Going into the 1900s, McHenry had a lot going for itself. It was a summer tourist destination and had a great agricultural community. Businesses and factories were also starting to spring up throughout the village. One of those was the Gail Borden Condensing Plant. The Gail Borden Company had factories in many towns in the state of Illinois. In 1901, McHenry would become one of those towns. By 1910, McHenry County alone had Borden factories in McHenry, Cary, Richmond, Woodstock and Hebron. In these factories, Borden would buy milk from dairy farmers, process it into condensed milk, then ship it to Chicago for mass production & packaging.
In May 1901, Borden started building their factory here in McHenry. They purchased the land on the western bank of Mill Pond. This location was ideal, as it was next to the pond, which in the winter would supply the factory with the ice it needed. Also, on the other side of the factory was the Chicago & Northwest Railroad, which would take the milk to Chicago. The business started that spring and did very well, with the hiring of up to 25 people at a time. In October of that year, the Bordens built their own ice house with a direct run from Mill Pond.
The factory in McHenry was always one that the city was proud of. Borden kept the building clean and up to date. The factory had overhauls or upgrades throughout its operation. In 1913 business was going very well and the Borden’s dug two new wells on the property to help increase their water supply. In 1915, the company ran 120 ft. of pipe from Mill Pond to a nearby area that had become a “dumping ground” of garbage. The area would be cleaned up and turned into a park for the public with the pipe helping keep the area dry. In 1924, the newest equipment was brought in to help bring the factory to its utmost efficiency. Overall the McHenry factory had the reputation of being one of the best dairy factories in the area.
The Borden business was a multifaceted one, with many moving parts and ties to the community. The factory would get its milk from local farms, which would sometimes lead to problems. Local farmers seemed to keep a wary eye on Bordens, as prices they would receive for their milk would fluctuate. The Bordens would do the same as many local farmers would join the dairymen unions that would band together to reject milk prices that Bordens had offered them. In the middle of this were the people who worked at the factory, many whose livelihood would be affected by the relationship between the farmers and the company. Despite a strike by dairy farmers in 1916, the partnership between the groups involved was a profitable one. Also, there was the ice hauled in from Mill Pond. Borden would hire large crews to cut and haul ice from the pond into its ice houses. After a while this hauling ice became an annual event, as well as a source of income.
For about 25 years, the relationship between the community and the factory was a prosperous one. The Borden Company flourished in McHenry and in McHenry County overall. However, automation was starting to become more prominent. Since the factory was built, the process involved putting the condensed milk product into bottles when they were sent to Chicago. But with new machinery, the bottling process was skipped and the milk was then put into large tanks when they were sent off. This change cost 13 people their jobs in Aug 1925. By 1926, there was talk of closing down the factory in McHenry and just having the village be a stop for farmers to deliver their milk to Chicago. There was even a date that the company set to shut down operations: April 1, 1926. For whatever reason, the factory didn’t close and held out for two more years when it closed on April 1, 1928. Milk was then trucked to the city, instead of being sent by rail.
The Borden building and ice house were almost immediately purchased by the Mathews-Tonyan Company. On Dec 19, 1928, the ice house burned almost completely to the ground. Thankfully nobody was hurt and the building was almost empty. Mill Pond, where the company got its ice & water, was drained in 1929. The main factory building still stands today and now is home to a lamination company.
“Borden Factory Closed April 1.” McHenry Plaindealer 5 Apr 1928: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Jan 2018.
“Borden Ice House Destroyed By Fire.” McHenry Plaindealer 20 Dec 1928: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Jan 2018.
“Will Commence Building In A Few Days.” McHenry Plaindealer 4 Apr 1901: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Jan 2018.
“Postponed Closing For 30 Days.” McHenry Plaindealer 29 Apr 1926: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“13 Men Lose Positions.” McHenry Plaindealer 20 Aug 1925: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Ice Harvest Starts Soon.” McHenry Plaindealer 30 Dec 1920: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Milk War On Again.” McHenry Plaindealer 16 Mar 1916: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Milk War Ended.” McHenry Plaindealer 13 Apr 1916: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“New Machinery At Borden’s.” McHenry Plaindealer 3 Jan 1924: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Arranging For Milk Market.” McHenry Plaindealer 9 Feb 1928: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Borden’s Whistle Is Heard Again.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Jan 1927: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“More Wells For Bordens Factories.” McHenry Plaindealer 21 Aug 1913: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Will Beautify Property.” McHenry Plaindealer 20 May 1915: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
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