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September 2, 2007

In Search of Grandpa's Creamery Genoa, Illinois




Possible site of south Riley Creamery




Liberty School 1863









Look who is happy, excited and out in left field...way out! Our first discovery was...this is not the place!








My Aunt Bless Flach, left us with a wonderful account of the days the Wellman family settled north of Genoa Illinois to open a creamery. My sister, Helen and I decided to search for this creamery, taking dear husbands, Voris and Bob with us on this adventure! We never expected to find anything, but was rewarded with having a fun day as well as finding what we feel is the creamery, still standing today. Though a home now on Poplar road, we found by talking to a local farmer, this road was once called county line road. The house is standing in the location Aunt Bess described, the measurements correct, and was built in 1863 . There are adjacent buildings that have since been built onto the property s well. The water through way is still there and the old school house( Liberty School) and also what was once known as Ney Methodist church , both stand yet..after 110 years. This was the first stop that we made in Riley Illinois. Bob and Voris were persistent that this was definitely not the place, but Helen and I said could just "feel It" . As it turned out, we were wrong.this was North Riley and not on county line road. That said, we were told though, there was a foundation here that once was a creamery...but not grandpas! Bob dubs this picture "the field of ancestral dreams..in way left field! We found Liberty School down around the corner of where they lived . It was also built in 1863 and this is where the kids went to school under the direction of Mr Beach. It was purchased and restored by a local Dr and is just awesome to see! It is located on Burrows Road in Riley Township. My grandfather was a good musician and sang tenor and i have no doubt he and grandma attended thi church, 2 miles down the road. aunt Bess mentioned going to Sunday School at a Methodist church close by. After a bit of research in Genoa's Kishwaukee Museum, we found this home was once a grange and before that, Ney Methodist Church. (built 1858)


