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Long lost 1837 volume returns to McHenry County

A historical book containing the first McHenry County records is displayed Tuesday at the McHenry County Administration Building. The restored book was 173 years old Tuesday.
A historical book containing the first McHenry County records is displayed Tuesday at the McHenry County Administration Building. The restored book was 173 years old Tuesday.

WOODSTOCK – If McHenry County’s notorious rush-hour gridlock is too much for you, look on the bright side.

Able-bodied males aren’t required by law to spend four days a year working on the roads, as the county’s early settlers were. And had things been a little different, those roads might have ended up going through towns named Horseshoe Prairie or Chicken Grove.

The 1841 decision by the original County Board of Commissioners to require citizens to double as road workers was one of many interesting facts detailed in the recently recovered first volume of County Board minutes. The restored volume was presented at Tuesday’s board meeting, exactly 173 years to the day that it first met.

Officials don’t know where the 563-page volume detailing the board’s minutes from 1837 to 1848 has been or for how long, or how it ended up in a small Sangamon County antique shop. They just know it’s back home where it belongs.

McHenry County Historical Society Museum Administrator Nancy Fike said the volume had incalculable historical value.

“This book predates electricity, predates the railroad, predates township government and predates the Civil War, and to have it back home and accessible, I would definitely call an ‘a-ha’ moment,” Fike said.

The county’s first meetings set taxes for businesses, hotels and horse boarding, and created the county education system and road network, Fike said. Property taxes were set for livestock, firearms and unfortunately, slaves, until Illinois abolished slavery in 1848.

County Recorder Phyllis Walters received a call last November from Carolyn Taft, a Springfield woman who came across the volume as she cleaned out the home of her parents, who were antique dealers.

Taft donated the book, which was restored and given a new leather cover. It will be kept in a secure case in the County Board chambers, with digital copies soon to be available on the county website and area libraries, Walters said.

Walters’ office held a reception after Tuesday’s board meeting, with copies of the book available for public viewing. Among the interested parties was county Emergency Management Agency Director Barry Valentine, whose ancestors were among the first white settlers in McHenry County.

“I can’t wait to look through it to see if I recognize any names,” Valentine said.

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