Port Byron Historical Society

The following information is courtesy of the Port Byron Historical Society

The Port Byron Historical Society meets on the Second Wednesday of each month at the River Valley District Library, 214 S Main Street in Port Byron, IL.

The Port Byron area was inhabited by the Pottawatomie Indians when the Syms brothers and Archie Allen settled here in 1828. The Syms and Allen went to Fort Armstrong during the 1832 Black Hawk war; Allen joined the Rock River Rangers during that war.

After the war, Allen and the Syms brothers came back to the area. The Syms brothers, Robert and Thomas, worked a wood yard that supplied firewood to steamboats carrying lead from Galena to St. Louis. Archie Allen settled an area in the north part of Port Byron named Canaan. He later became the postmaster of Canaan, carrying the mail in his hat on his weekly trip from Rock Island to Galena, IL.

The town was platted in 1836 by Samuel Allen, Nathaniel Belcher, Moses Bailey and Dr. Patrick Gregg. Port Byron was purportedly named for the English poet Lord Byron, whom Nathaniel Belcher admired.

In its history, Port Byron boasted a variety of businesses and industries that included construction lime, barrel coopers, merchants, blacksmiths, grain and produce dealers, wagon makers and saw mills. Port Byron was widely known for its manufacture of white lime that had an exceptional whiteness. This industry took place in Port Byron for 75 years starting in the 1850s. When limestone is fired in a kiln at 1700 degrees F the carbon dioxide is calcined off leaving a quick lime. This quick lime was used in construction to make white wash paint or to produce mortar for constructing brIck and/or stone buildings.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Port Byron was home to several educational institutions and newspapers. Established in 1881, the Port Byron Academy was affiliated with Port Byron’s Congregational Church. In 1896 it became a college prep school for Beloit College. The lime work attracted Swedish immigrants, who established a Lutheran Church in 1886 and a catechism school in 1877. While other newspapers preceded it, the Port Byron Globe, established in 1880, was the Villages longest published newspaper.

Although local residents tried to bring the railroads to Port Byron in the 1850s, the Mississippi River connected the village to the region well into the 20th century. From 1908 to 1925, Martin and Ben Lamb operated a ferry, the Dolphin between Port Byron and Le Claire. When the river was frozen, during the winter months, folks in both towns used what they called “the ice bridge.” Around 1910, the ferry’s schedule coincided with the Davenport-Clinton Interurban (electric train) schedule. The same schedules coincided for the return trip. The railroad did come to Port Byron in 1861 with the Warsaw, Rock Island & Galena Railroad and the Sterling Rock Island Railroad, and in 1866 via the Western Union Railroad. Port Byron was the terminus for both railroads. They were joined in the 1870s as the Western Union Railroad, serving North Rock Island County. It later became the Milwaukee Railroad.

Illinois Genealogy

The following information is courtesy of Illinois Genealogy.com

In the year 1826 two brothers, Robert and Thomas Syms, located on the present site of Port Byron, and established a wood yard for supplying cord wood to steamboats on the Mississippi River. Their location soon came to be known as Syms’ Wood Yard. They were among the first white settlers in this locality, other residents being principally Sac and Fox Indians.

During the year 1828 Archibald Allen, Conrad Leek, George W. Harlan and others came with their families and settled in this township. Archibald Allen traded with the Indians, buying skins and furs. He was afterwards appointed supervisor of roads, was elected to the office of constable, and from 1833 to 1834 was United States mail carrier between Fort Armstrong and Galena. He was also postmaster, the office being kept in his own house, which was located just north of Syms’ Wood Yard. Prior to its removal in 1836 it was known as Canaan. Mr. Allen built the first frame house between Quincy and Galena.

In 1830, Thomas Hubbard, H. East and Britton arrived and became residents of the new settlement. During this year a son was born to Mr. and Mrs. Conrad Leek, which was the first white child born in the township. In the year 1831 a son of Geo. W. Harlan died, this being the first death in the township.

During the year 1832 Edmund A. Philleo was killed, the result of a quarrel over claims and possession of land. Mrs. A. Allen was the first adult person to die. The first school was taught in 1833. New settlers who came in 1834 were Walter Phillips, Geo. R. Allen, H. M. Smith and Presley Quick. The next year, 1835, Samuel Allen, William McKenney and a Mr. Hathaway came with their families. Samuel Allen kept a tavern in a double log house. His wife, Aunt Candace, as she was known, was a good cook, and they were well patronized. This year the government surveyed and subdivided the public lands. In 1836 the arrivals were Moses Bailey, Rufus B. Chase, Nathaniel Belcher, Jeremiah H. Lyford, Addison N. Philleo, Astimus Philleo and his daughter Lucretia. R. B. Chase manufactured the first white lime, for which Port Byron became noted.

About this time a town was platted and Port Byron became a point of considerable business activity. George S. Moore erected a store building; the post office at Canaan was closed and opened at Port Byron, with Nathaniel Belcher postmaster. Mr. Belcher built a hotel and the first frame dwelling. Dr. Jeremiah H. Lyford, a graduate of Dartmouth College, was the first physician; his practice extended over a large territory, both in Illinois and Iowa.

Colonel Eads was a resident here for a time, living with Archibald Allen prior to taking up his residence on “The Heights,” at this time known as LeClaire, Iowa. His son was the famous Jas. B. Eads, also living at LeClaire during the late forties and early fifties, removing from there to St. Louis. He became widely known as a builder of boats for the United States government, constructor of the St. Louis bridge and the jetties at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

On August 1, 1836, the first election was held for the selection of representatives in the state legislature and in congress. On November 7th the first presidential election was held, at which eleven votes were cast, all for Martin Van Buren.

This is a school town. The Port Byron Academy is a flourishing institution, under the management of the Congregational church; it has close relationship with Beloit College. The public schools are on a high order and are recognized for their good work.

Village Of Port Byron

The village of Port Byron was incorporated in February, 1856. The village was laid out in 1836, by Samuel Allen, Dr. P. Gregg, Nathaniel Belcher and Moses Bailey; the land was held in common by them. On the land was but one log house and a small log store. The store was started by Walter Phillips. Shortly after the site was laid out Nathaniel Belcher built a frame store, and put in a stock of general merchandise, associating with him Mr. Hambaugh. The first grist mill was erected in the spring of 1849 by T. G. Temple and N. Dorrance. It was run by steam, and had one set of burrs for wheat and one set for corn. The first school was held in the old log store of Samuel Allen in 1838, Harriet Dodge being teacher. The first school house was of brick, and was built in 1864. In addition to the public school, an Academy was erected in 1883, and is in a flourishing condition. The village is situated on the Mississippi River, and its railroad facilities are the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway.

Historical Photos

If you have any old photos of Port Byron, please let us know and we will incorporate them on this page.

Thank You!

Amelia Koch 1938 In Port Byron, IL
Main Street Port Byron, IL - Early 1900s
Dolphin Ferry

Want To Learn More?

The Rock Island Historical Society is a great source for more information on Port Byron and Rock Island County.

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