McHenry County’s Man Made Miracle

In February 1929 it was announced that the company of Jones & Winter would be building a giant man-made lake. When finished it would be the second largest lake in Northern Illinois. Jones & Winter was a company from Chicago, that specialized in summer resorts. They announced the name of the development would be Wonder Lake. The lake would offer the best place for water activities, such as boating, swimming, and fishing. They would also develop land for summer and year-round residences. However, what would be so impressive about the lake would be its size, as nothing like this had been done in the Mid-West.  

Taken from topographical map of McHenry from 1924.

Jones & Winter purchased 1642 acres of farmland with 750 acres set up to contain the lake itself. Farms were purchased from the following families: the Howes, Harrisons, Merchants, Barnards, Halls, Klintworths, Garrisons, and Hancocks. The lake itself would mainly sit on former Garrison, Hancock, and Harrison farms. Wonder Lake would be run from the Nippersink to the north starting at the area right by the Barnard Mill landmark. It would run about three and three-fourths miles south until a quarter mile north of Route 20, Route 120 today. It would be about 1 mile across from east and west, and depending on the location, would be from seven to 15 feet deep. It would also feature, three wooded islands. The Nippersink Creek, and several other smaller streams, would feed the lake and a dam would hold the water back. In the construction of Wonder Lake the dam would be the key component because, with the dam, the lake couldn’t happen. 

Taken from a topographic map of McHenry County from 1944.

The dam, when built, would keep the water 800 feet above sea level and would be quite the feat of engineering. It would be constructed by the Whitewater Bridge Company from Whitewater, Wisconsin and engineered by Randolph-Perkins company from Crystal Lake. The dam measured over 1000 feet long and dropped down 25 feet and measured in thickness of two and 1/2 feet thick to one foot thick. The spill way, the part of the dam the controls where the water goes downstream, measured 150 feet long. The rest of the dam consisted of an enormous fill of clay. The construction started in June and was finished in October. The top had a walkway for inspections and flash boards were included at the top to help adjust the depth of the lake if desired.

In September, 15,000 black bass were put into the lake. This was hoped to be the nucleus of what would make Wonder Lake a fisherman’s paradise. The dam was completed on October 15, 1929, and to much fanfare, they sealed the dam and the lake started to fill. Jones & Winter held on a contest on November 3 to see when the lake would finish filling. The cash prize was $100 to the person who came closest to guessing when the water hit a predetermined line. The project ended up costing Jones & Winter about half a million dollars, which they anticipated making back in selling the waterfront property. Known as the Wonder Lake Syndicate, Wonder Lake quickly grew into one of the more desirable summer communities in the state.   

  • “Will Construct Artificial Lake” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 28 Feb 1929, 1. Web. 14 Jan 2021.
  • “Work Starts On Big Lake Dam” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 13 Jun 1929, 1. Web. 14 Jan 2021.
  • “Work On Huge Lake Has Been Started” The Herald. (Crystal Lake, IL) 13 Jun 1929, 5. Web. 14 Jan 2021.
  • “Work Progresses On Wonder Lake” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 12 Sep 1929, 1,8. Web. 14 Jan 2021.
  • “Wonder Lake Will Be Finished Soon” Belvidere Daily Republican. (Belvidere, IL) 26 Sep 1929, 3. Web. 14 Jan 2021.
  • “Water Starts To Fill Wonder Lake” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 24 Oct 1929, 1. Web. 14 Jan 2021.
  • “When Will Water Reach The HalfWay Marker” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 31 Oct 1929, 5. Web. 14 Jan 2021.
  • “Wonder Lake Attracts Crowds” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 7 Nov 1929, 8. Web. 14 Jan 2021.
  • “McHenry’s Man Made Miracle” The Daily Sentinel. (Woodstock, IL) 8 Aug 1930, 4. Web. 14 Jan 2021.