How does the existence of an active historical society make a positive impact on McHenry County? This organization has an enviable 47 year-old track record of educational, entertainment, resource and preservation contributions. Each year county wide school systems bus about 3500 students to the Society’s museum in Union.
Educational programs at the museum foster the type of thinking that can see the realities of today as being part of a continuing historical process. Computers, for example, didn’t just arrive on the scene. Generations previous to this had their versions of modern technology which they both questioned and ultimately trusted to make their lives and their children’s lives easier. If people logically understand that progress is part of a historical process, change may be easier to deal with.
The award-winning (voted best small Institution in Illinois by the Illinois Association of Museums in 1998) McHenry County Historical Society continues to collect and hold among its collection the three dimensional teaching artifacts of human progress. Without any use of tax dollars the Historical Society museum makes this educational contribution.
The museum also provides a family-oriented entertainment and educational destination spot. It uniquely and interactively helps tell the story of this county and its people. No other public facility can make that claim. Museums, like theaters, opera houses, parks, libraries, and golf courses, speak to quality of life issues that ultimately raise our standard of living.
As a resource for local information the McHenry County Historical Society fields an average of 10 to 15 requests each day on property, building and site preservation, family history, business history and object conservation. The Society’s local history research library contains photographs; picture post cards; maps; journals; business, club, school and governmental records; standard local history books; biographical files; scrapbooks; newspapers and other documentary materials such as old phone directories and high school yearbooks which provide the answers to all sorts of questions.
In addition, technical books and pamphlets on everything from quilt repair to building restoration plus staff training in conservation, restoration and preservation, provide an invaluable one-stop resource for businesses, public groups and individuals. In 1995 the Society co-produced a 1200 plus page history entitled McHenry County in the Twentieth Century. In 2004 the Society co-published the book Historic Country Schools of McHenry County, Illinois by Society member Robert Frenz. These are all public contributions of the McHenry County Historical Society.
In the field of preservation, it is this organization’s philosophy that older historic neighborhoods provide a necessary variety of housing stock in addition to providing a visible tangible accounting of architectural history. Historic downtown districts maintain a building scale that encourages the kind of socialization not found in outlying retail malls that rely on the automobile for access. Downtown revitalization opens possibilities for residential as well as creative commercial use that capitalizes on a municipality’s physical uniqueness. One doesn’t look at commercial strips to "see" Crystal Lake or Algonquin or McHenry because those stripbusinesses are likely to be uniform in style and content.
This Society spearheaded the efforts at developing a McHenry County Historic Preservation Ordinance in 1990. Most larger municipalities have followed that lead and established similar ordinances. The society also undertook the restoration of the 1843 Gannon log cabin, the 1867 Pringle School, 1886 Seneca Town Hall, the 1895 West Harmony School and a 1950 Modern Tourist Cabin. In 2009 the Society acquired the 1898 Riley Methodist Church. Many of these structures remain on their original sites. Standing as footprints of earlier times, they provide visible evidence of our history. Part of the Society’s museum at Union consists of the 1870 native limestone Union School.
Preserving one’s community provides its citizenry with a visual collective memory. Ultimately the goal of educational and service organizations like the McHenry County Historical Society is to encourage the appreciation of all aspects of our environment both natural and built. Those individuals who are sensitive to their environment make better citizens. Better citizens vote, they participate in community life and they teach their children by example. Historical Societies have a role to play in that process.
New Board Members
Pictured (from left) are new new board members for 2013: Henry Kenyon, Judy Hervert and Diane Urban. Not pictured: Sue Richardson.