The Flood of 1938

In July 1938, the McHenry area had some of the worst floods in its history. A huge storm on June 30th brought torrential rains The storm saturated the area and caused area rivers and lakes to swell. Damage and destruction to local fields, crops and buildings were due to the rivers flooding their banks. However, probably the worst casualty was to the area’s bridges.

 

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Flooding at Barnard Mill near Wonder Lake. The roads, fields, and some fencing are underwater. From the McHenry Plaindealer, 7 Jul 1938.
Rivers like the Fox and Nippersink, pounded the bridges that spanned them, damaging some and destroying others. Up to 13 bridges were damaged in some way and the estimates totaled approximately $300,000. Like the rest of the country, the area was in the midst of the Great Depression and assembling that kind of money wouldn’t be easy.
The new Johnsburg bridge (left), sitting next to its predecessor. Courtesy of the McHenry Plaindealer 15 Jun 1939.
Public officials for the McHenry County Road and Bridge Committee did have some options, such as applying for federal funds and raising money through public bonds. In September 1938, a special election was held to vote to get a grant from the federal government. If the public voted “yes”, the government offered to cover about $58,000, or 45% of the total of the $130,000 needed,  For the rest of the money, about $71,000,  a slight tax of 2 cents for every $100 in property assessment was also voted on by the public.  The election passed by a whopping 1,300 to 460. This was the first time that a bond issue had been voted on by the county. 
bridges
Of the thirteen damaged bridges, seven needed to be completely rebuilt. Greenwood alone lost four bridges. One bridge that crossed the Nippersink cost $25,000 to rebuild. Construction of some bridges started in August of 1938. Work was finished for all but two bridges by June of 1939. The citizens of Johnsburg and Greenwood acknowledged their new bridges with huge dedication ceremonies. By the end of the fall, all of the bridges were successfully rebuilt, thanks to the leadership of the McHenry County Road and Bridge Committee and the grant from the federal government.  

Sources

“May Cost $125,000 to the County” The Daily Sentinal (Woodstock) 2 Jul. 1938: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 17 Nov 2016.
“Cloudburst on Thursday Ends Heavy Rain” McHenry Plaindealer 7 Jul. 1938: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Nov 2016.
“Seek Federal Aid Road And Bridge Repairs” McHenry Plaindealer 14 Jul. 1938: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Nov 2016.
“Must Find A Way To Finance Bridge Problem” McHenry Plaindealer 4 Aug. 1938: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Nov 2016.
“$130,000 Cost Estimated to Build Bridges” McHenry Plaindealer 11 Aug. 1938: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Nov 2016.
“McHenry Bond Issue Election To Be Held Tues, Sept 6” McHenry Plaindealer 1 Sep. 1938: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 17 Nov 2016.
“To Be Erected Just South of Old Structure” McHenry Plaindealer 1 Sep. 1938: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Nov 2016.
“$130,000 Bond Issue OK’d By Voters Tuesday” McHenry Plaindealer 8 Sep. 1938: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Nov 2016.
“County Claims Thousands of Dollars Owing” McHenry Plaindealer 15 Sep. 1938: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 17 Nov 2016.
“Rain Delays Work On New State Bridge” McHenry Plaindealer 22 Sep. 1938: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Nov 2016.
“Busy Session Held Tuesday at Woodstock” McHenry Plaindealer 17 Nov. 1938: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Nov 2016.
“Greenwood – Special Correspondence to the Sentinal” The Daily Sentinal (Woodstock) 12 May 1939: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 17 Nov 2016.
“Community Club Makes Plans for a Big Celebration” McHenry Plaindealer 18 May 1939: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 17 Nov 2016.
“Work Is Completed On Seven County Bridges” McHenry Plaindealer 15 Jun. 1939: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Nov 2016.

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The McHenry Train Crash of 1908

On March 30, 1908 one of the worst train wrecks took place here in McHenry. Around 8:30 am a train loaded with 24 head of cattle and six calves were headed to Ringwood from Crystal Lake. Just south of the McHenry train depot there was a slight curve. The train hit the curve too quickly and flew off the tracks. It proceeded to crash through the wooden platform leading to the train depot, smashing it to pieces. The train finally came to a stop just before the depot itself, with the depot not suffering any major damage. The tender (the car carrying the train’s coal) and the engine stopped almost side-by-side.

train crash where now is the Train Depot Restaurant
Picture of the crash site, note the locomotive to the left and the tender is behind the people. The building in towards the middle of picture is the train depot. Picture compliments of the McHenry Public Library collection.

The train’s engineer, A. Jewell from Chicago, seeing that the accident was unavoidable, jumped out of the locomotive’s window. He avoided what would have been almost certain death and only suffered minor bruises and cuts. The conductor and S. W. Smith, the owner of the cattle, were also able to jump to safety. Sadly the train’s fireman wasn’t so lucky. Ernest Auler was inside the cab and didn’t have time to leap to safety. Later inquests would determine that he was killed by scalding hot water and steam from the locomotive. Mr. Auler was well-liked, a member of the Platt Deutsche Guild, and originally from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. After the inquest, his body was sent back home to a wonderful service at his mother’s home. Oddly enough, in regards to the cattle, despite being thrown around in the wreck, only one calf was killed and the rest were unharmed. The cattle were then loaded up and finished their journey up to Ringwood.

Sanborn 1908 Crash Map
Sanborn map from 1898 showing area where the accident took place.