My aunt left this remarkable writing about my lineage and the creamery's history




Yesterday’s Memories
by Bess Flach (Wellman)
Memories are defined as autobiography. While these ramblings may take on the appearance as such, my intentions are to give an account of the first years of my life, and reminiscences of family and friends.
Recent search into family history brought the realization that events and records, sometimes seemingly unimportant are especially of high value.
Therefore, a contribution to the history of the Wellman family I shall try to set forth what I have learned and experienced in the last part of my 82 years. I hope my grandchildren and their descendants will enjoy reading what happened in my “good old days”.
The American branch of the Wellman family, as far as we have learned, dates from Jacob Wellman, born in Attleboro, Mass., in 1739.(1742 in the D.A.R .records ) and died in New Milford, Pa in 1830. He was married to Rebecca chase (b 1760) died Feb 4, 1843) In the year 1961, they became the parents of John, Jacob Jr,, Calvin, Hiram, David, and the D.A.R. records include Rebecca, born 1794, died Apr. 18,1864. She married Chas. Foote, 6-13-1820.also Bailey 1804.
Hiram Wellman married Grace Lonergan, born near Belfast, Ireland. They became parents of Christopher, born June10, 1821, Joe, Mary Hereamer, Nellie Russell, Lucretia Finn, Elizabeth cutiater, Fannie Pickering, and Helen Webster whom was born in New Milford Pa. in 1842
Christopher married Amanda Brown , born 7-10-1829, In Pleasant Mount, Pa. They married Jan 1, 1851, and were parents to Annie Belinah ) ( Mrs. JP Johnson) born 1851, died Oct 10 1894, Levi (1854-1877)Mary Melissa, Mrs. T.F. Richardson, born 1856, died 1943 and Wm. Henry, born July6, 1859, died Oct 10 1943. He was born April 18th, in Knox Grove, Illinois.
Henry Wellman married Maud Spencer, born august 6,1867 in Ripon Wisconsin., died Dec 13, 1910 at Lee Center Il. They were married Feb. 26, 1890 and their children were Annie Elizabeth “Bess“ (Flach)Feb 13. 1891, Charles Walter oct 25, 1892, died 1955 (?), Don Harold Oct 29,1894, died 1932, , Howard Wayne, Feb 12 1897, died April 17, 1974, Helen Maud Feb9,1900, died 1935, Grace Irene( Mrs. JH. Johnson) born June 5 1903, died
……, Mary (Mrs. Earl Breyman) born May 4, 1903(?) died……..
Christopher Wellman married Amanda Brown , and they lived in Susquehanna co Pa. until their first child, Annie Belinah, was born. Shortly after, Christopher left for the west, by way of the Ohio River. He landed in southern Illinois and came north with a cattle drive, and when he reached Lee county, decided to locate there.. When Annie was 3 months old, Amanda left Pa to join Christopher. , traveling by train, boat and stage coach from Chicago by the “Old Chicago Road” , she reached Lee center where Christopher had located. The several years they lived in lee center, Levi and Mary Melissa were born.
They then moved to a small farm about 2-3 miles south of Sublette, known then as Knox Grove. Henry was born there. When he was 3 or 4 years old, Chris and Amanda bought a small farm of about 67 acres, one mile south of Lee Center and lived there until 1901.
I do not know the exact date of the purchase of the farm, but I remember my grandmother telling me one day while picking currents from bushes along the north fence, that she had planted the original bushes the day they heard Lincoln had been shot.(1865) Annie married J.P Johnson in 1872 and they lived for many years on a farm on the Chicago Road between West Brooklyn and Compton, known as the “Old Burg” It was a rest stop on the stage coach road and in it’s early days quite a flourishing community. I can dimly remember some of the small houses which were falling to pieces in the decade between 1890 and 1900. Annie and JP moved to Amboy about 1891-2 where Annie died April 1894.
Levi grew up in Lee Center and when about 20, went to New jersey, where he worked in a pant factory. He contracted tuberculosis and came back to the farm. He died in 1877, age 22.
Mary Melissa, known as Aunt Lissie, born April 18th1856, attended the Lee Center school and was a student at the Lee Center Academy. Annie did as well and became a school teacher. Mary was a seamstress until she married Thomas Richardson at the age of 29. They had one son, James who was our only cousin on the Wellman side. He married Helen Stubblefield and they had two daughters, Doris (Mullen) ? and Shirley (Courtright)
William Henry ( hankie) the fourth member of Chris and Amanda’s family, also attended Lee Center School and the Academy. As a young man, he spent much of his time with his sister Annie in their farm house. He was a member of the Lee Center silver cornet band, and with training I have always felt he would have been a fine violinist. He had a beautiful violin , the back which was inlaid with mother of pearl and scroll work. Even now, if I happen to hear country music, I remember many of the old tunes he used to play for us children . As a young man, he played for man a county dance party. He also had a fine tenor voice and used to sing in a quartet which included my mother and aunt Lissie. He remained a bachelor until he met Maud Spencer of McGregor Iowa who was visiting her half sister Aura( Mrs. Joe Tait) The Taits lived ½ mile south of the Wellman farm and it was their home that Henry and Maud were married on Feb 26, 1890. Maud was the daughter of A. Spencer and Elizabeth Gray. And was born in Ripon Wi. Aug 6 1867. Her father was born in England, and was a widower with with a small daughter, aura, when he remarried. Elizabeth was born March 26, 1839 in the small village of parton England about 3 miles outside the walled city of York.( as described by Elizabeth in a letter to me in 1913) Several members of the Gray family came to the US at the same time, but the only ones I remember was a brother, William, and a sister “Neil” (Amelia?) and Sate. I dimly remember aunt Neil, whose married name was Wilson and live at Lake Lake Pockaway in Wi. She visited my mother and aunt aura. Aunt Sate painted the oil of an English scene, which she gave Maud and Henry as a wedding gift. I still have the painting and have reproduced it several times in watercolors. I have always thought that perhaps it was a scene from near their home in Yorkshire, England.
