An influential family, the Haydens

Sandy Vasko

    There have been at least three books written about the history of Will County. In each of them you will find a list of prominent citizens that the author felt really made a difference in the building of our community.
    Today we will look at the Haydens, who in W.W. Stevens’ book, “Past and Present of Will County”, published in 1907, were identified as one of the most influential families in the Wilmington area.  
    The Haydens were settlers of Florence Township, and by the beginning of the 20th century had acquired huge amounts of some of the best farming land to be had anywhere.    
    Let's look first at John Hayden, born in Maine, son of hard working Irish immigrants, who arrived in Illinois at the tender age of four.
    His father John was a farmer and owned extensive property both in Chicago and Will County. Young John went to work on his father's farm in Florence as soon as he could walk and had the strength to do chores. He married Bridget Mergan, a young Irish lass, at the age of 20, and lived on his farm where six children were born to them.
    He eventually owned 640 acres, and although farming was his pursuit, his true love was horses. He became known throughout the state as an excellent judge of horses, especially Normans, a large breed of horse similar in build to the Clysdales that can be seen pulling the Budweiser wagon.
    He must have believed strongly in education as four of his sons were graduates of St. Viateurs College in Kankakee, now the site of the Olivet Nazarene University. His oldest son, John, received his degree in engineering and immediately put his education to work on the farm.
    He designed and built the first steam-powered grain elevator on his father's farm as well as a steam-powered plow and the first steam home heating system in the county.  
    The second son, Daniel, became a doctor, doing his graduate work at Georgetown University. The third son received a degree in English literature, but preferred farming on the old homestead, while the fourth son became a priest.
    John Hayden himself was involved in politics and served for 20 years as a county commissioner and 12 years as township supervisor. In addition, he was one of the founding members of the Will County Old Settlers Association.
    This group met on a yearly basis during the end of the 19th century, eventually publishing several private histories of the county.
    W.W. Stevens describes him like this, “His name has ever stood for business enterprise and business integrity, and as a prominent representative of the agricultural interests of the county as well as one of the valued pioneer citizens who well deserves this mention.”
    Another prominent member of the Hayden family was Daniel Hayden. He was also born in Maine, and arrived in Illinois when he was 11.
    He worked hard breaking the prairie with his father. It was said that he could do a man's work at the age of 12. He must have wanted to try his hand at something else as he ended up taking a job on the Rock Island Railroad.
    In November 1852, he was allowed the privilege of riding in company with Illinois Governor Matteson on the first train that ran over the newly laid track.  
    For the next few years he switched between working the farm and working for the Joliet and Alton railroad. He is described as a man who believed in the democracy of the country, so when the Civil War broke out he used his transportation experience to run the blockades on the Mississippi River, delivering supplies to the Union troops at Vicksburg.
    After the war, he settled into farming, eventually owning 720 acres in Florence Township. He did not care for politics as some of his relatives did, but was more remembered for friendly nature.
    Helping his community and neighbors on a one-on-one basis earned him his place in the history books.
    He is described like this - “He is a man of pleasing appearance, of genial disposition and cordial manner, so that he has won many warm personal friends during the long years of his residence.”
    Between them, John in the political arena and Daniel on a personal level, they became an influence on the social, economic and political history of the Wilmington area.