Governor Stratton & The McHenry Dam Lock

In early 1958, Governor William Stratton set up a commission to make the Fox River area more attractive to boaters and vacationers. The commission, known as the Development of the Fox River, was a fact-finding group trying to gauge interest in investing tax dollars into the area. The commission would work with the Department of Conservation, Public Works, and Public Health. They collected signatures from the public for a petition documenting their interest, ran tests on the river water, passed out flyers, and paid for some news releases. The area had always been a popular vacation destination. Boaters and fishermen flocked to the area to enjoy their free time. It was known as a “200-mile water playground”, stretching from Wisconsin down through Aurora. Clifford Carlson, chairman of the commission, stated that the public was very supportive when he submitted the Development of the Fox River report.

Chuck Miller, William Stratton and W.L. McCullough at the dedication at the McHenry Dam.

The main improvement that the Committee and the Governor saw was the construction or improvement of seven dams running down the heart of the Fox River Valley. The dams would help regulate the water flow and optimize outdoor recreation usage. Governor Stratton proposed that he was going to ask the General Assembly for $2.2 million. However, due lack of available funds, the project only received half that amount. That didn’t stop the construction in McHenry from going through though. The McHenry dam was first constructed in 1906, with renovations in 1927 and 1939. This new renovation was constructed in 1960 and put in a lock and took roughly a year to construct. The lock would lift or lower watercraft “through” the dam and down (or up) the river. It measured 20’ x 60’ and could hold six to eight small crafts at one time. Water could fill the lock-up to five feet in a matter of minutes through a 24-inch pipe. To construct the dam 63,000 yards of dirt needed to be moved.

Governor and Mrs. Stratton during their helicopter tour in October 1960.

To celebrate the opening of the lock, the city of McHenry and the state of Illinois held an event in May 1960. Attending the event and pushing the button to open the lock was Governor William Stratton. The Governor also took a tour of the Fox River Valley on a helicopter. Participating at the ribbon-cutting ceremony were Governor Stratton and Chuck Miller, longtime McHenry road commissioner. Stratton was no stranger to the McHenry area, as he grew up in nearby Ingleside. In July, he came back to the area to participate in a GOP Golf Tournament. Over 600 people attended the event, which also included boating and other recreational activities on the Fox River. Later that fall while running for reelection for his gubernatorial third term, he took a helicopter campaign tour of the state with 18 stops in McHenry County alone. During a stop here in McHenry, he presented the Illinois flag to the award-winning Viscounts. This didn’t seem to help though as he lost in the November election to Otto Kerner, a Cook County circuit court judge. However, in honor of his work with the McHenry Dam, the structure was renamed the Stratton Dam.

Governor Stratton giving members of the Viscounts an Illinois state flag.


  • “’Fox Valley Residents Rally to Support of Improvement of Fox River Area.” The Marengo-Republican News. (Marengo, IL) 8 Jan 1959, 14. Web. 24 Jan 2022.
  • “’Ask Residents To Petition For Fox Development.” McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 29 Jan 1959, 5. Web. 24 Jan 2022.
  • “’Complete Report of Development Of Fox River.” McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 12 Feb 1959, 8. Web. 24 Jan 2022.
  • “’Allot $2,200,000 For Development Of Fox River.” McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 7 May 1959, 17. Web. 24 Jan 2022.
  • “’Set Date To Let Contract On Seven Dams.” McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 19 Mar 1959, 1, 8. Web. 24 Jan 2022.
  • “’Gov. Stratton Will Officiate At Impressive Dedication Of Locks At McHenry Dam May 29.” McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 12 May 1960, 1, 8. Web. 24 Jan 2022.
  • “’Governor Stratton To Dedicate New Lock At McHenry May 29.” The Herald. (Crystal Lake, IL) 19 May 1960, 15. Web. 24 Jan 2022.
  • “’Impressive Program At Dam Scheduled For 4:45 P.M. May 29 Followed By Stratton Dinner.” McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 26 May 1960, 1. Web. 24 Jan 2022.
  • “’Stratton Blasts Demos at GOP’s 2nd Annual Golf and Outing Day.” The Herald. (Crystal Lake, IL) 21 Jul 1960, 1. Web. 24 Jan 2022.