Back to the wedding of our parents, Maud’s dress and ht, made by a seamstress was a lovely shade of brown silk, styled in the mode of the times, with a Basque waist and draped skirt. The hat was small, fashioned of the same silk. Henry wore a Prince Albert coat, years later, his great grandson, Jerome Hay, wore a coat almost like it to his wedding Dec 26, 1972.
Henry and Maud lived with Chris and Amanda at the farm for more than a year after they married. Their first child , Annie Elizabeth, was born Feb 13, 1891. She weighed about 5 lbs and was delivered by Dr. Leavens of Lee Center. . When the baby “Bess” was 3 months old they moved to Shaw Station about 5 or 6 miles south of the farm, where Henry operated a butter and cream factory. They lived in rooms above the cheese factory, and Charles Walter, their first son, was born there Oct 25, 1892
When he was 3 or 4 months old, the family moved to the South Riley Creamery, 5 miles north or Genoa Illinois. The creamery was on the county line road between Henry and DeKalb counties , on the McHenry side and a short distance from the Boone county line. Belvidere was 15 miles to the northeast. The Creamery was a very large building, with living quarters on the second floor. The rooms--kitchen living room and three bedrooms were all very large and the kitchen had the first sink with hot and cold water, I had ever seen. My brother, don Harold, was born there Oct. 29, 1894, Howard Wayne Feb 12, 1897, and my first sister, Helen Maud, Feb 9, 1900. I can hardly remember Howard’s birth, will never forget my joy having a sister after having three brothers. She was a beautiful baby and weighed 9 lbs She looked like a doll the first time I saw her, and I could hardly wait to get to school to tell the kids about my new sister!
I started to a little country school about ½ mile northeast of the creamery when I was 4 years old. I had been visiting school quite frequently , and finally the teacher , Mr. Beach, sent a note home with me, asking my parents to enroll me as a regular pupil. By the time I was 6, I was reading everything I could lay my hands on. My proudest processions were to lovely story books, Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Aesop’s Fables, given to me by the son of Beatrice Foods . He worked for my dad during the summer and one summer he brought a hammock for his own use. Usually he had to oust me and the books before he could use it.
I started to Sunday School in a little country Methodist church near the creamery, when I was between 3 and 4 years old. I still have the little red Bible given me for perfect attendance for 4 years in 1900.
When Howard was still a baby, we all became ill with measles, and my mother with a particularly bad form of measles. I can still see my father still muttering to himself and punching madly at the huge pan of bread dough mother had mixed and set to rise the night before. To add to his troubles, he had two green Swedish men working for him, neither of whom could speak English and were addicted to drinking raw alcohol ! Neither could be trusted to do anything unsupervised, and poor dad, he couldn't’t be upstairs with his sick family and downstairs with the Swedes also. Just as he was about to give up on the bread dough, the front door opened and two neighbor girls who had heard of our trouble, came to help out. Dad gave a final punch to the bread, and gladly turned it over to them. The girls stayed for almost two weeks before my mother was able to take over, although, for some time, they came back every few days to help. One of the girls was Mary Prescott, the foster daughter of neighbors. . She later met Spencer Tait, my mother’s nephew when he was visiting us and eventually married him. Most their married life was spent on a farm about a half mile from the Wellman farm. Mary died in Dixon ( 1970) at the age of 93.
After the measles siege,, my eyes were affected, and I was in a darkened room for weeks. I could hear kids going to and from school, and I shed many a tear because I couldn't’t go to school or even look through the window at them. My eyes would fill up with tears at the least light. I was still recovering when my 7th birthday came along. Dad had been down to Lee Center on business and got back the morning of my birthday, bringing me a beautiful china doll from my grandmother Wellman. I roused up after a night of earache, took one look at it sitting on the dresser ,and said “I don’t want it. It’s only an old rag doll anyway” The doll’s head was large with black hair and blue eyes, a cloth body with a printed corset and china hands and feet. Grandma had dressed it beautifully and eventually I grew to be very proud of her. My daughter has the head but the body was gone long ago.
The South Riley Creamery was built on an east west road, and back of it was a large track of virgin prairie, in the center of a 2 mile square, but the center contained several ponds from which a small stream flowed south. Just a short distance west of the creamery. We were not allowed to venture far onto the prairie, but occasionally would venture a few feet into it in back of the factory. I so remember the day I decided to walk along the fence running north and I came upon a bed of pretty yellow flowers growing on short stems. I picked a big bunch and took them to my mother. She looked at them and said “they are lady slippers.” and she told me of picking tall pink ones in the Iowa woods when she was a girl. I learned later that they belong to the orchid family and now are rarely found in the vicinity. I seemed to know that I had found something special. All sorts of flowers and weeds grew on the prairie and in the summer, it was a picture, particularly along the small creek where all sorts of brilliant things grew and bloomed.
In the Fall hunting season, my father took his 12 gauge gun & went to ponds a mile north. At that time, (1890’s) the ponds were a regular stopping place for ducks and geese, and there were still quite a few prairie chickens. Dad was a crack shot and we had many meals of goose and duck. One time he left about 3:30 in the afternoon during the season to try his luck. He hadn’t returned at dark. It kept getting later and later and my mother more and more worried. I was up and worrying with her. ..and he still didn’t come. At last around midnight, we heard heavy steps on the outside stairway and and Dad’s voice, “Maud, open the door.” There stood dad, his gun over his shoulder, one big goose hanging in front and another on the barrel in the back, the farm hand from up the hill behind him with a third goose. Dad said he shot them at a pond about a mile east and north of us, and had got them as far as he could, then he shot some more, but the foxes beat him to them. One goose was so large, it had a 7 foot wing spread and the neighbor helped him…Next day we had 60 neighbors in for a
