Pondering the Past, Tales Lost in Time: Marengo Firsts

There’s no question about it – human beings put an emphasis on firsts. Being the first to cross the finish line in a race makes a person a winner. The first team in a sports league division is looked upon with honor – for example as I write this both the Bears and the Cubs lead their divisions in their respective sports, and make their fans proud. Well history is the same! We have Delaware the first state to join the Union, George Washington our first President; Wright Brothers - the first to make a powered flight, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the first men to walk on the moon; I could go on until I run out of paper, but I believe that you’ve grasped my point. Well Marengo isn’t any different, and it has its firsts too. As October 2018 approaches so does Marengo’s 47th annual Settlers’ Days, and in the spirit of the celebration I’m going to list some of Marengo’s firsts.

There are two sources that I’m using for this article; the first is the History of McHenry County Illinois: 1885, and the September 12, 1935, edition of the Marengo Republican News. This particular issue of the newspaper featured 114 pages packed with local history, and was published leading up to the Marengo’s Centennial Celebration – probably the first event that celebrated the settlement of our community. So here we go!

First Settler: Calvin Spencer came to the area known today as Marengo in 1835. Spencer was from Seneca County, Ohio.

First Death: Calvin Spencer’s mother is believed to hold this distinction; she died in November of 1835.

First Physician: Dr. Ward Burley who settled in Marengo sometime in the winter of 1835 and 36. He operated a dry goods store in conjunction with his medical practice until his death in July of 1847.

First Birth: This is somewhat disputed, but the history book gives this distinction to the son of Dr. Ward Burley. The child was born in 1836, and passed away at the age of two. History is mute on the names of the other persons competing for this distinction.

First Marriage: M.B. Bailey and Miss Lydia Hance were married on January 14, 1838.

First Male Teacher: According to the McHenry County History O.P. Rogers was the first teacher. No date is given in the history of when this was supposed have occurred. According to the Marengo Republican News Rogers didn’t teach a term of school until 1838.

First Female Teacher: The Marengo Republican News gives Caroline Cobb the distinction of being the first teacher who taught a term of school in Marengo in 1837.

First Religious Service: Officiated by Reverend Southworth on March 20, 1836, in the home of Calvin Spencer. First Religious Organization: The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in the fall of 1837.

First Election: Was held at the home of William Sponable on April 23, 1838.

First Grist Mill: Built in 1846 about one and half miles northwest of Marengo. The first flouring mill was built in Marengo in 1861.

First House: Built by Joseph Bryton in 1835.

First Store: Operated by Moody Bailey in 1837.

First Hotel: Built in 1835, and operated by Calvin Spencer in the area of the current intersection of East Grant Highway and South State St.

First Post Office: Established in 1841. The first Postmaster was Alfred King, and the post office was located on his farm about one mile west of Marengo. Prior to 1841 Marengoans received their mail through the Coral Post Office which was established on July 6, 1837.

First Railroad: On October 18, 1851, the first tracks of the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad were laid through Marengo.

First College: The Marengo Collegiate Institute was built in 1856 becoming Marengo’s first (and only) college. The school operated for two years.

First Town Charter: Marengo was incorporated as a town and the charter was granted on February 9, 1857.

First Newspaper: The Marengo Journal published the first issue of the newspaper on August 16, 1856.

First Telephone Line: In 1883 the first toll line was established to Marengo by the Chicago Telephone Company. In 1895 the first local telephone exchange was established.

First Fire Department: The Marengo Fire Corps was established in 1883 as the first real fire protection organization.

First Automobile: Purchased by A.A. Ryder in 1901.

First Electric Railway: On January 19, 1907, the first round trip on the Elgin and Belvidere Electric Line was made. On February 1st the first passengers were transported on the line.

First Electric Streetlights: On September 11, 1914, at least 30 electric street lights on State Street were lit for the first time.

As you can see from this list our community has come a long way from the open grass prairie that Marengo was when Calvin Spencer and other settlers first arrived. Institution by institution, and organization by organization Marengo has progressed. When you celebrate this years’ Settlers’ Days activities enjoy yourself and have a great time, but somewhere in the midst of your fun take a moment to ponder the settlers and the people of the past who contributed to build this great community. Also, take a moment to reflect on the future of Marengo, and how we can make it a better and stronger community