We started off with a guided tour of the Deere family's home, John Deere built it when he moved to Grand Detour from Vermont. (He came to Illinois because work as a blacksmith was drying up in the New England states as everyone was heading west.)
He went to work repairing the saw mill in Grand Detour, and long story short-- he had the bright idea to make a plow out of steel using a discarded saw blade. Up until the John Deere plow, plows were made out of cast iron. Because of the sticky soil in Illinois, farmers would have to use a wooden paddle to clean off the cast iron plow blade after plowing as little as a few feet. The new steel plows made plowing the Illinois soil like cutting through butter!
We had the pleasure of watching a blacksmith in action! He showed us many of the tools that a blacksmith would have used in John Deere's day, and also demonstrated some blacksmithing techniques. The blacksmith was very entertaining! He asked us what John Deere would be know for if he was alive today...
and that would be living to 204 years old!!! The John Deere name is synonomous with tractors, combines, huge farming and construciton equipment, but John Deere died decades before the first tractor was even invented!
I also found it interesting that John Deere started the first "implement dealerships"; his plows were so popular that people from all over the midwestern states wanted his steel plow, and so to make sure that all farmers could have access to them, he had salesmen in many of the bigger cities in the mid-1800s selling his plows. It's reported that many of the settlers heading for the plains states would stop in Grand Detour specifically to get the steel plow before heading west to "sod-bust".
All around the grounds of the beautifully restored historic sited are "heritage gardens", and in each garden section is a plaque that highlights what was happening in the world of agriculture.
So, if you ever need something fun to do, check out the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour! It's about a 45 minute drive straight south of Rockford on Route 2 along the Rock River. It's open from 9am -5pm Wednesday through Sunday.