Marengo’s first city hall was a very unassuming building located in the northwest portion of today’s Municipal Lot. In the history column Ruminations by Rudy, which appeared in the August 3, 1978, edition of the Marengo Beacon News, Rudy Husfeldt described this ancient center of Marengo’s seat of government as an “18 x 20 ft., two room, clapboard, unpainted, tinroofed structure sporting two small windows.” The location wasn’t that great either. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for the years 1885, 1893, and 1905 place the building immediately adjacent to a railroad track siding and just west of the alley that runs along the west side of the Marengo Fire Protection District Station. This building was constructed sometime after 1859 when Marengo was first incorporated as a town.
A detailed history of the building is unavailable. In one source it is described as having only two rooms; a meeting room and a second adjacent room that was used as a jail. There is no mention of a second floor or that the building was used to store fire equipment. These omissions may reflect how the building was configured before 1885. The previously mentioned Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps show that the building was an engine house for firefighting equipment, a “Calaboose,” and that the second floor was used as a band room. The 1893 and 1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps show a bump out on the east side of the structure that is labelled “Hook & Ladder.”
By 1908 it was time to move on from the old building. On June 2 of that year the Marengo City Council passed an ordinance that approved the construction of a new building to serve as the city hall. The ordinance specified that a two story structure, thirty feet wide by fifty long be built and the cost was not to exceed $4,500.00. The July 10, 1908, edition of the Marengo Republican News reported that ground had been broken for the building on Prairie St. The article boasted that prosperity had finally reached Marengo and it listed other buildings that were simultaneously under construction in the city; such as St. Patrick’s Catholic Church ( now Sacred Heart) and the Piper Building on East Washington St.
About eight months later, the March 12, 1909, edition of the Marengo Republican News announced that the new city hall was completed and that an open house was scheduled for the following Wednesday on March 17. Based on the description reported in the article the new city hall was definitely a step up from the previous facility. The façade was constructed of gray pressed brick set on a deep cement foundation. The front portion of the first floor was designated as the fire department where equipment was “kept in place and in readiness for instant use.” The city jail was located in the back portion of the first floor. This back room was equipped with three large cages that were designed to hold two prisoners each. If necessity required; there was ample space for three additional cages. The new city jail had a toilet room and several windows provided light and fresh air for the lawless element confined within its walls. The article surmised, “the entire quarters could be kept in wholesome condition without trouble”,and the author concluded “…fellows who have been ‘jugged” for various offenses appreciate the fine quarters.”
The second floor was divided into two areas; the portion of the building fronting Prairie St. housed the Police Magistrate’s office, and located behind this office was the new Council Chamber. The meeting room was 28 x 28½ feet and was spacious enough to accommodate 150 people. The seats for the mayor and city council were located on a raised platform. The article observed that, “[t]he rooms are furnished with handsome and substantial furniture and is as complete a City Hall as can be found in most cities many times larger than Marengo.”
The city hall project ran $554.28 over the $4,500.00 budgeted, but the city managed to scrounge up the extra funds somewhere because the newspaper reported that there was “no indebtedness outstanding.”
All new things eventually get old, and the city hall was no different. After 68 years of service at 132 E. Prairie St. the building developed leaks in its windows and walls, and the electrical system became antiquated. It was determined that repairs would be cost prohibitive, and the building was sold to the fire department. The Marengo city government moved to its current location.