McHenry’s Borden Factory

Going into the 1900s, McHenry had a lot going for itself. It was a summer tourist destination and had a great agricultural community. Businesses and factories were also starting to spring up throughout the village. One of those was the Gail Borden Condensing Plant. The Gail Borden Company had factories in many towns in the state of Illinois. In 1901, McHenry would become one of those towns. By 1910, McHenry County alone had Borden factories in McHenry, Cary, Richmond, Woodstock and Hebron. In these factories, Borden would buy milk from dairy farmers, process it into condensed milk, then ship it to Chicago for mass production & packaging.

rv06pfCTMSgGf84g7opR_1912 Sanborn Map - Bordon's (1)
1912 Sanborn Fire Map Overhead View of Factory and Ice House.

In May 1901, Borden started building their factory here in McHenry. They purchased the land on the western bank of Mill Pond. This location was ideal, as it was next to the pond, which in the winter would supply the factory with the ice it needed. Also, on the other side of the factory was the Chicago & Northwest Railroad, which would take the milk to Chicago. The business started that spring and did very well, with the hiring of up to 25 people at a time. In October of that year, the Bordens built their own ice house with a direct run from Mill Pond.         

Bordon Picture - Feb 1902
Picture of New Factory From Feb 1902 McHenry Plaindealer.

The factory in McHenry was always one that the city was proud of. Borden kept the building clean and up to date. The factory had overhauls or upgrades throughout its operation. In 1913 business was going very well and the Borden’s dug two new wells on the property to help increase their water supply. In 1915, the company ran 120 ft. of pipe from Mill Pond to a nearby area that had become a “dumping ground” of garbage. The area would be cleaned up and turned into a park for the public with the pipe helping keep the area dry. In 1924, the newest equipment was brought in to help bring the factory to its utmost efficiency. Overall the McHenry factory had the reputation of being one of the best dairy factories in the area.

The Borden business was a multifaceted one, with many moving parts and ties to the community. The factory would get its milk from local farms, which would sometimes lead to problems. Local farmers seemed to keep a wary eye on Bordens, as prices they would receive for their milk would fluctuate. The Bordens would do the same as many local farmers would join the dairymen unions that would band together to reject milk prices that Bordens had offered them.  In the middle of this were the people who worked at the factory, many whose livelihood would be affected by the relationship between the farmers and the company. Despite a strike by dairy farmers in 1916, the partnership between the groups involved was a profitable one. Also, there was the ice hauled in from Mill Pond. Borden would hire large crews to cut and haul ice from the pond into its ice houses. After a while this hauling ice became an annual event, as well as a source of income.

Jan 1922 Borden.PNG
Borden Factory From 1922 Sanborn Fire Map

For about 25 years, the relationship between the community and the factory was a prosperous one. The Borden Company flourished in McHenry and in McHenry County overall. However, automation was starting to become more prominent. Since the factory was built, the process involved putting the condensed milk product into bottles when they were sent to Chicago. But with new machinery, the bottling process was skipped and the milk was then put into large tanks when they were sent off. This change cost 13 people their jobs in Aug 1925. By 1926, there was talk of closing down the factory in McHenry and just having the village be a stop for farmers to deliver their milk to Chicago. There was even a date that the company set to shut down operations: April 1, 1926. For whatever reason, the factory didn’t close and held out for two more years when it closed on April 1, 1928. Milk was then trucked to the city, instead of being sent by rail.  

The Borden building and ice house were almost immediately purchased by the Mathews-Tonyan Company. On Dec 19, 1928, the ice house burned almost completely to the ground. Thankfully nobody was hurt and the building was almost empty. Mill Pond, where the company got its ice & water, was drained in 1929. The main factory building still stands today and now is home to a lamination company.


“Borden Factory Closed April 1.” McHenry Plaindealer 5 Apr 1928: 1. Web. 4 Jan 2018.
“Borden Ice House Destroyed By Fire.” McHenry Plaindealer 20 Dec 1928: 1. Web. 4 Jan 2018.
“Will Commence Building In A Few Days.” McHenry Plaindealer 4 Apr 1901: 1. Web. 4 Jan 2018.
“Postponed Closing For 30 Days.” McHenry Plaindealer 29 Apr 1926: 1. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“13 Men Lose Positions.” McHenry Plaindealer 20 Aug 1925: 1. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Ice Harvest Starts Soon.” McHenry Plaindealer 30 Dec 1920: 1. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Milk War On Again.” McHenry Plaindealer 16 Mar 1916: 5. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Milk War Ended.” McHenry Plaindealer 13 Apr 1916: 1. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“New Machinery At Borden’s.” McHenry Plaindealer 3 Jan 1924: 1. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Arranging For Milk Market.” McHenry Plaindealer 9 Feb 1928: 1. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Borden’s Whistle Is Heard Again.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Jan 1927: 1. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“More Wells For Bordens Factories.” McHenry Plaindealer 21 Aug 1913: 1. Web. 3 Jan 2018.
“Will Beautify Property.” McHenry Plaindealer 20 May 1915: 1. Web. 3 Jan 2018.