“carrying goose “ dinner.
The children liked to play downstairs in the creamery and because the floors were always wet, my father bought Walter and me rubber boots.. The first time we put them on to go downstairs, we opened the big door at the top of the inside stairway to start downstairs. Just then the draft slammed the door shut on us and I fell the full flight. Luckily, I wasn’t badly hurt.
When 9 years old, we left the creamery. I still have vivid memories of it. It was a very large room, about 50 by 100 ft, with a room on the west side that contained two huge steam boilers and other machinery. The big room was filled with paraphernalia for butter and cheese making. There were two long tin lined vats for cheese making, other vats for draining the cheese curd, separators, cheese presses, etc. Another room contained the huge wooden churn and revolving table on which the butter was washed, worked, colored, salted and packed into wooden tubs. Also in the large front room was the ice making machine for cooling the cream used in making butter. We are apt to think of refrigeration, as we know it today as fairly recent, but it was a fact then. My father had visitors from other Creameries who were interested in the ice maker. How well I remember my father trying to repair that balky machine when it got out of whack.It stood just a few steps from an outside door, and since it was run with ammonia, when it leaked out, dad would take a deep breath outside, run in, , work as long as he could holding his breath, then run out for more fresh air.
Operation of the creamery was done by my father and usually 2 hired men. The farmers started to bring in the mild in large cans in horse drawn wagons, early in the morning. On the east side of the building was a big overhang, and the farmers drove under this to heave the cans of mild to a platform where they were taken inside. .Dad had to take a sample from each can to test freshness and butter fat. Then it was poured into a big circular vat and from there the milk was piped to the cream room and the skim milk to the regular vats. After the milk was delivered to all the vats, it was heated to a certain degree with live steam. I can still see dad and his big thermometer testing until it read the right temperature.. Then remet was added and in a short time the milk was “set” and dad would take a big wooden rake and draw It first lengthwise, then crosswise of the vat, cutting the curd into small squares. The valve at the end of the vat was opened then and the whay drained off into a gutter that ran the length of the room near the wall. When the curd was finally drained, it was transferred with a big scoop shevel, to a V-shaped vat for further draining. Then it was scooped into cheese cloth lined circular forms, and compressed into 9 inches in thickness. These forms were placed in presses and each day for 3 or 4 days, the presses were given a turn or two. As soon as they were fully pressed, they were taken upstairs to the curing room, just behind the kitchen. Each cheese was turned every day and sampled by dad wen he thought it had been properly cured. Aaaaaahe used a large apple corer and iof the cheese wasn’t ready, the core was replaced in the curing contained.
Every five weeks a huge wagonload of round wooden boxes was hauled in from Genoa and all the cheeses ready were boxed and sent out to market. The boxes usually held five pounds. Once something happened and one batch had large holes , characteristic of swiss cheese. Dad never knew what happened, but for weeks after that shipment went out,he was bombarded for more cheese like it...and was unable to duplicate the mistake to fill more orders like it.
The buttermaking was as complicated as the cheese making. The cream, after cooling and then allowed to sour, was churned in a hug wooden churn that was run by steam power.When the cream turned to butter and buttermilk, it was removed from the churn, and the butter placed onto a large circular turntable, and using a large wooden paddle, kept turning the butter until it was free of buttermilk an water.Then it was colored with special butter coloring and finally salted. The salt used was imported from England, and came in linen sacks.I still have a piece of embroidery done on one of these sacks.
The wooden butter tubs were placed in a semi-circle about 6 feet from the turntable and dad wopuld gather up a big roll of butter with a paddle, and toss it into a tub. I never saw him miss a tub.
I remember one batch he made. It was a violent orange color and unsalted, for some Jewish service in chicago. Dad was considered an excellent butter maker and won quite a high rating at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.
Antother venture that did not last long at the creamery was the making of "dry curd". Instead of being made into cheese, the curd was run through a huge sausage grinder and spread out on screens similar to window screens. These trays were put into a specially built dryer in the large upper room of the steam boilers. This dryer was built around a big fan in the center, that circulated heated air and dried the curd in a short time. The dried curd was said to be used as sising for paper and as an ingredient of gun powder. It was packed in large burlap bags and hauled to the railroad in a big wagon.
Duriong the sweet corn season, the farmers would bring corn cut from the cob, spread it on the screens not in use, and overnight it would be dried. In the fall, apples were dried in the same way.
some other recollections of the years at south riley include seeing the young man who gave us the story books , come down the hill on his bi-cycle, waving a newspaper over his head and yelling , " They've sunk the Maine"! He had ridden his bicycle from Genoa for the mail( that was the days before rural free delivery) and had got the latest news of the Spanish American War. ( added note by C Boyenga...The sinking of the Maine on February 15, 1898 precipitated the Spanish-American War and also popularized the phrase "Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!" In subsequent years, the cause of the sinking of the Maine became the subject of much speculation. The cause of the explosion that sank the ship remains an unsolved mystery.)


