The city of McHenry has acquired quite a cast of characters over the years, including businessmen and women, entrepreneurs, legislators and pioneers, all of whom have left their mark on the city in one way or another.
Although the list of names is extensive, Nancy Fike, administrator of the McHenry County Historical Society, said McHenry’s storied past really got started with pioneer and developer Daniel Owen, who arrived in McHenry with his family in 1837.
Daniel Owen (1785-1857)
According to historical data at the McHenry County Historical Museum, Owen was born in Wales in 1785. He later came to the United States and married Laura Norton in Sangerfield, N.Y. Family accounts don’t say whether Norton died or divorced Owen, but in 1837, Owen, his five sons and two daughters moved to McHenry County.
Owen acquired 320 acres of land that covered all of the old downtown areas of McHenry, and he and his sons dammed Boone Creek, creating one of the first industries necessary on a frontier: milling.
Owen also owned land that became the Country Club subdivision and East Campus High School. They also donated the land for Landmark School.
The Owen House, which was built in 1838 and stood at 1113 N. Fourth St., was demolished in 1990. In his Owen family genealogy written in 1947, Charles Starr Owen described the scene as “a wet wintry Saturday morning.”
Owen’s son Edwin was born in the Owen House but later moved to California and lived to become McHenry’s oldest native resident when he turned 102 in 1963. He died the next year at his home in Berkeley.
George Gage (1813-99)
George Gage and his family arrived in Illinois in 1835 and settled in Gage’s Lake in Lake County.
He later came to McHenry County and bought up all the land from the Owens in West McHenry, which became known as Gagetown.
Gage was instrumental in bringing the Northwest Railroad to McHenry in 1854, which in turn brought a boom in commerce.
Gage later became McHenry County’s first state senator, serving from 1854-58. Before that, he served as a member of the state Legislature from 1850-52.
In the 1850s, Gage built his family home at 3801 W. Main St.
Gage came from a long, noble family line dating to the 11th century, and at least one of his relatives came to America on the Mayflower.
Dr. Lee Gladstone (1915-2003)
Dr. Lee Gladstone and his parents came to McHenry in 1938 and opened Gladstone’s Department Store in the building that now houses Green Street Café.
Gladstone, who was a general practitioner, is most notable in the community for founding in 1956 the McHenry Hospital, later known as Northern Illinois Medical Center and now called Centegra Hospital – McHenry. He also founded Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s alcohol treatment program after completing his residency there.
Before his medical experience, Gladstone was a lieutenant in World War II.
Fred Meyer (1918-92)
Fred Meyer was born and raised in McHenry, and brought up his family at the Meyers’ home at 3404 W. First Ave., right behind St. Patrick’s church and school.
Meyer himself was raised on his family’s farm until his father died when he was 7 years old. The farm was where Target, Sears and Applebee’s stand today along Route 31.
Meyer is best known for founding youth baseball in McHenry in 1954, as well as serving as the first superintendent of public works for the city of McHenry, a position he held for 20 years.
Meyer’s son, Jon Meyer, who used to be treasurer of the city of McHenry, remembers his father as outgoing, ambitious and an organizer. Even though he died in 1992, his legacy lives on throughout the city.
The Fred Meyer baseball field sits in Petersen Park off McCullom Lake Road, and at the corner of Pearl Street and Riverside Drive is the honorary Fred J. Meyer Road.
Meyer also was a veteran of World War II, earning the Purple Heart during the invasion of Italy.