The Beginning of McHenry’s Pries Market

In 1918, William Pries came to McHenry after purchasing the local market from Charles Frett. Frett had been in McHenry for 25 years when he sold the business. It was well respected and liked. People in town knew that Pries had big shoes to fill. William Pries, who was a successful businessman from Wauconda, got off to a rough start in McHenry. When moving his possessions from Wauconda to McHenry during a rough February snowstorm, his car got stuck on Green Street by the Empire Theatre. Due to the weather, the car would remain stuck for over a week.

Green Street
Section of a postcard from 1922. Piers is the building on the left hand side.

Despite this, rough start, the Central Market was very prosperous. Located on the corner of Green Street and Elm St. (Rte. 120), it was in a prime location. Being a very active person, Pries was always looking to improve or renovate his business. On the bottom floor of the Central Market was a combined grocery store and a butcher shop. The Post Office was in the southern-most section. In 1923, Pries divided the market and butcher shop and created space for two more store fronts. All four of the stores would have access to Green or Elm Street, have glass fronts and would measure about 18’x40’.  In 1925, he sold the market end of the business, which was taken over by the National Tea Company. Pries retained the butcher shop while the National Tea Company successfully ran for many years in McHenry.

Ad Appearing In The McHenry Plaindealer from 23 Jan 1923.

When Pries bought the business, the top floor was McHenry’s opera house and an office. In 1925, he would clear out the opera house including the balcony, dressing rooms and stage. The area was cleared to be a great hall for meetings and banquets. The new hall was separated into two rooms, but it had a sliding wall that could be opened for larger events. Some of that rented it out were the Knights of Columbus, the Daughters of America and the Riverview Camp. The office space would contain two one room offices and one two room office. They were tastefully appointed with mahogany doors and ivory enamel. Over the years the second level would also be converted into to apartments.   

1922 Sanborn Map Showing the Overhead View of Pries. Note the Stage and Scenery.

William Pries ran the Central Market until 1945, at which time, his son William Pries Jr. took over. William Sr. went on to enjoy retirement until he passed away in 1964. The Central Market building itself went on to become several different business through the years, including several different restaurants. The last restaurant there was Windy City Wings, which was lost to a fire on Dec 21, 2012. Thankfully nobody was hurt in the fire. Sadly, the fire was a total loss and the building was destroyed, leaving some families displaced right before the holidays. For more information, here is the article from the Northwest Herald.


“Founder’s Day Anniversary.” McHenry Plaindealer 15 May 1958: 1. Web. 27 Aug 2017.
“Central Market Changes Owners.” McHenry Plaindealer 23 Jun 1927: 1. Web. 27 Aug 2017.
“Changes Being Made In Pries Building.” McHenry Plaindealer 3 Dec 1925: 1. Web. 18 Aug 2017.
“Charles G. Frett Sells Out.” McHenry Plaindealer 31 Jan 1918: 1. Web. 18 Aug 2017.
“Grand Opening of New Modern Store.” McHenry Plaindealer 18 May 1950: 1. Web. 18 Aug 2017.
“National Tea Company Takes Over Grocery Department of Central Market.” McHenry Plaindealer 30 Apr 1925: 4. Web. 18 Aug 2017.
“New Supermarket To Replace National Tea Store On Corner.” McHenry Plaindealer 20 April 1950: 1. Web. 18 Aug 2017.
“Old Central Opera Hall Remodeled.” McHenry Plaindealer 18 Feb 1926: 1. Web. 18 Aug 2017.
“To Remodel Business Block.” McHenry Plaindealer 11 Oct 1923: 1. Web. 18 Aug 2017.

The Masquerade Ball of February 1878

In August of 1919, a local resident named “Buff” Feltz stopped by the McHenry Plaindealer office with an old dance program he found in walls of a Crystal Lake house he helped raze. Plaindealer editor, F. G. Schreiner found the program interesting and posted the details of the dance thinking that some of the “old-timers” might enjoy it too.

The dance was held on Friday, February 8, 1878, at the Riverside Hotel in McHenry. At that time, the Riverside was famous in the area for its dances, or in the case of the event on the 8th, masquerade balls. People came from places such as Woodstock, Richmond, and even Chicago to attend these events. Local businesses offered a variety of masks for these dances. P.D. Smith (whose store was near the train depot) and Smith, Aldrich & Haythorn’s (located on Riverside Drive) were just a couple of the businesses to offer these products.

Capture 2
Advertisement for the Ball appearing in the Feb 6, 1878,  McHenry Plaindealer.

The band for the evening was a six-piece group from Lake Geneva called the Rogers and Gillett’s Band of Geneva Lake. It cost $2 to dance and that would also pay for your supper. For 25¢, you could walk in and mingle with other guests. As with other masquerade balls, most participants wore masks or were in costume. The first and last dances were the only two dances, in particular, that were “mask only” and the final dance featured an “unmasking”.

