A Brief Early History of the Algonquin Area
The Village of Algonquin is situated in a beautiful valley formed by the Fox River. It is the most picturesque village in McHenry County — the river, the bluffs and the narrow valley combine to give the village a striking and attractive appearance.
The first residents were Indians. Algonquin is located where an Indian path once crossed the Fox River. The Pottawatomie Indians had camps on the east side of the river near Camp Algonquin. At the conclusion of the Blackhawk War (1831-32), the Indians ceded title to a large portion of land in Northern Illinois. Thus, this beautiful and fertile land was opened for the first time to white settlers.
The first white settler in McHenry County was Samuel Gillilan who arrived with his family of nine on November 18, 1834. His wife, Margaret, was the first white woman in this region. Margaret was the daughter of Richard and Nancy Hill of West Virginia. The Gillilans had moved by wagon in 1833 to Ohio, resided there for one year and then moved on to what later became Algonquin.
They built a crude log cabin near what is now the Algonquin Cemetery. Today a marker commemorates this site at the intersection of Route 31 and Algonquin Cary Road.
Algonquin was first known as Cornish’s Ferry. That name was bestowed upon it in honor of Dr. Andrew B. Cornish who came to the area in 1835. Since Dr. Cornish’s medical practice did not exactly flourish due to the scarcity of patients, he turned to other sources of revenue. One of these sources was the establishment of a ferry slightly below where the current Algonquin Dam is today. This ferry proved to be a popular fording place for families traveling further west. Dr. Cornish was also the first postmaster of Algonquin, the first sheriff in 1839 and was coroner in 1838-39. As the settlement grew the name was changed to Osceola. However, it was discovered that the name was a duplicate of another town in Illinois.
At a meeting held in March, 1844 Samuel Edwards, a large property owner in Algonquin, suggested that the town be named Algonquin. He had served on a boat named the “Algonquin.” The name comes from the Confederation of Indian tribes of the Northeast United States. It means “across the water.”
Agriculture was the main source of income in the 1850’s for the residents of Algonquin. Mills were built and the village became a crossroads collection point for farm and dairy products headed for Chicago markets. The old Chicago Road ran along the current Route 62. It was the main highway used by Algonquin farmers to convey their goods to market.
Mercantile establishments mushroomed along Main Street. Smithies, harness ships, dry goods stores, fine eating establishments, tailors, shoemakers, jewelry and confectionery stores abounded.
The Fox Valley Branch of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was built through Algonquin in 1855-1856. The early train carried passengers, freight and milk to Chicago. The present bike path was the railroad tracks. For many years, 100 to 125 cars of gravel were shipped from Algonquin daily.
The first wooden bridge across the Fox River was built in 1863. It was replaced by a steel structure in 1890. The present bridge was built in 1933-1934. It was widened and repaired in 1988.
This agrarian type of society continued until the advent of the horseless carriage in the early 1900’s when owners of these newfangled devices drove out from the City for the Algonquin Hill Climbs. These early cars were raced up Huntington Drive to prove their horsepower and their get up and go and it drew hundreds of spectators.