West McHenry’s Post Office – Part 1

McHenry has had several things that make it stand out from its neighbors. Yet, one of the more distinctive things about it was that for many years it was the only city in America to have two Post Offices that worked independently of each other. From 1882 to 1950 McHenry had two post offices, one in Centerville and the other in West McHenry. Centerville, which was part of the original settlement, included the areas around Riverside, Pearl & Green Streets. West McHenry was usually regarded as the area around the train station, took off when it was established around 1854 by George Gage. Thus, the west side was often referred to as “Gage Town” and almost immediately there was a rivalry between the two sides.

1893 Post Office
1893 Sanborn Map Showing Post Office Near Corner of Main & Front Street in Gagetown.

The post office in McHenry was established in 1837 and was always in Centerville. How it ended up in West McHenry isn’t entirely clear, but it was almost certainly political. The move was a rather swift one. In November 1882, through the workings of Congressman Sherman, it was announced that C.V. Stevens had been appointed Postmaster by Washington and Stevens was moving the office to his store on the west side of town. The McHenry Plaindealer noted that the people of McHenry expressed their “extreme surprise” over the move. A few weeks later, the paper mentioned the move and explained that while some in town were very happy, others were furious. Many other local papers also reported on the subject. For instance, in the December 1, 1882, edition of the Crystal Lake’s, the Herald, makes mention that the post office had been moved. Interestingly, it noted that there was already a demand by some in McHenry to open another post office.

Main Street 1908
Post Card of West Mchenry From About 1908. The Post Office Would Have Been The Third Building On The Left

The Centerville people demanded that something be done and sought the help of their new congressman, Reuben Ellwood. Ellwood came to McHenry (his office was located in DeKalb) and noted that there was little to no chance that the situation would be resolved peacefully or, at least, anytime soon. However, he quickly conceded to the citizen’s demand for another post office in McHenry, in or around its original location. In June of 1883, another post office was opened in Centerville, and as one History of McHenry County noted, Uncle Sam became a “Peacemaker.” Sycamore’s paper, The True Republican, wondered in June 1883, how there could be two offices so close together? While it did seem to break the rules of the department, it did make the people of McHenry happy.

Tripp Ad - Jan 1883
Ad From January 5, 1883 Plaindealer from the Tripp Bros. Noting The Post Office Leaving Their Location

So why did the post office move to West McHenry in November 1882? Some insight may be found in the editorials from the local newspapers. The Woodstock Sentinel’s editors, Southworth & Glennon, were political rivals with the Plaindealer’s editor, Jay Van Slyke. They were very blunt about calling out “Van” on various issues. In an editorial piece, written in May 1883, it was stated that if Van Slyke’s role in the moving of  the post office in McHenry came to light, VanSlyke would be shown as a “traitor worse than Judas.” Also in June 1884, an editorial piece was published in the Sentinel while VanSlyke was jockeying for a place in the Republican party. The editorial goes on to state that during the 1882 elections, VanSlyke made the claim to some people in McHenry that if the post office were moved to West McHenry, votes could be secured for Congressman Sherman. However, it was later claimed that VanSlyke knew that Sherman was going to lose. Just how much of this is true would be up for debate, although it could explain why the move happened so quickly. (It’s also important to note that the Plaindealer offices were located in West McHenry.) However, what is important is that this gives a possible (or partial) explanation as to why the Post office was moved.

Stay tuned for the upcoming months we will have more about history of the West McHenry Post Office.

 

Sources
“Post Office Moved.” McHenry Plaindealer 8 Nov 1882: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Mar 2018.
“Post Office Removed.” Woodstock Sentinel 16 Nov 1882: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Mar 2018.
“P.O. Moved.” The Herald (Crystal Lake) 1 Dec 1882: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Mar 2018.
“Plaindealer Editorial.” Woodstock Sentinel 10 May 1883: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Mar 2018.
“Grand Tempest In A Teapot.” True Republican (Sycamore, IL) 9 Jun 1883: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Mar 2018.
“New Post Master.” McHenry Plaindealer 13 Jun 1883: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Mar 2018.
“New Post Office.” McHenry Plaindealer 20 Jun 1883: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Mar 2018.
“New Post Office.” The Herald (Crystal Lake) 22 Jun 1883: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Mar 2018.
“Oh! Consistency Thou Art A Jewel.” Woodstock Sentinel 5 Jun 1884: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 9 Mar 2018.

History of McHenry County, Illinois. Chicago: Munsell Pub., 1922. Print.

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