It turns out that the weather for the Feb 8th ball was terrible and the roads were very difficult to travel “with a team or on foot”. That being said, it was reported that the masquerade ball actually had a respectable attendance. Those who were able to make it had a great time. The music was well received, the food “gave entire satisfaction”, and many of the costumes were festive. Two costumes that stood out were a person who was dressed as the McHenry Plaindealer and another wearing flour sacks representing Hanley’s Mill. 

Certainly, Schreiner’s article gave anyone who was at the ball a trip down memory lane. For others, it shared a piece of McHenry’s colorful history.

Riverside House
Postcard of the Riverside Hotel (or House) taken in the 1910s.


“Unearths Old Relic.” McHenry Plaindealer 14 Aug. 1919: 1. Web. 9 Aug 2016.
“Preparations for the Masquerade.” McHenry Plaindealer 23 Jan. 1878: 5. Web. 23 May 2017.
“Friday Evening’s Masquerade Ball.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Feb. 1878: 5. Web. 9 Aug 2016.
“Costumes.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Feb. 1878: 5. Web. 9 Aug 2016.
“The Masquerade.” McHenry Plaindealer 13 Feb. 1878: 5. Web. 9 Aug 2016.
“A Very Fine Assortment of Masks.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Feb. 1878: 5. Web. 9 Aug 2016.
“Advertisement.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Feb. 1878: 4. Web. 9 Aug 2016.


McHenry’s Skyline Drive-In Theater

The drive-in theater was one of the iconic crazes of the 1950s. While the first drive-in was actually in Camden, New Jersey in 1933, the popularity of the drive-in didn’t take off until the 1950s. Drive-ins offered some things that their indoor counterparts didn’t. Overall, the atmosphere befitted its casual summertime setting. At a drive-in, you could bring a baby, smoke, dress more casually, and be much louder as the speakers hooked right up to your car.

Drive In.docx
Ad appearing from August 30, 1951, edition of the McHenry Plaindealer.

McHenry didn’t get passed up in this popular trend. In July 1951, McHenry got its first drive-in theater, the Skyline. Owned by Roy Miller, the screen was listed as facing northwest, as opposed to now as it faces southeast. The Skyline was in the same location that the McHenry Outdoor is at today. The screen was 52’ x 70’ and was the only outdoor theater in the vicinity. It also had illuminated speaker posts and a refreshment stand. The illuminated speaker posts didn’t just offer the audio from the movie, but also served as a guide telling customers where to park. The snack bar offered BBQ burgers and pizza among other refreshments. By 1956, the Skyline had a 104’ long screen and was showing two movies nightly. In 1963, Roy Miller sold the Skyline to Stan Kohlberg of Chicago. At that time, Mr. Kohlberg owned eight other theaters and had three more under construction.

Skyline Ad posted on Aug 4, 1960, edition of the McHenry Plaindealer.

While McHenry’s outdoor theater still stands, most weren’t so lucky. One big advantage indoor theaters had was profit. Indoor theaters weren’t dependent on the season or weather, therefore, they could play movies more frequently, thus make more money for movie studios. In the late 1950s there were about 4000 drive-ins, today there are about 400. Apparently, most drive-ins were “mom and pop” businesses that didn’t have people who wanted to take over the business when operators retired. Yet the McHenry Outdoor still stands today as a nostalgic glimpse of Americana.

*This article was inspired by the sign in the picture at the top taken last summer (2016). Sadly it seems to have been blown down this spring. 

“McHenry Will Have Drive-In Theater Soon.” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Jul. 1950: 1. Web. 27 Mar 2017.
“Drive-In Theater Announces Official Opening on July 20.” McHenry Plaindealer 19 Jul. 1951: 1. Web. 27 Mar 2017.
“Skyline Drive-In Advertisement.” McHenry Plaindealer 12 Jul. 1956: 4. Web. 27 Mar 2017.
“New Theater Owner.” McHenry Plaindealer 3 Jul. 1963: 5. Web. 27 Mar 2017.


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.


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. 
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.  


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


The McHenry Coliseum?


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.


“Coliseum For McHenry?” McHenry Plaindealer 18 Jan. 1912: 1. Web. 18 Sep 2016.
“New Coliseum For McHenry?” McHenry Plaindealer 28 Jan. 1909: 1. Web. 18 Sep 2016.
“Proposed Coliseum For McHenry.” McHenry Plaindealer 22 Feb. 1912: 1. Web. 16 Sep 2016.
“Coliseum Not A Dead Issue.” McHenry Plaindealer 8 Aug. 1912: 1. Web. 18 Sep 2016.



Where In McHenry? September 2016


This picture was taken of a part local landmark in McHenry.

Which Landmark Is It Part Of?


Check Back In A Week To Find Out!