The email to the Marengo-Union Times told us there was a “man who fed dinner to the homeless families every night for a week.” Curt Shaklee, the email said. This I wanted to investigate.

“I didn’t do that,” Curt said. “You should talk to my wife, Jennifer.”

Is she the one who fed all those people every night for a week? “Not at all!” Jennifer laughed. “Curt and I just happen to live in the right place and we both wanted to do whatever we could to help our neighbors. Someone asked us to do one simple thing and it just grew from there.”

Their very near neighbors were victims of the gas explosion on 7th Circle in Marengo on June 11, 2017. In fact, the Shaklee home is so near, that it sustained some minor damage. However, their home has a garage and driveway facing the scene of the leveled and badly damaged houses. On Monday morning, the day after the explosion, Marengo Convenient Mart wanted to donate water and soft drinks but needed a place to put them. Could they use the Shaklee garage?

Jennifer went on social media to enlist help from friends and family to get the garage cleared out. Now the word was out! Lots of people wanted to help, but didn’t know where. Lots of places wanted to help with food, but how could they get it to the affected families?

Many families also lost their cars. All had to stay with their property as they waited for inspectors and insurance adjustors. They had no place to wait and couldn’t go far from their damaged homes.

Well, the water was coming to the Shaklee garage, why not everything else? And why just the garage? Why not the driveway, the yard and the house?

The complexity of losing so many homes with so many different needs became more and more evident. However, the number and variety of companies and individuals who wanted to help grew too. Ripple effect.

The many small children in affected families were swept into the Zion Lutheran summer day camp program—a safe place to have fun and a God send to all those parents. Think of all those home freezers with food spoiling! Joe’s Place offered freezer space. Volunteers went house to house and emptied freezers and trucked everything down there. Local grocery stores and restaurants provided fresh food. It all arrived at the Shaklee home. Jennifer and the ever-growing ring of volunteers made stacks of sandwiches and cut up bowls of fruit.

Curt even set up a “station” of iPhone and android chargers for people to use. Home owners and renters, insurance adjustors, fire inspectors and police all came to the Shaklee house for a cold drink, a sandwich, a few minutes in air conditioning, a charge for their phones. Food arrived every morning for breakfasts for many who had to be there early. Lunches and dinners were always served. Every day from Tuesday until Sunday.

People talked. People cried; they got a chance to laugh and think about other things than their houses. People who wanted to help found the people who needed help. Everything was and is channeled through the MORE food Pantry, but for those critical days when homeowners couldn’t easily go to get help, help came to them. Friendship also came to them and to everyone.

The June 17 birthday party for Jennifer Shaklee’s brother, Airman First Class Aaron Stratton of the U.S. Airforce was bigger than planned. She was still able to surprise her parents with Aaron’s visit, but he arrived on a Firetruck escorted by members of the Marengo Fire and Rescue Squad. It was the last day of a week that no one in Marengo will ever forget. A week of tragedy with ripples of goodness.

In late June of 1950, after an unusually sweltering day 3 inches of rain fell on Marengo overnight.
The next day these two boys found a make-shift swimming hole in the Syndicate section (the avenues north of Rt. 176)
and jumped in for a swim. (Photo from Marengo Republican News)

In the past when the dog days of summer rolled in and the thick warm humid air shrouded one’s skin like a heavy wet blanket people headed to the local swimming hole for a refreshing dip in a cool pool of water. A swimming hole could be any natural body of water; a creek, a river, a farm pond, or a quarry filled with water that was of sufficient depth for a person to swim in. Although it seems like swimming holes are less popular these days; they’re still around. A quick internet search will yield links to articles about the best swimming holes near Chicago, in the United States, and even in North America.

Over the years Marengoans had their favorite swimming holes. Long-time Marengo historian Rudy Husfeldt in his writings mentioned the locations of two swimming holes in the Kishwaukee River that were popular in the 1920’s. One was referred to as the Dutch Hole and it was located about one mile northeast of town; the second was the Augustus Swager “pool” located about one and one-half miles northwest of Marengo. Another swimming hole on the Kishwaukee River was identified by E.J. Cady.

