The Heartland

I’m thrilled to be in Whiteside County, Illinois, camped directly on the Mississippi River.  After years of seeing the local place names on maps and in historical documents about my ancestors, I’m finally actually seeing the landscape here and visiting my ancestors’ graves.  That’s been the case with all the locations I’ve visited, but for some reason this one in particular has really called me.

View from my front door.

I’ve camped on or very near numerous bodies of water: Lake Ontario in New York, Lake Dunmore in Vermont, Mohawk River in New York, Clear Fork River in Ohio, and Lake Lenwood in Wisconsin.  But the mighty Mississippi is downright magical.

I’m so close to the water that I can hear the frogs plopping in for a dip all night.  In the evenings, the geese come to feed – it seems like hundreds of them.  I watch their little tails go straight up in the air as they dive for dinner.  And there’s always something  – don’t know what – coming to the surface and making a splash and a swirl.  I can hardly believe my good fortune in getting a front row seat for all the action.

The trip here from Wisconsin was relatively short at only 200 miles, so I only had to make one stop. But it was a memorable stop because about an hour past it, I got that sinking feeling in my stomach when I realized that I had left my credit card sitting on top of the pump.  After much gnashing of teeth and hurling of four letter words, I finally calmed down and decided to return the next day to fetch it, and take the opportunity to use the wifi at the local Starbucks since there isn’t one near my campground.

As it turned out, I truly enjoyed that drive.  While my RV GPS had routed me the long way around to stay on interstates as long as possible, the shortest route by car was an hour and a half of zig-zagging on two-lane country roads.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, so I put the convertible top down to soak it all in.  It was classic heartland landscape, but instead of “amber waves of grain”, there were endless corn stalks, interrupted occasionally by a farm house, a silo, a barn, or a few cows.  I passed through very few towns – maybe two – and saw very little traffic, except for gigantic farm equipment which took over the road here and there.

As I drove along, I tried to imagine what it looked like when my ancestors first arrived.  According to the county history books, Clark Abbot and his family were only the fourth to settle here.  Clark married Betsey Jennings Crouch in Vermont, then moved to Chautauqua County, New York in the mid 1830’s, and then Illinois in the early 1840’s.  They established a large farm and Clark was a prominent citizen until his death in 1880.  He and Betsey are buried in the little town of Fulton, just a few miles south of my campground along the Mississippi.

Henry Ustick, head of the other ancestral family which settled here, was born in Washington County, Pennsylvania, and moved to Ohio after serving in the War of 1812, where he married Abigail Young.  He brought his family to Illinois in about 1848, using a land patent from his military service.  He and Abigail are buried near Morrison, the county seat.

One of the things I like to do, if I can, is to identify the location of the land my ancestors owned.  Usually, the land has been completely developed, but I have a feeling that here in Whiteside County, the land is still being farmed.  That will make it a lot easier to envision what it was like 160 years ago – I don’t think it’s changed much!