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Early Marengo History Print E-mail

Early Newspaper Description of Marengo, October 11, 1855

The following was taken from a newspaper article provided by Ms. Alice Wagner.

Marengo was described by a writer on October 11th, 1855 as follows: “The village of Marengo, McHenry County, Illinois, is situated in the south-east corner for the township bearing the same name. The Chicago-Galena Union Railroad passes through the northern part of the village, while Pleasant Grove, the largest and noblest of the many groves which adorn and enrich our county, skirts its southern confine. Kishwaukee Prairie lies unfolded in all its loveliness at its very feet, making a panorama of woodland, village and prairie unsurpassed in Northern Illinois for beauty. Nature has indeed been lavish with her gifts here, and the early settlers who cast their lots upon the banks of the Kishwaukee have ever boasted of possessing the ‘Garden of the County’”.


These are the actual pages from "McHenry County Journal #1 (1837-1848). This original hand-written book was donated to the County December 2009 by Carolyn Taft, Springfield, IL

We have broken them into yearly sections so that they are more easily viewed, however, these are still large files.  Click on the links below a get a glimpse into the early workings of the McHenry County

1837 (the beginning of McHenry Country)














A Chronological Listing of Significant Early Marengo Events

Sept. 14, 1835 Calvin Spencer Marengo’s Official 1st Settler arrives. He soon built a 16 ft. square “hotel” at the corner of what is now Rt. 20 & Rt. 23. 

March 20, 1836 the first religious service in Marengo is held in the home of Calvin Spencer.

1837 Caroline Cobb is the teacher in the first term of school. It was held in a log cabin in the present 300 block of E. Grant Hwy.

September 4, 1837 the home of William Sponable is designated as the location for elections.

July 6, 1837 the first post office between Chicago & Galena is established at Coral. The second post office between Chicago & Galena is established at Amesville (now Garden Prairie) on June 18, 1838.

1841 the name Marengo is officially accepted to replace the original name, Pleasant Grove.

1841 the first frame school house is built on the location of the future Washington School, current location of McDonalds.

1842 the Smith brothers build a mill on the banks of the Kishwaukee River, on what is currently called Deerpass Road.

1847 Dr. John W. Green arrives to set up a Medical practice. He completed his studies in the spring of 1848. Our Strahorn Library was built in honor of his daughter, Adell.

1851 Marengo businessmen sign notes to secure the right-of-way for the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad. On October 18, 1851, the first tracks of the Galena & Chicago Union R.R. are laid through Marengo.

1853 One of Marengo’s most influential businessmen, R. M. Patrick, aged 22, arrives in Marengo.

1855 O.P. Rogers began keeping the weather record for Marengo which continues today.

1856 The Marengo Collegiate Institute is built on the west end of West Prairie Street in 1856. It closes in 1858 & is later destroyed by fire.

February 9, 1857 Marengo receives its charter as an incorporated town.

1858 Marengo's heaviest annual recorded rainfall: 50.27 inches.

1861 The first body is laid to rest in the “new” cemetery, located south of the R.R. tracks. Moses Spencer, father of Calvin Spencer dies.

1861 The Honorable Ira Rozel Curtiss, aged 25, arrives in Marengo. He was a farmer, lawyer, banker, a Colonel in the Civil War, & State Legislator. His home remains at 521 E. Grant Highway.

August 4, 1862 a tornado strikes Marengo, doing severe damage. It began at 3 p.m and in its wake it left four people dead.

1865 an Elm tree is planted in front of the Methodist Church as a memorial to Abraham Lincoln.

1865 Leroy Spencer organizes the first Marengo Community Band.

1865 A cheese factory is started by R. M. Patrick at a location near Rt. 23 & Forest Street.

1865 George Crego opens a livery stable which continues operation for the next 35 years.

September 9, 1867 Albert H. Vail receives the first money order to be issued at the Marengo Post office.

1868 James Dietz operates a foundry in a stone building on Railroad Street.


1871 The Renwick store building is completed. This is the present location of Bobby’s Red Wing Shoe store at 220 S. State Street.

August 8, 1871 the first bank in McHenry County is established in Marengo by R. M. Patrick. He was also Marengo’s first president in 1877.

July 25, 1877 the Marengo City Council minutes include “that all (board) sidewalks be built on Main, Ann, Railroad, Prairie & State streets…..the corporation to pay $0.85 per rod”.

March 1878 the farm wives of the Kishwaukee Farmer’s Assoc. formed the Home Circle; the Home Circle is still active today!

June 25, 1879 the Marengo City Council minutes include “sidewalks to be put around the Public Square (Calvin Spencer Park) & a railing put in place of the old fence”.


The following photos relate to a later time in Marengo's history...after the last entry in the above chronological listing, which ended in 1879!

A poor photo but good enough to bring back great memories to the now (2010) "older generation", who as kids in the late 1940's-early '50's, often received free tickets from the Kiwanis Club to attend the circus when it was appearing in either Marengo or a nearby community.

Would you believe, this "path" is actually Route 5, renamed later to U. S. Route 20. This early 1900's picture was taken at today's north entrance to I-90, looking north. The barn is no longer present, but the home remains. What appears to be an extension to the rear of the home, is probably a currently nonexistent farm out-building. The farm was owned by a relative of the Henning family when it was sold to those connected with the interchange.


An early farm photo taken at the Standish family's Mayflower farm north of Marengo. Yes, Marengo's branch of the Standish family actually descended from Miles Standish of Mayflower fame.


Probably one of Marengo's most recognized establishments and tourist draws beginning in the 1930's, Shady Lane Farm. Opened by Frank & Dorothy Bryant in the early '30's, Dorothy cooked up Country Fried Chicken dinners while Frank bargained with local farmers to refill their stock. Later, they converted the barn into a summer theatre operation which was highly successful. It was truly a Marengo landmark, drawing busloads of visitors from near and far.

Shady Lane Farm was located about 3 miles west of Marengo on Grant Highway. This 1930's photo shows the original farm house where Frank & Dorothy Bryant first started serving their famous Country Fried Chicken. Today, the theatre is gone, having burnt to the ground under questionable circumstances. The restaurant remains, completely surrounded by additions and renovations to the original farmhouse structure.

Be sure to get your copy of our  publication, Marengo, 175 Years, 1835-2010 at our store by clicking here. It has a significant history and photos of this very famous part of Marengo's history!



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