Christmas and Quilt Display through Jan. 4

Preserving the past can be a fleeting proposition

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Historic house razed

Many of the local fire officials are gracious enough to inform us when a historic structure is slated to be used for fire training. The idea is to give the McHenry County Historical Society time to adequately document the building for posterity.

Among the latest to make good on that commitment was Steve Spraker, deputy chief of the McHenry Township Fire Protection District. A single-family home at 3502 Ringwood Road – at the corner of Ringwood and McCullom Lake roads in McHenry – was slated to come down.

Nancy Fike, McHenry historian and retired MCHS administrator, researched the building – believed to have been built in 1893 by brothers Willard E. and Julius D. Smith – on the site of an earlier home that (ironically) burned. The 1872 county plat book shows a house on the parcel.

A family history book in the McHenry County Historical Society’s research library points out that W.E. Smith was born on Jan. 31, 1856, in Ringwood. He attended school in town and became particularly adept at handling farm machinery. At age 21 he headed west to Dell Rapids, S.D. and worked for the railroad. From there he returned to Chicago before setting out once again, south through Kentucky and into Arkansas.

Perhaps he had inherited a bit of the wonderlust that prompted his father to leave for the gold fields of California in 1850. John Wire Smith had bought 300 acres in around the present-day home site in 1854. There he opened a store in the front of his house. Twice a year he and his partner, a man named Cassidy, traveled to New York to buy goods.

In 1854 John W. Smith decided to move his store from “Smith’s Corners” into McHenry. Smith and his descendants were among the county’s earliest settlers and information about the family will remain for those industrious enough to crack open a book. But the landscape – to our eyes and before our souls – is changing. That should come as no surprise to even the smartest of smartphone users.
 
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The Lake County Discovery Museum closed Sept. 1 in preparation for its move to a former Motorola facility in Libertyville. During the next year, the museum's 20,000 artifacts and 12,500 archival materials will be packed up in preparation for their move from Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda to what another newspaper columnist called a “100,000-square-foot, three story, beige brick fortress.”

According to the Lake County Forest Preserve’s latest newsletter, the new space will feature a public research center and library, classrooms, an expanded gallery and special HVAC system to regulate temperature and humidity. The new Discovery Museum is expected to open in late 2017.

But what of their current digs? The 1,250-acre farm, built by Chicago contractor Malcomb Boyle around 1937, featured a complex of 16 buildings – including a dairy barn and pre-Civil War house. Depending on who you talk to the forest preserve has been non-responsive, even evasive, when it comes to the existing museum site’s future.

“The older I get the more I feel we’re losing things by the day,” said Nancy Schumm, Ela Township Historical Society president and founder of the Save Lakewood and the Discovery Museum Facebook page.

There may be a hearing for the public to weigh in. There may not. There may be a forensic structural analysis by Lakemarks Illinois, or not. It depends how open forest preserve trustees choose to be.

“When we put something on endangered list we are willing to supply a condition assessment of the building,” said Landmarks Director of Advocacy Lisa DiChiera.
But like most everything in historic preservation, it takes two to tap dance … even if it is only two feet.
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Is grandma’s old apple pie recipe melt-in-your-mouth marvelous? Does your apple bars take the cake? Now you have a chance to prove it.
As part of the 39th annual Cider Fest on Sunday, Oct. 2, the McHenry County Historical Society is hosting its third Apple Bake-off Contest. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m. with judging following at 10:30 a.m. in the 1895 West Harmony School.

The school is located on the museum grounds at 6422 Main St. in Union.
Categories are apple pies, apple cakes and best apple squares/bars. There is a $2 fee per item. First- second- and third-place contestants in each of the three categories will receive ribbons, with a special prize going to the grand champion.

All baked goods entered should be in disposable containers or dishes marked with the contestant’s name and phone number for pickup after judging. Entries will be divided and repackaged for sale that day. All proceeds benefit the nonprofit historical society.

For information, call 815-923-2267.
 
• Kurt Begalka is administrator of the McHenry County Historical Society & Museum in Union. He may be reached at kurt@mchenrycountyhistory.org.