Collecting Fossil Plants and Animals
in the Pennsylvanian Deposits of the Will County, Illinois Coal Measures
The Field Notes of George Langford, Sr. in the Years 1937-1960.
Prepared and organized by George Langford, Jr., 1973.
Copyright George Langford, III, 2010
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Pennsylvanian Coal Flora & Fauna of Northern Illinois - Fossil Collecting Localities
George, Jr. and I began collecting fossil nodules in the Wilmington [Illinois] area in the Fall of 1937.  It was no more than a change from indoor to outdor life, but as we progressed into the Spring of 1938, we began to realize that we were embarked upon a major venture in the field of natural science.  My work in the Mazon Creek deposits about twenty-five years before had failed to arouse in me any particular interest, but although the Wilmington area contained fossil nodules similar to those at Mazon Creek, it became increasingly apparent that we were seeing and finding something entirely different.  The nodules, method of collecting, degree of preservation, and many species were not entirely the same. 

By August 1st, 1938, we had accumulated more than a hundred thousand specimens, at which time George, Jr. left me to engage in business.  I donated small collections to various scientific institutions, but the finest and rarest specimens were disposed of to the Illinois State Museum, Springfield, Illinois.  From August, 1938 I continued field work alone until April 1, 1947 when I was appointed Curator of Fossil Plants at the Chicago Natural History Museum.

The Wilmington area is merely an eastern extension of the world-famous deposits at Mazon Creek, Grundy County, Illinois.  However, I have used the name Wilmington because the deposit is [so] distinctive, and because my collections were made largely in Wilimington Township, Will County, several miles west of Wilmington, the town.   Others refer to the deposit by the name Mazon [Creek], or by Braidwood, or by Coal City, two neighboring towns.

The flora and fauna of the Mazon [Creek] and Wilmington deposits occur in all parts of the world where bituminous coal is mined, but their manner of preservation is unique, rarely occurring elsewhere, and being confined closely to the Mazon [Creek] and Wilmington areas.  The fossils are preserved in flattened pebble-like concretions composed of clay silt hardened by iron and sulfur.  The contained fossil represents a plane of weakness, so that when the nodule is placed on edge [on a hard, massive surface] and split open, each half has an impression of the fossil within.  The fossils generally determine the nodule's shape, which often resembles a tailor-made fit, with a minimum of stone matrix.  This is of great convenience to the collector, who is spared the transporting of heavy masses of shale, limestone, or sandstone, such as he encounters in other localities.  There is no need for hacking out and carrying slabs and chunks.  The collector merely strolls over the waste heaps, picking up nodules and splitting them open until he has a pailful of from fifty to one hundred fifty specimens.  It put fun into what collecting elsewhere was just plain hard work.

Just why fossil nodules are abundant in the two major deposits and rare elsewhere is something of a puzzle.  The roof shale closely overlying the coal bed has many fossil impressions but no nodules.  The roof shale is composed of semi-hardened clay silt which disintegrates after long exposure to the weather.  The nodules are embedded in this same type of shale higher up, and they are hardened by iron and sulfur, probably due to bacteria originating in the fossil within.  The clay silt was washed in by floodwater from a neighboring sea.  This arrested plant growth, which was renewed when the water receded.  Successive inroads and recessions of floodwaters resulted in successive coal beds which were given numbers, 1, 2, 3, etc. [by geologists] indicating their periods of deposition.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34

[Notes:
1. This is a long list; click on a Locality Number in the table at left to see the corresponding description and data.
2. The original information was listed in three sets of pages; I have consolidated the data into one HTML page.
3. Wilmington Township, Reed Township and Custer Township are all in Will County, Illinois.
4. Both George Langford, Sr. by himself and with George Langford, Jr. prepared maps of the Localities.
5. There's a Google map embedded at the bottom of this page; it'll be handy for finding these Localities.
6. This information is for study purposes only; no permission to access any of these localities is granted or implied; things have changed in the fifty years since George Sr. and George Jr. collected these fossils - GL,III, ed.]
Locality
Short Descriptions.
Nicknames &
Number of Trips.
Detailed descriptions.
1
Wilmington Township, Section 34 on east side of State Route No. 59 & north of State Route 52
Piano

5
This has been a favorite collecting ground for tourists driving south on Route 59.  The latter is built on material from the spoil heaps, which continue north on both sides of the road for a mile or so.  The spoil heaps most accessible to Route 59 have been much picked over.  Some of the natives collect fossils and often offer them for sale.  The spoil heaps directly north and those east of this small area are more or less barren of fossils.
2
Wilmington Township, Section 33 on southeast corner, bordering State Route No. 59. Junction of Routes 59 & 52.
Piano

6
This locality is west of and opposite Locality No. 1.  The ranges of spoil heaps run from the southeast to northwest.  It is a favorite collecting ground for tourists.  This and Locality No. 1 represent Illinois Coal Company mining.

