Port Byron Historical Society


The Historical Society Meetings is held on the 2nd Wednesday of the month at the River Valley Library second floor.  The meetings start at 7:00 p.m..

Click here to learn about our Historic Plaques or read on and learn about our town.


Port Byron: How much do you know?

The first settlers in Port Byron, Illinois were Archibald Allen and the Syms brothers who arrived in 1828. Allen named the area Canaan, a Biblical term for "promised land". He was a postmaster, road commissioner and true pioneer who later lamented the loss of log cabins and the "old ways".

Indians were an everyday part of early settlers' lives. Reportedly, some offered one settler to trade two ponies for his wife. Rejected, the Indians returned offering to throw in two blankets. Curious Indians reportedly peeked into early school windows, blocking the light.

The Village was laid out in 1836 by Samuel Allen (Archie's brother), Moses Bailey, Dr. Patrick Gregg and Nathaniel Belcher. It was reportedly named Port Byron for the poet Byron by businessman Belcher.

Port Byron was a natural choice for settlement because of the closeness to the river, a transportation source, rich farmland and an abundance of game and fruit and nut trees.


What were the town's businesses?


What was everyday life like?

Families were often large. Children were expected to work hard and had many chores. Clothes were washed in large kettles over fires and spread out on bushes to dry. Bread was made from grain grown in the fields, and threshing was long, hard, dirty work.

The fireplace was the gathering spot for families, especially after dark. If the fire went out, someone had to walk to the neighbor's home, sometimes miles away, for coals. The fireplace was also the stove, and game birds were roasted on spits. Bread was baked in the hearth.

Early schools were log cabins. Often, young ladies, perhaps as young as 16, were school teachers. Later, the Port Byron Academy served the area as a preparatory school or junior college. Students lived in a dormitory in the back, girls on one floor and boys on another. Dorm parents lived on the first floor. Students from Moline and Rock Island came on the train.

The Academy has been added onto twice; it is still visible as the center section of the former Port Byron High School on High Street.


In addition to those mentioned earlier, who are some names from Port Byron's past?


What was the Mississippi River like?

When Port Byron was settled, there was no lock and dam system. Boats traveling had to ford the rapids in Rapids City. Steamboats docked in Port Byron and were a source of entertainment. The river was used for shipping lumber and lime barrels. In the winter, ice blocks were harvested.

A ferry boat ran between Port Byron and LeClaire, Iowa. In winter, residents could walk to LeClaire. In some spots, the river was reportedly only 18 inches deep.


For more information about the Port Byron Historical Society,
contact Carl Palmer at 523-3654.

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