McHenry’s 2nd City Hall

Postcard of McHenry’s City Hall from ca. 1915.

During the early 1900s, McHenry was a bustling tourist town that attracted many people from the city and other local areas as a vacation spot. By 1911, it was becoming apparent to some citizens in the village of McHenry that the town hall no longer met the needs of its people. If the town was to grow it would need a more attractive and functional city hall. Other neighboring towns, such as Wauconda and Richmond, had recently built new town halls and some McHenry citizens felt McHenry needed to follow suit.

Sanborn Map showing City Hall in 1898 next door to the new Landmark School.

The original city hall building had been a cheese factory from 1875 up until its renovation in 1885 as the village hall. It is interesting to note that even though McHenry was settled in 1834, it didn’t incorporate until 1872 and thus didn’t need a hall until then. During the spring and summer of 1911, the town government made plans to construct a building for about $9,000. Blueprints were drawn up with the new building consisting of a brick two-story structure. The new building would be put on a ballot and if passed, the town board would be able to take the money needed for construction out of the village’s treasury. Taxes wouldn’t need to be raised if the town would maintain its cash flow. However, on August 11, 1911, the town voted against constructing the new building by a decisive margin of 125-70.

Sanborn Map showing City Hall and the Pump Station.

The contention stayed dormant for four years, until 1915, when the matter of a new building came to the forefront because of the city hall’s deterioration. The city sold the old village building, which was then razed in June 1915. The city fathers then found a nice solution for the new city hall. Instead of placing the construction of a new building on another ballot, the village compromised. The town’s old ice house & pump station were solidly built and the owner was willing to sell.  With some remodeling, the city council felt the ice house would make a fine village hall. Conveniently, it was located right next door to the old city hall. The city had a new terracotta front installed, a new sidewalk and new office furniture placed in the old ice house. The pump station, which would remain in use as the city’s water reservoir, was right next to the renovated building.  The modernized city hall was then ready for public use in September 1915. The updated city hall would serve admirably for fifty years until its replacement was constructed on Green Street in the 1970’s.



“Population of McHenry” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Apr. 1911: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Need New City Hall” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Apr. 1911: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Vote On City Hall” McHenry Plaindealer 20 Jul. 1911: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“No New City Hall” McHenry Plaindealer 17 Aug. 1911: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Village Hall and Gym” McHenry Plaindealer 12 Feb. 1914: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Sealed Bids for Old City Hall” McHenry Plaindealer 6 May 1915: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Old Village Hall Sold” McHenry Plaindealer 20 May 1915: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Village Hall Talk” McHenry Plaindealer 20 May 1915: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“To Remodel Power House” McHenry Plaindealer 10 Jun. 1915: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Razing Old Hall” McHenry Plaindealer 17 Jun. 1915: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Work On City Hall Front” McHenry Plaindealer 29 Jul. 1915: 8. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Laying Brick” McHenry Plaindealer 26 Aug. 1915: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Cement Walk” McHenry Plaindealer 14 Oct. 1915: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Neat Municipal Building” McHenry Plaindealer 28 Oct. 1915: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“City Hall Front Finished” McHenry Plaindealer 9 Sep. 1915: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“Special Edition – Next Saturday” McHenry Plaindealer 10 Aug. 1911: 1. Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“McHenry, Illinois” Sanborn Map. Jan. 1922: Web. 15 Sep 2016.
“McHenry, Illinois” Sanborn Map. Jul. 1898/: Web. 15 Sep 2016.


The McHenry’s Historic Election of 1914

In the spring of 1914, the village of McHenry held their elections to vote for their public officials and on some key issues of the day, such as if they should abolish the poll tax. Yet, the biggest issue to many was whether or not the village of McHenry should abolish their saloons. However, the vote in the spring caucus was expected to be a big one as the offices of the village clerk, assessor and collector were up for election. What really made race for collector interesting was that one of the candidates was a woman.
Dunne Signing Suggrage Bill - July 14 1914 p
Governor Dunne Signing Women’s Suffrage Bill in June 1913. Appeared in July 5, 1913 addition of McHenry Plaindealer.
On June 28, 1913 Illinois Governor Edward Dunne signed a bill into law that gave women of the state the right to vote in presidential and local elections, as well as run for local office. Illinois was the first state east of the Mississippi that gave women these rights. (The 19th amendment giving women the right to vote on a national level wouldn’t be passed until 1920.) There were many who weren’t so sure that women should vote or hold office, let alone there were still those who flat out opposed women’s suffrage.  Needless to say, in 1914 election people were very interested to see how this law would affect McHenry’s elections and politics.
Running in the primary for village collector, Mrs. Mayme Harrison was the first woman to make a run for political office in the township. It was noted that she worked hard to drum up the vote and people thought she could get enough women to back her to get the nomination. Her opponent, incumbent collector, John Neison, was well respected and held the office for many years. It’s hard to say how much of a chance that Mayme Harrison had, facing a tough, experienced opponent and the negative perception many had of women in politics. In the end John Neison held on to his seat with a solid win in the village primary: 447-272.
Harrison For Collector - March 19 1914 p
Mayme Harrison’s letter of intent in the March 19, 1914 Plaindealer.
Before the caucus that was held in March 1914, there were directions for completing the ballot, clarifying how votes were to be made (for the new voters). The box in-front of the candidates name was to have an “X” put through it. If the candidate was a write-in then the name was to be written legibly. If either of these items were ignored, then the vote would be thrown out. This actually was a problem and elections that were close could be affected by invalid ballots.
In the first election women could vote in, the caucus of 1914 had a large turn out of over 700 people voting. Of those, 268 were women and it should be noted that not one ballot needed to be thrown out. Women voters were shown respect with the right to vote, as it was understood that they now had their own form of political power. They were applauded for doing their civic and patriotic duty. In the case of Mayme Harrison, she was able to perform well against an established and well liked politician in the very first election that she could run for office. (She also had 3 write-in votes during April’s general election.)
Wet Vs Dry Leveled
Pro-Wet Political cartoon appearing in April 2, 1914 Plaindealer.
In the general election held in April 1914, the biggest issue to many was whether or not McHenry would close its saloons and become a “dry” town. It soon became evident with women being able to vote, there would be another demographic of voters to court. In regards to the saloon vote in April, women were seen as the critical group of voters that could swing the election one way or the other. They became the focus of “wet” and “drys” trying to get their vote. Women were given many examples of the evils that drinking caused and were urged to vote the town dry.  On April 7, 1914, McHenry voted to keep its saloons by a slim 171 votes and joined only one of five townships that remained wet. Interestingly the vote among the women was very close with a difference of 21 votes. 189 women voted to go dry and 168 voted to remain wet.
“Big Turnout at Caucus.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 26 Mar. 1914: 1.
“Caucus Next Saturday.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 14 Mar. 1914: 1.
“Comparatively Small Vote Cast.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 23 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Dunn Signs Suffrage Bill.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 5 Jul. 1913: 1.
“Poll Tax Must Be Voted On.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 12 Mar. 1914: 1.
“Village Election April 21.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 9 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Vote Yes Next Tuesday.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 2 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Wets Win By 54 Votes.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 9 Apr. 1914: 1.
“Women Do Your Duty!” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 5 Mar. 1914: 1.