For Sue Breese of DeKalb, remembering the past and looking forward to the future is not something she does only at the start of a new year, it’s something she does every day as part of her job.
Breese is the director of the Joiner History Room and the DeKalb County historian. The Joiner History Room, the DeKalb County archive, is located inside the Sycamore Public Library, 103 E. State St. in Sycamore, and is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
To celebrate Illinois’ bicentennial this year, the Joiner History Room is helping to organize the DeKalb County Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame will identify and recognize outstanding examples of community leaders, both past and present. Nomination forms can be found at the Joiner History Room and on its website, www.joinerhistoryroom.org.
Breese met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss Illinois’ bicentennial, the history of DeKalb County and the future of recording keeping.
Milton: How is DeKalb County celebrating Illinois’ bicentennial?
Breese: There was a bicentennial flag raising Dec. 4 at the Courthouse. At the event, I talked a bit about DeKalb County and its historical achievements. Even though it’s a hard time to celebrate Illinois, with issues with politics, the budget and laws, many good things have happened in DeKalb County. Those things affected the world, especially the agricultural field.
Milton: What are some ways DeKalb County helped change the world?
Breese: When people first came to DeKalb County, they were homesteaders and the soil was very rich, so they planted crops. One of the early DeKalb County inventions was the Marsh Harvester, which revolutionized how crops were harvested. They were sold all over the world and were manufactured in Sycamore. Everyone knows the story of barbed wire. It was invented north of Waterman on the Henry Rose farm. There’s an historical marker there. Rose had the idea, and Ellwood, Glidden and Haish took that idea and made their own version of it. They perfected what he had started.
Milton: How has DeKalb County affected the world of agriculture?
Breese: In 1912, the DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association was started by a bunch of businessmen, bankers and newspapermen as a way to help the farmers. From that, William Eckhardt was named the nation’s first farm adviser. There is an historical marker on Roosevelt Street in DeKalb, where he lived and had grain bins. He invented a new way to dry corn, and his invention is still used today.
Milton: What happened to the DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association?
Breese: The DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association split into two parts: the DeKalb County Farm Bureau, the first farm bureau in the nation, and DeKalb Ag Research, now Monsanto. The DeKalb winged corn logo is known worldwide.
Milton: What is an example of a recent DeKalb County invention?
Breese: In the mid-1990s, the Faivre and Larson families, in a joint venture, invented the first commercial yield monitor with a GPS system. It helps analyze soil in specific areas of the field. GPS also helps create corn mazes.
Milton: What is an example of an historical item that is less-known?
Breese: The Soldiers and Sailors Monument in front of the DeKalb County Courthouse from 1897 was dedicated to the men that fought in the Civil War. It lists battles and has wording from The Gettysburg Address. Information about the monument and DeKalb County have been printed on a special Illinois bicentennial bookmark which the Joiner History Room is distributed to libraries throughout DeKalb County.
Milton: How did you get interested in DeKalb County history?
Breese: As I get older, I become more curious. My family is from this area, and I was born and raised in DeKalb. My great-great grandparents lived in the Leland area in the late 1700s before DeKalb County was formed, and another branch of my family came to DeKalb in 1855. I started learning more about the county’s history as I was doing my own genealogy.
Milton: Does being DeKalb County’s historian change your view of locations and buildings around the county?
Breese: I definitely look at things in a different light. I see buildings and land for their history. When I see something I didn’t know about, like a year on a building, I want to do research. I want to know when and why. There are 10 volunteers and me at the Joiner History Room, and we all have that curiosity and inquiring mind.
Milton: What is the DeKalb County Hall of Fame?
Breese: People can nominate individuals, families or organizations. The Hall of Fame honors people who have made outstanding contributions to the betterment of DeKalb County, both past and present. Nominations will be accepted through November 2018. The form and more information can be found online or at the library, here at the Joiner History Room.
Milton: Where does the name “Joiner” come from?
Breese: Earle Joiner and his son Ralph Joiner were both county clerks. Earle started as clerk in 1926, and when he died, Ralph took over until 1979. Both of the Joiners saved documents and labeled them, in hopes of something like the Joiner History Room would be around someday. We have all of the documents they saved. Some of those documents include the beginning of the county and the first oaths of offices.
Milton: How and when did DeKalb County form?
Breese: DeKalb County was formed in 1837, when it broke off of Kane County. The county at that time was prairie with people homesteading. As people moved west, they also migrated up from southern Illinois. One of the main reasons DeKalb County became so populated was the railroad. The railroad went through DeKalb, going just south of Sycamore. Citizens of Sycamore built the five-mile spur line to connect to the railroad. NIU was founded in 1895, which also brought more people. The county had many industries, including Del Monte, Anaconda, Wurlitzer, Barber Greene, Ideal, Nestle, Harvester, agriculture, and many more. People came to DeKalb County because there were jobs available.
Milton: What services does the Joiner History Room provide?
Breese: The Joiner History Room is here and available to anyone doing research on DeKalb County, genealogy or otherwise. Copies can be made for a charge, but researching is free. We have a genealogy group that meets at the library 6 p.m. fourth Wednesdays from March to November.
Milton: How has history and recording keeping changed?
Breese: In the digital age, we are losing our papers. People used to write in diaries and send letters, and they’re not writing anymore. It’s going to be interesting to see history in 50 years. In the Looking Back Column that the Joiner History Room does for The MidWeek, what’s interesting is how they reported the news. They wrote about a dead squirrel in the road and how they banned horses from the front of the new courthouse yard because of manure. They wrote about the pretty yellow flowers they brought from out east, dandelions. When there was a funeral, they wrote who attended the funeral, where the procession went and what happened at the cemetery. One hundred years from now, there won’t be records like that. Technology is changing every day. We can place all of our documents on thumb drives, but they won’t be able to be read 50 years from now. The only thing that has withstood the test of time is paper.