Text by Alice Horner
Color Photos by Gene Stubbe
Almost everyone who has traveled Highway 52/64 in Carroll County between the Ogle County line and Lanark has noticed the rest stop. And they probably wondered why there would be a rest stop on a 2-lane road in Carroll County that wasn’t particularly scenic. At this rest stop is a historical marker, which also seems unusual for this part of Carroll County. But indeed it’s important, because it describes the stone arch bridge just across the road and slightly south, and claims it was very near this bridge in 1832 where Abraham Lincoln camped as a private during the Black Hawk War.
The Stone Arch Bridge, that stands to the east of the present highway, was on the Galena Road, once the most important trail in northern Illinois. Along this route innumerable people streamed northward to the lead mines near Galena every spring and many returned southward in the fall. The movement was likened to that of the fish called Sucker, from which the State received its nickname.
This portion of the road from Dixon was surveyed in 1830 as the road from Woodbine Springs to Ogee’s Ferry (later Dixon’s Ferry, now Dixon), replacing the longer 1825 Kellogg’s Trail and the 1826 Boles’ Trail. Roads from Peoria and Chicago joined at Dixon and continued as one to Galena. Mail and stagecoach lines traveled the Peoria – Galena route as early as 1830 and the Chicago – Galena route by 1834. Here the road intersected the earlier Gratiot’s Trail, which also ran from Dixon to Galena but extended farther north to avoid the rough terrain.
During the Black Hawk War in 1832, militia and regular army troops marched on both trails. Abraham Lincoln, as a private in the company of Captain Elijah Iles, camped overnight near here, June 8 and 12. As a private in the independent spy company of Jacob M. Early, Lincoln made a forced march to Kellogg’s Grove (near Kent), arriving there June 26, the day after the last battle fought in Illinois during that War.
Isaac Chambers, who was not only the first settler of Ogle County at Buffalo Grove near Polo but also of Lima Township here in Carroll County, operated a stage coach inn nearby and a sawmill on Elkhorn Creek two miles to the southeast. (From the Goodly Heritage Pg. 107)
The stone arch bridge is in Section 21 of Lima Township, and on private property. It’s not easily accessible through dense undergrowth, muddy soil and numerous brier patches. But these pictures show the bridge as it is today. Only the west arch of the bridge remains. Most of the east arch and the probably barrel vault at the roadway are gone (or perhaps covered with dirt and debris). Only the stones at the top of the east arch are visible.
It was not possible to get down into the stream bed or onto the east side of the arch. There are many more stones visible on the top of the west side of the arch.
The stones are rough hewn, and probably came from rock close at hand. There is a rock quarry just north of the site, but obviously from a more recent era and possibly still in business. How much rock outcropping was visible and accessible to stone masons of the 1830s era I don’t know. And I have found no record of who those stones masons were.
I don’t know much of the history of this bridge after Lincoln decamped. Judging from two photographs perhaps taken in the 1960’s the area surrounding this bridge has changed a lot in just fifty years. The Carroll County Historical Societies Historic Sites & Trails Map of 1967 features this black and white photo of the bridge which shows most of the bridge.
The photographer was apparently standing in the dry stream bed, facing the west side of the bridge and you can easily see through to the other side. The photo must have been taken in late autumn, because there are no leaves on the trees and there is also little vegetation near the base of the arch. Is it possible the east side of bridge could so completely fill up with soil and debris in the last fifty years?
The other photograph is on Page 107 of “Carroll County, A Goodly Heritage,” which was published in 1968.
Presumably this photograph was also taken around 1967, but it features lots more vegetation than what shows on the 1967 map photo, although much less than there is now. This photo was taken in spring or summer but they look so different it’s hard to believe both photographs were taken within a few years or maybe even a few months of one another.
It doesn’t appear that the area immediately surrounding this bridge has ever been plowed, and perhaps not often grazed either. The test in Carroll County, A Goodly Heritage accompanying the photograph indicates the bridge can be viewed from the highway but that isn’t true now either, unless it’s visible in winter, when all the leaves are off the trees.
But seeing this site probably gives us a good idea of how the area might have looked when Lincoln camped there. Samuel Preston’s “History of Carroll County” reminds us that much of the area in 1836, which became Carroll County, was heavily forested. Lincoln and his fellow soldiers were a spy company, there to examine the countryside and look for Indians. They wouldn’t have camped out in the middle of the prairie where they would have been more easily seen, and they camped in the summer, when there was plenty of vegetation. Presumably there were few travelers along the road, owing not just to the early time but to the fact that the Black Hawk War was being fought just thirty miles to the North.