Through most of its existence, McHenry County has been an area focussed on agriculture. In the late part of the 19th century, pickle factories became something of a fad in the county. Woodstock, Crystal Lake, and Nunda were just some of the local towns to have them. By 1880, McHenry actually had two pickle factories. The first one was built in the summer of 1874 by a group of farmers.
The McHenry Pickle Factory cost about $8000 to build, measured 40’x80’ and had two stories. It included an additional 50’x125’ wing for “salting purposes”. This wing would include 50 tubs, each 8 ft. tall and 10 ft. in diameter for the purposes of pickling the cucumbers. Each tub cost about $40. The operation was up and running in August 1874 and received over 1000 bushels of cucumbers by the end of that month. Expecting success in its initial year of operation, the factory signed up for over 200 acres of cucumbers to be grown in the area.
By 1876, the factory was operated by two men named C. B. Curtis and a Mr. Walker, and ran under the name Curtiss, Walker & Co. The business did well and was regarded as one of the best factories in McHenry County. They even contracted a cooper, B. W. Austin, to make the barrels on site to store and transport the pickles. When Walker died in 1880, Curtiss sold his shares of the company to W. A. Cristy who ran the business under the name Cristy, Walker & Co. Cristy would go on to run the company for almost twenty years.
When W. A. Cristy took over the business he planned a large renovation for the factory. He put up two new buildings: a Boiler House (16’x20’) and a Vinegar House (24’x40’). For the company’s vinegar, Cristy used a corn and malt formula that gave the pickles a better flavor than traditional formulas. Also for the making of vinegar, Cristy bought a 25-horsepower engine that would make it cheaper to produce. When started the engine produced 700 gallons of vinegar daily. All told the renovation cost about $40,000. However, this paid off, as the factory would produce about 20,000 bushels of pickles a year and distribute them throughout the United States.
Cristy went on to have a very successful career here in McHenry. He sold the pickle factory to R. W. Stafford in May 1899. He ended up in Joplin, Missouri until his death in 1924.The pickle factory itself would thrive well into the 1920’s.
“Pickle Shipping.” McHenry Plaindealer 5 Dec. 1877: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 18 May 2017.
“Pickle Seeds.” McHenry Plaindealer 19 Apr. 1876: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 18 May 2017.
“New Roof For Pickle Factory.” McHenry Plaindealer 17 Dec. 1890: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 23 May 2017.
“Change of Ownership.” McHenry Plaindealer 18 Apr. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 18 May 2017.
“Cooper Shop Connected to Pickle Factory.” Woodstock Sentinal 12 Nov. 1874: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 16 Jun. 2017.
“Cooper Shop Sold.” McHenry Plaindealer 19 Jul. 1876: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 23 May 2017.
“Pickle Factory Enlarged.” McHenry Plaindealer 17 Nov. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 Jun 2017.
“Pickle Factory Improvements.” McHenry Plaindealer 29 Aug. 1877: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 18 May 2017.
“Pickle Factory Construction.” Woodstock Sentinal 20 Aug. 1874: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 18 May 2017.