Both Locality No. 1 and Locality No. 2 were referred to as the "Piano" sites, because there was a wooden advertising sign on top of the spoil heaps west of Illinois Route 59 in the shape of a grand piano.
3
Wilmington Township Section 28, southwest portion of the section, east side of Section Line 28/29 road on south side of water.
South Pig Pen

18
This locality is on the "Pig Pen Road" which is a dirt road west of and parallel to Route 59.  On the east side of the dirt road is the "East Pig Pen Pond," and the site is on the south side of the pond and the bank at the west end of the pond.  It is very accessible to collectors.  It represents the diggings of the Will County Coal Company, which went out of existence some time ago.

Called the "South Pig Pen" site, sometimes as the "Goldblatt" site - a large herd of hogs was penned across the road on the Goldblatt farm.  A "Neuropteris Grove" also occurred in one area of this site.
4
Wilmington Township Section 28, east side of Section Line 28/29 road on north side of water. North Pig Pen

8
Located at the southwest portion of the section on the east side of the "Pig Pen Road."  This is a companion site to Locality No. 3 and is on the north side of the "Small Pig Pen Pond."  The combined Localities No.'s 3 and 4 comprise only a small area of Will County Coal Company diggings on the east side of the "Pig Pen Road."  We took panoramic photographs of the spoil heaps from the highest point on Locality No. 4.
5
Wilmington Township Section 29, west side of Section Line 28/29 road, northeast of long pond. 5
Located in the east portion of the section, on the west side of the "Pig Pen Road," and the spoil heaps nearest to the "Pig Pen."  It is on the north side of a small pond and is easily accessible from the "Pig Pen Road."
6
Wilmington Township Section 29, west side of Section Line 28/29 road, on north side of small pond.  4
Located in the east portion of the section, on the west side of the "Pig Pen Road," and west of Locality No. 5, to which it is a companion site.
7
Wilmington Township Section 29, southeast shore of long pond. South Long Pond

6
Located in the south central portion of the section, on the west side of the "Pig Pen Road," and west of Locality No. 6.  It is on the southeast side of the east end of the "Long Pond," near where the hunter tried to trap a fox.

Localities No.'s 7, 8, 17 & 28 were called the "South Long Pond" sites.
8
Wilmington Township Section 29, south shore of long pond. South Long Pond

13
Located in the south central portion of the section.  It is the continuation westward of the Locality No. 7 spoil-heap range on the south side of the "Long Pond."  We call this site, the "Lepidodendron Grove."
9
Wilmington Township Section 29, north shore of long pond; 0.5 mile west of Locality No. 6. North Long Pond

3
This is the first range or eastern range extending to the west and north; it is opposite Locality No. 8.

In one area of Locality No. 9 was the "Pecopteris Grove" where no other fossil variety occurred.
10
Wilmington Township Section 30, about 0.25 mile northwest of Locality No. 9. North Long Pond

1
Located in the western portion of the section, on the north side of "Long Pond" and west of Locality No. 9.
11
Wilmington Township Section 30, northwest corner of Section 30 close to Santa Fe R.R. on south side of long pond. Pump House

2
Located in the south central portion of Section 19 and in the northeast portion of Section 30.  This is a considerable area bordering the Santa Fe Rail Road tracks on the northwest side, where the railroad runs from the northeast to the southwest.  The site is near "The Dike" to the southeast and extends on both sides of a pond near the "Pump House."  Here is where we first found an "Alethopteris Grove" and then Caulopteris tree trunks.  We took photographic panoramic views from the highest point on this site.

A pond near Locality No. 11 and Locality No. 12 supplied water for the steam engines of the railroad.  These areas contained an "Alethopteris Grove" and a "Lepidophyllum Area."
12
Wilmington Township Section 30 ]19 ?- GL,III], southwest of Locatility No. 11, close to Will County-Grundy County line. Pump House

1
Located in the south central portion of Section 19 [another list names Section 30 - GL,III].  The very high ranges northwest of the "Dike" are companion to Locality No. 11.  The two localities cover a large area, most of which is barren of fossils but which embraces a number of small productive spots.  Dr. Elmer Stephen started us in this region.
13
Reed Township, Section 4, west side of Route 59 near Wilmington Township line.
2
Located in the northeast corner of the township and in the northeast portion of the named section.  This locality is near the Route 52-Route 59 intersection, on the south side of Route 52 and west of Route 59, although construction of Highway 59 south of Route 52 is only begun.
14
Custer Township, Section 3, east side of Route 59, near Wilmington Township line.
2
Located in the northwest corner of the section on the east side of Route 59 and east of Locality No. 13.  The southern part of this site is near the Baltimore & Ohio railroad tracks and can be reached from U.S. Highway No. 66 south of Wilmington by rough driving west across the tracks.
15
Wilmington Township Section 33, about 0.13 mile east of Section 32 line. 1
Located in the northwest portion of the section.  The long ranges run approximately east and west.  The site is at the extreme southern end of the "Pig Pen Road."
16
Wilmington Township Section 32, north central portion. 1
Located in the north portion of the section.  This site is near the "Tipple" of the Northern Illinois Coal Company.  It lies on both sides of a dirt road southwest of the "Tipple" and running into Route 52.
17
Wilmington Township Section 27, west central portion. South Long Pond