Cady wrote about this swimming hole in a letter to the Marengo Republican News that was published in the newspaper on May 7, 1931. This swimming hole was popular in the mid-1890’s, and according to Cady it was located one quarter mile west of the bridge on the Dr. Green farm. An 1892 map of Marengo Township shows that the J.W. Green farm was located on the west side of State St. where it crosses over the Kishwaukee River. In the letter Cady provided readers with a glimpse of the “happenings that occurred” at this particular swimming hole.” He recalled times of finding his “duds so full of knots” that he feared he would have to walk home in his bathing suit which consisted of “only [his] bare skin.”


in 1955 the Marengo area saw a significant upgrade to its old swimming holes. Bathers were no longer limited to the murky waters of the Kishwaukee River, some creek, or a farm pond. The May 26, 1955, edition of the Marengo Republican News announced the opening of a new attraction – Griebel’s Beach! Griebel’s Beach was located in a Riley Township gravel quarry on Route 23 about three miles south of Marengo. The article reported that Mr. and Mrs. Joe Welch obtained a long term lease on the swimming portion of the quarry and that the attraction would operate as Griebel’s Beach. The new facility boasted a bath house, showers, and a concession stand. Extensive landscape work was done to provide for a large sand beach, and a parking lot was installed. The adult swimming area was roped off as was an area of shallow water which was used as a wading and splashing pool by children nine years old and under.

The new beach provided a higher level of safety over the old swimming holes because there were always lifeguards on duty, and a set of rules was established that prohibited horse-play, rough-housing, intoxicating beverages, and visiting with the lifeguards.

One disadvantage of the new beach was that there was a cost associated with using it. One lure of the old swimming holes was that it was free whenever one wanted to take a dip. Over the years Griebel’s Beach prices varied. In 1965 a family pass cost $25.00 per season; by 1979 the cost for a family pass increased to $80.00 dollars per season. In 1973 daily admission cost $1.00, and 75 cents for children 9 and under, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays you could a great deal - after 6:00 p.m. the cost dropped to 60 cents.

I’ve never been a swimming hole type of a guy – I don’t care too much to step on who knows what at the bottom of a muddy river, nor do I care for seaweed wrapping around my leg in a farm pond, but I do have great memories of swimming at Griebel’s Beach. The water was fairly clear and always cold – even in the dog days of July and August. In the 1970’s it was a hopping place. We’d get dropped off for an afternoon on a hot and sweltering day and drink gallons of cold Cocoa Cola and eat pounds of frozen Snickers bars while the Night Chicago Died or Bad, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown blared over the speakers. Between dips in the cold water we’d lie on the hot sand and pass the day away. It was a great way to spend many days of summer vacation, and a great time to live in Marengo.

A week before the National Skills USA competition, MCHS senior, Bradaigh O’Brien, got the call that he was in the competition. He had one week to prepare to compete in Louisville, Kentucky. The school year had ended, O’Brien looked forward to his graduation party, and his Autos II teacher, Mr. Long left for a vacation. “Bradaigh’s a wonderful student; a really good kid,” said Mr. Long. “He’s so talented in so many different directions. He’ll have a hard time choosing what he wants to specialize in.” Mr. Long went on to say that when he needs welding done, he gives the job to O’Brien.

Skills USA is a national organization that supports building trade skills by partnering with teachers, industry experts, and students. Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” is the Skills USA spokesperson. According to the website, by 2020 there will be 10 million unfilled skills jobs waiting to be filled. By 2024 that number will grow to 16 million. There’s a skill-gap in America, and Skills USA hopes to help fill that gap. Says Rowe, “Skills don’t get celebrated the way college degrees do.”

Skills USA focuses on three main categories of development: personal (for example integrity and work ethic;) technical skills grounded in academics; and workplace skills (like leadership and management.) The skills competition begins with a written test. Fifty qualifiers compete at the State level. The top scorer advances to the National Competition. If the top scorer does not go to Nationals, the second place at the State level qualifies to advance. Bradaigh missed 1st place by a half a point. The Illinois State winner, from Johnsburg took the apprenticeship that John Deere offered, precluding him from attending the National Competition. That’s when Mr. Schirmer, O’Brien’s shop teacher stepped into the picture to coach him through the competition where he placed 15th out of all the State qualifies.

