Historic Grain Elevator in Northern Illinois

Main St. ~ Pecatonica, Illinois

The Pecatonica Heritage Museum was formed with the dual purpose of preserving the history of Pecatonica’s local elevator and adaptively using it for the benefit of the surrounding community. The more than century old elevator serves as the corner stone to the Museum.

The “not for profit” Museum board was formed in 1996 to purchase the elevator to begin and continue restoration through donations, fund raisers and grants.

The historic, century old Grain Elevator is located next to the Pec Prairie Path, a former rail line, now part of the “Grand Illinois Trail”.

The elevator is a 3 story structure of post and beam construction and is unique because it has 16 grain bins as compared to the usual 4 to 6.

The elevator is open by appointment and during special events. This great old structure was almost lost to modern development.

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The following paraphrased excerpts are from the book, “Bits and Pieces” from Miss Shirley’s Diary”, by Shirley Frances Conger-Langholf, available for purchase at the center.

Charles Dixon Sanborn, son of George W., owner of Sanborn and Co. Elevator, was born on 2-11-1863 in the middle of the civil war in a one room shack north of the old stone brewery. The family moved to a 15 acre tract where “mother” brought up the “10 spot” family while working a 2-4 acre garden, raising a yard of chickens, turkeys, and pigs, making butter, and tending to the sick in Pecatonica.

In Charlie’s stories much is learned about the old times in Pecatonica and life around the elevator:

Employee – Old “Irish Mike“, who wore a red flannel shirt, carried figures in his head on account of no education. When “father” would come into work, he would empty them out: detailing the farmer’s name, what kind of grain & how much was weighted. You could “hear tell” in Canada about the old Irishman in Pecatonica that wore a red flannel shirt all year around!

Blind horses – Father always bought blind horses to turn the fanning mill, as they would move at an even pace due to not being distracted and they were cheaper too! A sighted horse would stop when no one was watching and run at times, spilling the grain.

Chicago Fire of 1871 – This fire nearly wiped the company off the map as they had a lot of grain stored in the Chicago elevators.

Sanborn & Co. 1881 Fire – After parting for home at the end of a day, a late load came in. Charlie returned to the elevator and lit a lamp to read the scales. Upon finishing, he blew out the lamp and closed the doors. After supper, he started downtown and heard yelling, “fire”! The lamp held fire in the wick and exploded oil all over the interior of the building. Taking in that one load of grain cost the company $12,000. Mr. Sanborn never chastised his son. He just hollered up the next morning, “Charlie, get up and start another fire”. He did so, in the kitchen stove as usual “without any kick”.

Current structure - In 1881 Sanborn & Co. raised the “New” elevator’s huge timbers with a large force of men, expecting grain in 3 weeks, with great energy and pluck before the ashes of the old one were cold!

Help us retain and develop this area’s agricultural heritage by sending a tax deductible donation to Pecatonica Heritage Museum, PO Box 243, Pecatonica, IL 61063


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