6
Located in the west portion of the section.  This is on the south side of the northwest end of "Long Pond," between Locality No. 8 and the "Dike."
18
Wilmington Township Section 33, southeast portion. 1
Located close to the Reed Township line.  This is a range north of Route 52 and near the Route 52-Route 59 intersection.  There is a good-sized pond on the north side of this range, which pond is much farther north of Route 52 at its east end than it is at its west end.
19
Wilmington Township Section 30, northwest portion. Eurypterus Area

3
Located almost on the east Grundy County line.  This is our "Eurypterus" locality.  The Santa Fe Rail Road tracks are very close to it on the north.  Most of these little beasts were found here.
20
Custer Township, Section 3, west central portion. Western and northern part of Wilmington Coal Company mines.
Dragon Fly Area

15
This is an area formerly worked by the Wilmington Coal Company, the name changed in about September 1938 to the Braidwood Coal Company.  The site is reached from U.S. Route 66 on a small dirt road which leads east to the "Truck Road" on which the Braidwood Coal Company hauls its mined coal by truck from the Pit to the Tipple.

Where George Jr. found our largest ever insect wing; also our first "craw-dad."
21
Custer Township, Section 3, northeast of Locality No. 20.  Eastern and northern part of Wilmington Coal Company mines. 13
Located in the central portion of the section and adjoining Locality No. 20.  This is our "Dragon Fly Wing," "Craw-dad," and "Fish Tooth" site.
22
Custer Township, Section 3, south central portion.  Southern part of Wilmington Coal Company mines. 2
This locality is not far southeast of Locality No. 20.  The cranes working there in August, 1938, were producing "black nodules."
23
Wilmington Township Section 19, southwest corner, near Santa Fe R.R. track.
1
Located southwest of the tracks and almost on east Grundy County line.  This is where George Jr. smashed his thumb and George Sr. pounded a bad hole in his leg.
24
Custer Township, Section 3, east central part, Wilmington Coal Company. 1
This is in the extreme eastern part of the Braidwood Coal Company stripped area.  The site is reached by driving east and south on an abondoned truck road leading from the active truck road near Locality No. 20.
25
Custer Township Section 3, west of Locality No. 24.
1
Located in the central portion of the section.  This is the western end of the ranges on Locality No. 24.
26
Wilmington Township Section 29, west central part. First trip with John McClucki.
McClucki No. 1

5
This is site, "McClucki No. 1," part of a large collecting area.  It is reached by entering the Northern Illinois Coal Company's plant on the northwest side of the "Tipple" and then turning northwestward for a considerable distance on the "Tipple Road."

One of Mr. McClucki's favorite collecting spots.
27
Wilmington Township Section 29, southwest part. Second trip with John McClucki. McClucki No. 2

1
This is site, "McClucki No. 2."  It is reached from the "Tipple Road" by turning south and proceeding over very rough road through a cut to the Northern Illinois Coal Company's private fish-pond.
28
Wilmington Township Section 30, eastern part near Locality No. 10. South Long Pond

7
Located in the northwest portion of Section 29 and the northwest portion of Section 30.  The site is a continuation westward of Locality No. 17.  It is reached from Locality No. 26 by crossing the spoil heaps northward.  It is the site of big nodules, and embraces the "Dike" on the north end of "Long Pond."
29
Wilmington Township Section 29, south central part near Locality No. 27. 2
This locality is reached from the "Tipple Road" by turning south as to Locality No. 27 and then going east of Locality No. 27.  Our car got stuck here, and we had to jack the right front wheel up in the air to get out.
30
Wilmington Township Section 34, northwest corner, south of switch tracks. 2
This site is east or Route 59 and near the railway switch tracks, crossing Route 59 at the northern end of the fill whereby Route 59 crossed the spoil heaps.
31
Wilmington Township Section 30, northern part. Odontopteris Grove
1
This site is near the "submerged gondola" railroad freight cars.  It is reached from the west end of the "Tipple Road" by walking northwestward on the railway switch track.  It adjoins and is on the south side of "Long Pond."

The "Odontopteris Grove" was on part of this site.
32
Wilmington Township Section 30, eastern part. 1
Located in the west central area of the section.  It produced a fine insect wing but was otherwise poor.
33
Wilmington Township Section 19, northwest part. 1
This site produced spiders, but the nodules were poor and sandy.
34
Wilmington Township Section 33, central eastern part. 1
Did not produce good material.
[Google has since produced some fine maps.  The map below covers all the collecting sites.  You will see that the spoil heaps are generally overgrown with trees that can be seen via sattelite from outer space, so to speak.  I doubt that you will find as easy access as George Sr. and George Jr. found while they were actively collecting during this period. In short: don't try this at home; George Sr. and George Jr. were experts.  However, maybe you can work out some patterns in the distributions of the species they found. GL,III]




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