Skills USA competitions involve over 100 different trade-skills: cosmetology, HVAC repair, Practical Nursing, Commercial Banking, Robotics, Culinary Science, Welding, Crime Scene Investigation, and Firefighting are among the varied categories.

O’Brien competed in Diesel Equipment Technology. In Auto Mechanics II, under skilled guidance, a team of six students learn, among other things, how to maintain the school busses. According to O’Brien, Skills USA competition included Precision measurement, electrical, diagnostic, transmission technology, chassis, and a job interview. When asked what he considered a standard interview question, what has been your greatest achievement, O’Brien replied, “Our team of six, did a wheel pull in five minutes, which broke the record of 8 minutes 3 seconds. That involves lifting the buss, taking the wheels off, taking the hardware and brakes off the front and back axels.” He concedes that his size and strength helped cut minutes off the chore, “Most have to use a cart. I just pulled it off the spindle.”

O’Brien is quick to give genetics, growing up around mechanics, and great teachers as contributing factors to his success. “My father is a mechanic and my step-father is always working on cars,” he said. “I’ve always liked building things.” Mr. Schirmer explained that some of the school’s program involves on-line learning. “They can teach themselves, while the instructors verify the students understand what they learn.” He went on to explain that what there is to learn keeps changing. “We must give students an arsenal of workplace skills, so they can continue to succeed.” Because of his success at Skills USA, Wyotech offered O’Brien a scholarship. His focus at Wyotech will six monts of core Diesel Repair, and 3 months each of the specialties, Chassis Fabrication and Applied Service Management. He hopes to eventually open his own business as a field technician. His advice to other kids with similar interest is “Don’t take the other classes for granted. Math, science, and English are subjects that help open doors.”

The cause for a June 11 explosion in Marengo’s 7th Circle neighborhood has been tracked to a gas leak but investigators from Northern Illinois Gas (NICOR) are searching for the source, whether a line leak, or an appliance malfunction in one of the homes. A fence cordon continues blocking access to the destruction area, largely for safety purposes, while insurance adjusters determine which homes are lost, uninhabitable, or repairable.

Evidence that includes gas appliances such as hot water tanks, ovens, and pipe fittings have been removed from the site to a separate location, by NICOR investigators. Previously, the Marengo Fire Protection District, and the state of Illinois Fire Marshall, had canvassed for their respective data-gathering efforts. Fire district officials were also guiding insurance company representatives through uninhabitable homes, as a precaution.

“The source is still under investigation, where and how it originated, even though we know the devastation was caused by gas,” said Bob Bradbury, the fire protection district’s Chief. “NICOR is basically heading the overall investigation, at this point, since it is their infrastructure. Appliances that were in some of the destroyed homes were taken out for testing to see if the cause for the explosion came from a unit.”

On June 11, at approximately 4:50 a.m., the 500 block of 7th Circle suffered a gas explosion that destroyed two homes, set four others afire, left nineteen residences uninhabitable, and damaged more than fifty other homes throughout the area. The early morning catastrophe generated a Level 3 code on the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) calling for assistance from personnel from counties and municipalities, as well as WI-based emergency response teams. “There were two people that received burn injuries, and were in a house, next to one that exploded… we’re extremely lucky there weren’t more,” said Bradbury. “They were taken to Woodstock Centegra Hospital, and treated. They’re doing fine, I’m told.”

While NICOR and the Illinois Fire Marshall’s office complete their separate investigations, the sheer scope of the physical damage and displacement of families is staggering. The night of the incident, and the next day, found Mayor John Koziol in the City Hall, with other staff, trying to coordinate relief efforts, holding a town hall session to provide information and answer resident questions, along with just listening to community members.

