The village of Leaf River was plotted by J.B. Bertolet, Ogle County Surveyor, on 40 acres of land owned by M.J. West and Chas. Gaffin in 1880. There were some settlers who were living along the banks of the Leaf River at this time. With the coming of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad westward through the township at this time, these settlers envisioned the need for a village where supplies could be easily obtained. The railroad was originally built under the name of the Chicago & Pacific Railroad and was designed to be a narrow-gauge railroad, but adopted the standard gauge before commencing work. It was built to Byron in the spring of 1875, where it remained five years. It was completed to Leaf River in October 1880, and the growth of the town began. A railroad station would soon be established, and also a 10,000 bushel capacity grain elevator. (In 1888, fifteen to twenty farmers reconized the need for a larger railway station in Leaf River. These farmers pooled $ 50.00 each for the construction of a new Depot.) Frederick Speck, soon after, completed the first dwelling house in the platted town. The first building designed for a store and dwelling was erected about the same time by Preston & McKee. They opened a stock of General merchandise, continued in business for about one year, and were then succeeded by Preston Brothers, who subsequently failed in business. (This building still remains on the corner of Main St. and Second St, and will be better remembered as the site of the first newspaper "The Mirror," and later as the Leslie Kretsinger Garage.) In the spring of 1881, J.B. Bertolet moved here from Lightsville and opened the second store. The Post Office Department established an office in his store and appointed him Postmaster. Mr. Bertolet continued in that office until September, 1885, when J.S. Kerschner was appointed. "The Leaf River Enterprise" newspaper was established at the young and thriving village of Leaf River by L.G. Burrows in November 1881. It was a five column quarto, printed at Forreston on the "Herald" press. Mr. Burrows, the publisher, resided in Lanark, and after Feb. 9th, 1885, J.H. Lamb of Leaf River was the office editor. In the latter 19th century (1881-1885) the town rapidly grew into an active retail trade area with as many as thirty-three businesses, representing many trades. Three early physicians were Dr. D.C. Fleming, Dr. G.B. Masters, and Dr. Paul. The first attorney was George Johnson. The pioneer lumber dealer was S.D. Wallace of Oregon, and the yard was managed by James Miller. Jacob Shelly commenced in the lumber business in the spring of 1881. He continued for two years, and then sold to Philip Sprecher. Several acres of timber were required to build a wooden dam across the Leaf River, which was then three times its present width. The grist mill was erected in the summer of 1881, by E. Hiller & Company were the proprietors. In the fall of 1881, improvements amounting $ 4,000.00 were made to the mill, when the roller process was introduced. The mill then had a capacity of 40 barrels per day.
Leaf River Roller Mill
Visitors to this small town had access to three places of lodging, the "Leaf River House" was opened by Jacob Harrison in the summer of 1881. The same summer saw another hotel open, named the "American House", by Emanuel Hawk and John Motter. Yet another was opened by Jacob Long in October 1881. This was the most pretenious hotel in town, and was known by several names, including "Jake Long's Hotel", "Johnson Hotel", "Riverside Inn", and "Leaf River Inn". It is a large three-story house, and still remains, north of what is now the Leaf River Lumber Co. (The Hotel was at one time a hospital, owned by a Dr. Mitchell.) The land for the "Riverside Inn" was bought in 1880 by Jacob Long, who later had the Inn built. The great-grandfather of Charles (Chuck) Buser was the contractor. This was also the Long's home. Mrs. Long said, "I needed a large dining room, I had 20 children, you know." The eldest daughter was a seamstress. She occupied a suite of rooms at the Inn, one of which was used for sewing. The property included a large barn which housed a chicken house, a place for a cow, and the men's and women's privies, as well as an area for buggies and horses. Since "Drummers", (traveling salesmen) who came to town might have a rig, it was nice to have a place to bed down the horses.
"Johnson Hotel", "Riverside Inn", "Leaf River Inn", "Jake Long's Hotel". In Leaf River, Illinois.
The Owners of the three hotels vied for business. Each owner net the trains, hoping to get the salesmen who arrived to stay at his hotel. They would call out, especially at night, the name of their hotel, when visiting newcomers came to town and did not know where to go. One dollar a day, six dollars a week, 25 cents for breakfast, 50 cents for dinner, and 25 cents for supper, and 50 cents a night was the cost of living at the Riverside Hotel. Meals were served at 7:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, and 6:00 p.m.. They were served family style with plenty of food. By the 1920's, the Riverside Hotel was the only one remaining in the town. The hotel continued for a few years after the death of Mrs. John (Hannah) Daniels in November 1936, under the ownership of her daughter, Thelma Griffin. The hotel was the home of Mr. & Mrs. Cline Griffin for 40 years. Mr. Griffin passed away in 1977. Mrs. Griffin still owns and lives in the house. Since the home has been sold and converted into apartments of which is now owned by Brad Miller.
In the summer of 1881 Daniel Sprecher erected the second elevator, having a capacity of about 50,000 bushels. Mr. Sprecher came here upon the completion of the railroad and commenced to buy and ship stock and grain. Other businesses that began operating in 1881 included:
Hardware Store---------------------Sherwood and Hines
The "Leaf River Creamery" was established in 1882 by Bertolet and Johnson. It was situated about 40 rods east of Main Street and was a two story building, 26 X 35, with a capacity of 5,000 pounds per week. Three men were usually employed in the factory which was open during the entire year. Eleven wagons would be employed in the busy season gathering cream. Shipments were made to Boston. Thomas Gaffey was the Superintendent of the creamery at this time. The only thing that remains of the creamery is a plate that was used on the side of the cream cans in possession of local resident (photos to appear soon !), and the foundation flooring at the site where the creamery stood along the banks of the Leaf River.
"Sure would love some cream about now" !
This plate was found by metal detection in 1977 by David Zellers, at the residence of Helen Lee who then resided at 312 E. First St., Leaf River, IL. Helen was able to remember the plate giving us a brief description of the plate. Apparently the plate was placed on all Creamery property, cans, boxes, and other property of the Creamery. That way they knew who to return them to.
Leaf River Village Limits, the Roller Mill can be seen beyond the trees.
A view of one of the neighborhoods in Leaf River early 1900's
Another view of another neighborhood in Leaf River early 1900's
Another view a a neighborhood in Leaf River early 1900's
This page was last updated on: March 14, 2011
Village Hall has been moved to the River Valley Complex