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Sycamore’s history told through council minutes

SYCAMORE – Mayor Ken Mundy started reading Town Board and City Council minutes before the city’s sesquicentennial in 2008 – and got hooked on the history.

Mundy presented some of Sycamore’s more notable firsts to a full house Thursday during a Sycamore History Museum brown-bag luncheon.

After being incorporated as a town Feb. 21, 1859, the city’s first election was conducted March 14, 1859, at the county courthouse to elect five trustees, an assessor, a constable and justice of the peace.

The trustees elected one of the five, Edward S. Mayo, as the first Town Board president for a one-year term.

“I love the language,” Mundy said.

The board instituted what it called a “poll tax” in April 1859. Mundy explained that the tax was established to raise money or labor for streets.

The special Saturday meeting set “the time of laboring on the highway at one day and a half, or $1 per day” assessed on all able-bodied men in the community between the ages of 21 to 60. The purchasing power of the $1.50 tax in 1859 would be about equal to $45 today, according to the website

Mundy found documentation of an area resident who set aside property for the “town pound.”

“Whatever stray animals that wandered into town were taken to the town pound. That might be cows, horses, dogs, whatever,” Mundy said.

The pound conducted an auction of those unclaimed animals every 10 days, with the poundmaster receiving a percentage of the funds generated.

Livestock was more prevalent in town in the 1860s, but Mundy said cows were allowed to roam free during the day, November through May. The minutes also show that horses were not to be mated outdoors.

In 1861, the Town Board invited DeKalb residents to celebrate Independence Day with Sycamore residents.

“I couldn’t find out whether anyone attended from DeKalb,” Mundy said. “Even then, we were reaching out.”

He found the beginning of the community’s public water supply in April 1876 when the town executed a contract with the Marsh Harvester Manufacturing Co. A tower, pumps, pipes and a boiler were to be installed near the plant, and the city could pay the company to pump water.

“Occasionally, our public works department still runs across pipes that have been in the ground for 80 or 90 years,” Mundy said.

History museum Executive Director Michelle Donahoe said the collection presented by Mundy ended at 1900 in preparation for the museum’s next exhibit, “General Dutton’s America.”

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