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.

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.


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.


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

McHenry, Illinois: The Official City Website. City Of McHenry, n.d. Web. 14 May 2016. Path:
Everts, Baskin and Stewart.  McHenry Township: 1872, McHenry County, IL  [map].1872. Scale undetermined; using “Historic Map Works by Proquest”. <> (15 July 2016).

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.


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
“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.

The Early Years of St. Mary’s

During its history, McHenry has been home to several different churches. One of the most recognizable has been St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Its started with many of the German settlers in the area who wished to go to church services spoken in their native language. At the time, they had to go up to St. Johns the Baptist Catholic Church in Johnsburg. In 1894, a group of citizens and trustees got together with the intention of building a church on the east side of town. In May of that year, they bought the brick school house in town for $900 with plans of, at least temporarily, using the building as a church. That August, the Church hosted a picnic, with over 3,000 people attending, and were able to raise over $1,600 to help with construction costs. The event featured many different activities including races, music, refreshments and much more. Later that month the church started hosting religious services in the completed building.

By 1898, the Church sought to construct a building that was a more permanent house of worship. Through fundraising events, subscriptions and other donations, St. Mary’s was able to start building and continued with construction as money came in. In the summer of 1898, St. Mary’s hosted a festival which raised a considerable amount of funds. People came from all over McHenry County as well as Buffalo Grove, Elgin and Chicago. Church construction was finished in February 1899. St. Mary’s was viewed as an impressive structure, and the parishioners very much appreciated the implications of the construction as they finally had their Church. To celebrate the Church hosted a large fair soon after opening. Part of the celebration included the McHenry Military Band, singing by the Elgin Quartet, a large lunch, and other entertainment.

Its architecture is of a clean, gothic style. The building is 105×50. The foundation is of Joliet stone, surmounted by very handsome white brick, from Racine, Wis. It will be heated by steam and have a seating capacity of 550 persons. In the interior there are three aisles. The height of the ceiling, which is arched, rangers from 28 to 36 fee. The interior will be frescoed and finished in a style second to no church in the state.

  • Description from the January 11, 1899 McHenry Plaindealer

After two years of working on the Church, the parishioners spent about $20,000 constructing the building. In just a few years, they had about paid off all of the debt. Church leaders had hoped to have a dedication ceremony performed, but had to delay due to various reasons. St. Mary’s is part of the Diocese in Rockford and the dedication would be run through it. In November 1901, the Diocese was finally able to come east and dedicate the churches of St. John’s in Johnsburg and St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s has always an important part of the community of McHenry. A place were people were married, laid to rest, socialized and a myriad of aspects of one’s everyday life. Even today, St. Mary’s remains one of McHenry’s most recognizable structures.


“A New Church.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 24 Jan. 1894: 5.
“Churches Dedicated.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 14 Nov. 1901: 1.
“Grand Picnic.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 15 Aug. 1894: 1.
“New German Church” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 11 Jan. 1899: 1.
“The Brick School House.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 2 May 1894: 5.
“The Fair Closed” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 15 Feb. 1899: 5.
“The German Fair” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 8 Feb. 1899: 5.
“The German Festival” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 17 Aug. 1898: 5.
“The German Picnic.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 29 Aug. 1894: 1.
“To Dedicate Churches.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 31 Oct. 1901: 1.