During this nation’s childhood, many adventurous souls migrated from the eastern states in search of self-sufficient freedom and fortune. Most simply pointed themselves and their worldly possessions westward and hoped for the best.
Joseph McCarty, founder of Aurora, Ill., was different.
Carrying the map he had meticulously studied, the 24-year-old millwright and his travel companion, Jerry Beardslee, set out from Elmira, N.Y., on Nov. 25, 1833, along a predetermined route, knowing the exact spot they wanted to settle.
They worked their way to the headwaters of the Allegheny River, constructed a suitable dugout watercraft and pushed on toward the Mississippi River, ultimately destined for the head of the Illinois River, where McCarty surmised he would find excellent waterpower for mill-work.
The trip was arduous. The pair of travelers wintered in Cape Girardeau, Mo., where they picked up odd jobs to pay their keep until spring. They arrived at their intended destination only to nd the place had been claimed a few weeks earlier.
Hearing of an opportune site for a mill on the Fox River, they hired a prospector. The trio arrived at a small Indian village just north of the present site of Aurora, pop. 199,963, on April 1, 1834. McCarty immediately laid claim to 360 acres on the river’s east side and built a 10-by- 12 log cabin. To capture the rights to the waterpower, he claimed 100 acres on the west side of the Fox River.
McCarty then sent for his younger brother, Samuel, who arrived in October 1834. By June 1835 the settlement’s eight inhabitants had completed the sawmill.
Drawn by the area’s natural beauty and the fertility of the virgin soil, scores of settlers arrived over the next several years. The McCarty brothers constructed more mills, and the residents of McCarty’s Mill, as the town was first known, built a school, post office, library, hotel, several bridges and a road to neighboring Naperville.
In 1839, Joseph McCarty took ill while working in the field. His health steadily declined, and on advice of his doctor, he moved to a more congenial climate. He died in Alabama the following year at the age of 31.