Monday, May 9, 2022

Lost Towns Of Illinois - Daggert, Illinois.

Daggert, Illinois, (Daggett [1]) was a small community in Carroll County located approximately 5 miles south of Mt. Carroll on the east side of today's Illinois Route 78. Daggert existed as a town briefly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, reaching a peak permanent population of 25 around 1910. In its heyday, the town had a post office, a church, a railroad depot, a one-room schoolhouse, a blacksmith, a hand full of small stores, and a church, all serving the surrounding Salem Township farmers. By the early 1960s, the town had disappeared.

Adam Daggert, his family, and some friends arrived in Carroll County in the early 1830s. He settled near what is now Timberlake and Daggert roads [Satellite Map], listed today as in Mt Carroll, sometime in the 1830s. He built a house on the homestead and began farming the land.

Daggert donated some property for a church; today it's the lot that Trinity Lutheran Church now occupies. He platted a small lot to build a cemetery and buried the three wives he outlived and his Kin.

The Adam Daggert Cemetery in Mt. Carroll, Carroll County, Illinois, holds nine Daggert family members, sorted by year of death:

Anna Katharina Weitzel Daggert (Sep 8, 1817 – July 12, 1849)
    Anna Elisa Daggert (Aug 1819 – Feb 1866)
       A William Daggert (May 1, 1868 – Nov 19, 1868)
          John B Daggert (Nov 20, 1869 – Apr 19, 1872)
             Adam Daggert (Aug 24, 1809 – May 2, 1879)
                Margaretha Daggert (May 1823 – Mar 1879)
                   John Daggert (Dec 29, 1842 – Mar 4, 1920)
                      Clara K Daggert (Dec 27, 1879 – Jun 19, 1939)
                         Katherine A Daggert (May 30, 1877 – Jun 21, 1956)

Adam built a one-room schoolhouse to educate his five children. The Daggert School remained active, according to Carroll County registration records, through at least 1948. 

Upon Adam's death in 1873, his two oldest sons divided the property. Walter, the younger son, kept the parcel with the family house on it while Henry, the older son, took the western half of the property.

Henry's land was adjacent to a trail that ran to Mt. Carroll, the county seat, five miles north. The big, ridged hill in the northwest corner of the farm, with several creeks cutting through it, reduced the amount of arable land (capable of being plowed and used to grow crops). Henry cleared part of the hilltop to open access to another field. He built a house on the homestead along a road running along the northernmost property line, a short walk away from his brother's farm.

In the mid-1800s, with a sturdy teem carriage, on a dry day and with the road in good shape, it would take around an hour to get to Mt. Carroll from Henry's homestead. Mt. Carroll was the nearest post office and the county seat. With a railroad connection and college, Mt. Carroll was home to several merchants and small manufacturing firms. But most Salem Township residents couldn't afford a fine carriage, and most walked or drove farm wagons into town when they could. A trip to Mt. Carroll could easily take an entire day during the winter and spring thaw if mother nature allowed it.

Before Rural Free Delivery (RFD) [2], which first appeared in 1896, it was common for contractors to arrange for mail pick up for a fee. The contractor would bring the mail to his place, sort it, and notify the recipient when they had packages or letters to pick up. This service would save many miles for communities far away from the U.S. Post Office. 

Adam Daggert had done this starting in the 1830s. Before founding the Mt. Carroll post office, he would pick up mail from Polo, Illinois, the closest office at the time. Adam did not read English, so he would leave the mail and packages in a pile for his neighbors to sort out. Henry also supplemented his farm income with mail contracting and running a small local store.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, and without his help, events would change Henry’s store into something much bigger. The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 (for building the transcontinental railroad) defined three cross-country rail corridors, starting on the West coast and ending at a major mid-continent river. The Act was written for a world where river traffic was king, but by the late 1860s, all three lines needed a rail connection to the east. The Union Pacific built and bought lines for a connection to Chicago. The Southern Pacific met the Mississippi at New Orleans, which already had connections to Chicago and the East. But the only connections available to the Northern Pacific, completed in 1883 and ending at the Mississippi in Minneapolis, were via one of two competing railroads, both able to adjust pricing to rout freight and passengers over their own lines bypassing the Northern Pacific.

The Northern Pacific needed a route to Chicago to avoid being isolated from eastern markets. Northern Pacific took control of the Burlington railroad (Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy) to build a route from Aurora to Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Burlington consolidated smaller railroads they already owned in Illinois, and other lines on the east side of the Mississippi into the Burlington & Northern Railroad were purchased. To close a nearly ninety-mile gap between the Chicago area railroads and the river, they built a line in 1886 across northwestern Illinois, from Rochelle to the Mississippi River at Savanna, Illinois. From conception to completion, the construction took a little over a year. With no time for fancy engineering, the new route ran along river valleys and flatlands next to East Johnson Creek in Carroll County. The new railroad cut diagonally through Henry's property, following the creek near the base of the hill where he lived.
This photograph of Daggert Station was taken around 1900. The gentleman in the foreground is identified as Henry Daggert.
The railroad agreed to build the “Daggert Station.” Henry plotted a village at the high point overlooking the tracks, and he even marked the exact location for his future store.
An 1893 map of Salem Township showed the location of the shops and the Daggert station in Daggert. In exploring the property in the late 1960s, I found several old, shallow foundations in the area marked "Stores" The triangular slice of property containing the town still exists.