“What we can do, we will do,” said Koziol. “We worked with the Marengo Area OutReach Enterprises (MORE Center), a non-profit group, to help victims that were impacted by this emergency. They accepted donations, and goods…our community really came together to help each other through fundraisers, and assistance. There were some complaints that people were unable to get their insurance companies to act, and we referred them to that specific state department.

The state of Illinois Department of Insurance ( gov) is fielding queries from residents, and responding accordingly to contact insurance providers.

A June 24 fundraiser helped the family of Marengo Community high School wrestling coach Tim Keefer, one of the many effected by the incident that lost their home and possessions. An impromptu wrestling tournament held in Homer Barry gymnasium at the campus brought out more 200 athletes, from around McHenry County, and represented all age brackets. Donations raised through the event were estimated to be approximately $5,500.

"Most of the impacted families have made other arrangements for living spaces, with rentals or staying with friends,” said Bradbury. “There were about nineteen families, at the time.”

Koziol noted, “We’re moving forward. This is our community.”

A replacement and total damage assessment cost has yet to be calculated.

“It would be a shame for the actions of one or two individuals to spoil things for hundreds of people, but that’s what will happen if there is any more vandalism,” Roger Brandt stated adamantly.

Brandt, of Union, is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Siems Memorial Park, a private park maintained by an endowment left by its builder, Mike Siems, when he died in 1978. The 35 acre park can be booked through Siems Memorial Park, Inc.’s Board of Directors for picnics, parties, weddings, and other popular outdoor gatherings. There is no swimming, but there is fishing, hiking, playground equipment and a large pavilion. Use of the park for such private events will continue.

The park has become much more than that to the people of Union and Marengo. Located on High Bridge Road, in Union, it is popular place for families to come to play, hike, fish and relax. It is opened every day from 5 or 6 in the morning until 7:30 or 8 in the evening. Thanks to the Siems endowment, upkeep and park improvements have been ongoing. Brandt reports that “in 2016 the Board spent $6,400 to install electricity, $7,000 for new playground equipment, and in 2017, $9,000 for new tables.

In mid-June an unwelcome addition appeared— spray paint graffiti on the park’s brick gate. Graffiti—and lots more of it— may be a common sight in many places, but it is new at Siems Park in Union and it will not be tolerated. “We have to pay to have it removed, and now we’re discussing installing security cameras out there,” said Brandt.

It would behoove nearby residents to keep their eyes and ears open to help forestall any more vandalism at Siems Park or anywhere else in Union. If any more vandalism occurs in Siems Memorial Park, it will be closed to public and only opened for authorized events.


 The Illinois Department of Transportation issued a notice that all major road projects would cease operation, as of June 30, due to a lack of funding at the state level to pay for construction. The Illinois State Legislature has not passed an operating budget for three years, and the impasse was identified as the main issue.

A stop-gap budget, for a six-month duration, was passed one year ago, coinciding with the fiscal year calendar of the state (July 1-June 30), although the passage was largely an emergency measure. IDOT was given the ability to pay vendors, although a specific fund earmarked for transportation projects only, cannot be accessed, a result of the budget stalemate.

The project involving the I-90/Route 23 interchange, with overpass and access lanes, will continue, as it is being funded through a separate agency, the Illinois Tollway Authority Board, which derives it monies from toll, and I-Pass, sales. The project is expected to be completed in 2018, and is currently centering on access ramps.


McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally announced two felony charges against a 16-year old juvenile that allegedly threatened a Marengo police officer with a handgun, resulting in the officer shooting the individual. The injury to the leg was not life-threatening. In announcing the charges June 8, Kenneally said in a phone conversation, “Because the individual is a juvenile, we cannot release further information.”

An accompanying press release stated, in part, “Following its review of the investigation, the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office finds that the Marengo officer was facing an imminent threat of deadly force and acted appropriately in self-defense, and in accordance with his responsibilities as a peace officer.”

The two charges, both Class 4 felonies, included unlawful use of weapons and aggravated assault to a peace officer with a firearm. The incident occurred May 13, when officers confronted the youth at a Prairie Street residence, not his own, who brandished a handgun. He told officers he would not be sent back to prison. The officer wounded him, he was then taken to the hospital for treatment, and was placed into custody.

