A miller's tale

Grinton Grove and the founding of Shorewood




Tucked away at the southern tip of Hammel Woods across the DuPage River is Grinton Grove, consisting of a small shelter and canoe access to the river. It was on this site that William Grinton built a flour mill in 1845, and the small settlement that arose around it was the origin of today’s Village of Shorewood.

Pioneer settlement of Will County began in the late 1820s and early 1830s and increased quickly after the formation of the county in 1836. Most of these early settlers were subsistence farmers and were soon followed by tradesmen who created the foundation of towns and villages.

The History of Will County Illinois 1907, posted by Will County ILGenWeb, relates that these first settlers discovered a landscape comprised largely of prairie, with woodland groves that “looked at a distance like islands rising out of the sea.” It was in these oases that the early pioneers settled.

Atlas Map of Will County Illinois 1873

The above Atlas Map of Will County Illinois 1873 shows the town of Grinton as well as William Grinton’s adjoining land holdings in the area. Also shown on the map, southeast of Grinton’s property, is the Will County Poor Farm. Grinton provided the Poor Farm with supplies needed to run the operation.

“In the early days of the settlement of the county the cabins were built almost entirely in or near them, they being necessary both for fuel and shelter from the prairie winds. In those days the names of the groves were the only designation by which a settlement was known. No one then spoke of going to Jackson, Manhattan or Wilton; they went to Reed’s or Jackson’s Grove, Five Mile or Twelve Mile Grove, and even in going to the eastern part of the county they went to Coon or Thorn Groves. Plainfield was then Walker’s Grove, while out east it was up Hickory Creek, Skunk’s Grove or Yankee Settlement. The trails across the prairie generally led directly to the groves and no where else.”

Waterways, too, attracted settlement, particularly to power machines. The first settler in Troy Township was Jedediah Wooley Sr., whose son Jedediah Wooley Jr. built a sawmill on the DuPage River in 1834.

Built a decade earlier than Grinton’s flour mill, “This was the first mill in Troy Township and one of the first in the country,” reports The Troy Community Consolidated District 30-C website. Most of the early buildings in the area were constructed from lumber supplied by the sawmill. “Prior to this, most of the houses were built entirely of logs.”

But, according to this website, the worst economic downturn in the nation’s young history, the financial Panic of 1837, soon “slowed the western movement (of new settlers) to a trickle.”

The source of the Panic of 1837 lay in President Andrew Jackson’s refusal to support the Second Bank of the United States. President Jackson diminished the power of the Second Bank of the United States, the Library of Congress website relates, “by moving federal funds to smaller state banks. Jackson thought the Bank of the United States hurt ordinary citizens by exercising too much control over credit and economic opportunity, and he succeeded in shutting it down.

“But the state banks' reckless credit policies led to massive speculation in Western lands. By 1837, after (Martin) Van Buren had become president, banks were clearly in trouble. Some began to close, businesses began to fail, and thousands of people lost their land. This was the Panic of 1837.” 

The Troy School District website reports that few settlements were made after the Panic of 1837. However, “William Grinton was one of the few new settlers during this period. … The town that sprung up around (his) mill was called Grinton (also Grinton's Mill or Grintonville), and contained two blacksmith shops, one wagon shop, one shoe shop and two saloons.”

According to The History of Troy Illinois 1907 posted by Will County ILGenWeb, the Grinton “mill did a nourishing business for more than 20 years. The flour made at the mill was of excellent quality and was the standard brand for Joliet and all the surrounding towns.”

In his book, Historic Impressions Shorewood, the late Patrick Magosky asserts that “The mill made good use of canal workers and was dependent on their experience with the canal waters.”

Magosky further writes that the [mill] was three stories, and “did form a central point within the Township and thereby was accessible to all farmers within the area. It was within (Grinton’s) hope that the business would flourish and his town became the centerpoint to a growing new city.”

After traveling throughout Illinois, Grinton found “no place more pleasing than this area,” according to Magosky. 

