Land means different things to different people. To many in DeKalb County, it represents farms and open spaces for enjoying nature. It represents a place to build homes, farms, businesses, and a sense of worth. Today, rural America is a patchwork of both private and public land.
Land has always been one of rural America’s prime assets. Yet it is also a source of controversy and innovation.
Rural Recreation in DeKalb County
Places to See and Things to Do!
DeKalb County Forest Preserve District Est. 1940 “to acquire, preserve and restore natural resources to provide recreation and education, and for the protection of our natural heritage.”
Kingston’s Miller-Ellwood Cabin is an 1835 log cabin that was moved to Hoppe Heritage Farmstead and restored in 2012.
Russell Woods Education Center in Genoa is the only nature center in the county.
Afton forest preserve, south of DeKalb in Afton Township, is the largest in DeKalb County. The location is known as a “hot spot for bird watching ” and includes a Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, a premier bird research center.
Forced from the LandThe Native American Story
Prairie Band Potawatomie Nation Proposed Casino in Shabbona
When people hear about Native American history, many think only of history before permanent settlers arrived. Yet the story of the Prairie Band Potawatomie Nation is a current issue in DeKalb County, and more specifically, in Shabbona. The Department of Indian Affairs is conducting an Environmental Impact Study based on the Potawatomie Nation’s desire to build a 24-hour bingo hall in Shabbona. The decision to build a casino has led to a complicated legal battle.
The Nation bought 128 acres in 2006, in addition to filing a lawsuit reclaiming 1,280 acres of land that was given to Chief Shabbona in the 1829 Treaty of Prairie du Chien. The land was sold at public auction when local settlers claimed the property was forfeited because no one had lived there for decades.
Some residents believe the bingo hall will be good for the local economy. The Potawatomie Nation estimates that it will bring in 930,000 visitors, and add $40 million to the local payroll. The group is willing to pay DeKalb County 2.5% of its revenue (a projected $800,000), plus $250,000 to the village of Shabbona.
Those in opposition worry about the casino’s proximity to a state park, an increase in traffic, negative environmental impact, and higher crime.
Sharing the Land
Dividing the Land
In rural areas, there were limited ways to control land, manage livestock, and protect the harvest that settlers had worked to produce. Wood, hedges, and some stone provided all the reliable fence materials available until 1873, when barbed wire was invented in DeKalb County.
In September of 1873, the DeKalb County Agricultural and Mechanical Society held a fair in DeKalb. There, Waterman resident Henry Rose showed a device he had just patented. Rose’s invention consisted of a thin wooden rail with nails driven into fence wire.
In the crowd, three men stood shoulder to shoulder studying this invention—prominent farmer Joseph Glidden, hardware store owner and auctioneer Isaac Ellwood, and building contractor and lumberman Jacob Haish. One source relates that Glidden, seeing the fence, said out loud, “The barbs should be on the wire.” Over the next few months, all three worked to perfect the idea.
Joseph Glidden applied for a patent on October 27, 1873. Isaac Ellwood developed his own version of barbed wire but quickly partnered with Glidden to produce Glidden Wire nationally. As a new device, the adoption of barbed wire was faster than the adoption of the telephone.
"All the barb wire that has been produced would put a fence around the earth seventeen wires high."
Jacob Haish patented his own version of barbed wire, but soon launched a dispute of Glidden’s initial claim. This eventually led to the 1892 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found that Joseph Glidden was the father of barbed wire.
While there was no reliable barbed wire before the fall of 1873, more than 3,000 designs of barbed wire were developed in the United States—more than 400 of the designs were unique enough to be patented.
More than 40 of these were developed and patented in DeKalb County.
In addition to corn shellers, fencing tools, and cream separators, plus many other products, the Jacob Haish Manufacturing Company sold engines from 1905, mostly under the “Chanticleer” name and famous trademark rooster beginning in 1909. He also developed engines for numerous other companies including, for a few years, the Sandwich Manufacturing Company and Appleton Manufacturing Company in Batavia. Appleton bought the entire Chanticleer division in 1917.
Debating Land Use
Illinois’ “Future Energy Jobs Act” was passed in 2016 and requires Illinois utilities to get 25% of their retail power from sun/wind by 2025. In March 2017, a moratorium was passed in DeKalb County on developing wind and solar farms until a sustainable energy ordinance was passed.
DeKalb has one of the largest number of proposed solar projects in Illinois. As of November 2018, there were 40-plus projects going through the special permit process ahead of the Illinois project lottery. The county’s solar ordinance was passed in March 2018, and the first solar power special use permit request was for a DeKalb farm.
William Klein is a third generation farmer, and because of his electric bills, he thought he would have to move. With the help of state and federal incentives, he installed a 9900-watt solar energy system.
Borrego Solar has submitted plans for a solar garden in Milan Township that would provide power for 300 homes. In this community garden model, consumers pay a subscription fee for the solar service and receive credit for shares of the output on their monthly bill. This opportunity is available to any ComEd customer within their service area.
The creation of a wind ordinance was a little more complicated. Driving through central DeKalb County, some people might believe that wind turbines symbolize progress while others might argue they represent the destruction of life in the county. When working on the new county ordinance, the main concerns were residential setbacks, noise, and shadow flicker. Concerned Citizens of DeKalb were very vocal about stopping the wind farm initiative and posted signs throughout the county. After numerous opportunities for residents to meet and discuss their concerns, a new ordinance was passed on November 21, 2018. Community members were generally in favor of the new requirements, but a potential developer called them unworkable and canceled their project.