The Marengo Republican Newspaper, 1866-1906

To try to put a dollar-and-cents value on a truly local newspaper is likely impossible! Its value goes beyond the economics of a business; but instead, goes straight to the heart of the community.

With comprehensive coverage, photos, and advertisements, it becomes the life-blood for a community, creating a sense of community pride and “ownership” in the many aspects of community involvement. Such a publication is 90 percent filled with local news and ads which in today’s world, you won’t likely see or hear on television or read in the multi-area newspaper. As a beneficial and lasting result, your local history is not lost to the ages.

Needless to say, the Marengo Society for Historic Preservation whole-heartedly supports and embraces our new local newspaper, The Marengo-Union Times! The importance of a local newspaper inspired me to write about the origins of one of Marengo’s earliest and very successful newspapers, the Marengo Republican and its editor, J. B. Babcock.

Babcock came with his family to a farm in Riley Township from Livingston County, N.Y. in 1846. He attended the local country school. Prior to 1852, he attended Rockford Academy for one year. In 1852, he moved into Marengo, working as a store clerk. He eventually enlisted and served in Company A, Ninety-fifth Illinois Infantry, quickly attaining the position of First Lieutenant. He returned to Marengo following injury at the battle of Vicksburg.

Although two local newspapers had experienced financial failure prior to 1867, D. C. Porter had started the Marengo Republican, with an office in Belvidere. Five months later, in 1868 and at the age of 37, J. B. Babcock purchased the Republican and established a Marengo plant with the newspaper subheading, “Where Liberty dwells, there is my Country”.

At the time, the Marengo Republican became the third newspaper published in McHenry County. The newspaper was a four-page, seven-column (17” x 24” page), “ready print” publication where a central plant produced preprinted national stories and advertisements and sold it to newspapers. Open space was left in the “inside” of the paper for local news items, especially on page three. With only his rural education and his experience as a clerk, bookkeeper, and soldier.... plus his natural savvy, Babcock took on the reins of Editor of the Marengo Republican. The long and dramatic sentences the paper used were not artistic, but got the message across. When the time came for an opinion to be voiced, Babcock was never caught short. For example, when he felt the tax assessments for Marengo were unfairly higher than those of Woodstock, he took issue with the Woodstock Sentinel’s support of their assessments. He wrote, “This imperfect assessment would allow Woodstock to escape its proper portion of the taxes and gore the balance of the country. But if raising the assessment up to what it should be is ‘goring’ Woodstock, we are willing to see it ‘gored’...”.

Babcock’s Marengo Republican served the Marengo community through some of its most significant years as a leading community in McHenry County history. Along with the personal events of local residents and organizations (including those in Union), Babcock covered some truly noteworthy events in Marengo’s history. They included the following: the establishment of the first chartered bank in McHenry County... the First National Bank of Marengo in 1871; the establishment of the fair grounds and racing track in 1872 in the current area of Kishwaukee Street and Route 176; the construction of one of the city’s most beautiful buildings on the south-east corner of East Washington and State Street in 1875, later known as the, “Swonguer Building”; the building of Marengo’s Opera House; the establishment of the Marengo Fire Corps and the establishment of the first telephone line from Chicago in 1883; the relocation of the huge Collins & Burgie Stove Factory from Chicago to Marengo in 1892; the incorporation of Marengo as a city (a village) in 1893; the building of Marengo’s first waterworks and electric plant in 1894; the start-up of our first local telephone exchange in 1895; the establishment of the first rural mail routes in 1899; and the opening of the Borden Milk Plant on North Sponable Street in 1903.

In 1893, another local newspaper had been introduced, the Marengo News. Ownership of this newspaper changed three times in its first three years-- the third time to Charles Scofield. Then in 1906, Scofield purchased the Marengo Republican from Babcock, and the Marengo Republican News newspaper was established.

Babcock was a faithful servant to his hometown-- not only as editor of its local newspaper, but as a public servant serving as: Clerk of the Marengo Township, Justice of the Peace, and a city trustee.