Carroll County Illinois is located in Northwestern Illinois along the banks of the Mississippi River. With gentle rolling hills and lush countryside, Carroll County is a great escape from the concrete and asphalt of the big cities. According to the 2010 census, Carroll County has a population of 15,387. The county seat is Mount Carroll.
Fun fact: The county has only one stop light, which is located in Savanna at the intersection of Routes 64 and 84. But two railroads, the Burlington Northern and I C & E Rail Link, travel through the county.
Carroll County has a total area of 466.36 square miles, of which 444.81 square miles (or 95.38%) is land and 21.55 square miles (or 4.62%) is water. Mississippi Palisades State Park is located in this county, just north of the city of Savanna. Additionally, the Savanna Army Depot is located partly in this county.
Climate and Weather
In recent years, average temperatures in the county seat of Mount Carroll have ranged from a low of 7 ℉ in January to a high of 85 ℉ in July.
Carroll County was organized in 1839, and was named for Charles Carroll, a wealthy landowner and politician from Maryland. He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and incidentally, was the last of the signers to die. The honor of naming the County was bestowed upon Isaac Chambers, the first settler in the County. Since Charles Carroll was one of the political heroes of the day, and since many of the settlers were originally from Maryland, Mr. Chambers decided to name the County after him.
Savanna was the largest community in the County and the residents there wanted very much to have the county seat in their town. During the 1800’s, it was quite an honor for a town to be voted county seat. In 1839, there was a vote taken and Savanna won by 41 votes.
Over the next four years, there was much quibbling concerning boundaries and so forth. In 1843, another vote was taken and Mount Carroll became the County seat. That’s how it has remained ever since.
Carroll County Waterways
In the 1830s, settlers arrived in the Midwest from the East and Canada to claim government land grants. They required lumber in large quantities. The most efficient means of transporting timber, at that time in history, was by water. The “Mighty Mississippi” and its tributaries played a significant role.
Over the next eighty years, those old timers used the river to float timber downstream to the mills for processing. White pine logs would float from winter through summer. Growth of the Great Plains States was possible largely because of the Mississippi and its tributaries.
The First Water Powered Mill In the Nation
Many mid-western cities and towns had their earliest beginnings along the banks of a creek or river where early settlers would have easy access to water. Carroll County’s village of Milledgeville was no exception.
An enterprising millwright, by the name of Peters, saw the possibilities and settled on Elkhorn Creek bottom in 1834. Falling sick, Peters gave up his claim to Jesse Kester, who improved the property by building a saw mill. It was from this mill, and the settlement which grew at the edge of it, that “Mill-edge-ville” soon derived its name.
Kester’s saw mill was said to be the first in the country to be powered by water. The mill quickly grew into a large business and people for miles around brought their logs, by ox team or horse drawn wagon, to be sawed into lumber for their homes. The logs were cut from the groves of trees which stood in the area.
Kester subsequently sold out his claim to Adam Knox, who added a grist mill. Settlers hauled their grain to the mill to be ground into flour, took home what they needed, and left the rest at the mill to be sold. This new mill soon became the nucleus of the settlement of Milledgeville. People came to trade and get their mail, which was brought by stagecoach.
The mill had a number of owners over the years. During the boom years of the 1880s, an addition was built onto it. With the installation of mill rollers, an 1885 issue of the Milledgeville Free Press described the mill as having “the latest in equipment for making flour”. It was said, in its day, to be one of the best-equipped mills in Carroll County.
Eventually, production of wheat by area farmers diminished. When there was no longer any need for a flour mill, the old mill finally closed down in 1901. Within five years, the mill was dismantled and sections of the original building were moved to various village locations to create structures for new businesses or portions of private residences.
A Public Hanging
The only public hanging in Carroll County took place on May 16, 1873, in the courtyard of the courthouse in Mt.Carroll. Joseph O’Neil was tried for the murder of a man named Rexford and was sentenced to hang. During this time O’Neil was in prison awaiting the day of his hanging, he nearly was successful in escaping. He had removed a cornerstone in the exercise area outside his cell and had dug with his hands and later with a tin cup, and then hid the dirt under his bed in a pillow case. He was discovered one day before he would have escaped. Many of the townspeople came to witness the hanging.
The Marcus Train Robbery
In 1902, the Marcus Train Robbery occurred in Carroll County. On the night of August 5th, three men lay in wait for a train on the Burlington line. About four miles north of Savanna, the train was flagged down by a man with a red lantern. When the Conductor noticed the switch was partly open, he realized the train was about to be plundered.train-robbery-sketch
Three masked men put the engineer and fireman under guard, uncoupled the express car and engine. Continuing up the track, they blew open the safe with nitroglycerine and rifled the contents. One of the men was accidentally shot by a discharge from the gun of his companion. They uncoupled the engine from the express car and attempted to make an escape with their wounded companion.
Believing the injured man to be mortally wounded, they killed him and threw his body from the engine. At Apple River bridge, they abandoned the engine allowing it run on until it stopped beyond Hanover. The men escaped in a skiff at Apple River and headed for Iowa where they hid the loot and went on.
However, the dead theif was quickly identified. This lead authorities to apprehend the two others involved. Once the two were captured, they confessed. While in the Carroll County jail, the prisoners made several desperate attempts to escape, but their efforts were thwarted by the vigilance of sheriff, D. B. Doty. They were convicted of highway robbery with deadly weapons and sentenced to the state penitentiary for life.