The eastern portion of Mason County lying east of Crane Creek and including the greater portions of Crane Creek, Salt Creek, Mason City, Allen's Grove and Pennsylvania Townships, varies in its formation from the balance of the county. It is a high, undulating prairie, and the soil is generally a rich, brown mold, varying in quantity of clay mixed in the soil, but all containing much more than the balance of the county. There is a small body of timber on the east of Crane Creek, and also on the skirts of the Sangamon River and Salt Creek. There are small bodies of timber in Lease's Grove, and also in Allen's Grove, the balance of the territory being mostly high, rolling prairie. The remainder of the county varies very materially in its formation and topography. The prairies are mostly low and flat, and in many places were originally over-flowed, and in places marshy during the wet season of the year. The soil of these prairies is a rich alluvium, generally more or less mixed with sand, which forms, when sufficiently elevated or drained, the best producing soil in the State. These prairies are interspersed with sand ridges-some of them quite high and some of them covered with an indifferent growth of timber. One of these timbered sand ridges extends from the Sangamon, north, to the Quiver-some fifteen miles-passing up on the east side of Kilbourne and Havana Townships, and varying from one to three miles in width. Another sand ridge passes from the Sangamon to the north line of Bath, on the east side of Bath Township. Another sand ridge, with timber on it, extends from the Quiver, near Forest City, to the north line of the county. These lands are considered of a poor quality by reason of the excessive quantity of sand mixed with the soil; but there are many things that they will produce, and in time they will be put in cultivation. Field's Prairie, about three miles wide and six long, lies between the first two ridges of timber above described, and is one of the richest and handsomest garden spots that a crow ever flew over. There are other localities where the land is equally good, but none where the locality is so picturesque and inviting to the farmer. The upper end of the prairie needs drainage to bring it to the highest state of perfection. Much remains to be done in the way of drainage in nearly all of the townships to bring the land into a high and safe state of cultivation, and when it is done, no other land will excel it in richness and productiveness.|
Owing to this peculiar formation, soil and topography of a large portion of the county, the crop yield is dependent very much upon the condition of the weather, and will continue so until a more perfect system of drainage is adopted and carried out.
The richest and best lands of a portion of the county are so level that, in wet seasons, the natural drainage is not sufficient to carry off the surplus waster; consequently, in wet years these lands are more or less non-productive. In the dry years, the high, sandy lands, for want of moisture, dry out, parch up and destroy vegetation to a greater or less extent, so that, in the dry years, the full crops are on the flat lands and in the wet years upon the high lands, where there is so much sand that a stranger to the soil would think nothing could grow. Of course, the best lands are those sufficiently elevated for drainage and containing enough and not too much san mixed in the loam. There is more or less of this kind of land in all the townships of the county. Without drainage, the eastern portion of the county is considered best on account of being high and undulating.
It is remarkable how much life and vigor is imparted to the soil by a plentiful supply of sand. If "heat is life and cold is death," we are certainly blessed with a lively life-giving soil. The sun's rays, striking upon the particles of sand, produce a warmth that starts vegetation very early in the season and drives it on to maturity with great rapidity. In ordinary seasons, when the frost does not come too early, corn planted as late as July matures and produces well. There have been years when Mason County supplied the country round, in the State and out of it, with the seed which they could get nowhere else, because our corn always ripens and is always ready to grow in consequence of the life and vigor imparted to it by the fructifying influence of sun rays and sand.
Mason County is noted for the superior quality of its wheat, when in a wheat-growing period, which runs in cycles. For a series of years, all wheat sown does well because the elements that it requires in its growth are in the soil. When these elements become exhausted, wheat will not do well until a new supply is accumulated. But in corn there is no failure or let-up; it is always up and a-coming; and melons, sweet potatoes and all kinds of products requiring much warmth in development find no rival in other soils. Watermelons are generally in market by the middle of July, and in virgin soil they grow to an enormous size. They are often seen as long as a barrel, and have sometimes kicked the beam at sixty pounds!