September’s This Week In History

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.

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.

 

017c55fd-71a5-45b2-8179-185222dfe337_zpst2cprfvd

 

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 McHenry Train Crash of 1908

On March 30, 1908 one of the worst train wrecks took place here in McHenry. Around 8:30 am a train loaded with 24 head of cattle and six calves were headed to Ringwood from Crystal Lake. Just south of the McHenry train depot there was a slight curve. The train hit the curve too quickly and flew off the tracks. It proceeded to crash through the wooden platform leading to the train depot, smashing it to pieces. The train finally came to a stop just before the depot itself, with the depot not suffering any major damage. The tender (the car carrying the train’s coal) and the engine stopped almost side-by-side.

train crash where now is the Train Depot Restaurant
Picture of the crash site, note the locomotive to the left and the tender is behind the people. The building in towards the middle of picture is the train depot. Picture compliments of the McHenry Public Library collection.

The train’s engineer, A. Jewell from Chicago, seeing that the accident was unavoidable, jumped out of the locomotive’s window. He avoided what would have been almost certain death and only suffered minor bruises and cuts. The conductor and S. W. Smith, the owner of the cattle, were also able to jump to safety. Sadly the train’s fireman wasn’t so lucky. Ernest Auler was inside the cab and didn’t have time to leap to safety. Later inquests would determine that he was killed by scalding hot water and steam from the locomotive. Mr. Auler was well-liked, a member of the Platt Deutsche Guild, and originally from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. After the inquest, his body was sent back home to a wonderful service at his mother’s home. Oddly enough, in regards to the cattle, despite being thrown around in the wreck, only one calf was killed and the rest were unharmed. The cattle were then loaded up and finished their journey up to Ringwood.

Sanborn 1908 Crash Map
Sanborn map from 1898 showing area where the accident took place.

The cleanup of the wreck didn’t take long. The accident occurred at 8:30 am and by was cleared out by 7:00 pm. A track just east of the accident allowed for rail traffic to flow rather unencumbered while the wreckage was moved. Many photographers were on-hand to collect pictures of the accident. Looking at the wreck, it’s a wonder that only one life was lost. What was even more impressive was how the city was able to clear everything out of the way and go about its business the very same day.

“Fireman Dead In Wreck.” McHenry Plaindealer 2 Apr. 1908: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 12 Aug 2016.
“Funeral For A. Euler.” McHenry Plaindealer 9 Apr. 1908: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 15 Aug. 2016.

Sanborn Map Company. McHenry, McHenry County, Illinois : July 1898 Scale [ca. 1:1,200]. 100 ft. = 1 in.; Scale [ca. 1:6,000]. 500 ft. = 1 in. “Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps” (Accessed: August 16, 2016).
Everts, Baskin and Stewart.  McHenry Township: 1908, McHenry County, IL  [map].1908. Scale undetermined; using “Historic Map Works by Proquest”.

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).

McHenry’s Dollar Days

During most of the 20th Century, McHenry had a semi-annual event called Dollar Day. Eventually, in the 1950s as the event became more popular,  Dollar Days that was held most often over a two day period. The concept was relativity simple. Businesses in town would offer items at a $1 or offer drastically reduced prices on items. Dollar Days started in the 1920s and ran approximately bi-annually into the 1980s. They event had anywhere from 25 to 60 businesses involved on any given year.
Dollar Day - Feb 18, 1926
Dollar Day promotion from February 1926.
There were two main reasons for the push for this type of event. First, even in the 1920s and 30s people could see the importance of shopping locally. It helped build the community and strengthen the local economy. Secondly, it gave store owners the chance to promote new items, unload merchandise that wasn’t selling or clothing that was soon going to be out of season. This was a very useful way to unload clothing you didn’t want to store over the off-season.
Dollar Day Bargains - Jan 20, 1921
Dollar Day advertisement for McGee & Conway that ran in January 1921.
There were a variety of items that were offered. Everything from clothing, tools, hairdryers, subscriptions to the McHenry Plaindealer, specials on food at local restaurants and even DDT bombs for pest control. Many of McHenry’s longtime businesses participated such as Thomas Bolger’s Pharmacy, Ace Hardware, Hornsby’s and the National Tea Company just to name a few.
Overall the events were generally very successful in attracting hundreds of shoppers. Dollar Days were usually sponsored by the McHenry Chamber of Commerce. The local newspaper, the McHenry Plaindealer, also advertised heavily, often having full paged ads. It was through the paper and the mail, that flyers for the event could be circulated.
Dollar Day Ad - March 14, 1935
Dollar Day ad from March 1935.

Sources

“City Merchants Are Offering Fine Values.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 16 Feb. 1956: 1.
“Extraordinary Values Offered In City Stores.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 20 Aug. 1953: 1.
“Local Stores Offer Numerous Special Sales.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 7 Feb. 1957: 1.
“McHenry Dollar Day Successful.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 28 Mar. 1935: 1.
“Merchants Offer Good Bargains.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 21 Mar. 1935: 1.
“Outstanding Values Offered By Businessmen.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 8 Aug. 1963: 1,8.
“Twenty-Six Merchants To Offer Values.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 8 Feb. 1962: 1.
“36 Stores Hold Dollar Days.” McHenry Plaindealer [McHenry, IL] 21 Jan. 1976: 1.