McHenry, Illinois – Gateway To The Chain O’Lakes
McHenry, Illinois – Early History
The town now known as McHenry, Illinois started off as prairie hunting and fishing ground for the Potawatomie Indians. This quaint town was discovered by an exploratory expedition by Major William McHenry during the Black Hawk War of 1832. People began to settle in the Fox River valley over the next few years. At the site of Potawatomie Indian fort, the start of the hamlet of McHenry was established.
As with most new settlements, a group of families create the community. By 1837, just 5 years after being first discovered by Major McHenry, a ferryboat, a sawmill and a hotel were now rooted by the area’s influential families.
In 1851, there was a popular wagon road that entered McHenry from the south. In 1854 George Gage, the region’s first senator, was able to establish the route of the Fox River railroad, thus causing a boost to the economy and to its residents as the railroad encouraged new families to settle into the area and allowed the penetration of more commercial enterprises.
Early commerce in this area had a strong rivalry between three very distinct divisions. The first was called Riverside, founded along the Fox River. The second was named Gagetown for Senator George Gage who owned the land to the west of the mill pond. And the third site was called the Green Street area, originally called Centerville, as it was in the center of the other two. If you look closely at modern McHenry, you can see distinct commercial patterns that indicates this. Modern McHenry also deals with traffic concerns due to the way the roads were established, causing a segregation of the older business districts from the newer developments.
The river system was not the only means of commerce for the area. The farmers who cultivated the fertile river valley land provided agricultural stability to the area. Industry facilitated the construction of several new factories. Also, the Fox River made for a convenient way for the import and export of a variety of goods, such as cigars, clay, lumber, brewing and food products which helped the area flourish.
By 1872, there were still less than 800 inhabitants. In just 4 years from McHenry becoming incorporated, it grew to over 80 businesses, including a newspaper, a pickle factory, a brewery, seven saloons, flour mills and much more. However, this initial growth spurt slowed for the next 50 years until World War II.
Gateway To Chain O’Lakes
In the early 19th century, McHenry was known as a resort area with it’s easy access to the Chain O’Lakes from Chicago. The village took the title of “Gateway to Chain O’Lakes” very seriously and cultivated this theme with encouraging tourists to enjoy the beauty of the area. By the 1920s, the reputation as a resort destination was firmly in place with visitors arriving by the Fox River Railroads to take in the various natural attractions, such as the Lotus gardens. A summer destination spot, summer cottages lined the banks of the beautiful Fox River and bands played throughout the tourist season.
With the progression of the 20th century, automobiles made their way onto the scene, allowing more people to visit the area. State Route 120 was built along with a 2-lane bridge that crossed over the Fox River. The industrial age combined with World War II created new job opportunities as metalworking, automotive components, and electronics factories infiltrated the area. McHenry’s close proximity to Chicago allowed many of it’s residents to live there and commute back and forth to the busier Chicago area.
Today, McHenry, Illinois still boasts a wonderful water recreation area as an integral part of Fox River and Chain O’Lakes. Whether you’re interested in boating, enjoying craft beers, or into history, you are sure to find something in this quaint town.
Some great old pictures of McHenry, Illinois can be found here:
Tagged With: Chain O'Lakes, Illinois, McHenry, Real Estate