Algonquin has seen growth, changes

ALGONQUIN – People began settling in what now is Algonquin in November 1834, two years before they were allowed to be on the land.

Samuel Gillilan was the area’s first settler. He brought his family to the area in a covered wagon from Virginia.

“They crossed the banks of the Fox River and fell in love with the countryside,” said Jeff Jolitz, the Algonquin Historic Commission chairman.

More people started coming to the area in 1835.

The town originally was called Cornish Ferry, after Andrew Cornish, who operated a ferry near the current-day bridge over the Fox River.

In 1843, it changed to Cornishville, when Cornish stopped operating the ferry.

After Cornish died, residents wanted to name the town Osceola, but there already was an Osceola in Illinois.

So the town turned to Samuel Edwards, who was the largest landowner in the area at the time. Edwards didn’t like having a town named after a person, so he chose the name Algonquin, after a ship that sailed on the Great Lakes. Edwards’ wife had family members who were part owners of the ship.

The name Algonquin was adopted in 1847.

The principal occupation in the area was dairy farming, as it was throughout McHenry County, Jolitz said.

The largest employer for many years in the community was Borden Condensed Milk, which employed 80 people at its factory at the intersection of Route 31 and Huntington Drive.

When the village was incorporated in 1890, there were about 500 people. The population grew during the summer and especially on weekends as tourists came to the area.

Much of the area was dotted with summer homes, Jolitz said.

Even though there were 500 permanent residents, on the weekends there would be 1,500 to 3,000 more people who wanted to escape from the city “for a weekend in the countryside,” Jolitz said.

Many people would visit to go fishing, boating and swimming up and down the Fox River.

In 1906, the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and the Chicago Automobile and Chicago Motor Club decided to create an event to promote the mode of transportation. The organizations wanted an event to attract people to the Midwest and chose climbing the hills of Algonquin as the event.

The first Algonquin Hill Climb was held in September 1906. Cars were run in various classes based on selling price, engine size and type. By 1909, the event reached 25,000 spectators, and the governor needed to use the state militia for crowd control.

As technology advanced, automobiles became faster and more powerful, and the hills were not much of a challenge for newer vehicles. The last hill climb was held in 1912.

The first village hall still stands at 2 S. Main St. It was built in 1906 for $6,848.

The 4,100-square-foot building has housed the municipal operations, fire department, police department, classrooms and library during its history. The current village hall was built in 1996, but the original village hall still is used as a place for meetings, community events and recreational programming.

More people started living year-round in the village in the 1940s after World War II.

However, the big population boom started in the 1970s as developers discovered Algonquin and began building new subdivisions, Jolitz said.

The area was attractive because people still could commute to the city, but there was cheap land and lower real estate taxes, Jolitz said.

Algonquin offered small-town living, but was close enough for people to see what the big city had to offer.

“Farther west, and you had trouble in that commute every day,” Jolitz said.

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