We think now of corn and soybeans as farm crops in this area, but in the 1860s through the 1880s another crop was prominent in this area besides corn, oats, wheat, rye, and hay. Broomcorn and maize (field corn) are both members of the grass family—but of different genera.
Broomcorn is in the same genus as sugar cane. It was first used for brooms in Italy and then introduced into America. Benjamin Franklin is said to have planted some broomcorn seeds left on a brush imported from Europe. Brooms were made from straw or, brush ends that grew out from the stalk of the plant and produced seeds at the ends. The brush was cut and brought into the sheds where the seeds were scraped off; then after drying it was baled and shipped.
In this country, broomcorn was first raised commercially in western Massachusetts where Levi Dickerson introduced it in about 1800. It became a very popular crop and advanced the art of “Sweeping Utensils" to a great, degree over what was previously available. In 1850, a product census at Hadley, Mass. showed that, 769,700 brooms were made there in 41 different places. It is not surprising that Luther and Lewis Bodman, who were from that part of Massachusetts, decided that broomcorn might be a profitable crop on their lands just south of Bement.
The Bodmans first operated their farms as a partnership, and the L. L. Bodman account book of 1870 has been preserved. It indicates that they had "long broom-corn sheds" on the property as well as three scrapers and a broomcorn press. During the year they loaded.2l railroad cars, each containing from 26 to 44 bales of broomcorn. The bales weighed from 250 to 350 pounds each and the total weight was about 113 tons, figuring the total weight of the bales of broomcorn.
In 1872, the brothers divided, their lands and Luther continued to operate the broomcorn farm. In 1875, the Piatt County Atlas included a view of the farm which showed the buildings and railroad siding where cars were loaded. At one time there were two depots on the property. In early 1880, Luther Bodman hired A. S. Burr to manage his farm. Burr continued in that capacity after Bodman’s death and eventually purchased the farm from Luther’s son Edward. In the July 1881 issue of Country Gentleman magazine, there was an article about the broomcorn farm, noting that 500 acres were devoted to that crop.
By 1885, the returns from raising broomcorn were less than from other crops, and Burr looked for another crop to take its place. His Feb. 13th letter to E. C. Bodman suggested that tobacco might be a possibility: "I want your consent to raise 2 acres of tobacco—as an experiment—lf we can raise it here, we could change from broomcorn to tobacco without any expense what ever and utilize all the buildings just as we do now. “This did not work out, but a few years later, the last crop of broomcorn was raised, bringing to an end this chapter in Bement farming history.
From Bement Sesquicentennial book - used with permission
At one time Bement had several broomcorn factories. One of note was just west of the Christian Church. It was later torn down, and the lumber used to build the Christian Church Manse at the same location. The Manse is now a private residence owned by Vi and the late Don Carter.
A more recent factory was built in the late 1940s, erected at the northeast corner of the intersection of West Bodman and North Sangamon Street. It was owned and operated by R. I. Woolridge from 1948 until about 1956. "Ira” was also a welder. Blacksmith, and Pentecostal lay minister.