Fishing Industry in Meredosia
Howard Edlen, Meredosia , Illinois, 1976
This is a report and a small one of which was at one time one of the largest industries in Meredosia, Illinois and is now so diminished that it is one of the smallest since nothing or practically nothing has been done to replenish the supply of fish in the Illinois River or its tributaries.
Much of this report has been furnished by Mr. G.R. (Bulger) Wade, former, and now retired manager of the Meredosia Fish Company, formerly owned by Mr. John Edlen and is now owned by Howard Edlen and operated by Mr. William Hays and his wife, Esther. Mr. Wade was employed by the Meredosia Fish Company for 37 years and certainly is very familiar with the fishing industry in Meredosia having been in Government Fishery service for several years before managing the Meredosia Fish Market. At this time we have four fish companies operating in Meredosia, the Meredosia Fish Company, the Main Street Fish Company, Hall's Fish Market and the Bridge Fisheries.
Would you believe that at one time the total production of fresh water fish in Illinois was second only to the production of Salmon on the great Columbia River?
The fishing industry in the year of 1897 was threatened with total destruction by thousands of Pelicans invading the shallow waters of the Meredosia Lake. A Pelican is a large bird with a scoop like bill and they would scoop the fish up then swallow many pounds at one gulp and a commercial fish company owner here by the name of Edward Eaton hired men to go up the lake to drive the Pelicans out of the vicinity. This sounds like a big fish story but nevertheless is the truth as told to me by Mr. Wade.
Our stage of water in the late eighties used to be very low until the Kampsville Dam was built in 1887 and the old LaGrange dam was built a little later and up until that time the Illinois River could go very low but in 1897 after these above named dams were finished the water was turned in from Lake Michigan via the Chicago River Canal and not only the water was turned in but lots of sewage or pollution which also threatened to eliminate the fishing industry on the Illinois River. Something has been done to eliminate this pollution problem but much remains to be done or the fresh water fishing on the Illinois faces more serious damage. The fishing industry has diminished to practically nothing now since not many of our younger folks care for fresh fish.
Another interesting item told to me was the fact that up until 1905 all fish used in those days had to be dressed and that means just like dressing a chicken -- all ready for the skillet. But after 1905 many thousands of pounds of fish were packed in ice in boxes containing 100 pounds of fish and were shipped to the eastern markets of New York City, Boston, Mass., Philadelphia, Penn. Many dead cars were loaded out of Meredosia on our side tracks. This was accomplished by placing the boxes loaded with fish and ice in refrigerator cars and we all know what a refrigerator car is now. The fish were dead and packed in ice and each end of the the car was loaded with ice and sent out on the Wabash as a passenger car along with the Passenger coaches. It took only a few days to reach the Eastern States.
In 1913 a new idea was brought about in the fishing industry here in Meredosia for we were given the opportunity to ship fish in live cars, whose tanks filled with water would hold some 30,000 pounds of fish. I will try to explain to you what a live car is. It is a passenger train coach with all the seats removed and water tanks are placed along either side with a gangway down the middle and air pumps are so arranged as to pump air to the fish in the tanks that contain water. These live cars were loaded by many men and the fish were transported from the bulk heads at the fish market to live cars on flat wagon pulled by horses, and all fish were weighed at the what was then Farmers Elevator where Central Soya is now located. A bulk head is now more than a wooden storage place that is movable to store fish in while waiting to be shipped out either by live truck or live cars. I might also add too, that each of these live express cars had an attendant that was on the car all the time to see that nothing happened to the pumping of the air for that would mean the loss of all the fish. In the early twenties John Edlen owner of the Meredosia Fish Company shipped out of Meredosia two such live cars in one day and that meant handling some 60,000 pounds of fish or over in one day and that was a record and still holds. These fish were bought by one of the largest fish buyers in the world and he is Ross Dixon of the Dixon Fisheries in Peoria, Illinois and that fish market is now operated by Mr. Dixon's sons and they are doing a good business but most of it is salt water imported salt water fish. One company in Philadelphia, Patomkin and Rossi bought the above mentioned 60,000 pounds of carp.
Much more could be said about the men who engaged in the fishing industry in Dosh but time will not permit one to write about every detail of the used to be great industry. I could mention a lot of names not familiar to many of the readers but names as -- the Dickmans, the Ruyles, the Newmans, the Halls, the Rauschs, Ray (Ram Cat) McDannold and Marvin (Marky) Zeakel, and one would have to add that they were all great fisherman and so far it has not been decided who is the best for it is still being discussed by them. Along with this boasting and this is the truth in 1925 the Meredosia Fish Company shipped out over 500,000 lbs. of carp and buffalo to the before mentioned Eastern markets, and also in 1925 one of the largest of the seine hauls of fish was landed by John Edlen and his crew of fishmen in Meredosia Lake and this netted over 160,000 pounds of carp and buffalo for these were the only two species of fish that they were allowed to remove and at least four game-wardens were on the job to make sure of that. In 1931 only five seine hauls were needed to net over 500,000 pounds of fish and this being a bad year for shipping these fish were stored in a large barrow pit near Willow Beach and later removed when business improved.
The fish business has dwindled, for now and since around 1950 the Express facilities have been so bad that shipping by Express would be prohibitive and it will not be long, if something is not done, Commercial fishing will be a thing of the past on the Illinois River for everything, so far, has been against improving the amount of fish in our streams. Building of new dams has prevented the fish from coming up from the Southern waters of the Mississippi and fish cannot get up-stream to spawn for all low ground has been leveed in for farming. Lastly much pollution is still found in our streams and is killing what fish we have left.
In my last remarks I will say again that much more could be said about the commercial fishing in Meredosia but anyone wishes to know anymore about this once great industry, feel free to contact Mr. Wade or any of the great fishermen I have mentioned in this article. I hope I have given you some information that you did not know about the greatest little town in Illinois for here we have everything.