“The officer is all right,” said Marengo Police Chief Rich Solarz. “I don’t know the particulars of the individual’s reasons for doing that (threatening the officer). He was going to be returned to a juvenile detention center, not a prison, but some centers can feel like that.”

The state’s attorney’s office also said that the sentencing will be on another scale, due to the juvenile’s age, as opposed to an adult.


Several individuals broke into the Marengo Gun Shop, and made off with an undetermined number of firearms. The June 16 incident occurred at approximately 1:30 a.m., when the glass doors in front of the store were smashed to gain entry. Video surveillance footage from the store, and several surrounding businesses have been gathered and are being reviewed for identification. The store, located at 20014 Grant Highway (Route 20), suffered a break-in in 2016.

“They entered about 1:30 a.m., and it was not determined how many firearms were taken,” said Marengo Police Chief Rich Solarz. “At this point, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco is heading the investigation, and we will provide support as needed. Surveillance footage was obtained and they are being reviewed. The investigation is ongoing, we have no more information at this time.”

Store owner, Dominick De Bock, was not available for comment, and was being interviewed by federal authorities.

The incident comes more than one year, after a similar robbery involving two Chicago men, Nathaniel Green, 28, and Skyler Green, 28. The Apr. 2016 incident was followed by the Marengo Police Department, when it received a tip that the store would be the target of a theft, over that particular weekend. The Federal ATF, Illinois State Police and the McHenry County Sheriff ’s Office were also involved.

Each individual charged with attempted burglary and criminal damage to property.


It has been a challenging spring. The cold and rainy weather has set back much of the routine gardening work. Early in April we planted salad green plants and peas in our small high tunnel and have been enjoying fresh green salads while patiently waiting for warmer weather to plant other favorite vegetables outside. Our asparagus began producing early this year and the rhubarb has never looked better.

This year we delayed our planting schedule due to the cold and wet soil. Potatoes were planted in early May instead of early April. Onions and leek plants were completed by mid- May. The only other crop that was planted by mid-May was kohlrabi. It is always difficult for us to wait until the end of May to begin planting the warm weather crops. Patience does have its rewards. Planting too early can bring disappointing results due to late frosts or spring storms.

June is the month to plant the heat loving vegetables. These include peppers, eggplant, zucchini, beans, cucumbers, squash, melons and, yes, even tomatoes. These summer vegetables should be watered daily until they are well established. If they dry out, fast and even growth will be impeded.

Avoid allowing weeds to gain a foothold in the garden as they compete with plants for moisture and nutrients. Lightly hoe around plants but pull those weeds that sprout in the rows so they do not overtake or choke out the little shoots.

Continue watering as necessary. A deep slow watering of an inch of water per week is much better for plants. Try to water at least to four or five inches deep. Watering in the morning allows leaves to dry and will prevent sun evaporation. If possible, do not water the plant foliage or allow water to splash from the soil onto the plants. This will help prevent fungal growth and the spread of soil borne diseases.

Sun and heat are essential for heat loving plants to reach flowering and fruiting. When plants begin to flower it is time to fertilize them again. The extra nutrient boost will help blossoms to develop into fruit and keep the plants strong and healthy.

While the moral victory note comes with Marengo’s defeat of arch-rival Sterling, for the second time this season, the main story is the number of games left to the IHSA Class 3A championship game can be counted on one hand. The Indians (31-6) now head into a June 1 matchup against the Kaneland Knights, which bumped off Belvidere 10-5, for the Sterling Sectional crown.

The Marengo varsity softball team’s troubles with the Sterling Golden Warriors, prior to the May 30 game, included elimination in the sectional final last season, and twice in three seasons before that. The Indians dodged them in 2015, advancing to the state final. In 2016, Marengo walked off with a 7-1 victory in an Apr. 14 game, and then, faced them in the sectional semi-final.

Coming into the game, Sterling pitcher Jaime Eilers had struck out all fifteen batters in a five-inning contest, while Marengo countered with Marian Dionne. Both pitchers threw hard, with Eilers hitting two batters, and Dionne hitting one, and the pitching lines said everything. The Indians had only three hits, and Sterling got four hits.