The cleanup of the wreck didn’t take long. The accident occurred at 8:30 am and by was cleared out by 7:00 pm. A track just east of the accident allowed for rail traffic to flow rather unencumbered while the wreckage was moved. Many photographers were on-hand to collect pictures of the accident. Looking at the wreck, it’s a wonder that only one life was lost. What was even more impressive was how the city was able to clear everything out of the way and go about its business the very same day.

“Fireman Dead In Wreck.” McHenry Plaindealer 2 Apr. 1908: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 12 Aug 2016.
“Funeral For A. Euler.” McHenry Plaindealer 9 Apr. 1908: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.

Sanborn Map Company. McHenry, McHenry County, Illinois : July 1898 Scale [ca. 1:1,200]. 100 ft. = 1 in.; Scale [ca. 1:6,000]. 500 ft. = 1 in. “Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps” (Accessed: August 16, 2016).
Everts, Baskin and Stewart.  McHenry Township: 1908, McHenry County, IL  [map].1908. Scale undetermined; using “Historic Map Works by Proquest”.

The Fox Pavilion

During the 1920’s dancing was very popular, especially with resort communities, which McHenry was making a name for itself at that time. Picking up on this business opportunity, Clarence Neisen build the Fox Pavilion, or the Fox, here in McHenry in May 1922. It was described as being roughly 1/2 mile northeast of where the 120 bridge meets the Fox River. The Fox was spacious and pretty, it gave McHenry a touch of class with the ambiance & live music and measured in at 84 x 108 feet. It offered the younger people of the town a place to be on the weekend nights. Things were so successful that Clarence’s father, Mathias, sold his popular grocery store that he operated in town to help Clarence run the Fox. Unfortunately the Fox’s history would be a brief one.

 

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Postcard of the Fox from the 1920s.

On the night of May 26, 1931, just as he was starting his shift, the Fox’s watchman, Thomas Alyward, was awakened by four men who kidnapped him, drove him out to Schiller Park, and just as abruptly dropped him off. He immediately notified Schiller Park’s sheriff, who contacted Woodstock’s sheriff, who notified Clarence Neisen. Alyward was soon met in Schiller Park by Clarence Neisen, Sheriff Jack Walsh and some other prominent McHenry citizens to find out what had exactly happened. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to supply any information about his abductors. It wasn’t until he got back to McHenry that Thomas Alyward found out that while he was being taken to Schiller Park, the Fox Pavilion had been burned to the ground.

Fox Pavilion Ad - June 29 1922, p 4
Announcement from the McHenry Plaindealer in June 1922.

When firemen first arrived to fight the blaze, they could smell gasoline. Soon after, they found 5 large gas cans and 4 smaller gas cans nearby. Just exactly who the arsonists were or is a mystery, but the leading theory at the time was that they were local business competitors. Sadly almost everything was lost at the Fox, including the orchestra’s instruments. One piece alone was valued at $350. The total loss of the Fox was estimated around $20,000.

 

 Clarence Neisen wasn’t going to let this crime finish him however. Before the ashes of the Fox Pavilion cooled, Neisen started planning on rebuilding. Despite the fact that the Fox was burned down in May, Neisen anticipated on having the construction at the new site finished before the end of August. As grand as the Fox Pavilion was, Neisen wanted the new Fox to be even more impressive. To help, he did have a fire insurance policy worth about $15,000. Also, the burning of The Fox was something of a crime against the town itself, as it was seen as something the community looked at with pride and was enjoyed by many.  Neisen was able to recruit the best craftsmen in town to help on what almost seemed like a community project. To look at those involved would be a list of the most respected names and businesses in the town.
Grand Opening of New Fox Saturday - August 20, 1931 p.3
Advertisement for the opening of the Fox from August 1931.

The construction only took four weeks to finish, and on August 22, the new Fox debuted. It was in an Old English style, measured 110 by 128 feet, with a 20 ft. lobby and an 18 ft. promenade. The dance floor itself measured 60 by 80 feet. Its decor topped that of the old Fox and was set up for sophisticated entertainment. It had room for an orchestra and an area for refreshments. The new Fox was colorful and grand, the ceiling was even covered with about 1000 yards of turquoise satin. The lighting was set up with a dimmer so that the lighting could be change the ambiance. However, most important, the new Fox was made from cinder blocks that made it far more fireproof then its predecessor.

Even with all of its new upgrades the new Fox couldn’t carry on the success that the old Fox achieved. There were probably a variety of things to blame. Most likely the biggest culprit was the Great Depression. Over time the Fox closed and the Just-For-Fun Roller Rink took over the building. The town of McHenry should be proud of the way it rallied around the destruction of the Fox as a community and stood up against such crimes in the future. In spite of the fact that the New Fox wasn’t as successful, Clarence Neisen was able to pull together the ashes of his destroyed business in a very respectable amount of time and with a improved structure at that.

Clarence Niesen - August 20, 1931
Sources
“2180 Attend Formal Opening of New Fox.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 27 Aug. 1931: 1.
“Construction Work Starts On ‘New’ Fox.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 23 Jul. 1931: 1.
“Grand Opening Of New Fox Saturday.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 20 Aug. 1931: 1.
“Kidnap Watchman; Burn Fox Pavilion.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 28 May 1931: 1.
“M.M. Niesen To Quit.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 14 May 1925: 1.
“New Fox Pavilion Will Be Erected.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 16 Jul. 1931: 1.
“Opening Of Fox Pavilion.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 21 May 1922: 1.
“Pavilion Opening May 27.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 18 May 1922: 1.
“Rushing Dance Pavilion.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 25 May 1922: 1.