Among its many unofficial labels, the town of Grinton was known as “a place to get fresh air as Joliet was then a very stuffy place with all the smoky industry.”

Workers at the Joliet Iron and Steel Company.

Photo of Joliet Iron and Steel Company courtesy of Lewis University

Ironically, Grinton never lived within the township himself but was instrumental in “forming the groundwork for later development.”

“He first [settled] in Plainfield then building his Mill in Troy Township eventually proceeding to Joliet,” according to Magosky. “He was involved in many interests in business and Real Estate. His [home] was located on the West Side of Joliet where he also became active in politics.”

Magosky writes that Grinton and his wife Hannah owned the property later to be known as the original location for Silver Cross Hospital. “It was by their donation (of four acres) of property that the hospital was built.”

His daughter Mary and her friends sold dolls and doll clothing at a church in Joliet for the funding of hospital aid. Mary “turned the first soil” as part of the groundbreaking for the hospital’s construction.

Grinton’s name also appears in the history of what was known as the Will County Poor Farm.

The Will County Poor Farm.

Located on McDonough Street in Joliet, the former administration building for the Will County Poor Farm still exists today. (Photo courtesy of Gina Wysocki)

Gina Wysocki, author of Digging Up the Dirt: The History and the Mysteries of the Will County Poor Farm and Potter’s Fields, writes that “The need for a poor farm in Will County came from the request of the Will County Board of Supervisors on November 12th, 1850. The Board of Supervisors appointed four men to serve as the Committee of the Poor. … The Committee was to seek out, negotiate, and purchase a parcel with or without improvements to relieve the County poor. The parcel would need to be composed of ten to one hundred and twenty acres of land and centralized within the county for convenience. If the committee were unable to find a suitable parcel, the committee had to locate a temporary tenement until one could be found.”

The Will County Poor Farm would house residents who were either abandoned by their families, homeless, ill or orphaned. The Poor Farm was located at the present day Mission Boulevard, south of McDonough Street, on the west side of Joliet. The former administration building for the farm still exists on this site. A cemetery located on the property contains approximately 150 graves of Poor Farm residents.

In a Chicago Tribune story, reporter Mary Owen writes “Run by the county from 1850 to 1955 as a working farm, it was home to more than 200 poor people, including abandoned children, injured Civil War veterans, alcoholics and people with mental or physical disabilities.”

On the farm, residents grew a variety of crops, including tomatoes, potatoes, asparagus and tobacco. By the mid-1850s, according to Wysocki, the farm produced 580 bushels of wheat, 30 acres of corn, 25 bushels of potatoes, and two bushels of white bean.

Wysocki writes that Grinton would be the one responsible for supplying the Will County Poor Farm with the needed supplies to run the operation.

Around 1878, Grinton’s mill was sold to J.I. Mather. Born October 19, 1802, Grinton was in his mid-70s at the time. Magosky writes that Mather “was the owner and did have financiers when the mill was destroyed by fire never to be rebuilt. Mather sold the property for farm land to pay off his creditors.”

Grinton died on January 21, 1884, in Joliet. The whereabouts of his grave are unknown, although his son, William Grinton Jr., William Jr.’s wife Sarah Anna and four of their five children are buried at Oakwood Cemetery on East Cass Street in Joliet. A road near the cemetery, flanked by East Jackson Street on the north and East Cass Street on the south, bears the Grinton name. Whether the street was named for Grinton Sr. or his son isn’t certain. However, the Grinton family did own property in the area.

William Wallace Stevens, author of Past and Present of Will County, Illinois, writes that Grinton Sr. “was one of the prominent pioneer business men of the county and his labors were an important factor in the substantial development and improvement of Plainfield and the surrounding country.

“In all of his dealings he was reliable and enterprising and commanded the respect of all who knew him.”

Lead image by Chad Merda

Contributors: Rose Scofield and Laura Kiran

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