Column

Begalka: Trains brought 'our boys' home, could be on track to take you places

A June 10, 1919, parade in honor of Company G troops returning from the Great War drew a crowd of more than 15,000 to the Woodstock Square.
A June 10, 1919, parade in honor of Company G troops returning from the Great War drew a crowd of more than 15,000 to the Woodstock Square.

The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is advocating for a “fast-track initiative” that would create a network of reliable passenger trains branching out from Chicago. It estimates that $233 million will be needed to extend services through Elgin and Huntley to Rockford by rebuilding the Union Pacific track and connecting it with the Metra Milwaukee West track at the Big Timber Road station.

The project would use existing rail – the old Black Hawk line, formerly owned by the now-bankrupt Illinois Central, on which Amtrak offered passenger service in the 1980s.

Huntley already has spent money on design plans for a train depot and parking lot on village-owned property at Main and Church streets. The village bought the former H.D. Catty Corp. building at 11117 S. Church St., for $435,690 in February 2017. It presently is zoned for manufacturing. Over the years, the building housed dairy and brewing businesses, an implement dealer and gasket company. Why not a train station?

Preservationists, including the McHenry County Joint Council of Historic Groups, are advocating that the city repurpose at least a portion of the 33,100-square-foot brick structure for a depot. The challenge – no shock there – is there are more needs than money. Still, the timing could be fortuitous. Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently unveiled a six-year, $41.5 billion plan to repair Illinois’ crumbling roads, bridges, public schools and university buildings. The first domino in this “Rebuild Illinois” initiative fell in mid-May, when House Democrats advanced a $2.44 billion plan – paid for with increases in gas taxes and vehicle registration fees.

But as Illinoisans know all too well, spending the money where it should be spent can be tricky. There are many competing interests, and if southwest McHenry truly desires rail service, it must be prepared to lobby in a loud and united fashion. Amtrak to Huntley is hosting a public meeting from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Huntley Area Public Library, 1100 Ruth Road. Find out what you can do to restore passenger rail service to this underserved portion of the county – and transform a historic building into a viable, tax-generating business hub.

• • •

I find it interesting that with hardly a hiccup, the Illinois General Assembly approved a November 2020 ballot question that will ask voters to scrap the state’s constitutionally protected flat income tax and replace it with graduated tax rates.

The Illinois Constitution of 1970 may be amended via a constitutional convention, amendments by our elected officials or ballot initiatives. However, historically, two other constitutional questions Illinois voters desperately want have failed to gain political traction … let alone mustered the legislative votes needed to appear on a ballot.

The proposed Fair Map Amendment would exclude partisan interests from the map-drawing process by assembling an independent commission. In a 4-3 ruling last year, the Illinois Supreme Court ignored 563,000 petition signatures and shelved plans for a statewide referendum that would have stopped gerrymandering. That especially is disturbing since the next federal and state maps will be redrawn in 2021, using 2020 Census data that is sure to confirm Illinois’ dwindling population.

Lawmakers also have until May 2020 to put a referendum on the ballot to change pension rules that are crippling Illinois. Rejected reforms in 2013 would have protected the pension benefits already accrued while changing how things worked moving forward. That would include things such as increasing the retirement age, capping maximum pension-qualifying salaries, tying benefit increases to the cost of living and implementing a 401(k)-style retirement plan … you know, like the rest of us.

“Illinois spends the most in the nation on pension benefits at the state and local levels, as a share of all government spending,” the Illinois Policy Institute concluded. “The Land of Lincoln has the worst pension debt-to-revenue ratio of any U.S. state ever recorded.”

Amid the rush to legalize marijuana, legalize and expand gambling and jack up taxes and fees, the Illinois General Assembly should take the historic step of maybe … just maybe … reducing expenses.

• • •

Join the Colby-Petersen Farm Foundation and the McHenry County Farm Bureau for the annual Day Out at Petersen Farm from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 23, at 4112 McCullom Lake Road, McHenry.

Activities include pioneer games and crafts for children, farm animals, hayrides, an antique farm tractor display, crafts, textile demonstrations and blacksmithing. The main floor of an 1862 farmhouse will be open for tours, and music will be provided by Cheryl Niemo and the Down Home Boys.

The city acquired the farm, with its outbuildings and oak savanna, to preserve our agricultural heritage. The Colby-Petersen Farm Foundation has been established to assist in maintaining and developing the property. For information, call 815-344-2748.

• • •

The post-World War I era was a scary precursor to what is happening today. It was a time of isolationism, suspicion of foreign-born citizens, concern over civil rights and voting access, and worries about Russian influence. Sound familiar?

Join the McHenry County Historical Society’s Perkins Hall Players for a free, interactive 1919 historical drama, “Keeping the Peace Down on the Farm,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Perkins Hall, 3600 Franklinville Road, Woodstock. The doors open at 6:30 p.m.,and refreshments will follow. For information, visit www.gothistory.org.

• Kurt Begalka is administrator of the McHenry County Historical Society and Museum. He can be reached at kurt@mchenrycountyhistory.org.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct day of the Day Out at Petersen Farm. The event is on June 23.

Loading more

Digital Access

Digital Access
Access nwherald.com and all Shaw Media Illinois content from all your digital devices and receive breaking news and updates from around the area.

Home Delivery

Home Delivery
Local news, prep sports, Chicago sports, local and regional entertainment, business, home and lifestyle, food, classified and more! News you use every day! Daily, weekend and Sunday packages.

Text Alerts

Text Alerts
Stay connected to us wherever you are! Get breaking news updates along with other area information sent to you as a text message to your wireless device.

Email Newsletters

Email Newsletters
We'll deliver news & updates to your inbox. Plan your weekend and catch up on the news with our newsletters.