After two of John Deere’s blacksmith shops burned down in Vermont, the young man decided to head west in 1837 to seek his fortune. He got as far as Grand Detour on the Rock River in Illinois where he chose to plant his roots as the community’s only skilled blacksmith.
“Grand Detour was settled by other Vermonters, including many that he already knew,” said Neil Dahlstrom, branded properties and heritage manager for John Deere. “Settlers tended to settle where they already knew people who had made the trip.”
Luckily for the new nation, Deere changed history with his invention of the first steel self-scouring plow. Wood and cast-iron plows in use at the time were ill-suited for the prairie soil. Known as “the plow that broke the plains,” the polished steel plow had a unique shape that made it workable in the fertile, sticky-with-clay Midwestern soil.
Today, the John Deere Historic Site is a popular stop for group tours, where free attractions mark the spot where Deere invented his farming tool. The site near Dixon, Illinois, features an interpretive film, a museum, blacksmithing demonstrations, a giant Deere statue, historical markers and an archaeological dig showing the remains of Deere’s original forge.
“Tours are very interactive, from hearing stories from our knowledgeable tour guides to our blacksmith demonstrations,” Dahlstrom said. “An important part is also the business he built in Grand Detour over the next 10 years, as well as the relationships he built while here.”
In addition to guided tours, visitors can use a new mobile guide called “Visit John Deere,” which is available for both Apple and Android devices. The guide features audio tours, virtual reality experiences and additional stories about John Deere.
Group tours can be customized based on the size and type of group, Dahlstrom said. Visitors can stand in the spot where Deere created the first commercially successful steel plow that changed the world of agriculture forever. Tours of the John Deere family home give a glimpse of family life in 1836. Tourgoers see how pioneers cooked, cleaned and spent their free time.
“Most of all,” Dahlstrom said, “groups love to walk the grounds and buildings that the Deere family actually walked.”
For more information, call 815-652-4551 or go to johndeere.com.
Main image: Blacksmithing demonstration, John Deere Historic Site; Credit: John Deere Historic Site
Article by Jackie Sheckler Finch