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
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.   

overhead.JPG
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.

Sources

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

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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.

Sources

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

psycho
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. 

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

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-history-of-the-drive-in-movie-theater-51331221/

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.

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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

The Building of the Iron Pearl Street Bridge

The first “formal” bridge in McHenry that spanned the Fox River was located at Pearl Street, just east of Riverside Drive (known as Water Street in the 1880s). Bridges or ferries had been at this location before McHenry was even settled in the 1830s. In the fall of 1880, it became clear to the residents that the Water Street wooden bridge needed to be replaced. The village trustees called a meeting on Aug 14th, 1880. Sixty-nine people voted in all, with the majority voting in favor of a new bridge. The Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Company submitted a bid for an iron bridge that would cost a little over $8,000. The village board approved that cost and proposed that the state or county assist in paying for it.

Pearl Street Bridge - Old Bridge
Picture of the bridge from the 1970s compliments of the McHenry Public Library collection.

In early October 1880, the contractors arrived and started planning the bridge. Construction of the bridge began late October/early November and was to be completed at the beginning of February. The original wooden bridge was torn down after the initial foundation stonework had been laid in mid-December. By that time, the Fox River had frozen over so people could cross safely and not be inconvenienced. The bridge went up rather quickly, and construction finished in the first week of January, 1881.

During construction there was only one reported accident involving a large stone that fell and flattened a worker’s toes. When work was finished, two carts loaded with stones and drawn by teams of horses slowly plodded over the bridge to test its strength.  It was noted that each team weighed about 6,130 lbs. The contractors offered to double the weight to show the bridge’s ability to stand weight.  However, the town commissioners didn’t think it was necessary as they were delighted with the bridge as well as the work done by the Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Company.

1872 map
Map of McHenry from 1872, note the lone bridge crossing the Fox.

In late April of that year, the bridge’s strength was tested when heavy winter snow melted leading to high spring river waters when the snow melted. That April of 1881, the Fox River became a roiling rapid. Johnsburg had a wooden bridge across the Fox River a few miles north of McHenry. The rapids were so fierce that they overtook that bridge and sent it downriver towards the McHenry bridge. Yet, with all the ice, water and a neighboring town’s bridge that came at it, the new structure held up quite well with only minor damage. The Milwaukee Bridge and Iron Company sent out a crew to fix the bridge within a matter of days.  The iron structure stood in McHenry until December 1976, when it was replaced with the bridge that is there today. Parts of the dismantled bridge remain at Terra Cotta Industries in Crystal Lake forming the entrance to their employee parking lot. Even today, there has been discussion of using some of the remains of the old bridge along the McHenry Riverwalk.

Sources
 

“Board of Supervisors.” McHenry Plaindealer 19 Jan. 1881: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Bridge Is Finished.” McHenry Plaindealer 12 Jan. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“The Bridge Question.” McHenry Plaindealer 12 Jan. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“The Bridge Question.” McHenry Plaindealer 26 Jan. 1881: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Contractors Arrival.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Oct. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Contractors Arrival.” McHenry Plaindealer 8 Dec. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Construction Accident.” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Oct. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“The Freshet and the New Bridge.” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Apr. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“The McHenry Bridge.” McHenry Plaindealer 19 Jan. 1881: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Mr. Chairman and the Board of Supervisors.” McHenry Plaindealer 12 Jan. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“New Bridge.” McHenry Plaindealer 22 Dec. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“A Petition For Circulation.” McHenry Plaindealer 28 Jul. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Resolution Passed.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Apr. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 20 July 2016.
“Road Commissioners Financial Statement.” McHenry Plaindealer 6 Apr. 1881: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Special Election.” McHenry Plaindealer 4 Aug. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 20 July 2016.
“Work Finished.” McHenry Plaindealer 5 Jan. 1881: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.
“Work Starts.” McHenry Plaindealer 15 Dec. 1880: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 July 2016.

McHenry, Illinois: The Official City Website. City Of McHenry, n.d. Web. 14 May 2016. Path: http://www.ci.mchenry.il.us/departments/downtown/riverwalk.html.
Everts, Baskin and Stewart.  McHenry Township: 1872, McHenry County, IL  [map].1872. Scale undetermined; using “Historic Map Works by Proquest”. <http://factfinder.census.gov/home/saff/main.html?_lang=en> (15 July 2016).