Legends – Hidden Treasures

Posted: March 11, 2021

One of the hidden historical treasures of DeKalb County was undoubtedly the sheep yards in Kirkland. 

The story starts in 1875 when landowner William T. Kirk made an agreement with the railroad (now known as the Milwaukee Road). The railroad could build tracks though part of Kirk’s land in exchange that every passenger train would stop at Kirkland. Kirk realized that having the railway would make or break the little village.

Sheep shearing with power drive shears was done at the Kirkland sheep yards, circa 1917.

As luck would have it, Kirkland was located at a very advantageous spot. According to law, sheep being transported by rail could only ride the rail 36 hours before they had to stop. The sheep that started their travels at Omaha, Nebraska on their way to the Chicago packing plants needed to stop at Kirkland for water, to be fed and sheared. 

William T. Kirk and his sons took advantage of this and became livestock buyers. As the area began to grow, a grain elevator was built by George Woods to store sheep feed and further attract people to the area.

In the early 1900s the Milwaukee Road built a new 120,000 bushel elevator which was leased by John MacQueen. The sheep yards and elevator became a very successful business for MacQueen. The yard was situated just west of the town along the rail way. 

Sheep were shipped from all over the United States headed to Chicago to be fattened up for market. In 1900 there was estimated to be about 40,000 sheep in the sheep yards.

In time, the sheep business began to subside. In 1936 John MacQueen closed operations. The sheep yards were eventually converted to cattle and hog operations. 

This photo is from an undated post card of stockyard men getting ready to drive sheep to pasture in Kirkland.

In 1946, the Brennan brothers leased the yard from the railroad to run the cattle business they had established. That business too eventually ceased to exist, but the memories of what a treasure the sheep yard was for Kirkland still are strong today.

Information provided by Sue Breese