Henry's application for a Daggert Post Office was granted, with Henry Daggert named the first postmaster. The Daggert train depot housed the post office.

When the Burlington & Northern line opened in 1886, Daggert was a regular stop for four passenger trains daily, two eastbound and two westbound, connecting it with Chadwick, Rochelle, and Chicago to the east and Savanna, Illinois, and Minneapolis, Minnesota to the west.

This 1893 map shows Daggert's property with a road running east from today's Highway 78, leading to Henry's homestead and connecting to the road to his brother's home. Close to today's highway, the map is labeled "Stores" along the route. In 1969 I lived on the property, and while exploring behind my house, I found several shallow (18 inches deep) 10x10 foot foundations, some rock-walled, lining both sides of a clear broad path in this same area. I believe they were remnants of the town's shopping and residential area.

Census data from the period suggests that Daggert reached its peak population shortly after the turn of the 20th century. The town itself was never clearly broken out from Salem township data. A review of occupations in the enumeration district shows that the number of non-farm workers peaked in the 1910 census, most of them counted in the area near Henry's farm that corresponded to the town of Daggert. There appear to have been two merchants (one was Henry's son John), a milliner, a teacher, two ministers, a doctor, two lawyers, a banker, a real estate agent, and a blacksmith. About a dozen railway employees were listed, primarily laborers, although one was a railway telegrapher. A resident self-identified as a hotel clerk, suggesting there must have been some lodging.

The decline of Daggert from this point on is told by the railway's schedules and timetables and explains how Daggert disappeared.

In 1909 the trains that stopped at Daggert were cut to two per day. Later, the route was demoted to Chicago to Savanna mixed line, passenger and freight, and ending direct trains to Minneapolis and the west. In 1915 the schedule was cut to one train a day, and by 1924, Daggert was reduced to a flag stop.

As late as 1927, there were still two general merchandise stores in the town. On November 26, 1927, the Thomson Illinois Review reported that Daggert's store was held up by two "yeggs" (a burglar) the previous Saturday night at closing time, and their take was $12.00 ($200 in 2022).

In the early 1930s, Burlington realigned their right of way, moving it to a newly laid track on the property's north boundary, shortening the route. The old right of way was abandoned, and the Daggert depot was not moved to the new tracks. Although it appeared for years in Burlington's list of stations, Daggert was no longer an actual Burlington stop. The creation of the new tracks doomed Henry's farm.

Census data also marked the town's decline. The number of non-farm occupations decreased from the 1910 census and all the censuses that followed. By 1940, only one merchant, a general storekeeper, was listed. The rest of the residents were non-farm occupations, except for a teacher and a minister, who had apparently left the area.

In 1907, just before rural free delivery (RFD) started in Illinois, the Daggert post office was merged with Mt. Carroll's post office, and the Daggert office was closed.

Henry passed away in 1912. Of his ten children, only one daughter had ever married. The remaining sons and spinster daughters soldiered on, but when they were gone, the farm was gradually disassembled with no progeny (descendants), and the land sold piecemeal. John, the merchant, passed in 1935.

A triangular 13-acre parcel of land was defined by Illinois Route 78 to the west, the new Burlington right of way to the north, and the old right of way to the south containing an old country store and some old foundations was all that was left of Daggert.

One store continued, run by the Hartman brothers, continued business through at least the 1950s. Henry's leveled field north of the building, which he turned into a baseball field in an attempt to make Daggert a destination and, by the late 1930s, became the first lighted baseball field in northwestern Illinois. Eventually, the property was sold to a gentleman from Thomson, Illinois, who converted the building for residential use.

The triangular property that was once the site of Daggert's has been redeveloped into a more extensive private residence. After nearly collapsing in the early 1970s, the old store building was rebuilt and painted, and the structure was stabilized. A new house was built behind it, in the area where I had found the old foundations. The streams in the back of the property have been dammed, creating an artificial lake. The old baseball field is green, mowed, and young trees and a garden were planted.

Author's Note: In the late 1960s, I taught elementary school in a rural area south of Mt. Carroll. I rented the old store building and the associated property as my residence. While living there, a close friend and former roommate living in the area, John MacDevitt, introduced me to the local farmers, some of them descended from the original settlers. They were the ones who first told me about the old town that once had existed at the site where I lived. Their stories, some verifiably true, others quite fantastic, started me on a lifelong interest in documenting Daggert's history.

By Ken Molinelli, amateur historian, storyteller, and former Daggert resident.
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

[1] "Daggett" - The Burlington Railroad misspelled the station name as "Daggett" in its original train schedule, an error that was carried forward from 1886 until the station was abandoned.

[2] Rural Free Delivery (RFD) service began in the United States in 1896 to deliver mail directly to farm families. Before RFD, rural inhabitants had to pick up the mail themselves at sometimes remote post offices or pay a local private express company to pick up their mail and packages from the post office and deliver it to their door. 

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