The difference was the Indians’ Hannah Ritter socking a home run in the third inning, her third of the year, and Lauren Aubry connecting on a first-pitch homer in the fifth inning. Megan Anthony picked up a single in the second inning, for the team’s third hit. Dionne struck out seven, with no walks, to earn the shutout victory.

In getting to the sectional, the Indians added a regional title to their season’s accomplishments, giving them eleven consecutive regional wins. Marengo did it in dramatic fashion, taking the May 27 championship round against Marian Central in a nine-inning, 5-1 win. Hurricanes’ pitcher, Maddie Peters, had no-hit Marengo through six innings, walking one batter, and a runner reaching base on an error.

In the seventh, Marengo pitcher Dionne hit her 16th home run to tie the score, 1-1. The game went into extra frames, with Dionne tossing all the way, garnering seven strikeouts. The ninth inning saw the Indians load the bases for Ritter. She made contact for her first career grand slam, and second 2016 home run, to end the game.

They had previously beaten Woodstock North in the playoffs, by a 4-2 score, to reach the championship final.

The IHSA Class 2A Charleston Track and Field State Meet for girls and boys teams were held on successive weekends. Preliminary results for the May 19 girls events included Marengo squad members: Lillie Simmons in the 100-meters (12.65), Bailey Bertrand in the shot put (35’ 1.25”) and the discus (102’ 6”), and Jordan Parker in the long jump (15’ 1”).

The boys competition was held May 26 and preliminary results included Blaine Borhart (15.29) and Finn Schirmer (15.45) in the 110-meter high hurdles, Finn Schirmer in the 100-meters (11.15), Borhart (40.43) and Schirmer (41.77) in the intermittent 300-meter hurdles, and the 4x400-meter relay team (3:35.65) consisting of Borhart, Jadon Kozin, Kenny Gaines, and Jashiel Lopez.


The contract of City Administrator Gary Boden was not renewed, and effectively ended his tenure with Marengo, which began in 2012. The announcement came May 19, although his contract had expired Apr. 24, coinciding with the change and swearing-in ceremony of the new city council, under new Mayor John Koziol.

The Apr. 24 city council meeting included an executive session, convened by Koziol, to review the retention of Boden.

“To my understanding, I am still the assistant city administrator, and conducting my own duties in that capacity,” Josh Blakemore said, after the May 22 city council session.

Boden had served as Marengo’s City administrator since 2012, and the Rockford-area native had previously held similar job titles with the city of Whitewater, WI, and Clinton, IA. He also served as the assistant city administrator for DeKalb.

Boden was not available for comment.


Infrastructure improvements will be taking place during the summer to replace water mains along Grant Highway (Route 20) and State Street, from 2nd to 8th avenues. The matter was approved by the council, and work begun last month. The total estimated cost of the project has been tabbed at $1.782 million, with $107,000 carved out for the engineering studies.

“The engineering is Phase I, and it’s a water main replacement, which is pretty straight-forward,” said Josh Blakemore, Marengo’s assistant city administrator. “It’s set for a fall 2017 finish, but as for a hard timeline of work, that will be formed in the near future. There are easements and right-ofways to consider for the project.”

The instances of recent water main breaks and transit lines were discussed at the Apr. 24 council session, with requests for cost estimates from the village engineering firm on the work for State Street, also the oldest lines remaining in the municipality. McHenry-based H.R. Green is preparing the engineering studies.


The $32 million Route 23/ I-90 tollway interchange project is moving ahead, with tollway bridge replacement expected this summer, and plans for city officials to appear at the McHenry County Board’s transportation committee to glean updates on progress and timelines. Traffic on Route 23 is down to a single-lane, as the east side of the overpass bridge is removed.

The Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Illinois Tollway Authority have design plans to expand the bridges length and width, while adding deeper shoulder pull-offs. A $9 million cost for the bridge work has been cited. Improvements for Route 23 will be dovetailed into the latter stages next year, when completion is expected.

