If walls could talk, the walls in McHenry County would have a lot to say.
The area is brimming with historically significant structures that are tied to both local and national history. Together, these buildings bring the story of McHenry County’s rich legacy to life.
“Our role at the historical society is to shed light on these buildings and let people know about them,” says Kurt Begalka, administrator at the McHenry County Historical Society. “If we don’t do anything about them, they’re just going to disappear.”
Here’s a look at a few of the important local landmarks that the historical society has fought to save:
The Pringle School
This one-room schoolhouse was built in 1867 from locally quarried limestone, making it one of just two limestone buildings in the county today. The integrity of the structure is another aspect that makes it a valuable asset to local history.
“It’s pretty unusual to find a one-room school that has not been torn down, burned down or refurbished to the point that it’s difficult to bring it back,” says Begalka.
The Pringle School shut down in 1947, and the building became a private residence. The McHenry County Historical Society purchased it in 2002 and a massive restoration process began. The floors were gutted and replaced with wood salvaged from another nearby school that had been torn down. The group’s next task is to rehab the foyer to showcase how the building has evolved over the years.
Community members are welcome to join the Historical Society at the Pringle School Sesquicentennial Celebration on Aug. 20. The free event will take place from 1 to 4 p.m., and it marks the building’s 150th birthday. There will be exhibits, period costumes, an auction, live music and more.
Perkins Town Hall
Though it’s now called the Perkins Town Hall, the structure was built as the heart of Seneca Township. Supplies for the structure cost less than $100. The first meeting was held in 1887.
“It’s a really cool building,” says Begalka. “It’s been through the mill; it’s been hit by cars twice. But we recently refurbished the outside of the building.”
The Seneca Township Board donated the building to the McHenry County Historical Society in 1996 for use as a living museum. The building was renamed Perkins after the president of the Historical Society board. Today, visitors can come inside to check out interesting artifacts, such as an antique voting booth.
In June, the Historical Society hosts Perkins Players’ historical dramas that reenact interesting events that took place at the town hall. The town hall also is part of the Autumn Drive, an annual festival in October that spotlights the area’s top destinations.
The fate of this 1855 farmhouse is in limbo. The Coventry Farmstead sits on land formerly owned by Motorola. The company promised to restore the house and barn, but that plan was abandoned when Motorola closed the plant in 2003. Since then, the structures have continued to deteriorate significantly.
The McHenry County Board granted the farmstead local landmark status in 2016.
“They’re just not building things like this anymore, there’s nothing quite like it,” says Begalka. “We’re really fighting the clock on this.”
The Historical Society is attempting to work with the property’s current owners, but long-term rehabilitation would most likely require dedicated ownership. The farmstead was added to Landmarks Illinois’ 2015 Most Endangered List, but the community will need to step up in order to preserve landmarks like this for future generations.
“The public needs to get involved in something like this,” says Begalka. “They’re the ones who will really carry the day and make a difference.