take his family and get away from there as soon as possible, that Black Hawk and the head men of his band had been at Waubansie's Village, which is the present site of the City of Aurora, in consultation with the Pottowotamie head men during the whole of the day before, endeavoring to influence the Pottowotamies to join him in the war, which he was determined on making against the white people."

The alarm went out to notify the "neighborhood" and by daylight all the settlers in the vicinity were "gathered and on the road to Chicago."

Blodgett continued:

"As we moved on, he [Half Day] moved on with us, not saying a word, simply following in our trail during the whole of the day. Our march, necessarily with ox teams, was a slow one... the old chief following us... until we were in sight of Ft. Dearborn, when he waved us good-bye with his hand, turned his horse, and disappeared."

Black Hawk was defeated by the U.S. Army and the Illinois militia, and many of his followers killed. Though he did not achieve his goal, many Americans admired Black Hawk's courage in defending his people's ancestral lands, and he became a folk hero.

Aptakisic was one of the signers of the Treaty of Chicago. The treaty was signed between the U.S. Government and the United Nation of Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi Indians on September 26, 1833. Five million acres were sold to the United States including the last tracts of Native occupied Great Lakes’ land. Cover page of the Treaty of Chicago, from the Federal Archives

Several years later, the Village of Half Day (now Lincolnshire) was named in honor of Aptakisic, whose name can be translated as "sun at meridian" or half day.

Henry Blodgett eventually moved to Waukegan where he was an attorney and a judge, and in 1846 co-founded the Anti-Slavery Society.

Source: Autobiography of Henry W. Blodgett. Waukegan, Illinois, 1906.

Friday, June 4, 2010

1837 McHenry County Ledger

An important book was recently returned to its rightful home in McHenry. The 563-page ledger book holds the minutes of the McHenry County board from 1837 to 1848. It had been missing for years, and somehow ended up in a Sangamon County antique shop.

(Photo of McHenry ledger by Catalin Abagiu for the Northwest Herald).

The find is significant for Lake County as well. In 1836, McHenry County was created out of today's Lake and McHenry Counties. This super-sized county existed from 1836 to 1839, covering part of the period of the book. In March 1839, an Act of the Illinois Legislature separated Lake County from McHenry County.

The newly returned ledger includes the earliest known government records for Lake County, including the creation of roads, which had to be approved by the County Commissioners Court.

Though the Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County is not a repository for Lake County government records, the museum does hold records for other organizations. These entities range from the 96th Illinois Regiment (1861-1865), school trustee boards (1841-1959), Waukegan fire department, general store customer ledgers, and the Royal Neighbors of America, to name a few.

Pages from the Ela Township school board ledger for 1861-1869.

Ledger book for Civil War enlisted, 1907. This book from the museum's collections, documents the enlistees name, regiment, and date deceased.

Among the museum's collections, Civil War records are one of the most frequently used by researchers.

Keeping records in ledger books was a common practice into the early-20th century. The book (above) lists the location of fire hydrants in the City of Waukegan for 1897.

The records in the museum's collections are often the only documentation remaining of an organization. Without them, there would be no primary evidence of their existence and function. The ledgers contain a wealth of information for genealogists and researchers, listing names, places, and events that would otherwise be forgotten.

For McHenry, and researchers of early Lake County history, the return of the McHenry County minute book is cause for celebration. McHenry County is digitizing the book and will be making it available online. Read more about the discovery of the McHenry County book and view a selection of scanned pages online.