A public meeting is also being arranged for feedback and input on the project, from the community and initial partners in the effort. The McHenry County Board had listed the project as “needed,” as it was a major entry point to the county, and could translate into an economic boost to the area in revenue and jobs.


In a unanimous vote during its May 22 regular meeting, the Marengo City Council approved a community initiative to return the Saturday Farmer’s Market to use the municipal parking lot. The action is contingent upon the Marengo Action Committee, an ad hoc group of residents, obtaining business insurance, health department permits, and waste disposal arrangements for the open-air event.

Tentative Sat. dates slated for the market have been framed for June 10 through Sept. 30. The request, forwarded to the city, indicated that nearly 25 vendors were interested in participating with organizers to join the event.


It's difficult to determine with any certainty what Marengo’s first commercial business was. Was it Calvin Spencer’s hotel that was built at the corner of modern day Grant Highway and State Street? Or was it a “tiny shoe shop” as related by Arvilla Damon Coon in her work the Life and Labors of Auntie Coon. Coon briefly described the evolution of Marengo’s early business community in the days when the prairie gave way to a town. She wrote, “…after some time a tiny shoe shop was opened on the corner, later a drygoods and grocery store combined, and finally a post-office.” One thing is for certain, and that is that in the 182 years since the Marengo area was settled our community has seen its share of businesses (and industries) come and go.

Over the years I’ve written about the area’s pickle industry, ice industry, dairy industry, grain milling industry, the stove factory, and various businesses that supported horse and buggy transportation. This month I’m going to talk about several businesses that operated in Marengo in the days gone by.

When you buy cheese today it’s either wrapped in plastic or contained in a plastic bag. There was a time when the cheese container was made of wood and some of these these cheese boxes were manufactured in Marengo. The N.L. Jackson cheese box factory stood on the west side of State Street slightly south of Railroad Street. In 1871 the building was constructed to serve as a sash and blind factory. As the story goes with many commercial enterprises; after six years the sash and blind factory gave way to a cooperage where barrels were manufactured, and two years later in 1879 the business converted to the cheese box and butter tub factory. In 1883 the building burned in a fire that ravaged a portion of Marengo’s downtown business district. This was not Marengo’s first foray into the cheese container industry. Previously, in 1865, R.M Patrick operated a cheese box factory on State Street “at the foot of Woleban’s Hill,” but that business failed after a few years.

The Rural Mail Box Company operated for some time in Marengo. The early days of this business are somewhat sketchy, but it is fairly well documented that the company operated in early 1900’s. An article in the November 15, 1901, edition of the Marengo Republican News reported that the company was expanding its operations with the addition of new manufacturing space. It seems that business was brisk because the article stated that the factory was running day and evening and that it was behind on orders. Eleven “hands” were employed manufacturing rural mailboxes and it was anticipated that more workers would be hired with the recent expansion. Over the years the business was operated by George A. Bennett and S.B. Oakley, and owned the patent for the P.B. Englar rural mailbox.

Before electricity windmills were used to pump water from the ground and two Marengo entrepreneurs, Fred Smith and Thomas Bright, manufactured this essential piece of equipment. The firm was known as Smith and Bright and the product was the “Galvanized Steel Aermotor” windmill. The business was small and the windmills were made by hand, but nonetheless the business was profitable. The September 12, 1935, edition of the Marengo Republican News described the Smith and Bright windmills as having a “short tower,” but several contemporary articles that described the successes of the company mentioned that the windmills were up to fifty feet tall.

In 1923 the Marengo Specialty Company opened its doors in the Riley Building on East Prairie Street. The company manufactured a variety of clothing items to include raincoats, knickers, men’s trousers, sweaters, and sports coats. In its hey-day the business employed twenty-five women to make these products, but eventually cast them aside and specialized in “firemen’s raincoats.” The Marengo Republican News speculated that fewer than a dozen companies were involved in this type of business in the 1920’s and 30’s. The firemen’s raincoats were sold directly to firemen across the United States.

This is just a small glimpse into Marengo’s commercial past. There are many more businesses from Marengo’s heydays to ponder on, and they will definitely be discussed in these pages in the future!


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