Marengo: 'Days Gone By'

Planning a journey west from Chicago to Galena, Illinois? The stage will follow a route or roadway which is now U.S. Route 20 or U.S. Grant Highway. The year is 1850 and the Frink and Walker Stagecoach Line have been running this route since around 1844. You purchased your ticket on the Frink and Wagner Stagecoach Line, which operates out of Chicago to Galena, Illinois. You would ride in a Concord stagecoach, built with an oval body, flattened on top for baggage. The Concord, pulled by four horses, had three cross seats--each designed to hold three passengers. The coach-body was brightly painted in shades of green, yellow, or red. Decorated panels were along the side, painted with landscapes or noted historical people. The stage driver is a man of consequence in the community, and usually never omitted an opportunity to impress this fact upon all with whom he came in contact. The driver carried a trumpet or horn which he blew to announce the arrival of the stage at a town or stage tavern stop. The stage driver, chewing tobacco and wearing a wide leather belt (never suspenders), and all his clothes grimy with dust, was a man of authority. The U.S. mail is also carried on each stage.

You're wearing your Sunday best, headed for Galena to make your fortune. You paid $5 for your ticket for this 160- or-so-mile-trip which took at least two full days, (sometimes more depending on weather conditions). The stage driver blows the horn and you stop at a stage tavern and post office at a place called, "Coral, Illinois." Not much to see in Coral besides the stage stop tavern and a small cemetery. After a short stop, the stage driver lashed his four horse team into a run heading west toward Pleasant Grove until 1841, or now known as, "Marengo." This is the area where Chief Big Thunder and Indian braves, like Yellow Jacket and other American Indians, roamed the area, and in 1850, still resided in these parts!

Then, the driver blows his horn again and you arrive at the town of Marengo, Illinois. You stop at Spencer Tavern stage stop, owned by Calvin Spencer, the founder of Marengo in 1835, (where the Subway sandwich shop is now located). You're a city boy not used to seeing cows and horses grazing; chickens; or even a gander who will challenge your presence. There are people coming and going--a very busy town this Marengo! You pay for overnight lodgings at "Spencer's Hotel," which includes meals, either breakfast or supper, and bathing facilities, (at an extra cost ), with a more-than- convenient outhouse for 50cents!

An example of breakfast at Calvin Spencer's Hotel might consist of: Rio coffee; fried pork fat; bacon; potatoes (boiled with their jackets on); and hot biscuits or cornbread.

The next morning, the Frink and Walker stage, head west toward Amesville, (now known as "Garden Prairie"), to Rockford and Freeport, arriving in Galena, Illinois.

As you get ready to head west, you think to yourself, "Yes, I like this town of Marengo. I shall stay right here and travel no further. It's a good town to find work. Who knows, I might even find a wife and raise a family or start a business? There is a lot of potential in this town called, ‘Marengo, ‘Illinois. Yes, I will live in Marengo with its rich farmland; groves of oak trees; beautiful prairies; and friendly residents. Marengo is going to be a wonderful place to live. I shall call Marengo, Illinois, my home."

Thank you for reading my first article in the new, Marengo-Union Times. This story was pulled together from my own files. It is a story of what might have happened to a traveler as he journeyed through Marengo in 1850. A work of fiction you might ask? Who knows; maybe not.

(For more information, call Mike Bigalke at: 815-568-5887, or e-mail him at: mbigalke@mc.net).