Features

Genuine Northwest, Fall Edition

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Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.

Corron Farm

7N761 Corron Road, Campton Hills, corronfarmpreservationsociety.org

Campton Township today encompasses Campton Hills and Wasco, as well as parts of Elburn, Lily Lake, Maple Park and unincorporated St. Charles. The 220-acre Corron Farm was begun in 1835 by one of the area’s first settlers.

Robert Corron arrived in Campton Township at age 19, built a cabin, and over the next five years, bought and cleared more land, planted crops and began raising dairy cattle. In 1854, he built a Federalist-style home on the farmstead, which still stands today.

It was purchased in 2003 as part of Campton Township’s Open Space Program, a resident-supported initiative which has preserved more than 1,300 acres. “We restored 180 acres of the farmland to prairie, put in hiking and equestrian trails, and the house will become a museum,” says Township Supervisor John Kupar. A fourth generation of the Corron family still lives in the house and maintains the property.

The Township has restored 41 acres of oak savanna and wetlands and renovated some outbuildings as well as the home’s front porch. In 2013, six brick pillars facing Corron Road were restored, and efforts are underway to stabilize and repair the huge dairy barn, which was built in two sections.

While the Corron Farm is open to the public at no charge, the buildings are not. Please do not enter any structure on the property.

American Terra Cotta & Ceramic Co.

Various Locations, Downtown Crystal Lake

In 1881, Chicago attorney William D. Gates returned to his hometown of Crystal Lake, purchased a mill situated atop some of Crystal Lake’s abundant clay beds near a dam site, installed kilns, steam pipes and engines, and founded the Spring Valley Tile Works, making tiles and pipes to drain swampland for agricultural use.

Gates had begun experimenting with architectural terra cotta, which had become wildly popular in rebuilding Chicago following the Great Fire of 1871. Because the blocks were about an inch thick and hollow, not to mention fireproof, they were ideal for the exteriors of the city’s new skyscrapers. Terra cotta is a mixture of clay, water and grit, which can be molded into artistic shapes and designs created by architects and artisans.

Gates also experimented with different glazes and molds, and after the tile factory burned in 1887, he rebuilt with a focus on architectural terra cotta and pottery. American Terra Cotta was being used to decorate some of Chicago’s most famous buildings, including the Wrigley building. In 1902, Gates began a line of Arts & Crafts-style decorative pottery, called Teco (an abbreviation of terra cotta). By 1911, the line included more than 500 designs. In addition to Terra Cotta’s own modeler, Kristian Schneider, famous designers of Teco Pottery and American Terra Cotta tiles include Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and William J. Dodd.

Because it was made only for 21 years, and by famous designers, Teco Pottery is quite rare and valuable to collectors. American Terra Cotta & Ceramic Co. was sold to George Berry in 1934, and the factory was converted to steel heat treating in 1948 as a result of WWII. It still operates today.

Examples of these decorative tiles and forms can be seen on buildings along Williams Street in Crystal Lake, like this detail of Finn McCool’s Irish Sports Bar, and at the McHenry County Historical Society.

The Battle of Barrington

Memorial Plaque, Langendorf Park, 235 Lions Dr., Barrington

Familiar is the tale of the Lady in Red and her betrayal of gangster John Dillinger at Chicago’s Biograph Theatre, where he was gunned down by the FBI in June 1934. Less familiar, but inextricably linked to this event, is The Battle of Barrington, which brought a similar end to gangster “Baby Face” Nelson that same year.

Nelson, his wife, and Nelson’s friend John Chase met up with Dillinger’s gang in Chicago in April 1934. The Nelsons and the gang were vacationing in northern Wisconsin, where Nelson killed special agent W. Carter Baum during an FBI raid. In June, Dillinger earned the rank of Public Enemy No. 1, for killing two policemen following an Indiana bank robbery.

In November, FBI agents spotted Nelson and Cowley in a stolen car on Northwest Highway, near Barrington. Nelson pulled up behind the agents and showered their car with rifle fire; one of the agents’ shots hit the stolen car’s radiator. Two more FBI agents, Samuel Cowley and Herman Hollis, arrived to take up the chase. Interestingly, Cowley was the agent at the Biograph who fired the shot that killed Dillinger.

Nelson suddenly pulled into the entrance of North Side Park (now Langendorf Park), where he and Chase opened fire on the two agents. The two exited and returned fire, and although Cowley hit Nelson multiple times, the gangster mortally wounded him. Hollis hit Nelson in the legs before Nelson killed him on the spot. Chase and Nelson took Cowley’s car and drove off, but Nelson died from his wounds sometime during the night. An anonymous call led FBI agents to his body in a ditch, next to a cemetery in Niles Center (now Skokie).

This plaque, located outside a swimming pool, stands as a memorial to Cowley, Hollis and Baum.

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