Baseball was a small town’s game and many towns featured semi-professional clubs during the 1900’s. McHenry was no exception. The baseball team the McHenry Blues started in 1905 and played through 1909. The town was also home to the McHenry Shamrocks who played from the early 1930s until the mid-1960s.
Semi-Pro baseball was similar to today’s minor league baseball in that many players were hoping to make it to a professional team. Players back then didn’t make a lot of money and probably had a second job, but playing with the local team kept the dream of playing professionally alive. For the fans, it was great entertainment. This era of baseball was also known as “townball”, due to the fact that most teams were financed by a local business or businesses. Sometimes other events were arranged the same day as the ballgame, such a dance or fundraiser.
On April 28, the Blues opened the season with 13-0 win over the Pekin Giants of Chicago. It took twelve innings to beat the Elgin Tigers 9-8. The following week was another blowout again with the Blues winning 12-2 against the Rock Island Athletics. The Blues even beat the Elgin Code of Honor team in June and the Waukegan city All-Stars in August. Overall , the Blues did very well for themselves. However, they had one huge problem.
Even back then, baseball ran off of ticket sales. In the early 1900s the cost of attending a game was 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children . If your attendance was too low, your team wouldn’t be able to make any money. Even worse, if they did too poorly they might not be able to pay their players and would have to cut their season short. That is exactly what happened to the Blues in 1907 when their poor ticket sales caused them to cancel the last eight games on their schedule. Again, this wasn’t due to poor performance, as they only lost one of their games. Sadly, this would happen to the team again in 1908, although the 1908 club wasn’t as good as its predecessor. Poor attendance seemed to affect many of the other local teams as well, which led to some to question as to whether the game was dying out. McHenry didn’t really have a baseball team with any continued success until the McHenry Shamrocks formed in the 1930s.
Please stay tuned for further historical updates on the famous McHenry Shamrocks baseball team appearing here in our local history blog in the Spring.
Here was September’s This Week In History that was published weekly on the McHenry Public Library’s homepage.
September 4, 1930 – Headline: HS Enrollment Breaks Records
The McHenry High School saw a drastic rise in its population securing 63 new students in its freshman class alone and total attendance up to 200 students. Credit was given to Superintendent C. H. Duker in promoting the importance of education to the community.
September 15, 1904 – Headline: Riverside Dance
On September 10, 1904 the Riverside Hall hosted a dance contest that was attended by 90 couples. The dance was a close contest and five couples were selected as finalists. The deciding performance was a waltz, with the winning couple each receiving a 2 1/2 dollar gold piece.
September 23, 1948 – Headline: “Tandem Time” To Be Benefit Production Of Hospital Group
The Woodstock Auxiliary hosted its annual fundraiser to benefit the construction of a new wing for the Woodstock Hospital for mothers and newborn infants. The performance was “Tandem Time” an 1890s piece. McHenry residents, who would also benefit from the construction, performed and supplied costumes for the fundraiser.
September 26, 1877 – Headline: The McHenry Pickle Factory A short sketch of what they are doing this season
The McHenry Pickle Factory was economically solvent in 1877, a time when the US as a whole was in the midst of an economic panic. The McHenry Pickle Factory building was over 500 feet long and processed 25/ 40 gallon barrels of pickles a day. The factory also owned the nearby cooper shop, which supplied all of the barrels & casks needed for their pickle & vinegar business.
During the early part of the 20th century, McHenry was a booming tourist destination. People from Chicago and the surrounding areas would flock to McHenry to enjoy Pistakee Lake and Bay, the Fox River and other relaxing attractions. Realizing the economic opportunity, McHenry welcomed the tourists having already established resorts and hotels in the area. McHenry also offered various forms of entertainment such as dancing at the Riverside Hotel/Hall.
The city-fathers realized early on that adding a ground-floor indoor facility that could house a sport, fair, convention or large indoor gatherings could greatly benefit the city’s economy. This large facility could host events and be a magnet to gather the tourists and local people alike. This was an idea that took shape over time. It appears to have first been mentioned around 1909. However, it really seemed to take on steam in 1912. On February 22, 1912 the McHenry newspaper, the Plaindealer, posted a picture of the proposed coliseum. The plan was described as having steam heating, electricity and bathrooms with indoor plumbing. An earlier account noted that the building would be built from cement blocks and constructed in a semicircular pattern to limit posts and beams obstructing spectators’ views. It would be used to entertain vacationers in the summer and offer new opportunities to the citizens of McHenry in colder weather.
There were a couple of places mentioned for the location of the coliseum’s construction. One location was the “center of town” and the other was Water Street (now Riverside Drive). The idea was that the people of the city would invest in the project by purchasing shares so the coliseum would be literally for the people of McHenry. One document mentioned about 100 people were willing to invest int the project. In February,1912, an article stated that 3/4 of the funds had been raised and that the construction was all but a certainty. However, the construction never came to be. How close the project came to fruition or why it didn’t materialize is hard to say. In August,1912, the McHenryPlaindealer newspaper mentions that the idea of a coliseum wasn’t dead and that some citizens wanted to continue with the project. However, there is no further mention of a coliseum anywhere in any McHenry historical documents. It’s interesting to imagine what a building like this could have meant for McHenry’s growth.