Another memory was going to Genoa with dad to see a night political parade with the marchers carrying flaming torches, and another time he took me to hear the blind violinist, Ole Bull, who was quite famous at that time.( Note by C Boyenga:Ole Bull was a Norwegian violinist and composer who is best known for his piece "Sæterjentens Sondag." He was born February 5, 1810 in Bergen. Bull became known as a first class violinist very early in his life. At the age of 25, Bull performed solo with the orchestra of the Paris opera. This began his musical career, as he soon began a series of concerts that took him all over Europe and America.

Bull evoked interest in Norwegian folk music in Norway and abroad. In 1850, he founded the National Theater in Norway. He chose a young, unknown playwright named Henrik Ibsen to write for the theater. He also encouraged and promoted the young Edvard Greig. Thus, Bull had a great influence on the cultural future of Norway as Ibsen and Greig became very important in Norway's history. Ole Bull was seen as a national symbol. Despite his travelling and fame, he always spent summers at home in Norway. His first estate was the family estate of Valestrand. Bull rebuilt this estate to create a home for himself and his French wife. However, she died before the estate was completed. Bull's second wife was Sara Thorp, the daughter of an American senator. They spent their summers on the island of Lysøen. The estate is now a museum and park. )
In the fall of 1901, my father decided to quit the creamery and move back to Lee Center. For several summers, However, while we lived at South Riley, dad took me down to Lee Center for visits.( a day trip of 10-12 hours by horse and buggy) I would stay several weeks with Grandma and Granpa Wellman during the summertime.
An added note by
Bess’s niece, C boyenga..My dad was Howard Wellman and I remember mom telling how dad, as a toddler, fell down the coal shute in the creamery. She said dad came out screaming and all blackened and dirty…but not hurt..
She also said that since on Sundays, no milk was delivered to the creamery and grandma was said to do the family’s laundry for the week, in the larger wooden vat. When all done she would scrub it down , rinse it and have it ready for cheese making the following day.




































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